Downgraded: Teamwork, Wine, and Cost-Savings on British Airways
Management vs. labor (or labour, if you will) on British Airways is getting nastier. Take this quote, for example: “No-one is doing anything to help save costs any more. Whereas we used to keep unfinished bottles of wine in first-class to save money, now they’re routinely poured down the sink.” Pouring good wine down the sink? That’s a sin!
Downgraded: Traveling Value, Thanks to Fees
Delta upped its checked baggage fee again. $8 more for the first bag (now $23), and $7 for the second bag (now $32). And that’s if you pay your fees online. If you wait until you show up at the airport, add another $2 ($25 total) for the first bag and another $3 ($35 total) for the second. What I don’t understand is this: The policy is effective today, January 12, for anyone who purchased tickets on or after January 5. But the policy was only announced on the 11th. How is this legal, especially in light of the DOT “crackdown” on post-purchase changes to the contract of carriage? I smell a rat.
Upgraded: Travel for People with Nut Allergies
Travelers with nut allergies may soon find a nut-free-zone on Canadian airlines. Complaints filed against Air Canada yielded the ruling, which requires the airline to create a buffer zone within 30 days of the early-January ruling. What other cordoned-off areas will we see on planes now?…
Downgraded: The One-Way Ticket Myth
Mythbusting on the details: Umar Abdulmutallab, the crotch bomber, did not travel to Detroit on Christmas Day on a one-way ticket, despite nearly every major news organization’s reports to the contrary. He might have set off a thousand other warning flags if the data mining and information sharing within the US security community were up to full speed, but a one-way ticket was not one of those flags.
Upgraded: Jokes about TSA drug use
Jimmy Fallon: “Four TSA workers at LAX were videotaped snorting drugs. It was the first time people had ever seen lines go that fast at the airport.” Hey-ohhhh…
The court ruled that the strike was illegal, on the basis of “balloting errors” in the union’s voting.
But the problems aren’t over for British Airways, and a new strike is quite likely in February if labor and management can’t come to an agreement. Once the holidays are over, the real fun begins. British Airways customers should be aware of that strike risk, going forward.
So where does this leave the passengers who canceled, rebooked, or otherwise changed their holiday travel plans because of the strike? Many passengers opted for a refund rather than a rebooking, and ended up buying new tickets on other carriers. The Guardian has a good summary of the options. One of the key takeaways is in this quote:
The airline will not be offering any special terms to those who thought they would be hit by the strike. A spokeswoman said: “We made it clear from the outset that the option we were offering ahead of any cancellation was the ability to rebook to a different date on another BA flight. As we did not make any cancellations, we did not rebook customers on other carriers. We did not encourage people to rebook on other carriers.”
I understand that position, legally, but it’s not going to go over well, from a PR perspective. The airline’s troubles will have already created a great deal of anxiety (and I’m not optimistic that the cabin crew will be at the top of their game during the next few weeks…) This just gives the flying public another reason to grumble. Smooth move, guys.
If you changed your flight to an alternative date, you might be able to switch your dates back to the holidays, if that’s your fancy. The December and January flights should be safe. If anything, they’re probably safer than any others on the BA schedule right now.
Upgraded: Your ability to earn lots of British Airways miles
Chase and British Airways have launched a pretty amazing airline mileage-earning credit card offer. 50,000 BA miles after one purchase, then 50,000 more after spending $2000 within three months. Gary Leff has thought this through and come up with a scheme for 420,000 miles between two people. That’s a lot of free tickets for a $75 annual fee.
Downgraded: Track suits
A Best Buy executive says that United refused him an upgrade because he was wearing a track suit. “United says there is no passenger dress code, but they cited two rules. Ticketed passengers can not be barefoot and must be clothed.” Standards!
Upgraded: Fees for Expedia phone bookings
Expedia announced that it was dropping the booking fees it charged for booking any flight, car rental, hotel or cruise on the phone. As online agencies compete to attract customers, this is the latest fee to drop. Yay, lower fees! Priceline immediately tweeted that they had never had phone booking fees. Nyahh.
Upgraded: Responsibility for rental car reservations
Avis Budget Group has worked with global booking systems to prepare their networks for an eventual introduction of no-show fees for car rental bookings. Frankly, I’m amazed that this is a fee that hasn’t been enforced more widely already.
“The last bastion of decent airline customer service begins its inexorable slide towards Ryan-ism.” So writes reader Hamish in response to British Airways’ announcement that they’ll be charging a fee for advanced seat reservation, beginning October 7. If you want to book an aisle, window, or God forbid, emergency exit seat, it’ll cost you. For ANY seat, not just the most desirable ones.
The rates vary by class and distance: £10 per person for European economy, £20 on long-haul economy or short flights in business class, emergency exit row will cost £50 (bookable between 10 and four days before departure), and £60 for long haul trips in business class. No charge for first-class cabins on three-class aircraft.
This isn’t just the “preferred seating” reservation charge that many US airlines offer. It’s indeed more in line with a discount carrier like Spirit or Easyjet.
Mind you, British Airways hasn’t been very friendly in the realm of seating assignments for some time. Back in 2006, I posted about how they limited the window when you could select seats to 24 hour hours before the flight. The new policy opens that window, but at a price.
In the LA Times’ blog, Jane Engle calls out the British Airways PR spin on the fee:
Here’s how British Airways described the new fees in their e-mail to agents: “Effective Oct. 7, 2009, your British Airways customers will have more control over their seating, with our new paid seating option.” I kid you not.
That’s not far from the same language they used in 2006: The ban at the time (of all seat pre-reservations) was “designed to simplify the process of choosing a seat and give all customers more transparency and control of the seating options available on their flight.” Simpler for whom?
British Airways tried to piss on you and tell you it was raining in 2006, and they’re doing it again now. Lufthansa is looking better and better.
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!)
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.
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.
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
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.