Downgraded: Prospects for carrying on liquids in the European Union
While the European Union’s European Commission is aiming to allow you to carry on liquids again — as we reported back in October — airports and airlines are actually fighting the EC and lobbying to keep the nearly five-year liquid restrictions in carry-on luggage:

In recent months, trade groups representing hundreds of airports and dozens of airlines have quietly stepped up the pressure on the European Commission to abandon its plan for a gradual easing of restrictions. From April 29, the change would allow passengers passing through Europe from a third country to carry liquids, aerosols and gels purchased either at an airport duty-free shop or on board a non-European airline. They are calling instead for the ban to remain in place until 2013, when Brussels has vowed to eliminate all cabin restrictions on such goods.

“The existing technology is not fit for the purpose,” said Olivier Jankovec, the director general of the Airports Council International Europe, a lobbying group based in Brussels that represents more than 400 airports. “We risk paralyzing the big hubs.”
[...]
But the intense lobbying has so far failed to sway the commission, which committed two years ago to simplifying the often onerous security screening process. It remains a source of frustration for passengers who are forced to jettison drink containers, toothpaste, skin creams and even jars of marmalade before boarding planes.

Aides to Siim Kallas, the European transportation commissioner, said he remained unconvinced by the industry’s arguments and was satisfied by the performance standards set by European regulators for liquid-explosive detectors. Moreover, they said, the numbers of transfer passengers likely to be affected by this first phase of the plan should be manageable.

Upgraded: AA miles on Facebook
It’s a spin of the wheel, essentially, but you could earn a random number of American AAdvantage miles — between 100 and 1,000,000 — if you “like” the AAdvantage program on their Facebook page. I think these “like” campaigns are kind of lame, but hey, if you’re a Facebooker, have some free miles. Full details here.

Upgraded: Atlanta Braves parking for Delta SkyMiles Medallion members
I guess this is a thinking-outside-the-box perk for upper-tier Delta elite frequent fliers: Medallion-level members get access to a special parking area within the Green Lot for Atlanta Braves games at Turner Field. It’s not free parking — normal rates apply. I’ve never been to a game at Turner Field, but the Green Lot looks like it’s as convenient as it’s going to get.

Upgraded: Taiwanese analysis of American aviation
For those who appreciate the kitschy animations of global news by the Taiwanese animators at Next Media Animation, please enjoy this cartoon analysis of American aviation’s obsession with fees. Note the not-so-subtle digs at the age of U.S. flight attendants (ouch) and the ragging on US Airways in particular, going so far as to use their logo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the video celebrates the triumphant Asian airline industry, singling out Cathay Pacific. Who knows, maybe Cathay paid for this episode. Watch it below.

09
Sep
2010

carry on bag measure The incredibly shrinking carry on luggage gaugeYou’ve seen the cage-like hand luggage measuring stations in airports, I’m sure. On occasion, you’ve probably been asked to test your carry-on in one of these boxes right before entering the jetway.

If your bag fits in the box, your carry-on is of approved size. If it’s too big, you either pay a fee or check the bag, depending on which airline you’re flying, and in which country.

Well, British discount airline (and bmi subsidiary) bmibaby has apparently been messing with their gauges. And (gasp!), the discrepancy in measurement is not in the passenger’s favor.

A leading budget airline may have unfairly charged thousands of passengers because its measuring devices for hand luggage were too small.

Customers of bmibaby were routinely asked at departure gates to put their hand luggage in a metal cage to ensure it met size restrictions.

Many failed the test and had to put the bags into the hold at a cost of £60 for a return flight.

Just delightful. The airline imposes the fee, then puts its thumb on the scale to ensure that it’s collecting some cash, even from those who are working within the rules to avoid the surcharge in the first place.

Even if we don’t assume malice, the airline has a responsibility to ensure that its scales and gauges are accurate.

If you’ve been charged an oversized-carry-on fee by bmibaby in the past, consider contesting the charges or demanding a refund. £60 isn’t chump change.

And maybe it’s time to start packing a tape measure.

Categorized in: airlines, luggage

newark airport Good news for New York airfares: Southwest Airlines coming to Newark
Southwest has agreed to lease 18 take-off/landing slot pairs at Newark Airport from United and Continental. The deal is a function of the CO-UA merger, which, if it were approved without conditions, would solidify Continental’s grip on Newark.

Bringing Southwest into Newark is a big deal. Southwest hasn’t flown to a New York airport yet (correction: they have had flights from LGA to Chicago and Baltimore since June 2009… sorry about that!) — and no, their flights to Islip, NY are not New York City. It’s a major move into a huge market, and it’s to Newark, which is arguably the easiest and most convenient airport to access from Manhattan, despite being in New Jersey.

Especially if it goes above and beyond these initial slots, Southwest’s presence will mean lower fares at all the NYC airports, so New Yorkers can look forward to the greater competition.

No word yet on the specific routes Southwest will fly out of Newark, once it starts up.

Update: Just hours after the announcement related to Newark slots, United and Continental received clearance from the US Dept of Justice, paving the way for the finalization of their merger. Stockholder approval is still required, but the two airlines are expected to be merged into one company by October 1, 2010. Ta-daaaa.


virgin tail small Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, V Australia and Virgin Blue (finally) join forcesFour “Virgin” airlines, based in the UK, US, and Australia, are joining forces to create what may be the start of a fourth global airline alliance. Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, and the already-partnered Virgin Blue & V Australia are joining forces to create what amounts to the groundwork for a new airline alliance.

It’s still very early, but if things go as planned, this could lead to a real competitor to Star Alliance, oneworld, or SkyTeam. (For better or worse… Alliance provide earning/redemption options and some timetable efficiencies, but they typically also include anti-consumer price collusion, through anti-trust exemptions. And Virgin’s Richard Branson has been vocally anti-alliance, until now…)

While a global-Virgin alliance makes perfect intuitive sense, it’s actually surprising, considering the contentious corporate history of the Virgin franchise in the US.

When Virgin America launched, its very existence was challenged by competitors and the US Dept. of Transportation, which initially ruled that the company didn’t meet the threshold of minimum US-ownership for an airline. After some tinkerings with the corporate structure, and replacing the CEO, the airline was allowed to fly.

So you’ll soon have reciprocal earning and burning privileges on each of these airlines, and through their respective partnerships as defined by each program. (Virgin Atlantic has the most extensive range of partnerships at this stage of the game.)

Details still need to be fleshed out a little, but here’s what their release states:

As of today, guests flying on Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, and V Australia/Virgin Blue are all eligible to earn miles or points for their flights that can later be redeemed under any of the carrier’s frequent flyer programs. The reciprocal agreements enable Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club members to earn Flying Club miles/status points; Virgin America’s Elevate members to earn Elevate points; and V Australia/Virgin Blue Velocity members to earn Velocity points — wherever they are flying on a Virgin-branded carrier around the world.

Also as of today, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members and V Australia/Virgin Blue Velocity members can redeem their miles on either of the airlines. V Australia/Virgin Blue Velocity members and Virgin America Elevate members will be eligible to spend their miles or points to fly on either airline as of the fourth quarter of 2010. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members and Virgin America Elevate members will be eligible to spend their miles or points on either airline as of the second quarter of 2011.

How good this alliance ends up being for consumers remains to be seen. For now, it’s not a huge win. Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club isn’t the greatest program — you don’t earn full mileage on low-fare tickets, and as Wandering Aramean reminds us, they charge hefty fuel surcharges on mileage tickets.

But keep your eyes on this. It could get big.


wine glasses Why airline wine awards are a load of BS, yet still matter
Every so often, there’s an award given for an airline’s wine portfolio. It’s that time again, this time for Global Traveler’s competition. I generally dismiss these awards… and yet I pay attention. Hear me out.

For starters, let’s look at the rules:

To participate in the Global Traveler competition, airlines throughout the world that have long-haul international business-class service were invited to submit two white wines, two red wines and one Champagne or other sparkling wine currently on their international business-class wine lists, as well as the wine lists themselves. The same rules apply to the North American category for airlines that have first-class or, if not, business-class service.

The wines were coded by number and divided into flights, or categories, according to their type — for example, all German Riesling were served together, as were all California Cabernet Sauvignon — and poured in coded glasses. Judges knew only the type of wine, its place of origin and, when appropriate, the vintage. If judges felt a wine was flawed, a reserve bottle was served. The tasting was monitored by GT’s staff and professional assistants.

So, here’s why I think the awards are a load of hooey:

  • Unrepresentative wines: Good luck drinking these on board
    As indicated, airlines could submit only two reds, two whites, and one sparkler. But those wines just had to fly at some point in recent memory. They didn’t necessarily need to be in the regular rotation. I understand putting your best foot forward, but if you throw a couple big hitters into the pool, it’s an easy way to game the competition.
    Bottom line: Are these wines truly a representative sample?
  • Unrepresentative conditions: Wines at 36,000 feet taste different at 100 feet
    The palate is practically numb at higher altitudes. (It’s among the reasons why airline food tastes so bland.) For wine tasting, that means you lose a lot of the nuance in a wine when you’re above the clouds. And what tastes good — and matches your meal — at one altitude will likely taste very different when you’re back on the ground. The tasting conditions of the competition aren’t the same as the consumer’s.
  • Unrepresentative airlines: Not every airline is in the mix
    While this latest competition included a selection of international carriers, some major players aren’t even in the competition. Singapore Airlines, anyone? Virgin Atlantic? Air New Zealand? Qantas? It’s as if you held the Olympics and only invited 20 athletes. Why weren’t more airlines included? Were there fees to enter? Regardless, a wider sample would be more illustrative.
  • Nitpicking: Tasting methodology
    Why is the year of a given wine necessarily revealed to judges in a blind tasting? Nitpicky, I know, but why introduce vintage bias into the sample? (Ok, I’ll stop…)

So on the one hand, these announcements and awards are not really helpful to the traveler. (Especially not the coach traveler, who will be lucky to get a mini-bottle of Chilean plonk.) But yet… I read these things. And I think that it matters when an airline wins or performs well in these awards.

It’s not a fair competition, no, but if an airline regularly and consistently appears in these rankings, then it indicates something about their philosophy. Qatar Airways, for example, has been at or near the top more than once. That signals that, at a minimum, they are paying attention to their image among prospective wine-drinking customers. Wine has been central to several airlines’ marketing plans over the years. (See for example this mocking takedown of Lufthansa’s wine-centric marketing on DrVino.com.)

The competition may be flawed, but winning it regularly signals a commitment to wanting to be viewed as a wine-lover’s airline. Which signals a commitment to a quality experience, even if you don’t drink wine.

Will anyone choose an airline solely for the wine list, or for winning this sort of competition? Highly unlikely. But wine is part of the quality profile of an airline.

Wanting to excel in that area is something I can support, especially in this race-to-the-bottom age of travel. I just wish the competition were more representative of reality.

(image)

Categorized in: airlines, wine

nissan leaf Upgrades and Downgrades: Electric rental cars, acts of God, proto bankrupt Mexicana and more
Upgraded: Enterprise Rent-a-Car turns a new leaf
Enterprise Rent-a-Car has committed to purchasing 500 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles — not hybrids, electrics — for implementation in Phoenix, Tucson, Knoxville, Nashville, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. The cars can run for about 100 miles on a single charge. No word yet on rates, but you’ll start to see the cars at rental locations beginning in January 2011. The challenge, of course, is recharging it, unless you happen to have “a standard SAE J1772-2009 connector for level 1 and 2 recharging (110/220 V AC)” or “a TEPCO connector for high-voltage ‘level 3′ quick charging (480 V DC 125 amps) using the CHAdeMO protocol” handy…

Downgraded: Southwest Airlines
Southwest keeps acting more and more like a “regular” airline. The company has changed its contract of carriage to brazenly and bizarrely refer to a mechanical delay as an act of God. Deus ex machina? I don’t think so. Lame, and begging for a legal challenge…

Strong: Downgraded: Wegolo
The Netherlands-based discount-airline fare aggregator Wegolo lost a court case to Ryanair, thereby preventing it from scraping Ryanair’s website to include their fares in search results. Ryanair’s beef? Wegolo charged a surtax on the Ryanair fare for booking via the search site. Upgrades and Downgrades: Electric rental cars, acts of God, proto bankrupt Mexicana and more

Downgraded: Star Alliance
After several years of expansion (with the addition of Continental being the biggest deal, from a USA-centric perspective), Star Alliance is losing a member: Shanghai Airlines, which is merging with China Eastern Airlines, is leaving Star Alliance for SkyTeam in October. Within Star Alliance, Air China remains the lone Chinese member airline. Will another Chinese airline join the fray? Maybe the butt-kicking staff at Sichuan Airlines will convince management to get interested in joining the party?…

Upgraded: Hotel ratings
Every year, the J.D. Power survey results come out with some fanfare, rating customer satisfaction with major hotel chains. The top line news is usually the winner in each category. I like to go deeper, and if you’re interested, the full results are here. Somewhat of surprise for me: The more casual Aloft brand beat (but effectively tied) the more established Westin brand within the Starwood franchise.

Downgraded: Mexicana
Upgraded: Repo Men

It’s not looking good for Mexicana Airlines right now. The company has had three aircraft seized by creditors, they are canceling flights, and they are publicly admitting that they are “probably” looking to enter bankruptcy. Points for honesty! If you’ve got tickets already, it’s probably too late to buy travel insurance. If you haven’t bought tickets, it’s probably a bad idea to click “purchase” until you know for sure what’s happening.
UPDATED August 3, 2010: Mexicana has indeed filed for bankruptcy. The airline is cutting back flights, but is still operating.
UPDATED August 5, 2010: Mexicana has now stopped selling further tickets, but is still technically operating. Not exactly a confidence booster to shut down your sales operations, though. Mexicana Click and Mexicana Link, the lower-cost domestic airline subsidiaries, are still operating and selling tickets.