airtran traytable ads Upgrades and Downgrades: Tray table ads, A380 high and low, forfeiting Amex points, and more
Downgraded: The view on AirTran
While US Airways has long had ads on the tops of their tray tables, which you only see if you pull the tray down, AirTran is going a step further and pasting ads on the undersides — the side you see during takeoff and landing, when those traytables are in their “upright and locked position.” The Ryanairification of American air travel is nearly complete. Stay classy!

Downgraded: Premium seats on Qantas
Qantas is cutting the number of premium seats. No surprises there.

Upgraded: A380 first class seats
The Global Traveller has flown the A380 on Singapore, Qantas, and Emirates, and offers a comparison of all three products. Well played, sir. Well played.

Downgraded: Airbus A380, not so premium
In direct contrast to the previous item, how about an A380 equipped with 840 seats? Air Austral, which travels between La RĂ©union in the Indian Ocean and Paris, has ordered two single-class A380s, jam-packed with passengers.

Upgraded: Tokyo
Forget Paris, New York, San Francisco, London, Chicago… Tokyo gets the nod for the city with the most top Michelin-starred restaurants.

Downgraded: Flying into de facto lava fields
Horrible event, but a great headline: “Plane Misses Runway, Lands in Lava“… The accident occurred in Goma, Congo, where the runway was cut in half by the lava flow from a 2002 volcanic eruption. Apparently, there were a few injuries, but thankfully no deaths.

Downgraded: Amex cards’ point/mile programs
Want to earn the miles or points from an affinity credit card purchase? Be sure to pay the bill on time. American Express is withholding the points if the cardholder doesn’t pay the bill by the due date. Customers forfeit the points, unless they pay a $29 reinstatement fee, in addition to late charges and interest. This isn’t just Amex: JPMorgan Chase has a similar policy with their United Visa. Expect this to be the norm. And try to pay that bill on time.

koala and kiwi signs Great US to Australia deals: under $1000 all in with free New Zealand stopover
Qantas is running a promo for travel between the US and Australia: Around $970 all-in round trip (that’s $399 each way, including fuel surcharges, plus taxes) for flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to major Australian hubs, and including a free stopover in New Zealand.

The free stopover is what really makes this a good deal.

Too bad the business class seats aren’t similarly discounted. ($15,260 for business class, for one person on the same dates. I don’t think so.)

Flights are only available at those rates for travel between May 1 and June 8, 2010. A narrow window of opportunity, but potentially worthwhile, especially with that free stopover thrown in.

Be careful when booking that you choose “red tail” flights, not Jetstar, their no-frill discount carrier. The flights are the same price, but the amenities are more generous on the mainline Qantas flights.

Maddening, though: Though you can tack on a domestic US flight to the fare for generally-reasonable rates (i.e., ~$220 additional for the roundtrip from Newark), the Qantas website makes it nearly impossible to book if you’re not leaving from a short list of cities. And that list is odd: Monterey is on the list, but Charlotte and Raleigh aren’t? Flagstaff is included, but Milwaukee isn’t? Seems like a webpage makeover is in order.

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Categorized in: fare sale, Qantas

airborne Upgrades and Downgrades    Airborne, maintenance, special luggage delivery, the rebirth of Skybus (sorta), and more

Downgraded: Airborne
I’ve always found the boxes of Airborne nutritional supplements to be silly (a healthcare product that proudly proclaims it’s “created by a schoolteacher!”). But now, they’ve been forced to change their packaging. Gone are the germs, the sick people, and the claim to prevent inflight illness.

Downgraded: Airline maintenance
A frightening report on outsourced aircraft maintenance companies, where some staff can’t read the instructions. Shudder… (via Consumerist)

Downgraded: First class on Qantas
Like everyone else, Australia’s Qantas is feeling the pinch. First class has been removed from flights to San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Melbourne-Hong Kong-London routes. Not much of a loss, really, since business class is where the action is.

Upgraded: the environment
A positive side effect of the economic slowdown: Fewer flights means less pollution.

Upgraded: US Airways luggage delivery
The passengers whose flight landed in the Hudson River have gotten their luggage and belongings back, including things left behind on the seats. Nice! I just hope that getting your stuff doesn’t always require such dramatic landings…

Upgraded: Momondo
Danish airfare aggregator (reviewed here previously) just got an upgrade, by including Ryanair fares in its searches. That’s a big change for the ultra-discounter, which has kept its fares exclusively on its own website until now.

Downgraded: Exit rows on Qantas
Qantas will start charging an extra fee for the exit rows. They’re not the first, but still, annoying. (Thanks, Rob!)

Downgraded: Business sense
If a business model failed miserably for Skybus, I’m sure it’ll work just fine a year later, in a significantly worse financial climate, right? Right? JetAmerica, a new startup, is trying out the Skybus model themselves, with 9 seats for $9 on every flight. Minneapolis and Newark are the biggest destinations, but the operations are run through Toledo. Cranky has the rundown. Who wants to start the bankruptcy countdown pool?


no furbies on board Great moments in airline signage: No Furby on board

Longtime readers know that I have an affection for odd and amusing signage, especially from planes. (Willie Wonka safety card, anyone?)

This great sign apparently comes to us from Qantas in 2007. Your Furby can bring down the plane!!!


Categorized in: Qantas, travel

man with the golden gun Upgrades and Downgrades    Air marshals, LAvion gets a lounge, Thanksgiving math, and a TP emergencyDowngraded: Air Marshals
In a series of sting operations, several air marshals who were supposed to be protecting passengers inflight were using their free pass in American airports to smuggle cocaine, drug money, and child pornography. Lovely. My favorite part of this story: One marshal called himself “the Man with the Golden Badge.” Racy! Paging Roger Moore to take this guy out! Heck, paging HervĂ© Villechaize!

Upgraded: L’Avion lounge
When Tyler Colman reviewed the all-business class airline L’Avion for us last year, he commented on their lack of a real lounge at Newark Liberty Airport. That deficiency has been addressed, with the opening of a real lounge in Terminal B, shared by L’Avion and Jet Airways of India.

Upgraded: Thanksgiving Status Quo
Downgraded: Math

Just like last year, 39% of Americans are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, according to a recent poll. But the conclusion that travel will “mirror” last year as a result of comparable traveler numbers? That smells of bad math. Airline capacity is down from a year ago, with fewer planes in the air. Yet the same number of travelers? Look out. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, consider revisiting these holiday travel tips and these five ways to get an edge on fellow travelers.

Downgraded: Toilet paper supplies on Qantas
Here’s a horror story: Trapped on a plane for 24 hours, passengers on board a Qantas flight (from Singapore, diverted to Canberra) had their toilet paper rationed. Four squares per person. Not a square to spare. It’s a tale of absurdity: People on the ground, but unable to deplane, at government orders. But couldn’t they restock the plane’s supplies while on the ground? Bonus points to The Age for their punny headline, “Loo paper rationed on bummer of a diversion.” (rimshot) (Thanks, Rob!)

Upgraded: Concierges on television
“A concierge is the Winnipeg equivalent of a geisha.” So says Michael Scott on last week’s episode of The Office, whose plot centered on business travel. See the full episode here, where it’s available for online viewing until January 15, 2009.

batphone Short hops    March 3, 2008    Mergers, miles, and train toilet obstetricsThe merger insider
Holly Hegeman’s red phone rang, and a trusted insider gave her this update on the United-Continental merger rumors. It’s on.

…the bulk of the existing United Airlines brand will continue to be used internationally, but Continental will take over the domestic operation for the most part. Other details we were told included the fact that there has already been a transition team put together. The deal will be announced after Delta/Northwest goes public. There will initially be a holding company set up to run both airlines. This operation will continue for three-five years. This will allow for a “smoother transition” from the two airlines into one operation.

But what happens if Delta-Northwest doesn’t go through, as it’s now hit a labor-related snag?

The “holding company” concept is one I expected when merger speculation first arose. Much like Air France and KLM operate separately under one company, it looks like the same idea is in the cards for the United-Continental merger, at least to start. But the merger looks like it’s on. Oh well.

Is that “going #3″?
Best opening paragraph in a while:

A newborn baby girl survived an ignoble birth after slipping down the toilet bowl of a moving Indian train onto the tracks when a pregnant woman unexpectedly gave birth while relieving herself on Tuesday.

Bad karma? Or a moral social stand?
Fighting the trend of tipping in American society seems like a losing battle, but the WSJ’s Eric Felten argues against the tip jar at Starbucks. It’s a good read.

Less than 1 cent per mile? No thanks.
I was going to comment that Delta’s new policy that allows you to use SkyMiles to buy a ticket based on the cost of the ticket, rather than the origin and destination, was generally a bad deal, and that it was an other salvo in their devaluation of the mileage currency. But Gary Leff and Tim Winship have already argued this point forcefully, so I’ll let them speak for me. I’ll just nod in agreement.

Misspellings go multinational
My disdain for the name “SimplyWheelz” is not enough to stop the brand from spreading. Hertz’s low-cost car rental subsidiary is expanding beyond Orlando to Alicante and Malaga, Spain, with sales channels targeting British and German tourists.

An old favorite: Fly first class at coach prices
One of this blog’s longstanding favorite subjects, the Y-UP fare, which books into economy but seats you in first class, gets a fresh look from Rick Seaney. The usual caveat applies: Y-UP may be cheaper than walkup regular-economy fares, but they’ll rarely ever beat out a cheapo fare purchased months ago. Nonetheless, it’s always worth a search.

Unscheduled landings stink, but especially internationally
Being diverted to another airport? Never fun. Being stuck on the plane? Never fun. Being diverted, and then stuck on a plane, because you’ve just landed in a different country? Even less fun. Just ask the Qantas passengers who were stuck on the plane during an unscheduled mechanical pit stop in India. (Thanks, Rob!)