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.

As we near year-end, it’s mileage run season, as travelers who play the frequent flier game make sure they’ve crossed the thresholds they need to attain or retain their elite status for another year. Some travelers are about to embark on a mileage run — unnecessary travel that’s solely for the purpose of mileage accrual.

There are those who embrace the mileage run — like my mom, again, this year — and those who think that the people doing mileage runs are off their rockers.

Spencer Howard sends in this animated video of a conversation between one person who has sipped perhaps one glass too many from the mileage run Kool Aid, and a colleague who thinks he’s an idiot or worse.

If there’s a critique to be made, I have to say his cents-per-mile is not particularly good…

I laughed, I cried, it was better than “Cats.” Watch it below.

Categorized in: elite status

moneybags Blaming the victim for our air travel messThe headline reads: “Frequent criers: Elite fliers are ruining air travel.” And while I have long enjoyed Chris Elliott’s columns and blog, this one piece is way off base.

(Nice linkbait, though! Whether Chris Elliott or his editor is to blame for the title, he had to know he’d be getting a response from this blog. Chris, consider your bait snapped up and devoured.)

But Chris’ blame-the-frequent-flyer attitude makes me want to flick my loyalty program cards at him like Chinese stars in a Bruce Lee movie. Even with his caveat that a few bad apples may be to blame, it’s still not clear to me how the most frequent flyers are at fault for the mess we’re in.

But let’s hear it from him. I’ll agree with his first point, as it’s essentially a fact:

No, what irks me are two important issues. First, it’s the way airlines today are adding amenities to their premium cabins while quietly removing basic services from their economy-class sections. Food is a good example, but such additions and deletions are taking place across the board, and it shows up in every aspect of air travel, from reservations to boarding.

It’s true, the class division in flight is getting wider, much like CEO pay has been rocketing up while most workers’ wages are stagnant. There is an amenity arms race in the air, especially in international premium cabins, and the back of the plane is losing out. That’s a reasonable gripe.

But let’s continue:

The other issue? The attitude of elites. I mean “elite” in several senses of the word: not just elite-level frequent travelers and the well-to-do who can afford to pay full price for the good seats, but perhaps in a broader sense, passengers who think they deserve preferential treatment.

So you’re conflating “elite” with “elitist,” merging “first class” with “frequent flyer,” and redefining “elite” to your own purpose? This is the Humpty Dumpty Fallacy, if you’ll allow me to be an educated elite (or is it elitist?) and whip out the Lewis Carroll:

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – - that’s all.’

Well, “elites” in the aviation world are generally those passengers who clock 25,000 miles a year or more with an airline or its alliance partners. Calling others “elites” is muddying the waters.

The remainder of the argument offers anecdotes of Travelers Behaving Badly: Naomi Campbell throwing a fit after her luggage went missing. Self-important jerks who refuse to buckle up and hang up the phone. And That Guy who demands a free drink because his upgrade didn’t clear. These are all real, undisputable examples of people being grade-A assholes. But why would you assume that all “elites” are like this?

Is this handful of bad apples “ruining air travel”? Or are the perpetual delays, overcrowded flights, BS fees, arbitrary imposition of rules when it’s convenient to the staff, (justifiably, but still unpleasantly) ticked-off crew, regional jets, increasing prices, and declining value proposition to blame for the malaise in air travel? I’ll pick the latter.

Most people with a silver, gold, platinum, or black loyalty program card in their possession aren’t the self-important traveling jerks Chris describes — or if they are jerks, they keep it civil in the sky. Most are regular folks who spend more time seated in a plane than they wish they had to. They know the rules: They take off their shoes and pull out their laptops at the security check. They stow their roll-aboards in the proper direction. They ignore the safety announcement because they can recite it in their sleep, but they pay attention to crew member instructions when so directed. And yes, they buckle up.

Elites aren’t ruining air travel. The airlines are. It’s the airlines’ world. The elites are just flying in it. Just like everyone else.

us airways customer service Upgrades and Downgrades    July 16, 2007    Status, scales, fares, and the little guy

Upgraded: US Airways elite status for non-elites
Downgraded: Existing US Airways elite member satisfaction
US Airways is letting those without status buy their way into the rank and file of the elite frequent flyer set, giving them access to the upgrade waiting list and a few bonus miles. Whoo. If I were a US Airways elite, I’d be peeved at their “Try Preferred Status on for size” promotion. Much like Tim Winship argues, it’s hard enough getting an upgrade; now the airline is willing to sell your loyalty down the river to make a quick buck, thereby making it even harder to snag that wider seat with the marginally better service. Classy.

Upgraded: Virgin America
Slow-going upstart Virgin America got its approvals all lined up, and they’re officially legal to sell tickets and fly around the USA. But they’re not selling tickets yet. Their website still promises the moon. What’s the holdup? Jeez, people! August, they say.

Downgraded: Airport scales
Surprise, surprise. The scales at airports are often wrong. How often? 90% of scales were off in a Phoenix television station’s investigative report. Problems limited to Phoenix? Probably not. Try to make sure your scale is at zero when you put down your bags, but that won’t necessary avoid trouble. (Via Consumerist)

Upgraded: The little guy
Jane Waun rocks. She took Spirit Airlines to small claims court for the additional expenses she incurred after Spirit summarily canceled her flight and left her high and dry. They refunded her money for the ticket (eventually) but didn’t cover her additional costs. So she sued. And she won, in part because Spirit never showed up to fight it. 90% of success is showing up, or something like that, right?
(Update: I see Chris Elliott picked up on this, too. And he goes a step further, suggesting that everyone take every travel company to small claims court. Sue them every time, and hope they don’t show, in order to force them to change their practices. Nice idea, but small claims cases still take time! That’s probably why Spirit blew the case off in the first place. But if you have the time, go for it.)

Upgraded: Price transparency in the European Union
The EU Parliament has passed a set of rules mandating that airlines have to quote full prices, not just base fares. (Take that, easyJet!) The law needs approval from member states before taking effect, but this is pro-consumer. Let’s hope the member states pass it.


expired United Airlines nickel and dimes elites, devalues Mileage Plus even further

United quietly but firmly kicked its elite frequent flyers in the pants again. It may be a relatively minor change, but it’s yet another devaluation in a program that’s getting less attractive all the time.

For years, Premier members of the Mileage Plus program have received “500-mile” coupons (now electronic) that upgraded your North American flights from coach to first class. (You get four of these coupons every time you reach 10,000 flown miles on the airline. One coupon can upgrade you for 500 miles of distance flown; thus the “500-miler” moniker.) If you couldn’t use your 500-milers, they’d expire after one year, but all was not lost: They converted to 500 redeemable frequent flyer miles in your account.

Not any more.

In another “enhancement” of the Mileage Plus program, 500-milers won’t convert to frequent flyer miles upon expiration anymore. They’ll just expire worthless if you don’t cash them in. (And let me tell you from personal experience, they’ve gotten harder and harder to actually put to use.)

But the real problem isn’t the policy change itself. It’s the fact that they deceptively changed the policy without letting anyone know, hoping that customers wouldn’t find out until it was too late.

Posted by: Tyler Colman (a.k.a. Dr. Vino)

aa standby toetags Guest post: Standby? Check statusWineblogger and friend of Upgrade: Travel Better Dr. Vino pays us a visit today with this report from the field.

On Friday afternoon, I made my way to LaGuardia to catch my American flight to O’Hare. Since I knew I would be cutting it close with my appointment soon after scheduled arrival, I tried to go standby the hour earlier flight.

No dice.

During the check-in on, there was no option to fly stand by on an earlier flight. When I got to the gate of the 2 PM flight, the agent told me it was unlikely that I would get on the flight.

“Would it have mattered if I had gotten on the list when I did the check-in on the web site,” I inquired?

“Nah,” she said glancing at my ticket. “You don’t have status.”

Truer words were never spoken. In the ensuing half hour, I became enthralled with my plunging fortunes, prominently on display for all in the gate area to see (providing they could work out the short form of my name). I started in slot #6, which struck me as distinctly possible.

Soon I was at #7, then #11. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, I plunged to #24. An entire bus of passengers with “status” (in the frequent flier program) must have arrived. When I saw my fortunes rise only marginally to #22 I knew it was time to pony up for the wi-fi and settle in a few gates down.

Stand-by, it’s not just a function of being early. It’s a function of being big.

Tyler Colman, a.k.a. Dr. Vino