Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Science Explains Why Airline Food Tastes So Bad

Bad airline food is nothing new. It's one of the favorite complaints among passengers, along with cramped seats and full-body cavity searches from the TSA.

But maybe the airlines aren't totally at fault. And maybe the food service companies they buy their food from isn't at totally at fault either.

Science finally has an explanation. No, they didn't figure out what that mystery meat is. This is actually quite interesting and something I'd never even considered.

According to this article on Fox News' website, the altitude plays a major factor in how your food tastes at 35,000 feet.

“Your ability to taste food and wine decreases thirty-percent at altitude,” says Talling-Smith. Howard Hillman’s The New Kitchen Science (Mariner Books) confirms that flying decreases not just taste bud sensitivity but sense of smell.
 “Cabin pressure,” writes Hillman, “decreases the volatility of the odorant molecules,” meaning there’s not a whole lot of aromas at altitude. (Ever notice that it gets stinky when you start de-planing?) Further, the cabin’s ultra-dry atmosphere “dehydrates the entire body” and also “impairs the passenger’s olfactory sensory mechanism,” i.e. ability to smell.

The article goes on to explain that drinking diuretics like coffee and alcohol can amplify the problem even further.

If you were to taste the food on the ground, it might not be all that bad.

At least one airline, British Airways, is trying to "pump up" the flavor of their onboard meals with more herbs and spices to try and make the food a little better when served to passengers.

So the next time you fly and are choking down a piece of rubbery chicken, don't blame the airline. Blame the altitude.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Frontier Airlines Upgrades Their Inflight Entertainment Offerings

Frontier Airlines will be upgrading their inflight amenities, according to a press release published yesterday on their website.

Most of the changes involve offering more programming to their inflight entertainment line-up. Of course, there's a cost to passengers. The airline will be charging from $3.99 to $7.99, determined by the length of your flight.

The press release outlines their changes:

“We constantly hear from our customers how much they appreciate the option of our DIRECTV® service onboard our Airbus fleet and we are happy to provide an even better product at a better price,” said Dan Krause, Frontier’s vice president of marketing and customer experience. “The bundled pricing for both 24 channels of DIRECTV and movie service provides a greater value to our customers and we believe the variable pricing based on length of travel will allow even more customers to enjoy this service on their next Frontier flight.”


The new bundled product will be included in all Classic and Classic Plus tickets, as well as for Frontier’s EarlyReturns® Ascent and Summit members. Customers purchasing Classic and Classic Plus fares – which are only available at – and flying on Airbus aircraft will now get access to movies as well the 24 channels of DIRECTV, further increasing the value of these fares, which also include two checked bags, lower fees, and access to better seating.
I'm usually not one to take advantage of the inflight entertainment when I fly. Most of the time I either work, read or sleep. The biggest exception is when I listen to the "in the cockpit" channel on the headphones. But with Frontier's lineup of DIRECTV entertainment, it'd be hard to pass up, especially on flights longer than 3 hours.

Photo Credit: redlegsfan21 via Creative Commons

Friday, May 25, 2012

United Airlines Ends Pre-Boarding For Families

In what appears to be another blow to traveling families, United Airlines decided to end pre-boarding for families - even those with infants and toddlers.

The reasoning is, according to this CNN article, is that United wants to streamline the boarding process by reducing the number of boarding groups.

Bad move. Back in December 2010, my wife and I took our infant son to visit our family in Idaho. We were flying United. I asked the ticket agent at the gate if we'd have a chance to pre-board. She snapped at me to wait for my boarding group to be called.

So we waited. When we finally boarded, infant son in tow, we found our seats. Because we had a 4-month old with us. It took us a while to get settled. The line behind us backed up considerably. No one complained, as I'm sure they understood (at least, I hope they did). Maybe they were distracted by a cute baby.

The unintended consequence of United's decision to eliminate pre-boarding for families with small children will be longer wait times and "traffic" jams as passengers wait for these families to get settled. And if it's around the holidays, where a lot of families are traveling, it'll take forever to get the plane boarded.

I used to love to fly United. They were a good airline. Over the last decade or so they have gone downhill. They offer little legroom and employees aren't as friendly as they used to be.

Because I live in Chicago, there's no shortage of more family-friendly airlines to choose from. United will no longer be an option.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Airlines Charging Extra For Seats Together

Just when you think airlines couldn't nickel and dime passenger any more, they find yet another way. This time, airlines want to reserve window and aisle seats for those who pay extra. This means that families, friends and anyone else who wants to sit together might be sitting in different parts of the plane.

And now that the summer travel season is here, it might be impossible to find two seats together (unless you pay that damned fee). Depending on your flights, destination, how many travelers your with - that extra fee can easily top $100.

But according to this article on the Huffington Post, some travelers kinda like the idea:

Frequent business travelers used to get stuck with middle seats even though their last-minute fares were two or three times higher than the average. Now, airlines are setting aside more window and aisle seats for their most frequent fliers at no extra cost.
 "The customers that are more loyal, who fly more often, we want to make sure they have the best travel experience," says Eduardo Marcos, American Airline's manager of merchandising strategy.

This I can understand. Business travelers are the bread-and-butter passengers for the airline industry. They fly often and pay higher fares than the summer traveler. Frequent fliers should get the better seats, they certainly deserve it.

However, I think airlines can find a better way than charging extra. For families (like mine) it can get very expensive, very fast to fly somewhere. The last thing we need is to pay just to sit together.

Maybe we'll stay home this year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Are Checked Bag Fees Backfiring On Airlines?

Checked bag fees seem to be the bane of the traveler's existence. Passengers are forced to pay these fees, which can be upwards of $50, on top of already high airfares.

According to the Transportation Department, revenue from those fees went down to 3.36 billion from 3.4 billion. Yes, it's still a lot of money, but it signals that passengers are finally starting to pack lighter, instead of carrying their entire lives with them on the plane.

"We'll damage your bag at no extra charge."

I have mixed feelings about checked bag fees. On the one hand, I understand that airlines need to make money, and this is a good way to make a quick buck. On the other hand, I think that the 'law of unintended consequences' is at play here.

Charging passengers to check their bags means passengers will bring more onto the plane with them. I've seen countless people trying to shove overstuffed suitcases into the overhead bin. On full flights, the last few passengers to board will sometimes have to have their suitcase checked because there's no more room.

There's really no win-win with baggage fees. There gets to be a point when airlines start nickel-and-diming passengers (most will say they already do).

Photo Credit: Masaru Kamikura Used under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Virgin Atlantic To Allow Inflight Cell Phone Use

Virgin Atlantic has decided to allow inflight cell phone use on some flights. The airline will slowly roll out the service. At first, the service will only work with British O2 and Vodaphone providers. And only 6 cell phones will be able to make calls at any given time.

This is a highly heated issue. Allowing cell phone use inflight is either a blessing to those who want to stay connected, or the ultimate hell for those (like me) who relish the time in the air with no one yapping on their phone.

Further, this surely cause tension in the cabin. People will be easily annoyed at those talking on their phones. And those who want to talk might have to wait if 6 others are already on calls. Add in the fact they are in a very confined space at 30,000+ feet in the air, and you have a perfect storm brewing.

Like many others, my personal view is to keep cell phones banned on all flights. People have gone without using their phones for this long, I'm sure they can continue to deal with it. According to this LA Times article, a 2005 survey found that 63% of passengers oppose inflight cell phone use.

Further, most flight crews are against it too, especially flight attendants because they'll have to play referee  when tensions rise in the cabin over someone chatting away and annoying the rest of us.

It should be noted that Virgin Atlantic is not the only airline to allow cell phones. The LA Times says that Emirates Airlines and Malaysia Airlines have been offering cell service for a few years now.

Photo Credit: eisenbahner Used with permission from Creative Commons.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How Safe Are Regional Carriers?

As much as I love flying I'm still concerned about safety. I know that flying is the safest way to travel. But I still say a little prayer before my flight pushes back from the gate.

That said, one of my favorite columns in USA Today is 'Ask The Captain.' Readers submit their questions about all-things-airlines and a retired pilot answers.

This week's question deals with the safety of regional carriers:

Captain Cox, in your opinion, how would you compare the safety standards between regional airlines and mainline (legacy) airlines? Is it true that regional pilots are less experienced, underpaid, and less rested? Do regional airlines cut corners on safety because of financial issues?

Here's part of the answer:

The standards for regional and large international airlines are set by the FAA and are the same. All airlines have to meet or exceed the Federal Aviation Regulations that pertain to airlines, Part 121.
Some regional pilots have less experience than most of the large airline pilots, however, there are some very experienced pilots flying for regional airlines.

The entire answer is worth a read, so be sure to check it out.