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Random Aviation Photo

14 Jun

Back in June 2008, I attended an airports conference in New Orleans.  It was my first trip back to the Big Easy since Hurricane Katrina.  I had some time to kill at the gate, so I took some random shots. Mexico’s Aladia was a low-cost charter carrier that went out of business in October 2008. Below is an Aladia Boeing 757.

Will $1 Million Help Improve Air Service Prospects At Delta’s Memphis Hub?

12 Jun

A Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 lands at Memphis International Airport. Photo courtesy of Scott Sherrin via Flickr.

At the beginning of my career, I wrote for a newsletter that covered economic development among other things.  I wrote regularly about the efforts of states, counties, regions and cities to bring new companies, which, in turn, bring in more jobs.

On some of those stories, airlines were included in presentations to show how well a new business could get to the places they needed to be as part of the business.  But it was inevitable that they’d want a piece of the action, either to expand existing flights or add new ones.

So I say all this to comment about an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal about the efforts of that city’s airport to keep the service they have and expand to more cities.  You may remember that Memphis was one of three hubs for Northwest Airlines (No Town, Snow Town (Minneapolis) and Motown (Detroit)).

But after the Minneapolis-based carrier merged with Delta Air Lines, it was no surprise when the carrier started balancing its combined route network, which included cutting one-third of its service out of Memphis.  The airport has also seen average fares rise to the point where locals are complaining – vociferously.

So the airport authority decided to hire DC-based INTERVistas, a firm that specializes in travel and tourism, to help it bring in new service and lower air fares.  In a report presented last month, the firm recommended creating a $1 million fund to offer incentives to airlines for new domestic and international service including free landing fees and terminal rent, along with cooperative advertising aid.

The Commercial Appeal article included quotes from airline consultant Mike Boyd of The Boyd Group that really hit a note with me.  He noted that while the incentives might speed up efforts by Southwest Airlines to expand or maybe JetBlue to start service out of Memphis, it wasn’t likely the city would get enough service to replace what Delta has cut.

According to the Commercial Appeal, the new incentives were called “the right response at the right time,” by airport president and CEO Larry Cox and “bold” by Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane.  But what else would they say? Their backs are up against the wall with locals getting angry about the service cuts, as outlined in this article.

I don’t entirely disagree with these new incentives.  I think targeted correctly, Memphis could see some new service — but it will never be at the levels it had when it was a Northwest hub. My recommendation is that they let go of the past and look at what other dehubbed airports — like Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham and San Jose — have done to survive when their major carriers — US Airways and American Airlines, respectively — have made cuts.

Random Aviation Photo

25 May

Back in November 2007, I took a trip to Chicago O’Hare to take an up-close-and-personal tour of the O’Hare Modernization Project, which included the construction of the Runway 9L/27R.  s part of that, I got to go into areas usually not open to the public.  In the shot below, we were over near the old cargo area, which was going to be moved to accommodate the new runway.  Enjoy!

A Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 cargo jet at Chicago O’Hare. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Travel + Leisure Rates Best & Worst Airports – Did They Get It Right?

21 May

The iconic TWA Terminal 5 at JFK Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Regular readers of this blog know that I covered the airports/security beat at Aviation Week for almost 4 years.  And my decades of travel have found me parked in the best and the worst airports around the globe.

So I always read these polls with great interest.  The last time I wrote about this was back on Jan. 17, when the Frommer’s travel website picked its 10 worst airport terminals.

So now one of my favorite travel magazines — Travel + Leisure — has done its first-ever look at American’s best and worst airports.  You can check out the sideshow here, but I just have to weigh in with my thoughts on some of their choices.  My overall impression is that you can’t judge some airports as a whole.

For example, a big pet peeve with me is when JFK Airport automatically makes the worse list (#4 according to Travel + Leisure). Regular travelers know the experience can be night  — Delta’s horrific Terminal 3 – the Third WorldPort — or day — JetBlue’s ubercool Terminal 5.  To be fair, Delta is building onto Terminal 4, and says it will provide a better experience for travelers.

I was surprised to see Washington Dulles (one of my personal favorites) on this list.  The airport has opened a new security check-in that is much faster in processing travelers.  And my beloved rolling jetbridges have mostly been replaced by a people mover.  And Boston Logan is another one where travelers can have different experiences (Terminal A great; Terminal B, meh).

I was  surprised to learn that Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport came in first.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice airport, but I  happen to think that Orlando should have rated higher than number four. And as much as I love my hometown airport, San Francisco International, I don’t think it rates number five — unless you’re judging it purely based on the International Terminal and the new-ish Terminal 2.

And I’m happy to see that my current hometown airport — BWI  — is number six on the list, despite Concourses B, C and D looking a little long in the tooth.  But the airport has announced a $100 million program to spruce up the facility.  But I was surprised to see Miami as number 10 on the list.  While the South Terminal is lovely, it is long and sprawled out.  The facility has been undergoing upgrades for years, and some concourses (G) are relics from an earlier age.

Some airports I would have added to the list, including: Portland; John Wayne; Jacksonville; Savannah; San Jose; and Nashville.  So what do you think? What airports — good or bad — should have been on this list?

Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of … Air Service?

14 May

Back on May 2, in my Rolling Aviation Thoughts post, one of the items was about how Toledo Express Airport is still looking for an airline to provide service.  The airport received a $750,000 Small Community Air Service grant seven months ago with the goal of bringing in a carrier, with no luck.  The problem is the city’s close proximity to Detroit Metro Airport, where folks can — and do — just drive from Toledo for lower fares.

In that article, air service consultant Mike Boyd was quoted saying that “it’s time for air-service hospice” at Express.  And I agreed with him 100%.  But in a letter to the editor of the Toledo Blade, Jerry Chabler, Chairman Airport Committee Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, took exception with Boyd’s blunt assessment about air service out of the airport.

“That kind of talk is reckless. Read by representatives of airlines with whom we are in talks, or by passengers flying into and out of Express, those words will not be helpful.” Chabler wrote.  He also took exception with Boyd’s comment that “the local airport is a lost cause.”

I can understand how Mr. Chabler feels.  It’s his job to try to get air service into Toledo Express.  But I also don’t think he’s being realistic about that facility’s chances of getting air service anytime soon. Even Toledo’s mayor — theoretically the facility’s biggest booster — was caught driving to Detroit.

Chabler needs to take a look at his airport’s own numbers.  The airport reached its peak traffic in 1997, when AirTran was offering direct service to Orlando.

Since then, it’s been a revolving door of airlines at Toledo Express, including Delta Connection, Continental Express, American Eagle, Northwest Airlink and Direct Air, which abruptly ended service in March.  Airlines have been cutting service to marginal and low-performing markets since 2001, and they have become very picky about where they put their resources.

The fact that despite receiving $1.3 million in federal Small Community Air Service grants in the past five years (giving back $750,000), the airport still can’t attract an airline.

When I worked at Mesa air back in 2001-2002, one of my jobs was to do presentations to communities for their Essential Air Service contracts (read about my thoughts on that program here). It was always interesting to meet with city officials, because they would make these outrageous service demands, knowing full well they could barely justify the service they had only because of the largess of the federal government.  They felt like it was their right to have air service in a post-deregulation world.

And Mr. Chabler seems to feel the same way about Toledo Express despite the reality of a new airline world order where smaller cities will continue to fight just to keep what little service they still have.  Travelers in the region have voted — they prefer to drive to Detroit and make their own connections to the global air transportation system.

Another letter to the editor applauded Boyd’s frank assessment and suggested that the Port Authority focus on providing a shuttle service to Detroit instead of chasing after airlines.  I agree, and a good model of how well it works is operating in my own back yard.

I was talking with John Presburg, an old friend from my regional airline days. He retired from US Airways Express carrier Piedmont Airlines and created a BayRunner Shuttle, a van service to Washington National, Washington Dulles and BWI Airport from Maryland cities, including several that no longer have air service.  I hope Toledo Express looks at doing something similar instead of chasing after something that will probably not be coming back.

Airport Concession Confessions: The Comfort Food Edition

1 May

It’s been awhile since I did a Confessions post.  Plus I’ve done some traveling, and have discovered some new places, so let’s get to it with five of my favorites.

  1. Praline Connection, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.  If you’ve never had a praline (a luscious candy made from cream, sugar and pecans), you are missing a treat.  If you find yourself at the airport, run — do not walk — to the connection and buy some to take home. You won’t regret it.
  2. Nuts on Clark, Chicago Midway Airport. A few years ago, I attended an airport concessions conference in Chicago.  At the end of the conference, we were given a tour — and samples — of the airport’s best. I had the popcorn here and fell in love. No lie – I actually will schedule a stopover at Midway if it works in my travel plans to get this popcorn. They have an outpost at O’Hare too.
  3. Northpoint, General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee.  I have a friend who lives in the area and recommended I try the custard at this local favorite.  I had the vanilla, and it was so good, I wanted to light up a cigarette — and I don’t even smoke!
  4. Boudin Bakery Cafe, San Francisco International Airport. Whenever I’m leaving the city of my birth, a loaf of Boudin (pronounce it Bo-DEEN) sourdough bread is in my carry-on. But if I have time to eat, I always get the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. De-LISH!
  5. Vino Volo, 12 airport locations.  This is one of my favorite airport concessions of all time.  And one of the reasons (besides the great wine selection) is their small snack plates.  I cannot get enough of the cured olives and the Marcona almonds, which have a lovely hint of rosemary.

There’s A (Profiling) App For That: FlyRights

30 Apr

Back in August 2006, a controversy ensued when FOX-TV conservative radio talk show host Mike Gallagher suggested that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) create separate screening lines for Muslims.

“It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line in America’s airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it, it’s time,” Gallagher said, garnering tepid audience applause.  You can read my original Aviation Daily on Airports blog post on this here.  This proposed action, to me, smacked of racial profiling.  I have found that the people who tend to be most in favor of racial profiling are the ones least likely to be profiled.

So we fast forward six years later, where today the FlyRights mobile app (on the iPhone and Android platforms), which offers an avenue of redress for those who suspect they have been profiled, reports NPR.  After downloading the app, those who feel they were profiled can answer 12 questions then submit their complaint directly to TSA.

The new app is the brainchild of the Sikh Coalition, whose members in the Silicon Valley felt they were being profiled for wearing the turbans required by their faith.  Back in 2007, TSA responded to the leaders of the Sikh community, expressing understanding about the sensitivity a nd importance of their head-dress screening. The agency began offering screeners more cultural awareness training and promised to continue a dialogue with Sikhs and other groups.

TSA says there is no racial profiling, just an emphasis on security.  But that’s cold comfort to folks like the Sikhs, or Muslims who wear head dresses, along with others who wear head wraps or loose/bulky clothing.

But the bigger point is — racial profiling doesn’t work, according to William Press, a professor of computer science and integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin.  In the December 2010 issue of Significance magazine, he writes that no matter what you do, the math doesn’t work.

“[A Middle Easterner] is not on any do-not-fly list, and it occurred to me it was exactly this phenomenon,” Press told the Pacific Standard blog. “Either explicitly or implicitly, there was some kind of profiling going on, and the same innocent individual was being screened over and over again. That draws resources away from the screening that  would find the bad guy. I realized those were basically the same problems.”

So I applaud the Sikh Coalition for creating this app.  Maybe TSA will get enough submissions, do their own numbers and train their screeners accordingly.  So now you weigh in — do you think this app is needed? Do you believe TSA screeners are involved in racial profiling? Have you been subjected to racial profiling?

Randy Peterson To Airports: My Observations (Part 3)

26 Apr

So here we are at Part 3 of frequent-flyer Randy Peterson‘s thoughts on the good and bad in airports. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.  I have been to more than my fair share of the world’s airports, and as I listened to Peterson, I found myself nodding in agreement with some of his observations and disagreeing with others.  So below, I offer my thoughts on five of the good and bad things about airports.

Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like

I agree with Peterson on Number 10, Top Chef.  I love different concepts and local/regional brands that have popped up in airports.  One of my favorites is Vino Volo, which offers premium wines by the bottle and the glass. They also offer flights of wine with tasting notes.  Interestingly enough, I ate Torta Frontera food at Chicago O’Hare with Peterson and I’d gladly fly through O’Hare to eat it again.

I’m an iPhone freak who loves her apps. In Number 5, Peterson mentioned one of my favorite apps — GateGuru.  This s my go-to app when I need to find a retail outlet, restaurant or service. I paid $2.99 for the app, but it’s now free. You not only get directions to what you’re looking for, but you get folks like me (AviationQueen) who give reviews on the listed services.

Not only do I travel, but I’m always picking someone up from the airport, so I’m with Peterson on the convenience of cell phone lots, Number 4. My favorite is at Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport. There’s plenty of space, you can do great plane spotting and the airport has billboards with phone numbers of all the airports so you can check on flight status.

I am a BIG fan of art in airports just like Peterson, so Number 3 appeals to me.  San Francisco (my original hometown airport) has the best art I’ve seen in airports.  I’m also a big fan of what I’ve seen in Phoenix, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Hartsfield-Jackson and Pittsburgh.

Shopping is fun — and a sport — for me. Back when I worked for Mesa Air Group in Phoenix, I used to fly through Pittsburgh regularly just for the shopping, as outlined in Number 1.  I love how airports have really stepped up their game in the shopping arena. Some of my favorites are Hartsfield-Jackson, Orlando, JetBlue’s JFK Airport Terminal 5 and Seattle-Tacoma.

Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe

Now we get to the not-so-fun part — what airports need to work on.

In Number 10, Peterson bemoaned slow WiFi and pay WiFi (yes, that means you, BWI and Hartsfield-Jackson), and I agree with him 100%. We all like to surf the web, check email and upload/download content.  I appreciate the free WiFi, but it does me no good if it takes too long to download the latest picture of my beautiful child or open an attachment on my email.

I have the TSA app on my iPhone. One function on it is security checkpoint line wait times.  Good idea in concept, but when people don’t update it for days, it does no good, although I post my wait times faithfully. So like Peterson I’d love to see an app (Number 8) that gives more accurate wait times to cut anxiety.

Ah…airport floors. My behind has seen more of my fair share of airport floors (Number 7), and frankly, kids, I’m getting too old for it. I, like Peterson, would like to see more chairs in gate holding areas.

When I worked at Delta Air Lines, I got to be part of the team that opened the new Terminal A at Boston-Logan International Airport. One of my favorite parts was mentioned in Number 6 — the bathrooms.  The bathrooms in Terminal A were wide a spacious, and the stalls had more than enough room to bring in a purse and a rollerboard. Unfortunately, there are still too many facilities that can’t — or won’t — adjust accordingly.

And our Number 1 is the same — Power To The People. I’m usually the most popular girl in the airport. Why? I carry the Belkin Mini Surge Protector with three plugs and two USB ports. It is amazing how many friends I’ve made sharing my surge protector with people whose phone were mere bars away from death. Airports are doing better (thanks DFW and Boston Logan), but we need more plugs!!

Random Aviation Photo

26 Apr

BWI Airport is my hometown airport, and I love it.  I spend a lot of time in Concourse A, home to Southwest Airlines.  When the airport built this concourse, they put in lots big windows to bring in lots of light.  Below is a shot of one of those windows, decorated. Enjoy!

Randy Peterson To Airports: Give The Travelers What They Want (Part 2)

25 Apr

In yesterday’s episode, frequent-flyer guru Randy Petersen used a webinar hosted by New York-based Clear, which offers a shorter airport security checkpoint experience for travelers, to discuss the good and bad in airports.  The shorter version of this post appeared Monday on the APEX Editor’s blog.

Peterson took a page from David Letterman and did a top 10 list about airports,  “Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like.”  As promised, we have part two of his top 10 list, “Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe.”

Number 10 is Why Sigh.  “Airports have slow WiFi speeds. These systems need to be modernized so we can upload photos quickly. We already feel like we’ve paid for WiFi with all the airport fees.  So modernize and stop charging and we’ll love you for improving our experience,” he said.  “It also makes you look good.”

Number 9 is the 80/20 rule.  In airport security, travelers spend 80% of their time waiting for someone to check their drivers’ license and 20 percent is going through security, said Peterson.  “Something is wrong with that.  In some it’s the airport and some is the Transportation Security Administration,” he said. “The lines are the lines, so airports need to work with the government and the infrastructure to stop long lines just to check IDs.”

Number 8 is Til It’s Time To Go. There’s a lot of anxiety for road warriors, said Peterson.  “We’re waiting for things like buses to the terminal. There’s a lot of anxiety on whether will I make my flight,” he said.  “Of the 73 apps on my iPhone, 42 will tell me airport security checkpoint wait times, but they don’t tell me my personal wait times. It would be good to know how long a wait is at given points.”

TSA says anxiety is a sign of a terrorist, said Peterson. “No. It’s anxiety to get on your flight.  Just et us know if we will make our flight.”

Number 7 is Sitting Not So Pretty. “Its uncivilized to sit on the floor waiting for your flight. I won’t sit on a floor,” said Peterson. “Airports need more chairs to match the size of an average aircraft.  We don’t sit on the floor at a restaurant or in the doctor’s office. It doesn’t look good when half of your people sitting on floor at a gate.”

Number 6 is Two-Lane Highway Versus The Interstate. Peterson uttered two words: narrow bathrooms.  “I have crashed into other folks with rollerboards because bathroom entrances are abysmal and badly designed,” he said.

Number 5 is Drag And Drop. There’s always a conga line at Immigration, standing in line having to kick their luggage, said Peterson. “Sometimes I have to hold it for 45 minutes, then put it on the floor, move three feet – it’s kick the can,” he said.  “I’m getting too old to pick up my belongings.  There must be some way for those lines to be structured. Can we invent better way do to this?”

Number 4 is Do You Know Who I Am? “I’m an important guy. I have a titanium card and I have access to an airline premium line,” said Peterson. “I’m in different cities like Boise, and I don’t know where airports have these designated security lines.  I’m in a long line, and I see a small sign that says premium passenger line here.  So get better signage.  We have egos, so show us where to go to get the premium lines.”

Number 3 is Beware What You Wish For.  Congress wants to get rid of premium lines and have airports do their own security, said Peterson.  “I don’t think it will work. Security is not just guys with a black light checking licenses.  Where will you find the money to do biometrics?” he asked.

The folks from Clear got my attention in Denver and I like what I see, said Peterson.  “I see there’s less manual processes in security.  Can DIA do this without Clear? Can TSA?” he asked.  “Security is not like the old days.  Where will the money come from? I’d prefer to let Clear take my money.”

Number 2 is No I Can’t Hear You Now.  “When a flight is delayed, I can’t always hear what’s going on.  Plus I move to another area because they have more seats (see Number 7),” said Peterson.  “Airports and airlines need a better way, like social media or apps, to get information out to passengers.”

Number 1 is Power To The People.  We all can see the huddled masses on the cold floor near the trash cans plugged in, said Peterson.  Programs and apps suck the life out of travelers’ devices, he added.  “I see some airports have power poles, but it’s not enough.  Smart road warriors bring their own power strips and extension cords, but that’s an accident waiting to happen. We need more and we need it to be accessible.”

Tomorrow: my own observations on some of Randy Peterson’s comments.


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