Monthly Archives: November 2009

Best (or possibly worst) Secretary Ever Calls in Bomb Threat to Help Delayed Boss Make Flight

A woman in south Florida called in a bomb threat to an American Airlines flight to Honduras to help her boss, who was going to miss the flight because he was running late.  He made the plane, but police later arrested the woman for reporting a false bomb threat.

This all sounded vaguely familiar to me – and it was, since some other moron did the exact same thing, calling in a bomb threat because he was going to miss his flight last year.  That didn’t work either.

Gulf Air to Switch to Regional Focus; Won’t Compete (Much) with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar

Just as Cranky has had a place in his heart for Alitalia, I have had a soft spot for long-struggling Bahrain-based airline Gulf Air.  The Bahrain-based airline was once co-owned by the governments of Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Qatar, but Qatar & Abu Dhabi cut out in the early part of the decade to build their own carriers (Qatar and Etihad).  With both of those airlines introducing (or re-introducing) incredibly strong products, and with the global juggernaut Emirates in their backyard, Gulf Air has had a very, very rough go of it.  How rough?  It has had 4 CEOs since 2002.

To give themselves a shot, they’re going the regional route, announcing that they’ll sell their long-range A340s, and boost nonstop regional routes from Bahrain.  Given that the other capitals in the area (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and, to an extent, Muscat) are all pretty well covered with nonstop flights, this may not be a bad move.  However, I’m going to guess that a significant amount of traffic in the region is between those cities mentioned above, as well as services to India.  Nonstop flights to Bahrain are already available to those cities.  So perhaps they branch out beyond the Gulf States to Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon and Syria, creating a route map that looks more like Air Arabia.  But with high costs.  I dunno, doesn’t sound promising…

Richard Branson: Legacy Airlines Are “Beyond Repair”

Interesting interview in Ad Age with Richard Branson on the launch of Virgin America’s new routes to Ft. Lauderdale.  The highlight?  When asked what legacy carriers could learn from Virgin America, he responded:

They basically should get out a clean white sheet of paper and start again. Most of them are beyond repair. They got far too big and have management groups that don’t care about customer service. The experience the traveling public gets on those other carriers is pretty dire.

He’s right, of course, but I think there’s a bigger issue:  legacy carriers were built by operations guys who knew how to run an operations-focused company.  That worked very well when fares were regulated and they were all-but guaranteed a profit (they were basically utilities).  When you deregulated, they were able to reap solid profits when people had to fly (when the economy was good), but died a slow, miserable death when people stopped showing up on their doorsteps.

Newer airlines, starting with Southwest and continuing through Virgin America, saw customer service (and style, in some cases) as a way to differentiate the business.  This wasn’t a superficial decision — certainly, they run solid operational parts of the business; but decisions are quite obviously made from a team that is focused first-and-foremost on customer experience.  That makes a massive difference.

Branson hit on that when he said that legacy carriers need to start with a blank page (which is really saying that they have no chance).  Yet we’ve been saying that for a looooooong time.  I think that Continental has shown that (in some part) legacy carriers can change and create a customer-centered organization.  But it’s not easy.  And once Virgin America gets on better financial footing (which is beginning to happen), they’ll be a JetBlue-sized major player.  How can US Airways compete with that?

Top 5 Friday: 5 Random Observations from This Week’s Trip

I’m back a bit early from my excursion (I’ve recently changed jobs, so I’ll be traveling more nowadays), and I thought I’d share 5 thoughts from the trip:

– Changing your return flight on an international trip can be ridiculous.  My roundtrip fare was originally $800.  I decided to come back early…the cost to make that change?  $1600.  Instead I threw out the return ticket and  booked a roundtrip for $700.  I’ve said before that my biggest issue with this type of thing is not that it’s ridiculous – airlines are just trying to maximize revenue.  My issue is that most of us on that plane are just trying to get home to our families, and when it costs $1600 to do that on an $800 ticket, it’s annoying.  My solution?  Airlines send Elite members a “get home free” card where once (twice?) a year they change their return ticket for free.

– You know how after a long flight, the cabin is in complete disarray with newspapers, food, blankets, and random crap strewn everywhere?  Somehow the flight over to Amsterdam was nearly spotless when we disembarked.  Weird.

– Flights to Europe from the East Coast are brutal.  No matter how many times you do it, or how much ambien you take, it’s not long enough to get a night’s sleep and the time change makes a short work trip into a series of dream-like experiences.  I looked across the table during one meeting and saw my co-worker with her head down on the table fighting to stay awake.  There’s no real answer to this, but it became the theme of the trip.  I’ll take the 10-hour South American overnight with no time change any day.

– On a short Edelweiss Air flight from Amsterdam to Zurich they served a sandwich of some sort during the 65 minute hop.  I’ve heard repeatedly about how amazing the service is in other countries because they serve food even on short flights.  But honestly – what the hell difference does that make?  If you can’t go from 9:50am to 11:05am without eating a ham and cheese sandwich, you have problems.  (Disclaimer:  I ate it.)

– I know I’m the only person in the world who loves Spirit Airlines, but I called them on Friday at 5:15pm to book a 7:45pm flight to Florida with a Sunday return.  It cost $190.  You can hate them all you want, but that’s just fantastic.

OTR Trip Report to Amsterdam

I know that there are a bunch of people out there who love to read highly detailed trip reports.  God Bless Lucky over at One Mile at a Time – he’s got huge readership, he’s an incredibly bright guy, and if you’re interested in 32 photos of the Diet Coke he drank on his last flight, he’s your man (I mean that in the best way possible) :)

But I flew over to Amsterdam on KLM last night, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts:

– A couple of days before the flight I wanted to call the airline to change a seat.  I had booked a flight through my work travel agent.  It listed the outbound as a Northwest flight, operated by KLM.  The return was listed as a Northwest flight, KLM codeshare, operated by Delta.  I had no idea who to call.  And when I did call Delta, they laughed and said I had to call Northwest, who denied any knowledge of the flight and told me to call KLM, who told me to call Delta.  Good times over at the merger.

– Flew on a KLM 747 Mixed use plane (I’d never seen one before – with the rear of the aircraft used for cargo).  The plane was delivered in 1989, and has not, as far as I could see, been updated since then.  It’s almost funny to be on a transcon flight without seatback TV, except that it’s not funny if you’re the guy on it.

– My iPhone doesn’t work in JFK Terminal 4.  Keep up the great work AT&T.

– I got on the plane, which was full, and was able to put my luggage in the overhead AND put a laptop bag on top of that piece of luggage.  It was the largest overhead bin I’ve ever seen.  It almost makes up for the lack of entertainment and electric plugs.

– I can complain all I want about the lack of amenities on this flight, but here’s the reality:

9:40pm: I boarded.
9:42pm:  I stowed my crap and, Thank God, found my Ambien.
9:43pm: I choked down an Ambien without water.
9:44pm: I read a bit of the New Yorker
9:53pm: Whoo, I’m feeling a bit drowzy
9:56pm: Snore
10:10pm: (apparently we lifted off)
1:36am: Guy next to me is touching me and my first reaction is to snuggle, since I assume it is my wife, but it is not, so I back off and try to get that thought out of my head.
10:28am: I wake up upon landing in Amsterdam.  There may have been some sort of meal or beverage service, but I am not aware of it.  Ambien trumps in-flight service.
12:07pm:  I am in the Marriott Amsterdam, apparently, and I know I took a cab here, but I have no actual recollection of that process.  Thanks Ambien amnesia!

So there ya go.  The reality of travel for me is that I’d much, much, much rather sleep than take advantage of any inflight service on trips to Europe.  And, despite my 20 year old plane with no service whatsoever, I was successful.

Later this week: The riveting story of my sub-2 hour flight over to Budapest.

Continental & United Introduce Unlimited (sort of) Domestic Upgrades

A quick one:  Continental and United announced that they will be offering unlimited (ish) upgrades on domestic, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America to members of each others’ elite programs (a perk that Continental has long offered).  In general, that’s good news.  Except if you’re Silver (or possibly Gold), because you will likely never see an upgrade again.  And that’s bad news if you fly transcon, as United’s P.S. service is excluded from the upgrade program.  But the are now offering Economy Plus access to OnePass Elite members, which is great, and will keep people (like me) from complaining about Continental’s stingy legroom.

Benefits will launch in mid-2010.

Aeroflot’s Cheap Fares to Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iran (!?), and More…

(Thanks to Flyertalk for the heads up)

Aeroflot has a sale going on right now with some ridiculous fares to ridiculous locations.  How ridiculous?  Good question.  How about $527 round trip to Tashkent, Uzbekistan from New York (all prices I’ll list include taxes…)  NYC – Tehran, $508; Cairo, $470; Damascus, $533; Dubai, $521.  Flights to India are under $700 (which is yet another reason why British Airways was a little bit wrong to claim that their $500+ fares from October were obviously a mistake).  Many of the flights have terrible connections in Moscow; some require overnights in Moscow which may trigger the need to buy the ridiculous Russian visa.

In any case, you don’t often get cheap fares to these locations, so jump on these crazy prices for flights through March 27th (book by November 30).

Be careful, though – if you’re thinking mileage run, think again.  In some cases, you won’t be able to get those Delta Skymiles for these flights.  Check with Delta before you buy.

Reviews of A380 First Class on Qantas, Singapore, and Emirates

Musings of the Global Traveller has a great post comparing 3 first class services on airlines flying A380s (Qantas, Singapore and Emirates). The reviews of the A380 service also include some useful tidbits about how to use miles to get those seats as well as some of the differences between the airlines.  Frankly, though, as someone who is flying to Europe tomorrow in coach, it all sounds pretty good…

Top 5 Friday: Top 5 People You Don’t Want to Sit Next to on a Plane

We’ve all had miserable seatmates on flights, so I thought I’d share the Top 5 People You Don’t Want to Sit Next to on a Plane:

1) The Catapulter.  Stands up, grabs your seat for leverage, lets go, flings you forward like a slingshot.

2) The Yapper.  Hi.  Where you going?  I don’t fly much, but I’m going to see my mom in Tulsa.  Just go bout once a year.  You fly a lot?  Oh really?  Yeah, I voted for Bush twice…

3) The Snorer.  I find that the more, um, exotic, the flight, the worse the snoring.  I’ve never heard worse than on a 3:15 am flight from Delhi to Dubai.  It was like a tuberculosis ward in there.

4) The Tuna Fisher.  Used to be frequented only on flights to Florida, but now a ubiquitous species.  Brings food on board with a pungency that cannot be endured for 4 hours. Tuna is the primary culprit, but Whoppers seem to be popular now.

5) The Laptop Crusher.  I paid $49 for this flight and dammit I’ll recline as far back as I can.  Frequent kicking in the back can generally stave this off.  As can sneezing on their head.

Is Someone Actually Thinking about Starting a New York-based Airline?

Based on this Craigslist job post and this thread on Airliners, it would appear that someone with a strong stomach is trying to launch an A320-based airline out of New York (former JetBlue exec?).  Since it wouldn’t really make any sense to throw more capacity to the West Coast (and what, compete against everyone?) or to Florida (are you kidding?), or to Chicago (huh?) or to Dallas (good luck with that) or Denver (maybe?) or the Caribbean (can they fly A320s over-water when they launch?), I have no idea where you would actually send planes from New York and make a profit in the foreseeable future.

Hmmm, I wonder if we’ll ever hear about this again…