Upgraded: In-flight magazine verité
How about this headline for an inflight magazine: “Live Entertainment in Kabul: Dog Fighting.” Seriously. This is onboard Afghanistan’s Safi Airways, and as their recent WSJ profile makes clear, this is an airline run by realists. “In the seat pocket in front of you on Safi, you will find an article on Kabul heroin addicts, photos of bullet-pocked tourist sites and ads for mine-resistant sport-utility vehicles.”
With much hoopla, and a great uptake by many media outlets, JetBlue recently re-launched their all-you-can-fly passes, which provided a month of travel for a $499 or $699, depending on whether you wanted to include weekends or not. Much smaller SunCountry Airlines followed suit days later. I remained silent, and the offers expired. Readers have asked me what I think, and why I didn’t mention this earlier, especially with much of the media is all agog about these deals. Perhaps there are some folks who have a bicoastal commute and could have made this work for a month. And this may be great for gap year tourists or retirees looking to duplicate the EurailPass experience at a higher altitude. But really, how many people can use this? Maybe it’s Europeans: Most Americans don’t have a month of vacation time to burn, and how much of that time do they want to spend flying? Mileage runners are out of luck, too, as you don’t earn miles for each flight on such a pass, but rather earn a fixed sum. So, for the most part, these passes are a non-starter. They’re great PR for the airlines that offer them, though, and perhaps that’s the goal all along.
Upgraded: Mexicana’s life chances
Mexicana, which declared bankruptcy just three weeks ago, has already been bought by an investment group and the airline’s pilots’ union. (Admittedly, the pilots only bought 5% of the airline.) Terms are still a secret, until August 25. But presumably this means that Mexicana will fly again.
Upgraded: Luxury gimmickry
Hotels, especially at the high end, are always looking for a gimmick: a way to distinguish themselves from the myriad luxury properties that are competing for guest dollars. But sometimes, the competition gets downright silly. The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay in California is offering a “fire and wine butler.” From the hotel’s pitch, which made me laugh out loud: “Thursday through Sunday evenings, The Fire & Wine Butler roves The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay on a specially-provisioned golf cart, providing on-the-spot fire and wine service to guests enjoying the out-of-doors.”
It seems that some flight attendants are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. And it’s happening on both sides of the pond.
In the UK, some representatives of the union representing British Airways flight attendants have apparently lost their marbles:
While I recognize that the phrase “other duties as assigned” is not typically part of the contracted job description of a unionized employee, the labor union Unite is taking a particularly belligerent approach to defining specific work tasks in its ongoing squabbles. The union is essentially telling management that its employees shouldn’t do anything that’s not part of the safety routine. To wit: Flight attendants were advised by union leadership not to distribute hot towels to passengers premium economy on 747s.
And now, a published-and-then-repudiated memo portending to be union-issued has instructed its members to “politely refuse” to close windowshades. The airline had asked flight attendants to close the shades after passengers deplaned; closed shades keep plane interiors from heating up while the plane is parked at the gate, thereby reducing air conditioning (and fuel burn). But the memo argues that the task hasn’t been vetted for health and safety concerns. Seriously. The health and safety argument might have worked for the hot towels, but windowshades?
I empathize with flight attendants’ low pay and anger at losing benefits over the years. Really, I do. But the spat between the flight attendants and management over at BA has simply gotten ridiculous.
Speaking of empathy, I can certainly feel for this guy, too:
A JetBlue flight attendant, apparently upset with an uncooperative passenger on a just-landed flight, on Monday unleashed a profanity-laden tirade on the public address system, pulled the emergency-exit chute, slid off the plane and fled Kennedy International Airport, a law enforcement official said.
That’s a great opening for an article. And really, it just keeps right on going:
One passenger got out of his seat to fetch his belongings from the overhead compartment before the crew had given permission. [The flight attendant, Steven Slater] instructed the man to remain seated. The passenger defied him. Mr. Slater approached and reached the passenger just as he pulled down his luggage, which struck Mr. Slater in the head.
Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public address system and cursed out all aboard. Then he activated the inflatable evacuation slide at service exit R1; launched himself off the plane, an Embraer 190; ran to the employee parking lot; and left the airport in a car he had parked there.
Frankly, I feel for the guy. I wouldn’t want to be the enforcer of the bins, and who knows, I might reach the point of having a Howard Beale moment. But if it’s gotten so bad at work, that you’re taking the emergency slide to make an escape, it’s time to look for another job. Which Mr. Slater probably is doing right now.
Unless they let him slide. (rimshot)
I sure didn’t see this one coming… American and Jet Blue have signed and interline agreement and will cross-sell each other’s flights in and out of Boston and New York-JFK. Notably, the airlines are not codesharing, and it’s a northeast operation, with no love for California or Florida.
The relevant quotes from the release:
The partnership will focus on routes into and out of JFK and Boston Logan International Airport that extend and complement each others’ networks. For example, it would provide seamless service for customers who wish to fly nonstop from Nantucket to JFK on JetBlue and from there to London on American. Likewise, customers can board American from Paris to JFK and connect to a nonstop flight on JetBlue to Burlington, Vt. JetBlue customers will be able to effortlessly connect on flights to 12 of American’s international destinations from JFK and Boston including Barcelona, Spain; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Tokyo, Japan.
Customers of both airlines are expected to benefit from improved connections, while each airline will see additional customers fed into their networks. None of the routes on which the airlines will cooperate overlap current flights served by the other. The agreement will provide connections for more passengers at JFK and Boston to American’s international destinations in Europe, Asia, and South America. It also will generate more traffic and support for American’s planned joint business with oneworld partners British Airways and Iberia between North America and Europe, and with Japan Airlines between North America and Asia.
It appears that my early thinking — that JetBlue would start moving toward bigger partnerships and perhaps even alliance membership — may be wrong. It looks like JetBlue is willing to make ad hoc agreements with anyone, but it’s clear that they’re branching out to create more of a global network.
Will JetBlue flights count toward AAdvantage? Vice versa? If so, it will be an interesting question how the programs, which function very differently, reconcile.
Downgraded: Continental and US Airways add international luggage fees
Following in the steps of American Airlines and British Airways, Continental and US Airways have now also added a fee for a second checked bag on international flights. US Airways also bumped up the fee for domestic luggage fees by $5 per bag.
Upgraded: Japanese car rentals
Travelers renting a car in Japan can now reserve a wireless enabled netbook for about $10 per day. The company, Oryx, includes the cost of the wireless service.
Downgraded: Blaming the victim
A Stamford, Connecticut franchisee operating under the Marriott name stupidly and offensively blamed one of its customers, saying she “‘failed to exercise due care’ before she was raped at gunpoint in front of her children in a hotel parking garage.” Stay classy, Stamford Marriott! Now, the Marriott mothership is distancing itself from the words (and legal strategy) of its franchisee.
Upgraded: JetBlue-Lufthansa partnership
It took a while — I blogged about the possibility of an alliance partnership back in December 2007 — but JetBlue and Lufthansa are finally talking about codesharing. The consequences will be interesting. I’m particularly interested to see if Lufthansa will be selling JetBlue segments on tickets to destinations served as well by Star Alliance members United and US Airways.
Downgraded: Enterprise Rent-a-Car
Rental cars typically don’t have a great reputation, and this doesn’t help: Enterprise saved money on its rental fleet by requesting that GM delete safety features — features that were otherwise standard. The savings per vehicle: $175. 66,000 Chevrolet Impalas without side curtain airbags were rented out, and then subsequently sold as used vehicles.
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.
JetBlue has relaunched its frequent flier program, True Blue, touting a new-and-improved structure. It’s an improvement over the old JetBlue program, and existing JetBlue loyalists will find it an improvement over the old program, but it’s not a huge draw in and of itself. Here’s a quick rundown.
There are some features that are quite appealing:
- No blackout dates. That’s always a good thing.
- Last-seat availability. If there’s an open seat, and you have the points, you get the seat. That’s good, old-school ticketing.
- Bonuses linked to loyalty. Nothing revolutionary here, but more flights on JetBlue means more points. Other airlines have elite tiers, JetBlue keeps it simpler and just gives you more points.
- One-way awards.
Expiration of points is still short-lived, but at least it can be extended. The old TrueBlue program’s points would expire after one year, regardless of activity. That made accrual of points — and loyalty — pointless. (No pun intended.) The new program improves that a tiny bit, by adding a restart-the-clock feature. If you fly JetBlue or use a JetBlue American Express Card before your miles expire, you add a year to the their lifespan. It’s a marginal improvement that will give infrequent fliers an incentive to actually join the program, though one year is still a lot less than other airlines’ expiration timeframes.
Interestingly, the program changes the metric for points accrual from flight segments or distance flown to dollars spent. Travelers earn 3 points per dollar spent on the base fare, or 6 points per base fare if the ticket was booked on the JetBlue website. From the airline’s perspective, this makes a ton of sense: You want to reward those passengers who pay big bucks, not the traveler who eked out a $29 fare special.
TrueBlue has always been an enigma. Coming from an airline that has historically tried to be more customer-service oriented than their larger peers, their loyalty program has always been — and still is — a disappointment. There’s not much thinking outside the box here.
They didn’t think big. They could have done much more to add value and to create an incentive for travelers to switch their business to the airline. For example, JetBlue is part-owned by Lufthansa; why not create a mechanism for redeeming points with the German carrier? You’d tap into a global network and open up destinations from Africa to Asia. Instead JetBlue stayed in the all-North-American mold that other carriers like Southwest have already carved out.
It’s a shame. This could have been a much bigger deal.