Archive for May, 2008
Today, on the last Monday in May, Americans honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the military.
In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union war veterans, chose May 30 as Decoration Day, a day for the nation to decorate the graves of war dead with flowers. In the years to come, communities held formal Decoration Day ceremonies to commemorate those who had died during the Civil War, whether they fought for the Union or the Confederacy.
After World War I, people honored those who had died in all wars, not just the Civil War. In 1971 Congress passed a law making Memorial Day a legal holiday. For more information on Memorial Day, visit the Veterans Department web site.
Please take a moment from your day to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
As we honor those who have died, we must also remember their families. Their parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons and daughters, for they also serve and have sacrificed. Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers.
Less than a month ago, American Airlines announced that it would charge passengers $25 for their second piece of checked baggage. Now they have raised the stakes, announcing that they will now charge $15 for the FIRST piece of checked baggage. The charge will be added to tickets purchased after June 15. They are the first airline to implement this fee, we’ll see in the next few days if any other airlines adopt the fee.
Going on a trip and taking two bags? You’ll pay $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second bag, and that is just a one-way charge! Your round trip luggage fee is now $80, and that is in addition to the increasing fuel charges you’ll have to pay.
The announcement of the luggage fee came at the annual meeting of AMR, AA’s parent corporation. CEO Gerard Arpey said that American would also cut service in the fourth quarter and eliminate jobs.
The ever-increasing cost of fuel remains the culprit. “The U.S. airline industry as it is constituted today was not built for $125- or $130-per-barrel oil,” said Arpey.
The passengers continue to get bad news as ticket prices and fees increase. How did American Airlines let us know about these changes? Not very well.
When they announced the first luggage fee, they posted it on the AA.com website with a link titled “Updated Checked Bag Policies.” I clicked on the link and learned about the $25 second-bag charge.
Yesterday I looked and saw the same link on the front page. I ignored it; after all I had already read the article and knew about the $25 charge. I suspect many others ignored the article too.
Turns out that AA decided to modify the article to include information about the new $15 charge for the first bag. If AA had modified the title of the article to something like “Additional Baggage Information” I would have known that it was different from what I had read in the past; but with the same title, I ignored it. I found out about the increase when the fee was discussed on the evening news. I imagine others found out about it the same way.
From grounding 300 aircraft to increasing fees, American Airlines has had to announce a lot of bad news in the last few months. The hundreds of thousands of passengers that fly American deserved to hear about this directly from the airline, but did not. I checked my mail today and saw that American had sent me my “Weekly Travel Picks” but no word on the extra fees.
A large number of passengers are exempt from the fee, including Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum members, members of the military on active duty, Business Class and First Class passengers, etc.
Update: Some ten hours after I posted this message, I got my monthly American Airlines AAirmail. Under the heading “Maximize Your Miles” (be still my beating heart!) is a link called “Checked Baggage Policy for Elite Members.” Like every good mileage runner, I am looking for ways to maximize my miles, so I clicked on it. Did I learn a new way to maximize my miles? Heck no! I got the message on the new baggage policy that I linked to above.
What American should have done is send a “Dear AAdvantage Member” message explaining the new policy. Instead, they put it in a message and placed it under such compelling links as “Vote for American’s Awarding Entertainment” and “Free Nights and More at Sandals Resort.” In fact, on a page with nine links, the new baggage policy is number eight.
One of the keys of crisis communications is to be up front and forthright with your audience. Aparently, AA has never gotten that message.
On a positive note, at least they haven’t installed pay toilets yet.
One of the key factors to doing a mileage run is to get the lowest cost per mile possible. That is becoming increasingly difficult as the cost of air travel continues to rise.
I did a mileage run to Seattle on April 26, flying from Austin to Chicago to Seattle and back. I paid $215 for that ticket. The same flights on American Airlines on June 28 would cost $646. On July 19 the cost drops to $585. Neither of those is a good mileage run.
The cost of air travel always goes up at this time of year due to higher demand, but it is made worse this year by the airlines cutting back service and the steep rise in fuel costs.
I looked back through some old bank statements and saw that it cost $32 to fill my car with gas in May 2006. In May 2007 I paid $35. In May 2008 I paid $54. (And yes, I realize that my European readers think that is a bargain.) The airlines are faced with similar increases and have to pass that additional cost on to their passengers.
CNN.com reports that the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts fewer Americans will travel this year during the Memorial Day holiday than last year, the first time that number has dropped since 2002. AAA says that fuel costs are 18% higher than last year, airplane tickets cost 8% more, and the cost of a mid-range hotel is 9% higher. The most amazing price increase is for a rental car: AAA says the average cost of a car rental will climb from $31 last year to $45 this year, a 45% increase.
“Many Americans are feeling a financial pinch this holiday weekend from record high gasoline prices and other factors,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet in a statement. “This spring, high gasoline prices appear to be dampening our society’s intent to travel.”
Travel bargains are still out there, but they are becoming increasingly difficult to find. I had been looking at AA Vacations, the American Airlines travel agency, for a trip to Mexico in September. The cost of a trip has gone up almost $300 in less than six weeks.
How does this affect the mileage runner? Obviously, it is more expensive to fly. I have to pay more to get my miles than I did a year ago. On the other hand, the number of miles needed to book a flight has not gone up. So, my old miles are worth more. I am however, pessimistic that there will be as many bargains later this year as there were in the past as long as the price for a barrel of oil remains above $120.
Saturday morning, May 10. Another early wake-up as I begin yet another mileage run to Seattle.
This is my 4th trip to Seattle since December, and yes, I am getting a bit tired of it. But there is no other city I can visit in the 48 states and earn as many miles as I can when I go to Seattle. So, I am off again to the great northwest.
After showering and eating a quick meal, I was on my way to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) at 4:15 a.m. Traffic was light and I made it to the terminal by 5 a.m.
Thankfully, it was not nearly as crowded as it was two weeks ago and I was able to quickly clear security.
My route for the day was Austin to Dallas to San Diego to Seattle to Chicago and back to Austin. Two weeks ago I had a 3-hour layover in Seattle which gave me time to relax and eat a meal. My longest layover on this trip would be one hour 20 minutes in Seattle. I’d be in trouble if one of my flights was delayed.
My first flight left Austin on time at 6:15. I slept all the way to Dallas. We landed at 7:15, and I had just enough time to grab a cup of coffee at the Admirals Club, take the train to terminal D, and then board my flight to San Diego.
We took off a few minutes late, and I quickly fell back to sleep. It was time to pay the price for getting up so early. Thankfully, I was able to sleep for an hour or so, and felt much better once I woke up. The flight was smooth but very disappointing in one way; there’s a lot of beautiful scenery on that route but we could not see any of it, the sky was overcast all the way to San Diego.
It was a three-hour flight and I was getting hungry. I hated to do it but I bought the $4 snack special: I got crackers and cheese and a box of raisins. Oh, please bring back the good old days of real food on flights! While it wasn’t much of a meal, it took care of my appetite and I enjoyed the rest of the flight. It went smoothly, but we were ten minutes late when we landed. That’s trouble!
I had a one hour five minute layover, and had now lost ten minutes. It took another ten minutes before I could get off the plane and now I was in serious trouble. I was scheduled to take Alaska Air to Seattle: my problem was that I had arrived at Terminal Two, but Alaska Air flies from Terminal One.
At most airports this would not be a problem, but at San Diego it meant I had to exit the secure area, leave Terminal Two, go outside, walk down to Terminal One, and then clear security again. And I had less than 45 minutes until my flight departed, no more than 15 minutes until they started to board the flight.
Tick, tick, tick.
I walked as quickly as I could to Terminal One, my flight was at Gate 16. I got to the security check-in and saw two lines, one long and one short. Obviously I went to the short one and then heard the TSA lady screech “First Class only! First Class only!” Almost half the people left her line and got on the increasingly long one.
Tick, tick, tick.
I was going to leave the line too but then I saw the sign that said the line was for “First Class passengers and passenger with Elite Status.” Great!
I immediately pulled out my American Airlines Platinum card and presented it to the TSA lady. Rather than checking me through, she decided this was the perfect time for her to instruct the lady checking in people on the longer line.
“Remember what we were talking about in our meeting on Tuesday?” she asked. “This is an example of it. Here is an American Airlines boarding pass for an Alaska Air flight. You need to study this so you can recognize it when you see it. And he has elite status with American but not Alaska Air.”
Tick, tick, tick.
Uhh, maybe you just need to be a school teacher later and let me get to my plane now…
Thankfully, she read my mind and wished me a good day. By the time I got to gate 16 they had already started the boarding procedure. No time to take pictures, no time to even visit the rest room.
Lesson learned: you need a longer layover in San Diego if you have to change terminals. It’s even worse if you fly in on American Eagie, they use a terminal at the other side of the airport and you have to take a bus to get to the main terminal.
Since I have Platinum status with American Airlines, Alaska assigned me to aisle 6, the first row in coach, and the row with the greatest amount of leg room. The plane was only 60 percent full, so everyone boarded quickly and we pushed back from the terminal as soon as everyone was seated.
Alaska Air flies the Boeing 737 and the planes seem to be much newer than the MD-80s that I so frequently fly on American; even in coach we had comfortable leather seats. Our flight to Seattle went very smoothly, and, best of all, we arrived ten minutes early. Great! That gave me an hour and twenty-five minutes in Seattle, I might even have time to eat!
I went to the Pacific Marketplace, the giant food court in the terminal area.
After my bad luck at getting my food choice two weeks earlier at Anthony’s, I decided to eat at one of the most famous seafood restaurants in the Seattle area, Ivar’s.
They don’t have a full-scale restaurant at the airport, but do have a fish bar when you can order small meals to eat in the food court, or to take with you on your flight.
Since we arrived early, I had enough time to eat my meal in the food court and relax a little.
I love the views from the Pacific Marketplace: very few airports can equal the spectacular view of flight operations that passengers can get at Sea-Tac.
After finishing my meal, I went towards my gate.
Two weeks ago my flight from Seattle to Chicago was delayed. This time everything went smoothly as we boarded.
We left Seattle a few minutes early and had a smooth flight to Chicago, getting in at 8:20. At 9:35 I was on my flight back to Austin.
It was a quiet flight, the plane was 70 percent empty and I had the exit row to myself. As we flew across the middle of America, I could see storms to the east with powerful lightning flashes. The next day I found that those storms had unleashed tornadoes that had killed more than 20 people.
We landed in Austin at 12:20 a.m., eighteen hours after my flight had left that morning. I was home safely by 1:30.
It had been another long day, but I got home on time and earned over 11,000 miles. I now have over 125,000 miles in the account, which means I have covered the cost of one of the Business Class tickets to Australia and Thailand. Now I just need to do it again!
This post has absolutely nothing to do with flying, traveling, mileage runs, airplanes, airlines, etc. But the story is important.
Every once in a while, I think it is appropriate to read something that helps us keep our priorities straight, and reminds us about what is important in life.
Take a few moments to read this article that appeared in May 4, 2008 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It will be time well spent.
QUESTION: How far can an airplane fly with a hole in the bottom of the fuselage?
ANSWER: Apparently, 4,948 miles, the distance from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Last month an American Airlines 767 took off from DFW: shortly thereafter the crew heard a loud noise that some compared to an explosion. The pilot thought the noise was caused by an inside cargo door that was left open, allowing bags to shift and decided, after speaking with AA maintenance staff, to continue the flight. Ten hours later the plane landed in Paris; mechanics immediately boarded the aircraft after being told by the tower that the plane was landing with “a hole in the bottom.” They quickly found that the noise was caused by a panel falling off the bottom of the aircraft.
Some say the pilot made the correct decision under the circumstances. Other say he made a very dangerous decision, placing the passengers and crew in harm’s way and should have immediately tried to land at DFW after burning off fuel. Since I am not qualified to fly a 767, I can’t say which is right; I will leave that decision to AA and possibly the FAA. I did speak with an AA pilot who said that while it looks frightening, it really wasn’t. He said the pilot was continually in touch with the maintenance center in Tulsa, and could have landed in many locations, including New York and Maine if needed. However, since everything was working well on the plane, no problem with flight dynamics, the decision was made by both the pilot and Tulsa to continue.
Photos of the damaged aircraft and comments by AA employees are available on the Dallas Morning News airline blog.
In other news, AA announced yesterday that all round-trip fares are going up by $20 to help pay for higher fuel costs. AA joined United Airlines in matching the increase that had first been announced by Delta Airlines. With oil at $125 a barrel, no easing of these price increases is in sight.
AA also announced last week that it is joining the other major American airlines in charging a $25 fee for passengers to charge a second piece of luggage. (AA members with elite status do not have to pay the fee.) This is a one-way fee, so that second bag will cost a passenger $50 more per round-trip ticket.
On a positive note, no airlines have gone bankrupt in the last week.