Archive for the ‘Airlines’ Category

$737: New York to Mumbai

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Despite recently increased airfares to world destinations such as Honolulu and Manila, prices to many cities in India have remained in the $700’s for most of November. See our November 4th blog.

Today, we’re seeing affordable New York to Mumbai fares through early March on Kuwait Airways booked through Orbitz (see below). This same itinerary is over $1,000 on the Kuwait Airways site.

This is an unadvertised fare so don’t expect India to be this affordable indefinitely. Please use our searchbox at right to find your cheap airfare to India.

Landing Airfare Bargains?

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

2009 has been one of the worst years in history for the commercial aviation industry, with revenues plummeting on the back of worldwide recession. While this has been bad news for stockholders and employees, it can mean ridiculously low airfares for those passengers who can still afford to travel.

The airline only has to sell the last 100 seats for more than $20 each to make it worthwhile.

Traditionally, airlines have used complicated price structures based on historical demand and time of booking. In general, booking early was the best course for those who had specific travel plans as, more often than not, the price would increase as the departure date got closer. Those who were flexible in both time and/or destination could hang on and pick up a bargain at the last minute.

But the game has changed recently. Unlike the slumps that followed Gulf War I and September 11th, this time people are afraid of the bailiffs, not fanatics. Passenger figures are down because of the financial uncertainty that has gripped even the rich. The airlines know this, but they also know that it won’t last forever. The industry is cyclical in nature and, barring another kick in the teeth, the chances are it will be profitable again before too long.

In order to take advantage of this anticipated recovery, they first have to survive. If they can do this while maintaining, or even increasing, their market share, then all the better. The rules still apply to popular routes, such as LHR-JFK, but forward bookings to some destinations are poor. As the airlines are reluctant to cancel these routes (their competitors would pick them up in a flash), it seems that many have adopted a “bums on seats” pricing policy.

Here’s how it works. Say, for example, a 747 with 350 seats is on a 12-hour flight. If the airline has managed to sell 250 of those seats at normal price it won’t be too far from breaking even. However, as the flight was going no matter how many tickets were sold, all the services – baggage handlers, crew, etc – are already paid for. This means that the only extra ‘costs’ of carrying more passengers are fuel and catering. In-flight meals are dirt cheap (no surprises there) and, at July ’09 prices, the additional fuel required to carry 200lbs more weight is about $15 worth.

Therefore, the airline only has to sell the last 100 seats for more than $20 each to make it worthwhile. This is why taxes and charges often outweigh the actual fare on discounted routes, and why full service carriers can be cheaper than their low cost rivals. Of course, this is a very simplistic example and break-even loads depend upon the original ticket prices and operating costs. But, with patience, flexibility and a strong mouse finger, there are some fantastic deals out there, especially on long haul flights where premium seats are being heavily discounted.

This state of affairs won’t last forever though – as soon as demand for travel picks up, so will ticket prices. If for some reason the demand doesn’t pick up then a lot of companies will run out of cash charging these prices. The reduction in capacity as they go bust will have the same effect on airfares.

In the meantime, if you do manage to find bargain flights, keep it to yourself. Chances are the person sitting next to you paid a lot more!

Will Turbulent Times Affect Aircrew Attitude?

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

The next time you board an airplane, have a close look at the flight attendant. Is the insincere smile slightly less sincere than usual? Does she have a worried, far-away look in her eyes? If the answer to either question is yes then the chances are she’s a victim of the recession – even though she still has a job

Since the astronomic fuel prices of 2008, the airline industry has been under siege. The credit crunch followed, and many companies went to the wall. For the survivors – and it has become a battle for survival – rapid and Draconian measures were needed.

This is nothing new. The industry is cyclical by nature and undergoes a downturn every 10 years or so. September 11th hit hard, and before that was the first Gulf war. However, each time, executives follow the same map to recovery they cut capacity, cut fares, cut costs.

Unfortunately, this time, most airlines don’t want to lose market share and have slashed airfares to keep it. As the fuel price is out of their control, the only way they can afford this huge loss of income is to cut costs, and cut them hard.

This affects cabin crew in many ways:

Short Term Effects
The quickest way to cut costs is to cut staff salaries and there’s a result within a month. This is the obvious one, and the reason flight attendants might seem a little distracted. Contrary to popular belief, many airlines pay crew a pittance and more cuts could see several of the regionals paying just above minimum wage. Reports exist of some flight attendants, and even pilots, qualifying for food stamps.

Customer service suffers, as people start asking why they should go the extra mile for a company that wants their children to starve. However, there will always be company minded crew (usually those with an eye on promotion) who resent the more militant ones, seeing them as a threat to their future. Working in such close confines, this can lead to open conflict on board. There is strong anecdotal evidence that, during a dispute in the early 90s, two crew from a major US carrier started a catfight in the cabin!

Cost cutting also directly affects staff morale. Aside from cuts in pay and conditions, crews have to tolerate the results of decisions made at head office. An accountant may think that the money saved by reducing the product on board is justified, but after the hundredth time of explaining why there are no more blankets, many flight attendants just lose interest.

This apathy usually means that, when the unions come a-knocking, the crew want to work-to-rule, or even strike, just to get back at the managers who are making their life a misery.

Longer Term Effects
Some of the larger airlines still have crew working on contracts that are over 30 years old. Compared to new contracts, these pay much more money, and have conditions that benefit the worker, not the company. Looking to the future, several airlines have offered voluntary severance in order to reduce costs. The downside of this? By definition, it is the senior crew who are targeted, cutting a huge experience layer from the top.

Couple this with reduced starting salaries, and reduced recruitment standards just to fill vacancies, and the future isn’t orange, it’s green. This lack of experience will tell in the cabin, but not only affecting customer service. It may also affect the crew’s ability to handle emergency situations. When the chips are down, it’s not possible to put a value on having someone who has “been there, done that”.

So the next time you don’t get a smile as you are shown to your seat, don’t assume it’s just because the flight attendant is a miserable cow. She might have a lot on her mind too!

Why is my Flight Stuck on the Runway?

Friday, September 4th, 2009
In August 2009, 47 Continental passengers were forced to remain on their jet overnight…

Apart from sharing an Atlantic flight with a screaming infant, there’s nothing more frustrating than being trapped in a cramped aluminum tube for hours–and going nowhere. Worse still, for shorter commuter flights, it only needs a 90 minute delay and it would’ve been quicker to drive.

Recently, there have been high-profile cases of passengers being stuck on board for several hours. In August 2009, 47 Continental passengers were forced to remain on their jet overnight after it diverted to a regional airport. It seems that the duty manager refused disembarkation because security staff had gone home. Whilst these marathons are quite rare – for now – some airlines have seen the litigation on the wall and done something about it.

In 2007, Jet Blue published a ‘Bill of Rights’ after passengers endured up to 11 hours on their aircraft, unable to disembark. There have been shorter hijackings! With this Bill, passengers are assured compensation. Even so, the trigger point at which the airline actually guarantees to deplane is an amazing 5 hours. With a decent tailwind, that’s the flight time from Boston to London.

So, what are the main reasons for tarmac delays?

Firstly, it’s necessary to understand airline policy. In most cases, they will board even if they know of a delay in advance. Larger aircraft take over 30 minutes to get passengers into the right seats, by which time any potential improvement will have been missed. There’ll be an inbound flight needing the gate as well, so the best place for the delayed plane is on a taxiway, ready to go.

‘Avoidable’ Tarmac Delays:
Although there’s an argument that tarmac delays are unavoidable by their very nature–no airport makes a plane sit there for the fun of it–a bit of common sense could have made all the difference. Take the Continental example above. The passengers weren’t going anywhere until the airport reopened, so why not let them wait in the terminal?

Air Traffic Controllers do an excellent job, but are often let down by their tools. Certain airports operate a ‘slot’ system, where peak hours are divided into timeslots, then allocated to airlines. There’s little flexibility allowed for, and a few minutes’ delay early on can snowball into hours for later flights.

Sometimes ATC is its own worst enemy, too. In June 2000, a new UK airspace system went live one day, and dead the next. The back-up system was paper strips, something designed decades previously, and massive delays were inevitable.

One more ‘avoidable’ cause is the technical delay. Obviously, airlines cannot predict exactly when a part will fail, and would be negligent to depart with a defect. However, if they haven’t the spares available then the delay can be substantial, especially if a part needs to be flown in from the airline’s main base.

Unavoidable Tarmac Delays:
ATC can be responsible for a delay even when they’re doing an excellent job. They occasionally have in-flight emergencies where a stricken aircraft needs to land immediately. In such cases, a runway will be made sterile–closed to all traffic so that nothing can block it. And if that was an active take-off runway…

A more common situation is where a nearby airport has been forced to close. Diverted airplanes will be low on fuel and, unless the diversion airport has several runways, take-offs will be curtailed. Add to this all those planes sitting on the ground that should be somewhere else, and the knock-on effect is enormous.

And so to the big one. Weather.

With her thunderstorms, wind shear, fog, snow and hail, Mother Nature clearly hates the aviation industry. Commercial pilots never willingly fly into hazardous weather conditions, and a big thunderstorm can close even major airports. It’s obvious to those waiting in the pouring rain what the problem is. But passengers 500 miles away, whose flight is sitting in blazing sunshine, might just think they’re being lied to when weather is quoted as the cause.

With passenger numbers increasing, and the airways becoming more and more congested, one thing is certain. Tarmac delays are here to stay.

Airbags in Airliners: Is the Human Cost too Expensive?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Search the internet for ‘Why don’t airliners have airbags?’, and answers range from patronizing to downright rude. But check this out…

The technology exists, and has saved lives in several private plane crashes. A thicker seatbelt contains the airbag, which is set off by accelerometers and inflated with helium. Unlike a car, the airbag inflates up and away from the passenger, creating a soft barrier between them and the seat, or bulkhead, in front.

Would it make a difference in a 737? The commercial aviation industry thinks not.

Properly done, airbags could work. There have been fatal accidents during taxi and take-off where hitting soft cushion instead of hard seatback would have undoubtedly saved lives.

Basically, each adapted seatbelt costs $2000. Airline risk managers weigh the cost of safety measures against the chance of them being needed, and airbags are currently in the same box as parachutes. This will only change if the authorities mandate their use.

Don’t hold your breath, though – airlines also use lobbyists who wrangle alleviations by making aviation a special case. In no other industry would it be acceptable to have toilets two meters away from the kitchen, or a row of seats next to an emergency exit.

However, it could be argued that airbags aren’t suitable for commercial use. The major problem is the location of the unit, in the seatbelt itself, which places it within easy reach of a cabin engineer’s worst nightmare: children.

Unless on Ritalin, children do not travel well. They’re easily bored, leading to restlessness, fidgeting and, inevitably, vandalism. These airbags deploy in 30 milliseconds, AWAY from the wearer – imagine a small hand nearby at the time.

So, to the next argument against; namely that not every traveler is as intelligent and urbane as a person who would, say, be reading this article. Safety videos still contain seatbelt and lifejacket instructions. However, in recent evacuations some passengers pressed the buckle, thinking they were in a car. And when an Ethiopian 767 ditched, some drowned because they inflated their lifejackets before the crash and couldn’t get out.

With airbags it would be imperative that passengers didn’t adopt the brace position. Otherwise, 30 milliseconds after the first impact, they’ll be getting another. Then, if necessary to evacuate, they’d have to unfasten a belt which would be underneath the bag. Finally, those using overwing exits would have to get past balloons! That’s bound to stretch the average Jerry Springer audience.

Still, properly done, airbags could work. There have been fatal accidents during taxi and take-off where hitting soft cushion instead of hard seatback would have undoubtedly saved lives. ‘Controlled’ crashes, like the Hudson River Airbus, and landing mishaps would also benefit through a reduction in the number of impact injuries.

There is also a train of thought that, in catastrophic situations where only a very few ‘miraculously’ survive, ‘few’ may have been ‘several’ if airbags had been fitted. Unfortunately, the only way to be sure of this would be to fit them to every jetliner.

And then wait…

JetScrewed by your TruePass?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I held onto my JetBlue TruePass for 11 months before “inefficiently” using it on a short, 250-mile flight just before it expired. I had hoped to use it on a longer, more exciting segment but was unable. The problem was that most of the flights I wanted to use it on throughout the year didn’t qualify. Well, no more of that!

JetBlue just announced that they are drastically improving their trueBlue Awards Program and doing away with blackouts and expiration dates (as long as you use your JetBlue Card from American Express at least once a year).

Thank the skies! Just as many airlines are tightening their purse strings, JetBlue is getting a little more generous.

See all program improvements.

Read more about JetBlue Airways.

Discount Carrier Rip-offs

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

“10 Low-cost Airline Money Grabs, and How to Avoid Them”

Whilst discount carriers are often a cheap way of getting from A to B, they can afford the low prices because they hold many of their passengers to ransom. Faced with paying an extra fee or not travelling, the majority have to dip into their pockets. However, forewarned is forearmed, and the following tips ought to save future heartache.

1. Beware The Change: Many airlines let you alter bookings for what appears a small fee. However, they will also charge the difference between the original and the new rate. Within a couple of days of travel, this difference can be hundreds of dollars.

2. Cabin Carry-On: Don’t refuse to pay in advance for checked baggage, hoping that staff will turn a blind eye to the odd extra kilo in your carry-on. Discount carriers tend to police cabin baggage mercilessly so they can hit passengers with huge excess baggage charges.

3. Have Back-Up Money: Airlines are incredibly quick to take your money and glacially slow to give it back. Should you be in the unusual situation of actually getting a refund, it can take up to 6 weeks. Often the refund will be due to the airline cancelling a flight, so try to have back-up funds to buy a replacement ticket.

4. Take Noise-Cancelling Headphones: To maximise revenue, the aircraft are jammed with as many people as they can legally get away with (in parts of the world, this is open to scary interpretation!). As well as being surrounded by hundreds of strangers, carriers see passengers as a captive audience. Flights are one continuous advertisement for food, drink, lottery tickets, etc. Making things worse, some airlines charge $3/minute for cell phone usage and actively encourage it. Blocking out most of the noise might keep the murderous feelings at bay.

5. Low-Cost Isn’t Necessarily Lowest Price: Discount carriers rely on people assuming they are, by definition, the cheapest option. However, when booked a long time in advance, some full-service airlines are very competitive. There will be restrictions, but the ticket will probably include checked luggage, refreshments and no hidden fees. Definitely worth a look.

6. Connection Crisis: If you are booking a connecting flight, even with the same airline, ensure there is sufficient time to make it. Most discount airlines WILL NOT re-book or refund if they consider a delay to be beyond their control. Their definition of this is vague to say the least.

7. Priority Boarding Bulls**t: For a not-inconsiderate fee, some discount carriers offer you the chance to be first on board the aircraft. Unfortunately, you’ll still be battling with other fee-payers and, if the aircraft isn’t on a jet-bridge, you’ve just paid to be first on the bus!

8. You’re Landing Where?: Several low-cost operators fall just short of committing fraud when they claim to serve a city, and airport operators are just as guilty. Make sure the airport you’re flying to is actually close to the city or you could be hit with the cost of ground transportation too. Frankfurt-Hahn, for example, is 60 miles from the city centre – not exactly a cheap cab ride

9. Seats Apart: Some discount carriers save cash by running a free-seating policy. A boarding card is just that – a bit of plastic that gets you on. As far as they are concerned, your ticket will get you on but they couldn’t care less if you’re separated from your two-year-old. If you have a family, you have two choices. Either go with an airline that assigns seating for free. Or turn up at the airport a day early!

10. E-Theft: This is cropping up more and more. With a lot of low-cost airlines, the only way of booking a ticket is through their website. For this privilege, some of the unscrupulous outfits add on a service charge for electronic payment. There’s no other way of paying, so it’s basically charging an excessive amount of money for nothing. By strange coincidence, this is the dictionary’s definition of extortion.

Of course, these are only ten of the worst offences and the airlines are coming up with new scams almost on a daily basis. But if you only take one bit of advice from this article, let it be this: Always, always, read the terms and conditions. Always.

Then read them again!

$275: LAX to JFK on Virgin America

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Once you get past the neon, ambient, mood lighting, Virgin America is basically JetBlue with less legroom – but with a far superior in-flight entertainment (IFE) system! Actually, VX has several additional amenities, including a 1st class section, sans the drastic price difference, and two 110v plugs for every three coach seats, perfect for your laptop.

On the IFE screen, in addition to the basic cable channels, you can order and pay for food and drinks. The stewardesses then deliver it within 1-3 minutes! Why don’t conventional restaurants have this?

The IFE system also has On-Demand TV shows, movies, music and games. Some are free, some are for a fee. I watched an interview with Richard Branson for free and then paid $1.00 for an episode of The Office. You swipe your credit card at your seat, no fumbling for change with the stewardess. The kid sitting beside me didn’t have a credit card yet, so I swiped my card and he paid me in crumbled-up cash.

The IFE has an in-flight chat. You can chat with any passenger on the plane. You must first send an invitation that they must accept. My girlfriend accidentally sent 25E an invite, but I was in 24E. We laughed after he declined it. I then sent her one. She declined it and laughed. So, I ordered her a can of Budweiser and “Letterheads”. Before you knew it we were in NYC.

Will International Airfares be Lower in ’08?

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Six major US airlines – American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways – have announced they’ll be reducing their number of domestic flights in 2008. The three main reasons are rising fuel prices, too much competition on domestic routes from Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America, and a desire to add more international routes, which tend to be more profitable.

A weakening US economy, (i.e. higher gas prices, rising mortgage payments, unstable home values, unsteady stock market and potential upcoming recession), is an additional reason.

Will more competition in the international arena result in lower fares? With United potentially shifting 15% of its current fleet to international routes over the next several years, it has too! I can’t hurt! If the other five airlines allot similar percentages, then we might see the likes of Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Air France, decreasing fares. Get your passports ready!

JetBlue: Rochester Big and Tall of Airlines

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Jet Blue

I’ve finally had a chance to fly on JetBlue, and I definitely noticed and appreciated the extra legroom.

The first 11 rows on their Airbus 320 jets boast at least 36 inches of legroom, while the rear 14 rows have 34 inches. This is up from the standard 32 inches that most coach seats allow. Seating in the 8th row on my flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, those extra 4 inches allowed me to move and stretch my legs in positions I had only dreamed off on my previous Southwest Airlines flight. On Southwest, my knee caps are literally 1/2 inch from touching the seat in front of me. And I’m only 6’2″, I couldn’t imagine being 6’4″ or taller and trying to fly coach.

Hopefully, the competition will catch on and increase their legroom in coach. All it takes is one row of seats to be removed to allow an extra 2 to 4 inches for the remaining rows. It’s amazing the difference an extra couple inches of legroom makes on a cross country flight.

With the knowledge that the big and tall will start gravitating toward JetBlue, please heed these words or warning; if you’re flying solo on JetBlue, make sure to book and reserve your seat well in advance, so you don’t get stuck sitting in a middle seat between two behemoths!