Downgraded: The Chongqing Hilton
If you’ve got reservations for the Chongqing Hilton in the next few days or weeks, you’ll want to look into alternatives: Chinese authorities have closed the hotel as part of a prostitution bust. “A statement by Chongqing police said that an investigation had uncovered ‘a complete chain’ of people involved in prostitution ‘involving the hotel managers, security guards, luggage carriers, receptionists and staff.’” The karaoke bar was the epicenter. For branding purposes, perhaps they should have advertised “HHookers”… But did customers get both points and miles for the transaction?…

Upgraded: Spirit Airlines
Upgraded: Passenger awareness, hopefully

Yes, Spirit is upgraded! But only because their strike is on hold for the time being. If you were a passenger during the strike, it sucked. And if, at this point, you decide that you’re willing to be a Spirit customer in the future, you know where you stand with this company. You will have only yourself to blame.

Upgraded: Discount airlines in Japan
Japan’s ANA is reportedly launching a new discount airline, with fares at express bus prices.

futurama disembodied heads Upgrades & Downgrades: Karaoke with benefits, disembodied heads, boarding passes, moreUpgraded: Heads fly free on Southwest!
Three suspicious boxes in the cargo hold of a Southwest flight were opened by airline employees, to reveal 45 human heads. While the airline’s internal packaging policies — and best practices in packing human body parts for cross-country shipment — were violated, no laws were broken, and the heads were actually being shipped for legitimate medical purposes. Paging Matt Groening!

Upgraded: Recycling of fake boarding passes
Reader Nick sends in this story of a boarding pass that appeared in a British Airways/London Heathrow in-house magazine. What struck my eye was the fact that I had seen this boarding pass before… I had even published a copy of that boarding pass on this very site, here. Compare the pictures: Exhibit A. Exhibit B. I particularly enjoy the irony that a controversial fake boarding pass generator rises again, to be repurposed as a phony mobile boarding pass. Who says the airline industry doesn’t recycle enough?


One of my favorite Southern expressions has to be “Bless your heart…” For those who aren’t familiar with the linguistic convention: That simple phrase, typically uttered by a Southern female (Southern as in the South of the United States), frequently substitutes for an insult of the person’s intelligence. For example:

“Bless her heart, she bought tickets on Spirit Airlines…”

Bless all of your collective hearts, Spirit Airlines customers, as your airline of choice has been shut down from Saturday through Tuesday, thanks to a walk-off by the pilots, who are protesting low wages and work rules.

A few thoughts on this latest chapter in the Spirit saga:

  • Interline? What interline?
    Spirit Airlines doesn’t have any interline agreements, which effectively means that another airline won’t offer to transport you on a Spirit ticket. If you’ve got a Spirit ticket, you can get credit for the unflown amount, plus some customer service credit. But that’s it. Spirit won’t cover the cost of buying another ticket on a separate airline, and you’re not getting a refund (at least not without paying a $100 change fee.)
  • No room at the inn… or on the plane
    Other airlines haven’t made any efforts to add flights or do anything extraordinary to win over Spirit passengers. Maybe that’s because there aren’t many of them: Spirit accounts for less than 1% of all domestic airline traffic, so it’s a small blip on the overall radar. But it’s also because planes are full, and there isn’t much leeway to add flights or passengers. Spirit Airlines customers are in for a tough run, and will need to get creative with routings.
  • Shocked, shocked!
    Pilots have been telegraphing this strike for some time, so it’s not exactly news — though who besides the travel-obsessed would have noticed? The threat of the strike was blogged here in May. This is the culmination of a long-simmering battle.
  • Shocked, shocked! (part deux): Lousy communication
    But the airline’s communication with its customers has been rock-bottom shabby. They told customers they would fly, and would find replacement aircraft. They didn’t. Carl Unger runs it down, and he’s absolutely right on. This is lousy customer service. And that’s not a surprise.
  • What did you really expect?
    Anyone who has watched this company isn’t taken aback by this. The airline has a long track record of being gimmicky to lure in customers, but doing everything to squeeze money from the customer post-purchase and being absolutely horrendous when anything goes wrong and customer service — or even politeness — is required.

So for those who were educated consumers and avoided Spirit to begin with, congratulations. Your comeuppance is at hand. Try not to gloat too much, because not everyone is as informed as you.

For those who had Spirit tickets and are stuck in the midst of a trip, good luck getting home. For those who will need to rebook a trip, good luck getting a good price. And bless your hearts.

Categorized in: Spirit Airlines

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

Downgraded: Consumer smarts
You will no doubt recall Spirit Airlines’ decision to charge up to $45 for a carry-on bag. What may surprise (and disappoint) you: The airline has seen a surge in bookings, 50% higher than the same period last year. The airline admits to capitalizing on the media attention, much of it negative. Perhaps all press is good press, after all. Or perhaps passengers are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

Downgraded: Hotel Fees Running Wild
Bjorn Hanson of NYU predicts an increase in the size, variety, and breadth of hotel fees in the coming year. $1.7 billion worth. And if you were curious as to how you’ll be charged, here’s a list:

Examples of fees and surcharges include: resort or amenity fees, early departure fees, reservation cancellation fees, internet fees, telephone call surcharges, the costs of local calls, business center fees (i.e. cost of sending/receiving faxes and sending/receiving overnight packages), room service delivery surcharges, mini-bar restocking fees, charges for in-room safes, and automatic gratuities and surcharges. For groups, there have been increased charges for bartenders, service, and other staff at events; charges for set up and breakdown of meeting rooms; charges for meeting rooms in which meals are served (the common practice has been that there is a charge for meeting rooms but not an additional room charge for rooms in which meals are served); fees for master folio billing and baggage holding fees for guests leaving luggage with bell staff after checking out of a hotel but before departure.

Downgraded: Scanner privacy
Oh good: The full-body scanners that supposedly blur out the private parts, don’t. Thanks to The Smoking Gun, we learn of a TSA employee who walked through the scanner and was, ahem, judged by his colleagues for the size of his manhood. Eventually, the guy snapped at the mockery, which led to his arrest. And led to our awareness of just how personal the scanners can get…

Downgraded: The Tonga Room
There just aren’t enough kitsch-tastic tiki lounges left in America. And so it saddens me when I read that the San Francisco Fairmont is planning to demolish the Tonga Room, a Polynesian-themed bar that was launched in 1945. The city (and some preservationists) are protesting the planned demolition.

Tonga Room Upgrades and Downgrades: Stockholm syndrome, hotel fees, tiki bars, scanner truth


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