united continental United and Continental, closer to merger, offering free drinks & glimpse of future
So United and Continental got an unconditional green light from the European Union to merge their operations. This was hardly a surprise — the antitrust review by the U.S. government is far more relevant, given the greater domestic competition between the currently-separate carriers.

It’s not clear if it’s coincidence or providence, but United is “celebrating” by offering a free alcoholic beverage to each passenger in Economy Plus from August 6 to 16.

But don’t let the free drinks distract you. The real issue is the merger going forward, and what that means for customers. And while there are no concrete changes being announced, there are telegraphed changes through the shifts in the management lineup.

While the Continental CEO will be at the helm of the combined firm, the frequent flier program will be managed by a United executive. United execs also take the COO and CIO position. (I just hope that the CIO adopts more of continental.com than united.com…)

So, in all likelihood, the mileage program will look more like MileagePlus than OnePass. Gary Leff has speculated some on the direction that the program will take under the merged airline, and I agree fully with his assessments. Most importantly, during a transition period immediately following merger, the two programs will likely feature the best of both worlds.

Check out Gary’s comments for a glimpse into what will likely happen on the mileage front.



Downgraded: Inflight booze limits
How much is too much booze to drink on a flight? How about 17 mini bottles of wine between London and Doha? (Thanks, Dr. Vino!)

Upgraded: Deals to Europe
Jared Blank may have posted this on May 27, but if you’ve procrastinated your summer travel plans, you can still (!) book roundtrip flights from Newark to several European cities for only $399 including all taxes, for travel through June 30, 2010. I found seats to Oslo, Berlin, and London, with relative ease. The catch, if you want to call it that: You have to fly via Iceland, with Iceland Express. Be sure to check that volcano ash forecast

Downgraded: EasyJet’s name
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of British discount airline EasyJet, has parted ways with the company he built, and is now preparing to sue to have them remove the “easy” prefix in their name. Sir Stelios wants to set up an online travel agency with the same name, which sounds like it’s going to be a delightful time for everyone involved. Haven’t the trademark battles over classic rock band names like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Black Sabbath taught us anything?

Upgraded: Me
Yes, this blog has been out of commission for two weeks, and I apologize for the unannounced absence. After some time fine-tuning the work-work balance, traveling to conferences, and grappling with an unpleasant illness, we’re back on the beat, baby! Thanks to those who wrote expressing concern.

The great American road trip: The open road. The breeze in your hair. The drive-thru that serves tequila shots…

Wait, what?

I’m hardly a teetotaler, but selling hard liquor in a styrofoam cup to drivers just doesn’t seem appropriate. But here it is:

I’m not sure what’s worse, though: The fact that drunk driving is actively encouraged this way, or the fact that the guy in the video neither called his brand, nor drank the drink he paid for. Amateur.

(If you’re reading this in a feed reader, you might not see the video. Click here to visit the site to view the moving pictures…)

Categorized in: booze, travel

bangkok royal grand palace Short hops    Free flights to Thailand, luxury car rentals, pet travel, and more

Upgraded: Political mayhem that leads to free travel
The recent political turmoil in Thailand has left travelers wary of visiting, so Air Asia is offering 100,000 free tickets to Thailand from other Asian destinations. Air Asia seems to offer free tickets rather frequently. The drop in Thai tourism isn’t just because of the financial crisis. It’s largely a function of the political struggle between the existing government and the monarchists. (Some decent background on the crisis, which led to airport shutdowns, is here.)

Upgraded: Bugatti rentals
I never knew this: The cars at many ultra-luxury car rental operations (the places that rent out Lamborghinis and Bugattis, not the stuff Hertz has on offer) are loaners from cash-strapped owners. Jalopnik has the primer on renting an uber-luxury car.

Downgraded: Canadian pet mobility
Upgraded: JetBlue pet mobility and frequent flyer miles

Canada’s top airlines — Air Canada and Westjet — aren’t transporting pets during the holiday season. They stopped accepting animals for travel on December 15. The ban runs through January 6 on Westjet, and January 7 on Air Canada. Why? They’re blaming fuller planes and fuller cargo holds. In contrast: JetBlue isn’t just transporting animals, they’re giving their owner bonus miles.

Downgraded: Being a flying bartender
Angling for a lawsuit, anyone? “A husband and wife are suing United Airlines for “negligently” overserving alcohol during a flight from Osaka, Japan, to San Francisco, saying the carrier’s drinks fueled the domestic violence involving the two shortly after their plane landed.” The couple contends they got served wine every twenty minutes. Whom do I have to threaten to sue to get that kind of service on UA?

Upgraded: Car sharing
The car-sharing phenomenon in major cities was launched by small operators. Now that the model has proven itself viable, the big firms are stepping in. Enterprise and Hertz are both entering the space, with Hertz launching in Paris, London, and New York this week. “Connect by Hertz” will be a membership program much like Zipcar, but with far fewer locations (Hertz starts in NYC with 10 sites, vs. Zipcar’s 300). But Parisian entrepreneurs are plotting to be one step ahead: electric short-term mini-rental cars, much like one finds public-use bicycles.


motorcade Does your booze need Secret Service protection?  Why duty free shopping is still a risk

Last week, TSA Director Kip Hawley briefed a group of travel journalists, and friend-of-the-blog Benet Wilson of AviationWeek asked the Kipster about that pet peeve of mine, restrictions on transporting duty free liquor.

My long-standing take: If it’s deemed safe for purchase behind security lines in one airport, it should be considered safe for transportation to — and through — other airports.

But that’s not the way it works in reality. You might buy booze (or perfume, or anything liquid) in one airport, fly from one city to the next, and have the liquids confiscated when trying to board your next flight. Idiotic. (Though not nearly as idiotic as the limits within the same airport, a la Munich…)

If you think that there’s a solution at hand, you’re wrong.

Hawley said that everyone is looking for a private sector solution where there is an assured supply chain, one way or the other. “If they can find an appropriate supply chain bringing the duty-free goods to the airport and protecting it along the way, we’re open to it,” he said. “But as of today, there’s not a bag that is commonly agreed to that meets all of our standards.”

This is essentially a private sector opportunity to adjust their business model to meet security requirements, said Hawley. “But we won’t spend taxpayer dollars on finding ways to make it easier to buy duty-free liquids,” he warned.

Protecting the duty free goods along the way? Like a Secret Service motorcade? Or an armored car?

Something tells me that the food and drink served up at airport restaurants isn’t subjected to the same demands for protection. But the (hopefully non-explosive) sandwich you buy after security is safe to carry between airports. Double standard.

Sigh. So buyer beware. If you’re changing planes on an international itinerary, you might have trouble bringing duty free liquids into the United States.

Once again, we’re dealing with security theater, not real security. Makes me want to pour a stiff (duty-free) drink.

- Duty free liquids allowed on board, except when they’re not
- Update: Munich Airport responds to questions about its duty free policy
- Traveling with booze: Policy clarifications and changes
- Duty free liquids soon to be liberated?

star alliance plane Upgrades and Downgrades    December 14, 2007    Lufthansa (hearts) JetBlue, Silverjet (hearts) Maxjet, and a German guy (hearts) his vodka

Upgraded: JetBlue joining Star Alliance?
German carrier Lufthansa bought a 19% stake in JetBlue, a $300 million investment in the original luxe discount carrier. There’s no talk of merger, or even alliance. Yet. But the companies Lufthansa invests in have the tendency to join Star Alliance.

Upgraded: Star Alliance, again
So JetBlue’s membership is pure speculation. But Star Alliance *did* invite Air India into the alliance for eventual membership. And just yesterday, Air China and Shanghai Airlines officially joined the alliance.

Upgraded: Silverjet, at Maxjet’s expense
Maxjet’s woes, Silverjet’s joy? “Silverjet, which operates all-business-class flights from London to New York and Dubai, said that through Tuesday, the carrier had seen a 20 percent surge in bookings since MAXjet’s announcement.”

Upgraded: Planepooling
With a major treaty to be signed in Lisbon, some EU member states’ prime ministers are flying there together, carpool style, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. (Thanks, Dr. Vino!)

Upgraded: Editors’ hateful laziness
Who came up with this headline? “French rude and their hotels smell.” Top shelf editorial work, team!

Downgraded: Traveler’s IQ, and traveler’s brain cells
If you packed a one-liter bottle of vodka in your carry-on, and airport security says you can’t take it onboard, what would you do? If you said, “Open the bottle and chug the entire contents before going through the metal detector,” then you might be the now-hospitalized 64-year old resident of Dresden, Germany who proved he couldn’t hold his liquor at the Nuremberg airport. He should have just checked the booze.