Monthly Archives: December 2008

OTR 5 Year Anniversary – See You in January

This week marks the 5th anniversary of Online Travel Review.  As we head into the new year, I wanted to thank everyone for continuing to read after all these years.  For the handful of times that writing this site starts to feel like a (unpaid) job, I’m reminded frequently that people (for some reason) seem to enjoy reading this stuff.  I truly appreciate all of the notes people have sent over the years with positive (and only occasionally negative) responses to the thousands of stories written here.

This also serves as a chance for my several-times-a-year reminder that for all the of negatives of flying, cheap airfares make the world accessible in a way it never has been before.  Take advantage of these cheap fares and go somewhere new this year.

A couple of bits of housekeeping:

– Unless something strikes me, the OTR will be off until January 2nd.

– For those in New York or with an internet connection(?) I’ll be on Bloomberg Radio (1130 on the AM dial or here online) Friday December 26th at 1:37pm for about 20 minutes talking about the airline industry.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I’ll see you in January to start year 6 of OTR.  I think year 6 is where most sitcoms have a wedding and introduce a new kid.  I’ll have to see if Cousin Oliver can write a few columns for us this year.

Israel Downgraded to Category 2 on Safety Concerns – No New US Service Permitted

In a bit of a surprise, the FAA has downgraded Israel to a Category 2 safety rating, meaning that El Al cannot add any additional service to the US.  The rating has nothing to do with airport security, and everything to do with the country’s system for ensuring the safety of airplanes.

Other category 2 countries are Bangladesh, Belize, Ivory Coast, Croatia, DR Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Kiribati, Montenegro, Nauru, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, Serbia, Swaziland, Ukraine, Uruguay and Zimbabwe.

An Interesting (And Technical) Look at the Gol-ExcelAire Crash

You may remember the mid-air collision in Brazil of a Gol 737 and an ExcelAire business jet.  William Langewiesche (a really excellent writer) has a somewhat controversial piece in this month’s Vanity Fair (read it here) about the crash.

Over on Cranky’s blog, a pilot friend of his has written a long, detailed and really interesting look at what happened.  If you’re at all interested in how aviation accidents happen, it’s worth the read.

JetBlue Offers $9 Boston – Buffalo Fares for 9 Hours (Other Cheap Fares Available)

Following in the footsteps (sort of) of Spirit’s $9 fares, JetBlue is offering $9 fares between Boston and Buffalo for 9 hours until 6pm today (the 9 is in honor of Ted Williams, whom they are celebrating because JetBlue is now a sponsor of the Red Sox). Fares are good for travel January 6 – 10. Other cheap fares include $29 to New York and $49 to Chicago.

FlyBe Pilot Won’t (Can’t?) Land in Fog, Turns Plane Around

A pilot for Britain’s FlyBe refused to land at Charles de Gaulle on Tuesday because of heavy fog at the airport, and chose to return the Q400 aircraft to Cardiff.  The pilot, a 30-year veteran, had not yet completed low-visibility training on that type of plane, and felt that the smart decision would be to turn the plane around and land safely in Wales.  While the pilot seems to be mocked on some of the sites I’ve read, it was a smart decision.

Lawsuit: Man Beat His Wife Because United Gave Him Some Wine

Good to end the year on a high note:  A couple is suing United Airlines because flight attendants on a flight from Osaka to San Francisco gave the man what may have been an excessive amount of wine.  After consuming said wine, the male part of the couple proceeded to, excuse my language here, kick the crap out of his wife.  The lawsuit suggests that the airline is responsible for serving the drinks which made the husband drunk and caused him to go all Ike Turner on his wife.  Sure, makes sense.

(Thanks, Bobby!)

10 Strangest Airline Stories of 2008

It’s time again for the OTR’s nearly annual 10 Strangest Airline Stories of 2008. While we don’t have anything as good as my all-time favorite (Farts Lead to Flight Diversion), there are some gems. With that, here we go:

10) A Nevada brothel offers to reimburse American Airlines’ $15 checked bag fee for visiting customers.

9) Parents forget their 3-year old in a Tel Aviv airport while traveling to Paris.

8) Woman sues American Airlines after she finds passenger seated next to her playing with himself during a flight.

7) Passenger stopped after carrying brother’s skeleton through airport security.

6) Mushroom soup causes Ryanair to divert flight.

5) Pilot fired for letting 15 year old fly a 737 while pilot went to the bathroom.

4) Man calls in bomb threat to delay plane that he is about to miss.

3) Jerry Lewis brings gun through airport security in Las Vegas.

2) First class passenger, angry that coach customers are departing plane before him, launches emergency chute and slides down.

And the Top Strangest Airline Story of 2008:

1) Flight attendant lights plane on fire to avoid having to work a flight to Saskatoon.

Cruise Lines up Commissions to Travel Agents; Should Airlines Re-Embrace the Agent Community?

Cruise lines, seeing their bookings fall with the slowing economy, have taken a unique (and old school) approach to turning the tide (so to speak):  they are increasing commissions to travel agents.  Royal Caribbean has upped commissions by 1% and increased co-op marketing funds, while Silversea has raised commissions to an impressive 25%.

I mention this here because it’s a full 180 degree difference from the approach taken by airlines over the past 10 years.  The airline community has shunned travel agents at nearly every turn, looking at the distribution channel as a way to cut their own costs.  And that’s worked – eliminating base commissions has significantly reduced distribution costs.

But according to data I’ve seen from several airlines and a GDS, the average fare sold through travel agents is so much higher than the average online fare that it more than makes up for increased commissions.  I’m not suggesting airlines will change their strategy – shifting their low fare sales to their own website is a smart idea.  But I think the cruise lines are on to something:  with the correct incentives to travel agents, everyone can win.  Airlines can get higher average fares and travel agents can collect their service fees from customers who choose to use them (primarily business travelers these days).

The airline focus on reducing costs at the expense of revenues has not worked as a long-term solution.  Airlines have been willing to try radical approaches to fixing their business (flights to Equitorial Guinea; merging; charging for bags), but for some reason the distribution channel strategy has remained focused on shunning travel agents.  I just don’t get it.

Travel Agency Sales Drop 20% in November: Uh Oh

Travel agencies reported that their total sales dropped 20% in November over the same month the previous year, bringing their total sales to $4.8 billion in the month, a number not seen since 9/11. Even worse news for airlines: the sales drop was even worse than the drop in airline traffic, suggesting that future bookings are down even further. While traffic numbers will be ugly next year, I’m not expecting a full financial bloodbath. Airlines have shrunk themselves far better than they’ve done in the past (case in point is today’s announcement that Delta will offer buyouts to its 75,000 employees). With fuel relatively cheap, and capacity shrunk significantly, it won’t be a great year, but we’ve seen far, far worse.

OTR Named 1 of Chris Elliott’s ’50 Blogs I Can’t Live Without’

Travel writer and TV host Chris Elliott has named Online Travel Review one of his ‘50 Blogs I Can’t Live Without‘ for 2008.  I’m thrilled to be on a list with some other great sites.  Definitely check it out – I’m sure you’ll find a bunch you haven’t been reading but should.