Downgraded: Hare Krishnas
It’s the end of an era for American airports: Hare Krishnas are banned from soliciting for donations at LAX. There’s one more scene in the movie “Airplane!” that just won’t make as much sense to future generations.
Downgraded: Smoking in hotels
I didn’t realize that twelve states already had laws on the books banning smoking in hotels. Wisconsin is the latest, with the law taking effect this summer. Should be welcome news to the folks at FreshStay, the directory of smoke-free hotels.
Downgraded: Body scanner checkers
Well, it had to happen: An airport worker at Heathrow has had his wrists slapped for taking a picture of a colleague as she passed through the full-body scanner. Start the countdown for someone’s clandestinely-taken body scanner image appearing on the internet…
Upgraded, or is it Downgraded?: United Airlines 777s
United’s seating configuration in economy onboard its Boeing 777s has long been rather unusual. Instead of the usual 3-3-3 seat arrangement, they’ve had seats in a 2-5-2 setup. The logic of the 2-5-2 was that it minimized the number of passengers who had to climb over two people to get to the aisle — just the one person in the middle of the 5. But now they’re shifting to the more common 3-3-3 after all. (Personally, while it’s been a couple years since I’ve sat on a UA 777, I always liked the pair of seats on the windows. 17A or 21J, baby.) If you’re flying on a UA 777, be sure to check your seatmap as you get closer to flight date: your aisle seat might now be a middle.
Downgraded: Checked bags on international American Airlines flights
British Airways was the first to do this, but American Airlines wasn’t far behind: Many AA economy-class ticket-holders will no longer have an allowance of two checked bags on international flights. For those who buy tickets to Belgium, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Spain, or Switzerland on or after September 14, 2009, the first bag remains free (or, perhaps more accurately, included in the cost of the ticket). However, the second bag, which used to be included free, will now cost $50, up to 50 lbs. A list of exceptions applies, including full-fare tickets, elite AAdvantage and oneworld members, military personnel and dependents, and, interestingly, those traveling on codeshare-issued tickets.
Upgraded: Biofuel at airports
It’s not quite biofuel in the jets, but it’s a great start: Eight airlines will start using biofuels to power their ground equipment at LAX.
Downgraded: All-you-can-fly fares
JetBlue, which rolled out a $599 all-you-can-fly ticket two weeks ago, ended sales early. “While supplies last” meant they didn’t last.
Downgraded: United Breaks Guitars, episode 2
The original “United Breaks Guitars” video was a delight, a catchy tune that lambasted the airline for treating a customer poorly. The sequel, while cute, lacks the magic. It does, however, feature tubas.
Upgraded, I guess: Squeezing a couple bucks out of Hotwire
Hotwire has settled a class action lawsuit that charged that the company didn’t properly notify consumers of the fees and taxes charged for hotel reservations. If you made a hotel reservation on Hotwire between January 10, 2001 and May 2, 2005, you are likely entitled to either cash refunds or Hotwire credits. The Hotwire credit is significantly more lucrative, if you’re a Hotwire user anyway. See here for details, if you didn’t get an e-mail from the plaintiff’s attorneys (if you’re wondering, they got customer e-mail addresses from Hotwire…)
Downgraded, as if it was possible: Ryanair
Just when you think the airline couldn’t go any lower, Ryanair charges a fee to collect your lost-and-found. Even if you’re a nine-year old girl who lost her purse. It’s comical really: Ryanair will take candy from a baby, literally.
It was a goofy idea when it was first proposed and mocked on this blog, in one of its earliest posts, in February 2006. But the idea isn’t going away: A luxury hotel on an abandoned oil rig.
The idea was first floated (ooh… no pun intended) by Mohamed al Fayed, Britain’s retail kingpin, but late last year, he gave up on the dream:
It was hoped the oil rig visitor centre, which was to include an upmarket hotel and restaurant, could provide a massive boost to the local tourism industry by attracting 500,000 people a year to the area.
And hopes were high that the project could go ahead when, in February 2006, former Race chief executive Maitland Hyslop confirmed that he had located a suitable oil rig.
There has been no news on the oil-rig proposal since then, and Balnagown estate manager Martin Lynch yesterday admitted they were no longer “actively pursuing it”.
“We haven’t totally given up on it, but it’s on the back burner on a very low setting,” said Mr Lynch.
“The whole programme was founded on the donation of an oil rig, and I think that, in the current climate, is highly unlikely,” said Mr Lynch.
A for-profit lodging business founded on the idea of a donation? Why on earth wouldn’t that work…
(In an ironic twist, Fayed found oil on the grounds of his (landlocked) estate. At least he has a rig of his own.)
But this goofy idea is still bobbing on the high seas, gasping for air, if in the hands of another firm. Morris Architects of Los Angeles has won the award for “Radical Innovation in Hospitality” for their oil rig hotel design. The prefab building units would be shipped to decommissioned rigs, which would be reinvented as offshore resorts. The architects are clearly using the artificial islands of Dubai as an inspiration here.
I still don’t get the appeal. On the one hand, it’s not that different from a cruise ship — you’re essentially trapped on a buoy offshore — but at least a cruise ship goes to interesting and pretty places. The oil rig doesn’t strike me as the place to be.
I suppose there could be an offshore gambling component to this, or a way to transact business in international waters. Any other ideas? And is this a vacation you’d actually want?
Upgraded: Hassles for the obese Canadian traveler
Canada’s Supreme Court ruled recently that obese passengers could not be forced to buy a second seat. The court reaffirmed the Department of Transport’s “one person, one seat” directive. Air Canada and WestJet, Canada’s top airlines, in turn decided that passengers would need a doctor’s note declaring the passenger “disabled as a result of their obesity,” and not simply too large to feel comfortable in an airline seat, if they wanted the exemption from paying a second fare. Now Canadian doctors are complaining that the airlines are overburdening the medical system with the requirement for notes. I smell a lawsuit brewing.
Downgraded: Parking lot firepower
Not so smart: Driving to LAX with a trunk full of guns and ammunition. 16 firearms, 1000 rounds. Including one assault rifle. To the driver’s credit, the weapons were locked in separate containers from the ammunition, and he claims he was licensed for everything, but what kind of genius brings that kind of firepower to the airport?
Upgraded: Florida deals for DC residents who dislike inaugurations
Barack Obama is being sworn in as president on Tuesday, January 20, and Washington, DC will be mayhemic. Plus, hotels in the area are gouging their customers booked with record rates. (2-star hotels fifty miles away from the district for $550/night? Get real.) But rooms are marked down in Amelia Island, Florida, where hotels are trying to attract residents of the DC area who either want to avoid the congestion — or who just don’t like the new president.
Downgraded: United elite status duration
United has shaved a month off the validity of their frequent flyer elite status. Reader Craig writes in:
I opened up my new [United Airlines Mileage Plus] premier exec card yesterday and noticed that instead of expiring at the end of February 2010, it expires at the end of January. Also looking at the brochure that accompanies the card they have eliminated the Elite Choice reward at 40k miles. These are minor things, but still.
Indeed. Status used to last 14 months — January 1 through the next year’s February. Now, it’s 13 months. Lucky, lucky 13.
Some Upgrade: Travel Better readers might recognize their name (and quotes) in this article in the LA Times, detailing the recent trend of customers turning down car-class upgrades at the rental counter. (You may remember the post asking for stories from travelers who said “no!” to the comp car-rental upgrade. The article is the result.)
David Sikorski went to a Hertz in Austin, Texas, last month to rent a car for a business trip to Dallas. He’d booked a fuel-efficient mid-size sedan, hoping to keep expenses down on the 400-mile round trip.
What he got was a 16-mile-per-gallon Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle.
“I walked right back in and asked for something smaller,” said the Austin computer data specialist, who eventually was given a Hyundai. “They claimed it was an upgrade, but I sure don’t want an upgrade if it means driving an SUV.”
But what’s the fallout for consumers?
Although rental companies say that pricing has largely stayed the same, Wall Street analysts predict a several percent across-the-board price increase in the industry to help with the changing business model. But Steven Fitzgerald, vice president for hotel and car distribution at Sabre, said that might not be enough.
“We might see . . . subcompacts renting for triple the price of SUVs,” he said.
It’s already happening. A recent survey of pricing at a Budget location at Los Angeles International Airport showed the midweek daily price for a Hyundai Accent economy car exceeded that of a Ford Explorer or a convertible Ford Mustang. Dollar and several other companies were offering SUV rentals in June for as little as $37.99 a day.
That sort of pricing is not commonplace… yet. But it’ll be interesting to see if the economics of car classes really do get turned on their head.
The problem is the fact that you aren’t guaranteed your car class when you make the reservation. You can always be given a higher class for the same price. And if the higher class is now undesirable, we either need to see a complete realignment of the car class hierarchy or a firm guarantee of in-class reservations.
(P.S. Thanks to all the readers who wrote in to volunteer for inclusion in Ken Bensinger’s article.)
Merry Christmas from Maxjet. The discount all-business class airline shut down all its operations today — on Christmas Eve — when it declared bankruptcy earlier in the day.
The airline’s demise was no surprise — see this post — but passengers are now left scrambling to find alternate ways to and from their destinations, with some help.
MAXjet said it was working with rival all-business class Eos Airlines to find alternative routes. Meanwhile, Continental Airlines and Silverjet Aviation Ltd., another all-business class carrier, said they would honor limited numbers of MAXjet tickets.
“Honoring” tickets doesn’t mean they’ll do it entirely for free, but the cost is minimal. Continental’s rules for accepting these Maxjet tickets state:
MAXjet customers will be accepted for travel on a standby basis on Continental flights between Los Angeles/Las Vegas/Newark and London Gatwick from Dec. 24, 2007 through January 6, 2008. Passengers will be charged a $50 per flight segment ticketing fee, plus any applicable taxes and security fees. Continental will waive the current fuel service charge normally required for Newark to London passengers.
Note that they don’t state that they’ll transport you in business class, just that they’ll transport you on a standby basis. Lesson: If you want to fly in business class, and if Eos or Silverjet will take you, take advantage of that (especially if it’s the superior service at Eos). Call them first before you just show up at the airport with your Maxjet scrip.
Also: if you haven’t started your travels yet, you may not be able to simply swap carriers. Getting a refund — if possible — may be the better option. Notify your credit card company and let them know. If you bought through a travel agent, call them ASAP.
Maxjet’s homepage has an apology and some instructions, too.
For those left with this conundrum, my condolences, and best wishes for finding a way home, or wherever Maxjet was going to take you. Feel free to report back with tales of how you got there and back.