web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, December 31, 2007

More good news for UK travellers

Hard on the heels of the news of the UK carry on rules being (mostly) relaxed, there is more good news for UK travellers.

The BAA airport strike for January 7th has been called off (source BBC). There are still 2 more BAA strikes for January 14th and January 16/17th that may be called off depending on the result of a union ballot. Watch this space.

To see what airports are possibly impacted, and some other air travel related strikes, check out my recent blog entry.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Something light to end the year

The blog Another Passport Stamp had an entry on one of Delta Air Line's Planeguage animated videos.

Here's one of them.

Happy new year

In case I don't make another post before the end of 2007, have a happy new year wherever you may be, and wishing you all the best for 2008.

For me, I'll be seeing in 2008 twice. I can feel the hangover already!

An improvement to UK carry on rules from January 7

Last month I posted that UK carry on rules are to be relaxed ... maybe ... for some. The Department for Trade has released info on which airports will allow 2 carry ons from January 7th (see The Guardian for example).

The news is better than expected, although far from perfect. Most, but not all major UK airports will allow 2 carry on bags. Notable among the exceptions are Edinburgh, Glasgow and London Gatwick. Many secondary airports are still restricted to 1 carry on.

More airports are expected to be added to the "allowed to have 2 carry ons" list over time.

Which begs the question - why can't they just make the rule 2 carry ons are allowed? Simpler and less confusion.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Tis the season

... for airline/airport strikes, apparently.

Here is a (probably incomplete) listing of some upcoming strikes that may impact your travel plans.

  • BAA (airport operator for London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton) - 7th Jan, 14th Jan and 17-18th Jan. If this goes ahead I'd expect these airports to shut down and downstream impacts on many airlines that use these airports.
  • Virgin Atlantic - 9-10th Jan and 16-17th Jan.
  • Qantas - 9th Jan strike and ongoing engineer's overtime ban.
  • LIAT - ongoing dispute with unpredictable walk-offs and sick-ins.
  • Air France at Orly airport - strike suspended until late January.
  • Air Malta - strike "could be announced" soon.
  • Alitalia - nothing announced that I could find, but given the ongoing takeover talks and past history chances of a strike are high.

Impacts can spread far and wide. Flights for days either side of a strike may be cancelled due to aircraft and/or crew being stuck in the wrong places. Flights after a strike has ended may be disrupted as airline(s) attempt to restore normal schedule and fly impacted travellers. Flights in other parts of the world may be impacted - due to directly impacted connecting passengers or deadheading crew for example.

What can you do?

  1. Be prepared. Actively look out for alternate routes and flights. Don't wait for the airline or your travel agent to look for options for you.
  2. Consider changing your travel dates.
  3. If your ticket is a flexible one, see if you can change to a "safer" option - using another airline or airport or change of dates. Do this early if there is no cost to changing (and the alternate is acceptable to you). Otherwise you may need to wait until close to the date of the strike when the normal rules for rebooking get relaxed.
  4. Check that your travel insurance is up to date. If it is then you may covered for reasonable out of pocket expenses.
  5. Consider purchasing refundable tickets on other dates or airlines - as cover. If you don't end up needing to use those new tickets you can get a refund. This also works for cheap non-refundable tickets, minus the ability to refund. The cost may be worth it compared with changes to hotel accommodation and other travel-related arrangements.
  6. Have the airline phone numbers and emails ready to contact at the appropriate time. Make contact with sufficient time to enable alternate arrangements - an hour before departure of the only other possible flight is leaving it too late.
  7. Keep informed. Check the news regularly for updates. Also check airline and airport websites - but don't assume these will be updated promptly.
  8. Don't panic. Strikes are sometimes (often?) called off at the last minute in the games of brinkmanship, or in extreme cases by government intervention.

Easy connections at London Heathrow

Yes it is possible to have easy, almost hassle free connections at London Heathrow. How? Fly on Christmas Day.

With many shorthaul flights cancelled and low loads on most of the remaining flights, connecting on Christmas Day is a breeze. No remote stands. No waiting for ages to taxi across the runway. No endlessly delayed departures. No circling around southern England to await a turn to land.

The downside? Shops are closed, and the spa is closed in the lounge.

Welcome new readers

A warm welcome to new readers of Musings of the Global Traveller. This blog is now linked in to the Boarding Area website - home to many fine travel-related blogs.

While it may be holidays for many, I'll continue to make blog entries as and when I can. I've been busy travelling and have lots more ideas - watch this space.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ways to get an edge over other travellers

Source: BBC online

Right in time for the busy holiday travel season, with it's share of disruptions, Upgrade: Travel Better has 5 tips to get an edge over other air travelers. They are very good tips, summarised below.

(1) get status reports in real-time - eg using Flight Stats

(2) know your alternatives

(3) know your rights

(4) ways to get help quicker - eg pre-program 1-800 numbers

(5) online check in (OLCI), and check in early

My comments on the list are:

  1. I use Flight Stats and it works well for flights within USA in my experience. However outside USA some airlines, airports do not send the information through in a timely or complete manner and I use other sources such as airline and airport websites. Don't forget that at airports where the airline you are flying has few flights you can check whether arriving flights are on time to get an indication for your flight departing on time.

  2. This would be my number one tip. I've lost track of how many times simply knowing alternatives and having a back up plan have made the difference between getting to my destination or not.

  3. While the airline's contract of carriage may help sometimes, particularly in USA, I would not put this in my own top 5 list. In some places mentioning rights may cause more problems than it solves. When I am facing a disruption (significant delay or cancellation) my primary concern is to get to my destination in time if possible and certainly to make any necessary changes as quickly and painlessly as possible. In some cultures quoting your rights is seen as confrontational and may result in a worse outcome. Further, many airlines these days outsource the check in and ground handling and these contractors may not have authority to deal with you appropriately.

  4. I second the suggestion to call. Instead of waiting in a long line of passengers being dealt with one at a time you can jump the queue by calling and making changes over the phone. If you are elite, call the elite line for better service. Alternatively if you have access to the airline lounge then try asking staff there (but this generally only works if the lounge is operated by that airline and not a contract lounge). These aren't foolproof methods. Last year I had to reroute when my next flight was delayed enough to cause a misconnect for the subsequent flight. The problem then was the delay was not yet registered on the computer. The lounge staff were great but it took them a while to verify my statement that there was a delay.

  5. You don't have to OLCI to check in early. Some airlines allow phone check in. The time at which OLCI opens varys by airline - some are as soon as you have made the booking (ie months before the flight), others 48 or 24 hours before departure, or same day / several hours before departure. If you have a return or connecting flight within 24 hours ask if you can check in for the return flight when you check in for the first flight. Not only does this save time but it can give the airline information about where you are and whether or not to hold a flight for you.
My fifth tip (replacing #3 above) is to fly airlines or alliances you have status with, where possible. In the event of disruptions it is passengers with status that tend to get the best treatment.
Having said all that theory I can relate a recent experience of mine from within the last few days. A flight I was booked on became oversold on the day of departure when another airline's flight on part of the same routing was cancelled.
(1) I gathered this information more than 12 hours before departure from the departure airport website and a booking class availability tool (such as seatcounter). I was booked on a direct flight with transit stop. I knew there was a chance I would be bumped off the flight so as to reaccommodate as many passengers of the other airline.
(2) The city pair I was flying had 2 other non-stop flights operated by the same airline I was booked with, as well as another non-stop flight on a third airline. All flights leave within an hour or so of each other. As it happens I know these schedules by heart, but if I didn't I could easily look them up on the airport or airline websites. Better yet, use the booking class availability tool to list all options on one screen together with an indication of how full or otherwise they are. All flights were full.
(3) I had top status on both the airline I was booked on and also on the alternate third airline. If someone was going to be left behind that day it would not be me unless I checked in late.
(4) I checked in with the elite check in desk. Later in the lounge I double-checked there were no better alternatives for me.
(5) OLCI was not available for this flight, but aware of the situation I arrived at check in early. As it happened this time the airline did not try to contact me beforehand to advise of the bump. But by checking in early I had the maximum number of options open to me.
I didn't end up with a great outcome, but it certainly could have been much worse if I had not taken the steps above. With all the flights full and no reasonable alternate routings, it is possible I might not have made the trip at all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Airline website ticketing blues

Two simple round-trip bookings today on two separate airline websites. Both failed to complete due to website error. As both bookings needed to be made today I ended up wasting an hour on the phone to get them sorted out. Both airlines were unable to issue on the spot - booking was referred to ticketing desk (isn't that who I called?) Grrr.

Postscript - I see the second airline has ticketed me wrongly, which took another phone call to fix. The first airline I am still waiting on confirmation of the booking.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Airline awards

I agree with The Cranky Flier's recent entry about best airline surveys.

Even with my extensive travelling (400 flights in 12 months on a wide range of routes on some 30 airlines in all clases) I do not feel equipped to make a definitive judgement about which airline is best. When I visited Wendy Perrin of The Perrin Post she asked me for my picks for best airline in several categories. I felt unable to answer from personal experience, although I offered a shortlist and referred to advice from the many thousands of frequent flyers on Flyer Talk.

There are a lot of industry awards and some results are rather strange. Like the year British Airways won Best Airline when it had a long running strike and terrible problems with baggage handling, or when Virgin Blue won Best Frequent Flyer Program - Australia just weeks after launching their Velocity Rewards FFP. With results like these I view such awards as popularity contests rather an indicator of which airline(s) have the best product, service, etc.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Keeping track of ticket changes and frequent flyer miles

I have a very hectic travel schedule - some 400 flights this year for example. Inevitably things don't always go to plan. Trips get cancelled or amended. Airlines change their schedules. Frequent flyer miles don't post properly.

I have a spreadsheet system I use to try to keep track of bookings, tickets, itineraries, frequent flyer mileage and status earning. However, given the complexities of my travel I am finding more and more it is difficult to stay on top of things. Did I get all the refunds/reimbursements I was due? Which tickets are still in credit for future rebooking and under what terms (some have change fees due and others don't, some limited to certain airline or alliance and others good for any airline, etc)? What miles have I missed?

I think I either need to overhaul my spreadsheets or find a package that comprehensively covers my needs and is easy to update (with over 100 future trips booked there is hardly a day when something doesn't change). Does anyone know of something that might work for me?

UK carry on rules to be relaxed ... maybe ... for some

The Cranky Flier recently reported on the recent announcement that UK carry on rules will be allowed to be relaxed from January 7. Given the process - each airport is invited to apply to allow their passengers to have a 2nd carry on - I was sceptical.

[A reminder that for the past year and a bit, UK has imposed stricter carry on requirements than anywhere else. You can take 1 bag through security, of certain dimensions (most US rollaboards are too big), and no extra personal items. The laptop or handbag or book or whatever you are carrying must be able to fit inside your 1 bag. The reason for this is mainly due to airport incompetence - insufficient screening staff to deal with the normal 2 or 3 carry on items allowed elsewhere.]

Now BAA, owner and operator of most of the biggest UK airports admits in this Times Online story that they are not in a position to allow 2 carry ons for all passengers. What a surprise - not. In what seems a pathetic gesture designed to allow BAA to say they tried, they intend applying to allow fast-track eligible passengers to carry a 2nd item but only at London Heathrow to start with.

So if departing UK from London Heathrow in first or business class, or have the right frequent flyer status, and you can take a 2nd item onboard. In economy - sorry you must have only 1 item. Leaving from another BAA airport (eg Aberdeen, Edinburgh, London Gatwick, Glasgow, Southampton, London Stansted) and you are out of luck. If transferring at London Heathrow through flight connection centre only British Airways and Qantas can use fast track - so even first class passengers of other airlines draw the short straw.

If it does go as announced then I expect there will be chaos for the first few weeks. Just how many passengers, travel agents and check in staff around the world who use London Heathrow infrequently know the specific criteria used and how it will affect them or their customers?

I think London Heathrow will remain on my "try to avoid flying to/through there" list for some time to come.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

AVOD systems

For those who don't memorise acronyms, AVOD stands for Audio Video On Demand. These are the inflight entertainment systems that let you play programs when you are ready not when they switch the system on, and pause, rewind and fast forward as needed (great for meal breaks or to use the bathroom without missing the best bit of that movie).

Gradually more and more airlines are bringing these systems in, and nowadays this includes economy cabin as well as first and business classes. The best systems have many hundreds of viewing options. The AVOD systems on some airlines have had teething problems, sometimes lasting years after implementation. For example Air New Zealand's system is slow to respond, and Qantas' system was for a while known as AVOiD by some frequent travellers for the very high frequency of breakdowns - some passengers would hope to get an aircraft that did not have AVOD fitted!

Here are just a few of the airlines I have flown lately that have AVOD systems on some (or all) longhaul aircraft:

  • Air New Zealand

  • British Airways

  • Cathay Pacific

  • Emirates

  • Japan Airlines

  • LAN

  • Lufthansa

  • Qantas

  • Singapore Airlines

  • Thai

While most of these systems are great, some better than others in terms of variety and quality of programming, some are not so good in my experience.

On a recent British Airways (BA) flight the AVOD failed completely for the whole flight in my seat and many other passengers. The poor CSD spent a lot of time apologising to passengers for the failing, but was unable to offer any assistance/alternatives on the spot. Other airlines attempt to make it up on the spot - eg Singapore Airlines offers cash or vouchers onboard long haul flights. Some weeks after the flight I haven't even had an apology from BA. What made the flight worse was the overhead cabin lights were switched off for most of the flight and due to poor design the new Club World in-seat light was insufficient for reading, so I had a long flight sitting in the dark.

My top 3 AVOD choices are Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand. They all have lots and lots of options - so even the most frequent flyers have something new to look at, listen to or play. They also are, in my experience, fairly reliable systems.

Picture from Air New Zealand

Inaugural flights

While I missed out on the inaugural flight that I really, really wanted - the first A380 passenger flights (on Singapore Airlines) - I did get a consolation prize of sorts. For in the past couple of weeks I have had 3 inaugural flights, one of which was the first flight in a network not just for a route.

They reminded me how much fun inaugural flights can be, but also that they are difficult to plan around if you have a busy schedule. The network inaugural changed both date and route with little notice which took some effort for me to rearrange my plans to make the new start. I made it with just a few hours to spare.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

20 hours in New York

Some readers of this blog may be aware from my posts on Flyer Talk that I'm currently in the middle of a marathon trip. Today I had 20 hours in New York - one of the longest stops on my 4 week trip.

After a morning of doing tourist stuff and coffee with a fellow traveller who also posts on Flyer Talk, I was privileged to be invited by Wendy Perrin of The Perrin Post to have lunch in the Conde Naste Frank Gehry designed cafetaria. It certainly is very different to where I normally have lunch (and no, that's not at 39,000 feet).
It was interesting to hear her talk on some of the different issues she faces as a corporate blogger.
More later, for yes I have a flight to catch.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Too many flights (part 2 - schedule change hassles)

A couple of hours of my time gone for no good reason.

I got a call from an airline to say their schedule had changed and it affected an itinerary.

Marks awarded for being proactive, but marks taken off for not noticing the schedule changed forced an impossible connection (flight 1 arrives later than flight 2 departs) and more marks taken off for not realising the schedule change affected another half dozen or so similar itineraries.

After I got those sorted I wondered what other bookings were affected and so looked up my other 150 odd flights booked but unflown. Sure enough some more were non-trivially impacted to the point of misconnecting. For one the airline had cancelled 2 flights and rebooked on alternative flights. The problem was flight 2 arrived earlier than flight 1 departed!

If the TripIt site I reviewed yesterday can automatically identify schedule changes and highlight them, that will make life so much easier.

I admit I don't check for schedule changes as much as I should. I have a few rules of thumb to help:

  • Where the flights are longhaul flagship/prime routes with plenty of flights and I have long connections, I don't bother checking (unless I'm told) - especially if the origin/destination are slot constrained or have curfews. For here the potential for schedule changes significant enough to disrupt my plans is low - most schedule changes are likely to be an hour or less. An exception might be if an airline drops a route. For example when United stopped flying between New York and London.
  • Where the flights are domestic trunk routes with plenty of flights and I am not connecting to or from a flight that is infrequent, I don't bother checking. For here most schedule changes are likely to be only a few minutes.
  • For flights that are infrequent to/from destinations that are hard to get to (eg few flights, limited availability, have schedule timing issues or visa implications) and/or have multiple tight connections, then I check a month or so before the trip and again closer to departure. For here even minor changes may be enough to cause significant disruption to my travel.
  • In other cases I don't check much - mainly when I remember.

The last two categories I really should check more regularly to save myself some grief.

Finally, here is a blog entry from a year ago on schedule changes and tools to check your itineraries.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Too many flights

I think I've been on too many shorthaul flights lately, or rather too many on the same airline. I can't get a couple of songs out of my head. The songs' music videos are played on a certain airline's IFE, on certain flights only.

Is it crazy to select or avoid an airline based on the music video being played?

Itinerary organiser

Yet another travel/itinerary organiser, TripIt, is being launched today. The basic concept is you can forward confirmation emails and it will automatically interpret and convert into standard itinerary format. Direct links to relevant useful travel sites are added - google map, seatguru, weather, etc. You can also enter itinerary details and notes manually. Itineraries can be shared with others.

My first test on 2 different upcoming trips did not go smoothly. One of the destinations was not supported despite being a tourist hot spot, and there was no way to accept my typed entry - if it couldn't find a match in the database the destination (or any other field) gets left blank. Despite not allowing the destination, once I had entered flight details it linked to the correct place for weather information and google map.

The airlines (both fairly major ones) were not supported and I was left to manually enter the flight information. It was annoying the required confirmation number was not identified as a compulsory field. I liked how it looks up flight data so that you only need to enter date, airline and flight number. It will be even better if it automatically updates for schedule changes. It even was clever enough to recognise that one of my flights has 2 segments with the same flight number and ask which one I was on. I didn't like that there was no option to enter origin, destination and flight times manually, and that one flight returned was not correct.

Hopefully these bugs (and to me design flaws) will be fixed, and more importantly the supported list of travel providers gets expanded. I can see this being very useful and a big time saver for me in the future. It certainly was easy to use.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The importance of being prepared

As I write this entry I'm several hundred miles away from where I meant to be, will misconnect on my next planned flight (which it will take me two flights to get to that airport) and currently several hundred dollars out of pocket.

And I'm kicking myself for being less prepared than I could have been.

Yesterday I boarded a flight which I thought would have been cancelled due to bad weather at our destination (I'd been tracking the deteriorating weather online and also could see storms in the distance in the direction we were headed), but the airline flew regardless. That was mistake 1. Given my reservations I should have declined to board.

The flight then diverted to another, very small, airport not served by this airline, but would not allow anyone to remain on the aircraft. Since the airline doesn't serve this airport they would not allow anyone to reboard.

As my travel plans included flying on to another city that same day, I had no accommodation arranged. Also being late on a Saturday afternoon there were no more flights by any airline out of the diversion airport. I was stranded.

So I called the elite number of the airline, only to get someone in a call centre in another country who was unable to offer any assistance. Mistake 2 was if I had saved a local direct number (as opposed to the general free phone number) I might have been able to get assistance.

Mistake 3 became apparent shortly after when my cell phone battery died. I of course was not expecting to need to make a 30+ minute call in a poor reception area and had no spare battery or even a charger with me.

Not only did I need to pay for unplanned accommodation and a new last minute ticket to get to the ultimate destination from yesterday's travel, but I will not arrive in time for my next scheduled flight. I can see it will take some time to patch up my travels that unravelled so quickly yesterday.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Airport info for your journey

The One World website has a handy tool that lets you create a journey guide. Information can be included on some or all of terminal maps, flight transfers, lounges, transfers to/from the city (note some options are not available at some airports - hopefully this will be rectified soon). It is easy to use - you select the airports in your journey and which information you want included. You can view the information on screen or save to a pdf.

Here is an example pdf.

I think it is great for infrequent travellers, or even for savvy travellers visiting somewhere for the first time (for instance did you know that the ECASA lounge used by Iberia at Havana is located airside but is open 24 hours?). My only gripe is I wish the lounge information included whether they had showers and free computer access.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How Walkable is your Hotel?

A thread on Flyer Talk alerted me to a (new?) website that is handy for travellers. The website is called Walk Score. Plug in an address (say the hotel you are considering staying at) and it assesses the walkability of that address - based on nearness of grocery stores, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, etc. While not geared to travellers it is of interest (at least to me), for not only does it give a score but it shows you on a map the nearest places and lists the distances to those places.

Hopefully some more traveller friendly factors can be added, such as access to public transport systems.

For example, Hilton Times Square gets a score of 98 out of 100, while Courtyard by Marriott JFK gets a score of only 43 out of 100.

Currently it does not work too well with non-US addresses, although they advise they are working on it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

BAA warning that it will fail to meet service standards at London Heathrow

Oh dear. Still more than 8 months before London Heathrow's (LHR) new T5 terminal opens, and days after news of proposed extra security rules there is more bad news. BAA (the airport operator) is already warning that it will not meet the minimum service standards required by it's regulator, the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) (source Times Online). Apparently BAA is fined if they don't meet certain standards, and would like this waived during the lengthy opening and terminal shuffle process. It is dreadful to think their current performance is somehow deemed acceptable, let alone the significant worsening that BAA is warning of.

It is particularly nasty of BAA to compare the terminal shuffle (which they've been preparing for years) with a terrorist attack (which normally has no advance warning). For the sake of all travellers who must endure Heathrow, I hope the CAA finally starts acting with the teeth that it's regulatory powers provide and does not cave into BAA's request.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Virgin America finally starts selling tickets

After a very long wait, Virgin America has finally started selling tickets. The first flights are between it's San Francisco base and Los Angeles LAX and New York JFK on August 8. There is a nice launch sale, but perhaps not as stunning as might be expected. Several airlines have already responded with sales of their own.

At first their website was overloaded, but it seems to be working okay now.

I'm holding off making a booking at the moment, since I want to see whether the schedule changes, their on time performance and early reviews. This is particularly important if, as I will be, connecting to or from other airline's flights. All the fares I could find so far are non-refundable. Virgin America will need to provide more flexibility if it wants to attract lucrative corporate business.

A frequent flyer program, called eleVAte, is planned. Details are sketchy but it does sound similar to the Australia based Virgin Blue's Velocity program - earning based on revenue. No restrictions on awards. Award cost likely based on available fares.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Weighing it up

The Flight Wisdom entry on accuracy of airport scales (following a recent Consumerist article) reminded me that often I notice at check in that the scales register a kilo or two (or a few pounds) before I even put some bags on. Sometimes you're lucky enough that is showing a negative figure when empty.

If flying an airline that takes excess baggage seriously (or limits carry-on by weight), it can be very worthwhile to take a second and check the reading before putting your bag(s) on the scale. Excess baggage charges can be very expensive (more than the cost of some cheap airfares), with many airlines basing the charge on a percentage of full fare (the sky high airfare that almost no one pays).

Updates on travel, Qantas lounge and proposed new (worse!) UK security rules

Sorry for the lack of recent posts. I'm fine but have been much busier than expected. Whenever I thought I'd have some spare time to blog something else would crop up.

Naturally I haven't stopped travelling. Mainly in the Asia-Pacific region, and on several different airlines. Since my last entry I've visited the Qantas first lounges in Sydney again and some of the service kinks I initially reported have been ironed out. However, I almost missed my flight last time I was there - they forgot to call it (all the other flights were announced) and I lost track of the time. Fortunately I realised the time and rushed to the gate just before I would have been offloaded, and I did not delay the on-time departure of the flight.

I have a crazy schedule in the coming months, which I'm trying to piece together at the moment. On current plans I'll average more than a flight a day for the next 4 months. I'm not flying every day, but some places I visit require multiple transfers to get to.

Proposed change to UK security rules

The new British Airways terminal T5 at London Heathrow, which is due to open early 2008, will apparently not have segregated domestic and international passengers. Supposedly this is for flexibility and to assist with access for BA's 5 T5 lounges, but I suspect the real reason is to maximise the number of shops that travellers must pass (and thus increase BAA profits).

As a result domestic passengers will need not only the usual photo ID but will also get fingerprinted and have their photo taken (source Times Online). Non US citizens already face this on international flights arriving to USA, but this would seem to be a first for domestic passengers.

Be prepared for longer queues. It's a shame that a brand new terminal is set up in such a way as to require additional security rules - as if there aren't plenty already.

Photos by Heathrow Airport and Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Qantas First Class Lounge at Bangkok

Further to my entry on the new Qantas lounges at Sydney and Melbourne, I recently also got to use the new Bangkok lounge. This took a long time to open following the move from Don Muang to Suvarnabhumi airport, and with the high standards set elsewhere a nice lounge was expected.

The new lounge is indeed quite nice, although a far cry from the new super lounges in their local hub. With both Qantas and British Airways having flights similarly timed for Sydney to Bangkok to London Heathrow and return, the high loads in the premium cabin and high numbers of One World Emerald customers, the lounge is unfortunately too small - being half the size you'd hope for the number of passengers. Granted there are only two times a day when the lounge is busy (or indeed open). Still, it wouldn't have taken much effort to coordinate with Cathay Pacific, whose lounge next door sits shut at the time of the Qantas and British Airways flights, to make a bigger combined lounge.

Update and a nifty toy

Apologies for the lack of recent blog entries. Normally I don't let heavy travel slow me down, but for all sorts of reasons lately I've been offline more than normal. The past couple of months or so has been crazy, even by my standards.

Asia x6
Australia x5
Eastern Europe
North America x2
South Pacific x11
Western Europe x3

Anyway, enough excuses. I came across this nifty toy from Air New Zealand - how far can I go? Select the origin (unfortunately only main centres in New Zealand supported), and move the slider on the right hand side to see where you can go for a given fare. It seems to reference "live" fare information, even including today only sale fares. It is nice to play with the toy and dream of the next trip.

My two gripes? The toy only works on NZ fares, and why do they spend time making nifty toys like this when they have more important unresolved issues? Like multiple booking engines that don't have the features you'd like to use, problems crediting miles for partners, etc.

Friday, June 01, 2007

New Qantas First Class Lounges at Sydney and Melbourne

Through a stroke of good timing I have managed to use both new Qantas first class lounges (Sydney and Melbourne) in the past week, just days after they opened.

Naturally Qantas is hyping them. Take a tour here.

They are a vast improvement on the old first class lounges which frankly were an embarassment to Qantas for supposedly the best lounges at their hubs (some argue the domestic business lounges were better!).

There are still some kinks in the service to iron out, and the frequent requests for your boarding pass so they can track usage are annoying. Nonetheless they are very nice lounges, in the top echelon of lounges worldwide, but certainly not the very best and probably not in the top three.

Hopefully this spurs other airlines competing with Qantas to improve their offerings.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Improved booking display for American

Thanks to a heads up by The Cranky Flier on the news that American Airlines will shortly join other airlines like Air Canada, Qantas and Air New Zealand in improving their booking display by showing on the one screen options for different fare categories.

I find these very useful to selecting the right fare type for my circumstances, and even mixing and matching outbound and return flights - eg a more flexible return flight for after the meeting(s).

It is also good for the airline, I think, in that it can highlight inexpensive options for upgrades or more flexible bookings and thus improve revenue.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Grrr London Heathrow

The 2 1/2 day trip around the world went fine, but I was again reminded why I dislike London Heathrow airport.

A tip for those whose connections on international flights requires a change of terminals and who can go through immigration (either have a visa for UK or don't need one) - sometimes it is much quicker to go through immigration and change terminals landside than transferring through Flight Connection Centre (FCC). In this case I have perfect evidence, for I met a fellow passenger on my flight arriving to London that was connecting to the same onward flight, but who had to go through immigration as she didn't have her bags checked through. With no checked luggage I had the option and chose FCC route. She arrived at the onward gate 40 minutes earlier than I did! This despite she not being familiar with the airport and needing to wait for bags to arrive at the claim (which can take a long time at London - my worst being 90 minutes).

Needless to say, I wasn't too happy spending so long queueing for security nor the poor management. More staff were yelling instructions at passengers queueing than were manning the x-rays and walk through metal detectors (WTMDs), with only 2 lanes open at a busy time of day.

The other reminder for me, was how even on a "good" day, delays can spring out of nowhere. In this case it was a passing light shower that lead to a one hour delay on my side trip flights. Fortunately I knew to pad the schedule well and had carefully chosen flights which minimised the risk of misconnecting. Further I had in mind a go-no go timing when I would abandon the side trip. What I had forgotten to take account of, however, was the possibility of boarding on time but then having a significant delay while onboard. Lesson learned, even back up plans may not be foolproof.

On a more positive note, I know the London Star Alliance lounges well enough, and my access rights, to ignore the advice given at check in to use only the United Airlines Red Carpet Club and instead headed to Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge which was much nicer. I then eased my stress away over a nice drink (yes after a shower), knowing I was about to leave London Heathrow behind. Know your rights.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Plane mad

I'm in the middle of a travel schedule so hectic that even with my sheer enjoyment of travel I am left wondering if I have bitten off too much.

I recently flew the 50th and last unflown domestic route of a particular airline. A day later they confirmed 3 new routes will be starting in six month's time! Flying the last dozen or so routes this year was like a challenging jigsaw puzzle fitting in airline schedules, some very inconvenient for me, my available time and reasonable cost. I was great seeing so much of the countryside from the air, much of it flown over many times - seeing the effects of changing weather and seasons in the beautiful landscapes below.

In a couple of days I attempt my fastest round the world (RTW) for fun (and to rack up some frequent flyer miles in a hurry!). Some 2 1/2 days after I head eastward I arrive back (hopefully) where I started. I have a couple of connections I am wondering just how easy they will be, and of course I am already thinking about things that make the trip easier - like where can I get showers en route, where can I check in for onward flights with the least hassle.

More later. Happy travels.

Friday, May 04, 2007

British Airways Global Traveller Advisory Board

According to Business Travel World, British Airways has established a Global Traveller Advisory Board (no, not this Global Traveller!) to give formal feedback on service and trials.

Willie Walsh, BA's chief executive, said: "This board is at the heart of finding out what our customers want and feeding that back into the business.
"The members are not only frequent flyers with BA, but also other
airlines, so they are well placed to offer constructive criticism on our
products and services."

Currently this board has about 15 members, although they are looking to recruit more from Europe, Asia and the Pacific regions.

Is this a concession that normal feedback methods are failing or a savvy marketing gimmick to encourage big business (at least those represented on the Global Traveller Advisory Board) to fly British Airways more? With such a small group I can't help feel it is a gimmick. If BA wishes to invite this global traveller onboard I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Possible EU aviation security changes

A few changes are being considered by EU parliament.

  1. Carry on size restrictions which were due to come into effect 6 May have been delayed to 2008 (source EurActiv).
  2. Calls to harmonise rules, especially between EU and US (source oceanfm). See my entry on recent experiences for examples of how the supposedly similar security rules are actually different in terms and/or interpretation.
  3. Sky marshalls have been approved effective end 2007 (source EUobserver). Terms yet to be determined.
  4. With the six month limit on the liquids restriction regulation approaching, Commissioner Jacques Barrot states (through spokesman) that the continuation will be in place and that "no modifications are expected" (source Avionews). This is disappointing as some recent comments made by various Members of European Parliament (MEPs) said the rules would be changed to provide for the restrictions only at times of especially heightened security needs, not on a continuous basis.

Unintended stow away

In this age of supposedly high security alert it is amazing (but sadly not too surprising) to have this happen - a baggage handler got locked in the hold and had to phone for help when the aircraft began taxiing. BBC news story.

My recent experiences with liquids carry on rules

I've blogged a few times on the evolving liquids in carry on rules, most recently here.

I've recently flown through some 15 countries so thought it may be useful to some to show how apparently similar rules can be widely interpreted. Before the trip I found quality information on the rules hard to find (for some countries) - with various official and airline websites having contradictory rules.

Australia - same rule as USA (100ml liquids and gels within clear sealable zip plastic bag no more than 1 litre). Applies on both arriving and departing international flights. Domestic flights are exempt but not if they use the international terminals as some do - check with your airline. Duty free liquids are allowed but only in sealed bags from the departing or most previous airport if in transit, purchased same day as the flight, and with receipt clearly visible.

EU excluding UK - same rule as USA except only on departure and EU-wide duty free liquids are okay (ie not just from the departing airport).

New Zealand - same rule as USA but only applies to departing international flights. Domestic flights are exempt but not if they use the international terminals as some do - check with your airline.

Pakistan - no liquids at all. Gels are okay.

Philippines - no liquids at all, but at transit security they didn't care (NB I wasn't carrying any duty free liquids or water bottles).

Russia - liquids and gels are okay. No sprays allowed.

Singapore - same rule as USA but only applies to departing flights.

Sri Lanka - same rule as USA? (Sorry I wasn't fully awake going through security here.)

United Kingdom - same as EU but also only 1 carry on, no personal items except for coat.

USA - same rule as Australia except applies for all flights (domestic and international).

Vietnam - unclear. I left my baggie inside my carry on.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Networks, hubs and global flight paths trivia

Thanks to a blog post by John MacIlree on the global air transport network (more specifically this research report by Guimera, Mossa, Turtschi and Amaral) I now have some more travel trivia.

There are approx 4,000 places with airports (multiple airports in a city count as one) served by major airlines. I've flown to or from just a few % of these.

In the week of schedule data studied (back in 2000), there were approx 27,000 nonstop flight routes. I've flown widely but only just over 1% of these.

The average number of flights needed between any two places is 4.4. This seems about right. When I travel to the other side of the world I generally need 2 or 3 flights to get there, using most direct routing. I'm starting from a global hub and mostly ending up at a global or regional hub.

The most number of flights to get between two places using the most direct route is 15 - between Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands and Wasu in Papua New Guinea. My record (using the shortest possible route, not necessarily the one actually flown) is a paltry 4, three times. If en route stopovers are ignored my record becomes 5, twice. For me each of these cases were departing from a global hub.

Its interesting to see the distinction between well connected airports and central airports. Read the report to see why and examples.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Qantas changes - good and bad news

The latest Qantas Frequent Flyer newsletter has good news for Qantas passengers.

Domestic business passengers can now use the Qantas Clubs even if they have no status. This brings Qantas into line with all major airlines other than US-based ones and removes the irritation of infrequent passengers spending $1000 or more being penny pinched by denying lounge access.

I omitted to report last month's bad news for Qantas elite status members. It seems Qantas intends enforcing the existing rule requiring 4 Qantas or Jetstar flights per year to (re)qualify for status. Speculation on Flyer Talk is that this may be directed at US-based members who credit their American Airlines flights to Qantas to get status and thus access to Admirals Clubs and Flagship Lounges - something not available to AAdvantage elite members.

All the One World frequent flyer programs have this rule but until now only British Airways enforced it. Earlier, American Airlines made a step in this direction by requiring challenges for gold and platinum status to be done only on AA flight numbers. (What is a challenge you may ask? I'll explain more in a blog entry soon - but the short answer is a short cut to elite status.)

Looking up awards flying on Qantas (and other airlines)

Reader Winnie asks if there is an easier way to find award seats on Qantas than calling AAdvantage every few days to check.

The good news is there is a way to check for yourself online. I previously blogged about this, but it was hidden with a non-helpful blog title. So here is the advice again for Winnie and everyone else.

Here is a selection of tools that can help the savvy flyer pick up award and paid availability (note an understanding of what booking codes mean and how they work is needed - watch for a later post on this).

  • for One World FFPs, sign up to Qantas Frequent Flyer and use the online award search - no mileage is needed in your account (warning less than half of all one world destinations are included in the search engine, although the most common ones are all there)
  • for Star Alliance (*A) FFPs, sign up to Air Canada Aeroplan or ANA Mileage Club and use the online award search - no mileage is needed in your account (warning United Mileage Plus in particular has much reduced availability compared with other *A FFPs)
  • I am not sure if Sky Team FFPs have a similar lookup - if a reader knows please contact me using the link
  • for paid bookings check out Expert Flyer (can also find awards on Qantas and fare listings plus rules), or Seat Counter (can also find awards on United and Northwest - expect more to be added), or T & T (set up a profile with expert mode switched on or use login "flyertalk" and password "tandt"), or Availability Public Backup.

No one system is perfect however with practice in interpreting these tools do give a good guide as to whether that award or paid fare you are looking for is available.

I'll post some explanation of booking codes soon.

I'm back

Apologies for the lack of recent blog entries. I've been busy travelling around the world (some 15 countries this time), and while I had the best of intentions to blog every few days I was too busy enjoying the trip to do so. Forgive me, but I prefer to be out doing stuff than wasting time sitting in an internet cafe. In some airports the internet speed was terribly slow - reminding me how much I take decent speed for granted.

I do, however, hope to make it up to you all - I now have some more ideas for blog entries.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Flying, flying and more flying

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. Not only have I had the usual pre holiday rush to get everything done before I go (which feels like it negates the value of a holiday), but I've also had a fair bit of short flights around the place. It's times like these I really do need that printout of my schedule. Uh its Thursday at 3pm, where am I off to now?

In the midst of all this I had one flight on a paper ticket - my first in ages. I had to double and triple check I brought it with me, for it has been so long since I've had a paper ticket.

I'm looking forward to the first of many longhaul flights where I can relax, unwind and catch up on a lot of sleep. I'll post when I can.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A shake-up of European airlines?

There is potential for significant change amongst the major airlines of Europe and some shake-up in both One World and Star Alliance.

Iberia has confirmed it has opened its books for a sale. Both British Airways (which holds a small ownership stake) and Lufthansa are reportedly interested.

Lufthansa is already involved with a bid for Alitalia.

With US-EU open skies close to passing, interest in buying bmi has naturally increased. Once again, the interested bidders include British Airways (to keep competitors out of Heathrow by holding over half of the slots) and Lufthansa (which already has a 30% ownership stake).

Interesting times.

Heathrow T5 minus one today

According to the BBC, London Heathrow's long awaited terminal 5 will be open in exactly one year.

Call me a sceptic, but with the shambles that is Heathrow I find it hard to believe that it will be open on time and solve the airport's problems.

Still, once it is open, travel should be easier for British Airways passengers. Just remind me not to pass through the airport when it first opens.

Pictures from Wikipedia

Friday, March 23, 2007

Flight delays and mis-connections

Sometimes it is very useful to have information on airline schedules and on-time data at your fingertips.

Yes I am again sitting in an airport facing a probable mis-connection later today. Fog elsewhere in the network has disrupted the timetable in such a way that one of my flights is now due to arrive an hour after the next flight departs. So I've been working with the nice agents to find a solution. At the moment the alternate flight, which I know is on the same aircraft thus no mis-connection risk unless the flight is cancelled, is oversold. They've put me on standby and thanks to getting in early and my status I have a reasonable shot at clearing this.

As backup I may have to fly another airline or cancel some sectors. I have both airlines' relevant schedules with me and will be re-checking the arrival and departure time data later to assess the best contingency plan.

Ironically, some of today's flights were held over from last year when some flights got cancelled.

At least by being informed and with access to the right people, I have the best chance of making this work out.

Update - I've managed to switch flights so that I am on the same aircraft for each sector. Thus eliminating mis-connection risk. Still a risk of cancellation, and the delays keep getting longer (I'm watching the progress of the aircraft as it flies around the country to get here).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

US-EU open skies another step closer

The US-EU open skies agreement passed another milestone today, with ratification by EU Parliament.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about what open skies might mean. Flight Wisdom reports that with the ink not even dry already Continental has filed to fly new trans-atlantic routes including Houston to London Heathrow and Cleveland to Paris.

Edited to add: bmi has confirmed they will be flying from London Heathrow to USA (the current Bermuda II agreement prevents them from doing so), details to be announced.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blog-A-Thon Challenge

First Upgrade : Travel Better brought us the Travvies (the best travel blogs on the web), now Travel Rants is bringing us the Blog-A-Thon Challenge (best travel blog entry), sponsored by who are donating the prize. You don't need a blog to enter.

I look forward to discovering some more great travel writers.

I wonder who the judges are? This picture of a rant may help or hinder my chances.

Picture by atomicity on flickr

Ticketing woes

It is as if my money smells, the difficulty I am in getting an upcoming side trip ticketed at the moment.

First I hunt around for flights that fit my schedule and have some availability at a reasonable fare (not a trivial amount since I am looking for business class to complete requalification of a frequent flyer status). I found several options, the best being on the airline websites of a couple of airlines that operate the route. So far so good.

I try the more ideal of the two (in terms of schedule, frequent flyer mileage earning and price). This airline website keeps crashing at various stages of the booking process. I was told by someone over on Flyer Talk that their website is flakey. Great - it is an internet only fare. I persevere and manage to get a reservation. Only to find on the confirmation screen a paper ticket is required and I have to both pay for and ticket at the local ticketing office within 72 hours. Local being the start city of this side trip. This is on another continent from where I am now, and I head further away in the meantime. So I rang the local (to me) ticket office to be told they cannot do anything. I would have to either pay an exorbitant amount for a fare that they could ticket, or get it ticketed when I arrive. That isn't practical since availability will be gone by then (there are only a couple of seats left on some flights and none on others), and in any case I have only a few hours between arriving at this city and needing to start the side trip.

Scrub that idea and move on to airline number two. Their website works, but again a paper ticket is required and they will only mail it to addresses in that city. At least I can pay for it online, but there are no guarantees I will get the tickets before I travel.

I then move on to a non-airline booking site. This has the same policy as airline number two.

So three different companies all turning down my money due to some ticketing rule or other. I thought SITI / SOTI / SOTO rules were abolished a year or two ago. This is not an obscure destination I am trying to travel to. Somehow I can't see IATA's aim of 100% e-tickets being achieved any time soon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A380 visits USA

Finally the Airbus show goes to USA with A380 visits to Los Angeles LAX airport, New York JFK, Chicago O'Hare and Washington Dulles. (Apologies if I have missed any out.)

The Cranky Flier was there when the A380 landed in Los Angeles and lucky enough to be invited to an event. I was talking to a journalist earlier today who is lucky enough to get an invite to go onboard. I'm jealous of them both. At least I managed to visit it in Singapore a year ago.

Hopefully I can still make the inaugural flight, whenever that might be.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Short red eye

I don't mind red eye flights too much. For those unfamiliar with the term, a red eye flight is a flight that leaves late at night and arrives in the early hours of the morning. I've had lots of them - 56 in 2006 alone.

The one I took last night was brutal. Not brutal like the movie.

Pics from Wikipedia and Yahoo.

The previous night I got no sleep (yes my fault). Then a long day. Then short red eye flight - just over 4 hours heading east, departing 11pm.

So today I'm a bit addled, not from jetlag (only 2 hour time difference). Good practice I suppose for an upcoming trip that several more red eye flights.

I'll stop now before I ramble some more.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lounge computer settings

I have long praised Air New Zealand lounges for their amenities, including free computer terminals (except at their smallest lounges). I was blown away to discover the latest tweaks to their computer settings render the Air NZ website inoperable!

If you are going to the trouble to supply computers I would think the first function they should be able to do is make an online booking, check schedules, check on-time performance (arrival and departure info) for that airline. Apparently not a concern!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Around the world by land and sea

As I get ready for my next around the world trip, I came across the blog of Phileas Fogg (make that Mark Schatzker) who is currently also travelling around the world. But while I speed across the skies, Mark will be travelling by land and sea - no transport faster than 100 mph - and plans to take 80 days.

I'm enjoying the frequent updates.

Singapore Airlines - oops they did it again, or show me the money

Just 2 months after a significant devaluation of their Kris Flyer frequent flyer program, and on top of big surcharges on paid fares on the new 77W flights (the new product), Singapore Airlines is again annoying some of their most valuable customers.

They have announced sweeping changes to the PPS Club qualification requirements and benefits in a double whammy that appears to be focussed on cutting costs instead of rewarding loyalty. Qualification is harder, so the ranks will be thinned, and the benefits have been cut back, reducing the incentives to qualify.

The PPS Club, for readers who may not be aware, is not a frequent flyer program in the normal sense, but rather a benefits package only awarded to passengers who fly Singapore Airlines a lot in first or business class. There are 3 tiers with the following qualification requirements (currently). For simplicity I won't go into the sector method of qualification which is broadly similar.

  • PPS - requires 50,000 miles within a year in Singapore Airlines first or business class (approx 3.5 round trips between Europe and Singapore in business class or 3 in first class).

  • PPS Solitaire - requires 500,000 cumulative miles in Singapore Airlines first or business class.

  • Lifetime PPS Solitaire - requires 1,875,000 cumulative miles in Singapore Airlines first or business class (yes that's right nearly twice the mileage required for lifetime status on United Airlines, American Airlines, etc and only in first and business class)

Clearly to qualify PPS you need to spend a lot of money on Singapore Airlines flights.

From 1 September, the new qualification will instead be based on revenue. Spend S$25,000 a year on SQ first and business class (excluding taxes and surcharges) and you get PPS. Spend S$250,000 within 5 consecutive years and you get PPS Solitaire. Lifetime PPS Solitaire will be closed - with existing members grandfathered.

Lounge and check in benefits have also been cut. PPS benefits will still be better than star alliance gold (eg Kris Flyer Elite Gold) benefits, but not by as much as currently.

The new rules will continue to reward high end business travellers based in Singapore or nearby, at the expense of nearly everyone else in the PPS ranks.

According to the Singapore Airlines spin, the rationale is that currently (1) PPS is too easy to attain for passengers flying frequently between Singapore and Bangkok and Jakarta, (2) the lounges are overcrowded and (3) it is unfair that some customers pay more to get the status than others.

In my view, (1) could have been solved by reducing the PPS earning rate for those sectors (similar to the reduced PPS earning on Kuala Lumpur flights), and (2) shows the lounges (especially at Singapore Changi airport) are too small and inadequate for the ongoing growth they have experienced. The third point is part of an ongoing trend for frequent flyer programs (FFPs) to start recognising revenue ahead of distance. So far this FFP revolution is occuring mainly in asia-pacific and europe.

It is amazing that an airline as successful as Singapore Airlines is in attracting profitable first and business class paid passengers, now decides that the customers are the problem! Instead of rejoicing at how well they have done, they seem to be cutting costs and squeezing every last cent they can. Is Singapore Airlines becoming too arrogant for it's own good?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Customer disservice

What ever happened to good old fashioned customer service? Please excuse my whinge over the latest episode of disservice - minor in the scheme of things but still annoying.

I recently had a need to fly the same route with Qantas twice in one day, as I do from time to time. Qantas have some error checking logic for crediting points, which stops automatic credit if a given route has already been credited on the same day. The actual flight numbers are ignored. There is a certain logic to this, in that most often an attempt to credit 2 flights on the same route on the same day will be where the passenger has been checked in to 2 flights but only taken one of them. For example, the first flight was cancelled or delayed at little notice and bumped to the second after check in, or the passenger simply misses the flight.

In the past I have been able to wait 4 days (for they will not process missing mileage until at least 3 days have elapsed), phone in and get the credit applied manually and instantly.

For some reason the current case was treated differently. Despite the teleconsultant seeing my flight details she was unable to manually credit and asked me to mail in the boarding passes - to Australia. I don't live in Australia. So due to a limitation in their software I have to jump through hoops to get the credit. It isn't even for a lot of miles. Since they used to be able to manually credit, is the change due to a lack of training on how to do it, or lack of empowerment to make a decision to apply the credit, or enhancement of the software? Whatever it is I don't think it is fair to make the customer go through extra effort to get the credit, particularly when they can see I took the flights.

Perhaps they'd just rather I fly a competitor next time I'm in the situation of my schedule requiring same day repeat flights?

Aircraft changes

It is worthwhile checking your itineraries from time to time.

On an upcoming trip I had half a chance of again getting the new Singapore Airlines business class (see my brief report on my earlier experience plus the intial report when new product was launched). For I had deliberately routed on a flight which stood a reasonable chance of getting the new 77W aircraft. For bookings made after a route is confirmed, Singapore Airlines charges a hefty surcharge. For speculative bookings, like mine, there is no surcharge. Alas I miss by a day with the flights the day before and after both getting the new seats etc. My flight gets the old ones (still good). Just in case there is a switch, I've selected seats that will be okay in both aircraft types.

Another flight on the same routing has been upgauged from a shorthaul to longhaul aircraft. Woohoo - more legroom, and a switch of seat to best suit the aircraft now operating the flight.

On a different trip, the seat map against my booking has changed. I looked this up in the relevant website for the airline's (British Airways if you are interested) CRS - see my earlier post about CRS and associated lookup websites for a quick overview. Since the seat map doesn't match any of the published seat maps for the airline I was able to deduce it is one of the aircraft which they are in the process of reconfiguring and refurbishing. There is still plenty of time for an aircraft swap on the flight, so I'll be keeping an eye open.

Race against time

I both won and lost the race against time. Won because I have my passport back complete with visas in time for my next overseas trip (not the one I needed the visas for), with a day to spare. But lost because apparently almost a month wasn't long enough and so I had to pay extra to get the processing expedited.

Still, I'm looking forward to the upcoming trips. Now the visas are confirmed I have a lot of organising to do!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Qantas business & first class improvements, only for some

As a few more details come out following the announcement of improvements to Qantas business and first class longhaul offerings, some of the gloss has come off.

An insider posted on Flyer Talk that the new offerings will only be available on certain flights. So far no rule of thumb has been provided but it looks like only the most prime of routes are included for some of the new amenities. Confusingly, some routes with multiple flights have the improvements on certain flights but not others. Also some routes offer the extra amenities in one direction but not the reverse (both long overnight flights). Some flights will not have the improved amenities as offered on some other flights that are shorter. This is going to annoy the premium flyers which I'd expect Qantas are targetting.

I'm familiar with some airlines offering extra amenities in first or business class based on aircraft type, length of flight, or overnight vs daylight. I'm not aware of such an arbitrary allocation on any other airline.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Qantas boasts about new first & business amenities

Qantas has released some information about the new first and business class amenities. There are some pictures at e-Travel Blackboard.

Along with the usual guff about designer this and that are two surprising pieces. One, that pajamas will be offered to business class passengers on longhaul overnight flights. Second, that "We believe our new flagship Lounges will be simply the best in the world," said Mr Borghetti. That is a bold claim, and one I'll be happy to test out.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jet Blue and Controllable Irregularities

Jet Blue has succumbed to the complaints about a meaningless term (eg my earlier post, over at Upgrade: Travel Better, etc) and has now defined Controllable Irregularities (thanks to Flight Wisdom for this news).

From the Jet Blue contract of carriage:

Controllable Irregularity as used in Section 36, means a delay, cancellation, or
diversion that is not caused by Force Majeure Event. For the sake of clarity, if
in a chain of multiple events, the original irregularity is due to a Force
Majeure Event, the cause of the subsequent event(s) reasonably related to the
original irregularity shall be deemed an Uncontrollable Irregularity.

Force Majeur Event mean an event(s) outside of Jet Blue's
reasonable contol and includes, but is not limited to, weather conditions; acts
of government or airport authorities (eg Air Traffic Control Delays, runway
closures, airport construction); acts of God; US military or airlift emergency
or substantially expanded US military airlift requirements, as determined by the
US government; grounding of a substantial number of aircraft as a result of
activation of the US Civil Reserve Air Fleet; strikes or labor unrest; civil
commotions, embargoes, wars or other hostilities, whether actual, threatened or
reported; government regulation, demand or requirement; damage to aircraft
caused by a third party; emergency situation requiring care, protection or
response to protect person or property or any event that is not reasonably
foreseen, predicted or anticipated by Jet Blue.

So let's see how the incident that prompted Jet Blue to draw up their Passenger Bill of Rights (PBOR) would fare. Gosh it was originally caused by bad weather therefore no liability. Indeed I am struggling to think of many situations where Jet Blue couldn't use the chain of events get out of jail free clause.

I can see the chain of events potentially being misused. For example suppose bad weather 2 days ago so messed up the schedules with aircraft in the wrong places and crew hours affected. Even though the weather today is fine, there may still be knock-on impacts. Some of these may have been avoidable, in the eyes of the consumer, by for example having more back-up crew.

How any one would think this puffery is enough to stop calls for regulation is beyond me.

Edited (thanks to Cranky Flier). Jet Blue has made a significant improvement on their first version. Now Controllable Irregularities applies to cancellations and departure delays before push-back from the gate. All other delays are subject to compensation regardless of cause. That is good news and gives the PBOR the teeth it needed, although the different treatment of departure delays and ground delays on departure does give an odd incentive for Jet Blue to delay pushing back.

Jet Blue have also clarified that refunds exclude taxes and fees, and the same applies to vouchers offered for compensation to the value of the fare for the longer delays. Boo.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

US-EU open skies

I've been slow reporting on the news this week that EU and US officials have tentative agreement on open skies, mainly because so many other blogs have already commented on it. As I'd expect, UK is against the agreement (refer The Independent). No surprise there - British Airways and Virgin Atlantic could be significant losers under open skies.

With the help of Upgrade Travel Better's post on open skies and a handy guide to freedoms by The Cranky Flier, what does the tentative agreement mean?

Currently the right to fly to, from and over a country are negotiated bilaterally. The open skies agreement however would apply to USA and all of the European Union at once.

  1. Allow European airlines to fly from anywhere in the EU to any point in the U.S., and vice versa.
  2. This replaces negotiated 3rd and 4th freedoms (eg Air France can take passengers in both directions between France and USA, and a US airline can take passengers in both directions between USA and France) with 7th freedom (eg Alitalia can take passengers in both directions between France and USA).

    This also would appear to give US airlines the ability to take passengers on flights within Europe (or rather between EU countries), and not just those going to or from USA.

    That is a huge concession from EU as European airlines don't have the option to take passengers on flights solely within USA (which requires 9th freedom).

  3. If open skies goes ahead any US or EU airline can fly between USA and London Heathrow airport (LHR), subject of course to getting slots.
  4. I mentioned British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic earlier. Currently they have a cosy deal whereby only 2 UK and 2 US airlines are allowed to fly between USA and London Heathrow (LHR) airport. Effectively BA has a highly lucrative oligopoly at this important hub.

    Which is where the third UK airline comes in. Bmi has a significant proportion of LHR slots, and recently gained some more through the purchase of BMed (despite the similar name a previously unrelated airline which contracted for British Airways). Lufthansa is in a good position having an option to take over Bmi.

  5. Enable European companies to own as much as 49.9% — and in some circumstances, more than 50% — of U.S. airlines, up from the current 25% limit.

    That would help Richard Branson get Virgin America up and running, and opens the door to trans-atlantic mergers (perhaps Air France KLM Delta Northwest?).

There are still hurdles to cross in both US and EU for the agreement to be ratified. Watch this space.

Check your travel smarts

Conde Naste Traveler's The Perrin Post has a couple of online tests you can take to check out your travel smarts.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Frequent flyer networking

Forums such as Flyer Talk have for years provided networking opportunities for frequent flyers. The blog Seeds of Growth reports that KLM has provided a few networks for it's customers:

Will other frequent flyer programs follow suit?

Still waiting

1 visa processed, 1 to go. The first one took so long the second has to be expedited (= pay more money). The ability to do this was the reason for doing them in this order. Fingers crossed it is sorted before I need my passport back for another trip.

Also waiting on information on the first A380 flights. Lufthansa has invited a lucky few customers on a couple of trial flights. Singapore Airlines still not committing to any dates or specifics for the first flights after being burnt by the never-ending delays.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Waiting game

I seem to be doing a bit of travel related waiting at the moment.

Waiting for visas to be processed.

Waiting for waitlist to clear on some flights.

Waiting for a new hotel I've booked a stay at to open (hopefully before my visit). I've been doing some research on new Hilton hotels (and new to Hilton chains). It seems the opening dates are more of a rough guide than a firm commitment. In some cases the hotel opens earlier than stated. While in many cases the hotel opens later than stated. Later can mean several months later! Still, if they have accepted a booking they have to provide alternative arrangements. Hopefully reasonable ones rather than a poorly located dive.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

One World Alliance Update

Earlier I posted about some upcoming changes to the main airline alliances. One World has now confirmed LAN Ecuador and LAN Argentina will be joining 1 April, as affiliate members - the same date as Japan Airlines, Malev Hungarian Airlines and Royal Jordanian Airlines join as full members. (And one day after Aer Lingus leaves the alliance.)

One World has also advised 2 new products Circle Asia Explorer and Visit Japan Airpass - both similar to existing Star Alliance products. Thanks to Drron on Australian Frequent Flyer for the news.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Liquids and carry-ons

A fortnight is a long time in the war on liquids. Since my previous entry, some further countries have announced new liquids bans in carry-ons. The upcoming changes are:

  • Nepal - no liquids at all (other countries allow the small containers in clear sealable plastic bag)
  • Pakistan - no liquids at all
  • Fiji - from 1 March
  • Japan - from 1 March
  • South Korea - from 1 March
  • Taiwan - from 1 March
  • Australia - from 31 March on international flights
  • New Zealand - from 31 March on international flights

This list is incomplete and with fast changing rules all travellers should check with their airline(s) in the first instance. The rules apply for both departures and transits.

So it seems it won't be long until all countries have adopted restrictions on liquids in carry-ons for flights.

Window or aisle

Since friends and colleagues know I fly a lot I often get asked my opinion on various aspects of flying and frequent flyer programs.

A common question is whether to sit in the window or aisle. The best seats are both window and aisle at the same time, but most of the time there is a choice (or the dreaded middle seat). I don't have a universal preference, which makes it tricky to decide what to enter as preference in my frequent flyer program profile (for those airlines like Qantas that pre-allocate seats based on your profile).

I prefer a window seat when:

  • it is a short flight - so easy access to the aisle is irrelevant
  • it is a scenic flight - especially low altitude ones by/over/through mountains, but even longhaul flights at altitude can have great views
  • I want to catch a glimpse of the northern or southern lights (on suitable routes and flying overnight)
  • when the window seat has more room or more storage room - eg upper deck on 747 (thanks to the curvature and also side storage bins), on certain aircraft there is a missing window seat immediately in front of the exit row providing massive legroom
  • I want to curl up against the wall on short overnight flights
  • I want to avoid being bumped by other passengers or food/duty free trolleys

I prefer an aisle seat when:

  • it is a long flight - easier to get up to stretch the legs or go to the bathroom or galley
  • I am in a hurry to disembark - eg tight connections or a rush to make a meeting (okay this is most flights)
  • I am sure to get a row of 3 or 4 seats to lay down on - easier to protect the row if you are seated in the aisle seat than if seated in the window seat
  • I want easy access to gear stored in the overhead bin - eg when seated in an exit row
  • on some aircraft, when seated in an exit row - to avoid the protusion of the slide into my legroom

So my answer is, it depends.

Which do you prefer and why?

Easy status requalification

It seems Qantas is keen on keeping up the numbers of elite members of Qantas Frequent Flyer (QFF) program. Many people have reported having retained their status on minimal flights on Qantas, or even having credited no flights in the whole membership year.

There seems to be 2 approaches - one is those who previously qualified Gold or Platinum with plenty of extra status credits than the minimum are automatically requalified a few months before expiry of their status. The second is for those who previously only just qualified, for whom QFF asks for expected travel pattern for the upcoming year - ie looking for an excuse to retain your status.

For those who are in between status levels - eg easily qualifying for Silver but not on track for Gold, QFF is providing double status credit offers to help them up to the next level.

Nice for QFF members. I can't help think that Qantas is getting ready to spin off their frequent flyer program (having inflated the number of elite members in the process).

Rebooked onto impossible connection

I got a reminder today to check itinerary change emails carefully. An upcoming itinerary had one flight rebooked to an earlier flight. So what you say? This flight not only departed before my connecting flight arrived, but it left around the same time the previous flight leaves. A totally impossible connection. To make matters worse, the email wording didn't mention the rebooking at all.


Oops. Fortunately this was all on one ticket and a simple search of the airline schedule provided me with an alternate flight (the last of the day) to suggest rebooking to (and a backup new routing if that failed). Easily fixed but I could have been stranded had I not read the email carefully.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

No clothes x-rays coming to USA

The backscatter x-ray machine is being "tested" in Phoenix, USA. It will also be tested in JFK and LAX airports according to the Transport Security Administration (TSA). That innocuous sounding name belies just how invasive the technology can be. Check out these pictures in the NY Times.

The pilot is said to be voluntary, but as with so many rules in the name of security I bet it won't be long before you won't be allowed to fly if you don't accept the screeners' free perv.

I expect the TSA will be getting a lot of complaints over this, and perhaps also a surge in job applicants.

A Post About Nothing

No travel this past week for the first time in ages. Seems a bit odd.

So instead I have been preparing for some upcoming trips, and planning 2 or 3 more round the world trips. It is quite a logistical challenge fitting it into my schedule, with availability, including as many places I need to go as possible in the one ticket (or convenient side trips), whilst maximising enjoyment, comfort, frequent flyer miles and status earning, and minimising misconnection risk, taxes, transits in horrid airports, etc.

While the online tools of the main alliances have improved over the past few years, they are still buggy enough that I rely mainly on spreadsheets plus information I have amassed. is also very useful for picking up tips.

Friday, February 23, 2007

New Routes

I like to keep an eye open for new route announcements. Often when they are first released there is reasonable availability for decent paid fares as well as awards. Sometimes this doesn't work out though - if the airline's revenue management is being unduly cautious for example.

I'm currently impatiently waiting for Air New Zealand to release seats on their newly announced Vancouver to Auckland nonstop service.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jet Blue and Controllable Irregularities

The Cranky Flier has been in touch with Jet Blue over the meaning of Controllable Irregularities (see Jet Blue's Passenger Bill of Rights). And apparently they have decided not to define the term. Hello big gaping hole in their trumpeted PBOR.

This brings to mind a piece from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass".

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. "It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jet Blue's Passenger Bill of Rights

Jet Blue has today announced it's own voluntary passenger bill of rights (PBOR) - which will be highlighted prominently on its website (at least for now). Further they have decided to apply it retrospectively to those affected by delays last week.

The details are:


  • Passengers have the choice of full refund or put on alternative Jet Blue flights at no cost.
  • If cancelled at less than 12 hours notice due to Controllable Irregularity (whatever that means as it isnt defined in the PBOR), passengers will also get a Jet Blue voucher for the fare paid.

Is this on top of the full refund/rebooking?


If Controllable Irregularity (that term again), then delay of:

  • 1-2 hours = $25 Jet Blue voucher
  • 2-4 hours = $50 Jet Blue voucher
  • 4-6 hours = Jet Blue voucher for the fare paid (one way)
  • 6+ hours = Jet Blue voucher for the fare paid (round trip)

Involuntary Denied Boarding

$1000 if the result of overbooking.

Ground Delays

Once passengers spend 5 hours onboard Jet Blue will deplane.

Ground delays of:

  • 30-60 minutes on arrival = $25 Jet Blue voucher
  • 1-2 hours on arrival = $100 Jet Blue voucher
  • 2-3 hours on arrival = Jet Blue voucher for fare paid (one way)
  • 4+ hours on arrival = Jet Blue voucher for fare paid (round trip)
  • 3-4 hours on departure = $100 Jet Blue voucher
  • 4+ hours on departure = Jet Blue voucher for fare paid (round trip)

Contract of Carriage

Jet Blue intends to incorporate their PBOR into their contract of carriage.

My comments

It is a start and by putting it into the contract of carriage it will have binding impact (at least until contract of carriage wording is changed). That is good.

Not so good the unequal treatment of delays on departure and arrival - what were they thinking? Apart from involuntary denied boarding (IDB) the compensation is wholly in vouchers, which effectively devalues it significantly and imposes a lesser penalty on itself than cold hard cash would do.

Thirdly, the longer delays providing compensation in the amount of one-way vs round-trip fare is odd - not everyone travels round trips any more and some fares could be ridiculously low. How will someone on a say $80 fare feel being given a voucher for $80 after a 5 hour delay? Not happy I would guess.

It will be interesting to see the reactions to this airline PBOR.