Monthly Archives: February 2010

Passenger Assaults Air Marshal on Continental Flight after Inappropriately Touching Woman

An air marshal on a Continental flight from Amsterdam to Houston (there are still air marshals?  good to know…) intervened after a boisterous passenger inappropriately touched the woman sitting next to him.  The air marshal switched seats with the woman, an act that did not make the original passenger particularly happy, causing him to start yelling at the marshal and, eventually, assaulting him.  The passenger was arrested when the plan landed in Houston.

No word on whether the passenger was drunk or just stupid.

10 Rules for Booking Frequent Flyer Tickets

Is there anyone online who does NOT give frequent flyer advice?  No, no there is not.  And let’s be honest, 98% of what you read about booking airline tickets is utter and complete garbage (Gary and Lucky excepted, of course). I know there are 10 things to be true about booking award tickets and today is the day I’m going to share them with you.  I’m that kinda guy.

1) You will probably not get the flights you want the first time you look…but DO NOT give up.  I have never not gotten an award ticket that I’ve wanted.  Never.  Business class seats to Sri Lanka with a stopover in Europe?  No problem.  Business class seats to Easter Island?  No problem.  Vietnam?  No sweat.  The key?  Check again. A 4-leg journey from New York to Colombo has many moving parts.  The odds on all of that being available the first time you search are slim.  But if you look every day (and what’s a few minutes a day for $10,000 worth of tickets?), I guarantee you will not fail.  Probably.

2) While you should look every day, I’ve found that 45 days out is a sweet spot.  This is not to say that you won’t find tickets further out than that (especially in markets – such as first class seats to Sydney on Qantas – where there are incredibly few seats available and you need to look 330 days ahead).  But at 45 days seats seem to open up.  In short – don’t give up because your trip is in 6 weeks.

3) Frequent flyer tickets are not free tickets…at least not anymore.  You need to get over this:  frequent flyer tickets will have fees associated with them.  Deal with it.  Complex itineraries on partner airlines will require phone calls, and those calls will likely cost you a few dollars in telephone booking fees.  Or maybe you’ll need to change the ticket.  It’s going to cost you.  But in the overall scheme of things, it won’t cost you much.  Just accept it.

4) In terms of award availability, Star Alliance and Oneworld are light years ahead of SkyTeam.  Usually.  In the US, if you are stuck with Delta miles you are probably very unhappy when you go to check for available flights.  Why?  Because not only is Delta’s award availability horrible, there is no good way to check partner airlines.  When searching for a Star Alliance flight, use ANA’s booking tool, which shows most Star carriers (though remember that United will often block award seats that would otherwise be available for other Star Alliance members).  For Oneworld, sign up for Qantas’ frequent flyer program and you’ll see most options there.  For Skyteam?  Good luck.

5) You will need to follow this stuff basically full time to understand the minutia around who is adding exorbitant surcharges onto tickets.  But there are a couple of quick rules:  Delta adds a ridiculous fee if you are booking intra-Europe Skyteam tickets with Skymiles; British Airways adds a ludicrous fuel surcharge (unless you use BA miles on American or LAN); and Air Canada has fuel surcharges that can be hundreds of dollars.  There is an enormous amount of detail around this point, and the blogs I’ve mentioned above have gotten into the details in great, uh, detail.  This is not the place for that, but just remember — not every airline charges ridiculous fuel surcharges for international award tickets.

6) Air Canada gives you Star Alliance Gold Status after only 35,000 flown miles.  Not only is that the lowest threshold out there, you get Lounge access for that.  Nice.

7) Everyone has a different opinion about the best way to use up your miles.  Some folks save up for first class tickets to Asia.  Those of us with kids may not feel like spending 480,000 miles to go to Tokyo and will use those miles to go to Puerto Rico.  None of those is wrong.  Don’t let anyone let you think you’re wasting miles by using them.  Using miles is good (yes, there are great ways to use them and bad ways to use them…but anything is better than paying).

8) One-way award tickets offered by American and United offer enormous flexibility on routes where they compete.  No longer do you have to hope that American has roundtrip seats available if you’re looking for a JFK-LAX award ticket in business class.  Fly one way on AA, back on United.  Or vice versa.  You get my point.

9) If booking an international award ticket, do NOT forget the more obscure partners.  There are lots of ways, for example, to fly on Star Alliance from New York to Moscow.  Don’t forget that LOT, for example, is an option (albeit not a particularly glamorous one).  Before starting the booking process, look on the alliances’ websites to remind yourself of all of your airline options.

10) One of the most valuable features of most international award tickets is the ability to stopover in a city.  American has limited this somewhat (by restricting stopovers to gateway cities), but on other tickets you can basically double the value of the award by booking a stopover.  A stopover would often add a significant amount to a paid fare, but it’s free with most international tickets.  I almost always try to add in a stopover — why not?

I’d love to hear reader tips on this…

Ryanair Diverts to Different Canary Island than Scheduled; Abandons Passengers

A Ryanair flight from Bristol, England, to the Canary Island of Lanzarote landed in a different Canary Island – Fuerteventura – after bad weather prevented the plane from landing at the scheduled arrival city.  That’s no big deal.  What was a big deal was that Ryanair told passengers they had to make their own way to Lanzarote by ferry. (For those of us in the U.S., imagine booking a flight to Nassau, Bahamas, and landing at Freeport and being told to make your own way).

More annoyingly, after the passengers were sent on their way to make their own arrangements, the plane flew empty from Fuerteventura to Lanzarote before picking up passengers to return to the UK.

Passengers complained that when they disembarked in the first island that there were no Ryanair representatives available to tell them what to do.  Left to fend for themselves, passengers arranged their own hotels or continuing transport.  Ryanair says that while they do not owe passengers any financial compensation (because the flight was diverted due to weather), they will reimburse families for the cost of a hotel on the island.  Good luck getting that refund.

American Airlines & Spirit Airlines to Resume Haiti Flights

American Airlines and Spirit Airlines have announced that they will be returning to Haiti, with American’s first flight heading in today, and Spirit returning on February 24th.  American serves the island from JFK, Ft Lauderdale,  and Miami, and will be launching service from San Juan and the Dominican Republic. If you were wondering, AA’s flights begin at $185 each way from south Florida, while Spirit’s begin at $65.  Amazing that the airlines can get their operations back up and running (and at $65!) so quickly.

A Bit of Self Promotion: A Brief Essay on Forbes.com

For who knows what reason, Forbes.com has published a little essay I wrote about eating alone on business trips.  You can read it here.

(Glad to see they did not retouch my eyebrows in the accompanying photo…)

A Fantastic 10-Minute Time Waster: Guess the Top 50 Destinations from JFK

I apologize in advance to wherever I found this first (I can’t remember)…

Feel free to waste the next 10 minutes trying to guess the Top 50 flight destinations from JFK.  You’re given the distance, direction and number of passengers, and you’ve got 10 minutes to fill it out.  FWIW, I got 43.  Good luck.

Director Kevin Smith Removed from Southwest Airlines Flight for Being Too Fat

Much has been written about Southwest Airlines’ overweight passenger policy which forces customers who cannot sit in a seat with armrests lowered to purchase two seats.  You may have thought this only applied to regular, non-celebrity fat people  Well, you’re wrong:

Clerks director Kevin Smith was unceremoniously kicked off a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank because flight attendants thought he was too large to fit in his seat.  Southwest later apologized for this after Smith said that he could have fit in the seats (and offered him a $100 voucher).  BTW – Smith wrote about the incident on Twitter, and Southwest responded on Twitter.  I’m not sure why that matters, but I thought I’d let you know.

The American Airlines $50 Standby Fee…Stop Complaining

There has been a great deal of whining about American Airlines’ decision to institute a $50 standby fee (essentially putting it on par with other airlines).  Boo hoo.  As I’ve mentioned before:  Airfares are basically the same as they have been since 1981 – not adjusted for inflation, I mean they are actually the same.  Except where they are way, way cheaper.  Transcons are still $99 on sale, but now there are basically no restrictions.  A 1-way fare from NYC to LAX used to be $1000 or so with no advance purchase.  I can buy a 1-way ticket on that route for Tuesday and it’s $140.

Oil was $35/barrel in 1981 – half what it is now.  Planes have not gotten cheaper.  Guess what?  Airlines have to make it up somewhere if they are going to charge you next to nothing to fly all over the place.  There is absolutely no reason to whine about fees – flying is one of the world’s great bargains.  An extra $20 isn’t going to change that.

OpenSkies to Launch Washington – Paris

British Airways subsidiary and all-premium carrier OpenSkies announced that it will launch Washington – Paris flights in May, marking its second route after closing New York – Amsterdam about 6 months ago.  Summer prices for their BizSeat product (roughly equivalent to an extremely nice domestic business class) start at $1750 round trip, only about $300 more than coach seats on its competitors on the Washington routes Air France and United.

OpenSkies says they expect this route to be profitable in its second year, which is what Eos, SilverJet and MAXJet also used to say.  The airline also says that it expects the company to be profitable by 2013.

MAXJet was unable to make Washington – London work, though that was a more crowded route.  OpenSkies’ product is superior to United’s, but with only 5 flights per week they will still face difficulties competing with 21 flights per week offered by Air France.

Openskies started about 18 months ago, and the lifespan for all-premium TransAtlantic carriers seems to be about 3 years.  I don’t think this route is their last chance at success, but they really need to prove that this model works outside of their original citypair.

A Quick Note about Tripadvisor

It’s not airline related, but I’ve been reading a decent amount of Tripadvisor stuff recently, and I’ve been shocked by how a site has gone from incredibly useful, to so full of nonsense that it’s almost a parody of itself.  Reviews for many hotels are filled the most minuscule complaints about everything.  Note the second review on this page about the Raffles Canouan, a world-class resort tucked away on a speck of an island in the Caribbean: “Worst Internet ever…This basically ruined our trip.”  OK.  He later notes that there were mosquitos.

I also enjoy the reviews of remote resorts in Costa Rica that bemoan the lack of cell service.  And every front desk is rude (I used the incredibly lazy journalist tack of typing “rude” “tripadvisor” into Google and there are 639,000 page results.)  600,000 reviews said people were rude at a hotel.

Where once Tripadvisor was a welcome and useful alternative to guidebooks, it has become the world’s largest forum for whiners, complainers, and people who never should have left their homes.

I’m not sure why this all bothers me so much, but I think that given the opportunity to complain about travel, people will complain about travel.  Look – stuff goes wrong in a hotel once in a while.  Fine.  But is any Marriott resort “terrible”?  (Apparently so, as there are 229,000 results for “marriott” “resort” “terrible” in Google).  Really?  Terrible?  Get over it.  Stay home.