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badice.com ~ travel musings for the masses

Delta and United at PDX

Scott McCartney for the Wall Street Journal:

The big three U.S. airlines—American, Delta and United—match each other more closely than ever. The three were created from the merger of six large airlines over the past eight years and now each has the profits to spend upgrading its product. They’re all intent on not letting one rival gain a cost or product advantage.

[…]

Airlines say the similarities just mean they are all coming to the same conclusions about what customers are willing to pay for and what they aren’t. “The market dictates what your product will look like,’’ says Brian Znotins, United’s vice president of network.

Three mergers later and we are just now figuring out that the three remaining major U.S. carriers are basically copying each other. The “race to the bottom” language is appropriate at times but really the carriers are simply competing for the passengers who do not necessarily care who they fly. With the low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier offering a no-frills experience, the majors are happy to follow suit and charge for the privilege of more legroom or early boarding. The majority of passengers simply want the lowest fare available that fits their schedule, add to that analysts who want to see profits, and you have what is driving airline decisions.

Remember, they are reporting record profits, all while customer complaints increase. The result is a form of collusion by following. The airlines are not meeting in back rooms to decide what amenity should be cut next, instead they just wait for one to cut an amenity and then follow suit. The latest way of trying to compete with low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier is the basic economy fare. Delta, American, and United are all working to offer a fare that has zero perks, including no pre-reserved seat assignment and no mileage earning. These fares are not necessarily cheaper than fares of the past, but when you compare them to fares that do earn miles they appear cheaper.

This is not a trend that will be changing anytime soon. With new low cost airlines like Norwegian entering the U.S. longhaul market, the reduction of amenities on the three major airlines while charging for perks will continue. It will take a spike in oil prices along with a reduction in travel before anything changes.

Delta Airlines is currently recovering from an outage that delayed and cancelled hundreds of flights around the world.

From their statement on the outage, two points:

Noon ET UPDATE: Delta has canceled approximately 365 flights due to a power outage impacting Delta operations systemwide. As of 10:30 a.m. ET, Delta operated 1,260 of its nearly 6,000 scheduled flights. While systems are improving and flights are resuming, delays and cancellations continue.

5:05 a.m. ET UPDATE: Delta has experienced a computer outage that has affected flights scheduled for this morning. Flights awaiting departure are currently delayed. Flights en route are operating normally. Delta is advising travelers to check the status of their flights this morning while the issue is being addressed.

At first the outage was reported to be a computer outage, whatever that means, and then it was updated to “power outage”. My guess is that a data center lost power, a generator or other backup power system did not kick on, resulting in an outage that continues to linger. What is interesting is that Delta had no problem throwing their power provider under the bus without first figuring out what happened.

There is a travel waiver up and it is in effect until August 12, 2016. My recommendation if you are flying Delta today or tomorrow? Use their app to rebook for another day, go home and wait this out. Even if they start running more and more of today’s flights, this outage will ripple through the system for at least a few days.

We bought a new MacBook Pro late last year and I had not run into any issues until yesterday, when I tried to install the LAME MP3 Encoder for use with Audacity. I was in a pinch, needing to convert a *.wav file to *.mp3 for the Dots, Lines, and Destinations podcast. When trying to install the encoder it appeared to work, but on closer inspection, the files were never written to the correct folder. After doing a little research, I noticed that the /usr/lib/local directory was not writable and threw an error when accessed. So, to Google I went. Turns out this is a “feature” and part of Apple’s System Integrity Protection. Basically, it keeps certain directories inaccessible to even root level access to try and prevent malicious applications from modifying things they shouldn’t be touching. The side effect is that when you legitimately need to modify those directories you can’t. I did not have the luxury of time when going through all this and opted to just use an older Mac that did not have El Capitan installed to convert the audio files I needed.

Glenn Fleishman provides a better description of System Integrity Protection, including how to disable it, in his article on Macworld.

Early reports of problems with rootless mode seemed to indicate that a wider set of software might be unable to work with the restriction enabled, such as SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket Software. However, Apple made changes during beta testing that resolved concerns with that app and others. (Shirt Pocket had to update SuperDuper! to deal with the omission of an open-source program, which breaks scheduled updates; those have to be re-created in the El Capitan-compatible release.)

car2go
car2go, the smart car sharing company from Daimler AG, announced that starting July 1, 2016 you will be able to use their cars to go to and from Portland International Airport. Parking will be at AirPark, a short shuttle ride from the airport. Trips to and from the airport are charged a $5.00 Airport Fee, but even with that, from places all around Portland, this is now a really cheap and convenient way to get to and from the airport. The real beauty of car2go in Portland is that they can be parked anywhere within the boundaries of the program, even paid parking spots.. And since they are small, it is really easy to find spots. Since paid parking is in downtown Portland and expanding to Northwest and the inner east side, the ability to park in these spots (for free) is a great feature.

The biggest downside is the off-airport parking area. It would have been great if the short term parking garage would have been the parking area, as you could simply walk out of your car2go and be in the terminal. I don’t know if a deal could not be reached with the airport or if the parking situation there is too constrained to allow for it.

I will try to get out there and document the process and how quick the shuttles are as soon as this comes online and would love to hear what people think of it when they use it.

You can read more about car2go parking and the new airport features on their website. The press release sent to members regarding airport parking is also available.

new_alaska_livery

Alaska Airlines announced today that they will start non-stop service between Portland, Oregon and Orlando, Florida. The route will start in March of 2017 and will be a daily service. What is interesting, and a great feature, is that both the outbound and return flights will operate during the day, meaning you don’t have to a take a red-eye to get to Florida.

The Portland to Orlando segment will leave at 6:40am Pacific and will arrive in Florida at 3:15pm Eastern. The return Orlando to Portland flight will leave at 4:15pm Eastern and land in Portland at 7:35pm Pacific.

As a resident I am happy to see more growth at Portland but I worry that the airport facilities are not growing at the same pace. The Alaska Airlines side of the airport is very crowded but that will be changing in the future as Alaska move their operations to the E gates on the opposite side of the airport.

Big thanks to Seth for giving me the heads up the announcement.

The last week of storms have had amazing sunsets accompanying them. This one was particularly breathtaking, the clouds created a shadow over where I was taking the picture and completely backlit the hills you see in the distance. The deep orange and yellow were just too amazing to not take a photo. This was taken on my iPhone but I even ran back inside and loaded the battery and memory card in my DSLR camera and was able to get a few good shots with it as well.

Sunset over Portland, Oregon

aa_eliteIf you haven’t seen the news, American Airlines announced changes to their frequent flyer program, AAdvantage. Most notably, and least surprising, is the fact that they are moving to a spend requirement for elite status in 2017. They are also adding a new elite level, Platinum Pro, one level above Platinum. It is equivalent to United’s Platinum status and requires 75k miles or 90 segments and $9,000 in spend.

I am not an American flyer, but Seth has a pretty great write-up on the changes.

There is virtually no creativity in the changes. Not that I was really expecting any, but I had a sliver of hope that things would be different in one way or another. Upgrades for top-tier elites on award tickets is probably the closest thing to that in my book, and that’s a nice nod to those customers, but the overall changes really are boring.

I have to agree. There is not a lot of anything special in the announcement and American seems to just be following in the footsteps of Delta and United.

Since the merger, United has struggled to keep its more loyal fliers, but today, in a bid to update the product and the overall premium cabin brand, United announced their reimagined business class product and experience, United Polaris. Named for the North Star, the new international business class for United promises a more enjoyable and restful journey.


At the center of the update is the new business class seat, an all aisle-access offering from Zodiac UK. Jason Rabinowitz posted a few shots on Twitter and my first impression is that it is much better than the 2-4-2 seat setup on the pre-merger United Boeing 777s.

The aisle seats look to be the worst choice, as they are a bit tighter and very exposed to traffic in the aisle. The window seats and those offset from the aisle in the middle look to be the best choices, with more space and great privacy. For more on the seat, be sure and follow Jason Rabinowitz and Scott Mayerowitz on Twitter to see their coverage of the announcement.

Amenities

In addition to the updated business class seat United also announced amenities for travelers in United Polaris. There will be dedicated Polaris lounges with private shower rooms, small sleeping/nap areas, sit down pre-flight dining, and improved seating with AC and USB power. Onboard the aircraft United has promised updated inflight dining menus, wine flights, slippers, a cool-gel memory foam pillow, and on flights over 12-hours, pajamas. The Cowshed personal amenities will remain as part of the amenity kit.

[T]he new bedding collection will feature plush duvets, lightweight day-blankets and a large and small pillow for each United Polaris customer. In addition, mattress cushions will be available upon request.

Slippers will be available on all flights, and customized United Polaris pajamas will be available by request on flights longer than 12 hours. Flyers will also be able to request a gel-cooled pillow. New amenity kits will feature ergonomically designed eye shades, calming lavender pillow mist and additional products from Soho House & Co.’s Cowshed Spa.

United Polaris Pillow, Slippers, and Pajamas
You will start seeing Polaris rolled out starting December 1, 2016 with the soft products onboard (pillows, duvets, etc.) and the opening of the Polaris lounge in Chicago O’Hare Airport.

My $.02

Besides the name, I think this is a step in the right direction for United. The inflight dining in business class on longhaul flights is not very enjoyable and I would much rather enjoy the ability to eat a meal on the ground and use the time in the air for sleep. The new seat is innovative and while there is more density in the business class cabin when compared to American’s 1-2-1 seating, you still have aisle access from every seat and what looks to be a pretty nice sleeping area.

The lounge updates are also a welcome change. Anyone who has been to a United Club at Newark, San Francisco, Houston, or really, any of the United hubs, knows how crowded they can be. A lounge solely for business class passengers will help relieve some of the crowding at the United Clubs and give a few extra benefits to those traveling in business class. Shower rooms at all Polaris Club locations will be great and I would like to know if those will be accessible on arrival or if United will offer another option for those arriving from a long haul flight in business class, similar to the arrivals lounge concept they already have at San Francisco.

Anyway, these announced changes are a welcome improvement and I hope that the execution and delivery of them is as United promises.

In a move reminiscent to American cutting flights to Venezuela, Lufthansa has announced that as of June 18, they will suspend their Frankfurt to Caracas flight, citing issues with the country’s currency controls and economic woes.

The suspension does not have an end date and as the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, I doubt this will be the last airline to announce such a suspension. With it becoming increasingly difficult to get revenues out of the country, the viability of operating a business in Venezuela is losing proposition.

* The links to Amazon on this post are affiliate links that do generate revenue for me and this site. *

My friend Patrick tweeted a few months ago about how excited he was about the season two of Bosch being released. I had never watched the show and actually only really heard about it in passing, so I decided to watch an episode and see if it was something interesting. About three episodes into the first season and I was hooked. So hooked in fact that I watched the entire first season in a couple of days. When the second season was released, I watched it just as quickly.

I usually watch things on my iPad when I am traveling because the inflight entertainment on most airlines is not filled with the greatest content or things that I want to watch. Well, after I finished watching Bosch I read up on the book series that inspired the show and was intrigued. The show is an adaptation of Michael Connelly’s Bosch series. From the titles, you may not realize they are Bosch books but they are and Amazon is pretty good at showing you which ones are in the series and what Connelly’s other titles are. Note, Connelly also wrote The Lincoln Lawyer, which became a movie and is Connelly’s first novel in the Mickey Haller series.

After digging into all of this I decided I would buy the first three books in the Bosch series, The Black Echo, The Black Ice, and The Concrete Blonde. I am about halfway through The Black Echo and really enjoying Connelly’s writing style. He is detailed but not so much so that you lose interest and skip descriptions. The details add value to the story and I appreciate his taking the time to think through putting you into Bosch’s mind. The books don’t completely line up with the Amazon show, so if you are expecting that, just be aware that the two are set in different time periods and Bosch in the books is a Vietnam vet, not an Iraqi war vet. It’s a minor difference and not one that has diminished the reading experience.

The books are great “lounging around” reading. I am pretty much carrying it everywhere I go and reading little bits as I get the time. Doing a bit more reading has been a recent goal and the Bosch series is definitely helping to kick start that habit. I guess I have Patrick to thank for piquing my interest in the show!