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.