Monthly Archives: July 2008

When LaGuardia Is and Isn’t The Same as Newark

No stories from us on Friday as we head to beautiful, incredibly-hard-to-get-to Springfield Illinois.

My only airline-related note about this trip is that I am flying American out of Newark on a reward ticket and I wanted to change my flight to depart from LaGuardia (American allows you to change reward tickets for free if you’re not changing the cities.) Since Newark and LaGuardia are considered “co-terminals” (ie, they’re considered the same city when booking a round-trip ticket), I thought I could make that change without paying the $150 fee. Several supervisors and I whole lot of confusion later, I was told I could not. One person said I could standby at LaGuardia. One res agent said I could not standby at LaGuardia. One got increasingly frustrated as I asked how it could be a co-terminal when it comes to roundtrip ticketing, but not co-terminals when it comes to changing the reward ticket. It led to this conversation:

Res agent: It’s only considered the same city if you’re booking an open-jaw ticket, not a roundtrip ticket. This isn’t an open-jaw ticket.

Me: I’m flying out of Newark and into LaGuardia – if that’s considered a roundtrip ticket, why can’t I change the city?

Agent: Because it’s only the same city if you’re booking an open-jaw, not when you’re changing the reservation.

Me: (nicely) That doesn’t really make any sense.

Agent: I spoke with my supervisor, and that’s what she said.

Me: Can you give me an example of when that would apply?

Agent: No sir, I can’t.

And really, that’s when it hit me: Nobody knows the rules. That’s why I’m fascinated with this industry. The rules are so complex that nobody knows them. And just when you think you know the rules, you find out you’re wrong. Some things are incredibly flexible (for 50k miles you can fly to Paris and back from Budapest on a reward ticket without any problem), yet some things are incredibly inflexible (Newark and LaGuardia are both considered the same city and different cities.) Some things are generous (note Delta’s now-expired 9,999 bonus miles for a $25 Avis rental), and some things are not (Continental’s half-elite-points policy for cheap tickets not booked on their website). Sometimes an agent will be incredibly helpful (such as when an America West agent let me fly from Columbus to Washington, DC, to see my then-fiance even though my ticket was from Columbus to New York), and sometimes they can be unbelievably stubborn (not allowing standby for free even though the plane is basically empty).

The whole thing is a crapshoot. A game. A gamble. And that’s why so many of us love it. And when you travel frequently, you love it that much more – while hating it at the same time. Think about it – who knows if the agent will charge you $50 for standby, or if they’ll just let you on the plane? Or when you call the night before a flight where you want to standby if the agent will tell you how many seats are left. Or the odds that they’ll fill up. Or if they’ll let you fly into Fort Lauderdale even though your ticket says Miami. Or if you’ll get upgraded. Or what the food will be. Or if there’ll be food. Or whether the flight will take off at all. Or whether you’ll get a hotel room for the canceled flight. Or whether the lounge has free drinks. Or no drinks. Or whether you can open-jaw that reward ticket to Hyderabad while returning from Bangkok. Who the hell knows? You can study this stuff forever, and just when you think you know what’s going to happen – poof! – it all changes.

I’ve heard people refer to “agent roulette” where you just keep calling back until an agent gives you an answer you’re happy to hear. They don’t know the rules either. Sometimes an agent isn’t aware of the whole game, and sometimes they are. Unfortunately sometimes they put a note in your record because they know you’re playing a game. That can backfire on your next round of roulette.

Listen to the words I’ve been using: crapshoot; roulette; odds. It’s all a game. Every aspect of it. The points, the rewards, the chance, the possibilities, the probabilities. Flyertalk has hundreds of threads about all the games. We don’t love flying; we love the game around flying. Hell, flying is just the necessary evil for those who want to play the whole game. No one likes the city of Atlantic City; they like the gambling. The flying around from Houston to Omaha is just the price you pay for the nonstop gaming action.

That’s all to say that I was so annoyed after my first phone call to American to find out why Newark and LaGuardia were both the same and different cities. But after I left the city ticket office today – more confused than when I first called about this whole thing – I was as happy as could be. I played the game and lost. But at least I got to play.

Delta Changes Award Structure, Pisses On You & Calls It Rain (Or Something)

Delta has changed their frequent flyer program to a new 3-tiered system that, as you probably guessed by now, does not mean you’ll be using fewer miles for award tickets (details here).  In short:  they’ve added a 3rd tier that now has last-seat availability for 30-50% more miles than the old top tier.  If you’re thinking to yourself, “wait, I thought the old top tier WAS last seat availability.”  You were right — until Delta changed that a little while ago in anticipation of this.  Roundtrip tix in the US will now be 25,000/40,000/60,000 miles depending on availability (ie, you’ll never get a ticket for 25,000 miles again).

What’s most gaulling about this, to be honest, is that Delta is spinning this like it’s a benefit.  From the press release:

“These changes will allow our members to better use their miles when they want, where they want and how they want — with no blackout dates and the ability again to book the last seat on the plane,” said Jeff Robertson, managing director of Delta’s SkyMiles program. “It’s all about Award Travel with flexibility — something our customers have been asking for.”

See…using 3 times as many miles as you used to for a roundtrip award ticket is something you asked for.  Good for you, frequent flyers!

Also annoying is this from the NY Times: “Jeff Robertson, the managing director of Delta’s SkyMiles program, said the number of miles issued by Delta had grown 24 percent from 2004 to 2007, but the number of seats available on its planes did not increase.  “The capacity is just not there,” Mr. Robertson said.

Wait…YOU guys gave out the miles. Your release calls SkyMiles one of “the most successful loyalty programs in the travel industry.”  I see, you’re victims of your own success.  Sheesh.

I’m rarely one to just complain about this kind of stuff, and I more than understand the reasons for the changes.  But does Delta really think that its frequent flyers are excited about this change?  Really?  Aren’t we all adults here?  Let’s just say what’s really going on:  We’re in a rough financial situation and all of us are going to have to kick in to help – that means you, too, passengers.  Get over it.

But no, that’s not how it’s going to be.  Delta upped the 2nd bag fee two days ago to $50 (from $25).  I’m sure frequent flyers were begging for that change as well.

Delta Flight Attendant Finds Passenger in Bathroom (Dead, Not Using the Bathroom)

Flight attendants on a Delta from from LA to Atlanta this morning noticed that the restroom door was locked when they were landing.  This is usually not a good sign.  They discovered that a passenger had died in the bathroom during the flight.  Luckily Delta only charges a fee for the second dead passenger.

Did Delta Make a Woman Crawl to Her Connecting Flight?

I have no idea whether this is true, and something about it smells funny, but in this post from the Consumerist, a Delta passenger with muscular dystrophy says that Delta employees made her crawl off a plane to make her connection because a wheelchair couldn’t be located.  Dunno…

Jerry Lewis: Yes, That Is a Gun in My Luggage, and I’m Happy to See You

(Thanks, D-Lux):

Jerry Lewis was passing through airport security in Las Vegas on Friday when authorities discovered an unloaded gun in his luggage.  The comic said that the firearm wasn’t his, as the bag was occasionally used by other members of his family.  He then told TSA agents 5 1/2 hours of stories about how much Dean Martin actually loved him even though he broke up the duo before security finally let him go.

OpenSkies Drops Coach, Increases Prem+ Cabin

OpenSkies has decided to drop its small (and kinda sad) coach cabin and replace those 30 seats with 12 (quite nice) Prem+ seats for its flights to Paris and Amsterdam.  Their 757s will now hold 64 passengers.  On the plus side, I wouldn’t be shocked if those Prem+ seats are available at a nice sale price during the slow seasons since they can’t fill the planes with low-fare coach seats.  Keep an eye out…

Yes, Those Emirates A380s Will Have Showers

When airplane manufacturers show off their new models, they often include bells and whistles that will never actually make it in the air (piano lounge, bowling alley, whatever).  But Emirates just announced that its A380s will actually have showers for first class passengers.  The showers provide 5 minutes of showering time each.  The perk will require the plane to carry an extra 500 kg of water, the weight of which they are hoping to offset by removing paper in seatbacks (I’m not sure if that exactly balances out, but there ya go).

Delta Passengers Stranded on Plane for 7 Hours

You probably thought the days of 7-hour onboard delays were over.  You were thinking wrong.  Passengers were stranded on a Delta flight from Las Vegas to JFK on Sunday for about 6 hours when the captain told them that they would not be taking off that day.  It then took another hour to get everyone back to the gate (where they could gamble – finally!).  While on board, they were offered no food, though at the end each person was given half a cup of warm water or soda.  Their choice.  Delta’s response?  Basically, quit bitching, it was really only 5 hours.

It could’ve been worse:  passengers on a delayed China Southern flight in Kunming completely lost it after their flight was delayed.  The frusrated group smashed computers, desks and chairs in the terminal before police arrived to calm down the situation.

More Drunks Try to Open Airplane Doors

Two British women on an XL Airways flight from Kos, Greece, to Manchester were arrested after they attacked a flight attendant with a vodka bottle and tried to open the cabin door while screaming, “I need some fresh air.”  The two were arrested (to the cheers of other passengers) when their plane was diverted to Frankfurt.

Virgin America Launches “Main Cabin Select” (aka, Exit Rows)

Following in JetBlue’s footsteps, Virgin America has launched what it’s calling “Main Cabin Select” – you may know it as, “we’re going to charge you for exit rows and bulkheads.” Oh, they’ll also throw in free food and movies. No word on pricing yet, but I’ll assume it’ll be similar to JetBlue – something like $25 for shorthaul and $50 for longhaul. You can purchase beginning in mid-September for flights in mid-October.