airplane autopilot Upgrades and Downgrades: Labor Day edition
It’s Labor Day in the U.S. of A., so enjoy these nuggets, in celebration of employment:

Downgraded: Ryanair pilots and flight attendants
Downgraded: Traditional media’s fact-checking

Ryanair never shies away from publicity, even if it means floating a dumb idea that will never happen but will make it look wacky (and cheap). So it’s really no surprise that the airline’s camera-chasing CEO Michael O’Leary has declared that airlines should ditch the second pilot in the cockpit (“Why does every plane have two pilots? Really, you only need one pilot. [...] Let’s take out the second pilot. Let the bloody computer fly it.”) Instead, he proposes training a flight attendant to serve as co-pilot (“If the pilot has an emergency, he rings the bell, he calls her in. She could take over.”)

Ryanair pilots and flight attendants alike must be thrilled that their boss is rhetorically throwing them under the bus. But it’ll never happen. As Steven Frischling has pointed out, “The Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), a multi-national organization that oversees the common safety and regulatory standards for more than 40 nations in Europe, says that Ryanair cannot operate in this manner as per JAR-OPS Subpart N, 1.940(A)(1) & 1.940(A)(2) (Page 1-N-1 of the JAA Joint Aviation Requirements JAR-OPS 1, Commercial Air Transportation Aeroplanes).”

Nicely sleuthed, Steve! And thumbs down for the traditional media that served as stenographers for the “Duke of Discomfort,” rather than checking to see if any of these off-the-wall ideas were ever possible.

Upgraded: Pilots… elsewhere
Those Ryanair pilots who are offended by the comments of their CEO might consider applying for jobs in the Middle East and Asia. There are even bidding wars for pilots who can fly the international widebody planes at the heart of the expansion.

Upgraded: Job prospects for folk heroes
Steven Slater, the now-famous JetBlue flight attendant who was pushed too far by a rude passenger, hurled invectives over the PA system, and finally grabbed two beers and escaped via the emergency slide, resigned from the airline just one week ago. (CNN reports the “separation”, but his publicist (!) says he wasn’t fired, but resigned.) I’m amazed he wasn’t “separated” from the company earlier. So… Anyone want to predict his next job? (Something tells me the fact that he has a publicist tells me he’s not looking to land in the transportation or service sector…)

Categorized in: Ryanair

In the U.S., airlines don’t typically charge a fee for using a credit or debit card to purchase a ticket. (Allegiant is an exception, by charging a $14.99 “convenience fee” for online bookings with credit card payment. Other U.S. airlines have tried, but failed thusfar.)

In Europe, a credit card fee is more of a norm. But Ryanair, which has been charging a fee for years, was just slapped down by the German courts for charging the fee:

Germany’s federal court of justice found yesterday that Ryanair placed consumers at a “disproportionate disadvantage” by offering no way to pay for flights without incurring a fee.

“By charging the fee is shifting in a one-sided manner on to customers the costs of fulfilling its own legal obligations … without bringing any service in return,” said the court, a practice at odds with German law.

The case against Ryanair was brought by Germany’s leading consumer organisation. It complained about the fee, which ranges from €1.50 to €4 per flight and passenger.

By not accepting cash payments, it argued, Ryanair offered customers no opportunity to pay for flights without paying extra.

I can understand the motivation behind this fee: Merchants accepting credit cards give up a piece of each transaction to the credit card processing bank. (The percentage varies according to card brand and total transaction size.) But there are rules to which merchants are required to adhere. I couldn’t find a European merchant agreement. But in the US, for example: “Visa merchants are not permitted to establish minimum transaction amounts, even on sale items. They also are not permitted to charge a surcharge fee when you use your Visa card.”

It will be interesting to see if other European countries see similar cases. Credit card fees aren’t limited to Germany, after all.

Categorized in: airlines, credit cards

Downgraded: Ryanair paying its fines
Ryanair is appealing a 3 million euro fine levied against it by Italian regulators, for failing to meet obligations to passengers during the first round of the Icelandic volcano delay fiasco. You may recall that Ryanair has argued that the EU rules requiring airlines to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations are tilted too far in the consumer’s favor.

Downgraded: Volcano scams
For those who really have had their travel plans affected by the volcano, be aware that there is a scam afoot that seeks to bilk you out of your money. Spam e-mails suggest that passengers are eligible for a substantial claim if they file an application fee with the British Civil Aviation Authority. Of course, the site is bogus, and the money goes to a scammer. Avoid.

Downgraded: Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines pilots are threatening to strike, and now the company is threatening to lay off up to 1583 of its 2300 employees. It’s an oddly precise number. The pilots’ union has taken their fight with management public, by purchasing billboards warning customers not to book with Spirit.

Upgraded: Fuel efficient aircraft design
MIT scientists are working on an aircraft design for NASA that would burn 70% less fuel than current-generation Boeing 737s, emit 75% less nitrous oxide, be quieter, and take off from shorter runways. A design is being floated:
mit nasa plane Upgrades and Downgrades: Volcano fines, volcano scams, Spirit strikes, eco planes

In today’s commercial airplanes, air flows directly into the engines located on the plane’s wings. That undisturbed, high-speed air flow drags on the plane, and requires more fuel to overcome the design inefficiency.

MIT’s design changes all that. By moving the engines to the plane’s tail, they take in slower moving air present in the wake of the fuselage. Less drag means less fuel is needed to get the plane the same distance.

Categorized in: Ryanair, Spirit Airlines

honeybees Upgrades and Downgrades: Bees, fees, recline, Ryanair, and more
Upgraded: Hotel Honeybees
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Charlotte has a new amenity: Rooftop honeybees. The hotel restaurant will use approximately 70 lbs. of honey produced by the hive.

Upgraded: The Widespread Status Quo of Not Charging for Carry-On Bags
Five airlines have pledged not to start charging for carry-on bags: American, Delta, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and US Airways. Yay, status quo!

Downgraded: Recline on Spirit
Upgraded: Marketing spin!

Spirit Airlines, which never skips an opportunity to be passenger-unfriendly, is downgrading its seats, preventing you from reclining. The best part, calling them “pre-reclined.” Nice work, Spirit marketing team!

Upgraded and Downgraded: Fees on Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines is increasing the checked-bag fee for the first bag, by $5. But then they’re reducing the fee for the second bag, also by $5. The third bag’s fee drops by $30. And the fourth bag drops by $50. The new baggage fees apply to travel starting June 16 for tickets bought beginning May 1. At the same time, Alaska no longer lets you hold a reservation for 24 hours. Alas.

Upgraded, eventually: Ryanair Reimbursement
If you were stranded by the volcano and Ryanair was your airline of choice, you were likely cursing their name. They weren’t much in the way of reimbursing costs for stranded passengers: They covered the equivalent of the base cost of the ticket, which, given Ryanair’s revenue model, isn’t much. But it may have been illegal: “The European Union, which enforces consumer laws that hold airlines responsible for stranded passengers’ ‘reasonable costs,’ warned Ryanair it could face fines ranging from euro5,000 to euro150,000 ($6,750 to $202,500) per complaint.” Subsequently (and nearly a week late), Ryanair has agreed to cover the lodging and meal expenses of stranded passengers, as the EU law requires. But the company is challenging the law — and the airlines’ responsibility in situations like the recent volcano — with an appeal to the European Commission and the European Parliament.


It’s been a rough day. A rough week, and it’s only halfway over. (And while I may whine and moan, if you’ve had the misfortune of trying to have Europe on your itinerary, it’s been even rougher.)

So here, cheer up. Have a clip of Stephen Colbert, on the subject of airline fees.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Ryanair Charges for Toilets
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

Categorized in: airlines, Ryanair, Spirit Airlines

Upgraded: Airline mergers, speculated and real
Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, it’s the time of the year when speculation arises again that US Airways and United will merge. How many times have we heard this before? Six? Nudge me when it actually happens.

In the non-hypothetical realm, British Airways and Iberia have actually merged.

Upgraded: Speculation of pay toilets on Ryanair
Another recurring story: Ryanair pursuing pay toilets again. Yawn. I feel like Ryanair’s PR department has a timer, to see how long it’s been since they’ve been in the news. It’s been a few months! Quick! Roll out the pay toilet idea again!

Downgraded: Kayak hotel search
Kayak has made it harder for fans of a particular hotel loyalty program to search for their brands of choice. As Ric Garrido points out, it’s no longer possible to, say, search for Starwood hotels.

Downgraded: PDA in Dubai
Just another warning for tourists heading to Dubai: Don’t kiss in public. Add that to your other Dubai related warnings, like not bringing melatonin along on your trip to fight jet lag if you want to stay out of jail.

Downgraded: Voluntary bumps
Most travelers want to get from point A to point B at the scheduled time. Others want to get bumped, to collect the voluntary denied boarding (VDB) vouchers. And according to the NYT’s profile of a frequent bumpee, the airlines have gotten better at predicting who will show up for a flight. Add to that the fact that planes are really full these days, and people are decreasingly likely to volunteer for a bump. Involuntary denied boarding, interestingly, is going up.

Categorized in: travel