Monday, June 30, 2008

Domestic Airlines Face Perfect Financial Storm

Posted by Travel Sentry

It will be a rough landing at the end of the summer for many travelers. This is assuming you are not already in the 99 percent of the traveling public that thinks commercial airline travel could not get any worse. Facing the perfect financial storm, airlines are scrambling for deeper and wider cuts.

The airlines have spoken and the October schedules are published. Domestic flights have been cut by about 10% over last year in a third of the nation's busiest airports. This may just be the beginning of deeper cuts if fuel costs stay at record levels, or dare we think, continue to rise.

USA Today reports that "among the airports losing 10% or more of their seats in October vs. a year ago: Cincinnati, a Delta hub; Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport, a Continental hub; Cleveland, another Continental hub; Pittsburgh; and Phoenix, a US Airways hub."

There will be fewer choices to the larger airports but many smaller American communities will be left with no regular commercial air service, according to the Air Transport Association.

A precarious balancing act within the airlines precipitates raising prices to cover higher costs causing decreased demand, which further pressures deeper cuts. The pendulum continues to swing.

United flight reductions will see 100 jets plucked from the skies and sidelined by the end of 2009. Fewer flights and planes in use is naturally followed by further job cuts. United announced it will layoff 950 pilots with another 1,100 non-pilot jobs on the cutting board. So much for the pilot shortage that was anticipated last year for the years ahead.

United's pilot cuts represent 15% of the total pilot force and is the first cockpit crew cuts by a major airline in the fuel related industry cost cutting measures.

Delta's managed a softer landing by incentivizing 4,000 workers to retire early or leave voluntarily. Continental plans to cut 3,000 jobs this fall.

Delta just announced it will start charging up to a $50 fee to cash in frequent flier miles. American and U.S. Air are expected to follow suit with a charge to fly free on miles.

The view from Southwest remains sunny as long as they have hedged fuel in their jets. They anticipate a modest increase in capacity.

The overall picture is very serious. "The A.T.A. predicts the domestic airlines will collectively lose a minimum of $7 billion this year, and as much as $13 billion, which would eclipse the $11 billion the carriers lost during 2002."

The New York Times quotes Gary Chase, an industry analyst with Lehman Brothers, “The U.S. industry is undertaking a historic restructuring. Air fares, which are up about 17 percent this year on average, may rise as much as 40 percent within the next four years."

The New York Times makes a very sobering statement about the long-term consequences of downsizing of the airlines:

"... the downsizing of the airlines is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon. Carriers are selling off hundreds of older, less-efficient planes, so the industry would have trouble growing sharply again even if oil prices were to drop and the economy were to rebound quickly."

Not an industry that can turn on a dime. This is the best it's going to be for the foreseeable future.

Between the economy and the cost of oil, there is no crystal ball to predict the outcome for the beleaguered airline industry. With one goal in remain standing...they continue to persevere, as do the passengers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Benefits of Flight Delays, But Not For the Passenger

Posted by Travel Sentry

What is 320 million hours worth? Well that depends… but Congress’ Joint Economic Committee put a $40 billion price tag on it when it comes to flight delays. That doesn’t include the value of the pain and suffering.

Forbes reports that in 2007, 320 million hours were lost to flight delays. That means airlines are losing money, business travelers are missing meetings, grandmothers are missing recitals, and a father misses the birth of a son.

Here is a interesting video of a Delta flight that was delayed seven hours on the tarmac. How could that be interesting? Only in its extreme absurdity, of course. I wonder what that single big debacle cost?

Is there a flip side to airport delays? Not to passengers unless they are trying to catch up on their reading. But think about the retailers sitting there with goods displayed and doors opened and all those passengers with nowhere to go and nothing to do but roam the friendly stores. The caveat here is the only profitable side of delays is in the terminals, not sitting on the tarmac.

When it comes to airports which came first, delays or retail?

Retail income (non-aeronautical sources including parking and business concessions) for airports has grown since 1990 increasing from about 30 percent to 50 percent and at larger airports the increase has grown to 60 percent of an airport’s revenue. Before the advent of retail as big airport business, the majority of revenue came from charges to the airlines for landing fees, air traffic control, passenger and cargo fees, security, hangar charges, etc.

In 2005, the airlines lost $10 billion and the airports earned $2 billion according to a report by the International Civil Aviation Authority. Forbes reports that only five airports failed to turn a profit that year.

According to the 2007 edition of Airport Revenue News’ annual Fact Book, the two largest domestic airports, Atlanta and Chicago, each do almost $300 million a year.

Airports don’t want flight delays because who would want to deal with a hive of angry bees? But nevertheless the concessions do benefit. “Nobody blames Starbucks when their flight is delayed; in fact, they'll likely buy a latte while they wait. What else is there to do?”

Forbes reports, “The concessionaire industry is largely privately owned. Four of the five largest companies are private: the Paradies Shops, Hudson Group, Delaware North Companies and SSP America; the fifth, HMSHost, is owned by the publicly traded Italian firm Autogrill. These firms develop proposals for space in airports around the country and then assemble the shops, restaurants and other services in the space.”

What does the airport retail horizon look like in light of the beleaguered airline industry and growing frustrations with air travel? Air travel with all of its problems is still the only viable option to get from point A to point B in most time sensitive travel scenarios, outside of short trips. So we still fly and we still shop after arriving two hours ahead of the flight departure.

The Federal Aviation Administration projects the number of U.S. travelers growing 2.7 percent per year through 2025. Increased travelers, increased offering of retailers and services, including more upscale and designer products, means larger profits for airports. “Travelers find themselves essentially locked into a shopping mall.”

“A study from Airports Council International found that 26 percent of airports have DVD rentals, 48 percent have children's play areas, 11 percent have video game stations, 28 percent have live music, 34 percent have massage services and 17 percent have nail salons.”

The evolution of airports … no matter how nice an airport is decked out, no matter how many entertainment options there are to disengage a traveler experiencing a delay, it is still going to be a frustrating experience. Passengers are there against their will. Where they want to be with all their heart and souls is in that jet flying at warp speed to their intended destination.

Remember the 1977 hit from The Steve Miller Bank, Jet Airliner?

Leavin' home, out on the road
I've been down before
Ridin' along in this big ol' jet plane
I've been thinkin' about my home
But my love light seems so far away
And I feel like it's all been done
Somebody's tryin' to make me stay
You know I've got to be movin' on

Oh, Oh big ol' jet airliner
Carry me to my home
Oh, Oh big ol' jet airliner
Cause it's there that I belong

Monday, June 23, 2008

Welsh Comedian Finds Lost Luggage in Australia: You Think You've Got Problems

Posted by Travel Sentry

It's summertime and vacation time for most. Time for the lighthearted. Time for a laugh...

When I'm in need of a good laugh I trot out my favorite video on lost luggage. So what's so funny about lost luggage?

Lost luggage is something most of us mere mortals face with panic, rage, tears, and sometimes plain exhausted resignation. Humor is not usually one of the first responder reactions but listen to the aplomb this Welshman exhibits faced with the traveler's worst nightmare. Wait a minute...maybe the worst nightmare would be to find himself back in Wales in December instead of Australia, even sans French sunglasses.

Have a look at this really funny slant on lost luggage.

And enjoy your summer travels.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Take the Confusion Out of Airline Fare Comparison Shopping

Posted by Travel Sentry

Thanks to the guys at Wejetset for their post "Cutting Through the Din of Travel Fees". They directed me to and Rick Sweaney's concise chart that gives you the no-nonsense list of airline fees.

It is really hard to comparison shop for airline fares when the additional fees throw the fares into the land of the unknown. Who knows what the cost is. But keep this site handy; it will definitely help cut to the chase. I understand Rick even keeps it up to date.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What's Cooking at the Airlines?

Posted by Travel Sentry

Here's the skinny on what the airlines are serving on their flights, at least as of today. The only thing we know for sure is that meal and beverage service is likely to continue to change often. This current update is compliments of Independent and is sourced from coach seats on domestic flights.

Tip: Though some airlines do accept credit cards, many require cash and exact change is appreciated.

AirTran does not serve any meals, but offers complimentary coffee, juices, Coca-Cola products and snacks on all flights. Cocktails, beer and wine are $6 on all flights.

American Airlines offers individually packaged snacks for $3 each on U.S. and Canadian flights that are two hours or longer. On flights over three hours within the U.S. or to Mexico or the Caribbean, sandwiches and wraps are also available for $6. "Snack Packs" are available for $4 on American Eagle and AmericanConnection flights in the continental U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.Complimentary meals are offered on Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Japan and some Mexico flights longer than four hours within traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner meal windows.ContinentalOn domestic flights (excluding Hawaii) or flights to Canada, the Caribbean or Latin American resort destinations that last over two hours.

Continental serves an appropriate meal and snack on the following timetable:

Breakfast/Snack: 7 a.m. - 9 a.m.
Lunch/Snack: 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Dinner/Snack: 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.

If your flight is not during the scheduled breakfast, lunch and dinner hours, a light snack may be offered on flights longer than three hours in economy class. Beverages are always complimentary.

On flights less than 450 miles (about one hour), Delta offers one complimentary snack (no choice). On flights ranging from 450 to 749 miles (about 1 - 1.5 hours), you'll be given a choice of snack. On flights ranging from 750 to 1,024 miles (about 1.5 - 2 hours), you'll be given a choice of snacks as well as a range of other snacks for purchase (prices range from $1 - $3). On flights longer than 1,025 miles (about two hours), you'll have your choice of complimentary snack as well as a menu of meal items ranging in price from $4 to $10.Complimentary meal service is given on Alaska and Hawaii flights longer than five hours. Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks are offered on all flights, while a $5 or $6 charge applies to all alcoholic beverages in economy class on Delta and Delta Connection flights.

Frontier offers a selection of snacks for $3 on all flights longer than 545 miles. For shorter flights, only beverages are available. Non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary on all flights, while alcoholic drinks are available for $5 each.

JetBlue does not serve full meals on flights, but does serve a variety of complimentary snacks and has standard beverage service. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for $5.

Midwest offers Best Care Cuisine, an in-flight meal purchasing program with food from a local Milwaukee restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner options range from $6 - $11. You can peek at the current menu before you go and decide whether you'd be better off bringing your own. Note that the menu is not available on West Coast departures or on select East Coast departures.Complimentary warm chocolate chip cookies are served on flights departing after 10 a.m. Non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary, with alcoholic drinks available for $5.

Northwest offers individual snacks for $3 and snack boxes for $5 in coach class on most domestic flights. On most flights to the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, and most of the Caribbean and Mexico, "fresh products" (fruit and cheese, or vegetables with ranch dip) are available for $7. Sandwich and salad meals are available for $10 on select flights to Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico and the Caribbean. To guarantee yourself a meal, you can preorder online at the Northwest Web site at least 13 hours before your flight.Complimentary meal service is offered in first class and on international flights.

On flights less than 600 miles, Southwest serves peanuts or pretzels. On nonstop flights between 601 and 1,270 miles, the airline offers a packaged snack appropriate to the time of day. Southwest Airlines does not serve sandwiches or meals on any flight. Standard beverage service is offered on all flights, with beer, wine and cocktails available for $4.

Spirit doesn't serve meals, but snacks (muffins, candy, chips) are offered for $2 - $4. Spirit also charges for all drinks, including soft drinks and water ($3). Energy drinks are $2. Alcoholic beverages are $5.

United offers complimentary meals in coach on international flights. In coach class on North American flights (including flights to the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico) of two hours or longer, a complimentary snack is given. On flights over three hours, a variety of SnackBoxes are available for $5. On flights over five hours, you'll also have the option of purchasing a sandwich or salad from the Fresh Food Menu ($7).On all flights, soft drinks are complimentary, and alcoholic beverages are available for purchase. Once free, cocktail snacks are no longer available on flights shorter than two hours.

US Airways offers an In-Flight Cafe on most flights longer than 3.5 hours, taking off between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. Meals are priced at $7, and a Snack Box is available for $5.Non-alcoholic beverages are currently complimentary on all flights, with wine, beer and cocktails available for $5. As of August 1, 2008, however, the airline will charge $2 for non-alcoholic beverages and $7 for alcoholic beverages.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raise Revenues, Cut Costs - The Flight for Airline Survival

Posted by Travel Sentry

Airlines are moving from "bigger is better" to "less is more" and trying to shrink everything very, very quickly. Raise revenues, cut costs is the order of the day. Period. The flight for survival is on.

Jet fuel is up 84 percent from this time last year and is the single biggest expense for an airline. Overall fares are up 16 percent from last year for coach seats bought in advance. 40 percent of the price of a ticket goes directly for fuel as compared to 15 percent eight years ago. The net result for airlines is very big losses.

Airlines are looking for even the smallest savings which, when multiplied by hundreds of planes and thousands of flights, starts to make a significant difference. Northwest reported to the New York Times that for every 25 pounds of aircraft weight lost there is a savings of $440,000 a year.

Saving measures reported around the tarmac include:
  • Power washing jet engines removes grime for better fuel efficiency.

  • Getting rid of extra weight by carrying less water for lavatories.

  • Replacing seats with lighter weight models.

  • Replacing heavy drink carts with lighter models.

  • Airlines are flying at a slightly slower speed to conserve fuel.

  • Tapping into airport power when at the gate instead of powering electrical from the plane's engines.

  • Eliminating less profitable (or I should say more costly) flights to secondary cities.

Delta is even considering cutting the duplicate pilot manuals. Maybe the government will even approve on-screen manuals and nix the heavy tomes entirely.

The Derrie-Air one day ad campaign in Philadelphia made its point: "Pack Less, Weigh Less, Pay Less." For airlines, weight costs money. Why do you think cargo planes charge by the pound? Of course the Derrie-Air business model will never take hold although I'll bet it's tempting. Why not add one more thing to the angst of flying? Philadelphia to Los Angeles only $2.25 a pound. I'm not telling you how much my ticket would be.

And of course the airlines have been cutting jobs fast and furious which comes on top of this decade's record downsizing. Airlines have cut more than 22,000 jobs so far this year (and counting) and over 100,000 jobs since 9/11.

Most U.S. airlines have aging planes which are not as fuel efficient as the newer jets. As flights are being cut and slashed, carriers are parking the gas guzzlers in the hangers. Northwest is sidelining DC-9 jets, American is parking MD-80s, and United is grounding many 747s. Continental has already parked 10% of its fleet.

As with cars, each generation of aircraft becomes more fuel efficient. “The Airbus A330 long-range jets use 38 percent less fuel than the DC-10s they replaced, while the Airbus A319 medium-range planes are 27 percent more efficient than DC-9s,” according to Northwest. described the recent IATA conference in Istanbul as pretty sobering, “ a more depressed group of people would be hard to find anywhere."

"IATA predicts the world’s airlines will lose $2.3 billion this year — that’s if a barrel of crude oil averages $107 for the year. If oil averages $135, the world’s airlines will bleed $6.1 billion in 2008. U.S. carriers, already burdened by debt, aging fleets and disgruntled employees, will account for much of this red ink," cited

“Some airlines are expected to merge. Some may be forced to liquidate. Chapter 11 will become like the Roach Motel: They’ll check in but they won’t check out.”

The impact on passengers, however, will be clear. They can expect to pay more for fewer choices — the industry’s new norm.

Are the economic pressures permeating a downward spiral in attitudes of airline personnel and passengers alike? The bottom line is that fewer Americans are flying. The soft economy is a factor, of course, but so are higher fares and the inconveniences of flying. The Air Transport Association, the industry’s lobbying group, predicts 2.7 million fewer people will fly this summer than in 2007.

Yesterday's airline report card from J.D. Power was not good. The airline quality survey released yesterday showed fliers' opinion of airline customer-service has taken a nosedive. Citing the results, CNN/Dow Jones writes that "deteriorating airline customer service has helped drive flier satisfaction to its lowest level in three years, … and for many it has become an even bigger concern than higher airfares and additional fees. … The study found that customer dissatisfaction with the helpfulness and courtesy of flight staff, gate agents and crew was twice as large as dissatisfaction with pricing."

Moral of the story? If survival is at stake, perhaps the airlines should look at an attitude adjustment. If the passenger experience is more important than the price of the ticket, couldn't there be a win here for everybody?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Greening of Blue Skies - Aviation Industry's Committment to CO2 Neutrality

Posted by Travel Sentry

The airline industry's impact on the environment is a very large blip on the world's radar screen. In an unprecedented move, Boeing and Airbus set aside their fierce competitive natures and signed an agreement to work together to reduce carbon emissions and lessen the impact on the environment.

The following video was released last month by the International Air Transport Association, IATA, and illustrates the industry commitment to carbon neutrality. IATA is a trade association representing the airline industry world-wide.

And from a Delta Airline Blog on the groundbreaking Aviation and Airline Summit 2008:
"On April 22-23, commercial aviation leaders came together in Geneva for the Aviation and Environment Summit 2008. This is the first time that airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers, airports, and air traffic control have met to highlight the connection of aviation and environmental issues. Here they signed a declaration on climate change to lead towards carbon neutral growth and a sustainable industry. To achieve this, the industry will focus on a four-pillar approach: investment in new technology, increasing operational efficiency, air traffic and airport infrastructure improvements and positive economic measures.

"It is unclear how the declaration will affect Delta and other U.S. airlines at this point in time. Most of the EU’s efforts are stemming from the cap-and-trade system that will come into effect in 2011. There is legislation out there to implement a similar system in the U.S., but the debate is heated and no one is sure where we will end up."
Here is a short highlight clip from the Aviation and Environment Summit 2008:

A Concise Explanation on the new TSA I.D. Regulation

Posted by Travel Sentry

Just a quick note about the new TSA regulation requiring passengers to show I.D. to pass through airport security. The press release, carefully written and perfectly succinct, if you read it a few times, is more clearly explained in Evolution of Security, the TSA blog site.

So if you want the real skinny on the new I.D. rule that goes into effect June 21, just click here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Will U.S. Airlines Go Down the Rabbit Hole of Fee-Based Services?

Posted by Travel Sentry

Which begs the question, “What is the pain point for U.S. airline passengers as carriers press the gas pedal for new fees on anything and everything to boost revenues?”

It seems a bitter struggle for survival for airlines. Simple math but complicated management issues and a public relations nightmare. Taking away services once included in the price of a ticket, coupled with higher fares, raises the hackles of most consumers of the airways. Them’s fightin’ words particularly when there are so many other economic pressure points for businesses and families.

Those extra charges are called ancillary revenue and could go a long way towards mitigating rising fuel costs. As a matter of fact ancillary revenue accounted for $350 million for American Airlines last year.

Some deep discount airlines in Europe have structured fees to the extent the add-on revenue for service charges far exceeds the ticket price. Wired Magazine illustrates this "printer cartridge" way of doing business (sell the printer for very little – the big game is in the cost of the printer cartridges) that has made discount Ryanair an industry leader.

Ryanair flies into secondary airports (boy could we use that now in the U.S.) charging dirt-cheap fares and no-frills service. And I mean no frills. Ryanair planes make Greyhound look like a luxury transporter.

I don’t know if they have a fee for a life vest or oxygen mask but just about every conceivable nicety and what Americans would consider necessities come with a fee. How much is an air sick bag? Here are a just a few of the Ryanair optional fees and services. This is great fodder for a Saturday Night Live skit.

  • Ticket change fee - $140
  • Fee to check in at a ticket counter - $8
  • Credit card processing fee - $12
  • Fee for flying with an infant on your lap - $40
  • Unaccompanied minor priority preboarding fee - $8
  • Fee to speak with a Ryanair rep by phone - $2 per minute
  • Mandatory "aviation insurance levy" - $6.25

Did I mention Ryanair has no seat-back pockets (no Ryanair Magazine and no pockets to clean) or window shades, and seats don't recline?

On board it is a no-holes-barred sales extravaganza. Flight attendants hawk water, soda, cocktails, snacks, sandwiches, toys, jewelry, liquor, perfume, lottery tickets, travel insurance and cell phone minutes. I wonder if they are on commission?

On the Ryanair web site you will see listings for many destinations where the ticket price is free. You can also book cheap hotels, find car rentals, and go shopping for all sorts of stuff on their site. Definitely a one-stop shopping experience, both online and in the air.

We shouldn’t laugh too hard. It's a very interesting business model and Ryanair is fulfilling a market need with cheap seats to secondary locations. And we may be seeing much more of the fee-based services in the future for U.S. carriers. Checked bag fees and peanut sales may just be the tip of the iceburg.

I’ll pay for peanuts and checked bags if it means the airlines will keep flying. The question U.S. airlines need a crystal ball for is the pain point for flyers. For drivers of gas-guzzling SUVs the tipping point was $4.00/gallon gas. That’s when you heard the air escaping the SUV burst bubble.

The SUV drivers should be particularly sympathetic of the airlines need to cover out-of-the-ballpark gas prices. They've already reached one tipping point.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Best Father's Day Gift for Frequent Flyers

Posted by Travel Sentry

There's still's only Tuesday. For the frequent flyer Dad this the "get out of jail" card for airport security. You can be a hero, get the World's Greatest Flying Dad a Clear card for Father's Day.

Here's the basics:

"The Clear lane is a designated lane at the security checkpoint. Clear Members must verify a fingerprint or iris image (collected during enrollment) in order to enter the lane.At the Clear lane, a Clear attendant will greet you and check your boarding pass, Clear card and government-issued photo ID. You will be asked to insert your Clear card into the kiosk, which also verifies the fingerprint or iris image that you selected during enrollment. When everything is verified (which takes just a few seconds), you will receive a receipt indicating that you are a Clear member.

"Clear members still proceed through metal detectors and x-ray machines operated and regulated by the Department of Homeland Security but other parts of the process are expedited."
Click here for more information and a step by step explanation for enrollment process.

Here is the list of airports that operate Clear lanes. More airport are sure to become participants as well.

Anything to relieve the headaches of today's travel, right? A very thankful nod to Guy Kawasaki who made this gift-giving suggestion for big guy's big day.

The Gobi Desert Marches Towards Beijing Threatening Blue Skies for the Olympics

Posted by Travel Sentry

Claro Cortes IV/Reuters - Walkers in the Olympic Green Zone, where industrial pollutants have abated but desert dust remains.

In the recent Travel Sentry China Series, I voiced my skepticism that the Chinese government was going to be able to clear these skies by the Olympic Games:

I assumed the unrestrained construction taking place in Beijing on seemingly every square inch and the ensuing "construction dust", must be attributing to the dismal air quality. How could it not?

Mao's vision for a "vigorously industrialized" China is finally realized and I'm sure Mao is proudly watching through his eternal sleep in Tienanmen Square. China got "a Beijing skyline teeming with belching silos. Mao got his wish; everybody else got a persistent cough."

The Chinese government is taking serious measures to clear the air by the Olympics. They will stop construction, they will restrict automobile usage, they will shut down factories emitting offensive crud, and I have even heard they plan to artificially "inject" the skies with chemicals to induce rain to clear the skies. (This last is purely rumor, but the rest is verifiable.)

Even if the government is successful in reigning in pollution in its public relation's quest to produce Big Blue Skies (BBS) for the Games, there is a problem that may elude the best efforts of the Beijing Olympic Committee.

Beijing is coated with "a layer of dust so thick you can write a newspaper article with your finger." And it not the ubiquitous construction brand of dust.

"Beijing lies downwind of the Gobi Desert, and every year, that dusty ocean advances by a few more li or chi or something toward the gates of the city. Beijing is built on dust. It seeps and creeps and glides and slides across the floor, under the door and all around the walls."

I did not know the Gobi Desert had launched an assault on Beijing. Where is Mao when you need a ruthless leader to stand up to the enemy? My source for this fascinating perspective was a blog post - not just any posting, but one of the most entertaining prose "observations" I have read in a long time - from Donald Morrison writing for the IHT, Globespotter Blog and republished in the New York Times. Mr. Morrison lives in Beijing with his wife and an apartment full of Gobi Desert dust. He hopes someday soon that he will be able to see the Olympic Village from his apartment, one mile away.

Don't deprive yourself of the post in its entirety.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

French Museum Opens 9/11 Exhibit on 64th Anniversary of D-Day

Posted by Travel Sentry

Yesterday, on the 64th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, a special exhibit on the terrorists attacks of 9/11 opened in a French history museum dedicated to the World War II D-Day landings.

The artifacts included in the exhibit entitled “September 11: A Global Moment” are on loan from the New York State Museum. The exhibit on the infamous terrorists attacks is juxtaposed in the Caen memorial museum against a very different war - the war of our fathers and grandfathers.

A crushed police jeep, pieces of fuselage from the hijacked planes and twisted sheathing of the World Trade Center towers are a few of over 100 artifacts recovered from Ground Zero on display in Caen through December 31.

“The exhibit opens with a jarring sequence of images foreshadowing September 11: a photograph of the Afghan mujahedeen leader Ahmad Shah Masood, killed by Al-Qaeda allies two days before the 2001 attacks.”

One difference between the French exhibit and the New York State Museum is that France has chosen to present profiles of the 19 hijackers. Stephane Grimaldi, director of the Caen museum explains, "We decided to show photographs of the 19 jihadists and show that they were not mad. These are young faces. They are not demented," he said.

Grimaldi feels that the exhibit displayed within the D-Day memorial casts a “European point of view” about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that left 2,973 dead. "I hope visitors will think about September 11 differently, maybe have a clearer idea, in terms of the scale, in terms of how the day unfolded, who did it, who was killed and who was affected."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

U.S. Visa Waiver Program - Everything You Need to Know

Posted by Travel Sentry

In a press release yesterday Homeland Security announced the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a new online system that is part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Travelers from the participating visa waiver countries will be able to apply via a secure internet site for travel to the U.S. starting August 1. Online application under the ESTA will be mandatory beginning January 12, 2009 according to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"Rather than relying on paper-based procedures, this system will leverage 21st century electronic means to obtain basic information about who is traveling to the U.S.without a visa," said Secretary Chertoff. "Getting this information in advance enables our frontline personnel to determine whether a visa-free traveler presents a threat, before boarding an aircraft or arriving on our shores. It is a relatively simple and effective way to strengthen our security, and that of international travelers, while helping to preserve an important program for key allies."

U.S. citizens traveling overseas are not effected.

The following is Homeland Security's Frequently Asked Questions: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA):

Q. What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

A: ESTA is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

Q: Who is required to submit an electronic travel authorization via ESTA?

A: ESTA will be implemented as a mandatory program 60 days after publication of a notice in the Federal Register. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) anticipates that the Secretary of Homeland Security will issue that notice in November 2008, for implementation of the mandatory ESTA requirements on Jan. 12, 2009. Once ESTA is mandatory, all nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP will be required to receive an electronic travel authorization through ESTA prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or vessel. Accompanied and unaccompanied children, regardless of age, will be required to obtain an independent ESTA approval. A third party, such as a relative or travel agent, will be permitted to submit an ESTA application on behalf of a VWP traveler.

Q: What is the Visa Waiver Program?

A: The VWP is administered by DHS and enables eligible nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Additional information regarding the VWP is available at

Q: Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program?

A: Citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP:

The Netherlands
New Zealand
San Marino
United Kingdom

Q: Why is authorization under ESTA required for U.S.-bound travel under the Visa Waiver Program?

A: Recently-passed U.S. legislation that amends Section 217(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) mandates that DHS implement an electronic travel authorization system and other measures to enhance the security of the VWP. International travelers are already familiar with security measures that are necessary to protect travelers and crew. ESTA adds another layer of security that allows DHS to determine, in advance of travel, whether an individual is eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP and whether such travel poses a law enforcement or security risk.

Q: Is an ESTA a visa?

A: No. The ESTA travel authorization is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa when a visa is required under U.S. law. Individuals that possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas will not be required to apply for an ESTA. Obtaining ESTA approval, for most travelers, will be simple and easy. Obtaining a visa, however, typically requires an appointment, travel to a U.S. Embassy/Consulate, an interview with a consular officer, processing time, and the payment of a fee (currently $131).

Q: What laws govern ESTA?

A: The ESTA program is required pursuant to Section 217 of the INA, as amended by Section 711 of the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” (9/11 Act). This legislation requires DHS to develop and implement an automated system to determine, in advance of travel, the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under the VWP and whether such travel poses a law enforcement or security risk.

Q: When will travelers be required to obtain an ESTA?

A: The system will initially be available in English only to process voluntary applications beginning on Aug. 1, 2008. The system will be available in a variety of different languages to facilitate the voluntary application process for the overwhelming majority of VWP travelers. These languages will be available by Oct. 15, 2008.

ESTA will be implemented as a mandatory program 60 days after publication of a notice in the Federal Register. DHS anticipates that the Secretary of Homeland Security will issue that notice in November 2008, for implementation of the mandatory ESTA requirements on Jan. 12, 2009. Once ESTA is mandatory, all nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP will require an approved ESTA prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the United States under the VWP.

Q: If I am approved through ESTA to travel to the United States, does that mean I can enter the country?

A: Not necessarily. An ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the United States under the VWP. In the same way that a valid visa does not constitute a determination of admissibility, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at a port of entry. In all cases, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers make admissibility determinations at our ports of entry or pre-clearance facilities.

Q: VWP Memoranda of Understanding were signed with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and South Korea. Do travelers who are citizens or nationals of these countries need a U.S. visa?

A: At this time, yes, citizens or nationals of these countries must obtain a visa prior to traveling to the United States. While DHS recently signed Memoranda of Understanding relating to the VWP with these countries, they have not yet been admitted to the VWP. Should these countries meet VWP requirements and become members of the VWP, their citizens will need to obtain an ESTA prior to traveling to the U.S. under the VWP.

Q: How do I apply for an ESTA authorization to travel to the United States?

A: ESTA is a web-based system. In order to apply for an ESTA authorization on or after Aug. 1, 2008, go to, follow the instructions to answer all the required questions, and submit an application for a travel authorization.

Q: Is this Web site secure and private?

A: Yes. The website will be operated by the U.S. government and will employ technology to prevent unauthorized access to the information entered and viewed. Information submitted by applicants through the ESTA Web site will be subject to the same strict controls that have been established for similar traveler screening programs as governed by U.S. laws and regulations, including but not limited to the Federal Information Security Management Act. Access to such information is limited to those with a professional need to know.

Q: How far in advance of my trip do I need to apply for travel authorization through ESTA?

A: To facilitate the authorization process, DHS recommends that ESTA applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel. However, applications may be submitted at any time prior to traveling to the United States under the VWP. VWP travelers are not required to have specific plans to travel to the United States before they apply for an ESTA; however, each approved ESTA application will be valid for a period of two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. As soon as VWP travelers begin to plan a trip to visit the United States, they are encouraged to apply for authorization through the ESTA website. If applicants’ destination addresses or itineraries should change after their authorization has been approved, they may easily update that information through the ESTA website. After ESTA becomes mandatory, travelers who have not received ESTA approval may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry.

Q: How much time does it take for ESTA to process my approval?

A: Once a traveler’s ESTA application has been successfully completed and submitted online, the application will be queried against appropriate law enforcement databases. In most cases, ESTA will provide an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel under the VWP.

There are three types of responses to an ESTA application: Authorization Approved, Authorization Pending, and Travel Not Authorized. Those applicants who receive an approval are then authorized to travel to the United States under the VWP. Applicants who receive an Authorization Pending response will need to check the Web site for updates within 72 hours to receive a final response. Applicants whose ESTA applications are denied will be referred to for information on how to apply for a visa to travel to the United States.

Q: How long is a travel authorization via ESTA valid?

A: Each approved ESTA application will be valid for a period of two years, such that a visitor may travel to the United States repeatedly within a two-year period without having to apply for another ESTA. Travelers whose ESTA applications are approved, but whose passports will expire in less than two years, will receive an ESTA valid until the passport’s expiration date.

Q: What is the cost to the traveler?

A: DHS will not initially collect a fee for ESTA applications. When it is determined at a later time that a fee will be charged, the fee would be implemented through the United States government’s rulemaking process.

Q: Can prospective travelers apply for an ESTA if they want to be able to travel to the United State on short notice?

A: VWP travelers are not required to have specific plans to travel to the United States before they apply for an ESTA authorization. DHS recommends that an ESTA approval be obtained as soon as a VWP traveler begins to plan a trip to visit the United States, and no later than 72 hours before departure to the United States. However, ESTA will accommodate last minute and emergency travelers.

Q: What information do I need in order to complete the ESTA application?

A: The traveler must provide (in English) biographical data including name, birth date, and passport information, as well as travel information such as the flight number and destination address in the United States. The traveler will also be required to answer VWP eligibility questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, and past history of visa revocation or deportation, among others.

Q: When can I apply for a travel authorization via ESTA?

A: On August 1, 2008, DHS will begin to accept voluntary ESTA applications through the ESTA Web site at Initially, the site will be operational in English only, but additional languages will be available in October 2008.

Q: If people have received ESTA approval, do they also need to fill out an I-94W?

A: DHS has been coordinating with commercial air and vessel carriers on the development and implementation of messaging capabilities for passenger data transmissions that will enable DHS to provide the carriers with messages pertaining to a passenger's boarding status. A prospective VWP traveler’s ESTA status is a component of a passenger’s boarding status that has been introduced into the plans for implementing messaging capabilities between DHS and the carriers. The implementation of the ESTA program will allow DHS to eventually eliminate the requirement that VWP travelers complete an I-94W prior to being admitted to the United States.

After Jan. 12, 2009, a VWP traveler with a valid ESTA will not be required to complete the paper Form I-94W when arriving on a carrier that is capable of receiving and validating messages pertaining to the traveler’s ESTA status as part of the traveler’s boarding status. Until ESTA is mandatory, however, all VWP travelers applying for admission at a U.S. port of entry, including those VWP travelers who possess a voluntary ESTA authorization, must still present the Form I-94W to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Q: Will I be required to write my answers in English? What if my keyboard doesn’t type in English?

A: Just as the I-94W paper form must be completed in English, you will be required to enter the information required on your ESTA application in English. Your computer should, therefore, be configured to include the U.S. English language with a suitable English font set as a language selection for keyboard input.

If your computer’s operating system is Microsoft Windows 95 or higher and you are unsure as to the English language capabilities of your computer, refer to the following website for information on configuring your computer:

If your computer is using a non-Windows operating system, refer to the documentation or help information provided by your operating system vendor.

Q: Do I ever need to reapply for travel authorization through the ESTA?

A: Yes, there are instances when a new travel authorization via ESTA would be required. If you have acquired a new passport or have had a change in name or other identifying biographical information, a new application must be submitted.

In addition, if your destination address or itinerary should change after your authorization has been approved, you may easily update that information through the ESTA Web site. The ESTA application may be updated to reflect the itinerary for each trip.

ESTA approvals will typically be granted for a period of two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever is sooner. ESTA will provide validity dates upon approval of the application.

Q: What should I do if the information on my passport has changed?

A: If a traveler obtains a new passport or there is a change to the passport information, the individual will be required to apply for a new travel authorization through ESTA.

Q: What should I do if I am not approved for travel through ESTA?

A: If an ESTA application is denied and the traveler wishes to continue with the trip, the traveler will be required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. For more about visa application procedures, please visit

Q: If I am not approved for travel through ESTA, may I reapply?

A: You may reapply for an ESTA after a period of ten days, but please note that unless your circumstances have changed, you will not qualify for an ESTA and will need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In addition, reapplying with false information for the purposes of qualifying for an ESTA could make you permanently ineligible for travel to the U.S.

Q: How do I find out the reason for my ESTA denial?

A: DHS is carefully developing the ESTA program to ensure that only those individuals who are ineligible to travel to the United States under the VWP or those whose travel would pose a law enforcement or security risk will be refused an ESTA. While the ESTA Web site will provide a link to the DHS Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) website, there are no guarantees that a request for redress through DHS TRIP will resolve the VWP ineligibility that caused an applicant’s ESTA application to be denied.

Please note that Embassies and Consulates will not be able to provide information about ESTA denials or resolve the issue that caused the ESTA denial. Embassies and Consulates will be able to process an application for a non-immigrant visa, which, if approved, will be the only way that a traveler whose ESTA application has been denied would be authorized to travel to the U.S.

Q: I was denied an ESTA approval and need to travel tomorrow. Can I get an emergency appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate?

A: Unfortunately, we are unable to guarantee next-day appointments because of varying demand for visas. As a result, we encourage you to apply for an ESTA authorization far in advance of your travel. You may learn more about the appointment process at your nearest consular section by visiting

Q: What about my current, valid visa?

A: Individuals that possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas will not be required to apply for an ESTA.

Q: Can I apply for an ESTA authorization if I was previously refused admission to theUnited States under the VWP?

A: Travelers who have been refused admission to the United States will not be eligible for an ESTA approval and must visit for information on applying for a visa to travel to the United States.

Q: If I was previously denied a U.S. visa, can I apply for an ESTA authorization and travel under the VWP?

A: Travelers who have been denied a U.S. visa are not eligible for VWP travel to the United States and must visit for information on applying for a visa to travel to the United States.

Q: How is CBP ramping up to accommodate the influx of applications – can the system process 15 million applications? Is CBP hiring more staff?

A: The ESTA system will be designed to accommodate applications from all VWP travelers. CBP will be staffed accordingly to process the applications.

Q: How does ESTA mitigate VWP security risks?

A: ESTA will support the mitigation of VWP security risks by enabling DHS to determine, prior to an individual boarding a carrier en route to the United States, whether that individual is eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP, and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risks. ESTA counterbalances known VWP vulnerabilities by establishing an additional layer of advance scrutiny that will help DHS frontline personnel to better identify dangerous travelers.

Q: Are there any countries that have a similar system in place for in-bound travelers (Australia)?

A: The Government of Australia has a program that is similar to ESTA, called the Electronic Travel Authority. Like ESTA, travelers to Australia may submit an application electronically through the Electronic Travel Authority website.

Q: How will the U.S. government protect the privacy of ESTA data and who will have access to it?

A: Information submitted by applicants through the ESTA website will be subject to the same strict privacy provisions and controls that have been established for similar traveler screening programs. Access to such information is limited to those with a professional need to know.

Q: How long will ESTA application data be stored?

A: ESTA application data will remain active for the period of time that the ESTA authorization is valid, which is generally two years, or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first. DHS will then maintain this information for an additional year after which it will be archived for twelve years to allow retrieval of the information for law enforcement, national security, and investigatory purposes. Once the information is archived the number of DHS officials with access to it will be even further limited. This retention is consistent both with CBP’s border search authority and with the border security mission mandated for CBP by Congress.

Data linked to active law enforcement lookout records, CBP matches to enforcement activities, and/or investigations or cases, including applications for ESTA that are denied will remain accessible for the life of the law enforcement activities to which they may become related.

The ESTA application data will over time replace the paper I-94W form. In those instances where an ESTA is then used in lieu of a paper I-94W, the ESTA will be maintained in accordance with the retention schedule for I-94W, which is 75 years.

Q: Will DHS share ESTA data with others?

A: The information collected by and maintained in ESTA may be used by other components of DHS on a need to know basis consistent with the component’s mission.

Information submitted during an ESTA application may be shared under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with consular officers of the Department of State (DOS), to assist consular officers in determining whether a visa should be issued to the applicant after an ESTA application has been denied.

Carriers will also receive the information regarding the applicant’s ESTA via the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS)/ APIS Quick Query system.

Information may be shared with appropriate federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign governmental agencies or multilateral governmental organizations responsible for investigating or prosecuting the violations of, or for enforcing or implementing, a statute, rule, regulation, order or license, or where DHS believes information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws. Additionally, information may be shared when DHS reasonably believes such use is to assist in anti-terrorism efforts or intelligence gathering related to national or international security or transnational crime. All sharing will remain consistent with the Privacy Act System of Records Notice, which is available on the DHS Web site.

Q: Will DHS use application data for any purpose other than determining eligibility for an ESTA?

A: DHS will use the information to:
  • to create a system where foreign nationals of VWP countries may apply for and secure advance authorization to travel to the United States under the VWP; and
    to afford DHS the opportunity to fully screen the applicant before granting the authorization to travel to the United States under the VWP.

  • As part of this screening process, information that identifies suspected or known violators of the law and other persons of concern will be provided to the appropriate law enforcement, national security, and/or counterterrorism agency.

Q: When will new countries be admitted to the VWP?

A: Under Section 711 of the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” (9/11 Act), Roadmap countries must meet a number of security-related provisions prior to being admitted to the VWP. DHS will continue to coordinate closely with the Roadmap countries to ensure that all 9/11 Act security provisions are met that will enable their admission into the program.

Additionally, for those Roadmap countries with a non-immigrant visa refusal rate greater than 3 percent, the 9/11 Act enables the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to waive the three percent requirement of the VWP statute, up to a maximum of ten percent, provided the secretary of Homeland Security certifies that:

  • An air exit system is in place that can verify the departure of at least 97 percent of foreign nationals who exit through U.S. airports; and

  • An electronic travel authorization system is in place and is fully operational.

After the Roadmap countries have met the 9/11 Act security provision requirements, and DHS has made the appropriate certifications, the U.S. government will formally announce which countries have been added to the VWP together with guidelines for their nationals and citizens to comply with ESTA.

Q: Is an ESTA required for VWP travel to the U.S. via land borders?

A: ESTA will only be required for visitors traveling under the VWP to the United States via air or sea carriers. Travelers applying for admission to the United States under the VWP at land border ports of entry will continue to be processed as they are today. Neither Canada nor Mexico are VWP member countries, and so ESTA does not apply to Canadian or Mexican nationals’ travel.

Need more info? Click here for a Fact Sheet: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Farewell Old Friend - IATA Retires the Paper Ticket

Posted by Travel Sentry

“Today we say goodbye to an industry icon.” Saturday’s wake for the paper airline ticket laid to rest yet another obsolete dinosaur of the digital age.”Its time is over.” The International Air Transport Association (IATA) ordered its last paper tickets last August and has been phasing out the paper trail culminating in yesterday’s complete conversion to electronic ticketing.

Paper tickets date back to the 1920s when each airline used a different form. As airline travel exploded into a global industry, the need for standardization in systems became apparent. In 1930 IATA developed the first standard hand-written ticket for multiple legs and it was this standard that served the industry into the early 1970s.

In 1972 the airline ticket became automated and enabled travel agents to book flights on virtually any airline. Then another revolutionary step in the evolution of the printed ticket came when a bar code strip was added to the back of the ticket. This heralded the digital age of ticketing by storing the flight and passenger information electronically.

E-ticketing, although first issued in 1994, was slow to go mainstream. By 2004 only 19% of global tickets were electronic. For many of us, the printed airline ticket was a security blanket and represented our right to an airline seat. For most it was hard to accept that without that multi-part ticket a seat was actually going to be awarded.

In 2004 IATA initiated an all out assault on the paper ticket and in four years achieved the conversion to 100 percent electronic ticketing “from our largest hubs to small remote island airports with no electricity,” says IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani.

This doesn’t mean that paper tickets are illegal. Individual airlines and travel agents may still issue a paper ticket although the volume is expected to be very small, minuscule in fact.

The savings to the industry are substantial. Bisignani points out, “A paper ticket costs an average of US$10 to process versus US$1 for an electronic ticket. With over 400 million tickets issued through IATA’s settlement systems annually, the industry will save over US$3 billion each year.”

IATA is now moving into their next phase called “Fast Travel” where it will be possible to check-in, follow baggage tracing and re-book tickets in a convenient self service fashion.”

IATA suggests, “If you have a paper ticket, it’s time to donate it to a museum.”
Adieu, mon ami. Sleep well.