Monthly Archives: December 2007

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Airlines

For some reason I was recently thinking about the long-defunct People Express and how they used to publish advertisements with all of their sale fares listed in it.  In 1985 the airline made waves by charging only $99 to fly from Newark to Los Angeles, Newark to London and Newark to Brussels.  I remember trying to convince my father to go to Brussels with me for the weekend because the fare was so crazy (we didn’t go, and he’s mocked me repeatedly for every weekend trip I’ve taken to Europe since).

I mention this because it’s 2007 and sale fares from New York to Los Angeles are about $99 each way, and winter fares to London are often available in the $99 each way range.  Think about that.  In the mid-1980s oil was under $20 a barrel (under $15 a barrel for some of it).  It’s 5-6 times more expensive now, and Boeing hasn’t exactly lowered airplane prices over the past 20 years. 

We hear a ton of complaints about airlines ranging from the petty (the episode with the Spirit Airlines passengers complaining about their $37 round trip flight) to the legitimate (7 hour runway strandings).  Fine.  In the holiday season I thought I’d help us remember that in many ways the state of air travel is better than it has been since Kitty Hawk.

We can travel basically anywhere in the world on a whim.  Average roundtrip airfares between New York and London were about $6500 (in today’s dollars) back in the 1950s.  I could fly there for $500 in 2 weeks.  Despite rising fixed costs, airfares continue (for the most part) to be incredibly affordable in ways that most other countries can only dream about.  It’s changed the way we keep in touch with friends, go on vacation, and do business.  We’re all better off because we can fly off to Michigan to visit friends for $150, when driving the same route would cost about $180 in gas.

Frequent flyer programs and the growing airline alliances have allowed us to visit roughly anywhere in the world for free — and it is truly free for many of us, as we accumulate those miles on our companies’ dime.  20 years ago Albania was closed off to the rest of the world.  This summer, I called Continental, used 50,000 miles (thanks to work trips to Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, mostly), and 10 days later was on a plane to Tirana on a Skyteam partner.   If we can stop complaining for a moment, think about how insane that is.  The world has become accessible in a way it never has before.

Frequent flyer programs, for all of the issues with redeeming points, are still an amazing perk.  If you’re a mid-tier elite and you fly from the east coast to Hong Kong, you’ve just about earned enough miles from that one flight for a free ticket to Aruba.  Our parents saved up for years to go to the Caribbean maybe once in their life.  We get a free ticket every time we take a trip.  Crazy.

Planes have gotten more comfortable, too.  Everyone used to complain about the food, then, oddly, everyone complained when they took away the food.  Seats used to be uncomfortable and cabins were smokey (hard to believe now, right?).  JetBlue offers leather seats, with seatback live television and as much legroom as you typically find in domestic first class.  For a $59 flight from Newark to West Palm Beach.

If you’re flying during the holiday season you may find yourself standing in a long security line (not the airline’s fault), having to figure out how much water you’re allowed to bring with you (not the airline’s fault), and circling for a bit before you land (also not the airline’s fault).  Your trip may not got as smoothly as possible.  I’ll accept that.  But get over it, and realize that those are the costs of making the world as accessible as it is to more people than ever before.  And if you’ve benefited at all from these changes, you’ll know that the price we pay is worth it.

Have a great Christmas and New Year’s, and the OTR will be back on January 2nd or so.

The NY Times Crap Article about Flight Safety in Asia

The NY Times published an absolute crap article about the safety of low fare airlines in Asia over the weekend.  The piece asks this question: "In a developing region witnessing a boom in the number of low-cost
airlines, can tourists trust their lives on these budget carriers?"

The answer, of course, is yes, they should trust their lives.  Air Asia, Tiger Airways, Cebu Air and many others have flying records that are at least on par with US-based airlines.  A small number of carriers have suffered incidents that suggest that their maintenance procedures are sub-par, but they are few-and-far between, and to suggest that the issue is with budget carriers (let alone all budget carriers) is sensational and simply untrue.  The article notes that Garuda, Indonesia’s flag carrier, and Korean Air, neither of which are budget carriers, have been formally reprimanded for their flight safety (Korean has since cleaned up its act).  This is an airline-specific issue, not a budget carrier issue.

And as you’re asking yourself whether its safe to fly these airlines, remember that you are in far more peril once you’re on the ground in southeast Asia than you are in the air — Vietnam had more than 12,000 traffic deaths in 2005.  Don’t believe everything you read.

Bye Bye, MAXjet

MAXjet announced it is filing for bankruptcy and ceasing all flights today.  If you are in the middle of travel on MAXjet, you will be reaccomodated on Eos if you are flying to New York (a good thing, trust me), or on another airline if you are flying to LA or Vegas.  If you have a MAXjet ticket, you should ask your credit card company or travel agent for a refund.

This is a perfect example of just how difficult it is to succeed as an airline.  MAXjet was offering a product that was perhaps half-a-step lower in quality than its US-based competitors, but charging about 80% less.  And they still couldn’t make it work (it didn’t help that for the first year and change of their operations their planes were far less-than-reliable.  Nobody tried to match MAXjet on fares, but I wouldn’t be surprised if SilverJet, which was positioned between MAXjet and Eos, tried to bring their prices up a bit (they’re struggling as well).

2-for-1 Deal to South Africa

South African Airways is offering a special 2-for-1 fare to Johannesburg, Durban and Capetown from New York and Washington:  $1350 round trip gets you two tickets for flights before March 1st — book by January 22nd. 

British Airways: $2,176 Round Trip to London in Business

British Airways has launched a great sale on their Club World seats to London.  $2176 round trip for flights from New York between January 19 and March 23.  Lots of other cities are available, capping out at about $3200 round trip from the west coast.  We often see these deals during the holidays but rarely during other periods. 

Woman Sits in Urine-Soaked Seat for Flight to Boston

A woman sat in a urine-soaked seat for her entire AirTran flight from Florida to Boston.  The bigger issue was that it was not her own urine.  (insert joke about how pissed she was).  You can read the whole story if you really need the details on this.

Kingfisher and Deccan to Merge

For you India airline buff(s):  Kingfisher and Deccan will merge into a combined carrier called Kingfisher Airlines though, confusingly, short-haul A320 flights will be branded as Deccan while longer flights will be branded at Kingfisher (Deccan is modeled after Ryanair, whereas Kingfisher offers a premium product).  One major benefit of the merger is that the Indian government requires that an airline be flying for 5 years before it can fly overseas — Kingfisher has A380s on order and this acquisition will allow it to meet that requirement.

This is the 3rd airline merger in India this year, with Air Sahara & Jet Airways tying up while the government merged together Air India and Indian Airlines in August.

JFK to Cap Flights During Peak Hours

The US DoT will implement a plan to cut flights during peak hours at JFK airport.  During the afternoon/evening rush, flights will be capped at 82-83 an hour, down from the 100 an hour we saw this summer.  Airlines will voluntarily make cuts to ensure that goal number is reached.  Any improvement at JFK is a good one, and if you’re thinking that you never fly to JFK, so this doesn’t affect you, you’re wrong.  Delays at JFK trickle through the system so that your flight from Louisville to Atlanta can be delayed because of 4:30pm congestion at JFK.

$299 For Air/Hotel Package to Hawaii

(Thanks, Travelzoo…)

Pleasant Holidays is offering a 3 night air/hotel package from Los Angeles to Honolulu for $299 per person for travel January through March.  What a bargain.

SriLankan Airlines Fires CEO Because Country’s President Was Bumped from Flight

An odd one from Sri Lanka:

The Sri Lankan government has canceled the work permit of the CEO of SriLankan Airlines (which effectively means he’s fired) after the country’s president was told there was not enough room on a flight from London to Colombo to accommodate him and his 35-person entourage.  Government officials say that the airline assured them there would be room for the whole group but they were wrong.  The president’s group refused a re-routing through the Middle East, and they chose to charter a flight home.  To get back at the airline, the government revoked the CEO’s work permit.

And US airline CEOs think they have it hard.