web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, February 25, 2008

On line check in (OLCI)

The Cranky Flier noted a new feature offered by Ryanair following their website changes over the weekend, on line check in (OLCI) up to 5 days before departure, and wondered what the point of it all is.

I've wondered as well, ever since Air New Zealand rolled out OLCI at time of booking for their domestic flights (subject to a few conditions) last March. Yes, Air NZ allows you to check in up to 12 months before departure. Presumably they expected the increased numbers of no shows and passengers requiring changes after checking in would be more than offset by efficiency savings at airport check-in. I'm not yet convinced this is the case - 12 months is a long time for changes in plans to happen, and if passengers lose the print out (or fail to save the generated pdf) they will still need to check in at the airport (either at a counter or using a quick-check machine). Anecdotally I've noticed an increase in the number of passengers being paged for boarding.

Cranky Flier has me thinking a bit more though. Given there are no ID checks for domestic travel in New Zealand, what is the boarding pass required to do? (1) It reminds the passenger of the flight number and departure time (the gate number is not available when OLCI'ing a long way before departure). (2) The printed barcode provides a quick way for the gate agent to confirm the passenger has boarded - however this can also be done by typing the seat number. (3) Possibly used for tracking of checked luggage? I'm not sure on this as it has been many years since I've checked bags when flying Air New Zealand. (4) It provides proof of eligibility for using the lounge (though a non-foolproof method in the case of OLCI as frequent flyer status or airline club membership may change between check in and departure).

That is all, at least for Air NZ. The boarding pass is not needed to clear security. There is no stub retained by the gate agent for reconciling passenger numbers. The boarding pass is not used to identify where passengers are (except possibly for those checking in manually at the airport).

Are there other airlines that allow OLCI so far before departure? The ones I am aware of that are more than 24 hours before departure are

  • KLM - up to 30 hours
  • Cathay Pacific - up to 48 hours
  • Singapore Airlines - up to 48 hours
  • Ryanair - up to 5 days
  • Air New Zealand - from time of booking.

Note rules may vary slightly in respect of connecting or return flights, some destinations/origins may not allow OLCI, and some passenger types are not eligible for OLCI.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Simple explanation of frequent flyer accounting

Ahead of a probable spin-off of the Qantas frequent flyer program (FFP), the Qantas half year results investor briefing includes several pages on the FFP. Skip to page 45. It has a clear explanation of how airlines make money and account for their FFPs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More BA baggage woes and some other bad BA news

British Airways is yet again in the news for a poor baggage situation at London Heathrow (LHR). Apparently only T4 is affected. With limited capacity to handle baggage by hand, there are restrictions in place. These vary by day, whether originating in London or transitting, by class of travel and elite frequent flyer status. So for the latest check the BA website here.

In short, some passengers are limited to carry on only. Fortunately this increased to 2 bags earlier in the year. Unfortunately we still have the liquids restrictions.

I do wonder though how much thinking went into this statement.

On Thursday 21 February, transfer passengers through London Heathrow Terminal 4 should not bring luggage to be checked in as they will not be able to travel.

So someone flying on BA from Sydney (leaves shortly as I write this and arrives on Thursday 21 February) and transferring through T4 can or cannot have checked bags? Isn't it a bit late to advise these passengers now? In general transferring passengers have the least flexibility in terms of being able to convert to carry-on only for luggage.

I think the rules BA has established for allowing checked baggage in the short term until the situation is resolved, while no doubt well meaning, are rather too complex to be well understood. Be prepared for longer than normal queues at check in, and also at security.

For once it appears the airline is not to blame for the problem which is attributed to computer errors and thus responsibility of airport operator BAA (source BBC News). Still one can't help but wonder why BA seems to attract so many problems compared with other airlines.

It was only a few hours ago I speculated that BA's latest announced fuel surcharge increase was being timed to get all their bad news over well ahead of T5 opening in 5 weeks time. BA have also been in the news recently for losing a major court case on overcharged fuel surcharge (yes ironic timing leading some to wonder how much of the latest increase is to pay the refunds of the lost case). They are also threatened with strikes by pilots and cabin crew (more on this soon).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Update on Hilton customer unfriendly shenanigans

An update on the 3 issues mentioned in my previous blog entry.

Based on information received to date, the no blackout issue appears to be fairly widespread. It may be that the rollout of the new policy has not gone right. Some readers may recall there was little advance notice of the change - perhaps it was announced prematurely. So I'm somewhat optimistic this will be resolved satisfactorily, eventually.

For the other 2 issues (inflexible flexible rates and deposit required on awards) so far only 2 hotels have been identified (but there may be more) and not on every date.

I'll keep you updated as I get more news. You can also follow the discussion on Flyer Talk's Hilton HHonors forum.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Australia-US open skies agreement

A nice win for Qantas and more of the same for the travelling public with the announcement that a new Open Skies Agreement has been signed (source SMH).

Only Australian and US airlines benefit from the agreement.

Virgin Blue, through subsidiary V Australia (yet to fly) gains the right to fly more than 4 flights a week in their first year of operation. But with few aircraft and limited expansion possibilities the impact on fares is expected to be low.

Qantas has had its cap on market share on the route lifted. So it can freely add capacity where before it was constrained by the number of flights United and Hawaiian flew between Australia and USA. However, with the route such a cash cow for Qantas I don't expect any significant increase in the number of their flights. They will want to protect yields on their existing flights.

US-based airlines in theory have more rights. However the 2 existing airlines (United and Hawaiian) have no aircraft available to add more flights and a few other airlines still have rights from when they previously flew the route. It is hard to see any genuine new entrants from USA in the short term at least.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines and Emirates, who both have been lobbying for years to be allowed to fly between Australia and USA have been shut out once again.

I can't see the notoriously high fares on these routes coming down much any time soon. Instead the agreement has given both Qantas and Virgin Blue the license to make even more money.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hilton customer unfriendly shenanigans

Unfriendly #1 - no blackout dates

I know what you are thinking. How can Hilton HHonors recently announced "no blackout dates" be unfriendly? The announcement wording seems positive enough.

Unlike some other hotel programs:

  • HHonors program has no capacity controls. All standard rooms are available
    for rewards, not just a limited number each night.
  • HHonors does not require additional points to avoid blackout dates. Some
    hotel programs black out reward rooms and require their customers to redeem
    significantly more points to bypass those blackouts.
  • With HHonors, there are no exceptions. Every Hilton Family hotel worldwide
    offers No Blackout Dates. Some competitive programs exclude selected properties.
It seems someone left off the fine print. Exceptional demand dates are apparently being excluded. Not only are Hilton HHonors being deceptive about this clause, but there is no way to identify exceptional demand dates online. It is only when you call Hilton HHonors (for example their Diamond Desk) to make a request for an award that is not available online, that you might be told "sorry the hotel has reserved that date as exceptional demand". Boo.

There's some discussion about this on Flyer Talk.

Unfriendly #2 - fully flexible

Many travellers, myself included, have plans that often change. So we don't mind paying a little extra to have a flexible hotel booking. As long as the booking is cancelled before the deadline (which can be as late as 4pm on the date of booked arrival or as early as 48 hours beforehand), there is no charge.

Depending on the situations booking fully flexible might or might not make sense, and the Road Weary blog has a recent discussion about that.

I was stunned when attempting to make a recent booking at Hilton Frankfurt to find the hotel has made the rate called "Fully Flexible" non-refundable and non-changeable! Perhaps someone had mistranslated from German? But on checking with Hilton HHonors Diamond Desk it seems that no, the hotel policy is indeed to have NO flexible bookings. Wow. It certainly pays to read the rules instead of assuming the rate name bears any resemblence to the offering. Another Flyer Talker ran into the same deal at Hilton Munich City. I wonder how many other hotels pull this nonsense?

Unfriendly #3 - large deposit for "free" award stay

It gets worse. The same 2 German hotels (and there may well be others - these are the two I've identified so far) require a deposit for award stays. Again, this is hidden in the terms and could easily be missed by an unwary traveller as it is not expected.

Rules and Restrictions

  • This reservation requires a credit card deposit of a confidential rate per
    room and will be charged to your card by February 15, 2008.
  • If you cancel for any reason, attempt to modify this
    reservation, or do not arrive on your specified check-in date, your payment is
To summarise, at these hotels, 1 free stay =
charged an unknown amount of euros immediately
+ award points deducted immediately
+ no ability to change or refund the booking
+ refunded the deposit less charges at time of checking out (your deposit and points are forfeit if you don't show up)

The thought of approving a charge to my credit card for an indefinite amount did not appeal. I contacted Diamond Desk. They advised the charge is equal to the rack room rate - ie even higher than what I'd pay for a paid stay! Apparently Hilton HHonors do not feel empowered to override (or are hiding behind) this "hotel policy".

I'm hoping this nonsense is limited to just these 2 hotels, is soon stopped, and does not spread any further. Please let me know (by comment or email) if you are aware of any other hotels with such unfriendly practices. Also please post to the Flyer Talk discussion.


Where I live all three of these customer unfriendly practices are of dubious legality. #2 makes no sense. Surely there is some price point where refundable bookings are warranted? Granted, that might be higher than I'm prepared to pay but having nothing available that is flexible seems rather odd. #3 defies all logic. Only those who fail to read would willingly accept those terms for a free award stay.

It is amazing that until a few days ago I held Hilton HHonors in high regard. Can I please be allowed to amend my Freddies Awards votes?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

London Heathrow T5

British Airways (BA) is laying on the publicity about their new terminal 5 (T5) at London Heathrow (due to open 27 March).

In the past few weeks I've received invites to take a sneak peek from no less than 3 different sources at BA. Unfortunately none of the invites come with a ticket to London (hint hint) and my next planned visit is after the opening.

The picture above is the Gold Bar in the first class lounge (rebranded to Galleries First).

Some more pictures of T5 are available here at Flickr.

For those travelling on BA late March, I suggest keeping an eye out on the news (or blogosphere) for disruptions. Not only is there the major terminal shift at London Heathrow, but potentially both cabin crew and pilots may be striking around then (neither have balloted yet but the timing fits).

Top up Delta Sky Miles

Delta has a promo until March 15th for 50% extra miles when purchasing them. See for details. The rate is still not good at effectively about 2cents per mile, but may be worthwhile if just a little short for an award.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Schedule changes

It's that time of year again when many airlines do a major review of their schedules for the next 6 months.

Since I don't trust all airlines/travel agents to notify me of changes (having been burnt before), I'm now in the process of checking all my bookings. Looks like I have gotten off lightly (so far) with no major impacts.

Friday, February 08, 2008

It isn't every day that you witness a hijacking attempt.

Yesterday as I was checking in for a domestic flight from Christchurch I was told matter of factly to expect a delay as the armed defenders squad had been called out. I didn't know how to respond to that so headed to my gate in the satellite terminal. Once there, we had the odd experience of watching a stake out of the small aircraft which was stopped in the runway.

News slowly filtered in courtesy of phone calls and text messages. There'd been an attempted hijacking and a bomb threat had been made. The two pilots had been cut in some scuffles onboard. There were no serious injuries, and no damage to the aircraft. (Incidentally that was a flight I've made before.) There has been widespread news coverage of the event - Stuff for example.

After about 30 minutes we were evacuated first from the satellite terminal (and others from the airside portions of the main terminal), and then minutes later the whole terminal shut down. Fortunately it was a nice day and so thousands of airport staff and passengers (plus media contingent who soon arrived) camped out on the grass and in the carpark of the airport. The mood was sombre but light spirited - more of an inconvenience than that anyone was in any real danger.

An hour or so later a flyer was handed out - PR from the airport company. We all laughed at part of the wording "The airport terminals are operational but passengers should expect delays getting to the airport."

After a couple of hours the international terminal reopened but the domestic terminal remained closed. Someone at Pacific Blue was quick thinking. They tried to use the international terminal for their much delayed domestic flight. I don't think they succeeded but get credit from me for trying.

Around the 3 hour mark the airport reopened.

Inside was chaos. Thousands of passengers all trying to get rebooked, or even just find out if they needed to. Is the flight they've already checked in for going albeit hours late or is it cancelled? What about onward connections?

Those with bags had to recheck them (for all aircraft bags had been unloaded either just before the terminal evacuation or later when it reopened). Aircraft were out of place all over the country - it would take some time to unjam the system. Flights were using odd gates instead of their usual ones. One Pacific Blue flight in front of me had to disembark because someone forgot to make sure the passengers (and their carry ons) had all been screened - amazing at any time let alone in this situation.

Lots of flights were cancelled and most delayed for the rest of the day.

I've experienced airport closures for all sorts of odd reasons - power cuts, weather, presidential visit. This is the first time I've been close(ish) to a hijacking attempt. Hopefully it will be the only time.

Calls to improve security have already been made. At least one Australian politician is using the incident to justify their sky marshal program (as if a small 19-seater aircraft would ever have a marshal). I'm not convinced a knee-jerk reaction will help. The risk is small (I think but I'm no expert) and if someone is mentally disturbed, as appears to be the case here, they could easily cause more "damage" just driving on the highway.