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Posts by HappyFlier
Admit it, a few years ago you didn’t pay much attention to the food at the airport. Why should you? You knew you were going to get a hot meal on your flight and that meal was FREE! Why pay for a meal at Tim’s Runway-Vue Cafe when you had a free meal coming to you on the plane?
And if you decided you did want to eat at the airport, what were your options? Limited and horribly over-priced. The people who ran the eateries had to pay high fees to the airport to operate, and the airport saw no need to ask them to lower their prices because they received a percentage of the sales. Lower costs meant lower revenue to the airport.
That started to change in the 1990s when Pittsburgh expanded its terminal and implemented a policy requiring vendors to charge the same price in the airport as they do at their non-airport locations. Many other airports have followed the trend, making airport food more affordable for all. The selection has, in many cases, also improved.
Today it is almost impossible to get a meal on a domestic flight, making airport dining a valuable option to many travelers. Why pay $5 for a snack box on a flight when you can get a hot meal at the airport for not much more money?
It’s not uncommon to see fast food chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, etc) giving passengers a quick place to eat. If you want a sit-down meal, Chilis and TGI Fridays have opened in many terminals. Starbucks and Cinnabon will satisfy your coffee and pastry desires. Manchu Wok will serve up egg rolls and sweet and sour pork.
Happy Flier readers know that I am a great fan of the dining options at the Pacific Marketplace at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Other airports also offer expanded dining options, in 2005 Frommer’s Travel Guide cited Philadephia, Memphis, and El Paso as some of their favorite places for airport food.
My home airport is Austin-Bergstom International (ABIA) in Austin, Texas. You’ll find plenty of places to eat at ABIA, but none are on the list of restaurants listed above. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Chilis. Airport management set a policy that it would only allow Austin-owned restaurants in the airport, no national chains. So, instead of Starbucks we have Austin Java. Instead of Chili’s you can go to Harlon’s Country Breakfast and Barbecue. And if you want to watch sports on TV while waiting for your flight, what could be better than Earl Campbell’s Sports Bar? (Earl won the Hesiman Trophy as a running back at the University of Texas, then had a Hall of Fame career with the Houston Oilers.)
Lower prices, greater selection, higher quality. The thought of eating a meal at a restaurant is no longer as repulsive as it once was. In fact, it can actually be quite appealing.
I must admit though, that I was amazed when I read about Jet Blue’s new terminal 5 at New York’s Kennedy International. Jet Blue has gone above and beyond in setting up its new food court. And that name may be a misnomer: when I think of a food court, I think of four or more fast food restaurants sharing a common seating area. This is NOT what Jet Blue has done. They have provided a varied selection of stylish restaurants whose style is so dramatic that New York Magazine ran two articles about it. The first featured amazing photos of the restaurants, while the second article featured menus (without prices, unfortunately) from those restaurants. From Antipasti to Stone Cut Oatmeal with caramelized bananas and raisins to a Fried Salami and Cheese sandwich on an everything bagel to a good old Bacon Cheeseburger, it is an extraordinary selection.
I have not had to do a layover at JFK in many years, but if I do, I will certainly find my way to the new Jet Blue terminal and its restaurants!
Airport dining is improving. The days of paying $10 for a badly-cooked hamburger have passed. Airports have realized that well-run properly priced restaurants can be a money-maker for the vendor and airport, while also serving to make the trip more pleasant for the traveler.
Is there a place with food you dream about, a place that you absolutely must stop to eat at when traveling? Share it with us.
As the price of oil rose above $150 a barrel, the airline industry responded by raising fares, cutting unprofitable routes, adding fuel surcharges, and implementing fees for services that passengers previously received at no cost.
With oil now below $120 a barrel, things may look better for the industry, but still have a long way to go before they actually look good.
I wrote before about Southwest Airlines and its unique ability to make a profit in this tumultuous time. In June Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told the Austin-American Statesman “We are expecting to take more market share. We are planning for that.” How quickly things change.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Southwest will reduce its schedule by almost 200 flights in January 2009. This is a reduction of almost 6% of its daily schedule of over 3,400 flights. In addition, Southwest will proceed with previous plans to add 14 aircraft to its fleet, but will accelerate the rate at which it retires others, leaving the size of its fleet relatively stable.
Southwest has made a profit in every quarter since 1991. It speaks badly for the industry if the nation’s most profitable airline sees the need to reduce service.
I do the majority of my flights on American Airlines. Many years ago American stopped serving meals in coach on domestic flights but thankfully continues to serve them on international flights. However, one airline may be setting the precedent of ending that service.
As part of a service cutback, United Airlines announced that it would stop serving complimentary meals in coach on flights to Europe, instead offering snack packs. And to make matters worse, they raised the cost of the snack packs from $7 to $9 each.
Happily, this turned out to be a victory for all travelers. So many people protested United’s actions that it canceled the change and will continue to serve hot meals in coach on flights to Europe.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. In an era when the airlines are continually adding fees and surcharges to their increasingly expensive tickets while at the same time reducing service, United’s passengers loudly said “Enough!” and the airline listened. This is an important lesson for all travelers: let the airlines know when you are unhappy, let them know you plan to take your business elsewhere. They cannot make any money if you stop flying with them! It’s good to see that the consumer still has some influence.
However, United said that it would stop serving meals in business class on domestic flights, instead offering complimentary beverages and snack items, and this policy has not changed. The importance of this move cannot be ignored: while airlines have cut back on services to coach passengers, this marks the first time that an airline has reduced service to passengers buying the much more expensive (and profitable to the airline) business class tickets. Will any other airline follow suit? We’ll see. It will be interesting to see how many of United’s business class passengers take their business elsewhere.
Finally, US Airways announce that it would no longer award bonus miles to its Preferred status Dividend Miles members. The airline said “By reducing the number of bonus miles issued, US Airways is in a better position to withstand the impact of record fuel prices.”
So far, US Airways’ unhappy passengers have not been able to reverse this decision.
If I had elite status on US Airways Dividend Miles program, I would be looking for a new airline right now. One of the benefits I receive for my Platinum status on American Airlines is double AAdvantage miles on all flights. If the flight is 2,650 miles, I earn 5,300 miles. If that benefit were eliminated, my return on mileage runs would be so poor as to no longer make it worthwhile for me to do them. I hope AA will not follow US Airways in this decision.
The future of air travel
Sadly, air travel is starting to resemble restaurant service more and more. Passengers used to get free meals, free beverages, free blankets and pillows, a selection of newspapers on each flight, and paid no charge for checking their baggage. Those are the old days. We are now moving to restaurant-style a-la-carte pricing.
You go into a restaurant, and they give you a table to sit at, a chair to sit on, and silverware. You go onto an aircraft and you get a seat and a seatbelt.
Do you want an iced-tea at that restaurant? It will cost you $3. Do you want to check your bags at the airport? It will cost you $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second.
Would you like a salad at the restaurant? No problem, that will cost you up to $8. Do you want a snack pack on your flight? Again, no problem, that will cost as much as $9.
In each case, you will have to pay an additional fee every time you ask for something. We may see the day when travelers will have a Travel Options area they can use when making an online reservation. Once they reserve their seat, they will be able to use that area to reserve a pillow, a snack pack, and a blanket, and have the cost included in their purchase price.
The idea seems absurd today, but no more absurd than it seemed two years ago to think about charging passengers $15 to check their first piece of luggage.
When it comes to air travel, the good old days are gone.
Enjoy Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, and Harvey Korman, as they demonstrate all the benefits of the money-saving “no frills” service now being offered by a major airline. It may be no frills, but look at all that legroom!
Admit it, sometimes you have felt like you were flying on this airline!
In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens said “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That is almost an appropriate description of this past week for American Airlines. It was week of good news, and bad news.
The good news first.
American announced that “American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia signed a Joint Business Agreement (JBA) to cooperate on flights between North America and Europe, and announced that we plan to expand our global cooperation.”
“Though our three airlines will continue to operate as separate legal entities – with our own fleets, employees and brands – we will cooperate more closely to improve travel choices, offer more convenient schedules and give customers more opportunities to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles.”
What impact will this have? A huge impact for travelers making transatlantic flights. It will open up many new options for flights from America to Europe, and will also provide greater flexibility on flights within Europe. It will have no affect on flights within the United States.
When can travelers expect to see these benefits? “As a key first step, our three airlines – along with Finnair and Royal Jordanian, our transatlantic partners in the oneworld global alliance – plan to apply today with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to receive global antitrust immunity.”
The agreement will require approval from the United States and, I would think, also from the European Union. American can only say that these changes “will take some time to be implemented.”
There is one point that AA does not address in their announcement. American AAdvantage members currently earn AAdvantage miles on all flights on British Airways except those between the US and Europe. Those flights compete directly with AA’s service, so no are miles awarded on them. (Miles are awarded however on service between Canada and Europe.) Will this change when the new agreement is implemented? I have no idea.
The three airlines have set up a website with more information about the JBA. Moretravelchoices.com provides information about the proposal. Among the expected benefits to customers are:
- The combined route network would offer seamless service to approximately 443 destinations, in 106 countries, with 6,277 daily departures worldwide:
- Greater expected availability of lower fares and more routing choices.
- Discounts for corporate customers to more destinations and on more frequencies in a single contract.
- Expanded opportunities to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles and elite tier benefits on flights worldwide and continued reciprocal airport lounge access. Reinvigorated competition as the oneworld alliance would finally be allowed to compete on equal footing with other global air alliances that have longstanding immunities.
I have no doubt that this will bring about more routing choices and more frequencies in a single contract, but I have not seen anything in an industry that now charges for the first checked bag to make me believe that there will be a greater availability of lower fares or discounts for corporate customers. However, even if the fares remain the same, the other benefits to make it worthwhile.
In addition, American announced plans to purchase six Boeing 737-800 aircraft by 2010 as replacements for its aging fleet of MD-80s, which average 18 years of service. They will also ground their fleet of Airbus A-300 aircraft which also average 18 years of service.
The bad news for American came when the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) announced a $7.1 million fine against American for maintenance problems and poor implementation of drug testing.
The FAA said that American knew that two MD-80 aircraft had defective auto-pilots, but flew the two aircraft 58 times before making the repairs.
The FAA is also seeking fines for against American for violating drug testing procedures involving several dozen flight attendants and other employees, only one of whom was a pilot.
This is the second largest fine ever assessed by the FAA; the largest being the $10.2 fine against Southwest Airlines in March, 2008 for improper maintenance procedures.
American says it will contest the fine.
“We do not agree with the FAA’s findings and characterizations of American’s action in these cases,” the airline said. “In accordance with FAA procedures for handling these matters, we have requested to meet with the FAA after we have had time to thoroughly review their findings, so that we may discuss the issues. Since these matters are ongoing with the FAA, we will not have any further comment at this time.”
Two weeks since my last post: for that I apologize. Aside from being swamped at work, I have also done some traveling around Texas that has kept me very busy. I’ve visited San Antonio, having a very good and very bad experience, and also visited South Texas shortly after Hurricane Dolly came though.
First, the good and bad of our San Antonio visit. My wife and I planned to spend a weekend in the Alamo City. We enjoy all our trips to San Antonio, it’s an easy 90 minute drive from home and we have had a great time whenever we have gone there. Our plan called for us to attend an event at the Alamodome on Saturday, spend the night at a motel, then do some shopping and act like tourists on Sunday. At least that was the plan.
We bought tickets for the Southwest Championships of Drum Corps International at the Alamodome, and had reservations to spend the night at a Rodeway Inn. Everything looked good.
We arrived at the Alamodome at 11 a.m. and made our way to our seats. They were amazing, the best seats we have ever had in the years we’ve attended this event. The first band marched out onto the field at noon to start an incredible day of music and incredible marching skill. After 12 bands performed there was a three-hour break for dinner, and then we went back to see the top four bands from the morning compete against the remaining eight bands.
It was an incredible evening, featuring some of the best performances we had ever seen. When the show finally ended well after 11 p.m., we left the Alamodome and drove to the Rodeway Inn, anxious to get a good night’s sleep after our very long day.
I got to the motel and went to check-in. There were three people in front of me, including a young mother who said she had been looking for a room for the previous two hours but had been unable to find one in San Antonio. The reservations clerk apologized, but said there were no vacancies, she would have to look elsewhere.
He checked in the next gentleman, who had a reservation, and then me, telling me I was lucky I had a reservation, I was getting the last room in the motel.
My wife and I went to the room; it being Texas in July I immediately turned on the air conditioner, but was not prepared for what I got! The a/c let out a loud screech, it sounded as if a bearing was going out in the fan motor. We turned off the a/c and turned on the fan by itself, but the noise was still there, far too loud for us to be able to sleep.
I immediately called the front desk to complain: the clerk said he would send a maintenance man. A few minutes later there was a knock on our door: since it was almost 1 a.m. I tried to look through the peephole in the door to see who it was but couldn’t do it: when they painted the room they painted over the peephole!
I opened the door and it was indeed the maintenance man. I let him in, the first thing he did was complain about being woken up in the middle of the night. Then he listened to the noise and told me there was nothing he could do. “We are refurbishing the hotel. The new rooms are very quiet, but the old ones sometimes sound loud like this, there is nothing I can do.”
There was no way we could sleep in that room so we left and went to the front desk; we had been in the room for 12 minutes. I told the clerk the room was not satisfactory and we were leaving. He printed up a receipt and charged me the full price for the room!
I told him there was no way I was paying for 12 minutes in a substandard room: he replied that I had made a reservation and guaranteed it with my credit card and he would have to charge me even if I had not checked in.
I said I was glad to stay at the hotel, but needed a room where the air conditioner made less noise than my car makes at 75 miles per hour on the highway, did he have such a room? He refused to answer. I said I was glad to stay but needed a room where I could look out into the hallway to see who was knocking on the door, did he have such a room? Again, he refused to answer.
“If you can’t give me a quiet or safe room, you can’t charge me!” I said. He replied with the company line about needing to cancel reservations 24 hours in advance. I realized I would not get anywhere arguing with a college kid working the night shift at 1 a.m., so I left, saying I would call a manager the next day.
My wife and I drove home, not getting in until after 3 a.m.
The next afternoon I called and spoke with a manager and explained the situation. She again gave me the company line about needing to cancel 24 hours in advance, but said she would look into the matter. An hour later she called, apologized for the situation, and said I would receive a full credit. I thanked her for her courtesy and thought that was the end of it. Sadly, it was not.
A week later, the credit had not appeared on my credit card account. I had to drive through San Antonio while on the way to South Texas and I stopped by the motel to settle the matter.
I spoke with a different manager: she tried to call the lady I had talked with earlier, but she no longer worked at the motel and was not answering any calls from the motel’s phone number. Since that did not work, she started to give me the standard line about canceling 24 hours in advance and that I could not get a refund because I had not done that. Too bad I did not know 24 hours in advance that the room was garbage!
But then she looked in the computer and found my record. “Oh, you have been issued a credit.” Sure enough, she printed the credit invoice for me. I was satisfied with that and left. When I got home I called American Express: they still could find no record of the refund, so they are putting the charge on hold while they investigate; that should take 6-8 weeks. I’ll let you know how that works out.
In the meantime, Rodeway Inn sent me an online customer satisfaction survey about our stay. Suffice to say I gave the motel the worst ratings possible and said I would never stay there, or at another Rodeway Inn again.
In my last post, I talked about the prices for mileage runs, and how high they had become. Today I learned an important lesson: just because the price was high yesterday does not mean that it is high today!
I looked again at a mileage run to Portland, Oregon (PDX). Previously I found trips that cost as much as $800. I looked again today and found a MR to PDX in August for only $310. That’s 2.85 cents per mile: not great, but a lot better than I had recently found.
I changed the parameters to see what that trip would cost in September: the price dropped even more! I was able to buy AUS-ORD-PDX-ORD-AUS for only $240! I’ll earn over 10,000 miles and at 2.21 cents per mile, a good rate!
I don’t know why the price for a trip would drop from $800 to $310 to $240 in a matter of days. Perhaps AA saw that not enough people were willing to pay that higher price. Whatever the reason, I am glad I found this better deal!