The latest episode of the PointsHoarder podcast is now online with Stephan and me discussing a whole bunch of events from the past couple weeks. Listen to our discussion of the new Middle Eastern carrier alignments/partnerships/alliances and also discussion of Delta‘s planned expansion of their Seattle connectivity to Asia. I still cannot figure out how they plan to fill up those planes, but they seem to have a plan. Oh, and a couple mistake fares not being honored.
Also on PointsHoarder this week:
Normally news of a tiny local airline which most folks have never heard of shifting its operations from one terminal to another doesn’t make the news. But SeaPort Airlines, based in Portland, Oregon, is a bit different. Their main marketing thrust when they launched service between Portland and Seattle in 2008 was that they could offer a significantly better pre-flight experience for customers because they were flying planes small enough to avoid TSA screening requirements. Even as they pulled out of the Seattle-Portland market earlier this year they were still allowing passengers to skip the screening hassle.
This past weekend, however, SeaPort moved inside the main terminal at PDX, losing that passenger benefit. Their end game is to ink interline agreements with major carriers (company President Rob McKinney claims one is coming "soon") so that SeaPort provides the last mile service to the few out-lying markets it serves rather than just carrying local traffic.
Our move the main terminal at Portland is among the most significant changes in the evolution of SeaPort Airlines over the past year, and which now has us highly-focused on providing air service that links small communities across America with the national air transportation via large airports.
Maybe it is the cynic in me but I’m quite saddened to hear that the company basically had to choose between two different versions of "better" service for their customers based in large part on the TSA and the annoyance they cause.
I’m generally a big fan of Scott McCartney’s The Middle Seat column in the Wall Street Journal so I was excited to read his post today about "Getting the Most Out of Your Frequent Flier Miles." I was hoping for some great insight into award pricing algorithms or inventory patterns. Instead I got a primer on how to not get any value from points. Such a disappointment.
There are a number of take-aways from the post but the main conclusion is this:
With domestic coach tickets, you generally get not much more than one penny per mile in value from airlines – that’s a $250 ticket for 25,000 miles. If the ticket now costs $400, you likely will have to pay 40,000 or 50,000 miles.
Not only is it simply wrong, but it is also very misleading in terms of getting the most from your points. Other than the programs of JetBlue, Virgin America and Southwest, (and also one option from Delta or American Airlines) the redemption rates are not tied directly to the selling price of the ticket. If there are no discounted seats left it is less likely that award flights will be available at the lower rates, but that’s tied to the inventory, not to the fare price. As the prices go up at the low end it actually means that the "value" realized for redeeming points is arguably higher since the cash option will be more expensive.
McCartney also picks a few random routes and tries to read into overall domestic award inventory based on his searches for economy class seats on one carrier for each route. His approach fails miserable in many ways.
First off, it appears that the searches he performed were based only on using the website of the carrier where the miles are sitting and then by just putting in the end points. This resulted in finding only a handful of seats for Boston-Ft. Lauderdale on Delta, Orlando-Seattle on American or Washington, DC – Austin on US Airways. For the Delta results this approach overlooks the issues that their website suffers from for award bookings; it is very limited, especially when searching for connections. For American I see very different results than McCartney did, with plenty of award seats open at the "Saver" level.
Both of those are questionable, but the US Airways one is the most egregious bad advice of the three:
And if you’re in Washington, D.C., and have US Airways miles you’d like to use to go to Austin, Texas, get ready to pay a heavy price—besides the $25 processing fee that US Airways charges for a “free’’ ticket. For the 10 months in the rest of this year, there are only five days when US Airways offered a flight to Austin at its basic mileage price.
In addition to only searching on US Airways’s website, McCartney ignores the fact that Dividend Miles can be redeemed for flights operated by United Airlines. Checking the award calendar there it is clear that finding an award seat from DCA-AUS is actually a rather trivial task on most days for the rest of the year. Yes, you’ll have to call in to book it, but that’s a small penalty for saving 25,000 points.
Sorry, Scott, but you missed the boat BIG TIME on this one.
There are a few sites that sit atop the list of any aviation geek’s top tours. One of them is, undoubtedly, the Future of Flight museum in Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle. The facility is the base for tours of the Boeing factory where the wide-body aircraft are assembled and the base tour is fun, but there are occasionally even better versions of the tour offered.
One such opportunity was this past weekend at Aviation Geek Fest 2012. Organized by AviationReporter, the event hosted about 75 geeks and allowed us to share our love of aviation with each other, with Boeing and to gain access to some normally off-limits sections of the facilities.
One group headed off to the factory floor tour, walking under and around the planes rather than in the gangways overhead. This time around the tour also included the 787 Dreamliner line and the attendees were very much up-close and personal, getting to literally kick the tires and touch the planes still on the assembly line. A second group headed out to the Dreamliner customer center, where various interior options are on display, allowing airlines to compare the options available for the configuration of their planes. I’ve done the floor tour a couple times and I’ve been on the plane so the interiors bit didn’t really appeal to me. I went for option C, the Paine Field Fire Department tour. I think I chose the best tour.
They picked us up in their trucks and we got to ride across the field, occasionally stopping and getting out for photo opportunities around the runways and parking areas. We also got a tour of their fire house, including climbing around on the various trucks they have, playing with the lights and I even got to suit up with their full set of gear.
They showed off their foamer truck (used to extinguish fuel fires), demonstrating the two different water cannons that it carries, walked us through their living quarters and their command center, too. It has phenomenal views of the runway. They also talked about their response time requirements – no more than 3 minutes from when an alarm comes in to being fully suited up and in the middle of the runway, ready to work whatever problem they’ve been called in to work. After getting into the suit once on my own and knowing how big the field is, I’m very impressed that they can get it all done in time.
On the return trip from the station back over to the Future of Flight museum we drove along the taxiway, getting very close to the many, many aircraft that are parked all over the field. Boeing has pretty much rented out every spare chunk of tarmac to park planes as they are being pushed out of the assembly lines but before they are delivered. There were 787s from at least five different carriers, 747-800s in both cargo and passenger configurations and some other aircraft as well. And we got to take pictures up close of many of them.
After the tour we also got to meet with a group of engineers from Boeing’s Moonshine group. These engineers are responsible for solving various production issues in the assembly process, either in-house on the Boeing lines or working with their suppliers to help them solve issues in their production lines. They work outside the scope of normal mega-company bureaucracy, with projects set on very short timelines and deliverables created from scrap parts and imagination more than blueprints and budgets. Hearing about some of their solutions It was a very interesting experience and we also got a hands-on experience in optimizing the assembly process. It wasn’t the full-blown deal that they normally run with folks in-house, but we did get to take home a business card holder that we put together.
Finally, there was a raffle with a bunch of prizes for everyone to take home, ranging from squeeze-toys up to a 787 model for the big winner.
It was a great event and I’m looking forward to AGF13 next year!
There are a bunch more photos available in the gallery here or on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools Facebook page here. You can also search #AGF12 on Twitter for lots more from the event.
Faced with "poorly performing" routes and an uncertain economic future, Delta has announced that they are trimming six international destinations from their Atlanta hub in 2012. One of the destinations, Shanghai, has been an on-again, off-again operation with limited service (currently only 2x weekly). The other destinations being cut – Athens, Copenhagen, Moscow, Prague and Tel Aviv – were all seasonal destinations which are not being reinstated as originally expected in the Summer ’12 season. Oh, and the timing of these cuts is a bit of a smack at the ATL airport authority. The airport’s new international facility is scheduled to open in 2012 right as demand is apparently drying up.
A few seasonal destinations from New York City are also being cut by Delta, including Manchester, U.K.; Budapest, Hungary; and Berlin.
But it isn’t all cuts for Delta. They are picking up the slack for SkyTeam and anti-trust alliance partner Air France, operating the Seattle – Paris route starting in March the day after Air France leaves the market. On that route it is most likely a fleet utilization issue as the two carriers share profits and expenses on many transatlantic routes thanks to the ATI arrangement. Delta will also be adding service between Detroit and Paris, likely for similar reasons.
There’s a lot more red on that map than green.
When the check-in machine at the airport informs you that it is unable to rebook your connection that’s a bad thing. When the agent behind the counter has to back away from the computer and call in reinforcements to figure out the rebooking it is even worse. But, when they eventually work together to figure everything out it isn’t all bad.
With the snow in New York City not expected to begin until early afternoon I figured my 10:30am flight out of JFK was going to be just fine. And the connection on from Dulles to Seattle would be fine, too. After all, Dulles has plenty of spare capacity and nicely separated runways meaning that operations there rarely suffer. But they did. And so the issues in DC, combined with the rain in NYC, meant that my reasonably easy connection on the way to Seattle was not going to happen. Ruh roh.
The issue was made even more challenging by the fact that the United Airlines operations at JFK are so limited. There aren’t a whole lot of alternate options out there once you’re stuck. Fortunately they managed to scare up space on the JFK-SFO flight and then connect me onward from there. I’m pretty sure there was some sort of overbooking involved to make that space appear but the flights ended up going out with folks clearing the standby list so that was apparently not a huge issue. And, even though I didn’t get the new line on my flight map (IAD-SEA) I did actually get to Seattle the same day I intended to. And that was pretty critical for catching my onward flights to China. Even better, I did it from the comfort of United’s p.s. Business Class.
The seat was much more comfortable for sleeping than the A319 seat I was supposed to be on. And the food was, much to my delight, quite good.
The past few times I’ve done the p.s. flights it has been on the morning departures and the breakfast options aren’t much to get excited over, but the lunch I had was most impressive.
If I had to quibble at all it would be on the fact that they don’t have as many toppings on offer for the sundaes, but they have the ones I like and they have chocolate and vanilla ice cream rather than just one. Hardly worth getting worked up over.
Add in plenty of leg room and a blanket that I really should have kept for my onward flight to Beijing and I managed to both eat and sleep quite well for the five and a half hours I spent on the plane.
The onward connection to Seattle was on a CRJ-700, not my favorite aircraft by any stretch. But it was a smooth flight and the approach in to Seattle offered up phenomenal views of downtown as we flew up the Sound and then circled back to land to the South.
Only about 3 hours later than originally expected and many, many hours ahead of my originally scheduled flights, even if I hadn’t missed the connection. Not bad at all in the end.
ANA took delivery of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner today, marking a major milestone in the project’s lifecycle. Boeing has been working on the Dreamliner for more than 7 years and the initial delivery today with the signing of paperwork is the first step in a three day long celebration for Boeing, ANA and the global aviation community.
After today’s contract signing there will be a ceremonial delivery of the aircraft "keys" on Monday. The airline will fly the plane back to Japan on Tuesday.
Today’s events come a few years after the original predictions. While this delivery is a huge event and most folks are excited there are still a number of folks not so ecstatic about the delivery. According to some sources the project horribly over budget and unlikely to ever be a profitable aircraft for the manufacturer. Plus there are concerns that the plane actually is not ready for service but it was delivered anyways. The article published in today’s Seattle Times is pretty brutal on the overall project, detailing cost overruns, project delays and other issues that have plagued the development and construction of the new airframe.
Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said the 787 team is "on track" to make the delivery.
But an experienced mechanic working on No. 8 believes that jet simply isn’t ready for service. The engineer who flew test flights fears it won’t immediately meet the standard of reliability required by ANA.
The senior engineer, however, dismissed such "bugs" as normal in any new program. "They won’t be nearly as bad as they were for the original 747."
The good news for me is that ANA has the aircraft now. I just hope the reliability issues are not such that I miss my opportunity to fly on it in a few weeks during the first week of scheduled operations.
Photo from the Boeing Company flickr stream
Want access to the priority security lines at the airport without elite status or buying a first class ticket? Looks like it is time to start flying JetBlue. The carrier announced today the 15 airports at which their new "Even More Speed" program will be implemented, allowing customers access to the "priority" line that other carriers afford to elites or premium cabin customers. With JetBlue this perk will be an additional benefit of the Even More Legroom seats which are being rebranded as well as part of the move.
The initial airports for priority screening are:
Priority screening is also coming to Boston in the next 4-6 weeks as the reconfiguration of the checkpoint there is completed.
In addition to the priority screening access the company is changing the Even More Legroom moniker to Even More Space. The impetus for this change is the addition of early boarding for those customers, providing them the first chance to get at the overhead bins. The early boarding benefit isn’t particularly new but the branding is. Maybe they got a bulk discount on trademark registrations with "Even More" in the name.
Overall this is a nice addition to the offerings that JetBlue has. Combined with the previous indications that some sort of "elite" program (though they refuse to use that word) is coming and that some of these benefits are likely to carry over, it seems clear that JetBlue is working hard to woo the business traveler segment more than ever.
Apparently I didn’t look too closely when I was planning the six-segment trip from Newark to Seattle. Continental apparently didn’t mind too much either, as they let me book a 22 minute connection in Orlando. The good news is that all the Continental gates there are close together. The bad news is that 22 minutes is a very short connection.
Things got a bit worse as we waited in Houston for the flight to Orlando. Our crew was late arriving to the plane. Now our 22 minute connection was shrinking and there wasn’t much we could do about it. The gate agent in Orlando was quite helpful, offering to protect us on a United flight that would catch us back up with our itinerary but that wasn’t nearly as much fun as trying to actually make the connection.
The good news is that we made the connection, even with the delay. The Continental agents were waiting at the gate and knew that we were on the inbound flight from Houston and they were ready for the late arriving passengers. Even though we missed the cut-off time for being at the gate on-time we managed to keep our seats and the upgrades. Sorry to the folks next in line on the list.
The best part about making the connection is that the crew we had for the quick two-hour flight up to Cleveland was the best of the trip. Most crews are fine and even can be a little fun if you’re willing to chat with them. This crew was one of the few special ones that come along. Ashley, Scott and Michelle were having fun doing their job and it showed. Truly an enjoyable experience. So much so that we briefly investigated changing our last couple flights to get a couple more hours in the air with them. Sadly, that was cost-prohibitive; flying with them to Vegas likely would’ve been a blast.
Moral of the story? Regardless of how stupid a 22 minute connection seems, booking it can be fun. Especially if there isn’t really anything to worry about missing at the next hop if the flights don’t work out right. Besides, when things do work out right, fun times can be found.
There’s really nothing quick about this trip. The Pan Am Clipper could make it from New York City to Seattle faster than I will. But the itinerary sure is an entertaining one.
It all started when there was a mistake loaded in the routing rules for Continental flights between the two cities. Most fares are limited to non-stop flights only or just a couple connections in a specific sequence. This particular fare, however, had pretty much no rules. If you could dream it – and if you could get a booking engine to process it – then you could connect pretty much anywhere in the Americas en route between the two cities. It was, in Mileage Run terms, a gold mine, particularly given that multi-stop routings are harder and harder to find.
Connections in Bogota, Panama City, Panama and Florida worked. So did connections in Hawaii. And that is how I find myself passing over the Golden Gate Bridge, headed westbound to Honolulu, on my way to Seattle. Some folks managed to be even more creative than I was, with multiple trips between the mainland and Hawaii on the same ticket. Me? I’m settling for a six-segment routing that covers Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Illinois.
The look on the ticket agent’s face when I asked her to print my boarding passes was fantastic. As she traced my itinerary segment-by-segment and counted off the connecting cities, each more the wrong direction than the next, the confusion changed to shock and then disbelief. The part where she called me crazy was pretty entertaining, too. And the fact that she’s not wrong doesn’t hurt the situation.
All told, I’m flying somewhere around 12,000 miles instead of the normal ~2,400 miles to get there. Definitely not normal, but for the price it is hard to beat. Most the segments got upgraded and I’ve got power at my seat so I’m getting some work done and relaxing. A friendly group of flight attendants, one of whom recently celebrated her 40th anniversary with the company and who is still hustling up and down the aisles, certainly helps the time pass quickly as well.
Six hours down, thirty to go, and the trip is great so far. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow after a few more hours inside the aluminum tube.