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Why Delta’s ‘ Basic Economy’ Fare Is All Your Fault

5 Jun

A Delta jet at the gate in Atlanta. Photo by Benét J. Wilson

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Delta Air Lines has begun testing rock-bottom “basic economy” fares on selected routes — and you, the traveler, have no one but yourselves to blame.

Why is it your fault? Because you refuse to pay the higher fares that Delta and other airlines want you to. And since you refuse, they are going to get the money out of you other ways, by hook or by crook. Take a look at what fees have been introduced in the past 10 years: checked bags, food, drinks, change fees, phone booking fees and fuel surcharges, to name some.

So Delta for the past two months has been testing fares that are remarkably similar to those offered by Spirit Airlines, on some of the routes that the ultra-low-fare carrier flies, including Detroit to Orlando, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. With basic economy, travelers can’t make any changes to their itinerary, nor can they choose seats in advance.

You may hate what Spirit does (see why in this guest blog post), but you can see how other airlines have followed some of the things they do.  And someone does like the airline, because they have full flights and regularly make a profit. 

So if Delta is successful with this test, look for it to expand the basic economy fares into other markers.  And don’t be surprised if other airlines follow.

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

1 Jun

It was raining parts! An Air Canada flight taking off from Toronto to Tokyo had to make an emergency landing after parts from its engine fell to the ground, reports KHOU-TV.  No one was injured during the landing.

He *didn’t* have a ticket to ride, but he didn’t care.  A man who had just been released from jail managed to get onto a flight at San Diego International Airport — without a ticket, reports MSNBC.  He entered the airport through an emergency door at the airport’s commuter terminal and was discovered after a flight attendant realized there were too many passengers on the plane.

You must behave on your flight!  Ryan Snider was arrested when his American Airlines flight landed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, after becoming unruly during the flight, reports MSNBC.  he refused to follow crewmember instructions and had to be restrained by two passengers.

No buckle, no ride. Mark Yanchak and his toddler were kicked off an Alaska Airlines flight leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after the child refused to buckle his seat, reports CBS News.  The father said the pilot was overreacting, but the pilot said he’d rather “deal with it on the ground than in mid-flight.”

Don’t you need a pole to pole vault?  Pole vaulter Kati Davis got an unpleasant surprise when her Delta Air Lines flight arrived in Pueblo, Colo., for a major track and field event — her poles were not there, reports KOMO-TV. Davis paid $200 to check the poles, but they were lost, and she blames the airline for her poor performance. Delta did refund her$200 fee.

Interesting joy ride. A man was arrested  after stealing a jeep and a motor home and crashing them both through the fence at Mississippi’s Segars Field/Iuka Airport, reports WTVA-TV. He was charged with two counts of grand larceny.

How Social Media Got Me On The MetLife Blimp

1 Jun


 

Me in the MetLife blimp.

Regular readers of this blog know I am a HUGE fan of social media, especially Twitter, where I do my aviation geek posts as @AvQueenBenet.  You also know that my day job is handling media relations for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) — a job I found via social media.

Our headquarters are directly across the street from Frederick Municipal Airport, where I happen to be taking my flight lessons.  Last Monday as I was coming into work, I saw the MetLife blimp parked at the airport. It had flown to cover the Preakness horse race in Baltimore.  I got out, snapped a few pictures and thought that was that. I kept seeing the blimp, so finally on Thursday, I thought I’d send a tweet to @MetLifeBlimp.

 

I was amazed when I got such a quick response.

Pilot Charlie Smith was kind enough to pick me up and off we went.  First, I was amazed at how big the blimp was. I was also surprised that it’s just a big bag of air, as Charlie aptly described it.  I got to talk with Charlie about how he became a blimp pilot, the traveling life of the crew of 13, and everything it takes to get the blimp from point A to point B.  As far as him getting in the door, Smith said he was in the right place at the right time.  “Not too many people dream of doing this, but we all fall  in love with it.”

I know what he means. I actually felt an electric thrill when I got into the blimp’s cockpit.  Forgive me as I go into uber avgeek mode. Amazingly enough, the cockpit looked amazingly like the one I’m using in my flight lessons on the Cessna 172 Skyhawk SP.  Smith agreed, noting that the blimp’s cockpit only had three instruments that were unique to the aircraft.  And the blimp doesn’t have ailerons, which are hinged flight control surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing on an aircraft and are used to control the aircraft in roll. As a current student, it seems weird to me that such a key part of flight is not there!

 

Smith noted that the @MetLifeBlimp social media team is pretty quick about responding to tweets.  He said the blimp has responded to tweets to fly over schools or other places if they can fit it in the schedule. I really appreciate the folks at MetLife for allowing me to have this grand adventure!  And if the blimp shows up in your city, send them a tweet — they may just fly by!

Best of Aviation Queen: Why We Travel

29 May

Editor’s note: Kids, I’m still recovering from the holiday weekend, so today you get a Best Of.  This post first appeared on the blog on Feb. 16 and was inspired by a great New York Times slide show and presentation on why we travel. Enjoy!

There’s so many bookmarks under my aviation/travel links.  The New York Times has been doing this ongoing slideshow called “Why We Travel.” It features some fantastic photos, along with the stories behind then, from the newspaper’s readers.  Looking at those slideshows got me to thinking about some of the cool places I’ve been, confirming why I travel (besides the fact that it has been a part of my job the past 20 years). So below are 10 sights I’ve seen on my travels.

  1. The vast bareness of Greenland. I was flying a 30-seat Saab 340 turboprop from Linkoping, Sweden (where the plane was built) to Minneapolis to deliver it to then-Northwest Airlink carrier Mesaba Airlines.  You just can’t fly direct on a turboprop, so we made several stops, including one in Greenland. It was cold and so stark and barren, it was almost beautiful in a bizarre sort of way.
  2. The colored roofs of Iceland. On that same trip, we spent the night in Reykjavik. As we were landing, I got to sit in the cockpit, which gave me a stellar view of this island nation’s ubiquitous colored roofs.
  3. New Year’s Eve, Times Square, New York City.  I hate crowds.  But in 2004, my sister the police detective, who lives in California, came out to the East Coast with a friend to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Times Square. We spent the day wandering the Times Square area. Everywhere we went, she chatted with cops, who were out in full force.  So as the celebration drew closer, the area went on lockdown. But we got a prime watching spot because the cops recognized my sister and gave us better and better viewing spots. Sweet!!
  4. The food halls of Singapore. During my second trip to Singapore to cover the biannual air show, me and some of my journalist friends found ourselves frequenting these great eat places.  One of my favorites was outdoors, and if you’re adventurous, just order a Tiger Beer and let your server choose what to eat. I sampled whole fried duck (which included the head and feet), chili crabs, fish ball soup and shark’s fin.
  5. Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.  I’ve been an on-again, off-again Catholic for quite a while. During one of my on phases, I happened to be in Paris for the Paris Air Show. Some friends said we should go to mass, and off we went. One of the best things is no matter what the language, you know exactly what’s going on.
  6. Honolulu International Airport. I was on my way to Indonesia for the launch of a new turboprop, and we had a 3-hour layover here.  It was pre-9/11, so I actually ventured outside to see the gardens.  The flowers were colorful and beautiful, and I can still smell them to this day.
  7. Embraer aircraft plant, Gavião Peixoto, Brazil.  I was on one of my many visits to this Brazilian manufacturer, which is headquartered in São José dos Campos.  We flew a small jet to this city, located in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, which is home to, among other things, the assembly lines for the Embraer 190 and 195 jets and final assembly for Phenom business jets. I noticed was how incredibly green and lush the region was, home to sugar cane fields and orange groves.
  8. The Corn Palace, Mitchell, S. Dakota. Back in 1992, completely burned out from a very stressful job, I quit and decided to take a road trip across America with my friend Mark, who was moving to Seattle to do his medical residency. Since neither of us was in a rush, we took the scenic route, which included a trip to this facility, which features ever-changing murals made out of corn on the outside walls and colorful onion domes.  The moon landing — in corn. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — in corn. The Iwo Jima flag raising — in corn. You get the picture.
  9. Bandung, Indonesia. This city, about 110 miles southeast of Jakarta, is the third-largest city in the country and was home to aircraft manufacturer Industri Pesawat Terbang Nurtanio (IPTN, now Indonesian Aerospace). I was there for the roll-out of the IPTN N-250, which never took to the skies. But the highlight for me was to see an amazing display of Dutch colonial architecture, defined by the tropical Art Deco style. Amazing buildings I saw included the Institut Teknologi Bandung, the Hotel Savoy Homann and Villa Isola.
  10. Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona.  This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, near the McDowell Mountains. It serves as the home for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and offers tours and programming year-round. When I lived in Phoenix, I actually bought a membership and took visitors on tours of this estate. I was never bored, because each guide at the facility always managed to tell me something about Wright that others missed.

Speaking of missed, why do you travel?  What are some of the more interesting or off-the-beaten-path places you’ve seen in your travels?

Early Boarding For Children Dropped By United Airlines

24 May

I am the mother of a six-year-old. I’ve been traveling with my daughter since she was 10 days old.  So when I read in USA Today that United Airlines recently decided to drop pre-boarding for children, my first thought was “good for them.”

I regularly fly on Southwest Airlines, which stopped pre-boarding for children under age 5 back in 2007.  I would set my clock 24 hours in advance to get an A pass for my flight.  But since Southwest started the $10 Early Bird fee, I just buy that, ensuring that I get the time I need to get my daughter settled (she wears a CARES harness).

When pre-boarding was still available on Southwest Airlines, I saw travelers abusing the system regularly, with children much older that 5 boarding, or entire families with older children taking advantage of pre-boarding.

With a little advanced planning, I believe that parents can make the adjustment accordingly. So what do you think? Did United make the right call here, or should they continue allowing pre-boarding for children?

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

11 May

The tiny face of terrorism or an oops moment?  An 18-month-old girl and her family were removed by a Transportation Security Administration screener from a JetBlue flight out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after the child’s name allegedly showed up on the no-fly list, reports Forbes. It turns out the airline called TSA about the family, which is of Middle East descent,  and the child was mistakenly on the no-fly list.

Caught in a conspiracy.  Three TSA screeners at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport were arrested and charged with conspiring to smuggle more than $500,000 worth of heroin and methamphetamine from Mexico City, reports CBS News. They were caught after their text messages looking for the missing bag was intercepted by federal agents.

I’ve got a loaded bear in my hand and I’m NOT afraid to use it!  A father expressed surprise when TSA screeners at Rhode Island’s T. F. Green International Airport discovered gun parts hidden in three of his 4-year-old son’s stuffed animals, reports CNN.  Screeners found the mainframe of a .40-caliber firearm, a magazine with two .40-caliber rounds, a firing pin and a slide, CNN added. The weapons were confiscated and the pair was allowed to travel.

She wasn’t so pumped…A 16-year-old teenager is accusing the TSA of breaking her $10,000 insulin after she says she was coerced into using a body scanner at Denver International Airport, reports ABC7 News.  The pump manufacturer said that the device’s software was damaged by the x-rays emitted by the body scanner.

I wonder if the ark of the covenant is also in that storage room?  TSA found itself under assault by House Republicans after congressional investigators discovered $184 million worth of unused screening equipment gathering dust in a Dallas warehouse, reports Politico. The warehouse currently holds nearly 6,000 pieces of equipment, with 85 percent of it sitting for at least six months.

Good question, Bloomberg: who does screen the screeners?  House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a long-time critic of TSA, is questioning the agency on how it is doing background checks on its employees in the wake of a spate of arrests for accepting bribes from smugglers, reports Bloomberg.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has had his own run-ins with the agency, is calling for TSA to be eliminated.
That flight will cost $20 million.  95 passengers on an Air Canada flight who endured a 120-meter plunge after a sleepy pilot woke up to an invisible threat are now suing the airline for $20 million, reports the CBC. The pilot also thought the planet Venus was another plane.
What was wrong with this picture?  The UK’s Prince Andrew found himself facing criticism after he landed his private jet into a slum area in India, reports the Daily Mail.  The royal reportedly refused to fly commercial, instead racking up a bill for $135,000 for his flights.

We’ll end the week with a YouTube video that features Delta Air Lines staffers who created a flashmob dance at London Heathrow’s Terminal 4 in aid of Cancer Research UK.  Enjoy!

INFOGRAHPIC Mobile Dependence: A Growing Trend in Business Travel

10 May

Today we have a twist on the usual Random Aviation Photo.  Our new friends over at PC Housing, a temporary housing provider, sent me this cool infographic that explores the relationship between mobile technology and the business travel population.  I can see myself in more than one of these graphics. Enjoy!!

 

Right Or Wrong? Southwest Sued Over Obese Passenger Policy

7 May

This headline on ABC News – ‘Too Fat To Fly’ Passenger Sues Southwest Airlines For ‘Discriminatory Actions’ - caught my eye, since I’ve blogged several times (here and here).  For my newer readers, I am a woman of size – rubenesque, as it were — but I can still fit in one seat. So I understand the sensibilities on both sides.

I happen to agree with — and appreciate — Southwest Airlines’ policy of how it deals with passengers of size.  But I also see the point of Kenlie Tiggeman, the overweight passenger who was originally judged too fat to fly, who filed the lawsuit.

The problem with the Southwest policy, as Tiggeman (and I) sees it, is the inconsistency in how it is administered.  I’m all for having a row of seats at the end of a ticket counter placed behind a screen if an agent feels someone might not fit into their seat. The issue is that as humans, we all have our own views and prejudices.  I’m betting that if you put Tiggeman in front of 10 different gate agents or even 10 different travelers and asked if she was “too fat to fly,” you’d get myriad different answers.

A few years ago, my daughter and I were flying Southwest home from San Antonio on a full flight.  She was still using her SkyMall stroller/car seat. She was at the window (she can’t block a passenger in) and I was in the middle seat.  A man “of size” came to sit in the aisle seat. I knew it was going to be a tight fit — and it was.

Several flight attendants came by and looked at him, but didn’t say a word. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be rude. I should have. That was the longest 3.5 hour flight of my life.  A passenger who has paid for a seat should not be forced to have a passenger of size taking up their space.

So my wish is that before this goes to court, Tiggeman and Southwest Airlines come up with  a plan that balances the needs of passengers of size to have a consistent second-seat policy with the rights of “normal” sized passengers who deserve to have their own whole seat.

So, what do you think? Is Tiggeman right to sue Southwest Airlines? Do you think Southwest Airlines’ Customer of Size policy?  Tell me!!

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?

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

27 Apr

A new high in the chronicles of the mile high club.  A Qantas pilot has is facing the loss of his job after allegedly “getting jiggy” with a female passenger in the first class section of an Airbus A380 going from London to Sydney via Singapore, reports Aero-News Network.  Several passengers complained about the shenanigans of the off-duty pilot and his lady friend, and he was warned twice about his behavior by the crew.

No texting while driving. What about when you’re flying the plane?  A pilot for Jetstar on final approach to Singapore was forced to do a turnaround a mere 392 feet from the ground after he forgot to put down the landing gear because he was texting from his cell phone, reports Gizmodo. Whoops!

Venus does look like a 747 — if you squint really hard. A sleepy Air Canada pilot thought the planet Venus was an oncoming plane and reacted accordingly, reports ABC News.  He put the plane into a steep dive “that bounced passengers off the ceiling, injuring 16, and nearly caused a collision with a real plane flying 1,000 feet lower,” it adds.

Oh, those TSA screeners! In this week’s episode of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security blotter, Four current and screeners were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after they were accused of taking bribes and looking the other way while suitcases filled with cocaine, methamphetamine or marijuana passed through X-ray machines, reports the Los Angeles Times.  They allegedly took $2,400 in bribes over six months, according to federal agents.

TSA (doesn’t) Cares! It looks like someone forgot to read the manual on the TSA Cares program, designed to male screeners more sensitive to the needs of passengers with disabilities.  The Frank family was traveling out of JFK Airport on a flight to Florida when TSA screeners removed 7-year-old Dina, who has cerebral palsy, walks with crutches and leg braces, and a dispute ensued over how she was screened, reports the Daily.  The family claims agents were aggressive and forced the child to be screened twice, causing the family to miss their flight.

Hugging your grandma is a crime, TSA?  The Consumerist reports on an incident where a simple hug for grandma at a checkpoint at a Kansas airport turned into an event that evolved into three TSA screeners and a manager patting down the grandmother and a screaming 4-year-old.  TSA defended their actions, saying “that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child.”

OK, here’s a nice TSA story! Carlos Palma is eternally grateful to a TSA screener at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, reports NBCDFW. Palma dropped an envelope with $9,500 inside and didn’t realize it until arriving in Iowa.

The only thing missing was torches and pitchforks.  Passengers on what was supposed to be a five-hour Shenzhen Airlines flight turned into a 15-hour nightmare that ended with 30 passengers storming a Shanghai Pudong International Airport taxiway, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  The airline paid the passengers 1,000 yuan ($150) for their inconvenience, blaming thunderstorms for the delays.

Someone needs sensitivity lessons. 18-year-old cancer patient Marina Barlukova was leaving Moscow after chemotherapy and a leg amputation when a gate agent Vladivostok Avia refusing to allow her board the plane home unless she provided a doctor’s permission certifying that she was healthy enough to fly and wouldn’t die during the flight, reports RT.  She was forced to fly home on another carrier.

Uh, pilots – no fighting in the cockpit! UK carrier FlyBe fired two of its pilots after they got into a heated argument on a flight from Exeter to Malaga, reports Aero-News Network.  A tribunal ruled a “massive breakdown” happened in the cockpit, causing potential safety risk to the passengers and other crew.

We’ll end the week with this YouTube video showing what happens when a jet tries to land at Bilbao airport in a very strong wind. Enjoy!

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