Every so often, a rant about travel comes across so wrong-headed that it deserves to be held under the microscope for scrutiny. Charles DeLaFuente, one of the New York Times’ in-house stable of journalist-bloggers, wins that honor thanks to a recent post. It’s notable for its misguided attempt to assign blame for a travel mishap to all parties other than himself. But nonetheless, travelers, airports, and airlines can all learn from his account, both before and after his flight.

DeLaFuente and his family missed a JetBlue flight at Newark Airport. He blamed the airport’s (and airline’s) lack of sufficient signage to help him find his gate:

Jet Blue has two gates in a concourse also used by Continental, but only Continental has signs at the security area that leads to its seven gates in Terminal A, along with monitors showing the departures from them. Jet Blue has nothing there to alert passengers that its gates lie in that concourse, too.

Granted, I would have seen the Jet Blue counter and the monitors showing gates 21 and 22 if I had entered the terminal on the upper level, where anyone dropped off by private car or taxi, or with bags to check, would normally arrive.

But many passengers enter at the terminal’s ground level, where shuttle buses stop. And if, like me, they have no bags to check, they go up the escalators and emerge at the security checkpoint without ever passing the Jet Blue check-in counter. That’s where it can get confusing. There are three concourses in the terminal. Behind which one do the Jet Blue gates lie?

When I read this, I thought, “You have to be kidding me.” Newark’s terminal A is divided like a split level house. The upper level is a short, half-level escalator ride from the level where you enter security. If there were no flight monitors immediately visible (…aren’t they also at security?), then a few steps up the escalator, and voila.

This photo appears to be from the C-terminal, if I’m not mistaken, but the basic architecture is the same, and should gives you a sense of the distance involved between the top (check-in) and middle (security/gates) levels at Newark:

newark airport escalator Taking some responsibility for a missed flight: A bad example from the NYT

And when you reach the top of the escalator on the check-in level, there are monitors listing the flights (this image is from Terminal A):

newark terminal a Taking some responsibility for a missed flight: A bad example from the NYT

So, I’m sorry, it’s really not that hard to find your flight’s gate at Newark.

But DeLaFuente’s rant gets worse:

I arrived at the terminal with my teenage son and daughter about 30 minutes before flight time, then spent about 10 minutes searching for the right concourse and maybe 10 minutes waiting in the security line.

Hold on: DeLaFuente left himself only 30 minutes from the moment of arrival to the moment of departure? At Newark? When he didn’t know where he was going?

Sure, the airlines will tell you to arrive early and to leave abundant time for your flight. And there are plenty of us who leave less time than the recommended 1 hour+ cushion, especially if we know the airport well. (The TSA’s security line wait time estimator is unfortunately down for the time being, though when it’s up, it can be of help in planning things, too.) But 30 minutes at Newark, one of America’s busiest airports, is begging for trouble. I’ve spent nearly that long in security lines there.

To his credit, DeLaFuente raises a few valid points. Jetblue could have been nice and let him standby for the next flight without charging him extra, instead of upcharging him. Their customer relations staff should have written back to him when he sent a certified letter of complaint to their CEO (which was the wrong way to escalate a complaint, but that’s another issue…). And Newark Airport and Jetblue should, yes, consider placing monitors differently, or in more places.

But I find it nearly impossible to show sympathy for someone who arrives 30 minutes before departure from Newark, isn’t capable of taking an escalator up a half flight of stairs, and won’t take any responsibility for his actions.

Categorized in: airports, travel

redbox Brilliant: Redbox expands to more airports

Redbox, the company that sets up DVD rental machines at supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores, has quietly been adding their machines at airports. For the same $1 per day rental fee, travelers can pick up a movie in one airport, watch the movie on the plane, and return the disc at any Redbox, at the airport or not.

Nashville, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids have had them already for several months. Boston and Cincinnati were just added. Some airports have them before security; some have them both before and after security.

It’s a brilliant idea. Cheap last-minute inflight entertainment for those bringing a laptop or a portable DVD player. (Of course, you’ll need a device that plays a DVD (most netbooks don’t have an optical drive anymore) and if you plan ahead you might have something else at the ready.) And make sure your batteries are fully charged.

The company is also making deals with in-airport concessions. For example, at Cincinnati’s airport, buying a popcorn and soda combo at a vendor called Buckeyes & Bluegrass yields you a free DVD rental code. Expect more tie-ins like this.

My biggest beef with Redbox (which I’ve only accessed at my supermarket, not while traveling) has been the selection. Yes, they have some recent films, but there is too much straight-to-DVD junk in their inventory. I hope their airport locations have a more desirable selection, and remain well-stocked.

Categorized in: airports, inflight internet

free wifi Free airport wi fi for the holidays, courtesy of Google

Our Google overlords have spoken, and there shall be free wi-fi in airports for the holiday season.

Through a partnership with many of the providers that already power most airport wifi, albeit for a fee, Google is making wifi free at 47 airports through January 15, 2010. The service is in conjunction with Boingo, Advanced Wireless Group, Time Warner Cable, Electronic Media Systems, Lilypad, and individual airports.

The list of 47 is somewhat deceiving. For example, Charlotte already offers free wifi, so now there’s a Google-branded free option. Big whoop. But at others, like Boston, free service is new — and very welcome.

Unfortunately, some of the biggest airports aren’t on the list. Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco?… Nope. Alas.

The airports included are below, after the jump.

Categorized in: airports, wi-fi

Downgraded: TSA
Upgraded: Airports with independence

Near Glacier National Park, in Kalispell, Montana, Glacier Park International Airport is hoping to boot the TSA off its property and replace the government security agency with private contractors. What?? I had no idea this was possible, but sure enough: Under the Screening Partnership Program, an airport can apply to reprivatize security, generally if TSA isn’t meeting the airport’s needs. The issue for Glacier was staffing: The TSA calculated staffing levels based on October traffic levels — when August is the peak travel time for the area. About 15 airports, including several in Montana, have opted out of the TSA’s domain.

Upgraded: Efforts to keep convention business. ANY convention business
Hotels need business. So, is there any problem with hosting a convention of swingers as a Holiday Inn in upstate New York did? The annual spouse-swapping event, “Entice the Falls” (link not entirely safe for work), featured some exciting events like “Flogging 101″ and a (canceled) body painting party. But how many bonus points do you earn for a weekend of debauchery?

Downgraded: Chrysler at the rental counter
The Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group is slashing its purchases of Chrysler vehicles. Their fleet is currently 76% Chrysler, but Ford will nearly tie Chrysler for new purchases (34 and 30%, respectively).

Upgraded: Luxury in Mecca
Downgraded: Raffles Hotels’ management’s common sense

Islamic pilgrims to Mecca who aren’t feeling particularly pious, but who are looking to live large, may be pleased to hear that Singapore’s Raffles Hotels are planning an enormous luxury hotel that will cast a shadow on the Muslim world’s holiest site. But what on earth is the hotel chain thinking? I’m sure some will find the uber-luxurious hotel an affront to the religious meaning of the site; are they painting a giant target on all the hotels in the Raffles brand?

Raffles Mecca Upgrades and Downgrades: TSA booted out, swingin conventions, Mecca hotels, mileage runs, more

Upgraded: Recliners!
The dip in travel has been a boon for furniture makers. What? Yes, according to the industry, sales of reclining chairs are up, as Americans travel less, stay home more, and look for greater comfort in their living room.

Upgraded: Spotlights on mileage running
I’ve been known to go on a mileage run or two (though not for a few years now) in order to bump up my elite-qualifying miles to the next tier, but I’m nowhere near the big leagues that these guys play in. Check out this 20-minute documentary on mileage runners, and the OCD spirit that drives them to collect miles and points with a singleminded focus:

american airlines baggage fees Upgrades and Downgrades: American Airlines baggage, Ryanair steals from kids, and more

Downgraded: Checked bags on international American Airlines flights
British Airways was the first to do this, but American Airlines wasn’t far behind: Many AA economy-class ticket-holders will no longer have an allowance of two checked bags on international flights. For those who buy tickets to Belgium, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Spain, or Switzerland on or after September 14, 2009, the first bag remains free (or, perhaps more accurately, included in the cost of the ticket). However, the second bag, which used to be included free, will now cost $50, up to 50 lbs. A list of exceptions applies, including full-fare tickets, elite AAdvantage and oneworld members, military personnel and dependents, and, interestingly, those traveling on codeshare-issued tickets.

Upgraded: Biofuel at airports
It’s not quite biofuel in the jets, but it’s a great start: Eight airlines will start using biofuels to power their ground equipment at LAX.

Downgraded: All-you-can-fly fares
JetBlue, which rolled out a $599 all-you-can-fly ticket two weeks ago, ended sales early. “While supplies last” meant they didn’t last.

Downgraded: United Breaks Guitars, episode 2
The original “United Breaks Guitars” video was a delight, a catchy tune that lambasted the airline for treating a customer poorly. The sequel, while cute, lacks the magic. It does, however, feature tubas.

Upgraded, I guess: Squeezing a couple bucks out of Hotwire
Hotwire has settled a class action lawsuit that charged that the company didn’t properly notify consumers of the fees and taxes charged for hotel reservations. If you made a hotel reservation on Hotwire between January 10, 2001 and May 2, 2005, you are likely entitled to either cash refunds or Hotwire credits. The Hotwire credit is significantly more lucrative, if you’re a Hotwire user anyway. See here for details, if you didn’t get an e-mail from the plaintiff’s attorneys (if you’re wondering, they got customer e-mail addresses from Hotwire…)

Downgraded, as if it was possible: Ryanair
Just when you think the airline couldn’t go any lower, Ryanair charges a fee to collect your lost-and-found. Even if you’re a nine-year old girl who lost her purse. It’s comical really: Ryanair will take candy from a baby, literally.


charlotte runway run Putting the run back into runway
Torn between going for a jog and planespotting? Why not combine both? Charlotte Douglas Airport is hosting a 5K run/walk on the runways and taxiways. It’s Halloween morning — October 31, 2009.

It’s a neat idea, though the idea of sucking in jet fuel and exhaust while your heart rate is up detracts somewhat from the pleasure.

Cynically, I immediately thought of the security angle. Frankly, I was amazed this race was even permitted in this age of fear and security theater. There is a small security caveat: “Given the secure location of this Run and for safety reasons, bikes, rollerblades, inline skates, dogs and/or other pets are not allowed.” Those restrictions are rather tame.

Proceeds from the race (from $15 to $25 per person, depending on registration date and whether you’re running or walking) benefit charity: LifeSpan’s Community Activity and Employment Transition Program (CAET).

If you’re in the race, or just flying through Charlotte and see a horde of people trying to keep pace with taxiing jets, send photos!

charlotte runway run2 Putting the run back into runway

Categorized in: airports