Think you know how to get in to the seat with the best views for your flight? Odds are that Karim Nafatni has you beat. It turns out that having a great eye for photography, combined with being an airline pilot, works together very, very will for capturing incredible images.
Seriously, the HDR shots he has from in the cockpit are ridiculous. Here are a few:
Sunburst Over The Clouds by Karim Nafatni
The View From Up There by Karim Nafatni
Seriously impressive stuff.
And thanks to Jeff for turning me on to this.
There are many stories out over the past couple years describing how profitable and valuable a premium economy cabin is to airlines. Turkish Airlines gave it a go, adding Comfort Class to their 777-300ER planes, the aircraft they use on their longest flights where such an offering would likely be in the greatest demand. The net result for them: It didn’t work. Company executives have confirmed that they are going to be removing the Comfort Class product in the coming months; rumors of these cuts first surfaced last October.
The Comfort Class cabin was larger than comparable offerings by most competitors, featuring 63 seats across 9 rows. The reviews I’ve read were mixed, for the most part, with some complaining that it isn’t sufficiently close to business class to justify the premium charge. My only experience was quite pleasant, with a mostly empty cabin (thought that’s not good for the company, obviously) and only a modest surcharge for the upgrade (~$275 for IST-JFK).
The company blames the products failings on the limited deployment and inability to make a similar product work on their narrow-body planes. Indeed, they only have it on the 77W fleet so a very, very small portion of their aircraft. But it is hard to believe that they couldn’t come up with a hybrid option for the shorter flights. Why not just a blocked middle seat like EuroBiz on most other carriers? Or maybe that’s too much of a benefit given that it is what business class is selling for in many cases. But Turkish actually has bigger seats for biz on their smaller planes; they could make it work.
Instead, however, it appears they’re going to try to simply improve (and expand) both the coach and business class offerings to make up for it. From a personal perspective it is a shame; I think they priced their Comfort Class at the right point to be a great value for the customer. Then again, that’s probably why it failed as a product.
Want to explore Norway this summer? Wideroe, the regional airline affiliated with SAS, is offering up an “all you can fly” package allowing unlimited* flights in their reasonably extensive network (more than 40 destinations) for a reasonable price.
They’ve split the country into three regions, with different pricing if you want to remain in one region ($485), two regions ($590) or the whole country ($690) over a two week window. Adding an additional week is $300 for any of the packages. Travel on the deal is permitted between 19 June – 27 August 2013; you schedule the first flight and the two week window begins then. The package even includes inbound segments to Norway from Aberdeen, Newcastle, Copenhagen and Gothenburg.
I’m quite tempted by the deal, naturally, though there are a couple bits holding me back. For starters, I’d actually want to spend some time at many of the destinations and even with three weeks to fly around that doesn’t leave much time to do both. And then there’s the part where actually being in Norway is quite expensive.
As for the * above, there is one limit on the flights: you can only book any one sector twice (i.e. a round-trip from the hub to a point and back). Some of the milk run routings in the center and north of the country could still yield entertaining routings and it isn’t like flying back and forth between two cities for several weeks would be particularly fun. I also have no idea if the flights credit to EuroBonus (and even if they do only some of the routes would be eligible). In this case it isn’t really about the points.
In a deal flush with excess capital letters, the new PEOPLExpress has confirmed the previously reported acquisition of XTRA Airways. XTRA is a Boise-based airline which is already certified by the FAA to operate Boeing 737 aircraft. PEOPLExpress has been struggling for the past 16+ months to receive FAA certification to operate in the United States. This acquisition will allow them to use the XTRA license to operate the flights under their brand name. Both brands will remain in operation, with XTRA continuing to serve the charter services market and PEOPLExpress focused on commercial operations.
PEOPLExpress is looking to launch as a new low-cost carrier based in Newport News, Virginia. Since their initial flurry of news last February the company has been reasonably quiet. Their hopes of building a new operation from the ground up was apparently waylaid by lack of FAA licensing, among other things. After spending the better part of a year trying to make that happen on their own the company switched up the approach, choosing to acquire another airlines which already has the necessary licensing in place. That’s faster, to be certain, though it also comes with some costs. On the plus side, acquiring XTRA means that the company has an existing charter business they can continue to operate as they work to build up the scheduled service operation.
Oh, and they’ve also indicated on their homepage that they expect to launch a new website soon. Because, as we all know, that’s key to a successful airline launch.
The good folks at RouteHappy seem to have been quite busy lately trying to make it easier for passengers to find the best flight option. That’s not necessarily the cheapest, despite what many customers think and it is an uphill battle to convince them otherwise but the good fight is being fought. The latest salvo from RouteHappy is a couple of updates to their search results interface, introducing two new features which make comparison shopping quite a bit easier.
We have side-by-side comparison for nearly every type of product out there, but not for air travel. Well, we used to not have it for air travel. Do a flight search on the RouteHappy site and choose up to four flights for comparison (tick the box at the top right of the search results first to be able to start the compare process); the results look something like this:
Not only are the prices and happiness score readily visible but now comparing the various amenities for the trip is an easy scan, as you scroll down the page:
Hover your mouse over any of the icons and you get more details as to why the flight is rated that way:
Happy & Cheap
Earlier today I found myself in the midst of a conversation on Twitter with John (works for RouteHappy) and Mary (brilliant in the world of in-flight passenger comfort) and we got to discussing how all too often passengers won’t pay even a trivial sum for significantly increased comfort during a trip. In that specific case the example was regular economy versus a very reasonable up-fare to a proper premium economy product. RouteHappy doesn’t tackle that problem quite yet, but they do have a new filter screen which lets you go for not just price but a combination of price and comfort. Here’s a random search I did, sorted by price, and the first few results returned:
Not a lot of happiness there though the round-trip fares are reasonable for the market. Clicking on the “Happy & cheap” filter option, however, changes things up a bit. Rather than 64 options to sift through there are only two:
It turns out that for less than $20 difference in price the happiness factor can be significantly increased (not to mention that JetBlue offers 1 free checked bag, making that total trip cost actually cheaper than AA if you’re paying for bags). Also, the JetBlue flights are non-stop (that adds to the happiness score) and offer more legroom.
I’m still not entirely convinced that many passengers will pay the little bit extra it can sometimes cost to have a significantly better travel experience, but at least now they don’t have the excuse of not knowing that the option was available. RouteHappy is making sure that everyone can know their choices.
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??
It is no surprise that I’m a huge fan of just about everything associated with aviation and air travel. And I’ve been fortunate to have behind-the-scenes access at Tampa and O’Hare. But those were relatively sanitized versions of the experience. Want to get even further inside, and at one of the more chaotic airports in the USA? Check out Airport 24/7, a TV show running on Travel Channel which goes into the back rooms at Miami International Airport to follow the operations and crazy which the airport sees every day. Season 2 of the show premiers tonight on The Travel Channel at 9pm ET/PT.
Here are a couple previews from the two episodes premiering tonight.
I got to watch a screener version of one of the episodes and it is a lot of fun. If nothing else, it is a reminder of all the other stuff which goes in to making air travel possible. On any given flight I’ll interact with a dozen or so employees; that’s at least an order of magnitude fewer than those involved in making sure I get where I’m going. It is always fun for me to see how they make that happen.
In about 90 minutes I’ll be boarding a flight from JFK to Doha, Qatar. It is the start of a 29,000 mile, 6 day adventure. I’ve got four nights on airplanes and two in hotels, 12+ hours stays in five different cities and the majority of it is in business class. I suppose I could call it a mileage run but the pricing isn’t really good enough for that to make sense. Yes, it is based on one of the RGN mistake fares so in that context it is a mileage run, but getting to RGN to start and back from Johannesburg at the end mean the straight CPM calculations aren’t very good. But I decided the stories would be, so here I go.
The most ridiculous part of the trip, however, I didn’t realize until I got in the shower this morning and started thinking about packing. It suddenly occurred to me that I’ll be visiting five continents in less than three days. As booked I leave Singapore (Asia) on Saturday morning and touch Australia (PER), Africa (JNB), Europe (IST) and be back home in North America by the end of the day on Monday. Even crazier is that if I take the ferry over to the Asia side of Istanbul – a very likely event – the total amount of time I’ll spend to touch those five continents is just under 60 hours. Had I thought about it a bit more I probably could have added a late night JFK-South America flight and touched the six with commercial service quite quickly.
This did get me thinking about just how quickly the trip could be made. My flights have reasonably long layovers and I’ll be mostly flying west-bound which is slower. Taking advantage of Istanbul’s position and a decent layover there can really make things go quickly. Had I done Istanbul to Houston and continued on to Bogota or Caracas I think I could make it even faster. I haven’t checked the timetables too closely yet, but I think it can be done.
Anyone else have an idea of quick itineraries for touching the six continents? How would you do it better?
Also, for those curious, this is a combination of three tickets. The first is one of the business class fares ex-RGN. That gets me RGN-SIN-PER-JNB. To get to RGN I have a United Airlines award booked mostly on Qatar Airways metal via Doha and Bangkok. And to get home I purchased a revenue ticket from JNB-IST-JFK on Turkish. Like I said above, the price point isn’t great, especially considering the award costs for positioning. But I’m really looking forward to the trip.
I’m often intrigued by the information I can glean from Twitter chats. I tend to avoid them more than participate in them but a chat this past Friday hosted by @JohnnyJet and @CJMcGinnis piqued my curiosity so I tuned in. The chat was about summer travel and used the #TravelSkills tag for tracking the conversation. The two hosts didn’t waste any time getting in to what is often a touchy subject: How much is a reasonable price for airfare?
My answer was actually easy to come up with. For summer travel I’ll spend up to 100,000 points for a business class trip to Europe. And I’ve been quite successful in finding those when and where I want them over the years. But that’s just me. What was interesting to me were some of the other responses I saw to the inquiry. Seems that a lot of people think that $1000 is an reasonable upper limit, with many believing that even lower fares are "fair" for such a trip.
Some responses based the price on where they’d end up:
And some considered where in the USA they were starting as part of the thought process:
Every single one of the numbers tossed out as being "fair" was actually below the average cost to operate the flight which would carry the passenger on the trip (based on published average cost data from the airlines). So, with the exception of some bargain fares on oneworld carriers to Dusseldorf (and even those are ~$900 from the east coast), it seems that many of the chat participants are going to be disappointed. Chris points out that average fares are in the $1200-1500 range already and there are no signs of those dropping much anytime soon.
Fares are higher on average than they have been the past few years; there is no doubt about that. Even off-season fares are higher. That mostly comes from less competition, less capacity and a desire by the airlines to actually make some money. Absolute fares are at or near all-time highs, while inflation-adjusted fares are still quite reasonable according to DoT analysis (note that the DoT data is for domestic, not international, but the trends are similar):
Not adjusted for inflation, the $367 third-quarter 2012 average fare is the fifth-highest average fare for any quarter since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995. The highest was $385 in the second quarter of 2012. The previous third-quarter high was $361 in 2011. Third-quarter 2012 fares were $243 in 1995 dollars, down 18.1 percent from the average fare of $297 in 2000, the inflation-adjusted high for any third quarter (Tables 1 and 2).
Here’s another bit of analysis from Airlines for America, the industry trade group in the USA. It uses DoT data to track overall international fares since 1990 (a subset shown here).
These are overall averages for all international travel, not just peak season transatlantic. Still, the numbers make it hard to believe that getting peak season airfares at below average rates is going to work out well very often.
There was one slightly off-topic aside in the conversation which was also rather entertaining:
Apparently relatively normal airfares are, in some cases, shocking.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like paying very much for airfare and when the fare is too high I either don’t travel or I go somewhere else. But I also go in to the transaction knowing what to expect and being able to tell if I got a good deal or not rather than just expecting that fares are always so low. At the end of the day I guess I’m just surprised how low some people think airfare should be to be considered reasonable.
No wonder the airlines are struggling to eke out profits. For too long passengers have become used to the cheap fares offered as a result of excess capacity and increased competition. Mergers and ATI deals have cut almost all of that out of the system. And with the impending US Airways/American Airlines merger and Delta/Virgin Atlantic ATI request working their way through the regulators the competition is going to decrease. It is good for consumers that the airlines are able to remain in business. But that will mean higher fares, more crowded planes and fewer choices, all of which make for not-so-happy passengers.
Passengers will have one more option for flights between Milan and New York City starting this Fall. Emirates will launch the route in October 2013 ending their 5 year hiatus of service between New York and Europe. Their previous iteration of service was to Hamburg, Germany which ended in 2008.
Flights will depart New York at 10:20pm, arriving in Milan at 12:15pm the following day and continuing on to Dubai at 2:00pm. The westbound flight will depart Milan at 4:00pm, arriving in New York at 7:00pm the same day. The eastbound flight time is nice, providing useful onward connection options in Europe. It is also a late enough flight such that sleeping should be reasonably easy for passengers. Westbound the timing is great for passengers who want most of a day in Europe before heading back to New York City. Onward connections are limited, however, with the late arrival at JFK.
The route will compete directly with Delta, Alitalia and American Airlines There is also a flight on United Airlines into Newark. And the Emirates 777-300ER will be the largest plane on the route, adding a lot of capacity and also adding an option for first class service.
I now know which route I’ll be looking over the winter for bargain deals.