help wanted Upgrades and Downgrades    food testers, obesity forms, the return of all business class, and more

Upgraded: Job applications on Virgin Atlantic
The unnamed author of this complaint letter to Virgin Atlantic, who ranted against the food served on board his flight from Mumbai to Heathrow, has been offered a new job: food tester for Virgin. Call me biased, but I still like Robert P.’s letter to Midwest Airlines better. (“You have chunks in your beer.”) Hey Robert, get any job offers lately?

Upgraded: Air Canada’s forms and applications
Remember the requirement that overweight passengers on Canadian airlines need to get a doctor’s note in order to get a second seat at no additional fee? The form that doctors must fill out is priceless. It’s practically designed to make both doctor and patient uncomfortable and embarrassed. To wit:

Have your patient sit on a paper covered examination table. Rest a ruler or straightedge on the left side of patient at the widest point (hip or waist) as shown on diagram below.
air canada obesity diagram Upgrades and Downgrades    food testers, obesity forms, the return of all business class, and more
Mark the touch point between the ruler and the paper as Point A. Rest a ruler or straightedge on the right side of patient at the widest point (hip or waist). Mark the touch point between the ruler and the paper as Point B. Measure the distance between Point A and Point B. Indicate this measurement above under d) Surface Measurement.

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Upgraded: Extended stay hotels, again
Hilton is adding a new chain to its lineup: Home2 will be a new extended-stay brand, with an intended price point around $100 a night (less than the existing Homewood Suites brand in the Hilton family). The development cost is estimated at $70-75,000 per room. Launch locations are in Alabaster, AL, Baltimore/White Marsh, Charlotte, Elko, NV, Gadsden, AL (Alabama, again!), Jacksonville, NC (not FL); New York City, and three locations in San Antonio.

Upgraded: Ease of investing in a money-losing industry
Warren Buffett once said, “…if a capitalist had been present at Kittyhawk back in the early 1900s, he should have shot Orville Wright. He would have saved his progeny money.” Well, the assume that ol’ Warren isn’t putting money into in the new exchange-traded fund that invests in airline stocks, including 30% in non-US airlines. The symbol for the Claymore/NYSE Arca Airlines ETF: FAA. How clever. But will the folks at Proshares come up with a double-short airline ETF?

Upgraded: The return of all-business class New York-London flights
Maxjet, Silverjet, and Eos may be gone, but British Airways is bringing twice-daily all-business class flights between London and New York back to the air. The twists: 1) The service is on the smallest plane yet to fly the route, an Airbus A318. Not ’19. Not ’20. Forget ’21. ’18. 2) Instead of Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, or Stansted, this flight will use the very centrally located London City Airport, which thusfar has only been used by regional jets to short-range destinations. 3) They’ll allow wireless text messaging and e-mail on board, but not phone calls. (hat tip Jared Blank)

07
Aug
2008
Posted by: Mark Ashley

I happened across this the other night, and of course it’s already on YouTube… It’s a (charitable) five-minute documentary clip from the pun-filled show “How it’s Made,” on how airline meals are concocted.

So would you pay $39 for this, having seen it made?

Categorized in: inflight meals

exact change Vengeful passengers fight back against buy on board water and soda

Reader Mark, who just flew US Airways and experienced firsthand how a small bottle of water now costs $2, reports that passengers are none too happy about having to pay for soft drinks. He sends in this anecdote:

I sat next to an off duty flight attendant and she told me people are rebelling by only paying with $20′s. Since they have no change, the flight attendants end up comping the drinks. Unique, at least…

Ouch. Exact change is even more appreciated now, I bet.

I feel bad for the flight attendants who have to enact the policy and deal with surly (or wise-ass) passengers. And having to explain to management why the till is empty has to be no fun, either, just another layer of hassle for the already beaten-up and subsequently disaffected inflight staff.

But I admire the passengers’ spunk!

(And yes, I’m sure the airlines that haven’t yet rolled out card-swipe machines for buy-on-board will unveil them soon enough, so work the system while you can.)

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It’s a long flight, say, from Washington to Tokyo. About 14 hours trapped on a plane. About two meals and a snack. So how much would you pay to eat airline food? $7? $24? Maybe even $39? That’s the question United is asking its customers as it contemplates charging for all meals in international coach.

The airline sent the survey to many of its frequent flyers, and it focuses on international flying, not domestic. (Want to take the survey yourself? Start here.) (UPDATE: The poll is now closed, having “reached the desired number of completions.”)

Economy meals on international flights have been “complimentary,” i.e., included in the base fare, forever. But in today’s let’s-use-the-price-of-oil-as-an-excuse-to-start-charging-fees-for-everything-that’s-not-bolted-down world, airlines see a window of opportunity to screw their coach customers some more.

Remember when United was framing itself as a “premium” American carrier? So much for that.

The food options United wants you to consider paying for are pictured below. “Gourmet” salads. “Premium” sandwiches. “Current” economy meals…

united food for sale survey United considers charging for ALL food and drink on international flights

Isn’t it nice how the sandwich and salad are styled and plated — good luck getting china and glassware in coach — while the current inflight meal is just pictured realistically in a plastic tray? Wouldn’t want to bias the survey sample, would we…

(As a bonus, the image they use in the survey for their current inflight coach meal is a user photo from flickr.com. I thought it looked familiar. In fact, I used the same photo a year ago here.)

United is clearly trying to gauge customer willingness to put up with this sort of nickel-and-diming. And they’re trying to get a sense of just how much those willing to put up with this are willing to take. The survey has a price-discovery component: Here are the prices I was asked to consider:

united food survey prices United considers charging for ALL food and drink on international flights

$39? Yowza. But two survey respondents in a row would get two very different suggested prices to consider. For example, the price for the current coach meal comes up at $12, $16, or even $24. Salads ranged from as low as $7 to as high as $24.

$24 salads (or $19, or $16…) are laughable. $24 for the current complimentary meal is an insult. And do you trust United to actually assemble a “restaurant quality” meal at 41,000 feet?

Look, long-haul international flying is not like domestic flying, both in terms of duration, and in terms of competition. People need to eat, and with carry-on limits, we can’t all bring along a movable feast.

But beyond that, United needs to remember that not every airline is racing toward the bottom like they are. If anything, there are some quality airlines out there — outside the U.S., mostly — which actually know a little something about customer service. If United were to implement this sort of pricing, I would encourage everyone to pursue alternate carriers. You could even stick within the Star Alliance — Lufthansa, ANA, Asiana, Singapore, to name a few… — if you need to keep status or earn miles.

As I’ve said again and again, this a-la-carte pricing model is going out of control, and is making it harder and harder to make price comparisons. Paying for food only adds another layer to the onion.

Take United’s poll (Update: now closed), and let them know how you feel. Your opinion may not stop this from happening: The phrasing suggests that it’s coming, and it’s only a matter of which items, and at which price.

But remember, you can “respond” in the most important way possible: With your pocketbook.

Thanks to reader Patrick for the heads-up, and for pointing me toward this FlyerTalk thread for more datapoints!


 Upgrades and Downgrades    February 25, 2008    Farewell Channel 9?  Domestic Eos?  Luggage prohibited?  And more...

It’s been a tough week, so forgive my absence online. I’m just starting to dig through the e-mails and comments, so if you sent me a message, please bear with me while I catch up. Speaking of catch-up…

Downgraded: Channel 9
For those who have flown United Airlines, you may be familiar with Channel 9, the inflight entertainment feature that lets you hear the conversations between the pilots and air traffic control. There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who get it, and those who don’t. I’m a fan, and I have always appreciated the openness and lifting-of-the-curtain that the channel provides. Of course, I hardly ever fly United any more, so I might as well use the past tense in describing it myself. When things seem amiss (like a powerful jolt of turbulence) it’s nice to hear know what’s going on. My affection for channel 9 is probably balanced out by the naysayers who ask why the hell anyone would want to hear that stuff, or who would rather NOT know how airline pilots actually do their job. The naysayers may have their day, though, as reports are increasing that Channel 9 is turned off more and more. The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney even devoted a weekly column to the subject, and his sources indicate that some pilots are intentionally keeping Channel 9 turned off as a protest against United management. Well that’s just lovely. Take one of the last (positive) things that makes UA unique, and destroy it. Another nail in United’s coffin.

Upgraded: Eos going domestic?
Eos, the swanky all-business class airline, plans to expand beyond its New York JFK to London Stansted route. First there was the addition of Newark flights to London. Then London to Dubai. And now, there’s word that Eos wants to introduce flights to “Western U.S. destinations.” But whereto?

Upgraded: Salt Lake City security
At the Salt Lake City airport, the TSA is running a pilot program and allowing passengers to self-categorize themselves as beginners, intermediates, or experts, as pertains to security. Interestingly, the “beginner” stage includes families and special needs travelers. Different needs, sure, but “beginners”? I like the ski-slope coding scheme (black diamond = expert), but it’ll be interesting to see if passengers actually categorize themselves correctly.

Upgraded, sorta: JetBlue inflight meals
Downgraded: Your peace and quiet

JetBlue will give you a free breakfast laden with Kraft cream cheese, as part of a buzz-building campaign for a reformulated light spread. Some flights even have Kraft representatives in white tuxedos chatting up the flight, pimping the cheese. Classy. The free bagel and cream cheese? Fine. But a sales schtick you can’t escape? Two thumbs way, way down. (Marketplace, via Rick Seaney)

Downgraded: go! Airlines’ pilots’ caffeine rush
Inter-island capitalization-challenged Hawaiian airline go! treated its passengers to a little extra flight mileage on board their Canadair torture machine regional jet, when both the pilot and the co-pilot apparently fell asleep during a flight from Honolulu to Hilo. I couldn’t imagine falling asleep during such a short flight, even as a passenger. But both pilots falling asleep? Mechanical errors have been ruled out. Those pilots’ seats must be comfy. Or maybe someone slipped them a decaf instead of a triple-shot of regular?

Downgraded: London Heathrow
British Airways economy and premium economy passengers at Heathrow’s terminal 4 were told they could only fly on February 20 if they had no checked baggage. What? Again: Passenger wishing to check bags were prohibited from flying. Why? Because the airport’s luggage handling system had failed. And note that this is the terminal where BA’s long-haul flights tend to begin, so you’re not just hitting the folks who are daytripping on business. Great work, team. (Thanks, Hamish!)


flight delays heathrow Short hops    November 28, 2007    Mental anguish, healthy snacks, shameless self promotion, and more

Flight delayed? Sue!
A judge in India has ruled that passengers whose Go Air flight was canceled were due the equivalent of US$380 each because of the mental anguish they suffered. Is this a trend? Where can I sue for suffering through flight delays inside a regional jet?

Get on the bus
The American Bus Association wants you to feel green about hitting the road: They claim that buses — ahem, motorcoaches — are more environmentally friendly than passenger cars, trains, and planes. According to their numbers, a bus gets 184 passenger miles per gallon, while commuter rail comes in at 86 and planes only make 42. I’ve sat behind some black soot-spewing buses, and I find this claim hard to believe. And what about all the electric rail out there? Nonetheless, one thing is indisputable: Buses are more efficient than passenger cars.

Which airline has the healthiest snacks?
Domestically, it’s United and their $5 snackboxes according to Charles Stuart Platkin of dietdetective.com. See his post for the lowdown on the various airlines’ snacks.

Business class shootout!
Reader Gianugo has personally tested three of the all-business class airlines that cross the Atlantic. In his tests, Silverjet comes out on top, with L’Avion and Maxjet trailing. (No test of Eos Airlines, but they’re generally at a much higher price point.) The L’Avion review certainly jives with previous reports from the field (here and here). Read his detailed post for the breakdown of what makes these discounted business class airlines tick.

No more being charged extra fees for returning your car with a full tank
Consumer victory! One of the very first posts on this blog — in its first week of inception, in fact — railed against Budget Rent-a-Car’s practice of levying a $9.50 charge if the odometer registered fewer than 75 miles upon return. This is one of those “what are they thinking” fees that gives the travel industry a bad name. I’m pleased to report that the Federal Trade Commission has clamped down and told Budget to stop. (via Consumerist)

Shameless self-promotion, part one
Chris Elliott, consumer advocate, National Geographic ombudsman, and general thorn in the travel industry’s side, compiled his list of the seven “most influential” travel bloggers. You’re reading one of them. Huzzah! The others: Paul Brady at Jaunted, Arthur Frommer, Holly Hegeman at PlaneBuzz, CondeNast’s Wendy Perrin, Ben Popken at Consumerist (where I’ve been a guest blogger on several occasions), and FareCompare’s Rick Seaney. Nice company to be in, to be sure, and a good starting point for your other blog-reading needs. There are seven runners-up, too, so go read the whole thing. Consider other blogs, like the Travvies winners from earlier this year. (Or heck, the finalists!) And peruse the blogroll in the pulldown in the right sidebar for more great blogs that I read regularly.

Shameless self-promotion, part deux
Upgrade: Travel Better goes audio: You can hear a few snippets of me commenting on recent frequent flyer mile devaluations on Marketplace, which aired this morning on public radio. If you didn’t wake up to the “dulcet tones” of my voice on your clock radio this morning, you can hear the clip and read the transcript here.

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