web Musings of The Global Traveller

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Weather impacts again

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. I have been travelling (doh) and had very limited internet access. It made me realise how much I take for granted being online regularly.

The past month I have had more weather impacts on my travels than I've experienced for a long time. Fortunately none too serious.

  • I've been locked in during delay while airport isn't closed (see earlier posts here and here).
  • On another occasion, flying in to the same airport, I had several hours delay due to the flow on effects of weather delays earlier in the day. Eventually the flight was cancelled when the pilots and cabin crew ran out of hours. Fortunately this time the wait was at an airport with an airline lounge which I had access to, and thus hardly an endurance. However the airline gave me poor options to use the ticket - stay overnight at their expense and continue the next day (which I could not use since there was a reason the ticket was a same day return), refund which the airline worked out as a token amount, credit for another ticket to the same token amount, or use the flights any time within the next year. This last option isn't as reasonable as it sounds as I need to pay my own way to & from this airport, and to use the flights there needs to be availability in the special booking class. Despite my having top frequent flyer program status with that airline, and willing to be flexible, the airline was unwilling to offer a solution I was happy with.
  • Flying a different airline, to a different airport, we made our way to within a few hundred feet (yes that close) of the runway with no visibility in heavy rain when the pilots pulled out and returned to the airport we just left (which was the closest practical one). In stark contrast to the above case, the airline offered me a new trip from my home airport, ie not just replacing the lost sectors, even to the extent of allowing the rebooking into a higher booking class (within the same cabin) when my original booking class was unavailable on a new date that was convenient for me.
  • The most recent case had me on tenterhooks when check in was closed for an extended period with the airline unsure if the aircraft for our flight would even be able to arrive. This had least impact of all with only a minor delay in the end.

So the moral is, weather delays can happen at any time, and I am experiencing an unlucky spell. Hope it ends soon.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

US APEC Business Travel Card update

An update on my earlier post. The US entry to APEC Business Travel Card scheme is being fast-tracked. Apparently from 19 November card holders will be able to use air-crew US immigration lanes. All normal visa formalities will still be required (at least for now).

It just goes to show that things can quickly be improved for the traveller when there is a will.

Monday, November 20, 2006

US to join APEC Business Travel Card

Business travel in the Asia-Pacific region will soon get a little bit easier, with the announcement that USA will join the APEC Business Travel Card. This means business travellers from Asia-Pacific will find it a little easier to enter USA, and US business travellers to Asia-Pacific will also find it a little easier.

The APEC Business Travel Card provides visa free entry to many countries bordering the Pacific Ocean (subject to some conditions), and just as importantly for busy travellers provides express immigration lanes.

I haven't seen any information on whether non-US APEC Business Travel Card holders visiting US will still have to get fingerprinted and eyescanned on entry. At least it is a start.

An update on Boston TSA common sense - still none

Thanks to Upgrade: Travel Better for the heads-up to this story on Smarter Travel. I posted a month ago about my experience with Boston (BOS) TSA and the liquids rule. It seems they are still up to tricks, with Smarter Travel's report of being made to buy a quart sized bag (clear and ziplocked of course) at the nearby newsstand due to having a much larger one. Fair enough you might think? Except the contents were 2 3-oz items - clearly much less than you could fit in a quart-sized bag.

So where has the common sense gone?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

EU proposes airline emissions controls

The European Commission has proposed all airlines flying in or to the European Union be subject to emissions controls from 2011. At the moment airlines are excluded from the Kyoto Protocol, which sets carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions targets for countries in an attempt to reduce the effects of global warming.

Details of the proposed airline controls are sketchy but we can be sure that if adopted they will lead to higher prices for passengers and air freight.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

US + America West + Delta = Delta?

US Airways, still in the process of completing its merger with America West, has made a bid for much larger Delta Airlines.

There are still lots of hurdles to pass, but if it succeeds at least one airline alliance will lose an airline, for Delta is a member of Sky Team and US Airways a member of Star Alliance. I agree with Upgrade Travel Better that it is likely Star Alliance would lose out - Delta is both a larger airline than US Airways (even after the merger with America West) and a more significant contributor to Sky Team than US Airways is to Star Alliance. There may also be a direct impact on United Airlines which has lots of codeshares on US Airways - will these remain in place with an enlarged Delta?

Star Alliance and Sky Team frequent flyer program members counting on mileage earning or elite status benefits on US Airways or Delta flights from mid next year would do well to keep informed of the merger progress in case they need to switch flights to get the benefits.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Frequent flyer mileage expiry

Those who are addicted to frequent flyer miles should make sure any valuable miles don't expire unused. In some (most) frequent flyer programs (FFPs) miles do expire eventually (or in some cases the program may close your account for inactivity).

I find it helpful to review all my FFPs each year in November to make sure I have enough time to stop anything of value going to waste by expiring. Putting it in my diary means I know I'll check it every year.

Expiry policies vary widely - with loss of miles after 3 years of inactivity being a common policy. Some programs are much more restrictive, and indeed the trend lately is to reduce the validity period of those hard-earned miles. Check out this thread on Flyertalk (and this one for non-US frequent flyer programs), or your FFP website for the rules for your miles.

For those too lazy to diarise a FFP expiry check, some (paid for) services will do it for you - such as Mileage Manager.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Call roaming in flight

We've known for a while that it has been coming, but this week Emirates confirmed the launch of in-flight mobile phone service from January 2007.

Calls will be treated as international roaming and limited to 5 live calls at any one time.

Nonetheless I am not looking forward to it. At the moment, flights are one of the few places you can avoid the problem of the phone loudmouth. Having someone sitting nearby who hasn't switched their phone to silent and get lots of calls on a 12+ hour flight will not be pleasant, especially if their ringtone is Crazy Frog.

Will flyers be able to request a phone free zone?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fare smorgasbord or nickel and diming?

The Cranky Flier writes how Air Canada has increased transparency in their domestic and trans-border fares. They've done this in a couple of ways.

Firstly, and I don't think this is particularly new, by creating 5 fare categories (Tango, Tango Plus, Latitude, Latitude Plus and Executive aka business Class) and making explicit what is or isn't included in each. Air Canada isn't the only airline to do this.

For example Qantas offers Red e-deal, Super Saver, Fully Flexible and Business. However, Qantas isn't quite as user friendly as Air Canada in that within each fare category there still are several booking classes, and in the case of Red e-deals some are mileage earning on partner frequent flyer programs (eg American Airlines AAdvantage) and some are not. In a case of user unfriendly design, the actual booking class is only shown after payment has been made. (Tip - you can make a guess as to booking class on routes where multiple flights have different availability within Red e-deal fare category, look for a slightly higher amount for mileage earning on AAdvantage, but this tip only works when both flights are both jets or both props since taxes differ by aircraft type.)

A better example might be Air New Zealand. They have fare categories Smart Saver (non mileage earning), Flexi Saver, Flexi, Premium Economy Saver and Premium Economy, Business Saver and Business. You can find out exactly what is included in each fare category before booking by looking up fare info.

But, Air Canada has now taken the transparency approach to another level by offering a smorgasbord of options. Don't care about the miles, save a few dollars. Want checked baggage, pay a little more. Pay to pre-select a seat. And so on. While this may appeal to some travellers, such a nickel and dime approach seems to me to be a race to the bottom and part of a trend of full service airlines trying to mimic low cost carriers (LCCs) to remain competitive.

Will it catch on? I hope not.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Another map tool

I came across yet another map tool, Platial, thanks to a post by gokubi. I've been playing around with it a bit and it looks quite useful and very easy to use (tip - to include a location on your map make sure the "add to mapname" box is checked!). You can see a map I've created showing the airports I have visited/will visit in 2006 (click on the 2, 3, and 4 below the places box to display the rest of the icons). In most cases entering just the airport code the map centered on to the right place, although there were a few missteps. As more people use the site it should bring up more locations already entered - currently there is a bit within US but not so much elsewhere.

I haven't used much of the functionality, but from browsing the site I can see several ways it could be used combining maps, directions, place information, venues and schedules, etc. I can see myself using it to arrange meetings, dinner, etc in unfamiliar surroundings. The software crashed a couple of times and I'm still having issues trying to incorporate a map in this blog (uses Blogger Beta so perhaps not fully supported yet) but overall pretty good I think.

As a side benefit of my playing I got some useful street maps for the neighbouring area of some unfamiliar airports which will make it easier for me to get around.

Locked in update

A few days ago I posted about being locked in at the airport. I got a half-hearted answer to my email from a Customer Care Executive (what a title!) thanking me for my feedback, assuring me they are "putting every effort into minimising delays", but not directly addressing my questions.

I've experienced a similar apathetic response with other airlines in the past couple of years. It does make it seem that form letters rule and it is too much effort to deal with customers' issues (real or perceived).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Carry on restrictions spread

As feared the carry-on restrictions are spreading - this time throughout European Union (EU).

From 6 November there will be restrictions on liquids to almost match the US requirements I previously reported on. I say almost match because of course the US requirement is 3oz containers in a quart ziplock bag, while the EU requirement is 100ml containers in a litre ziplock bag. Hopefully common sense will prevail that the same bags and containers are good for EU and US.

This is not an unexpected development with several countries already having adopted restrictions on liquids (including some unofficially - yes Germany that means you!).

But wait, there is more. By 17 April 2007, the EU will be adopting the UK's restrictions on carry-ons, both size and quantity. Namely a carry on must be no bigger than 56cm x 45cm x 25cm - in the UK these figures are inclusive of handles, wheels etc. It remains to be seen whether the EU will interpret the same way or allow slightly bigger carry-ons (ie the body of the bag has those size limits).

And, worst of all, the EU has agreed to adopt the only 1 carry-on item rule of the UK. This is terrible for business travellers who will be forced to check in bags for short business trips since the one item of carry-on is a laptop bag which cannot fit all they need.

These changes are a major backward step for traveller convenience without necessarily improving security. For example why would an unopened bottle of duty free bought at one airport suddenly become dangerous at the next airport on the itinerary? And with the EU requirements becoming more closely aligned to the US there is that much less pressure to relax them.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Directory of official tourist offices

I stumbled across the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory. It lists a lot of countries and regions within countries. I looked up a few places I'm familiar with and it seems to have the official tourist offices listed (with links) correctly. I am not sure if it has all countries but it certainly includes a lot - even tiny Mashall Islands are there. (Unsure where the Marshall Islands are? Check out the highlighted region on the map below.)

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Luxury travel

I recently posted about Singapore Airlines new business class and first class product launched on their new 777-300ER aircraft.
It will come as no surprise to those who know me that ever since I have been plotting a way to rearrange my travel to experience this.

First Class looks to be quite a step up on the luxury scale from my more usual travel (left).

Business Class (note the Raffles name is being dropped), shown left, is also a step up from current business class.

Pictures from Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand.

Singapore Airlines will initially fly the new 777-300ER between Singapore and Paris CDG, then Singapore and Milan and Barcelona, and also one of the Hong Kong flights each way. I've managed to rearrange my travel and book one of these. Fingers are now crossed for clearing a frequent flyer mileage upgrade to first.