Upgraded: Our understanding of why airline food sucks
Until now, I’ve always thought the dry cabin air, high salt content, and reheated-ness would have been the primary reasons for the typically underwhelming flavor in inflght meals, but apparently we should also take into account the level of background noise. The low rumble of flight apparently dulls the senses. If true, then, we should be able to test this scientifically. Taste-test the same food with noise-canceling headphones, and then without. Or taste it at the front of an MD-80, then again in the back, right next to the jets. (Maybe this is why food seems better in first class…)

Downgraded: Amex Platinum benefits
As readers have reminded me: Starting September 2011, American Express Platinum cards will no longer give you free access to Continental President’s Club airport lounges. (I thought I had blogged about this in the past, but a quick search proves that memory was fuzzy: I hadn’t actually posted about it, just written about it briefly in the comments to a post about American Airlines Admirals Clubs launching free drinks domestically.) With Continental cutting access to Amex members, I assume this means that United won’t be scrambling to join up, either…

Downgraded: Air marshals from first class
It’s historically been easy to spot the air marshal onboard a flight: The guy with the short hair in an aisle seat in the last row of first class. Maybe not much longer. “Airlines are asking the Federal Air Marshals Service to relax its policy of often seating undercover agents in first class because they say it has become a costly disruption that isn’t justified by current security threats.” Looks like your upgrade chances might improve!

Upgraded: The love of flying
Some people love flying. Really, really love it. Love it enough to build their own airplane in their backyard, even though they never had aerospace engineering training. While I fear for the test flight, I admire this gentleman’s moxie and truly wish him the best of luck.

Upgraded (sorta) and Downgraded: Continental’s in-flight food
For a few years, Continental has been the last holdout on the domestic airline scene, offering free meals in coach. That ends now. The airline is offering a new-and-improved menu in coach — that is, if you consider food on a stick an improvement. None of the food sounds particularly exciting, and in-terminal options are likely still better choices. And, in a departure from their recent practice, the food will no longer be free (thus, downgraded). Here’s what to expect: “The menu will include freshly prepared hot and cold mealtime selections similar to those served in casual-dining restaurants, such as Asian-style noodle salad, grilled chicken spinach salad, Angus cheeseburger, and Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. Snack and dessert options — including a gourmet cheese & fresh fruit plate, several types of snack boxes, a la carte brand-name snacks and chocolate-covered Eli’s Cheesecake on a stick — will also be available for purchase. Prices will range from $1.50 for Pringles Original Potato Crisps to $8.25 for the grilled chicken spinach salad.” See a fuzzy pic of the menu here.

Downgraded: Starwood’s top hotels’ redemption options
Gary Leff makes a great point in criticizing Starwood’s outrageous redemption rates for its most expensive hotel rooms. I like the Starwood Preferred Guest program generally, but 100,000 per night for some of those all-suite hotels in locations like French Polynesia? Come on, people.

Upgraded: Star Alliance Africa options
Star Alliance has invited Ethiopian Airlines to join the alliance. This is the third African airline in Star (South African Airways and Egyptair are the others). In the other alliances, SkyTeam has Kenya Airways, and oneworld has… no one. Africa is expected to be a major growth area for air travel — and for economic activity generally — so expect to see further invitations like this within all three alliances.

Upgraded: Las Vegas as a lair for supervillains
In a cross between the laser satellite run by a Las Vegas kingpin in “Diamonds are Forever” and the Death Star’s destruction of the planet Alderaan in “Star Wars,” we now have a Las Vegas hotel that channels the sun’s rays to create a “death ray” of sorts in the middle of the Vegas Strip. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it’s unintentional… And if you’re a guest at the Vdara Hotel, it could be problematic: “[...] a visitor from Chicago tipped off [the Las Vegas Review-Journal] after having his hair singed, and his plastic shopping bag partially melted, while trying to lounge by the pool.” Here’s a diagram from the paper, via Minyanville:

las vegas death ray Upgrades and Downgrades: Continentals food, Vegas death rays, bad Starwood deals


canada dry ginger ale The mysterious popularity of ginger ale on airlines
A recent article on Chow.com identifies a trend in American aviation catering: The surprisingly high demand for ginger ale on America’s planes.

Why ginger ale, and not Coke, 7UP, or Bloody Mary mix? The most popular theory among flight attendants is that it relieves nausea. “If [passengers] have motion sickness, it settles their stomach,” says Elizabeth Rogers, a flight attendant for Mesaba Airlines.

The lack of caffeine may be a further motivating factor, both for people worried about becoming dehydrated during the flight and for those who don’t consume caffeine for health or religious reasons. “Mormons don’t drink caffeine, so they have a tendency to drink ginger ale,” says Gail Phillips, a flight attendant for United Airlines. Then there’s the novelty factor: “They hear someone else order it, and then everyone else wants it too,” says Penny Sandahl, a flight attendant for Mesaba.

And the trend is apparently real. This post from 2007 quotes a study showing that 10% of inflight beverages on American Airlines were ginger ale, vs. 3% of soft drink sales in the overall market. That’s pretty impressive.

I am guilty of feeding into this. If I’m sitting in domestic coach, I am much more likely to order a ginger ale than any other soft drink. And I’m not entirely sure why.

Some of the theories are plausible, but I’m not sure they work for me. Is it the stomach calming effect of ginger? I’m usually pretty mellow in-flight, but perhaps I’ve got some latent anxiety. It’s an unlikely explanation.

Is it the relative novelty of ginger ale? I don’t see ginger ale on a regular basis on menus, or in my cafeteria at work. So perhaps it’s just the “hey, I haven’t thought about ginger ale in a while” effect?

Or was it once based on those reasons, and has now become conditioned behavior? After this many flights, perhaps I have just come to associate air travel with ginger ale.

I still find it amusing that this is being identified as a trend. The trend goes further, at least for me: I rarely drink ginger ale outside of flights in domestic coach. (Flying up front domestically? It’s probably a gin and tonic. International? Depends on the airline, but I tend toward the wine list.)

So, when you’re strapped in, and the plane has risen above 10,000 feet, and the beverage cart comes out, what’s your drink? Ginger ale?… Hit the comments.

Categorized in: airlines, inflight meals, travel

sleeping on plane Upgrades and Downgrades: Sleeping on planes, in flight meals, electric rental cars

Upgraded: Restful sleep on Air Canada
It must be the mood lighting: A British passenger not only slept through the landing of his Air Canada flight from Calgary to Vancouver, he slept through the deplaning. He woke up when the plane was back in the hangar. The airline has apologized for not getting him off the plane, and given him a voucher for 20% off his next flight.

Upgraded: In-flight catering
Downgraded: Airline profits on food sales onboard

While — or perhaps because — Continental has thrown in the towel and given up on complimentary inflight meals, North American airlines are stepping up their domestic inflight catering, according to this account from the NYT. But this nugget surprised me, with regard to thin margins on food sales:

Indeed, in-flight food sales are not huge money-makers for the airlines. Tom Douramakos, chief executive of GuestLogix, a company based in Toronto that makes the hand-held devices and software used by most North American carriers for in-flight sales, said carriers generated a net profit of only 5 or 10 cents on a $10 sale of in-flight food. But, he said, gross profit on sales of in-flight liquor generally can go as high as 50 to 80 percent on a $10 drink.

Eat less, drink more, the airlines say!

Upgraded: Electric rental cars
Europe’s Sixt has started renting electric cars in London. And their competitor, Europcar, has placed an order for 500 electric vehicles, to come online in 2011.


Downgraded: Catastrophe Management
SNCF, the national railway of France, publicly posted that 104 passengers had died in an explosion of the high-speed TGV. Thankfully, the news was false — completely fabricated, as an internal crisis management simulation. But alas, the test went awry, and the notice actually hit the newswires.

Downgraded: Meals on Continental
Continental Airlines has finally thrown in the towel and is giving up the free meals in coach. Instead, they’re instituting a buy-on-board program. Maybe I’m suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, and I’ve become assimilated by my airline captors, but this doesn’t bother me much. Yes, it’s the end of an era. But I’ve moved on. So have others. The problem, for me, is that Continental is taking another page from its colleagues in the industry and spinning the removal of an existing amenity as an upgrade.

Upgraded: Flight Attendants’ Demands
Flight attendants, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, want training in hand-to-hand combat. I think they’re right. Other demands: portable communication devices for speaking to the pilots (makes sense); standardized (read: smaller) carry-on sizes, “so that flight attendants can look for suspicious passengers instead of struggling with oversized bags” (makes sense, but let’s not go Ryanair on sizing); shutting down onboard wi-fi during periods of “high threat” (this is particularly subject to abuse).

brazilian legroom grade Upgrades and Downgrades: Disasters, airline meals, combat training, airline seat info, cabin airUpgraded: Airline Seat Ratings in Brazil
The Brazilian government is taking an interesting and unusual step: requiring airlines to grade their legroom for their aircraft. It’s like an officially-sanctioned SeatGuru, without the specific-seat-level unit of analysis.

Downgraded: Aircraft Air
This is not particularly comforting: 1 in 2000 flights has a “fume event,” which often involves the intrusion of contaminated air into the cabin. In a recent incident, engine oil seeped improperly, was vaporized, and spread through the cabin. Tricresyl phosphate in the oil can cause neurological damage. Awesome.

us airways cup US Airways backpedals and brings back free coffee and soft drinks


Drink up that can of coffee, water, or ginger ale, and leave your money tucked away, champ!

US Airways has figured out that the bad press it received for being the only major U.S. airline to charge for soft drinks wasn’t worth the revenue it collected for coffee, water, and soda. So it’s no longer charging the soft drink fee, effective Saturday.

Not to mention the fact that clever passengers were getting around the fee by paying with $20 bills

No wonder US Airways flight attendants released this statement:

“Flight attendants are safety professionals first and foremost,” [Mike Flores, president of the US Airways' unit of the Association of Flight Attendants] said. “This decision by the company will help return us to that status rather than being salespeople in the aisle of the airplane.”

This gives Southwest one less piece of ammunition with which to relentlessly mock the competition.

It’s a small gesture, and a minor but nonetheless appreciated act of restoring dignity to air travel. So thanks for bringing it back, US Airways.