Category Archives: Airlines

Where Luxury Lacks, Savings Abound with “Basic Economy” Fares; United to Test Low-Cost Option at MSP

 

Guest Post by Annie Flodin

As one of three major U.S. airlines committed to offering travelers low-cost tickets with fewer amenities, United will soon test its basic economy fares in Minneapolis.

And while signs point toward these fares becoming a regular fixture in commercial aviation – mainly as a way for larger airlines to compete with low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier – flying has certainly transformed over the last several decades.

Having worked as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in the 1970s and 1980s, when donning more fashion-forward uniforms and serving meals on china in first class were the norm, my mom says flying was more “glamorous” back then.

But now, she says, plane rides almost feel more like bus trips, which isn’t too surprising with the rise of discount airlines, and more recently with these low-cost fares. Delta is already offering the no-frills option, and recently American announced that they’ll begin offering basic economy fares in 10 select markets starting this month.

United first announced plans to offer basic economy fares last November, and in mid-January, President Scott Kirby said they would debut at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “When you think of the number of flights coming in, the number of customers choosing United, and the airports… MSP was a great market to test this in," United Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.

United basic economy fares provide the same onboard experience as standard economy with a few exceptions, most notably: you can’t choose your seat and full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted. But you are allowed one personal item that you must store underneath the seat in front of you.

Brett Snyder, who runs the popular Cranky Flier blog, sees basic economy as a good way for legacy airlines to offer low fares while stripping out amenities for those who don’t need them. “While this might mean an increase in the lowest selling fare that allows for carry-on bags and advance seat assignments, those fares aren’t really sustainable today,” he said.

And it’s no surprise that basic economy has received some pushback. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently voiced his concerns in a press release, citing the cheap fares as just another way for very profitable airlines to nickel and dime passengers. Through an upcoming FAA bill, he’ll push for new customer protections that “undo unfair policies” such as “banning” the free use of overhead bins.

The only issue is – the major airlines aren’t banning the free bin space because they’re not making you purchase a basic economy fare… it’s simply another option. These days, customers want choice and they want control, and that’s exactly what these fares are providing.

“There will always be pushback anytime the airlines do anything, even if it’s not bad,” Snyder said. “The reality is that you really shouldn’t buy these fares if you want a carry-on or a seat assignment, and the airlines will tell you that multiple times before you buy the ticket,” he added. “But people will still make that mistake and then complain.”

Another concern has been how airlines will keep track of those flying on basic economy fares. For United, Guerin said it shouldn’t be difficult, as it will be noted on your boarding pass and you’ll be in the last boarding group. This provides several opportunities for airport employees and gate agents to see if you have a full-sized carry-on, which will need to be checked and will be subject to the standard checked-bag fee. For domestic flights, you’ll pay $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for your second. But basic economy passengers who arrive at the gate with a full-sized carry-on will also need to pay a $25 gate handling fee.

United’s basic economy fares will go on sale during the first quarter of 2017, for travel during the second quarter. They’ll be available for routes between MSP and the airline’s seven U.S. hubs, eventually rolling out into other domestic markets.

Ultimately, while flying may not be the lavish experience it once was, it’s clear that the airlines have done their research in targeting this price-sensitive niche. Many people are just looking to get from point A to point B on the cheap, and now they have options outside of simply choosing a low-cost carrier.

Editor’s note: Annie will be contributing to the blog as I work with her to help her make the move into aviation writing. I’m happy to have her on the Aviation Queen team.

IMG_4438Annie Flodin is a seasoned communications professional and aspiring aviation journalist. She and her husband Scott live in Minneapolis with their two cats. In her free time, she enjoys plane spotting, writing, and spending time outdoors. She blogs at The Great Planes, and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: at @thegreatplanes.

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Strange But True Aviation News

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They tried to get *that* through airport security? About.com Travel Insurance and Safety Expert Joe Cortez has complied a list of the eight strangest things found by TSA in 2016. Some of the more interesting items were a golden hand grenade, a bladed dragon claw and a post-apocalyptic bullet-adorned gas mask.

You don’t want to misbehave on this airline. According to Inc. magazine, Korean Air has had tasers onboard since 2002 to use on passengers who misbehave. But it wasn’t revealed until a recent incident involving singer Richard Marx.

I guess someone wanted to get *really* high! A worker for American Airlines at Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma got quite a surprise when he checked the nose of a jet: seven bricks of cocaine valued at $434,000, reports ABC 8.

Al was definitely not your pal on this flight. Former New York Sen. Al D’Amato found himself removed from a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to JFK Airport after he tried to encourage passengers to revolt against the crew, reports CNN. After six flight delays, passengers were asked to move to the back of the plane for weight distribution, and D’Amato insulted the captain and confronted passengers who refused to move.

Dude! Put on your pants! Mashable reports on a horrible, yet hilarious story of a passenger from hell who thought it was a great idea to remove his pants and sit with his legs up and feet on the bulkhead during a four-hour flight. One of his fellow passengers tweeted the event. You have to see it to believe it.

 

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Your Aviation Weekend Reads for February 2, 2017

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Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

The week started off with a bang after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that temporarily stopped citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations — Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen — from entering the United States, reports Quartz. It caused chaos for airlines around the globe over confusion on the status of dual citizens and green card holders, among others.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said the ban caused turmoil at airports. “Crews, reservations agents and airport teams have witnessed turmoil in our airports that shows how divisive this order can be,” he said in a letter to employees. “It is the current law of the U.S., and so long as that is the case, we must comply.”

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Photo courtesy of Etihad

One Muslim country not affected by the ban was the United Arab Emirates. And it looks like Abu Dhabi-based Etihad is trying to stay on Trump’s good side by announcing it would not add any more U.S. routes. “We are not flying into any further points in the U.S.A.,” Etihad Aviation Group Chief Executive Officer James Hogan said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We are very comfortable with our American network.” The carrier currently serves New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Etihad and Emirates are two large carriers that are not in one of the major three global airline alliances. Rumors flew earlier this week that Etihad was considering a move into the Star Alliance, but it didn’t come to pass. Instead, the airline is “increasing cooperation” with Star Alliance stalwart Lufthansa, reports Cranky Flier. The airlines had been enemies in the past over keeping the Big Three Middle East carriers off their turf. But they were tied together by Air Berlin, which Etihad has a stake in and Lufthansa leased extra aircraft from for its Eurowings and Austrian Air subsidiaries. Cranky feels there’s more to come, and I agree.

United Airlines is one of the Big Three carriers — along with American and Delta — that have been fighting to stem the growth of the Big Three Middle East carriers, all known for offering superior service in all cabin classes. It’s been no secret that the Chicago-based carrier has suffered on the service side since its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010. A video obtained by Skift shows CEO Oscar Munoz admitting as much, saying  “A business customer will stay with you for a little bit of time,” during a Jan. 23 Q&A with employees at its Dulles Airport hub. [“And then] it’s just ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ And so now you’ve lost that market.”

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A TSA PreCheck line at Ronald Reagan Airport. Photo courtesy of TSA

When it comes to good service on the ground, TSA’s PreCheck program was initially lauded for helping to ease the stress of going through airport security checkpoints. But when the agency started letting anyone use the lanes, lines got longer and those who paid for the service were very unhappy. Now the Chicago Tribune reports that TSA plans to “significantly reduce” the number of number of frequent fliers that go through the PreCheck line for free. The change is part of TSA’s “natural progression” to limit expedited screening, said spokesman Michael McCarthy.

As carriers including Delta, American and United add a Basic Economy product to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says his carrier won’t be adding it. According to USA Today, Kelly feels that separate cabins would only confuse its customers. “There is a huge value in offering all of our customers – 100 percent of them – a great product,” he said. “We like to say at Southwest, there is no second class.”

Speaking of Spirit Airlines, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based carrier — which launched the trend of travelers paying for checked and carry-on bags — has announced that it will cut the size of the free personal item passengers can carry by 25 percent, to about a foot, reports the Telegraph. The change will take effect on April 4.

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The TWA Flight Center building at JFK Airport. Photo courtesy of AudeVivere/Wikipedia

When I started writing the airports beat for Aviation Daily in 2006, one of the first stories I covered was plans by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to turn the iconic TWA Terminal 5 at JFK Airport into a hotel. After a few years, the plans fell by the wayside, plagued by design issues and cost. Fast forward to now, when MCR Development and port officials held a groundbreaking ceremony in January to launch construction, reports Business Insider. The the TWA Flight Center Hotel is scheduled to open in 2018.

Part of that project will include the resurrection of the TWA Ambassadors Club, the airline’s lounge for its best customers. I’m a big fan of airport lounges as an oasis away from the traveling masses. You can read my recent review of the Delta Sky Club at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s Gate B18 on TravelZork.com here.  The Simple Dollar blog takes a look at what lounges have to offer and if memberships can actually save you money.

And the UK’s Daily Mail gives us a peek inside Qantas’ very exclusive, invite-only 140-seat Chairman’s Lounge. The lounges, located at Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth airports, are hidden behind a door labeled ‘private’ and offer upgraded free food and beverages, isolation from the traveling public and the chance to rub elbows with the country’s elite, along with personal assistance from airline employees.

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 747 parked at Tokyo's Tokyo, Japan - June 23, 2016: Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-451 towed at Narita International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 747 parked at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

We’ll end the week with this story from C/NET, where reporter Katie Collins and I share a common passion: a love for the Boeing 747. She waxes poetic about her trip on the “Queen of the Skies” via Virgin Atlantic, among the airlines that are phasing out the iconic four-engine jumbo jet.

There was much more that went on this week. So be sure to check out these four stories over the weekend.

 

 
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.

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Random Aviation Photo

Back in September 2008, I went to Boston to attend the global Airports Council International convention. I had some time to kill at Boston-Logan International Airport, so I took a lot of pictures. I liked this one because it featured five different airlines. Jump a mere six years later only one — JetBlue — is still in its original configuration. The rest merged, with only American Airlines retaining its brand.

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Your Aviation Weekend Reads for December 1, 2016

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The rollout of the Boeing 757. Photo courtesy of Boeing

The airline industry has been clamoring for Boeing to either bring back the single-aisle 757 or create a new version of the aircraft. The Seattle-based manufacturer stopped building in October 2004, after 1,050 had been built for 54 customers. Airlines including United, Delta and American still have the jet in their fleets.

In an interview with Airways magazine in February 2015, VP-Marketing Randy Tinseth said Boeing was not considering a 757 replacement or re-engining. But in July, Bloomberg did this story quoting Mike Delaney, Boeing’s general manager of airplane development, who used the term “when,” not “if,” in discussing the prospects for a new single-aisle jet that would fill the gap between the largest 737 and smallest 787.

Business Insider notes that while the jet only had 1050 orders, it still has a list of loyal customers, so it asked pilot Patrick Smith why the jet is still so popular. “There’s no denying the 757 is an old plane that was designed in the late 1970s, but the versatility of the plane is remarkable and unmatched,” said Smith, author of the book Cockpit Confidential. “It’s profitable on both short-haul domestic as well as trans-Atlantic routes.”

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Airbus recently celebrated the first flight of its larger A350-1000 wide-body jet at its headquarters in Toulouse, France. The world’s media attending the event noticed something unnerving: a white jet (called a ghost or a white-tail) sitting on the tarmac at the manufacturer’s airport, reports The National. Ghost aircraft are ones that are built but have not been sold, and the fact that Airbus has a ghost A350 on a relatively new plane to the market is seen as troubling.

In the November 3 edition of Weekend Reads, I wrote about how London Heathrow Airport is closer to getting the third runway it has been trying to build for decades, pushed by flag carrier British Airways. The CEO of BA parent IAG, Willie Walsh, just learned that in order to get that third runway, officials at Heathrow will have to tear down the carrier’s headquarters, reports the Guardian. The problem is, no one from the airport informed Walsh beforehand that the runway will go right through BA’s headquarters, based at Waterside in Harmondsworth, which opened in 1998.

The Runway Girl Network’s John Walton writes about the grand opening of Cathay Pacific’s new London Heathrow Terminal 3 business and first class lounge, which finally opened a year after the original lounge closed a year ago. It features a wide variety of seating options, a contemporary Asian design aesthetic, a work zone and eight shower rooms, among other things.

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United Airlines’ Polaris Lounge at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Photo by Benét J. Wilson

And I was at Chicago O’Hare International Airport Nov. 30 for a sneak peek of United Airlines’ Polaris Lounge, the carrier’s highly anticipated premium facility for its international business class customers. I covered the event for LoungeReview.com, writing about the  food by celebrity Chef Art Smith, drinks by Mixologist Adam Seger and amenities including shower spas and private sleeping suites.

Back in June 2012, I wrote this blog post on why Delta Air Lines began testing basic economy fares, offering onerous restrictions in exchange for much lower prices. Four years later, the fares are part of Delta’s structure and United Airlines has unveiled its own version. Lifehacker explains just what you’re forfeiting in services and amenities if you choose to buy these low fares.

Regular readers know I’m a huge fan of airports big and small. So imagine my delight when Wired magazine did this post on the smart ways airports are using technology for a better passenger experience. They include robot helpers at Tokyo Haneda, facial recognition at Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International and Bluetooth beacons at Miami International (see my story on those here).

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Photo courtesy of Gotanero/Wikipedia

If you’re looking for a unique holiday option in Costa Rica, you may want to consider a stay in the Hotel Coste Verde near the coastal rainforest between the Manuel Antonio National Park and the Pacific Ocean. What makes this hotel unique is that it has a suite that’s housed in an old Boeing 727 jet, reports Curbed.com. It’s sitting on top of a 50-foot pedestal that offers customers panoramic ocean and jungle views.

Please enjoy these links to read over the weekend. Enjoy!

EDITOR’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.