web Musings of The Global Traveller

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.