web Musings of The Global Traveller

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.