Airlines are good at deflecting blame when things go wrong. It is not at all uncommon to hear the refrain, "There’s nothing we can do; it is a weather/ATC delay," and it has been like that for years. With the FAA furloughs starting this week, however, the airlines are getting rather more aggressive about the situation. Many are encouraging passengers to express their frustration through online petitions or other contact with elected officials. For United Airlines passengers the flight attendants have been given a specific script to read.
This delay is caused or made worse by the FAA’s furloughs of air traffic controllers. We know this is frustrating, and are doing everything we can to minimize the impact on you. Please let Washington know the FAA’s purposeful delay of your flight is unacceptable by signing the petition on <website>.
So, unlike last week when there were many ATC delays, this time around the airlines are trying to get out in front of the PR disaster, shifting the blame and calling attention to things. Then again, their lobbying group has also filed a lawsuit related to the furloughs seeking to restore the employees and the flight schedules.
It is interesting to note that this is not the first time that the airlines have, as an industry, attempted to involve their customers in efforts to sway public policy. Earlier in the year a number of airlines had their CEOs talking about airline taxation in many public venues. Some even included it in their in-flight magazine monthly column. Historically such coordinated activity wasn’t a common thing; now it is. For anyone convinced that there is still enough competition out there for customers to be protected I’d say that actions like this at least give me a bit of pause.
Mostly, however, I just feel badly for the FAs being forced into the middle of the fight. That seems like an unprofessional move on the part of management.
The fact that a few United Airlines Airbus A319 aircraft have the Panasonic in-flight internet kit installed is not much of a secret. The carrier has been reasonably open about the fact that the type is getting the gear installed these days. But there haven’t been any more details released. No word on exactly when the carrier expects to formally launch the service. No word on pricing. Basically no word.
A member on FlyerTalk has indicated that a flight today indicated that they were posting on the site while in-flight on one of the A319s. Based on the time of the post and the route listed it would appear that the service actually is live on ship 4002 a/k/a N802UA. There were apparently two advertised prices for the quick 3 hour flight from Houston to Washington, DC, $6.99 or $9.99 with different speeds offered as well, though not much on details there either.
The United website doesn’t indicate that this frame has in-flight connectivity yet. And I haven’t found the STC approval in the FAA database yet. But at least one person was able to use it. That’s a great step forward.
UPDATE: FlightAware shows the aircraft on the ground in O’Hare for 20 days at the end of November. That seems like when the install happened.
As a traveler there are plenty of things to love about the new iPhone 5. The PassBook application and LTE support are two significant improvements which will benefit travelers around the globe. But there is one rather enormous change which will make things quite difficult on travelers. Maybe not completely ruining the experience but certainly a significant negative impact. And I’m not talking about the new maps.
The problem comes in the form of the new “Lightning” connector on the iPhone 5. The new interface is thinner, smaller and more resilient than the old one, but that doesn’t make it a winner for everyone. After all, there is a huge inventory of devices out there which have the legacy interface already. And while there are adapters to convert from the 30-pin plug of pervious models to the Lightning plug, even those can cause issues. Folks getting on an airplane or checking into a hotel are going to see a number of issues with these plugs.
For hotel guests (and operators), the main issue will be with the alarm clocks in rooms. With five million devices confirmed sold already it won’t be long before guests are showing up with the new models in reasonable numbers and expecting to use the bed-side systems like they have become accustomed to in recent years. As industry analyst Henry Harteveldt puts it, “Hotels, unfortunately, have no choice but to explore their options to buy adapters.” Of course, the customers likely have a number of other devices at home so they’ll be investing in adapters anyways, but hotels may be inclined to have at least some available for guests, similar to plug adapters available in many properties for foreign guests.
The hotels have it easy, relatively speaking. They don’t have to deal with FAA certification of electronics in their rooms the way airlines do on board their aircraft. Airlines and in-flight entertainment manufacturers are facing a much more significant challenge. Putting aside the physical dimensions which are different and the impact that will have on a number of carriers and the “fitted” systems installed to cradle the phones which now won’t work at all, there are bigger issues afoot.
It isn’t just that the IFE providers would need to recertify their hardware, going through the FAA processes and getting the airlines to take planes out of service to handle the testing. There’s also the fact that the current version of the Lightning connector doesn’t support the same set of features. Notably missing: video output. This passengers used to plugging in and watching their videos on the big screen at their set will be shut out. VGA and HDMI to Lightning connectors will be available eventually but in-flight systems don’t offer those inputs. Even when those connectors come out iPhone 5 customers are still not going to be able to watch their content on the in-seat screen.
And, that’s not the end of the story. According to Gizmodo there is a very real chance that the Lightning connector cables have an authentication chip embedded in the cable. Such authentication has been required in the past for video out activity because of the DRM involved but never just for syncing and powering the device. The full details are still unfolding on this but it doesn’t look good. At least this issue is addressed just by paying a few extra dollars for the name-brand cabling.
These are probably more like annoyances than events which will actually ruin the experience. Still, they’re pretty annoying for customer and even worse for the hotel and airline operators and IFE providers who are now looking significant costs to retrofit their systems.
It seems that the the discussion of in-flight electronics use in the United States is ramping up. A couple weeks ago the FAA announced that they will be examining broader use of electronic devices – but not phones – on flights. That effort is in progress and you can add your input here if desired. But what about phone usage? The FAA was directed by Congress to investigate the possibility of permitting phone usage based on how it is being done in other countries. Their report was released in draft form this week, with promising results. Sortof.
The report is brief – only 9 pages – and the results are not all that surprising. The FAA sent out a survey to a bunch of other countries and compiled the results. They basically say that if the service is permitted then it is only when a pico-cell is installed on board, allowing the phones to connect there rather than to ground stations. And, where permitted the phone usage isn’t a problem at all:
The civil aviation authorities reported no confirmed occurrences of cell phones affecting flight safety on aircraft with on-board cellular telephone base stations.
None of the civil aviation authorities reported any cases of air rage or flight attendant interference related to passengers using cell phones on aircraft equipped with on-board cellular telephone base stations
So why won’t we be seeing pico-cells installed in the USA anytime soon? Turns out that the FCC is part of the problem. They ruled many years ago that cellular phones could not be used in-flight and, despite advances in the technology on the ground and in the air, that rule still exists today in the form of 47 CFR Part § 22.925:
Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off.
So even if the FAA approved pico-cells for use on airplanes it wouldn’t matter unless the FCC rule is changed. Should the FCC choose to alter their rule then the responsibility to validate and approve pico-cell systems would fall to the FAA. But, as noted in the FAA report to Congress, that’s pretty much a moot point today:
Currently, no US airline operates [pico-cells]systems because of the FCC rules.
So, will the rules change? Probably not soon. Among other things, Congress seems to be asking the wrong folks to work on the issue.
The FAA took a significant step this week towards potentially increasing the use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) on flights. The agency announced that they will seek both public and industry input this fall on the use of PEDs and the potential impact to safety as well as the operational integrity of airplanes. The end goal of this effort is to see if the rules about PED usage, first crafted in the 1960s and most recently updated in mid-2000s should be changed again. The public comment period will last 60 days and should begin this week. The industry-government committee will convene later in the year and meet for 6 months before making any recommendations. And then the FAA will have to evaluate and decide which to implement. Actual implementation by airlines will likely take longer. So don’t expect to be playing Words with Friends during the pre-flight briefing anytime soon.
In 1966 the FAA’s move was based on the premise that the airlines, not the Agency, were better suited to figure out what devices would be safe on their planes. The FAA also wanted to avoid the obligation of testing all devices:
The FAA also recognized that for it to place requirements upon itself to conduct or verify tests of every conceivable PED, as an alternative to a determination made by the operator, would thereby place an excessive and unnecessary burden on the agency.
By deflecting that burden the FAA essentially created an environment where no PEDs would be tested or approved for use as the testing requirements were also too great for the airlines. It seems, however, that things have changed in the past 45 years. The FAA is willing to look at the situation again and some of what they’re considering seems quite reasonable. The FAA recognizes that both the PEDs and the avionics systems are very different now than they were when the rules were first established. To that end, the Agency is now looking for input from all stakeholders regarding changing these rules.
Recognizing that some passengers may wish to use their devices throughout a flight, the FAA is requesting comments regarding the FAA’s policies, guidance, and procedures that aircraft operators use to determine whether to allow a particular PED for usage during flight.
Even approved devices are generally not allowed to be used during taxi, takeoff and landing. As airlines start to do things like switch to electronic flight bags – using iPads rather than paper documentation – which have the electronics in use throughout the flight it becomes more difficult to claim that passengers cannot use the devices due to interference reasons. But that’s not the only concern. The FAA specifically highlights distraction and projectile potential as risks, too. These are two of the nine areas where the FAA is seeking specific input:
Passenger perspectives on use of PEDs. Increased access and usage of PEDs may distract passengers during crewmember safety briefings and instructions. In addition, PED usage may have an adverse impact on flight and cabin crew responsibilities and duties. In 2005, the FCC solicited comments on the potential to expand the use of cellular phones in flight and received responses from passengers concerned about the use of cell phones by other passengers. One of the main concerns expressed by the public comment was the fear of passenger disruptions caused by cell phone use in a crowded public conveyance.
- If some PEDs are found to be compatible with aircraft systems, should there be restrictions on the use of PEDs for other reasons?
- Should voice communications using other technologies such as voice over IP be limited or restricted?
- Should aircraft operators be required to publish their PED policies?
PED article retention risk considerations. Personal belongings must be stowed for takeoff, approach and landing, to reduce the risk of injury from projectiles and to ensure rapid egress in the event of an emergency. Some PEDs are large enough to be of concern for egress, while smaller handheld devices may have risks comparable to a small book.
- If some PEDs are found to be compatible with aircraft systems, should requirements to stow PEDs for takeoff, approach, landing and abnormal conditions exist nonetheless to prevent personal injury?
It is somewhat concerning that the Agency is still considering setting policies which would limit technologies for reasons other than technical or safety purposes. Alas, it seems that is part of the process. It will be interesting to see if the comments this time around differ from those the FCC received in 2005.
Change is slow to come with the FAA. At least they’ve started the ball rolling on this one once again.
Allegiant is second only to Spirit Air in the United States in their focus on ancillary fees as a source of revenue. Both now charge for carry-on bags and most other things you can think of as part of the purchase process. While Spirit has a "usage fee" for booking on its website Allegiant is choosing a different tack, adding a fee to use credit cards as a payment method.
Technically this is a discount for using a debit card, a transaction type which is cheaper for them to process, and not a fee. Because of that it isn’t details on their fee schedule. But it is very much a requirement for customers who want to pay with a credit card, running $4-6 per passenger per segment. With 1.7mm passengers quarterly that adds up in a hurry to a lot of revenue.
The carrier, of course, maintains that customers are getting the lowest base fares possible and then choosing the "extra" benefits they need. In the case of buying with a debit versus credit card, however, there are some very real reasons customers should be cautious about using a debit card to save a few dollars. Purchases made with a credit card come with certain consumer protections which are not available via other means. Historically this has meant a free version of insurance against the company failing to deliver. Now Allegiant is going to have customers pay for that insurance. At least the company recognizes this shortcoming when a customer clicks for the details on the debit card discount:
The move also raises an interesting question with respect to the DoT rules regarding full-fare advertising. Is the fare displayed on the search results really the all-in price if only certain customers using a specific payment method can actually realize that price? It will certainly be interesting to watch.
At the end of the day this move makes it harder for customers to easily compare total trip costs across carriers. That’s bad for passengers.
There are certain parties out there who would have us believe that the of qualified, employable pilots is rapidly shrinking and that the industry is headed towards a tipping point which may prove to be somewhat chaotic. When speaking to a group of charter flight operators last week FAA deputy director of flight standards John Duncan noted that the issue is "probably going to be a little painful. This is an interesting dilemma for the aviation community."
The rules regarding qualifications to be a commercial pilot are changing a bit, making it more difficult to get started. And the rules regarding duty time and rest mean that many airlines actually need more pilots just to maintain the status quo in terms of operations. So we’re doomed, right?
It turns out that there is a growing number of young adults unwilling to incur significant debt to pursue work in a marketplace which is horribly unstable and not particularly generous with the pay and benefits in the early years. In other words, there are pilots and potential pilots out there; they just aren’t willing to work at the pay scale being offered to them. And I’m not entirely sure I can blame them.
Yes, eventually the salary and the quality of life gets better as seniority kicks in. But depending on the debt load required to get to that point (and that’s getting higher with the 1500 hour rule making it take longer to get licensed) it has become much harder for potential pilots to justify riding out that period in hopes of the great long-term future. Especially with the starting salary not increasing with any significance lately.
The FAA seems to be convinced that better education options would help address the issue. They’re lobbying for an "aviation academy" which will leverage existing 4-year universities to help ease the financial burden of the training process. It seems that perhaps they’ve taken a page out of the airlines’ play book, focusing on cutting costs more than on raising revenues. Of course, the FAA doesn’t get to tell the airlines how much to pay the pilots, so that’s not too surprising. Though the existing educational programs seem to be shrinking, not growing, so it isn’t particularly clear how that will work out. The airlines not wanting to raise the starting pay rate isn’t all that surprising either. But will they be able to continue operating as mandatory pilot retirements loom on the horizon? And can the unions adjust to make the entry-level positions more reasonably compensated?
Put another way, is the issue no pilots, or just no pilots willing to work for peanuts? Seems to me the latter is the issue.
More than anything, this sort of discussion has me convinced that burning the miles as quickly as I accrue them is the smart play. Being overly invested in a scheme where the account is nearly guaranteed to not appreciate in value is a bad place to be.
JetBlue has been big on their "Even More" suite of products. Starting with Even More Legroom a few years back and recently expanding to Even More Speed (priority security lines) and Even More Space (board first for overhead bin space), the product suite has been growing over time. The latest addition appears to be in-seat power on board.
Odds are they aren’t really going to call it Even More Power, but the concept is definitely there. The new A320 deliveries they are taking starting this year will have 110V and USB power ports installed in the rows which are also "Even More" everything else. This development was rumored starting this morning and unofficial sources suggest that the newest aircraft in the fleet, N804JB, is configured with the power outlets and is currently undergoing FAA certification for the new setup. It is not clear yet at what pace the existing 120ish A320s will be retrofit or whether the 50ish E90s will be similarly configured.
This is a great move in advance of the upcoming in-flight satellite connectivity solution that the company expects to begin deploying later this year. The only down-side is that the deployment is limited to the paid upgrade seats. Still, better than nothing and certainly a welcome development for the roughly 30% of the customers on the A320s who will have access to the plugs.
The wait is over. A couple months after carriers applied to provide service for four new slot pairs at Washington’s Reagan National Airport the DoT has announced the winners of the coveted operating permissions. And the winners are exactly what I predicted back when the applications were revealed:
JetBlue won their first choice of routes, adding service to their quickly growing operation in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Alaska Airlines won their first choice as well, with service to Portland, Oregon being approved. Austin, Texas had two different applications for service; both Southwest and JetBlue indicated that they wanted to add the destination. Southwest was awarded that authority. Virgin America won their only application, adding service to their hub in San Francisco. The route to SFO will be the only of the new operations with direct competition on it; United Airlines is also going to be operating on that route. Southwest will face competition on the proposed through-service aspect of their Austin service to San Diego from US Airways which will operate that route with a non-stop flight.
So no real surprises in the route authorities awarded. Probably for the best; the routes picked were the favorites because they made the most sense based on the economics of the markets. Still, every now and then I do wonder if the DoT has a sense of humor and would award something like the Colorado Springs application Frontier put out there.
Washington, DC‘s National Airport is one of the "lucky few" airports in the country where the government has limited destinations which can be served. The so-called "perimeter rule" keeps the long-haul flights out at Dulles for the most part, but there are a few exceptions to rule and those are coveted by the airlines. As part of the most recent FAA budget authorization bill Congress has added a few perimeter exceptions to the pool at DCA and now airlines are scrambling to grab those slots. The filing deadline was yesterday, and here’s what the proposals look like.
The slots are split into two pools, one for legacy carriers and one for new entrants. In the new entrants category six carriers – JetBlue, Virgin America, Southwest, Air Canada, Frontier and Alaska Airlines have applied.
Alaska Airlines is going big with their application, hoping to offer transcon service from both their Portland, OR hub as well as San Diego. Virgin America is also hoping for hub service from San Francisco. Southwest is aiming to provide service to Austin, TX, with onward connections to San Diego and JetBlue has applied to serve both Austin and San Juan. Air Canada is hoping for Vancouver service and Frontier is looking to serve Colorado Springs.
There is some interesting overlap with the routes being requested and it seems somewhat unlikely that the DoT is going to approve such applications so perhaps the final approval will look something like this:
For the legacy carriers the access to beyond perimeter slots comes with a slightly higher price, as they have to give up service to a destination inside the perimeter to get the new service. On the plus side, the route authorities are more or less guaranteed given that condition so the DoT has less work to do there. Of the eligible carriers, Delta, United Airlines and American Airlines all made their intentions known a couple weeks ago, with service to their Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles hubs, respectively. Apparently US Airways has decided to not apply for an additional beyond perimeter slot. They already have service to Phoenix and Las Vegas but it is still somewhat surprising that they haven’t tried for more.
The new routes should be interesting to watch, especially with the potential for competition on the LAX and SFO routes.