Last November when Elite Airways announced their intentions to start service in 2013 I suggested that the choices they made in terms of their hub and initial destination were probably suspect. It seems that they agreed on those aspects, shifting a lot of the details around. But, somewhat surprisingly, they are actually still planning on launching service. The latest version of the story has them in business starting in mid-July, with Baton Rouge, LA as their hub.
This time around there are no destinations yet announced and no indication of when seats will go on sale. There is a suggestion that they’ll upgrade their fleet to include some 737s, in addition to the CRJ-200s they currently operate. That’s a potential win for passengers, though it isn’t clear if they’re going for new planes or picking some old ones up second hand. Either way, just about anything is better than flying on the CR2 so I suppose it doesn’t matter too much.
Without a hint of destinations it is hard to guess at the chances for success of the operation. Reading the comments on the story (presumably from locals) it seems that Cancun; San Antonio; Washington, DC and Newark are being requested. I’m betting against all of those being included. Actually, Cancun might have the best chance of success.
Anyways, I suppose I’ll have to find my way to Baton Rouge at some point later this summer to give Elite Airways a try. Assuming they actually do get off the ground, of course.
A few months ago American Airlines quietly (or so they thought; turns out JohnnyJet was on a test flight so news spread quickly) started testing a new boarding process for their flights. The key change was that passengers with only small carry-on bags (i.e. underseat sized) would be allowed to board following Group 2. The theory is that these passengers are being rewarded for not putting bags in the overhead bins and they aren’t slowing the boarding process so they can board whenever they want (after the elite status passengers). But does it really matter?
One report on the process suggests that the total average time savings is 2-3 minutes per flight. Sure, multiply that out by thousands of daily departures and it sounds like a ton of time “saved” daily, but it really only counts if they change the flight times to account for that supposed savings. At 2-3 minutes on average per flight I’m betting against them adjusting block turn times for the flights.
Beyond that, however, I also cannot help but wonder which passengers are actually happily taking advantage of this benefit. Most of the race to board early is – at least from what I’ve seen – people trying to make sure they have space to stow their bags. If you don’t need overhead space it doesn’t make sense that there would be a great rush to get on the plane and cram yourself into a space just over 17″ wide and ~31-34″ deep, a small space that you’re going to be stuck in for the next many hours.
In other words, unless you absolutely need to be on board, why would you subject yourself to more time on the plane??
Don’t get me wrong – I love flying on a plane. And that means spending a lot of time on planes. But I also don’t go out of my way to be the first person on board. And when I’m traveling very light (which is most of the time these days) I happily board towards the end of the process, tuck my bag wherever it fits (including under my seat sometimes) and get going. Yes, I prefer to have the bag overhead, but that’s not the type of passenger this program is supposed to appeal to. This is for passengers who don’t have much in the way of a bag, for whom the need to get on board to store their stuff is key.
Maybe I’m missing out and there is a huge group of passengers who really, really, really like sitting in coach seats and want to do more of it. I suppose it is fantastic for that group. But it seems unlikely to me that anyone really benefits from this move.
More than that, however, there is also a reasonable concern that this will actually make things worse. Here’s one view which isn’t completely off-base:
If all the small things are put in the overheads because those passengers get on first that means more gate-checked bags, not fewer. Whoopsie.
I’m not completely convinced that it will be a problem, but I’m also not convinced this is a change which makes things better for many passengers. Certainly not enough to justify potentially pissing off a lot of other passengers for it.
What am I missing??
When United Airlines announced last August that they’d be changing the seats on their Airbus A319 and A320 planes there was a bit of concern among their customers. The Recaro Slimline seat is a VERY basic product. It has been widely deployed in Europe (the Lufthansa Group of airlines has made it their default for narrow-body planes) and it is not particularly comfortable for flights of more than an hour or two. That can work in Europe where the hubs are more central and the flights are generally shorter. For the US market, however, it would have been a potentially unpleasant ride. A United official announced today that the carrier will be including the "comfort package" in their version of the seats. That should have many passengers quite relieved.
The new seats are manufactured by RECARO, and you may recognize the specific model from several European carriers, who feature it on many of their mainline narrow-body aircraft. However, because we fly our Airbuses over longer stage lengths than the typical intra-Europe segment, our version of the seat will have several upgraded comfort features over the base model. These include multi-directional headrests, added lumbar support, and a different seat bottom cushion with more padding and multiple layers of soft memory foam. The literature seat pocket has been moved higher, which facilitates the above increase in knee space, and there’s a new amenity pocket specifically for personal items.
The Recaro Slimline seat in service on a Lufthansa narrow-body plane; the middle seat is blocked for 'business class' service.
As part of the same announcement a scant few details on the streaming media offering were made public:
Along with Wi-Fi, the addition of on-demand streaming video will become the standard for our Airbus fleet. As a result, when these aircraft go in to have the new seats installed, the traditional audio/video system with dropdown monitors will be removed. However, these aircraft won’t “go dark”—Wi-Fi will be available on all aircraft that have the new seats. In any case, like Wi-Fi the streaming product will eventually have pricing attached to it, although we do plan to offer a limited range of complimentary content until we finalize these plans.
The 747s are also getting the streaming media option and it was previously stated that the content would be free on those planes; it is interesting to see the slightly different tack being taken with the short-haul fleet.
Finally, for the Channel 9 lovers, the IFE retrofit means that offering will disappear. That’s definitely a bummer.
Competition does strange things, like making the airlines offer better products to attract customers. Hard to say that’s a bad thing, right?? Delta is adding some new benefits for passengers in their Economy Comfort seats on flights on their main transcon routes. For flights between New York City‘s JFK and either Los Angeles or San Francisco customers in the Economy Comfort (extra legroom/recline) seats will now include free drinks, a free "premium snack" and free newspapers.
Like many things in the airline industry this seems to be a case of things coming full circle, with complimentary snacks and drinks returning to the coach cabin in the name of competition. Virgin America already has free snacks/drinks in their comparable offering (Main Cabin Select). American Airlines is going to be competing with frequencies, upping to roughly hourly shuttle service in the coming year as they get their new A321 planes with fewer seats. United is also pushing new configurations out in the market, though no other special features noted.
Airlines are looking to cut costs in just about every way imaginable. For Frontier airlines a major focus on that front has been encouraging customers to book on their website rather than through 3rd party sites (OTAs). The OTA bookings cost the airlines a lot of money and saving those margins can be significant, particularly for a smaller airline which is struggling as it is.
Last September Frontier cut mileage earning on OTA tickets to 50%. At that time they also increased most fees by $50 for fares not booked directly. It was hoped that would help increase direct bookings. In March of this year Frontier pulled their inventory from Expedia, cutting distribution costs but also reducing the potential bookings. And, this week, they’ve taken this a step further, announcing that they have "Enhance[d] Services for Customers Using FlyFrontier.com." Yes, they used the word "enhance" in the ironic form.
The latest changes see more cuts for customers booking OTA-issued tickets. Carry-on bags will now come with a fee – up to $100 at the gate – for the cheapest fares booked through 3rd party sites. "With this change, we are ensuring that our most loyal customers – Ascent and Summit level members of EarlyReturns®, those who book Economy, Classic and Classic Plus tickets, including all customers who book through FlyFrontier.com, will have more space onboard the aircraft for their carry-on bags,” said David Siegel, Frontier’s chief executive officer. The effective date for the carry-on charges has not yet been set.
Charges are also coming for in-flight beverages. Effective July 1, 2013, customers who purchase Economy or Basic fares will be charged $1.99 for coffee, tea, soda and juice. On the plus side, that $2 will entitle customers to the whole can of soda or to unlimited refills on coffee. No word on if they’ll charge again if you want more hot water for your tea. Customers who purchase a higher fare or who have elite status will need to show their boarding pass or elite card to have the beverage fees waived.
And, on the mileage front, the fares which were earning only 50% when purchased through an OTA will see that number further reduced, down to 25%.
There’s a whole lot of hurt in this latest round of changes. It is hard to believe that things will end well for Frontier out of these moves. Maybe it will shift the consumer behavior but I get the feeling more customers are going to buy their tickets through an OTA, get annoyed at the lower service levels and then choose a different carrier on the OTA rather than change their buying habits. I suppose we’ll see soon enough.
Air travel is treated as a commodity market for the most part. Price is, by far, the most significant driver of purchase decisions. But there are other things travelers should be thinking about. Unfortunately, figuring out which flight offers a better overall travel experience is a pain in the ass. It is roughly impossible to determine the differences airlines offer in terms of seat, IFE, meals and service. Enter Routehappy. Rather than shopping only by fare, they want to show customers that the same price can get you a notably different travel experience.
The company officially launched their new site today and it offers a tremendous amount of information, including some major upgrades from the earlier iterations of the interface. The Happiness Score factor is an aggregation of both customer reviews and administratively managed data like seat comfort/space, IFE systems, wifi connectivity and even airplane type. And, with today’s launch, there is also fare data and a booking channel integrated into the site. Search for a trip and you’ll get the available flights, a rating of the expected trip quality and the fare details.
Pick a flight on the search screen and you get a ton of useful information, all focused on helping find a better flight experience.
And, once you find the flight you want, click through and book the trip.
This is a tremendous collection of information and I’ve only started to scrape the surface of what is available in the site. But it is clear that there is a lot of potential for this to be both a lot of fun for the data geeks and very useful for the rest of the world, too.
The airports of Copenhagen to Aarhus, Denmark are only 84 miles apart. There isn’t a whole lot of time in-flight to worry about things like IFE or service. And, yet, somehow, SAS actually managed to provide service to the ~75 people on the CRJ-900 the day we flew. Sure, it was just coffee or tea, but they made two passes during the ~20 minutes in the air. I was impressed.
Also, with only ~20 minutes of fly time it was short enough that I could capture pretty much the whole thing as a time lapse video:
The terminal in Copenhagen for the domestic flights is pretty spectacular inside, at least aesthetically. There are no amenities of any sort, save for a few vending machines, but it does have a cool Scandinavian look to it.
Boarding means walking out to the plane; seems they don’t mind doing that in the winter for some reason.
And the flight was completely uneventful, other than my surprise that they were offering beverage service. Some stunning views, however, as we were flying around sunset across the bay. Seeing the island which sits in the middle of the tunnel between Denmark and Sweden was cool, for example. Ditto for the rest of the islands scattered in the bay and the snow everywhere.
Nothing special about the trip, but it sure was pretty.
JetBlue has big plans for Fly-Fi, their in-flight internet service. The carrier has been working for the past couple years to get the Ka-band satellite service up and running and they’re in the home stretch, with one plane fitted and awaiting FAA approval for test flights and, eventually, formal certification. And while they might not be flying yet, that doesn’t mean that the service isn’t being tested. Thanks to this modified test truck the company is able to test the connectivity and performance from a moving vehicle.
Sure, it isn’t an Airbus A320 cruising at 35,000 feet, but it gets the job done, at least for now.
The excede product from ViaSat is known to be reliable and functional for stationary transceivers; the big leap for JetBlue, LiveTV and ViaSat is ensuring that the system remains stable when the dish is moving. This custom rig lets the companies test their operations at highway speeds. The test rig previously spent some time on the west coast and it is now doing a tour of duty in central Florida, near the LiveTV headquarters.
The company still expects to have the system flying by mid-year on their planes. United Airlines will also be using the system on part of their fleet.
Cleveland’s Hopkins airport has a new lounge option as of today. The Airspace lounge had its grand opening this morning, bringing another option to travelers passing through the terminal. The new lounge is in Terminal B, just inside security and near the junction with Terminal A, making it convenient for passengers on every airline other than United.
The lounge is the second operated by Airspace and will have similar features and amenities to their first lounge at BWI. That includes complimentary access for American Express Platinum Card members and paid access starting at $20/visit for everyone else. Once inside lounge guests will receive a complimentary food item or alcoholic beverage and have access to the business center, complimentary wifi and the quiet, relaxed lounge atmosphere.
Next up for Airspace is a lounge at JFK’s T5. That lounge is expected to open in May 2013.
The lounges are all listed in the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools Airport Lounge Guide, too.
I was only a bit surprised to find a wide range of choices available for award flights from New York to Northern Germany in mid-March. After all, it is the middle of winter and most spring break folks are headed to sun and surf or other more traditional destinations. We had our choice of the non-stop United flight to Hamburg or taking a connection in Frankfurt and flying in to Hannover. Given our initial destination of Hildesheim is much closer to Hannover, plus the better flight time (9pm departure rather than 5:30pm) I figured we’d take the extra travel time. Plus it meant I’d get to experience Singapore Air in their economy cabin, rounding out the full set (I did suites a couple months ago and business a year ago). So, thanks to some MileagePlus points I got us booked on JFK-FRA-HAJ with a reasonable layover in Frankfurt for breakfast and a shower in the Senator Lounge.
We got to JFK a bit early so that we could have dinner. We considered the options in the Swiss lounge in T4 and quickly decided to have a real dinner instead. There is a branch of The Palm in the terminal and, despite some previous bad experiences with other airport steakhouses, we gave it a go. Mostly because it was the only reasonable meal option there. And it was surprisingly good. It was helped by our waitress Victoria who was old-school NYC in a good way. But the food was also quite tasty. And by virtue of sitting there rather than in the lounge we got to see this guy and his sparkly backpack. All sorts of good happening there.
Once on board we were treated to the bonus of having the middle seat between us empty. We almost got lie-flat coach but I was slow to jump into the seat across the aisle. Yeah, loads were light. That was good because the space on board isn’t particularly generous down the back of the plane. There is a foot rest which mostly just got in my way, preventing me from extending my legs under the seat in front of me. And the seats are the articulating ones so the recline slides the bottom forward a bit. Reclining decreases legroom. Yuck.
On the plus side, economy class got amenity kits (socks & a toothbrush) and earplugs/eye mask were available on request from the flight attendants. Also, free drinks with the dinner service, though it was really only beer & wine. Liquor was available but not on the drink cart so the delay in having the FA go to the galley to get it made it a rather unappealing option. The meal was OK. Nothing special, really, either good or bad. I suppose that’s about all one can really hope for in coach these days.
On the plus side, Singapore has quite a selection of movies loaded up on their IFE systems. Most were relatively new releases but there were a few from the archives as well. It took three reboots for my IFE to actually work properly (others around me had similar troubles) but once it got working it was pretty good. The in-flight internet was not working, making me 0/2 on trying that product out with Singapore Air. I’m happy my plan was to sleep and not be working.
Oh, and just because I can, a laviator shot on board showing off my RouteHappy shirt.
Overall I’d say that the timing of the SQ flight was still better than the UA option I had. But seat comfort would have been better on United, especially vis a vis personal space since I can get EconomyPlus for free. The meal was maybe a smidgen better on Singapore Air but with the later departure that matters less. And United’s IFE selection is sufficient for my tastes, maybe even better if you like the classics more than current cinema. In premium cabins there are a many more reasons to favor Singapore Air over United. In economy I’m not so sure about that choice. Especially if you’ve got elite status.