Monday, November 30, 2009

U.S. Airports Ask for Increase in PFC Tax Included in Airline Tickets

Posted by Travel Sentry

Attention U.S. airline passengers …

If you have been waiting to see where the next new fee or increase in fees would come from, wait no more. The next shoe to drop may come, not from the airlines themselves, but from the airports.

U.S. airports are lobbying Congress to increase the limit on the “passenger facility charge” that passengers pay as part of their airline tickets. With fewer fliers and escalating construction costs, airports are suffering difficulties staying in the black.

USA Today
reports that the “passenger facility charge” funds the building of runways, terminals and gates. The charge is currently at $4.50 for each leg of a trip with an upper cap of $18 per round trip. Airports are requesting an increase to $7.50 per leg with an overall cap indexed to the inflationary cost of construction.

A bill in the House to reauthorize the FAA proposes an increase to $7 a leg, but a Senate committee has voted to keep the per leg cost at $4.50.

Airlines, already under fire from passengers for the plethora of add-on fees, oppose the increase.

"All we're trying to do is keep up with inflation," says Todd Hauptli of the American Association of Airport Executives. He argues that the purchasing power of the facility charge has fallen by about 50% since 2000.

Increasing the cap to $7 "would impose an additional and unwarranted $2 billion-per-year tax increase on commercial passengers," James May, CEO of the Air Transport Association, the trade group representing most airlines, wrote to Congress earlier this year. "With airport revenue eclipsing record levels ... the imposition of an increased PFC tax is not only unwarranted, but will also further reduce demand for travel."

Airports have to apply for approval to the FAA for each project that will be funded by facility charge funds. They also use their own revenue from bonds and FAA grants to fund construction.

Funds from the passenger facility charge are supposed to be used only for construction projects that enhance safety, security or capacity, reduce noise or increase air carrier competition, according to the FAA. USA Today

Friday, November 27, 2009

Zagat's 2009 Air Travel Ratings - The Winners and Losers

Posted by Travel Sentry

The Airline Oscar results are in.

Zagat released the results of its 2009 Airline Survey last week, covering 16 domestic and 73 international airlines, as well as 30 domestic airports. The survey includes the opinions of 5,895 seasoned frequent fliers and travel professional who collectively took 97,600 flights in the past year.

Each airline was rated on its first and economy class service for both domestic and international flights. The ratings were based on comfort, service, food and company website as well as value, on-time performance, luggage policy and in-flight entertainment.

Here are Zagat's Survey results:

Economy: This is the third annual Zagat airline survey and eighth survey since 1990. Not unexpectedly, this survey shows a decline in flying following the economic downturn. Fully 33% of the respondents reported flying less often while only 7% said more. Confirming this decline, surveyors indicated that they were taking an average of 19.7 flights per year in 2007; that bottomed out to 16.3 in 2008 and ended up at 16.6 in 2009. The proportion of flights for business declined from 64% in 2007 to 61% in 2009 with leisure flights going from 35% to 39% in 2009.

Bookings: When it comes to booking flights, travel agents continued to lose ground: their share of bookings declined from 17% in 2007 to 8% this year; booking directly through the airlines' websites rose from 60% to 64% during the same period. Travel websites were flat at 15% – a nod to special corporate incentives, which may explain why booking through work increased from 2% to 8%.

High Flyers: Looking at the rankings of the airlines it's clear that the major traditional U.S. airlines have been falling behind. For example, American, Delta, United, and US Air received overall ratings (combined average of Comfort, Service and Food) between 9 and 11 on the 30-point Zagat scale for their domestic economy class service. Of the major traditional U.S. airlines only Continental broke out of the pack with an overall rating of 15. Relatively new airlines such as JetBlue and Virgin America – flying newer planes with younger crews got much higher ratings (19 and 21, respectively). Virgin America received a 24 for its premium service. As always, ratings for international flights were substantially higher overall. While Continental's international performance scored best among the U.S. majors, category winners are Singapore (24), Emirates (22) and All Nippon Airways (21) respectively.

Choice Factors:
Surveyors' most important considerations in choosing an airline are the following: direct routes (68%), ticket price (61%), seat comfort/leg-room (51%), past experience (49%), time of day (48%) and frequent flier programs (42%). For budget-conscious fliers, Continental and Southwest are this year's winners for Best Value among international and domestic performance, respectively. "The newer airlines continue to do well in the survey. Being less expensive to operate, they can therefore afford to provide better service," said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. "That airlines like Singapore, Emirates and Cathay Pacific do so well is a no-brainer – government support. They big question is how Continental does so well without any special advantages."

The full list of winners ranked by overall score includes the following:

Large Domestic Premium Class:

21 Continental Airlines

17 American Airlines tied with Delta Air Lines

16 United Airways

15 AirTran Airways

Large Domestic Economy Class:

19 JetBlue Airways

15 Continental Airlines tied with Southwest Airlines

12 AirTran Airways

11 Delta Air Lines

Midsize Domestic Premium Class:

24 Virgin America

21 Hawaiian Airlines

20 Alaska Airlines

Midsize Domestic Economy Class:

21 Virgin America tied with Midwest Airlines

16 Hawaiian Airlines

International Premium Class:

28 Singapore Airlines

26 Cathay Pacific Airways tied with Emirates Airlines
25 Air New Zealand tied with Virgin Atlantic Airways

International Economy Class:

24 Singapore Airlines

22 Emirates Airline

21 ANA (All Nippon Airways) tied with Air New Zealand and Thai Airways

That's Entertainment:
This year, surveyors awarded honors for top in-flight entertainment to JetBlue domestically, and Virgin Atlantic internationally.

Best on the Ground:
When it comes to the overall airport quality, Portland International was rated No. 1 by surveyors, edging out last year's winner, Tampa International, which is No. 2 this year. Rounding out the top five airports are Detroit Wayne County, Orlando International and Minneapolis/St. Paul International. New York's LaGuardia Airport placed last with surveyors for the third straight survey.

Going Green:
As in other fields, American consumers seem eco-friendly with 28% saying that they would be more likely to fly a certain airline if it introduced more "green" practices. When asked which domestic airlines operate in the most "green" manner, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, Continental and Delta, in order, landed the top five positions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Timely Airport Security Advice for Holiday Travel

Posted by Travel Sentry

Just in the nick of time for holiday travel, Smarter Travelers offers up some useful advice for upcoming holiday travel. "Waiting in line at the airport can be a frustrating experience, but don't let long waits in security put a damper on your holiday spirit. Use these 10 simple tips to breeze through airport checkpoints and be on your way in no time (unless your flight is delayed, that is)."
  • Know what 3-1-1 means. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations restrict the amount of liquids you can take on the plane. Each passenger is allowed to fill a single, quart-sized, clear plastic bag with 3-ounce (technically 3.4-ounce) containers of liquids. Exceptions are made for medications, baby food, and breast milk, but these items must be declared.
  • Pack carry-ons neatly. Use clear zip-top bags to help organize your clothes, pack in layers so screeners can easily see what is inside, and carefully coil electronic cords. If Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) can't tell what is in your bag from an X-ray, your bags will likely face an extra manual search.
  • Pack holiday goods appropriately. If you're flying home for the holidays, don't wrap gifts since TSOs may have to unwrap them for inspection. Also, liquid and gel-like foods such as cranberry sauce, gravy, and salad dressing will be confiscated, so ship them ahead or put them in your checked bag. Cakes and pies are allowed, but may require additional screening.Use the exact name on your ID. The TSA Secure Flight program is being phased in and will require that the name on your ID match your reservation exactly, as well as extra information such as date of birth and gender. Although small differences between your ID and boarding pass shouldn't be problematic right now, consistency will help minimize your time in line.
  • Schedule enough wait time. Some individual airports offer real-time wait length estimates for security checkpoints on their websites. The TSA also has a Wait Time Calculator that uses checkpoint line history to offer estimated wait times, although it was under construction at press time. Currently, there are a few smartphone apps that can provide you with the TSA's historic averages, including TripCase (Blackberry, iPhone, and Windows Mobile) and TSAwait (iPhone), although the information may not be up-to-date. Keep in mind these are only approximate times for security lanes, not for check-in lines.
  • Dress for success. Before you head to the airport, empty your pockets of loose change, wear minimal jewelry, and avoid wearing a belt so you have fewer items to remove for the metal detector. Wear shoes that are easy to slip off and on. And if your travels include someplace cold, try to wear one jacket you can remove easily.
  • Use a checkpoint-friendly laptop case. Computers don't need to be removed from TSA-approved bags, saving you time. Acceptable cases must meet TSA standards, which require a laptop-only section that lies flat on the conveyor belt; has no pockets; and has no metal. If your bag is not TSA approved, store your computer in an easily accessible pocket so you can quickly place it on the belt.
  • Use line time efficiently. Most likely, no matter when you get to the airport you will have to stand in a security line for some time. While you're waiting, take off your coat and watch, put your phone and loose change in your carry-on, and have your 3-1-1 bag out and ready. This way when you reach the front of the line you can quickly put your items in the bin.
  • Be polite. Agitated or argumentative passengers are more likely to seem suspicious and may require more screening.
  • Choose your line carefully. Many airports now offer three lines for travelers: Expert, Casual, and Family. If you're traveling with little ones or have liquids that must be declared, choosing the latter will help minimize stress. If you've followed all the above suggestions, feel free to choose the Expert lane!

How Accurate are Airport Baggage Scales?

Posted by Travel Sentry

Along with checked bag fees comes the angst of “the weigh in” at the baggage check counter. You’ve put your bag on your scales at home and you believe that you are legal without suffering overweight fees in addition to the checked bag fee.

But home scales can sometimes report varied readings with repeated weigh-ins. Couple the less than perfect scales most of us use at home with an airport baggage scale that is not perfectly calibrated and well, the result can be not very happy passengers stuck with an extra weight fee.

In practice however, airlines rarely charge customers if baggage weight is within one pound of acceptable limits. When readings are close many airline employees look the other way. Nevertheless as checked bag fees with weight restrictions soar, baggage scales should be inspected just as other commodity scales like gas pumps, grocery store produce and meat scales, are periodically checked by inspectors.

The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs recently reported that eight percent of the baggage scales at New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia airports failed an accuracy check. Last year the fail rate for all New York City baggage scales was 12 percent with inaccuracies of more than one pound.
Overall, 92% of the 608 luggage scales at Kennedy passed the department’s accuracy test, which requires that airport scales cannot read inaccurately by more than one pound. At LaGuardia, 93% of the 133 luggage scales at LaGuardia passed city inspection the first try. After airlines had five days to fix the inaccurate scales, all scales at JFK passed and only two scales at LaGuardia failed and were condemned. Wall Street Journal

Monday, November 23, 2009

Best Spots for Plane Spotting

Posted by Travel Sentry

Harriet Baskas in her column for USA Today brings us some great suggestions for the best "plane spotting" sites around the country. Just bring your own blanket, your binoculars and cameras and look out - I mean up.

These insider spots outside airport terminals offer great views of aviation activity. "Many suggestions came from dedicated plane spotters, aviation enthusiasts and professional photographers, but some tips came from frequent travelers who just get a thrill from getting a good close look at jets as they take off and land."
Al Mueller, a retired travel agent from Guerneville, Calif., believes that "the very best close-up observation points are no longer accessible," perhaps because many spots near airports were declared off-limits after 9/11. Still, he's discovered that Bayfront Park in Millbrae is a great place to watch planes coming and going from San Francisco International Airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport doesn't have an official viewing area, but Joel Lesser, an Internet developer from Johns Creek, Ga., shared the locations of what he believes are "the best plane spotting locations at ATL that are legal to access." In addition to heading to the recycling center or sewage treatment plant near ATL, Lesser says many folks pay the hourly parking fee ($1/hour for the first 2 hours) just so they can plane-spot from the top floors of the airport's south and north parking garages.

Garage rooftops seem to be popular viewing spots at many airports around the country, but in Washington, D.C., the hands-down favorite spot to watch airplanes is at Gravelly Point, a park area about a mile from Reagan Washington National Airport. The park is officially part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Jesse Reynolds of the National Park Service explains that Gravelly Point is such a big draw because one side of the park is adjacent to the northeast boundary of the airport and "planes essentially fly right over the top of your head." That's the part that thrills Troy Barbour from Fairfax Station, Va. who works as a project manager for a global defense contractor. "After the planes pass over, you can hear the whooshing sounds of the wing vortexes swirling above you."

You may not be able to get that close to the airplanes at some of the other official and unofficial viewing spots listed below, but you should be able to get close enough to snap some great pictures.

While the reopening of the official outdoor viewing area on top of the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport has been pushed back to at least the end of 2009, an unofficial airport viewing area at nearby Imperial Hill (officially Clutter's Park) remains open and as popular as ever. Located in the neighboring city of El Segundo, the park offers picnic tables and a great view of the southern portion of the airport. The In-N-Out Burger, at 9149 South Sepulveda Blvd., is also a popular LAX viewing spot (and while you're there you may as well sample the legendary burgers).

In addition to the observation gallery inside the terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport there's the outdoor Tom Dixon Aircraft Observation Area on Dorsey Road, along the airport's southern edge. The park has a playground, picnic tables, bicycle racks, and access to the 12.5 mile BWI Trail that encircles the airport.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport's Observation Park, visitors can listen in on communications between the control tower and pilots from an elevated deck that looks out to the airport's longest runway, the new terminal and the general aviation area. Located near the air traffic control tower, about three-quarters of a mile from the terminals, the park also has a playground and a picnic area and is a popular spot for birthday parties and for people waiting to pick up arriving passengers.


Mike Lewis, a media planning supervisor in Chicago, has fond memories of the observation area alongside the main runway at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich. "It's more or less a parking lot with some picnic tables, but the proximity to the airport is great. I still try and go there any time I'm in Grand Rapids visiting family." Located about two and a half miles from the airport entrance, the observation area has portable restroom facilities, picnic tables, and air traffic control communications that can be picked up on the AM radio dial. But the real appeal? The viewing area is just 600 feet from the airport's main runway.

In Las Vegas, it's a sure bet you'll get a great view of planes taking off and landing from the Sunset Viewing Area at McCarran International Airport. It's just south of the airport, off Sunset Road, and looks out to the airport's busiest east/west runways. Here again, visitors can dial up air traffic control chatter on the radio.

At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the airplane viewing area is officially called the Family Viewing Area, but you don't need to have kids in tow to enjoy the one-acre spot just east of the airport entrance. Located near the 9,000-foot east runway, the observation area has picnic tables and, according to airport's website, recommended viewing hours: mornings from 6 until 11 a.m.; mid-afternoons from 1:30-3 p.m.; and in the evenings starting at around 7:30 p.m.

At the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport you'll find the Ron Gardner Aircraft Observation Area on the west side of the airport, on the opposite side of the airfield from the terminals. Many people watch aircraft activity here from their air-conditioned cars, but if you roll down the windows you'll get to hear the communications between the pilots and the air traffic control tower from speakers installed at the site.

In 2008, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport relocated its popular Founders Plaza observation point to a new and larger spot on the northwest quadrant of the sprawling airport grounds. The new location offers some spectacular views of aircraft traffic on the airport's west side and provides amenities that include picnic tables, telescopes, canopies and covered seating, display panels with historic information, parking for tour buses, and speakers broadcasting air traffic control communications.
PHOTO GALLERY: Airport observation decks

Flying Above Everest on a U-2 Spy Plane

Posted by Travel Sentry

Hat tip to Professional Pilot News for this fascinating video. James May, of BBC Top Gear fame, rides on a Lockheed U-2 spy plane. The view is spectacular at 70,000 feet as the sky above turns black.

Click here if video does not appear below.

More on the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane from

The Lockheed U-2 spy plane was an ultra light glider-like plane designed by the Lockheed Skunk Works for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. It's mission was to photography soviet military installations. Originally, it was hoped that the plane could fly so high that the Russians could not even detect it. As it turned out, although the Russians could see the U-2 on radar, it flew so high that it was out of range of their missiles and aircraft. There was nothing they could do about it.

Because the Russians could not shoot it down, the U-2 flew freely over all of Russia for four years taking pictures of all the Russians' high security military equipment. Finally, after four years of providing the US with the most valuable information during the entire Cold War, one was lost to Soviet action.

Surprisingly, it was not actually shot down by the Russians. The Russians sent up a plane to shoot down the U-2. It couldn't reach it, so it shot straight up. At the same time the Russians were also firing missiles at the U2. None of them could hit the U-2 but one did hit a Russian plane! It exploded and the shock waves broke off the U-2's fragile wings. The Russians captured the pilot and plane ending the missions over Russia for the U-2.

The loss of the U-2 resulted in an international conflict. In the wake of it, the controversial aircraft were assigned to the Air Force. Today it is used for high altitude research.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Real Time FAA Glitch Freezes Flights

Posted by Travel Sentry

Thursday, Nov. 19 ’09. It promises to be an ugly day in many U.S. airports, especially Atlanta International as widespread flight cancellations wreak havoc because of a problem with the FAA system that collects airlines' flight plans.
Answers are still forthcoming from the FAA as to how many flights are being affefted and when the problem will be resolved. But for the time being, prepare yourself with a favorite stoic mindset and sit back if you are planning to fly today.
Reports assure that there is not danger to flights already in the air, and flights are still taking off and landing, just not at light speed. The FAA computer glitch with the automated system is requiring that flight plans be inputted manually.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, has been particularly affected.
If you plan to fly today, check the status of the flights online before going to airports.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cash Registers in the Sky

Posted by Travel Sentry

If you were a retailer what would be the easiest way to keep customers in your space? That’s right – lock the doors!!! How easy!

That is exactly the philosophy of GuestLogix, a Canadian company that sells credit card readers and sales software to the airline industry. The company’s marketing materials describe onboard retail as unique because “operators are able to lock their doors with their shoppers still inside.” A company executive says the jetliner is a huge retail opportunity.

Would you be offended if flight attendants or gate agents became live commercials promoting brands from resorts or car rentals while getting you settled on your flight? Tie-ins with seatback advertisements, brochures and airline websites or social media sites may drive you crazy but the marketing pros spell such as revenue generators for airlines seeking $’s under every seat.

Airlines know they have to be careful not to go too far least they alienate their passenger base. But their approach very carefully pushs the envelope. Daily. So by the time a couple of months pass by, you look back and low and behold, passengers have swallowed yet another revenue generating scheme, hook, line and sinker.
Charles Flateman, vice president of marketing for the Schubert Organization, said in an interview that he had been talking to GuestLogix about selling tickets to Broadway shows and other live performances. The Walt Disney Company is discussing making theme park tickets available on airplanes as well. The credit card readers do not now transmit information in real time, so it will require a “trick of technology” to assure that show tickets sold during a flight still exist in the theater when the plane is on the ground, Mr. Flateman said.

“It’s our desire to market and merchandise and conclude ticket sales wherever our customers are,” he said. “If that’s at 35,000 feet en route to New York, that’s wonderful and we’re excited by the prospect.” New York Times
While new to the large American airlines, Ireland’s discount airline Ryanair, has been selling travel services since the early ‘90s to subsidize their ticket price and boost the bottom line. “Fundamentally we’re an airline with a retail tail,” said Michael Cawley, deputy chief executive of Ryanair. “We can expand our business by lowering fares and any additional profitability means we can grow our business.”

But the job of selling falls to flight attendants. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants said hold on just a minute in a letter to American Airlines. They warned that sales commissions with Sky Mall or any other vendor must be negotiated as part of the labor contract with the airline. The weary flight attendant takes on yet another job in addition to server, safety monitor, janitor and doctor.

“There are a myriad issues surrounding SkyMall,” said Diana Dunn, a member of the union’s negotiating committee. “What is the commission they want to pay us? What if a customer returns something, how are they going to get the money back?”

The New York Times reports other concerns that “retail commissions may be used to replace salaries.” Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants says “If airlines are encouraging flight attendants to participate in selling of products and services, it needs to be done when the flight attendant has completed safety and security activities onboard the flight.” Ms. Caldwell said. “It’s definitely a proceed with caution type of thing.”

While sky-high retail will not solve all the financial problems of U.S. airlines, it will, along with revenue generated fees, substantially help the bottom line. The average amount a passenger spends with an airline after purchasing a ticket is $1, according to GuestLogix. Ryanair’s customers spend on average $15.

Ms. Caldwell of the Association of Flight Attendants said she understood the economics behind the idea. “It doesn’t take an expert to see there are airlines that are not charging what the cost of the service is,” she said. “There is a huge deficit between what a seat costs and what the airline charges.”

Nickel by nickel the airlines look for ways to keep us in the air.

Monday, November 16, 2009

ATA Expects 4 Percent Decline in Air Travel Over 12-Day Thanksgiving Holiday Period

Posted by Travel Sentry

Despite deep discounts in airline ticket prices the Air Transport Association (ATA), the industry trade association for the leading U.S. airlines, is expecting fewer travelers over the 12-day Thanksgiving holiday period. Both airlines and hotels face a bleak outlook for the holidays.

Seems like a call to action. Pack those bags and book those reservations and hit the road for a stress-free holiday vacation.

But enough about us. Back to the reality for the travel industry. The ATA expects a four percent year-over-year decline in air travel during the Thanksgiving period.
“It is increasingly apparent that the economic head winds facing the airlines and their customers are anything but behind us. ...” said ATA President and CEO James C. May.

As is typical with the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, flights are likely to be quite full, driven this year by the decrease in available seats and deep discounting, rather than by robust demand. Carriers have cut back their schedules in response to economic pressures, with 2009 capacity reductions the deepest since 1942. In addition, recently released government data show that average domestic airfares in the second quarter of 2009 fell to their lowest level since 1998, dropping 13 percent from the second quarter of 2008 – the largest year-to-year decline on record.

ATA is expecting the federal government once again to open up Special Activity Airspace to help ease congestion.

May encouraged passengers to pack light, to check their flight status before leaving for the airport, and to remember to arrive early.

“During this busy travel period especially, passengers should plan ahead and provide plenty of time for airport check-in and security screening,” said May.

In addition, ATA encourages passengers to consult its resource page for recommended travel tips.

In particular, passengers are encouraged to keep in mind the following:

  • All passengers are strongly encouraged to review the Web site of the airline on which they are flying for respective policies, amenities, customer service plans and flight-operation alert notifications.
  • Remember that TSA requires that air travelers follow its 3-1-1 Rule for liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags when passing through security checkpoints.
  • Passengers should be aware that they will be asked to provide their date of birth and gender when making a reservation, as part of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Secure Flight program. Travelers should expect no change in the travel experience, however, as a result of this security initiative.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Luggage Line Just for Women

Posted by Travel Sentry

What would make luggage exclusive to women? The color PINK for starters.

The women behind TravelGirl Magazine are the creators of a new line of luggage just for women. The magazine and the luggage is designed to make travel a little easier for women. Online sales of the TG luggage will begin in December as well as on QVC’s television shopping channel.

“This is designed by women, for women,” Renee Werbin, TG publisher said. “This luggage makes it easier to pack and has all the bells and whistles that women are looking for.”

That includes zippered and attached containers and bags that fit in the luggage, as well as bags with hangers so a traveler can easily unpack and hang items at her destination. “And it’s lightweight, so women can lift it and carry it,” Werbin said.

There will be two luggage lines initially with sets priced under $130. “The three-piece roller board set comes in raspberry and cream or black and white and the Savvy Six collection, a six-piece rolling duffle bag collection, comes in pink and orange or black and white.”

Werbin and business partners Stephanie Oswald and Robyn Werbin launched the Atlanta-based bimonthly magazine in June 2003.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle
reports that nationally, luggage sales fell 18.2 percent by volume and 21 percent by value in 2008, according to the most recent report from the Travel Goods Association in Princeton, N.J., which tracks luggage and travel goods markets.

U.S. consumers spent $19.9 billion on all travel goods in 2008, a decline of 14.9 percent from record sales in 2007, the association reported.

One Atlanta merchant, Mori Luggage & Gifts, reported an upswing in sales of luggage and travel goods in October and feels that the worst days for the industry is behind us.

One of the hotter-selling luggage sizes is a wide-body 20-inch carry-on, Mori said, particularly now that the maximum size for carry-on luggage on international flights is 20 inches. Prior to that, it had been 22 inches.

And more people are carrying on luggage as airlines have increased fees for checked bags, Mori said. “That’s what’s driving demand,” he said. “Lightweight luggage is also in, and colorful luggage is also selling.”

Go girls!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who Gets to Board First?

Posted by Travel Sentry

Virgin America has come up with yet a new twist on “Who Gets to Board First”. VA is testing a policy that allows passengers without carry-on bags to be seated first. Hand bags and personal items like laptops are not considered in the equation.

For now the new policy is being tested only on certain flights out of San Francisco. VA’s reasoning is that passengers sans carry-ons can take their seats quickly and not clog the aisles trying to claim overhead bin space.

Virgin America charges $15 per checked bag. The new boarding policy may bolster their checked bag revenue which is considerable. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that in the first six months of this year, airlines collected $1.24 billion in baggage fees.

This will be one to watch.

Who will be the first airline to charge for boarding first - monetizing “Who Gets to Board First.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monetizing Wi-Fi on the Fly

Posted by Travel Sentry

In-flight Wi-Fi is “up in the air” when it comes to what the airlines will charge passengers. Some airlines are charging, some are not, and some are completely arbitrary giving free connection passes based on “being in the right place at the right time.”

Outfitting planes with Wi-Fi is not a cheap proposition and airlines are trying to figure out the sweet spot. For some airlines, at least for now, the price is free. But you can’t take “free” to the bank. Will the airlines blanket Wi-Fi charges as soon as enough passengers are hooked by the convenience of being connected in-flight? Rest assured, the answer is yes.

A recent study conducted by the Wi-Fi Alliance and Wakefield Research, found that “frequent fliers and business travelers value in-flight Wi-Fi above meal service, free movies and other perks. The research also showed that 76 percent of the respondents said they would choose an airline based on the availability of in-flight Wi-Fi.”

The current Wi-Fi offerings are listed below compiled by MSNBC, but count on policies changing often and without notice.
American Airlines - Through Saturday, Nov. 11, passengers on Wi-Fi equipped American planes (all Boeing 767-200s and some MD-80s) can use the service for free if they sign in with the code 2010LEXUSLS. The free pass comes courtesy, unsurprisingly, of Lexus.

AirTran Airways - From now through the end of the year — and perhaps longer — in-flight Wi-Fi is complimentary on AirTran flights on the competitive route between Baltimore and Boston. “We think free Wi-Fi gives AirTran the competitive advantage on that route,” says spokesperson Christopher White. All of the airline’s 138 airplanes are equipped for the service, and anyone who buys one session before Dec. 31 gets a free session they can use on another AirTran flight before January 31, 2010.

Delta Air Lines - The “First Timers are Free” campaign currently has no set end date, so anyone who signs up for a new Gogo account through Delta gets their first Wi-Fi session for free. Delta spokesperson Paul Skrbec says the airline is also providing promotional trial codes to customers waiting in some airport gate areas and sending targeted offers to some members of its SkyMiles frequent-flier program.

United Airlines - Through Nov. 15, in-flight service is complimentary on some United jets flying between New York’s JFK and San Francisco or Los Angeles The airline will begin charging when Aircell completes installing the Gogo service on all 13 planes flying the routes.

Virgin America - And in what is perhaps the most generous offer available, Google is sponsoring free Wi-Fi for everyone on all Virgin America flights between Nov. 10 and Jan. 15, 2010.
The promotional opportunities, like the Lexus offering by American and Google on Virgin America, can reduce or eliminate the user cost for Wi-Fi. MSNBC reports, “While airlines aren’t spilling the beans about upcoming promotions, most say fresh offers and promotions are in the pipeline.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

EU Crys "Foul" Over Additional $10 U.S. Entry Fee

Posted by Travel Sentry

The European Parliament recently demanded that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security drop a new proposed entry fee of $10 (euro 6.73) to be imposed when travelers enter the U.S.

Europeans are crying “Foul!”

European Union citizens have to complete an online visa waiver form before they travel to the U.S. This online registration is coupled with a $10 fee at the time of registration. Many EU officials feel the additional entry fee is excessive and amounts to a “new visa restriction.”

From MSNBC: "The measures ... are even harder than they were under the previous (U.S.) government and that for us is a contradiction that we in the European Parliament cannot accept," Austrian lawmaker Ernst Strasser told Napolitano during a special hearing with her. "We really have to insist on our European values, that European data protection laws and European civil liberties also have to be taken account of."

Congress passed legislation for the new fee in September, but Obama has not signed off.

European lawmakers are also demanding that Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, also make sure that the transatlantic passenger data that is transferred under an anti-terror pact between the EU and U.S., is not being misused.

“Napolitano said she could accept a review of the existing transfer of airline passenger data deal, but rejected calls to drop the new fee,” reports Associated Press.

"Unlike many of your countries, the United States does not have a separate agency to promote tourism and travel, and so the goal of this is to use that to actually fund and help tourists and travelers who wish to come to the United States," Napolitano said. "In that respect I think that it is not only reasonable but in these days of reduced government budgets, it's the way to fund that."

Background from MSNBC:
The United States began requiring people who do not need visas to enter America to register online at least 72 hours before travel and to renew their registration every two years. Under the proposed plan, visitors would have to pay the $10 fee when they register.

On top of this, Europeans along with many other international visitors to the U.S. face stepped up identity and travel checks that Washington imposed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Visitors already have to provide fingerprints to U.S. border guards when entering the country, and airlines they use forward data, including passenger names, addresses, seat numbers, credit card information and travel details.
The EU says lighten up. No such requirements are made by the EU to Americans visiting European countries.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How to Handle a Jabber-Meister at 30,000 Feet

Posted by Travel Sentry

What should you do if you find yourself sitting beside Chatty Cathy on a five hour flight? My first thought would be to slit my wrists, but there are alternatives.

Some people just can't take a hint, whether it is subtle as a nose in a book, or as blatant as a chilly, short response that would stop a normal person in their tracks.

The chronic talkers are so insistent on having a conversation that you think they must have been in solitary confinement for years. But the truth of the matter is, some people just can’t help themselves. If they are awake, the tongue is wagging – it’s like trying to stop a train.

CNN reported on a recent survey by Egencia, a corporate travel management company, that said 24 percent of business travelers like talking to people on planes. So what about the other 76 percent? “When trying to signal they want to be left alone, half said they start reading, 38 percent listen to music and 15 percent pretend they are sleeping.”

The headphone trick is fairly effective as well.

Who should we turn to for proper etiquette when faced with the incessant jabber-meister? How about the Emily Post Institute. Here are a few tips offered up by the Post experts:
To chat or not to chat? There is no obligation to talk with the stranger seated next to you, but some eye contact, a smile or a nod can serve as basic acknowledgment of that person. If you'd like to start a conversation, remember that some people may be shy or exhausted.

Stick to basic subjects. "Avoid things that are overly personal," Post advised. "Avoid hot button things like politics. ... You're in a small space, you don't want to set off any fuses."

Good topics? Your destination, the movie that just played or the book the person is reading.
Early clues that your neighbor has had enough. When people begin answering questions with a question or respond with "uh huh, sure, mmm hmm," it's time to back off, Post said.

Signaling you've had enough. "I like to do the long, slow unwinding of my iPod ear buds," Post said. "It gives them plenty of time to recognize where I'm going without just cutting them off short. Then when they take a break, I say it's been great chatting, I'm going to turn on the movie for a bit or I'm going to go back to my book now."

Be polite but firm. Post advises against telling the person directly that you don't want to talk. Instead, turn your attention to another task such as reading or doing work.

Networking in the air. Looking for business contacts is fine, as long as you're not pushy. Being overly aggressive can damage a potential business relationship.

Talking with a colleague. When sitting next to a co-worker, a boss or someone you supervise, chat at least a little, Post said. "If they're senior to you, follow their lead. Let them set the tone for how much to chat. If you're on more equal footing, it's going to be a bit more give and take."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Travel Association Works to Mend Coporate Travel Image

Posted by Travel Sentry

The travel industry is in a public relations mode to recreate themselves. They are promoting themselves as the maker of profits for companies, promoter of tax revenues and the creator of jobs. And how are they going to play the role as a mender of the economy?

Business travel and corporate conventions, conferences and retreats.

The U.S. Travel Association is not seeking to create business travel, of course. They just want to bring it back into the folds of proper corporate culture. The recession put the skids on much of the business travel and convention business as public attitude changed toward what it considered to be excessive “perks.”

AP reports that “Geoff Freeman, U.S. Travel Association senior vice president said factors that include the recession, a spurt of public anger over extravagant business travel and politicians who lashed out at the travel industry resulted in $2 billion worth of events and meetings being canceled when the rancor was at its peak early this year.”

Freeman blames the travel and convention industry itself as being part of the problem. “If over the years the industry had done a better job of articulating why it is a vital economic force, the damage likely would not have been so great, Freeman said Wednesday at a national marketing forum organized by the association.”

Freeman feels the industry set themselves up for the massive corporate pull-back."We had left ourselves exposed, terribly exposed. We were the folks that were an easy target."

The Travel Association said the corporate travel and convention business provides benefits well beyond the obvious airline and hotel revenues, but those added economic benefits are not being promoted. The emphasis should be focused also on economic impact on the community as a whole by increasing sales taxes, spill-over revenues to small businesses and the creation of jobs - not the sapping of city services.
Citing research by Oxford Economics, a consulting firm that collaborates with Oxford University's business college, Freeman said that for every dollar companies spend on business travel, they get an average of $12.50 in revenue and $3.80 in profit.

For the corporations, conventions are particularly beneficial in these times when employees and associates are nervous and often overworked due to widespread layoffs. Bringing the corporate “family” together engages the employees and inspires the company as a group.

But for now companies are reluctant to retest the waters by spending on non-necessities which Congress and the public have lambasted as frivolous and excessive the benefits of trips to reward productive employees who are vital to the company’s bottom line.

"Sales and marketing executives know they have to get back in front of their people," says one industry expert.

Wal-Mart understands the importance of these corporate “gatherings”:
Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, didn't hold back this year for its annual meeting, which is webcast and shown on TVs in its thousands of stores. Managers from Walmart properties around the world gather in June for a week of training, culminating with nearly 20,000 people packing a basketball arena for a celebrity-filled cheering session and business meeting.
Source: Associated Press/MSNBC

Sunday, November 1, 2009

United Retires Last 737

Posted by Travel Sentry

For United Airlines it is an end of an era. The Boeing 737 era. Last week United retired its last Boeing 737 with a send-off flight across the country. The 737, flying into the sunset, was appropriately piloted by a retiring pilot, Captain Bob Russo..

United took delivery of its first 737 from Boeing in 1968. The retiring plane was “birthed” in 1988 – a long and distinguished career.

Airlines have been moving to newer fuel-saving jets, particularly since last year’s fuel spike as well as decreasing the size of their fleets because of lower demand. United began phasing out the 737’s last year.

Over the last 51 years, Boeing has delivered more than 6,000 of the planes. But now the newer versions just make more sense.

Russo, who grew up in Chicago, says, "I was a teenager near Midway airport in Chicago and I saw the first 737s take off in 1968 out of Midway. Who would have known that 41 years later I'd be flying the last 737 flight for United?" Russo flew 737s for much of his 31 years with the airline.