Category Archives: Airlines

Good News, Bad News for Spirit Passengers

I’ve never flown Spirit Airlines, because its East Coast/Caribbean/Latin American route network isn’t really relevant to me now that I live in Colorado. But I was intrigued recent news from the carrier that minded me of the Julie Andrews song, “A Spoon Full of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Sown.” The suar is that announcement that Spirit is lowering its fares by up to 40 percent. The medicine is the carrier’s new a la cart menu of services.

For instance, with new reservations for travel after June 19, 2007, customers will be given the allowance of one carry-on bag with the option to check additional bags for a fee. By early June, customers will have the ability to “reserve” a baggage check “at a reduced rate” on the airline’s website.

It reminds me of the old PeopleExpress, the original low-fare carrier that was eventually absorbed into Continental, which charged a few dollars for each check bag and a bit for a beverage and a meal (when meals on other airlines were free — or rther, included in the fare).

JetBlue Passengers Sing the Blues

The New York Times reported on a colossal collapse of the flight plan of well-respected, award-winning, low-fare carrier, JetBlue, stranding passengers all over the route map. According to the Times, the airline’s CEO David G. Neeleman, “said…that his company’s management was not strong enough. And he said the current crisis, which has led to about 1,000 canceled flights in five days, was the result of a shoestring communications system that left pilots and flight attendants in the dark, and an undersize reservation system…

“The crisis began Wednesday when an ice storm hit the Eastern United States. Most airlines responded by canceling more flights earlier, sending passengers home and resuming their schedules within a day or two. But JetBlue thought the weather would break and it would be ale to fly, keeping its revenue flowing and its customers happy.

“On the contrary, JetBlue’s woes dragged on day after day. On Saturday night, for instance, the airline said that the 23 percent of flights it had canceled on Saturday and Sunday would also be canceled Monday….Its systems to deal with the consequences of bad weather did not keep up with the growth, Mr. Neeleman said. The company’s low-cost operating structure may have been a contributing factor.”

JetBlue is not the first airline to strand passengers because of weather or other factors, nor will it be the last. But given the carrier’s high level of customer satisfaction, it seems particularly sensitive to the problem and has promised compensation.

Sun Valley Angling for Denver Nonstop Air Service

Eight representatives of Sun Valley, ID’s business business, civic and political communities are coming to in Denver on February 27 to lobby Frontier Airlines, making a case for the carrier to inaugurate daily roundtrip service between Denver International Airport and nearby Hailey’s Friedman Airport, according to Mountain Express, a twice-weekly newspaper serving the Wood River Valley.

Currently, SkyWest provides nonstop service from Los Angeles and Oakland, but anyone else flying to Sun Valley must connect in Salt Lake City via Horizon Air, an Alaska Airlines commuter partner. Another option is to fly to Boise and drive or take a bus or van for the 155-mile ride to Sun Valley. Denver, which is Frontier’s home port and also a major United hub, would be the easternmost city with non-stop air service to Sun Valley.

This lobbying effort is a case of starting with marketing and web presence to grease the skids, or perhaps clear the runway, for such service. A new not-for-profit business group called the Sun Valley Alliance is prepared promote such service to the tune of $400,000. It also plans to launch a website, www.FlyToSunValley.com, to create a web presence for service from fast-growing Frontier. It is DIA’s second-largest carrier, currently flying to 49 destinations (Memphis is the latest) and has ordered a new fleet of 70-passenger Bombardier Q400 turboprops (above), the type that Horizon is using.

High Tech Replaces High Touch in Air Travel

Millions of words have been written — including some on this blog — about the increasing annoyances and unpleasantries involved in air travel. But one thing has gotten easier: the ability to preprint boarding passes from your home or office computer. While I miss the high-touch aspects of flying as it once was, where passengers were catered to rather than hassled, the ability to get some of the mechanics out of the way does make things a lot easier at the airport. You might say that I’m conflicted.

First came self-service check-in kiosks at airports: dip your credit card or frequent flyer card into a terminal, up pops your itinerary, confirm or change your seat selection(s), enter the number of bags you are checking in, press again, and out comes your boarding pass. Take any checked bags to the counter to be tagged and hopefully loaded onto your airplane, and you are ready ready to deal with the security line. I don’t know about other airlines, but using United‘s on-line check-in adds another 500 miles to my MileagePlus account.

Not only do I miss the high-touch elements to air travel in the past, but I really am sorry for the downsized airline employees who used to do for us what are now self-service tasks. Still, I have to admit that high-tech has made it all a lot easier. I am flying out of Denver (DIA) for Boise (BOI) this morning, and along with my photo ID, I’ll leave the house, ready to park my car and check in.

New Concept in Air Travel

I’ve been flying long enough to remember such breakthrough air carriers as Icelandic Airlines (now Icelandair), once the only non-charter, low-fare carrier between the US and Eruope; People Express (long ago wrapped into Continental), a low-fare, non-union domestic airline with simplified regulations, and Laker Airways’ SkyTrain, the late Sir Freddie Laker’s low-fare, no-frills transatlantic airline. I have welcomed the rise of Southwest Airlines (especially their apperance on the Denver air scene), applauded the success of JetBlue offering luxury for less and enjoyed the funky-mod ambience on Virgin Atlantic.

Now comes another really great idea in air travel . Beginning this Thursday, January 25, SilverJet is offering business class-only daily service between New York’s Newark International Airport and London’s Luton Airport. This new carrier is boasting about ooperating the world’s first private terminal for an intercontinental commercial airline with a mere 30-minute check-in, its own security screening facilitity and the services of a luggage concierge to deal with baggage.

SilverJet is flying single-class Boeing 767 aircraft with just 100 flat-bed seats, freshly cooked food that each passenger can order when he or she wishes to eat and individual personal entertainment systems. The carrier promises, “When you want to sleep, we’ll make up your bed, offer you a night-cap, and promise not to wake you, unless you’ve specifically requested it. We’ll keep pre-landing procedures to a minimum to give you an extra lie-in. With no intrusive announcements, no flood-lit cabins and no trolleys to bang into your seats, we create the quietest possible cabin environment to help you sleep, or concentrate on work.”

Sounds pricey? Not really, considering what your money brings. SilverJet the fare is $1,796 roundtrip, well more than economy on other airlines but only about half of their front-cabin fares. For semi-frugal expense-account flyers or anyone ready for a transatlantic splurge, SilverJet is the way to go. I wish the airline great success and hope to fly it someday.

But wait! There’s more! Passengers can fly SilverJet with a clear conscience. It announced that it is the world’s first airline to be 100 percent carbon neutral. That moderate ticket price includes a mandatory carbon offset contribution, giving passengers the opportunity to reinvest “Carbon Points” into a number of climate-friendly projects around the world.

I like travel providers that offer services at such good prices that even the most budget-conscious can afford to go places and see things. I like luxury and service. What I like about
SilverJet appears to be offering up top-shelf service and facilities at happy-hour, well-drink prices. What can be better than that?

Small Expenses Add Up

I am now in Switzerland, having flown here on American Airlines from Denver via Dallas/Fort Worth. My tried-and-true transatlantic strategy for avoiding jet lag is to plug my noise-canceling headphones into the airliner’s sound system and select a soothing classical music station, have a couple of glasses of wine, and go to sleep so that I arrive in Europe in relatively good shape.

Small expense #1 – In contrast to every foreign flag carrier that I have flown in recent years, American charges $5 for each split of very mediocre chardonnay. But I consider it medicinal for travel and jet lag avoidance, so I did pay up. American’s sound system has a lot of talk and a lot of music with lyrics. Not my first choice, but I did manage a few hours’ sleep. A corollary to this small expense is that American also charges $2 for the flimsy headphones on domestic flights, though they are now free on most US carriers. That’s a purchase, not a rental, but I can’t imagine using them again — once you’ve tried the comfy noise-canceling ones.

Small expense #2 – At Zurich’s Hotel Eden au Lac, I met a group who had spent the night there for the drive to St. Moritz. I bought a 30-minute LAN Public Wireless card to enable me to update check my E-mail and do some work. The fancy hotel’s front desk sold it to me for Sfr. 9, in contrast to the Sfr. 5 cost if getting the access code on-line.

Neither of these is a bank-breaking cost, but for anyone on a tight budget — especially in these days of the weak dollar — $2 here, $5 there, $10 someplace else can add up.

More Flyers. Fewer Flights. Less Food. No Secret.

In the first three months of 2006, US domestic airlines flew 176.1 million passengers, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, an increase of 0.3 percent over the previous year. These passengers nevertheless boarded 4.1 percent fewer flights than during the first quarter of 2005. Also, during this period, airlines’ cumulative load factors increased from 80 to 81.2 percent and average trip length increased from 678 to 701 miles. This means either more planes, more crowded planes, or a combination.

On the so-called service side, according to the Air Transport Association, US carriers spent $444 million on beverages and the cookies and salty snacks that now comprise back-cabin food service and something more than that for the fortunate few in the front. That compares with the $662 million the airlines spent to feed and water their passengers six years ago.

Bottom line seems to be that more people are flying more crowded planes, eating and drinking less, and staying in the air longer. It might be good. It might be good. Or it might just be, so when you’re ready to fly, deal with it.

New Munich Flight to Land in Denver

Denver International Airport will soon become more international. Lufthansa, the national airline of Germany, will start Denver-Munich nonstop service on March 31, 2007, joining its existing Frankfurt-Denver nonstop. This is great news for travelers from Colorado and other states. To fly overseas, many of us in the middle of the country have to change planes — and airports we are forced to use are incredibly delay-prone: Atlanta, #1 in delays; Chicago, #2; Dallas Fort/Worth #3; LAX, #4; Phoenix, #5; etc. These cities are are not only hubs for U.S. airlines with international service but also host foreign carriers. Denver actually ranks #7 on the FAA’s list of airports with the most flight delays, but often the problem isn’t home-grown but is caused largely by delays on the other end: either Denver-bound aircraft that can’t take off or outbound aircraft asked to hold here.

Denver and Munich are a natural pairing. Both cities are not in the mountains but very close to the mountains. Both are vibrant cities with a young active population. Both, in the context of their respective countries, are beer capitals. And both have modern new airports out in the country, replacing older ones that were closer to the city but smaller and more congested. The one thing that Munich has that Denver does not have yet is a railroad station right at the airport.

A bit over two years ago, my husband and I flew to Munich to attend the wedding of a former exchange student at the University of Colorado. We planned to spend a few days in the city before the wedding, but arrived without reservations. We did the usual Europe: went to the information and reservations desk in the terminal to book a room. We requested a three-star hotel near the main railroad station (Hauptbahnhof). No problem. We had our Eurailpasses validated at the airport and boarded a train right there. Trains to the city depart every 20 minutes and reach the railroad station in 45 minutes and wheeled our bags around the corner to our hotel. That easy airport-city connection by rail remains something that we still look forward to here.

Of flights, flying and the TSA, Part Deux

On Nov. 5, I posted my thoughts about the Transportation Stupidity Agency on this blog. More recently, the far better-known and wa-a-a-ay more articulate Anna Quindlen wrote about the same thing in Newsweek. “Osama bin Laden could get through the line if the name on his license was the same as that on his ticket and he wasn’t packing Oil of Olay,” was the call-out subhead for her column.

She told of scooping half-an-ounce of face cream from a 3.5-ounce jar so that it wouldn’t be confiscated. “Is this any way to run an airline?,” she asked, articulating my complaints of just a few days ago. “Between constant delays and nonexistent services, flying has become the modern version of seafaring steerage accommodations. But nothing has made it seem worse than the long lines of bedraggled and beaten-down travelers at security checkpoints, pouring their change into plastic tubs, standing in stocking feet as their shoes are scanned, proffering zip-lock bags full of face creams and foundation.”

And in a great leap to big-picture analysis that I never thought to post, she wrote: “This is not merely an inconvenience. The whole cockeyed system has become a symbol of the shortcomings of government programs and responses. It’s expensive, arbitrary and infuriating; it turns low-wage line workers into petty despots. And instead of making Americans feel safer, its sheer silliness illuminates how impotent we are in the face of terrorism. The hustle and bustle at U.S. checkpoints is window dressing, another one of those rote, unthinking exercises that are the hallmark of bureaucracies, like ‘Bleak House’ with luggage.”

Read her entire column at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15562940/site/newsweek/ — and don’t forget your one-quart zip-lock bag when you head for the airport.

Fare or Foul?

Money magazine is the latest purporting to let the travel public in on air fare secrets. Such articles are almost as ubiquitous as turkey recipes at this time of year. I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t learn anything new from that piece. It failed to mention www.priceline.com with its auction-style pricing and www.hotwire.com, which is ideal if you want a bargain fare, are willing to fly on their choice of carriers (sometimes with a change of planes), and aren’t fussy about the time of day you fly (often meaning an early-morning departure). Also, I’ve often found the best deals on the airlines’ own websites, which sometimes also give bonus miles — not trivial if you are trying to stack up mileage on a particular airline for a business class ticket to that dream destination.