Category Archives: Consumer Issues

Spirit: Worst Airline in America?

Actual riot breaks out in boarding area.

My husband and I flew Spirit Airlines once. The delays and the nickel-and-diming caused us to vow: Never again. And we’ve kept that vow, not just for Spirit but for Frontier and other low-cost, no-service companies and their flying misery machines.

On Sunday, a riot broke out at Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale Airport after nine or more flights were canceled. Apple News “the  airline blames a pilot slowdown and is suing pilot the union, alleging that they have been deliberately stalling flights as retaliation over contract disputes. According to the lawsuit, Spirit had canceled 81 flights in one day across the country and approximately 300 over the past week. People tweeted videos of the massive crowd surrounding the counter, some showing the escalation of the mass argument from verbal to physical when authorities stepped in.”

Click here for the ABC News report.

 

Latest Air-Travel Add-On: Complaining

U.K. Passengers may pay to complain.

ComplaintDeptThis is rich. In an effort to lighten its workload, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) wants to shift some passenger complaints to Alternative Dispute Resolutions”(ADRs). There are three, and oddly,  two of them propose to charge an upfront fee £25 that will only be refunded if if the customer’s complaint is deemed “successful.”

The first step in complaining remains to address the airline itself. The second step, in case the problem is not resolved or the airline does not respond, would be to proceed to an ADR, which in theory should avoid an eventual court case.  The ADR’s decision would be binding, but it it anything like the way FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) handles investor complains in the U.S., it’s usually futile to go that route.

Nineteen airlines have reportedly moved their conflict resolution to an ADR. These include  British Airways, easyJet and Thomas Cook Travelers.

Need Extra Passport Pages? Get Them Now

Extra page policy ends at on December 31.

passportMy most treasured expired passport was valid from 1995 to 2005. The reason I like it best is that traveled so often during that decade that I actually had to get extra pages. I beef up the need did by requesting a stamp “as a souvenir” at every passport control opportunity. (I did get close to needing extras in the 2005 to 2015 passport. ) It will also be my only passport with extra pages, because starting on January 1, 2016. Americans will no longer be given the opportunity to add pages to existing passports. I have no idea why.

Bottom line is that if you travel a lot internationally, you might want to apply for extra pages before the end of the year so you won’t have to prematurely renew. After the first of the year, renewing (i.e., getting a whole new passport) is your only option At the time, however, you will be able to choose a 52-page book rather than the standard 28-page passport. FoMoInfo on the new regs.

Allegiant: Low Fare + No Air

Allegiant passengers forced onto aircraft wing upon landing in Boise.

AllegiantAirLogoWho ever expects that an airline ticket will include unbreathable cabin “air”? Some passengers on Allegiant Air that landed in Boise the other day, who ended up standing on the aircraft wing, found out that it could happen. According to a report in the Idaho Statesman, “Passengers were forced to escape onto the wing of an Allegiant Air plane after fumes leaked into the cabin on landing. The worrying incident happened after Flight 330 had landed at Boise Airport in Idaho, U.S. from Los Angeles.”

Passengers waiting on the wing of a just-landed Allegiant Air plane after foul cabin air forced them to except. It happened in Boise. Good that it wasn't winter or windy. The carrier reportedly compensated them with $50 for the inconvenience.
Passengers waiting on the wing of a just-landed Allegiant Air plane after foul cabin air forced them to except. It happened in Boise. Good that it wasn’t winter or windy. The carrier reportedly compensated them with $50 for the inconvenience.

Passengers reported smoke and a smell of fuel in the cabin the plane taxied to the gate in Boise. Some of the 163 passengers escaped onto the wing after fumes leaked into the cabin upon landing. Even after the emergency evacuation, some were dismayed at the way the airline dealt with the situation. “Passengers Criticize Allegiant Air’s Handling of the Evacuation.”

This follows another Allegiant Air emergency landing in Clearwater, Florida just a week earlier, when minutes after takeoff, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and was forced to return to the airport. Four passengers and one flight attendant reportedly sustained injuries that time.

According to a press released issued by BerlinRosen Public Affairs on behalf of a client that I can’t seem to identify, “Allegiant pilots have been raising concerns about the airline’s bare-minimum approach that’s infused all aspect of its operation. Earlier this year, Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Coalition (TAMC) released a report that shows the airline experiences a high rate of air returns and diversions due to mechanical issues. Between January and March of 2015 alone, there were 38 new instances of fixable mechanical issues such as engines failing, pressurization problems, smoke in the cockpit, radar being inoperable and anti-ice devices on windshields failing.” T

his follows another Allegiant Air emergency landing in Clearwater, Florida, just a week earlier, when minutes after takeoff, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and was forced to return to the airport in Clearwater. Four passengers and one flight attendant sustained injuries.  This is a result of what I think of as the Walmartization of America, turning us into a nation of bottom-feeders.  Cut costs to the bone, no matter what the possible consequences.  It is fortunate that there were only survivable injuries in the Clearwater incident and none reported in Boise, where BTW, Allegiant reportedly gave each affected passenger a $50 certificate. I wonder how many people will actually use it. I wouldn’t.

K-to-5 Kids Free at Four Vail-Owned Resorts Next Winter

Keystone, Breck, Vail & Beaver Creek part of new Epic SchoolKids deal.

Vail-logoVail Resorts Inc. is the 800-pound gorilla of Colorado ski resorts, and it has raised the bar for parents of grade school children. If you are among them, as you contemplate which season pass to purchase for 2015-16, there’s a very good reason to go with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass. Epic SchoolKids is an awesome new program with free skiing and riding for all Colorado kindergartners through fifth graders next winter.

Family skiing at Vail -- one of four of Vail Resorts Inc.'s resorts offering free skiing to Colorado grade-schoolers next season.
Family skiing at Vail — one of four of Vail Resorts Inc.’s resorts offering free skiing to Colorado grade-schoolers next season.

Parents can already enroll their kids by visiting participating Colorado Ski & Golf locations or Boulder Ski Deals. The program provides four days of free skiing and riding at each Vail’s four resorts in their backyards – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. In addition, Epic SchoolKids also can get started at the ivy league of ski schools with a FREE full-day beginner lesson and equipment rentals at any of those resorts during the month of January, outside of holiday periods, as part of Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month. Parents, click here for details various adult season pass options to maximize family ski time; put $49 down and pay the remainder in fall.

In all likelihood, competing resorts — except perhaps those in Colorado’s southwestern corner — are brainstorming ways to come up with competitive offers, and Colorado families will be the beneficiaries. Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass offers are unbeatable, but other things are not such comparable bargains. At Breckenridge the other day, every single sunscreen product available at the rental shop carried a double-digit price tag, and a 1.4-ounce bag of SmartFoods popcorn was improbably priced at $3.79. I expect to pay more at a resort base with its captive audience, but these prices are over-the-top ridiculous. Moral of the story if you want not to overspend: never leave all your sunscreen at home, and stick some energy bars in your pocket or pack.

 

Airlines’ Extra Fees Are Windfall Worth Billions

Top revenue source, surprisingly, isn’t passengers but banks.

FrequentFlyerIf you need any reason to fly Southwest, it is the staggering amount of money airlines are raking in by charging for everything other than your seat, lavatory access and maybe a cheap beverage (water, coffee, tea) and a little bag of peanuts or pretzels. Not long ago, travel authority Peter Greenberg dissected the outrageous revenues carriers are extracting from travelers in a blog post called “How Much Are Airlines Making from Ancillary Revenue?”

According to the site,  “Ancillary revenue for the entire airline community—international and domestic—hit $31.5 billion in 2013. The top 5 U.S. airlines earned over $13.5 billion alone….The folks at IdeaWorks, a company that tracks these things, has projected that ancillary revenue will climb to $49.9 billion worldwide in 2014—a 17.2 percent increase from 2013.”

As annoying as the add-on fees are to aggrieved passengers, I was very surprised to learn that what we are paying isn’t the largest ancillary revenue source for carriers. It’s banks. According to PeterGreenberg.com, “The largest contributor is the sale of frequent flyer miles—when the bank pays the airline to redeem your frequent flyer miles accrued through a credit card. This makes up 55 percent of profits from ancillary revenue, and has earned airlines $27.45 billion in 2013.”

Are you as surprised as I?

Thai Airways Ups Baggage Allowance

All classes of service are affected.

ThaiAirways-logoGenerally, whenever an airline changes some policy or another, it’s to charge more or provide less — or both. Thai Airways is doing the opposite by increasing allowances for free checked baggage. Royal First Class passengers may now check-in 50 kilograms, up from 40 kilograms previously. Royal Silk Class passengers (business class) are now allowed 40 kilograms, up from 30 kilograms. Even Economy Class get a break with 30 kilograms of free checked baggage, up from 20 kilograms previously. Royal Orchid Plus members are also entitled additional baggage allowance based on their respective member status. A kilogram equals is 2.2 pounds. You do the math.

Spirit: The Grinchiest Airline of Them All

Low-fare airline ups baggage fees during the holidays.

Spirit-logoSpirit Airlines‘ aggressively promoted super-cheap air fares are, in reality, pumped up with outrageous add-ons for everything (including carryon bags) that can escalate the cost of a trip to stratospheric levels. Between December 18 and January 5, Spirit Airlines is increasing some of their already-ridiculous à la carte fees, charging an additional $2 per checked bag during the holiday travel season. Carry-ons save no money either, since Spirit charges anywhere from $26 to $100 for the privilege of lugging your own bag through the airport.

I believe it was FrequentFlyer.com that broke the story — or in any case, that’s how I first learned of it in “Spirit’s Xmas Present: Higher Bag Fees.” In his report, Tim Winship noted, “Ironically, Spirit has been on a quest to soften its image as the industry’s most rapacious nickel-and-dimer. Apparently, that P.R. initiative has been put on hold for the holidays.” Rapacious indeed.

A Tale of Inflight Meals

United wins the lousy food stakes.

BadAirlineFoodI used frequent flier miles to travel from Denver to Frankfurt and back. Because United’s MileagePlus is not especially friendly, could I book the nonstop between Denver and Frankfurt and add on two intra-Europe flights (to Prague and back from Vienna)? No-o-o-o-o. Each required three flights on three different airlines. Eastbound I flew Denver-Toronto on United, Toronto-Frankfurt on Air Canada, Frankfurt-Prague on Lufthansa. Westbound I flew Vienna-Frankfurt on Tyrolean, Frankfurt-Chicago on a vintage United 747, Chicago-Denver again on United.

There were two long transatlantic flights with service involved. Eastbound, the food was unexciting but edible. Westbound it was largely inedible. First off, United is using some kind of compartmentalized tray that rocks on the tray table. That’s annoying, but the food was indescribably awful. With a choice in steerage (which airlines prefer to call Economy) between chicken and pasta, I usually select pasta, which is usually more reliable and less easily ruined.

Usually. The pasta was either lasagna or ravioli or something like it that was filled. However, it had deteriorated into one unrecognizable gummy mess, so it was impossible to tell what it was supposed to be. Accompanying it was a warm salad — that is, a green salad of iceberg or similar lettuce that was as warm is if it had been heated. The pre-landing snack featured a cellophane-wrapped turkey and gouda sandwich. The wrapper said that it could be oven-heated. It hadn’t been. It was ice-cold — just a few degrees above frozen. I asked the flight attendant if it was supposed to be like that. She replied that there was nothing to heat it with. I restrained myself from asking whether they used up all the heat on the lunch salad.

Oh, and unlike foreign carriers, United charges $7.99 for a wine, which might have taken the misery out of the meal.

Frontier’s New ‘Unreward’ Policies

EarlyReturns getting more restrictive & expensive.

Old Frontier logo as a tribute to old policies.
Old Frontier logo as a tribute to old policies.

Frontier Airlines’ EarlyReturns “unrewards” members with booking fees and other restrictions. Most galling, IMO, customers will now be slammed with a booking fee for travel using their hard-accumulated frequent flyer miles unless they do so at least six months in advance. Six months!

It recently overhauled its elite status tiers, so the new fee is — as the saying goes — adding insult to injury. All award travel is assessed federal taxes and U.S. Transportation Security Administration fees, and Frontier becomes the latest  to impose an additional fee.

As the Denver Post noted, “Frontier is presenting the change as a new perk for elite members who will have the fee waived, while also pointing to its competitors at Denver International Airport — including United Airlines and ultra-low-cost Spirit Airlines — both of which already charge passengers similar fees.”

United has gotten ever unfriendlier. I am currently in Europe on miles. I redeemed 60,000 miles each way in steerage. Not long ago, friends traveled to southern Africa in business class for 65,000 each way, and Spirit’s policies are so appalling that I just warn everyone not even to consider them. Many locals have been flying Frontier to support this Denver-based airline over Dallas-based Southwest, but with such changes, I’m betting that fewer will bother.