Downgraded: Expectations
Five-star hotel not living up to its standards? How about a zero-star hotel instead? The lodging — a converted windowless bunker in Switzerland — is also an art project. Zero-star is a cute idea, and it’s certainly fun. (Spin the Wheel of Fate!) And cheap: $9. I like their motto: “The only star is you.” Nonetheless, I believe the correct term for this facility is “hostel” (or “backpackers” for the Aussies/Kiwis in the house). See a video of the ho(s)tel below. Actually, come to think of it, it’s actually nicer than some hostels I stayed in during college.

Upgraded: British Airways
Downgraded: “cheaper” airlines

A (non-scientific) study by the Times of London found that fares were lower on British Airways than on Ryanair. And that was before they took things like luggage fees and check-in fees into account. This just reinforces the importance of price comparison (which Ryanair and its ilk tend to make difficult by keeping their fares out of the global distribution systems). As I’ve always argued, don’t assume that a “low-cost” airline is automatically lower than others. (Thanks to reader J!)

Upgraded: Skycaps
A court has affirmed that American Airlines harmed Boston skycaps’ tip income when it imposed a $2 curbside check-in fee — which went to the airline, not the skycaps. (The $2 fee was dropped in May 2008, when American started charging a fee for all checked bags.)

Upgraded: Inflight wi-fi
In the last few weeks, Virgin America reduced the cost of its inflight wifi. Lufthansa hinted at relaunching global satellite-based wifi using Panasonic’s technology (essentially duplicating the service it once offered via Connexion by Boeing). And another satellite provider, Row 44, which has tested service on Southwest and Alaska Airlines, received approval from the FCC to offer its services.

Downgraded: Continental Express
Another “trapped passengers” story… Continental Express flight gets diverted, keeps passengers on board for NINE HOURS. I mean, really, nine hours? On a regional jet?? There is no excuse for that duration of delay without allowing passengers to disembark. None. I don’t believe that this is the number one problem facing passengers today, but stories like this make it clear that some time limits to passenger trappings do need to be part of any passenger rights bill.

Downgraded: Some of the best premium seats in the sky
Cathay Pacific, which offers one of the best premium class products in the air, is cutting back the number of first and business class seats.

bangkok airport chanel Upgrades and Downgrades    Duty free and other scams, OpenSkies, scorpions, fees, more

Downgraded: Bangkok airport duty-free
If you’re in Bangkok, you might want to skip the duty-free shop. Customers have been falsely accused (better: framed) of shoplifting. And thanks to an apparently collusive agreement between the police, the duty free operator (King Power), and individual “translators,” all working in cahoots, travelers have been forced to pay up thousands of dollars in order to leave the country. “The British Embassy has also warned passengers at Bangkok Airport to take care not to move items around in the duty free shopping area before paying for them, as this could result in arrest and imprisonment.” Absurd! Read the whole convoluted story of the “zig zag scam” here.

Downgraded: OpenSkies
British Airways is looking to sell its all-business class OpenSkies subsidiary, only a year after buying L’Avion and merging the two operations. The airline-in-an-airline is still operating, though, and there are some pretty sweet deals for premium class travel. If you’re flying between New York and Amsterdam or Paris anytime soon and looking for a relatively inexpensive upgrade, this could be the ticket. (~$1230 all-in roundtrip for a 140° cradle seat, or ~$2100 for a 180° flat bed.) But I wouldn’t book more than a month or two out.

Upgraded: Inflight internet overseas
Lufthansa is reportedly exploring ways of restarting the now-defunct Boeing Connexion satellite-powered inflight internet service. The receivers are already installed on many of their planes (a process which was undertaken at a hefty cost. Panasonic is the most likely provider of the services to the airline.

Downgraded: The St. Regis Monarch Beach
Upgraded: Irony

You may recall the St. Regis Monarch Beach in California as the site of controversy — Weeks after accepting a huge federal bailout, AIG executives spent nearly half a million smackers to host a swank affair at the resort. Now the resort itself has gone into receivership: Creditor Citigroup has foreclosed on the property, taking possession from the franchisees, Makar Properties. (Perhaps not surprising if reports of 15% occupancy rates are true.) But foreclosure doesn’t mean closure. The property remains open, albeit under new ownership.

Upgraded: Exotic inflight vermin
Paging Samuel L. Jackson! A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight departing Phoenix was stung by a scorpion in flight. The creature fell out of luggage in the overhead bin, where numerous other scorpions were residing.

Downgraded: Budget Rent-a-Car’s ethics
Budget Rent-a-Car is still working with Trilegiant, the shady operators who send out “checks” you shouldn’t endorse. Signing the back commits you to an expensive membership in a “consumer club” with minimal benefits — all billed to the credit card you used when you rented a car from Budget. I reported on this back in January. I just received a similar solicitation this week, offering me a $10 check in exchange for a $219.98/year membership in “HealthSaver.” Shame on you, Budget, for pimping out the credit card data that your customers trusted you with.

Downgraded: Airline fees
Another week, another hike of airline fees. Continental, as part of its earnings report, is raising the cost of checked luggage by $5, bringing it to $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second. Also: Delta is adding a $5 in-person luggage fee for bags not checked in in advance online.


screaming phone Oh crap: Workaround found for banned phone calls via inflight wi fi As has been noted here several times before, several airlines (American, Delta, Virgin America, for starters) are rolling out inflight wi-fi using technology from AirCell. But in each instance, there have been assurances that the option of doing voice-over-IP phone calls, such as Skype, would be blocked. And it is. But, of course, someone has found a workaround.

The workaround is an application called Phweet, which lets you make voice calls to friends who are linked to you on Twitter. Andy Abramson posts the details on his VoIP Watch blog, in which he describes a successful test of the workaround on an American Airlines flight:

I invited Joanna, she replied and once I figured out how to get Phweet to answer (I had to use Safari, not Firefox) Joanna and I were having a lovely conversation while she was on an Aircell flight. I don’t mean a five second hi, hello. I mean, a real conversation, as she held her Lenovo UMPC up to her face. I even heard the announcement from the flight attendants as she was about to land.

Here’s the logic. Flash audio is embedded inside Flash. Unless Aircell wants to block all Flash traffic, this is the way to talk.

Inevitably, other Flash-based systems will emerge, so phone calls won’t be limited to Twitter users.

Enforcing a “no calls” policy will now fall on the shoulders of the flight attendants. I don’t think the odds are good that they’ll be able to maintain that order for long.

Categorized in: inflight internet, wi-fi

laptop on delta Delta to roll out inflight wi fi, but...

I’m all for inflight wi-fi. Granted, I have an internet addiction and giving me inflight wi-fi is like handing a bottle of Jim Beam to an alcoholic. But I’ll feed the need for the time being and praise Delta’s recent announcement that they’d be rolling out inflight wi-fi across their domestic fleet.

Delta is joining with Aircell®, a 17-year leader in airborne communications for business and commercial aviation, to install the company’s Mobile Broadband Network on the carrier’s domestic fleet. The system, Gogo™, will enable Delta customers traveling with Wi-Fi enabled devices, such as laptops, smartphones and PDAs, to access the Internet, corporate VPNs, corporate and personal e-mail accounts, as well as SMS texting and instant messaging services. Gogo will be available to customers for a flat fee of $9.95 on flights of three hours or less, and $12.95 on flights of more than three hours.

Sounds good to me. And according to the Gogo site, and confirmed by Scott McCartney, voice calls, such as Skype, will be blocked. I like.

But there are two caveats:

1) Power. No inflight internet is worthwhile if you run out of juice. Will Delta be installing power ports on every flight? Unlike, say, Virgin America, Delta doesn’t have power at every seat. And their announcement doesn’t suggest they’ll be installing it. While installing wifi can be done overnight, adding power takes a lot more effort, time, and weight. In the meantime: Buy a spare battery.

2) Space. If you’re going to open up a laptop, you need room. If someone pushes their seat back, your screen can get jammed into place in the laptop squeeze. Either you’ll need to negotiate with the person in front of you, to prevent them from reclining, or airlines need to add seat pitch to each row. Good luck with the latter.

All in all, I’m happy to hear that Delta is rolling this out, and doing it so aggressively. I’d love to see power, too, but I’m not optimistic. By the end of 2008, 75 planes (starting with MD-88s) will be slated for the upgrade. By the end of 2009, 300 planes should have it. That’s much faster than the JetBlue or American beta-tests.

- Inflight internet update: Southwest blocks Skype, Continental (hearts) Blackberry
- Feed the Internet addiction: American Airlines will roll out high-speed inflight wi-fi next year
- It’s official: Boeing pulling the plug on its inflight internet service, Connexion


internet and tacos Inflight internet update: Southwest blocks Skype, Continental (hearts) Blackberry

First it was Boeing’s failed Connexion service (R.I.P.). But in recent months, inflight internet is making a comeback. There was JetBlue’s announcement of a Yahoo/Blackberry inflight internet service. Then last week, Southwest announced that they would be rolling out wi-fi internet access onboard a limited number of their planes in coming months. Then, this week, Continental followed suit with a JetBlue style TV and limited internet service. The similarity to JetBlue’s product isn’t coincidental: They’re buying the service from a JetBlue subsidiary.

The Southwest internet announcement was more interesting, because it was real internet, and not limited to Yahoo or Blackberry. Still, I had some questions. Today, I’ve got some answers from the heart of Southwest HQ.

The biggest deal: No voice. Not even Voice-over-IP. Just try and use your Skype connection. I dare you. Double-dog dare you. Southwest has got you blocked, sucka.

Q: Will passengers know in advance which routes will have the wi-fi capability?
A: Maybe. Noncommittal. “Nothing is concrete yet.”

Q: Will voice features, e.g., the portal for Skype, be turned on, or off?
A: OFF. Southwest will be blocking VoIP. “We’ll have more than enough bandwidth to support e-mail and IM…great SILENT communication options!”

Q: Any plans to consider cellphone capability?
A: Not at this time. (Whew!)

Q: Any plans to bundle wi-fi with the “business” fares now offered?
A: No word yet on the pricing. TBA.

- JetBlue starts testing inflight internet next week
- Feed the Internet addiction: American Airlines will roll out high-speed inflight wi-fi next year
- It’s official: Boeing pulling the plug on its inflight internet service, Connexion
- “No Cellphones” light to be added to aircraft interiors


fox laptop Upgrades and Downgrades    January 24, 2008    Inflight internet, Heathrow unplugged, and Ryanair being Ryanair

Upgraded: Inflight internet on Southwest
I’m convinced 2009 will be the year inflight internet really takes off, but 2008 is the year of inflight internet rollouts. Next to announce: Southwest! Partnering with Row 44, the airline plans to roll out inflight wi-fi — including VPN access, which is a plus for those hoping to hook up to the company network — in four planes this summer. So how about power outlets? Which leads us to…

Downgraded: London Heathrow Terminal 5
New terminal? Great! But the new facility has no power outlets for public use! What were they thinking? Clearly not designed with travelers in mind.

Downgraded: Non-EU residents on Ryanair
European zero-frills powerhouse Ryanair charges extra fees if you don’t check in online. But they don’t permit non-EU and non-EEA passport-holders to check in online. That’s most everyone in the world who’s getting a surtax. Oh sure, you can apply for a refund, but the burden is on you, the traveler. Lovely, as always, Ryanair. See here for the scoop.