Yes, choosing to fly on Thursday morning rather than Wednesday evening made things a bit easier. But still, I never expected the travel today to be as easy as it was. Our trip was a very simple one – New York to St. Louis on American Airlines via a connection in Chicago.
The first flight was almost completely full while the second flight was closer to 75% full. Not too bad. Most significantly there was no fighting for overhead space and most folks had normal sized carry-ons which was unusual.
The lines at the counter (I had to check a half case of wine thanks to the stupid TSA liquids rule and the $15 fee was less than shipping it) were not too bad at all and the TSA lines were pretty reasonable, too. Sure, there was the one family being harassed for having too many Juicy Juice boxes for their two infants they were embarking on a 12 hour journey with, but they eventually got to keep the juice, so that wasn’t a problem either.
Flights were on time – I didn’t see a single delay posted on any of the departure boards. Continental actually operated at 89.7% on-time for Wednesday which is pretty impressive.
The gate areas were calm. The babies didn’t really cry on the flights. Really nothing was all that bad.
As Shrek said in the eponymous film, “It’s quiet…too quiet.” And it really was.
Such a scene scares me a bit. It is almost that things were a bit too quiet. I know that there are ~10% fewer seats flying this year than last and I know that gas prices have come back down to a level that makes driving somewhat reasonable. Plus I know that plane tickets were ridiculously expensive this year and I doubt a lot of folks were making last minute purchases. It makes me wonder if the economy is bad enough that we’ll see an airline fold in the next 3-6 months (US Air, I’m looking at you) or some other drastic change.
In the meantime I suppose I can hold out hope that our return travel on Sunday evening will have a bit of drama of some sort so I can have something else to worry about.
Now it is time to settle in for turkey, stuffing, wine and pie. Happy Thanksgiving!
Flights are a bit less crowded these days. At least some of them are. Most surprising to me is that I’ve actually been seeing empty seats in first class cabins. Not a lot of them and there are still plenty of flights where the big seats are all full and a very long wait list exists, but on my trip through Sacramento last week there were actually a number of empty seats in first class both to and from California. That meant I got to take advantage of one of the nice but slightly less useful perks of my elite status: Companion Upgrades.
The concept is pretty simple. If an elite is flying and they have a companion they want to upgrade the companion goes on the waitlist and if the stars align correctly the companion gets to ride up front along with the elite. I’ve used the benefit several times in the past, including to and from Ecuador, Orlando, Jacksonville and Anchorage, but it has been a while. I actually completely forgot about the benefit until I settled into my seat on the flight from Houston to Sacramento and noticed how empty the cabin was. A quick check on Continental’s PDA site confirmed that there were 7 empty seats available up front.
About the same time as I was realizing this I overheard a conversation between another guy flying the same route as me and a flight attendant dead-heading her way back to Sacramento. We all started chatting and I was trying to explain why I would fly across the country and back, via Houston no less, just for fun. She wasn’t understanding it at all. That conversation was rather abruptly cut short when the flight attendant’s cousin boarded the plane. Neither of them knew the other would be on the plane and we had a bit of a family reunion in the middle of the cabin. That also gave me a great opportunity to use a companion upgrade, in this case for a complete stranger. I took the cousin’s boarding pass and made my way off the plane and back up to the ticket counter where I explained to the agent that I wanted to companion upgrade my “friend” who just boarded. About 60 seconds later I was back on the plane with a new boarding pass for the cousin and everyone was happy. And the flight attendant started to understand a little bit why I’d fly a little extra for the benefits.
When we deplaned in Sacramento I looked around the gate area to find someone to do the same thing for on the return flight. As they started boarding the plane I asked a random guy if he wanted to ride in first class. He eventually understood that I was serious so he handed over his boarding pass, happy to trade it for a big comfy seat.
I am pretty sure they both enjoyed the upgrade, and I know I enjoyed the companion upgrade benefit in both cases by being able to share a bit of a better ride with both those random strangers.
Hope you’re not planning any travel to Bangkok this Thanksgiving weekend (though such a trip seems like a good idea the more I think about it). Protesters have stormed the airport and managed to shut down portions of it, forcing the cancelation of dozens of flights and stranding thousands of passengers. The initial reports came in about 12 hours ago and there are recent reports of explosions at the airport, too.
Not good at all.
More discussion and links to some real news coverage here.
How else can they explain the obscene taxes that they are charging for the Air Passenger Duty (APD) tax?
Currently the rates are pretty ridiculous, up to £80 for long-haul flights in a premium cabin. But that is nothing compared to where the APD is going starting in November 2009. Here’s what the new chart looks like:
|Band, and approximate distance in miles from London
||In the lowest class of travel
|In other than the lowest class of travel*
|Band A (0 – 2000)
|Band B (2001 – 4000)
|Band C (4001 – 6000)
|Band D (over 6000)
The APD that they will be charging to fly from the UK to the USA in a premium cabin is on par with what base fares are to fly the route over the winter. So when you depart from the UK a HUGE percentage of the costs for that ticket are going to the UK government, not to the airlines.
Lots of countries have departure taxes, and some only apply for the premium cabins, but none are nearly as egregious as those of the UK. Ouch. I know that this will preclude me from flying out of the UK for a while now.
Copa shares the OnePass program with Continental, so when Continental announced their intention to shift from SkyTeam to Star Alliance there was a large question mark over the future fate of Copa. That question seems to have been answered with some comments made by their CEO at an airline conference in Cancun late last week.
Copa chief executive Pedro Heilbron, meanwhile, said on the sidelines of the forum that the Panamanian carrier has decided to leave SkyTeam and is in exclusive talks with Star.
Heilbron says Copa has no “commercial choice” but to leave SkyTeam because its main partner, Continental, decided earlier this year to leave SkyTeam for Star. Continental sponsored Copa’s entrance into SkyTeam. Continental is scheduled to formally leave SkyTeam for Star late next year but Heilbron says “we have some time” to decide what it should do.
“We’re looking at all our options,” he says. “We won’t rush it.”
But those options do not include staying in SkyTeam or joining oneworld, according to Heilbron. So it seems the only thing Copa needs to decide is whether it should join Star as a full or regional member and when it should make the switch. Copa is now an affiliate of SkyTeam rather than a full member.
This is very bad news for SkyTeam, as they are losing their largest presence in Latin and South America, but great for Continental and Star Alliance. This isn’t particularly surprising news based on the shared loyalty program, but this is the first time I’ve seen anything in writing that suggests it is actually happening.
US Air has actually made a move that doesn’t suck for its frequent fliers. They’ve reinstated bonus miles for elite passengers and also put back 500-mile minimums on short flights for their elites. Much like United they will be going back and issuing these credits retroactively to their loyal members so as to make it appear as if the benefit never was cancelled.
I’m glad to see that the airlines are occasionally acting rationally, even if it does take losing a ton of business in the process, as US Air seems to have done. It will be very interesting to see if this is enough for many of the defectors to return to the program.
Southwest seems to be the only domestic carrier having any fun these days. Between their new code-share agreements, expansion into Minneapolis and general profitability (though not so much last quarter), they appear to be avoiding the difficulties that other carriers have been experiencing of late. Yes, they are cutting capacity overall, but they seem to be doing so with much more surgical precision than other carriers who are leaving markets completely and otherwise flailing about.
And now, Southwest has gone and made a bid to serve NYC’s LaGuardia airport. They’re bidding on the 7 slot pairs that ATA still owns in their bankrupt state. They are pretty much the only asset ATA still has and they are a huge asset. Southwest wants them, and they have the resources to bid on them, so things look pretty positive for their chances. It is not a done deal yet – the bids still need to be reviewed and a decision made by the bankruptcy judge – but things look pretty good on that front.
Where will Southwest fly with their 7 flights/day? It is hard to know for certain, though Chicago-Midway seems likely as one destination. And there will certainly be struggles for Southwest to operate in the LaGuardia structure, with the frequent delays, troubles in bad weather and slot details all affecting their operations. But 7 flights is certainly enough to have a significant impact on the other carriers in NYC, and that is a good thing for passengers. It also means that I might have the opportunity to consider Southwest now for some flights, which would be a big change for me.
I have to admit that one of the little luxuries I will treat myself to on occasion is to have a car waiting for me at the airport upon arrival. Especially in a foreign country where negotiating the taxi ranks and negotiating a fare is traditional I just don’t want to have to deal with that sort of situation, especially after a long flight. Plus, there is really something quite wonderful about showing up and having someone waiting there with your name on a sign, even if it is a driver that you’ve paid to do that.
In Bangkok the cold towels and water bottles in the car were a very nice touch. In India I still fondly remember my mother-in-law’s company driver knowing my name and handing me a note with a phone number to call for further instructions. Slightly surreal and very entertaining in retrospect. In Vietnam it was a shoddy van that barely had benches inside, much less seat belts or a decent suspension. I paid $2 extra for that “luxury” but it meant not fighting the taxi driver on the fare or having to explain directions and that was well worth my money.
And then there is the joy of actually being met by someone who you know at the airport. The opening and closing scenes of Love Actually capture the emotion rather well, and I have fond memories of similar events in my life.
But I’ve never gone to an airport to welcome random strangers to their destination. These folks did.
They actually went to the airport with signs, gifts, flowers and balloons and “welcomed home” a bunch of random strangers. They leveraged the NYC black car drivers to get names and then staged impromptu welcome parties for complete strangers. Sure, it is a little creepy to have a group of 20 random strangers welcome you home, especially in NYC, but it also seems like a much better welcome than a grumpy driver. And it makes for a pretty entertaining story to share.
One hundred twenty five years ago today, November 18, 1883, the United States finally decided to adopt a single source for telling time – Railroad Time. Wired has a fantastic article about it, with some great bits of history mixed in to the overall development of a coordinated time schedule.
Railroad timetables used about a hundred different standards. A single railroad that traveled east to west would use multiple noons: The Union Pacific, for example, had six different settings in what are today the Central and Mountain zones. The Union Station that served multiple railroads in a big city might have five or six different clocks, one for each railroad in the station, each running on is own time.
It took a full 35 years for the United States government to catch up with the industry and declare an official Standard Time for the country. In the interim the country simply followed the lead of the dominant industry of the time, the railroads.
Hardly a surprise, really, as I don’t think anyone with critical thinking skills expected that a bunch of TSA employees could suddenly become behavior detection specialists overnight, but now there are some real statistics proving the point.
Over the past 16 months the TSA’s SPOT program has led to 160,000 additional screenings (that’s ~350/day for a staff of ~2,500 people). Those screenings have led to a whopping 1,266 people actually being arrested, mostly for drug possession or having a fake ID. That’s a conversion rate of fewer than 1%. Even worse than that, in my mind, is that about 10% of the people confronted under this program (~15,000) faced questioning by the police and still only 10% of those actually were arrested.
The TSA is doing their best to spin the results, reminding us that some people were actually doing illegal things. They seem to forget, however, that their mission is about protecting the airspace from terrorists, not from kids with fake IDs or drug dealers.
TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said the program has been “incredibly effective” at catching criminals at airports. “It definitely gets at things that other layers of security might miss,” Howe said.
The other great thing that the TSA continues to tout is that possession of a fake ID is a terrorist act. They take pride in the fact that they are catching all these fake IDs since ID = security in their minds and since anyone with a fake ID must be out scouting an airport for a possible attack. Better let all those bars in college towns know that they are targets and that they need to up their security. What a joke.
There is no real reason to believe that the ~1% number is statistically any different than if the TSA just randomly picking a group of 160,000 passengers and subjecting them to an invasive and over-reaching search. But we can continue to spend money on it and grow the program because we haven’t had any more attacks on the airspace so it must be working.
This program is simply the worst functioning and most misguided bit in an organization bent on suppressing privacy rights while returning zero value in actual security. So sad.