Monthly Archives: March 2010

No, I Don’t Want a flower: Court Upholds Ban on Hare Krishnas at LAX

The California Supreme Court has upheld a ban on Hare Krishnas and other groups soliciting for charity at LAX.  If you’ve been to LAX (or seen the movie Airplane), folks soliciting for charities have been an annoying presence at the airport for years.  That will end soon.

-Hello, we’d like you to have this flower from the religious consciousness church, would you like to make a donation?

-No thanks, we gave at the office.

No word on whether they’ll uphold the ban on parking in the red zone. The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only.

Lufthansa Launches Flights to Iraq after a 20-Year Absence

Star Alliance member Lufthansa will end a 20-year absence from Iraq when it launches flights to Erbil from Frankfurt in April.  The 4-day a week A319 service into Kurdistan – which has not been hit by the violence seen in much of the rest of the country – follows flights to the city from other European carriers including Austrian and Turkish.

Execs at the airline note a growing demand for flights into Kurdistan, which at one point had a solid tourist business.  German tourists are far, far more intrepid than American tourists, so it wouldn’t shock me to see these flights marketed to tourists sooner rather than later.  You may also remember that Kurdistan launched a tourism-focused marketing campaign a few years back.  No word on how successful that’s been.

The Fastest, Easiest, Most Painless Way to Airline Elite Status

Like so many others who travel for business, I’ve been working my way toward Elite status the old-fashioned way:  by flying a single airline (or alliance) as much as possible, sometimes giving up better flight times or greater in-flight comfort to get status miles.

That’s for suckers.

Want to know the easiest way to Elite status?

Ask.

I work for a decent-sized company, and I was speaking with our travel manager about something unrelated when he mentioned that he’d be happy to ask his contact at our preferred airline to bump me up to first-level status.  And if I flew another couple of trips, they’d give me mid-level status.  Fantastic.

I’m hardly the first person in the universe to benefit from this, but I’d really completely forgotten about just asking because I was so entranced by the game of trying to fly my way to status.  Bleh.  If you work for a mid-sized or larger company (especially if you’re flying to the same city repeatedly; even more especially if you prefer an airline that does not have a hub in your city), just ask your travel manager if she’ll talk to her contact at the airline and get you status.  Sure beats a mileage run to Spokane.

A Question about Breakfast on Transatlantic Flights

I flew to Amsterdam last night (300 photos of me sitting in an airplane seat will be coming any day now — actually, they won’t), and I had a question:

We left at 645 last night.  They served dinner at 8pm (or so I guess – I was already Ambiened out).  Then at 1am (6am Amsterdam time) they turned on the cabin lights and gave everyone a croissant.

Question:  Why do they do that?

Seriously, is there an actual reason why they cut short your pathetic 5 hours of sleep to give you a breakfast?

A Quick Word about Bundling Airline Fees

Add travel agents to the list of people annoyed at the ever-growing list of ancillary fees being charged by airlines.  In their case, they are annoyed about the amount (and difficulty) of work required to add ancillary services to the tickets they’re booking for clients.  Plus, they’re not getting paid for providing these often time-consuming services.

At this point, just about everyone, from consumer to travel agent, dislikes the way airlines have implemented fees.  Consumers feel they’re constantly being asked for $15, travel agents feel they’re not getting paid for the services they provide, bloggers have to listen to people whine about bag charges (OK, that last part isn’t the end of the world).

My issue is not around the fees themselves — God knows the airlines need revenue wherever they can get it.  My issue is that they have done a terrible job from a pricing standpoint.  By breaking out every fee individually, consumers are left feeling two things about their airline transaction:

1) They are hit with feels at every part of the process.  When buying a ticket, when picking a seat, when checking a bag, when on the plane.  There is no escape from the feeling that your wallet is out the entire time.  That is not a good feeling, even if, as is the case, airfares are quite low (except for summer travel to Europe this year which is out of control expensive…but that’s a different story); and

2) They have no idea how much the total trip will cost.  That is not a good feeling.  People need to understand the total cost to determine whether they’re getting fair value for their price.  Once that initial purchase is made, the consumer has already made up her mind.  Adding additional charges once the purchase is made only makes customers re-consider the value proposition.  That’s why people feel they’re being taken advantage of (allow me to apologize here for that dangling preposition).

Car companies went through this years ago with the myriad options available on their cars.  They decided that offering bundled packages of options led to a win-win situation:  They could make a greater profit by obscuring the price of the individual package components, and consumers wouldn’t feel like they were seeing a lowball price on the base car only to be attacked with added option costs.  Nowadays, most car consumers simply pick a package of options.

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post addresses this by suggesting that unbundled pricing (the airline scenario) benefits consumers because they know the true cost of components, while bundles benefit the company because they can make higher margins by obscuring the price of each part of the product.

This is true, but it leaves out the value consumers receive in feeling like they’re getting a fair deal.  I’ve mentioned several times how much I admire Air Canada’s choice of offering 5 bundles — consumers do not walk away from the purchase with the anxiety and frustration many feel with every other carrier.

I fully understand that the ability to offer bundled services for airlines (ie, a fare class that will give you airfare, 1 checked bag and wi-fi) is reliant on technology that is not ready out of the box.  But Air Canada made the investment, and so could other carriers; they’ve simply chosen not to.

We’re at the beginning of the new reality around how airlines price their product, and I know that in 5 years we’ll likely be closer to a bundled strategy for most tickets.  But until airlines choose to invest in selling their product in a bundled fashion, consumers will continue to be frustrated with every purchase.  That will not benefit anyone in the long-term.

Until JetBlue came along new entrant airlines tended to compete on price; their sole value proposition was around lower fares.  Airlines could match those fares within minutes, and doom was impending for the new entrant almost from the moment they launched.  JetBlue changed that by competing on services, and it took airlines years to catch up (10 years, as Continental is just now putting TV in their planes, and few other airlines have developed the employee culture JetBlue has to offer).  Now, I believe a new entrant airline could compete by offering a JetBlue/Virgin America-type service combined with a bundled pricing offering that would allow them to offer consumers an anxiety-free pricing experience that is considered to be high-value to the customer.  That’s a niche they can enjoy for years.

Remember How We Thought that Delta’s Paris – Pittsburgh Flight Was Odd? Yeah…

You may (or likely may not) remember about 16 months ago we shared the story of how Delta was launching Pittsburgh to Paris flights.  At the time we wondered how Delta could possibly make Pittsburgh – Paris work when at the same time Northwest, with its huge hub at Detroit, had canceled its Detroit – Paris flights.  The answer?  They took a great deal of money from the State of Pennsylvania and a Pittsburgh-area development agency (a “great deal of money” = $5 million).   The two groups guaranteed Delta that they would hit certain targets and, due to the economy and the utter ridiculousness of the flight, they will pay the carrier upwards of $5 million.

If you were wondering, Delta has run a 68% load factor, which isn’t terrible, but isn’t great.  The issue, really, has been with average fares, which were projected to be $582 each way, but only hit $413.  You can do the math on all that, but the short answer is that had the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and State of Pennsylvania listened to us, they wouldn’t be out $5 million.

A Few Stories to Note…

A few stories have passed by in the last couple of days that I thought were worth noting:

– Continental announced that it will give up its free food in coach (and, blessedly, stop running this incredibly awful ad) on domestic flights under 6 hours.  There has been a decent amount of discussion in ye olde blogosphere about whether the slightly-over-six hour transcons from Newark to San Francisco will get free food.  My answer?  Who cares.  Buy your food before you get on board.  Continental decided (correctly) that people were not paying a premium to get food on board, so why not offer better food for $6?  I can’t believe people were actually complaining about this.

– Minneapolis-based Sun Country will offer once-weekly service between Minneapolis and London-Stansted during the summer.  The carrier will fly a 737-800 on the route, necessitating a fuel stop in Gander, Newfoundland.  As if it’s 1958.  Hm…Delta flies the route nonstop every day; no U.S. carrier has made flights to Stansted work; you have to stop in Gander.   How could this fail?

– Allegiant, the best-run airline in the US, announced that it will purchase 7 757s so that it can begin service to Hawaii.  I’m not one of those people who believes that the world comes to an end when an airline that flies a single type of aircraft introduces a new plane (ie, JetBlue).  I do think that Hawaii is a very different market than Vegas or Phoenix or Orlando, and I’m very curious how they can make flights from Bellingham (or wherever) work in the same way that they get people to buy packages to Vegas.  If anyone can do it, Allegiant can.  But it will be extremely difficult for them to lead with $69 fares to Hawaii (as they do to other destinations), and I think that Hawaii is a much more considered purchase than the other destinations they offer.  That said, if it doesn’t work, 757s are always in demand, and I’m sure they can get rid of them and pretend this never happened.  Also, based on what they’ve done in the past, they’ll give a city a couple of months to do a profitable business; if it doesn’t, they’ll try flying to Hawaii from someplace else.  This is a bold move…

Roaches Delay Plane by 90 Minutes

An American Airlines flight from Miami to Washington Reagan was delayed by 90 minutes last month after crew found a roach colony living on board the aircraft.  Staff found a small colony of about 50 roaches living in a space between first class and the coach cabin.  Apparently, they were unable to get a full upgrade.

An American Airlines spokesman said that, while unusual, it is not unprecedented to find roaches on airplanes.  In case you were wondering, airplanes are (apparently) treated regularly by pest control.

I love the helpful hints at the end of the linked article from the National Pest Management Association.  In case you find bugs in your suitcase, they suggest you wash your clothes.  Thanks, NPMA!

Captain Oveur Passes Away; RIP, Peter Graves – You Will Alwys be Over Dunn

A sad note for lovers of the movie Airplane:  Peter Graves, who played Captain Oveur (among many, many other roles), passed away over the weekend at the age of 83.  He was responsible for quite possibly the best airline-related scene in movie history:

Oveur: Dunn… gentlemen, let’s get to work.
Curtz: Unger, didn’t you serve under Oveur in the Air Force?
Unger: Not directly. Technically Dunn was under Oveur and I was under Dunn.
Dunn: Yep.
Curtz: So, Dunn, you were under Oveur and over Dunn?
Dunn: Yep.
Oveur: Yes, that’s right. Dunn was over Unger and I was over Dunn.
Unger: So you see both Dunn and I were under Oveur, even though I was under Dunn.
Oveur: Dunn was over Unger and I was over Dunn.

Double Feature: Entire Crew Drunk on Ukraine Flight; Air Canada Delays Plane Due to Olympic Hockey

Story 1:

The entire crew – flight attendants and pilots – scheduled to work a flight from Kiev to Simferopol on Ukrainian carrier Donbassaero was determined to be drunk and removed from the plane by police.  According to this article (in German, sorry) the crew all had blood alcohol levels above .3%.  Keep up the good work.

Story 2:

Air Canada said that it was forced to delay a flight that was scheduled to depart from Vancouver during the US – Canada hockey finals because every passenger ignored the call to board the plane while the game was in overtime.  I’m just shocked the same thing didn’t happen during the curling finals.