Category Archives: Aviation

What Happened at ZorkFest Did Not Stay at ZorkFest

When we last chatted, you may remember I posted about the first-ever ZorkFest. This was a one-day event on Dec. 2 in Atlantic City where experts in travel and casino loyalty programs gave attendees the scoop on both. Created by TravelZork.com Founder Michael Trager, the event brought more than 100 attendees from across the country to Bally’s.

ZorkFest started the night before with an opening reception, where I got the chance to meet other attendees and share a cocktail. Fun fact: the casino enthusiasts were as interested in our #avgeek/travel proclivities as we were with their high roller ways. Michael held a private dinner for speakers and special guests, where I was seated across from Cousin Vito and his lovely wife.

Cousin Vito, who also did the opening remarks on Saturday, is one of the first in the country to create a podcast specifically targeting casino enthusiasts. He noted that the first time he ever gambled was at Atlantic City’s Tropicana when he was 17 and his cousin Mikey was 20. Wearing what he called “cheap suits,” they won playing the slot machine and decided to spend their earnings on caesar salads.

“It was one of the most memorable salads of my life because me and Mikey paid the bill on our own with our winnings,” he recalled. “With that little luck and cheap suits, we were able to create more than we ever imagined during that day in Atlantic City.”

Cousin Vito uses his podcast to help listeners make luck happen.  “Today you’re going to learn shortcuts to unlock casino awards. This first ZorkFest is a training camp for those aspiring for free rooms or even trips to Vegas,” he said. “You’ll learn ways to earn points more efficiently and maximize the return on investment.” This community has afforded me the opportunity to meet amazing people, he added.

The podcast is a way to share my love of casinos with everyone, said Cousin Vito. “The slogan of the show is “win more, lose less at the casino,'” he said. “It’s not about wining big, but about minimizing losses and maximizing your fun in the casinos.”

Podcast listeners love the show, saying it gives them the confidence to try different games, like craps, said Cousin Vito. “We make it OK to not gable a lot. You don’t need a big bankroll to have fun at the casino,” he said.

The Main Event

I’m not a gambler (but my ex is a high roller), so I was curious to learn about a group that was as passionate about their passion as the travel folks are about theirs. For my first session, I decided to stick with my avgeek travel side and go to Seth “Wandering Aramean” Miller’s presentation, “Maximize Miles & Points.” A few things I learned:

  • Seth is one of the original members of Flyer Talk;
  • He uses Hotels.com, HotelHustle.com and HotelsCombined.com for the best hotel deals; and
  • He uses SkyScanner, ITA Matrix and Google Flights to find the best airfares.

I also learned more than I ever imagined about travel, points, miles, and deals on credit cards from Angelina Aucello, a Newark, N.J.-based travel aficionado and expert who blogs at Angelina Travels. Sorry you all missed how she is now banned from Kohl’s for something she did to earn credit card miles that help her travel the world with her family (come to ZorkFest 2018 and maybe she’ll spill again).

So watch this space for details on ZorkFest 2018, which will be in Las Vegas, baby! I’ll see you there! And check out these other posts about ZorkFest 2017.

Miles To Memories
ZorkFest: Travel and Casino Loyalty Combined. Do Not Miss the Next One (Pics Included)
Vegas Confessions Podcast
Vegas Confessions Post Zorkfest…I think we survived!
Cousin Vito’s Casino Podcast
E:66 Back from Atlantic City: A Zorkfest Trip Report

Your Weekend Reads for March 24, 2017

Laptop Ban jpg

The big news of the week was all about the sudden ban by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of laptops and tablets on flights in and out of the U.S. to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi and Dubai, citing “security measures.”

But questions arose about the targeting of the Big Three Middle East carriers — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways — in the wake of an ongoing Open Skies battle with the Big Three U.S. carriers, American, Delta and United. “If you squint hard enough, there is some justification on a security basis for this, but the implementation has been haphazard and in manner that is particularly targeted at and does harm to the commercial interests of a set of airlines that has been the source of much competitive hand-wringing from U.S. airlines,” Airways senior business analyst Vinay Bhaskara said in an interview with Business Insider.

And an editorial in FlightGlobal magazine said “the selective ban by the UK and US governments is at best inconsistent and at worst ineffective.”

A Mesa Airlines Beech 1900D. Photo courtesy of Mesa Air Group

In a previous life, I was director of communications and community affairs for Mesa Air Group, a regional airline based in Phoenix that flies as American Eagle and United Express. But as Mesa Airlines, the carrier operated Essential Air Service (EAS) flights across the country. The EAS program was created after airline deregulation in 1978 to ensure that small communities still had access to the air transportation network. One of my jobs was to do presentations to communities to get their EAS contracts.

The program has been on the chopping block for years, but has always been protected by senators and representatives keen on protecting air service for its constituents. And now President Donald Trump has announced plans to cut the EAS program under his proposed skinny budget, potentially ending air service to 171 communities, reports Skift.

The first class cabin on a Cathay Pacific jet. Photo courtesy of Cathay Pacific

As Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific posted its first loss since 2008, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce had one word of advice for the airline: adapt, reports Skift. Cathay’s loss was driven by a drop in business travel and competition from Chinese carriers.

British Airways is going through its own financial challenges, driven by increased competition from European low-cost carriers. This is leading the UK flag carrier to cut amenities in its first class cabins including an amuse-bouche with the first drink, fresh flowers in the lavatories, a generously sized washbag and a pair of slippers, reports the Telegraph. Airline staffers say the cuts are damaging BA’s elite brand, while the carrier acknowledges the cuts but adding that it’s committed to providing a high-quality service.

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U.S. airlines were positively giddy when flight restrictions to Cuba were lifted by the Obama Administration as part of the normalization of relations with the Caribbean nation in December 2014. And there was a frenzy by the airlines to get flights to Cuba, with the first flight — by JetBlue — landing on Aug. 31, 2016. But now the Miami Herald reports on announcements by Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways to end their flights to Cuba, citing weak passenger demand.

We’ll end the week with the news that after an internal review, Alaska Airlines has decided to eliminate the Virgin America brand by 2019, reports the Fort Worth State-Telegram. After Alaska acquired the popular San Francisco-based carrier, CEO Brad Tilden said he believed in “the power of the Virgin America brand, and we don’t want to lose all that loyalty.” But it was not to be.

Because I care, here are five more stories for your reading pleasure this weekend. Enjoy!

17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.

Strange But True Aviation News

strange motel

This was a “slipper-y” slope. An Indian member of parliament has been banned from flying the country’s major airlines after confessing to hitting an Air India flight attendant 25 times with a slipper, reports the Guardian. The MP said the thrashing came about on a flight from Pune to New Delhi after he accused the flight attendant of insulting him.  

A picture is worth a thousand words — but not the wrong one. Lithuania created a tourism program using the slogan “Real is beautiful.” But a problem arose when it was discovered that some of the photos used in the campaign were actually taken in Finland and Slovakia, reports DW.com. The tourism chief resigned after the photos went viral on social media.

You can’t take that past security. A worker at St. Croix Airport plead guilty to drug smuggling after being caught trying take a bag of cocaine strapped to his leg past the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, reports the Virgin Islands Free Press. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

Smoke gets in your eyes — at the airport. A live smoke grenade was found by TSA screeners in the carry-on bag of a passenger flying out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport, reports the News & Observer.

Your Weekend Reads for March 17, 2017

Photos by Benet J. Wilson

Photos by Benet J. Wilson

Wall Street is becoming apprehensive as United Airlines and American Airlines announced plans to add seats on key routes, reports Skift. United will boost capacity by up to 4.5 percent, while American is adding nine new routes. “It’s just this sense by investors that we keep adding more and more capacity, and they’re somewhat frustrated,” said Cowen and Co. analyst Helane Becker in the Skift article.

In June 2016, United Airlines held a big event in New York City to unveil Polaris, its new international business class inflight and ground product, which I covered for Airways magazine. I also covered the Nov. 30 opening of the first Polaris Lounge, located at the airline’s Chicago O’Hare International Airport hub. One of the key pieces on display at both events was the new Polaris seat, designed by Acumen Design Associates and PriestmanGoode, that offers direct aisle access, a 180-degree flat-bed recline and up to 6’6” of bed space.

A set of United Airlines Polaris seats. Photo courtesy of United

A set of United Airlines Polaris seats. Photo courtesy of United

But United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is reported to be unhappy with manufacturer Zodiac, which blamed “industrial issues” in the UK that were causing “significant disruptions and delays,” with building the Polaris seat reports Brian Sumers of Skift. A few of the carrier’s new Boeing 777-300ERs have been delivered in the past three months with the new seats, but no existing aircraft have been retrofitted.

United’s Star Alliance partner Lufthansa has announced that it plans to unveil a new business class product for its own operations, along those of subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines, reports John Walton of the Runway Girl Network. Walton was “underwhelmed” with the German flag carrier’s business class product on the Airbus A350, “so it’s certainly a positive to hear that there are plans for a new seat in play,” he wrote.

In the back of the plane, British Airways announced plans to cut the seat pitch on its fleet of Airbus A320s and A321s from 30 to 29 inches, reports the Telegraph. Under the change, BA will offer the same seat pitch as low-cost competitor EasyJet, but other  Ryanair still offers 30 inches of pitch. The UK flag carrier says it made the move to better compete with Europe’s low-cost airlines and offer lower airfares.

A TSA screener at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A TSA screener at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Remember last spring when we faced record-long lines at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport checkpoints? I certainly do, as I covered here for About.com Air Travel. Chicago is home to O’Hare and Midway airports, which were not spared from the long lines. Consumer travel writer Christopher Elliott asks in the Chicago Tribune: Will the long airport lines of spring break 2016 be back again this year? In response to last year’s chaos, TSA created a 10-point plan that sped up lines by the end of the summer. It held during the winter holidays, with TSA estimating that 99 percent of air travelers waited in security lines for less than half an hour and that 95 percent waited less than 15 minutes, Elliott wrote. But will it hold?

Speaking of security, when I signed up for the Clear registered traveler program, I had to submit my fingerprints and do an iris scan. Fortune magazine writes about how Tascent, a California-based company that makes current generation iris-­recognition machines, is hoping to see more of this technology in airports. Iris scanning could be used for tasks including matching travelers to documents including boarding passes or passports.

A Korean Air Boeing 747 parked at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A Korean Air Boeing 747 parked at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. It was the first aircraft I ever flew on (Pan Am from JFK to London Heathrow Airport) and it’s part of my Aviation Queen logo. But with more efficient and two-engined aircraft available to airlines, the Queen of the Skies is gradually being removed from commercial carriers’ fleets. “The 747 was a fabulous airplane,” Scott Hamilton, founder of aviation consulting firm Leeham Co. LLC told the Los Angeles Times. “But like any technology, it moves on.”

We’ll end the week with a touch of airline luxury. Did you know that Lufthansa has an entire First Class Terminal at its Frankfurt Airport hub? The airline’s best customers completely bypass the main airport, instead driving to the building where the clear security and immigrations, relax in the terminal, then get driven directly to their plane, reports Fortune magazine. Contributor Doug Gollan offered up a photo tour of the facility.

Because there was much more news that happened this week, here are five more stories you should read this weekend. Enjoy!

17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.

Strange But True Aviation News

strange

What’s wrong with this plug? The Point Me to the Plane blog posted a funny video of airline passengers trying to plug their electronics into fake power outlet stickers. Hilarity ensues!

President Trump is no joking matter. A self-described celebrity dentist claims he was kicked off an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New York after he made a Trump immigration joke before the plane took off, reports the Hollywood Reporter. He was put on a later flight.

Fighting really bites! A man lost four teeth and had his jaw broken after being hit by a co-worker at Lehigh Valley International Airport, reports the Morning Call. The co-worker was charged with aggravated assault and harassment and released on $50,000 bail.

He should have left the gun at home. A guitarist for a rock band was fined $1,000 after carrying a loaded handgun on a Delta Air Lines flight from  Mexico to Atlanta, reports Philly Voice. He argued that he had carried the gun on flights “30 to 50 times a year” with no problem.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! I know this isn’t aviation related, but I just *had* to share this video that happened at an Amtrak station somewhere in New York state. Enjoy!