Monthly Archives: September 2009

…If Booking a Flight Were Like Going to the Doctor

(Thanks to View from the Wing for the head’s up…)

Quick one today:  The National Journal has an amusing piece about what it might be like to book a flight if it was just like making an appointment to see the doctor.  In short – you think flying is annoying?

An Oldie But Goodie about How to Use $20 to Get You Anything (Including on a Plane)

An old, great article by a guy figuring out what he can get by tipping people $20…including paying somebody for their first class seat.  Enjoy…

Top 5 Friday: Airline Concepts We Wish Had Worked

Lots of hare-brained airline concepts have been launched over the years, but today we wanted to focus on 5 airlines that launched with interesting ideas that weren’t able to survive:

Legend – Legend flew all-business class regional jets out of Dallas Love Airport for about 10 minutes back in 2000.  The idea of avoiding DFW and not having to fly Southwest was an appealing combination for some business travelers.  Unfortunately for Legend, American came along and crushed them by essentially launching the exact same service.  Game over.

MGM Grand – In the late 1980s, MGM Grand Air flew a couple of transcon routes on 727s and DC-8s outfitted like private jets.  Oh those were heady times.  But as Wall Street collapsed and the cocaine dried up, so did interest in the airline.  Oddly enough, it survives today as charter carrier Champion.

EOS Airlines – All first-class seating to London for fares that were often available under $2,000.  What’s not to like?  It’s hard to remember that before they came along your only option for premium Transatlantic travel cost $5,000 and up.

Eastwind – For a brief period in the mid-1990s Eastwind flew from Trenton to points in Florida.  As a New Jersey boy, the idea of much, much-maligned Trenton getting its own airline was somewhat exciting, considering that the capital city of New Jersey didn’t even have a movie theater.  But as you’d suspect, that love affair lasted about 10 minutes and they moved their headquarters to Greensboro before disappearing.

Midwest Express – Yes, Midwest still exists today.  But ask anyone who used to fly them and you’ll know that it’s a completely different airline.  Flying an all-business class configuration with full meal service and warm cookies for a very small premium over coach fares, their on-board product made flying to Milwaukee almost bearable. Almost.

Voyage.tv Is Giving Away a Trip a Week for 8 Weeks If You Tweet Your Dream Trip

Voyage.tv, a new site that offers videos of luxury vacation locales, has launched a promotion called “Tweet Your Trip” where they’re offering a free trip a week for 8 weeks.  The deal:  go to TweetYourTrip.com and in 140 characters or less, tell them what your dream vacation is.  Your odds have got to be pretty good, considering:

a) how many people really know about this; and
b) how many people are saying that Disney is their dream trip

8 free trips for virtually no work on your part.  Go nuts…

Pace Airlines Shuts Down Because of Vandalized Car (?); CEO Arrested

Pace Airlines, which you may remember as the operator of Hooters Air, was shut down last week after the CEO said he feared for workers’ safety when an executive’s car was vandalized.  I know, that doesn’t make sense.  It may also have something to do with Continental Airlines canceling a contract with them, and Direct Air not paying them nearly $2 million they owed Pace.  But the CEO said that he was suspending operations because of the vandalized car.

Then, the CEO of the airline, William Rodgers, was arrested and charged with not giving his employees 45 days notice before canceling their health insurance.

Amazingly, Hooters Air had nothing to do with the shut down.

If You Liked the Idea of Standing Seating in an Airplane, You’ll Love These Seats That Face Each Other

Remember the supposed idea about a standing-room only section of airplanes?  That’s not going to happen.  But a design firm has gone a step more comfortable than that by taking a page out of the train playbook and creating an airplane seating layout with seats that face each other.

Courtesy Telegraph UK

We’re never actually going to see this, but coach seating is one area that hasn’t seen much in the way of innovation since, oh, ever (the sliding seats that sort of cradle forward instead of reclining are a positive move once those are introduced).  I expect we’ll see some innovation in coach seats in the next 5 years or so, given the wackier ideas that are now being thrown around.

Air Canada, NHL, Obama Administration Avert Hockey-Related Flight Crisis

Air Canada has reached an agreement with the U.S. government that will allow them to continue to provide charter services to NHL teams traveling through the U.S.  Officials in the U.S. had banned foreign airlines (such as Air Canada) from providing charters to Canadian teams making multiple stops in the U.S.  (for example, they could bring teams from Toronto to Pittsburgh, but if the schedule required the team to then fly from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis to Dallas, that is illegal).

No word on why the government had decided to crack down on a practice that had been going on for years.  Air Canada promises to ensure compliance, blah blah blah.  Not often we get the intersection of airlines and hockey, but there ya go.

Top 5 Terrible Airline Concepts That Actually Flew

In our final installment of Top 5 week, we’ll look at Top 5 Terrible Airline Concepts that actually flew.  And I think I’m going to do Top 5 Fridays going forward.  What do you care, really?

Vanguard Airlines. The pitch:  $29 fares to Kansas City.  To.  Kansas. City.  Yes, they had significant flights to other cities (Chicago-Midway), but it all came down to $29 fares to Kansas City.  That people stopped flying altogether after 9/11 certainly didn’t help either.

Hooters Air. The pitch:  Guys like chicken wings and girls in tight shirts in our restaurants, so they’ll be thrilled when they board our planes and find neither.  Oh, and you can only go to Myrtle Beach.

ExpressJet. The pitch:  Screw you, Continental, we’ll fly on our own.  To Raleigh.  And El Paso.  Oh wait – people don’t want to fly from Ontario, California, to El Paso?  Oops!

Trump Shuttle. The pitch:  Trump.  Shuttle.  Mired with debt from day 1, they never had a chance.  Turns out running an airline is more difficult than slapping your name on a plane.  (Who knew?)

Roots Air. The pitch:  People love our Gap-like clothes, so they’ll love flying from Toronto to Vancouver on a plane with our name on it.  Lasted one month before Air Canada stepped in and took over.

Top 5 Airlines You Don’t Appreciate Enough

I’ve actually been enjoying the Top 5 lists, so they’ll continue through the rest of this week.  Today we’re going to look at the Top 5 Airlines You Don’t Appreciate Enough:

Spirit.  Wow, do people hate Spirit Airlines.  People really, really hate Spirit.  Go and read some of the reviews and Twitter comments and online chatter about Spirit.  It’s ugly.  And the amazing part is this:  all of those people are wrong to complain.  Spirit promises you nothing, and they deliver on it.  In exchange, you have the opportunity to fly to Haiti for $9.  OK, you don’t want to go to Haiti.  But lots of people do, and it used to cost them hundreds and hundreds of dollars to go to Haiti.  And Honduras.  And Bogota.  You may not like paying for soda, but if your family is in Nicaragua and you couldn’t afford to visit for years, and all of a sudden it costs $9 (or $29 or $49) to fly to Managua, are you really going to complain?  I’ve flown to Ft Lauderdale on Spirit in their Big Front Seat for $21.  Round trip.  I’m going to whine about paying for chips?  Or checking my bag?  And ha ha, the joke’s on you, because every airline charges fees for everything now.  And do you think JetBlue would be offering their $9 Twitter fares if Spirit hadn’t made $9 the low price to beat?  No.  No they wouldn’t.  If you want a free soda, fly someone else.  (Editor’s Note:  On second thought, based on this unprecedented $375,000 DoT fine, they actually do suck…)

Alaska Airlines.  People like Alaska Airlines – and they should.  But I’m not sure everyone appreciates that many, many of the time-saving airline technologies we have nowadays started (or were championed) by Alaska.  E-tickets, online check-in, kiosks, “Airport of the future” and print-at-home boarding passes are all thanks (either in large part or in whole part) to Alaska.  It helps that they’re based in Seattle, where the population is pretty technology friendly, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re the most technically innovative airline in the US, if not the world.

Ryanair.  Like Spirit, they are reviled.  Like Spirit, people are crazy to complain.  Maybe you flew them and had a bad incident.  I have no idea.  But I do know this:  Remember when it cost $600 to fly between London and Paris?  Or London and Dublin?  Or Dublin and Rome?  No?  That’s thanks to Ryanair.  And if you really hate them, you’re free to fly British Airways, which has lowered their fares tremendously over the past 10 years, solely because of Ryanair’s presence.  The days of taking a train around Europe are (in large part) gone, because you can just fly Ryanair (or one of its copycat airlines on the Continent).

People Express (or PEOPLExpress).  It was sooooo good, before it went soooooo bad.  I’m not going to argue that People Express was not a disaster.  It was.  But they championed $99 transcon fares and $99 fares to London, pricepoints that still exist today (which makes it that much more of a bargain 25 years later).  I’m not saying fares would never have dropped to today’s levels without People Express, but they reset the bar to levels that still exist today.

Air Deccan (India).  Air Deccan not only offered crazy low fares (1 Rupee fares, for example), they changed the culture of India.  Indians had (and, truthfully, continue to have) no problem traveling 20 hours by train to reach a destination.  With extremely high fares as the norm to fly just about anywhere, India’s aviation sector was reserved for only the wealthiest Indians.  That all changed with Air Deccan (and their other lowfare counterparts).  Suddenly that 20 hour train trip was exchanged for a 1-hour flight that cost next-to-nothing.  Families that could see each other only once a year could get together more often.  Business travelers could see customers in other cities more frequently.  Imagine if nobody in the US flew, then all of a sudden everybody flew.  It taxed the infrastructure in a terrible, terrible way.  But still, there are now dozens of flights per day between large cities, and fares are extremely low, mostly thanks to Deccan.

Top 5 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Miss How Airlines Used to Be

Oh, the good old days.  I’m not sure there’s an industry where people look back at the past and cry more about how great it used to be, and how terrible it is now.  Oh, for those halcyon days where everyone sat in first class and ate only the finest cuisine prepared by a Congress of France’s great chefs.

Oh wait, that’s not how it was.  Today I bring you the Top 5 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Miss How Airlines Used to Be

–    Smoking.  I’ll never understand how the same people who were so brilliant that they could get a hunk of metal to fly through the air for 12 hours could also say, “Sure, stick 200 people in a small tube and let them smoke for hours on end.”  I can barely imagine sitting in a restaurant where people are allowed to smoke anymore.  Can you picture a flight to Tokyo?  And you miss those days?

–    Food.  How is it possible that people complain that airline food is gone?  I think the Marx brothers were making fun of airline food 70 years ago.  Let’s stop pretending that the “steak” and “chateaubriand” that was served on your Pan Am flight to Frankfurt was any good.  It wasn’t.

–    Entertainment.  See that flickering light 35 rows ahead of you showing Smokey and the Bandit II?  That’s your inflight entertainment.

–    Frequent Flyer Miles.  In 1972, do you know how many miles you earned for your flight from Miami to LA?  That’s right, zero.  And how many double elite qualifying miles you earned on that flight?  Correct, zero.  And how many unlimited upgrades you received because you had elite status?  Yes, zero.  I hope you enjoyed not getting any free first class flights to Europe as well.

–    Fares.  You liked the government setting fares between Cleveland and Miami and telling you which airlines could fly there?  And that they weren’t allowed to discount those flights?  Flights cost much, much more (don’t even count all the free flights you’re earning with miles), and discounts were rare (there were no $9 Spirit fares to Ft. Lauderdale).  You may miss those great days in 1972, but you couldn’t have afforded to fly very much.  Which is why what most people my age remember about traveling is sitting in the back of a station wagon for 11 hours.