Yes, 37E is a middle seat. Yes, it also happens to be in the last row of the United Airlines A320, which means limited recline. In just about every situation it is the least desirable seat on that plane (though I’d say 37B is worse because of the lav on that side, but only by a small margin). It is simply not where you want to be sitting. And yet I was incredibly happy to be there.
Do you want to sit here??
I was on my way home from Colorado and really wanted to get home in time for a reasonable dinner at home. Alas, the flight which let me do that meant a 28 minute connection in Denver and – not surprisingly – they don’t let you book those normally. So I booked the cruddy connection and planned to just run for it when I made it to Denver. Of course, when booking the cruddy connection I didn’t actually mean to book the REALLY bad one which would get me home near midnight but apparently that’s what I actually did. All of a sudden this SDC/standby game became much more important for my sanity. We landed on time into Denver and I checked the flight on mobile.united.com and it said seats were available. I was off to the races, from B69 to B37 (about half a mile, at altitude with a rocking hangover and people to dodge).
I made it to the new gate at T-12 minutes, and that’s when the agent told me there were no more seats available. Ughhh. The cutoff for passengers to be on-board is T-10 minutes and there were two not yet on-board so I had a chance. She added me to the list and told me I was first in line. They paged the passengers again and one showed up. Then the other showed up. Not good news for me. Except that apparently one of the passengers was intent on playing shenanigans.
It seems that one of the two was a non-rev, looking to fly on her pass benefits. She gave her name to the agent and a BP was printed and then, as the passenger was getting on board, the agent called out to stop the boarding. Apparently there were two people on the flight with the same name, one male and one female, and the non-rev accidentally got the paid guy’s BP. I’m not 100% certain that they were playing games with refundable bookings and trying to block a seat for the non-rev, but it sure seemed that way to me. Either way, it was now T-10 and the one passenger hadn’t shown up. The gate agent printed my new boarding pass and I was off down the jetway as the last passenger to be loaded on the flight.
View from all the way down the back of the plane
So, yeah, not the most comfortable place to spend 3.5 hours, but I got home in time for a late dinner and I even managed to sleep a bit in that middle seat with limited recline. I’m not going out of my way to choose it again for next time, but it turns out I survived just fine.
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.
As part of the FTU event last weekend I presented a session on maximizing United’s MileagePlus program. I don’t think that there is anything particularly groundbreaking in the content, but I do think that it is a good reminder of how their award chart works (or doesn’t in some cases) and how a bit of thought can help you book some pretty incredible awards for the same price (or less!) as a more traditional award.
At the beginning of the session I asked the crowd what they were in the program for. I was quite surprised – and pleased – that domestic upgrades were at the bottom of the list. That’s a good thing in the United program as those upgrades are less forthcoming than with other airlines. Most people were interested in the awards and routing rules and I think that is still an area where United shines. Maybe too much, and I don’t expect it to last forever, but for now the opportunities truly are grand.
I’ve posted the slides online here. I’m not entirely sure that they’re actually going to be completely useful without the conversation as they’re more of an outline than a detailed analysis of what to do and how to book the awards. But I do think they can get you started on where some of the sweet spots are in the awards and how to think about the travel options so that you can get more from the trips you’re taking. If nothing else, they’re a good way to start a conversation on just what can be done.
Give them a look if you’re interested and let’s have that conversation, either in the comments here, on FlyerTalk, on MilePoint, via email or however else works for you.
Not that it should come as a surprise to anyone, but Delta has joined United Airlines and US Airways in charging $200 for changes on non-refundable domestic US tickets. The change was published on their website today:
It isn’t only customers who are kvetching about the ever increasing focus on ancillary fees. Bob Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines (which hasn’t matched the increase, yet) and generally outspoken commentator on the industry pulled no punches when the topic came up last week at the Executive Travel Summit. Among the choice bits he offered up:
I think the airline industry is making a fundamental mistake when they rely as heavily as they are now on ancillary revenues. The industry cannot have a long future if they are focused on hosing their customers.
I don’t think anyone in the airline industry enjoys nickel & diming customers.
They may not enjoy it, but they’re getting pretty darn good at it.
Looking for some useful perks in an airline loyalty program above and beyond the normal elite tiers? American Airlines has a rather compelling offer out this year in the form of their 2013 Elite Rewards program (registration required!). The concept – extra perks earned at various milestones – is not a new one but the AA implementation this year is one of the more generous versions in quite some time.
There are two main factors which make the promotion so useful this year, mostly by making it accessible to so many customers.
1) The qualifications this year can be made by EQS, EQM or EQPs. In prior iterations the thresholds were defied by EQPs. That meant only high spending customers were likely to earn the benefits. This time around EQMs or EQPs count at the same rate so even the budget/mileage running passenger can earn the awards.
2) The milestones at which the earnings trigger are pretty smart numbers. Even lower frequency travelers can benefit from the 40,000 point threshold and the 125K and 150K levels do a pretty good job of keeping passengers around even after they’ve hit EXP qualification for the year.
2a) They have an awesome infographic. Seriously, it is pretty solid:
Some of the choices at the various threshold levels are not particularly great values. Like why would you choose a $100 Global Entry credit over 4 EVIPs or 40,000 RDMs?!? And it is worth noting that some of these benefits are not unique to American. The Global Entry reimbursement benefit is provided by United to everyone at the 75K level, for example. And additional upgrade instruments are given to UA elites as they pass the higher thresholds, too. Oh, and for UA elites there is no extra effort required for the additional upgrades; they just happen. Delta also has similar awards available where Platinum Medallions choose one and Diamonds choose two from the pool. Gifting status, bonus miles, upgrades and lounge passes are among the options.
Because of the choices involved it is hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the programs. Didn’t stop me from trying to, however. If you’re in to award miles (and that’s what you choose as your bonus) here’s what the earnings look like assuming you start from scratch:
If you are a 100K passenger already it looks like this:
If upgrades are your thing and you choose those instead of miles here’s what the earning looks like (and keep in mind that the relative utility of UA, AA and DL SWUs varies wildly by travel patterns, fares paid and destinations and that the regional upgrades are also quite different; also, if you are an EXP to start the year you actually don’t earn any e500s):
Things like the Global Entry option, lounge membership or wifi passes are probably lower value so harder to compare, but if you don’t want miles or upgrades AA is going to be better in this regard, followed by Delta and then United based on my quick review. Similarly, the opportunity to gift status is one which I know is appreciated by many Delta elites in lieu of upgrades in the SkyMiles program.
That’s not to say that the AA program isn’t very good; I think it is quite compelling for many AAdvantage members. It offers the best benefits at the lower tiers and the choices are broader than what Delta or United offer. But it is most definitely not the only game in town.
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.
Hooray, ancillary fees!
Most airlines are big on them these days as a way to raise more revenue and United Airlines has apparently decided that the change fee on restricted fares was too low at $150 per change. The new fee is $200.
Ouch. Oh, and United remains out in front with their policy of charging new money for the change rather than taking it out of the fare difference if the fare went down. Not exceptionally customer-friendly.
It does not appear that American Airlines, US Airways or Delta have matched. Yet.
h/t to EEM for spotting this one.
The launch of service by Virgin America between Newark and both Los Angeles and San Francisco touched off a bit of a fare war. Most route launches do, especially when it is an upstart encroaching on a cash cow route of a legacy carrier. The fare war itself was not unexpected, really. Slightly less expected was the amount of capacity United Airlines has chosen to respond with. Not only did they match the fares but they are essentially running hourly shuttle service on both routes.
At least one person is willing to call the revised schedule out for being more than just a reasonable response to a sudden increase in demand in the markets. Sir Richard Branson, the outspoken head of the Virgin Group which owns a minority stake in Virgin America was at Newark this week to talk about the new service launch and he had a few words about United’s approach. Speaking to FlightGlobal at the event he was downright defiant:
It’s old-style American airline management. It won’t succeed. They will be the losers. They certainly won’t drive us out of Newark.
Branson also suggests that the move by United is going to cost roughly $150mm annually. I have no idea if those numbers are sound or not; my back of the napkin calculations based on CASM, the aircraft and the number of flights suggests that the operating costs will be a lot higher than that, though I suppose they’ll make some money selling the seats, even at the bargain $99 one-way rates they have on the market right now.
But Branson is also suggesting another tactic may come in to play as Virgin America tries to make it in the market: the government. Branson is suggesting that the carrier may file complaints to regulators regarding the inventory dumping that United has engaged in on these routes. Given that he’s not actually running the company it is hard to tell if either of these defiant stands is real. Saying you’re going to file a complaint is a lot different than actually doing so and it is not actually his position to do it so others will have to get involved before it actually happens. Still, it is always interesting to hear that approach discussed.
I get that Branson wants to see more service and lower fares in the market. That makes sense. So it is hard to use that same argument to say that United’s inventory dumping here is a bad thing. At the same time, history suggests that should United actually drive Virgin America out of the market the service and fares will rapidly return to the old levels. The question is whether the feds should be involved.
Thus far I’m happy with the fare sales; they’re going to be very useful for me, I’m sure. We’ll just have to see how long it all lasts.
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.
When I wrote earlier today about the irrational manner in which airlines price tickets I didn’t really expect to find such a pointed example so quickly. It turns out that United Airlines apparently wanted to help me make my point and so here I am again. I understand airfare and pricing rules pretty well and I’m generally able to figure out what’s going on in any particular scenario. My latest efforts to fly to Colorado, however, reminded me of the part of airfare pricing which isn’t published anywhere: Married Segments.
Airlines decided somewhere along the way that all the rules and inventory buckets they have aren’t sufficient for them to control prices. To address this apparent shortcoming the idea of married segments was introduced. In short, it means that on itineraries with a connection there are times that the fare will change by virtue of the specific flights chosen, even if there are other, valid fares available on the routing and the inventory for those other fares exists.
Here’s an example: I want to fly from New York City to Colorado Springs on 10 May 2013. There is a K fare published by United (one of their cheapest) and there is K inventory on a number of flights from LaGuardia to Denver and from Denver to Colorado Springs. Should be a piece of cake to piece it together, right? Wrong.
Here are the options I have at the K fare price:
As you can see in the details, UA6168 has K inventory for the DEN-COS segment and UA733 has K inventory for the LGA-DEN segment. Other GDS interfaces show similar results:
And yet I can not purchase UA733 + UA6168. It prices as an S fare, roughly $100 more.
No big deal, I tell myself; I know how to get around this. I’ll just book it as a multi-city and have the pricing engine force it into a single fare and get the lower rate. Except that didn’t work this time either. Actually, it made things worse (worth noting that it is a single V fare, not multiple fare components here).
And so I’m stuck. I basically have to decide how much my time is worth. Basically, sitting at Denver’s airport saves me about $50/hour:
I’ll most likely end up booking the later flight and trying to SDC or standby on the earlier flights. I even considered the Chicago routing at a cheaper price that then short layover but a flight blocked at 2:40 on a CRJ-200 is no one’s idea of a good time.
Paying a premium for the convenience of non-stop flights isn’t a new concept with the airlines. Paying for a shorter connection time is less common but, thanks to married segments, it definitely happens.
Lucky me, huh?