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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Use Your Airline Miles To Redeem Free Ebooks

Over at my other blog, Brad's Reader, I talk a lot about ebooks and other technology related to reading, writing and publishing. I just posted an article about how Diesel eBooks is partnering with Koinz Media so customers can use their airline miles to redeem free ebooks.

Here's a reprint of that post:

This will be a tough dilemma for readers who love to travel. You can now redeem those hard-earned airline miles for ebooks. Diesel eBooks has partnered up with Koinz Media, a rewards points company, will now let people choose ebooks.

In a statement, Koinz Media said:

"eBooks are available instantly to reward members that redeem their credit card reward points or airline miles at their loyalty portal. Diesel provides a vast selection across all the leading eBook readers and we are thrilled to be bringing this selection to our partner banks, airlines and hotel programs" Anu Shukla, CEO of Koinz Media Inc.

For someone like me who loves to travel, it will be hard to decide whether I want free travel or free ebooks. Of course, I don't travel all that much so I'll be paying for both in the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 7, 2012

American Airlines Regrets Selling Lifetime AAir Passes

It's the dream of airline enthusiasts like myself to have unlimited air travel. Well, American Airlines made such dreams come true back in the 80s, but it came with a hefty price tag: $350,000.

The AAirpass allowed the lucky few who could afford it to fly with virtually no limits. Now American is regretting that decision because of AAirpass holders like Jacques Vroom. He estimates he has flown around 40 million miles. And American estimates he's costing the airlines millions in revenue each year.

American alleged that he sold his companion tickets to people he didn't even know, to destinations all around the world. Vroom maintained that he wasn't selling the seats, rather, they were paying for his business services (he worked as a direct-marketing consultant).

Vroom even used the massive amount of miles he earned to give to AIDs patients so they could visit their families.

American has sued Vroom, who has countersued American. The airline alleges fraud while Vroom maintains he did nothing wrong and the terms of his AAirpass said nothing about selling seats.

My little post here hasn't done this story justice. You can read the interesting and lengthy write-up in the LA Times.