Monthly Archives: August 2007

Spirit Airlines: We’ll Pay You to Fly (Kinda)

Taking a page from the SkyEurope playbook, Spirit Airlines is offering a deal where they’ll pay you up to $4 to fly (you’ll have to pay taxes and fees).  Only a handful of dates are available for each city pair, but you can construct round trip flights where you’ll just pay taxes minus $8.  Cute gimmick.

FOLLOW UP:  Now this is interesting:  that page and that promotion have disappeared from their website.  One of two things happened:  1) Technically, they were having trouble with negative dollar fares (entirely plausible); or 2) Some regulator called and told them they can’t say that they’re paying you to fly when, because of taxes, you’re still paying to fly.  While the first is highly possible, I’m going with number 2.  Any updates are appreciated.

American Airlines: Please Don’t Speak Arabic on the Plane (OK, not really)

An American Airlines flight from San Diego to Chicago was delayed after a (dumb ass) passenger complained to security that several other passengers were speaking Arabic to each other.  After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the passengers were speaking Arabic because they were Iraqis who were in San Diego training Marines about the situation in Iraq.  The guy who turned them in must have felt pretty stupid after that.  Dumb ass.

(Thanks to Charlie for the heads up)

OTR in the News

(Self Promotion Alert):

I’ll be on Bloomberg Radio representing the OTR on Friday morning at 11:37 am Eastern Time chatting about the travel industry.

Be there or be square.

Spirit CEO to Customers: We Owe You Nothing

Spirit’s CEO has gotten a bit of a black eye when this story came out, which features him sending a nasty(ish) response to a couple of disgruntled passengers who had written to him asking for compensation for a flight delay.  What they had asked for was ridiculous, but the CEO, who meant to only send the reply ("we owe him nothing") to someone internally, hit "reply all" by mistake, sending the note to the passenger.  Oops!

(Thanks to Brenda for the heads up…) (Wait, women I’m not related to read this site?  Really?  Who knew?)

Seriously, Wear Your Seatbelts

16 passengers were injured when their Air Mauritius flight to Hong Kong encountered turbulence, sending people flying inside the plane. 

I’ve mentioned a few of these types of stories before, and I’ll keep mentioning them because for all of the things people worry about when they fly (terrorism, whether a plane is "safe") the reality is that turbulence is the biggest thing to worry about when you fly.  And unlike terrorism and plane safety (which you shouldn’t be worried about, and about which you can do nothing), you can control whether you get hurt by turbulence by wearing your seatbelt when you’re sitting down in the plane.  Yes, it sounds obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to the 16 people on this flight.

Carry on.

Security: Please Do Not Bring Holy Water on the Plane

Passengers flying on the Vatican’s new charter flights are being told to leave their holy water at home (basically).  Officials France’s Tarbes-Lourdes Airport told a passenger who was carrying 8 Madonna-shaped bottles filled with holy water that she couldn’t take them on the plane because they were a security threat.  They said this with a straight face.

Fret not, religious pilgrims, because airline officials had the foresight to place small bottles of holy water on the seat of every passenger.  God 1, French Airport Security 0.

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

The worst summer for air travel in recent memory is wrapping up, and we can only hope that the problems that have seemingly plagued every other flight will abate a bit.  I feel that every work related gathering includes tales of flights gone awry.  My wife had another flight canceled last Thursday — every one of her flights from Chicago has been significantly delayed this summer.  She had a colleague sit on the tarmac at weather addled O’Hare airport last Thursday for more than six hours.  Six hours.  You know what’s really pathetic?  That’s not even a story anymore.  Remember the Jetblue "meltdown" in February?  Ha ha ha.  We’re seeing those types of delays all the time this summer.

And sure, there are underlying causes for all of these delays that go beyond "Northwest sucks."  Sure, the air traffic control system is beyond overburdened.  Sure, the weather has been pretty awful this summer.  Sure, the growth in smaller jets has led to more takeoffs and landings.  Sure, airlines can’t let you off the plane when you’ve been stuck on the tarmac for 5 hours.  Sure, LAX couldn’t process any of those international passengers for 10 hours because their computers were just broken.  Sure, Northwest had to cancel a slew of its flights because, it says, its pilots have called out sick.  There are a million reasons.

And those reasons — seemingly all beyond the airlines’ control — are the reasons we haven’t heard any airline apologize for the state of the system.  And if you’ve been stuck in any of these delays and tried to have a reasonable conversation with front line staff, I’m relatively certain the apologies have been few and far between.  I know you’ve heard a lot of, "the weather isn’t our fault" and "we’re doing the best we can."  I’m sure they are.

But that doesn’t matter.  Every single business traveler can tell you that the air travel system, in nearly every regard, is a disaster.  Perhaps it was teetering on the edge for a while.  But this summer showed the foundation is nearly non-existent.  And while airlines can say that it isn’t their fault, it’s time they started apologizing.  Because while a storm isn’t their fault, the fact that a 1 hour delay on the 8am from Minneapolis to Detroit can lead to a 7 hour delay on a flight from Miami to Phoenix IS their fault.  And it’s certainly their fault that they pay frontline staff about $8/hour, causing them to be rather unhappy, a frustration that is not infrequently taken out on the customer who just wants to know if he’s going to get home to see his family that night or not.

And this breakdown in the system, which is caused by the airlines, by the air traffic control system, by low fares, by weather, by security rules, by whatever, is what has caused the public to have zero trust in airlines.  Passengers assume airline staff is lying to them at all times.  That there really isn’t a thunderstorm.  That they aren’t 8th for takeoff.  That the fare isn’t available.  That the flight was canceled for mechanical reasons.  All lies.  Or so people think.

Which isn’t to say that there have been no signs of humanity out there.  Today’s NY Times has an article about pilots and gate agents on several flights who ordered pizza for their passengers, who had been stuck on the tarmac for hours.  Bravo.

But really — that’s what it’s come to?  A poorly paid gate agent paying out of her pocket for pizza because their multi-billion dollar employer says that a 5 hour delay isn’t their fault?  That’s where we are?

It’s time we stop talking about fault and start talking about fixing.  And even before that, I think everyone who has flown this summer deserves an apology for the way the last 12 weeks have been handled.  I’m certain that everyone has tried their best, but the underlying assumptions – that it’s OK to make people sit on a runway for 6 hours without feeding them because that’s the only way to ensure they won’t lose their place in the takeoff line – are crazy. 

Of course passengers haven’t been perfect either, treating frontline workers poorly, complaining about the level of service they receive on a $59 flight from New York to Florida, thinking that everything revolves around them.  Shame on us, too.

With the end of the summer just days away, it’s time for a fresh start.  We’ll pretend the last 12 weeks didn’t really happen if we can just get a promise that it won’t happen again.  And an apology wouldn’t hurt either…sorry seems to be the hardest word.

OTR on Vacation

The OTR offices are closed for a late-August vacation.  We’ll be back on Tuesday.  See you then!

American’s Crazy Cheap Fares to Central America

Since Spirit has invaded American’s south Florida turf, AA has launched a number of fare sales designed to annoy them.  They announced another yesterday, including these fares:

Fort Lauderdale or Miami to:

Nassau, Bahamas: $34
Port-Au-Prince, Haiti: $69
San Pedro Sula, Honduras: $59
Managua, Nicaragua & San Jose, Costa Rica: $69

Fares are good midweek through December (for the most part).

To be fare, Spirit has low fares in this range quite frequently, but they don’t offer the far superior schedule American has (nor does American have 2 1/2 hour red eyes from Central America — I’m certain you really don’t want to leave Managua at 1am to arrive in Miami 2.5 hours later.)

Delta Names New CEO

You’ll can certainly read more about this elsewhere, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Delta has named former Northwest CEO Richard Anderson as their new chief executive.  Anderson is known for making tough but fair decisions, though Northwest lost a nice chunk o’ change under his leadership.  Although I’m not expecting a Delta/Northwest linkup, I would expect them to take a page from Northwest’s playbook and expand their Asian services.

I’m always curious, though, for an industry that consistently loses a ton of money, why do airlines keep choosing CEOs from within the industry?