Back in March Delta made some rather unexpected changes to their SkyMiles program, reducing access to reward seats from what was already a limited supply. The real kicker was that folks willing to pay double miles actually still couldn’t be guaranteed a seat on a plane like they had been previously. It was all done with expectation of “fixing” it later in the year with a three tier system that would restore that last-seat availability, among other things.
Well, the details came out overnight, and I’m actually having trouble getting too worked up about the situation. The new redemption levels for a domestic trip are 25/40/60K round-trip instead of 25/50K points. The extra 10K for that last seat is certainly less of an issue in my mind than the 15K increase to get from “Discounted” to “Expanded” availability. The last seat in Delta’s “premium” cabin to Hawaii will now cost 180K points round-trip, a price that is hardly justified by their domestic cabin configuration on the planes flying the route. Europe and deep South America (Chile, Brazil & Argentina) will go as high as 350K for the last seat up front – 125K in the back – and Asia, India and the Middle East will be 370K up front and 150K in the back. At one point someone had mentioned the fare classes that these mapped in to and the Discounted was pretty low – generally at a level where it didn’t make sense to redeem miles for the ticket – but I don’t know where Expanded comes in the alphabet soup of fare buckets.
The new rates certainly are higher, and it isn’t like all the miles sitting in your account earn interest so that pool hasn’t grown naturally. Then again, with folks collecting miles from a myriad of other sources, mostly credit card spending, folks do have more miles than ever. Delta issued 24% more miles in 2007 than in 2004. They haven’t had that many more planes flying so these additional miles are basically all CC spend related. The cast majority were sold to American Express in exchange for much needed cash to keep the airline somewhat solvent, and now they’re effectively welching on their side of the deal by raising the rates for folks to cash in those points.
Alaska Air made a similar announcement earlier, meaning that this could be a trend more than a fad. Hard to know for certain right now. At least Alaska also offered some cuts on other rates, like intra-state travel in the 5 states where they offer such routes.
British Airways has announced their intention to merge with OneWorld alliance partner Iberia in an all-stock swap. This isn’t the first time that merger rumors have come up between this pair, but it looks like it might actually have legs this time. Last time they were discussing merger possibilities, back in November ‘07, BA walked away after Iberia saw some significant local investment within Spain drive the price up.
The route maps are rather complimentary across the two, which is good, and they can certainly save a lot of money by reducing overlap in their administrative functions and in some of their fleet maintenance facilities.
It remains to be seen whether this merger will involve the Iberia brand being subsumed into the BA brand or if they will continue to operate both brands, similar to the KLM/Air France arrangement. Unless they plan a serious overhaul of the service and amenities it would probably make sense to keep Iberia apart from BA to ensure that the BA brand keeps what cache it has.
I suppose every time you check a bag or even just show up at the airport it is a bet as to whether everything will make it to the destination or not, but that’s not the bet I made. Six months ago I was talking with a pretty senior guy from Continental over quite a few drinks (at least for me). One thing led to another and we ended up with a bet: Can Continental deliver six major improvements for customers in a six month window. Well, the six months expired yesterday and the final two announcements came out today. They actually did it, which is pretty amazing, as are the actual benefits in question. I’ve posted about several of the announcements here previously, so I won’t go into details on those, but there are a couple new ones worth getting in to.
Overall these improvements are pretty impressive, especially in light of the various cuts that airlines have been instituting over the past few month. And Continental certainly has instituted some new charges, increased others, cut routes and capacity and shared a certain amount of bad news. But relatively speaking they seem to be doing pretty well by their customers.
And thanks to a technicality it looks like I won the bet. The six months expired yesterday and the last two announcements didn’t come out until today. Of course, they really did deliver on the big six and I’ll overlook the final announcements coming a day late, and I look forward to settling up the bet, since it involves a bar tab, and those are always fun to build up.
Emirates has taken delivery of their first A380 aircraft this morning. They aren’t the first carrier to operate the A380, so that isn’t all that exciting, but it does mean that they’ve finally announced the details of their cabin layout and amenities. And what a collection they include.
The First Class cabin will include spa showers, private suites for each passenger and a bar area that includes a “water feature” as well as food and beverage to keep you busy throughout the flight. The lounge features “A selection of delicacies by leading international chefs, have been prepared to entice the most discerning of palates,” and “a selection of beverages, as well as some of the finest world-class wines carefully selected by our sommeliers.”
It appears that the lounge will be shared with the Business Class passengers based on a photo caption, but the description of the lounge for the Business Class cabin has a much more austere description (“A variety of drinks and hot and cold beverages are available throughout your flight.”) so it is hard to know for certain. The First Class Suites also have a mini-bar, wardrobe, electrically operated doors for privacy and, much like Singapore Air’s Suites, a privacy barrier that can be lowered for passengers traveling together to share their Suites’ space.
Business class will include lie-flat seats that are 79” long and a dedicated lounge area as well. The seats in the Business Class cabin appear to be a design where your feet slide under the seat in front of you, which allows for longer beds without taking up too much space in the airplane so the airlines can maintain their seating density. Continental apparently is going to be installing similar seats starting in late 2009 on their fleet, though the announcement was pulled off the website pending an official announcement coming soon. Oh, and the seats have a built-in mini-bar and touch-screen remote control for all the systems.
The economy cabin will have adjustable headrests (a great feature) and slidey bottom seats, which allow for a more comfortable recline.
All seats on the plane have Emirate’s ICE entertainment system, with 1000 channels of content. The screen sizes will vary, with Biz having 17” screens and First having 23” screens.
I still can’t find a seat map for the new plane so I don’t know just how many of each seat there is going to be on the plane and what the spacing really is going to look like. But it looks pretty exciting for now.
Flights are scheduled to begin on Dubai-JFK 3x weekly starting August 8th, with a special service on August 1st/3rd to inaugurate the plane on the route.
(note: All pictures courtesy of Emirates.com)
UPDATE (7.28.2008 4:02p EDT):A few quick updates on this post…
- The Business Class bar is different than the First Class bar.
- The Business Class seats are actually two different sizes in a staggered arrangement. This is incredibly strange, with the seats having either 39″ or 48″ pitch when upright and a bed length of 70″ or 79″ when in sleep mode. Just plain strange.
- Seat pitch in Economy is 32-33″, which isn’t all that bad.
- There are 156 Biz seats on the plane and 399 Economy seats, to go with the 14 F suites. Clearly the bet being made here is on the Biz seats driving high margins.
For the past several years the airlines have been pushing passengers away from their call centers, ticket offices and airport facilities for purchasing tickets, preferring to handle the transactions online to save money. After all, programmers and servers are cheaper than call center employees on a per booking basis.
But when the airlines start charging for bookings online something is just plain wrong in my opinion. American Airlines led the charge, initiating a $5 online booking fee for reward tickets effective back in June. And then Spirit Air, a carrier known for charging money for just about everything, actually introduced a $10 “web convenience fee” for the “convenience” of booking a flight online. Of course they didn’t just increase their fares by $10. That would make way too much sense and they wouldn’t be able to hide the booking fee in the fine print at the end of the booking process. Of course, I think that such a practice is actually prohibited by the US federal government and it doesn’t matter anyways because they pulled the fee out of their systems. But it is ridiculous that they even tried. Allegient Air does have a web-based convenience fee, but they sell the ticket with no surcharge at the airport. I’m convinced that they just know that no one will do that and so they pocket the extra $11.50 for each passenger.
I know why the carriers don’t just bundle everything into the fare and call it a day, but these practices are really nasty in many cases. It just reeks of slimebag tactics and certainly makes me want to have nothing to do with any of the carriers involved.
I was at the airport a bit early for my flight on Monday (which made the delay all that much worse). But I managed to pass the time watching the planes coming and going. Better than a poke with a sharp stick.
Virgin Atlantic landing behind Ethiad
The Eagle has landed. Sorry – I couldn’t resist.
Passing on the taxiways
Climb out from JFK, looking down on Delta’s T2/T3 complex
And they don’t have a profit center built around this new product. According to the carrier’s head honcho Michael O’Leary mobile phone usage will be coming by the end of the month on an experimental basis, pending final regulatory approval. Rates will be “normal” roaming rates, with O’Leary stating that “There’s no way that we can take a cut” of the revenue from the service. I actually find that hard to believe since they have to carry the equipment to facilitate the service which will cost them money, but I guess we have to believe him since he’s made the claim and I can’t prove otherwise.
Particularly entertaining to me is the concerns people are sharing of the middle-of-the-night call somewhere over the Atlantic or other long-haul flights. First-off, Emirates already allows some mobile usage on their longhaul flights and the crew can shut off the service on the night flights. Second, Ryanair doesn’t fly longhaul flights. And it isn’t clear based on the articles I’ve seen, but I’m willing to bet that they will be using a terrestrial service, not a satellite service for the connectivity, meaning it wouldn’t be available over the oceans even if the airline flew those routes.
I’ve made calls on planes before, back when Verizon owned the Airfone service in the USA and it wasn’t too expensive for their customers. And I’d do it again in a similar situation, but it just isn’t worthwhile for random conversations. Considering that folks are already cutting back on discretionary spending with respect to mobile phones (see Vodaphone’s earnings announcement from this quarter if you don’t believe me), I doubt that this is really as big an issue as people are making it out to be.
Love it or hate it, overbooking of flights is a staple of the airline revenue management scheme. And when the airline bets wrong and has too many folks for their flight, someone isn’t going to actually fly on their preferred flight. If there are no volunteers the rules for compensation are actually pretty clear, as they are defined by the federal government (and recently the values all increased).
But when the airline goes looking for volunteers the rules are rather flexible. The airline can offer anything they want, and if they get a taker, that’s what the price is. For some folks it might be a meal voucher and an upgrade on the next flight out. For others, a “free” ticket. Still others go for a travel voucher as their preferred compensation (this is the only one I’ll take, for many reasons). Northwest has recently taken the bump compensation process to another level, soliciting bids from passengers for how much it would take for them to not fly. Passengers are reporting that they are being prompted during the check-in process if they are interested in a bump and how much it would cost for them to fly at a later time. And instead of going with the first volunteers the airline can go with the cheapest option. The reverse auction style approach is likely to save the carrier a few dollars over time, and every little bit helps these days. It also means that it’ll be harder to fund travel habits with the “bump” game.
As an aside, my best sequence of bumps was one ticket that got me to Alaska, Ireland and half-way to India on a sequence of consecutive bumps. Very nice for us.
Dear Liza. There’s a dent in my plane, Dear Liza, a dent.
And so here I sit at JFK, waiting to find out if the dent can be repaired or if the plane is no longer airworthy. The most annoying part is that apparently the cargo folks noticed it as soon as the plane landed but they didn’t get around to trying to fix it until departure time. Not really sure what they were waiting for, but here I sit with 150 new friends, waiting to find out if we get to fly today or not.
On the plus side, the reservations agent I called was able to block a seat for me on the next flight out, so I’m pretty well set in that regard. But I really don’t want to sit here another 3 hours to use that benefit.
This includes not attempting to open any of the doors while the airplane is in flight. While this seems like a pretty reasonable and logical approach to air travel, a couple guys managed to mess it up this week. In both cases jailarilty ensued.
First up is a Brit on his way to frolic in sunny Cuba. Apparently he got drunk and decided that he was no longer interested in remaining on the plane. Sadly, he was still at 36,000 feet, meaning that he didn’t have much of a choice. The flight diverted to Bermuda where it had to remain overnight because the crew timed out. The flight continued on to Cuba the next day. (Link 1, Link 2)
Next on the blotter is another drunk (shocking!) on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles. This guy decided that he wanted to fly naked. That plan was derailed by the General Manager of the New England Revolution MLS team. The guy put his clothes back on but decided that the clothing requirement of the flight was just too much so he decided to depart as well, again at altitude. The flight diverted to Oklahoma City to drop the guy off with the FBI before continuing on to LA about an hour and a half late. Of interest in this particular case is that the flight in question included the MLS team on their way to a match in California. Well, that might be of interest to someone if they actually cared about MLS, I guess. On the plus side, it should be easy to get this guy to the appropriate trial location since Oklahoma City is the home of the US Marshall’s service Con Air transport service, delivering 175,000 “passengers” a year safely to their destination. Interestingly the TSA didn’t notice that this guy was a danger to our air travel network, presumably because his toothpaste tube was the appropriate size and that seems to be all that matters these days.
Finally, a note for anyone who is considering trying to open the door in-flight. You can’t. It actually just won’t work. The pressure differential between the cabin and the air outside actually presses the door into place, preventing it from “popping out.” So even if you make it to the door and aren’t subdued and zip-tied back into your seat, you’re not getting it open.