Monthly Archives: August 2010

Airlines to Post Calorie Counts for Food on Board

Ever wonder how many calories were in that bag of peanuts you no longer get when you fly?  Neither have I.  But that’s moot, as the government will require airlines to post calorie counts for onboard food beginning next year.  Airlines (and other companies forced to comply with this law) are complaining about it in part because they don’t have menus on which to post calorie counts on many of their flights.  New York City has required chain restaurants to post calorie counts for a year or two now and a study has found that there has been no change in consumer behavior since learning, for example, that some Jamba Juice drinks have 1,000 calories.   On the other hand, a donut at Dunkin Donuts has fewer calories than a bagel.  Go figure.

That’s neither here nor there.  Airlines are actually required to post calorie counts now, but no fine kicks in until next year, which is when they’ll actually enact these changes.

Malaysia Airlines Ground Crew Suspended After Dead Man Found in Plane Toilet

Six ground crew for Malaysia Airlines have been suspended after a passenger was found dead in the bathroom of a 737 that had arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Ho Chi Minh City.  An empty syringe was found in the bathroom, leading investigators to believe the passenger had overdosed on heroin on the plane.  The crew were suspended because they had failed to check the bathrooms after the plane arrived.

A Quick Story about Airfares and Distance

The WSJ has an article today about the various factors that go into setting airfares in a given market.  The short version is that if there is a lowfare airline in the market, you’ll pay less (shocker).  The article does go into some detail about the area of airfares that consumers find most annoying:  why price doesn’t seem to correlate with distance.  I’ve paid $1100 to fly from New York to Cleveland and $300 to fly from New York to London.  Most people who have flown even a modest amount have a similar tale.

Consumers, obviously, look at airfares in a completely different way than airlines do.  Consumers think airfares should be correlated with distance (until they start to think about the implications for this and then realize they don’t really want to go back to paying $2,500 for a flight to Tokyo because they like to pay $89 to fly from New York to Boston).  Airlines, though, care primarily (or only) about maximizing revenue.  I really brought this up because there’s an American Airlines exec quoted in the article who, I think, puts this in the best perspective:

He says, consider airfares to be like Coke — it costs a certain amount in the supermarket (say $1.29 for a 2 liter), but much more at the movies (say $3.29 for 24 ounces).  While that’s annoying, no one freaks out about the price discrepancy because people realize it’s simply different — you’re not just paying for syrup and carbonated water.  Consumers don’t really buy this argument with airfares, but airlines see the seat as a commodity and most of their actions are based on maximizing revenue, not making sure consumers are happy with airfare pricing strategies.  The Coke analogy was as good as any I’ve heard…

Saudi Arabian Airlines: No They Don’t Really Fly to Frankfort, Kentucky

a) Thanks to someone at Airliners.net for this
b) I’m on vacation this week so stories will be short, sweet and sporadic.  For example:

Funny thing on Saudi Arabian Airlines’ website:  On their route map, they have Frankfort, Kentucky, listed as a destination.  I’m certain they mean Frankfurt, Germany.  But the idea that they fly from Jeddah to a small midwestern city without an airport is amusing.  Also amusing is that they’ve placed it on the map somewhere in the center of Oklahoma.

WSJ: The Safi Airways In-flight Magazine Is Not What You Expect (Or It Is What You Expect from an Airline in Afghanistan)

The WSJ has a great article about the in-flight magazine for Safi Airways, a start-up airline based in Afghanistan. You can certainly read the piece yourself, but the airline has decided to be completely forthcoming in its in-flight magazine, offering articles that depict the country as it is (a mess) in contrast to the fluff pieces you see in every other in-flight magazine.

Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant Takes Baby from Mom Who Slapped It

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant took a baby from its mother on a flight from Dallas to Albuquerque after passengers said they saw the mother slap the 13-month old.  Police met the plane and took the baby for a period, while praising the flight attendant for her work.  They eventually released the child to back to the parents.

I can’t tell whether the child was slapped (not good), or spanked (not good, but God knows the police would’ve stopped almost every vacation my siblings and I went on growing up)…(note to my father:  I’m sure I deserved it.  But it was Danny’s fault.)

(thanks, Dlux!)

JetBlue All You Can Jet Pass Is Back (And $100 More…or $100 Less)

JetBlue’s 1-month All You Can Jet pass is back, this year in two versions (both must be purchased by August 20th for travel September 7th – October 6th).

Version 1:  Same idea as last year’s pass – fly all you want anywhere in the network (plus international taxes) for $699 ($100 more than last year).

Version 2:  5-day a week pass allowing you to fly anywhere, except on Fridays and Sundays for $499 for the month ($100 less than last year).

As with last year, this sounds like an amazing deal but really think about how much flying you’re going to do, and DEFINITELY factor in international taxes, which are not included.  This is a very cheap time of year to fly (r/t tix from New York to Costa Rica on JetBlue are about $260 before taxes, for example), so definitely plan your travel carefully before purchasing the pass.

Adage: Has JetBlue Become Just Another Airline? (Answer: Kinda)

Ad Age (which I generally respect, though, like much of the non-airline-industry-media, they tend to blow airline stories out of proportion), asks whether JetBlue has become just another airline.  (The short answer, according to them, is “kinda.”)  The jumping off point for the story, of course, is the recent flight attendant nonsense, but it’s a legitimate question to ask with the airline celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Although JetBlue got much of its early credit for live television, its early success really rested on its ability to hire consistently great frontline talent.  The airline famous grew its ranks from outside the airline world, focusing instead on people they felt could consistently provide a great customer experience.  That’s how they differentiated themselves (let’s not fool ourselves, either, they also competed on price, driving down fares on the transcon market, and fighting a brutal battle with American on many of those routes).  As they grew, though, they faced the same growing pains felt by every business as it tries to scale:  how to you continue to consistently hire (and train) people in the same manner as a company with 100 planes as you did when you had 10.  Answer:  nobody knows yet.

When your key differentiator is people, there are legitimate questions as to whether that’s a scalable model.  Sure, they offered Live television, but soon others did, too (although the author of the AdAge article says he can’t understand why every airline does not have Live television at every seat, the answer is that in a commodity business, there is no reason to add cost when there is no revenue tied to it.  Free television brings is an ROI negative decision at this point).

An agency guy in the article says, ‘JetBlue was different once, but not anymore,” but that’s not really true.  They certainly do provide a better experience, if only because of legroom and television and some nebulous style points, but Virgin America has decided to compete on the same thing (minus the legroom).  And they have quickly learned that they gain little-to-no revenue bump by offering all the in-seat bells and whistles.

Though JetBlue is hardly the phenomenon it once was, it has become something more sustainable:  a very well-run airline.  Sure, in-flight TV and snacks are the fun parts to chat about, but JetBlue succeeds today because of smart route planning, a cost structure that (for now) allows them to turn a profit at lower fares than competitors, and a brave & intelligent choice to purchase the Embraers for thinner/shorter routes.  It’s not that sexy, but if that were easy to pull off, everyone would’ve done it.

Teens, Tween Save Babysitting Money to Fly to Dollywood…Without Telling Their Parents

A 15, 13 and 11-year old from the Jacksonville area saved up their babysitting money because they wanted to go to Dollywood in Tennessee.  However, they didn’t bother telling their parents when they went to the Southwest Airlines ticket counter in Jacksonville and bought tickets to fly to Nashville.  Nobody batted an eye when they purchased the tickets and went through security without ID (since they weren’t yet 18, they didn’t need it).

Their plans were thwarted, however, when they landed in Nashville and discovered that Dollywood is near Knoxville, not Nashville.  They had a bit o’ a freak out, called their parents, and returned on the next flight home.  Southwest, for its part (and correctly), said it did nothing wrong.  Its rules say that minors over 11 can travel alone, and since the 11 year old was accompanied by the older kids, its staff followed policy.

Government Report Recommends Buying a Seat for Kids Under 2

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report recommending that parents purchase a seat for their children under the age of 2 to ensure that the toddlers will be in car seats while flying.  The FAA, however, has rejected this recommendation in the past, saying that forcing parents to buy a seat will lead more people to drive, which, in turn, will just lead to more highway fatalities.  In truth, we’re splitting hairs a bit since airplane flying is so safe.   But it certainly makes sense that infants should be in car seats as often as possible while traveling by plane (primarily because of the threat of unexpected turbulence), though getting parents to pony up the extra $300 (as I can attest) is the biggest hurdle.