Info

badice.com ~ travel musings for the masses

Happy New Year!

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions but as we enter 2017 I did want to share some goals I have for this year. Things that I hope to accomplish and hopes I want to strive for.

  • Take more photos. I was looking through my 2016 albums and realized that I did not take nearly enough photos, so I am challenging myself with a goal of taking at least one photo a day and posting it on my Flickr page. I posted the image for January 1 below.
  • Travel more. My travel in 2016 really fell off for a number of reasons but I would like to get back to seeing the world. A few of my destination goals in 2017 are the Balkans, Georgia, Namibia, Laos, Vietnam, and Japan.
  • Read more. I have let reading really fall by the wayside over the last few years but my goal in 2017 is to read 50 books. I will be tracking my progress using Goodreads’ challenge tracker.
  • Donate more. We have a few causes that we love helping and it is a hope and goal of mine in 2017 that we pursue those more closely both monetarily and with our time. I also want to be a source of encouragement for others to participate and contribute in charity and caring for those who are less fortunate.

So, those are my goals for 2017. I hope to post some of the photography work here, but definitely keep me honest via that Flickr page. Not seeing a new photo in a while? Send me a note on Twitter. What are your hopes and goals for 2017?

Virgin Atlantic is shifting their seasonal Chicago-London Heathrow flight to Los Angeles, giving them three flights a day between LAX and London.

Business Traveller, which reported the story, has some “interesting” insights into why Virgin Atlantic is shifting the flight.

Another, perhaps more important, reason is the possible yield (earnings per seat) and the fact that the low-cost carriers haven’t made as many inroads into the West Coast as they have with the East Coast market.

I am not really sure how they come to that conclusion. Carriers like Condor and Norwegian have inundated the west coast and focused heavily on the leisure markets. Because of this, transatlantic fares from places like San Francisco have fallen dramatically. British Airways is even trying to get in on the act by adding a flight to Oakland on one of their high density Boeing 777s.

The reality is that the transatlantic market is overall pretty weak right now and Virgin probably can’t get a lot of connecting traffic in Chicago. In Los Angeles they have their partnership with Delta, giving them great connections all over points west of the Rockies. Delta is also building a new terminal LAX and I’m sure that’s a big draw as well.

Personally, I’m not sure Virgin Atlantic will be successful with a third flight to Los Angeles but only time will tell.

Recently I waslooking for a ticket to Hamburg in late January and had a found a decent deal on United via Newark. Today I went back to book it and found that the non-stop Newark-Hamburg flight was no longer being offered. Turns out, United is seasonally cutting a few routes, including Houston-Munich and Newark-Hamburg. The cuts will run between January 8 and May 5, 2017. Confirmation of these cuts was made by the United Twitter team.

The transatlantic market must be much softer than the airlines are letting on. Both Newark-Hamburg and Houston-Munich were year round options for the last few years. Has the economy dipped so much so that they just aren’t selling as well? For me it is an inconvenience. I really wanted to fly the route this January but it looks like I will have to wait until summer to get that cool line.

If you are booked on one of these flights during the listed dates you will likely no longer see the affected segments in your reservation but the automatic rebooking engine should list a new option soon. If you are unhappy with what you are rebooked on, give United a call with options that you find acceptable.

Everyone knew the day when United would announce their plans for a no-frills economy class fare was coming. The big carriers are looking for ways to grab a little bit of revenue away from the ultra low-cost carriers like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant. To do that, the airlines are removing benefits from certain fare classes. Delta has their version, with the same name even. American has discussed the same thing, and their fares are slated to roll out sometime in 2017. Scott Kirby, who used to work for American, now works for United and now, probably by coincidence, the day we knew was coming has arrived. United’s Basic Economy has been formally announced.

United Basic Economy

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about these new fares. There were quite a number of articles that had been written and a lot of anger and gnashing of teeth was taking place. But then I started seeing a lot of conjecture that these new fares would mean higher fares for those who don’t buy Basic Economy. That these new fares would be all that’s available and now you’ll have to pay to bring a carry-on on the plane.

The Facts

You can read the full details of United’s Basic Economy on their site, but here are the important facts:

  • No Pre-reserved seats – Seats on these fares will be assigned at check-in
  • Group 5 Boarding – These fares will be assigned Group 5 for boarding, the last group in the boarding process. United Premiers, Star Golds, and MileagePlus cardholders are excluded from this policy.
  • No voluntary ticket changes – 24 hour/Same Day Change policy excluded
  • No Premier Qualifying Miles, Segments or Dollars earned, lifetime miles or contribution to the four-segment minimum – Redeemable miles will still be earned
  • No EconomyPlus or Premium Cabin upgrades
  • No combinability with regular economy fares or partner carriers (includes interline travel)
  • Carry-on bags are limited to a single personal item (purse, backpack, etc.) – United Premiers, Star Golds, and MileagePlus cardholders are excluded from this policy and can bring two carry-on bags.

Thoughts

Besides the one bag policy on these fares, which distinguishes United’s Basic Economy from Delta’s implementation, the one thing that really sticks out to me on the list above is the lack of combinability with partner carriers and lack of interlining. This means if you are searching for a fare that requires a partner connection, say San Francisco-Bangkok, which would require a connection on someone like ANA in Tokyo, you would never see these Basic Economy fares in your results.

The “personal item only” piece seems to be the most inflammatory part of these fares, second only to the screams that families wouldn’t be able to be seated next to each other (more on that later). The truth is, customers in Group 5 usually do not have anywhere for their carry-on suitcase anyway and have to end up checking them, possibly holding up boarding.

As far as the families getting seats together, Delta even spells this out in their Basic Economy details:

With Basic Economy, you will not receive a seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate. Passengers traveling together, including families, may not be seated together.

If you want your family to be seated together, you simply buy the more expensive fare to ensure that you can preselect seats. So, I do think this point is being blown out of proportion. Which brings us to the conjecture/prediction piece of this.

Delta and United at PDX
The reality of Delta’s basic economy fares is that they are not as prolific as people think. I have only come across them twice in my searches and their savings was rather small when compared to the regular fares, something like $75 on each search. The other piece of this is the assumption that United will raise the regular fares and make money on those from people who do not want to part with their luggage or seat assignments. Based on Delta’s fares, I don’t think that will happen at all. Regular fares will stay where they are and these discount fares will be used to pull a little revenue away from the low cost carriers. United already has these basic fares in their systems and they show up about as regularly as Delta’s, the difference now is that United won’t be offering benefits with these fares. Seems like a “fare” compromise.

I think a lot of the fear around these fares is the belief that all of the economy seats will be sold as these new Basic Economy fares. That is simply untrue. United cannot sell a full 737 of these fares and survive, even if every passenger wasn’t an elite member and had to pay to check a bag. What they will do is offer a few seats on specific routes where they want to grab some business away from the competition at these Basic Economy levels.

Summary

We will not know exactly how this implementation of no-frills economy will go until 2017 when United rolls them out. But the odds of this being the doomsday that some people are predicting does not line up with the reality we have been seeing with Delta’s implementation of the exact same thing. Sure, Delta’s basic economy allows carry-on bags, but they still do not offer these fares on every flight or even that many seats on the flights where they do sell it. There is also the likelihood that these fares will be excluded from corporate booking engines, just like Delta’s no-frills fares.

Take a deep breath. It is likely you will encounter these fares on at least a few of your searches but do not fear, it is improbable that United will jack up the regular fares. So if you want to bring a bag onboard, you will likely be able to do so with very little markup.

Both United and American Airlines opened automated security lines at Chicago’s O’Hare airport recently and they’re pretty cool.

O'Hare TSA Screening
From United’s press release:

The new lanes enable up to five customers to fill their individual bins simultaneously and move through the screening process quicker, even if TSA agents need to perform additional screening on a customer further up the queue. The lanes also utilize a parallel conveyor system that automatically returns empty bins to the front of the queue.

Both airlines claim that the new automated lanes will speed up the security process while still allowing a thorough search of bags.

The lanes themselves remind me a lot of the security lanes you see in Europe, where bins are provided and then moved through the line automatically, keeping people moving and filling the next available bin. Will be interesting to see how this goes at O’Hare and maybe we’ll see expansion to other airports soon.

Delta Airlines announced that they would be rolling out new uniforms for 60,000 frontline employees. The new uniforms are for check-in and gate agents, flight attendants, and below the wing employees such as cargo and ramp staff.

Delta Airlines New Uniforms 2

New Delta Uniforms 1

The uniforms have been described as “high class” and “elegant” by Delta and reporters. And yes, the uniforms are a very nice change, but the hype around them seems a little over the top. I think it gets to me because it simply seems like a distraction from the fact that travel on U.S. airlines in economy has become a rather bleak affair. It is an illusion of fancy in an industry that has become anything but; Basic economy fares and less legroom has become the norm. Yes, I know, fare prices are on the decline domestically, but that comes with the added expense of the ancillary fares, which airlines are attempting to increase.

I think the fancy new uniforms speak to a larger trend in modern consumerism. I don’t mean to go existential but it feels like we’re giving up what matters for what looks good, not just in airplane amenities but in everyday life. Maybe it is time to take a step back and realize that the substance of what we enjoy and cherish is more important than the window dressing.

Some friends have been planning a trip to Hong Kong for later in October and I dragged my feet when it came to purchasing a ticket so now I am left trying to sort something out semi last minute. I started looking for a United reward and was able to book Portland-Houston-Taipei (3 days) Taipei-Singapore (2 days) then Hong Kong-Chicago-Portland. I will book a separate ticket from Singapore to Macau and then take the ferry over to Hong Kong to spend a few days there before heading home.

Travel Map

I do enjoy Singapore but I have visited before and was actually hoping to visit somewhere new. I looked and found space on a Taipei-Saigon flight. Excited, I started posting the details of my trip on Twitter and my excitement was quickly extinguished. Back in September the visa requirements for US citizens to enter Vietnam changed. The only visa now available is a 1-year multi-entry type. It costs $60 for the visa with a $135 “stamping” fee (that has to be paid in cash to the immigration officer in Vietnam). There is a way around this but it requires entering Vietnam via Phu Quoc island.

For me, $195 for a couple of days in Vietnam when I may not return in a calendar year is difficult for me to justify. I would love to visit Vietnam but with limited time, the cost is restrictive. So where should I go instead? Do I stick with Singapore? Head to Kuala Lumpur or Penang, Malaysia instead? Somewhere else?

If I do end up keeping the reward, I am pretty excited to try out EVA’s Royal Laurel Class, which for Houston-Taipei would be on a Hello Kitty plane.

EVA Air - Royal Laurel Class

By now I am sure you have seen Casey Neistat’s video documenting his recent experience in Emirates First Class after an upgrade. If you haven’t, I have embedded the video below.

I appreciate that Casey shared the experience via his vlog. Showering at 35,000 feet is one of the coolest features of first class Emirates (and now Etihad). That said, the episode was a little click-baity. The headline is definitely attention grabbing but what is the reality of people paying $21,000 for a first class ticket? The general assumption is that high level executives and the independently wealthy are the ones filling the best seats on the planes and while that might occasionally be the case, for the most part, people are not paying full price.

Airlines can price the first class cabin at whatever they want, the higher the price, the more of an exclusive feel. Behind the scenes though, airlines are discounting those seats for companies that have large corporate contracts and releasing the seats for rewards or upgrades. So yes, there might be a few people out there who actually pay full price for first class, but the reality is that a lot are paying far below the published price you will find on a website.

The video is definitely a great look at Emirates’ first class product and all of its features. Casey didn’t really know why he was upgraded and I wonder if it had something to do with his Boosted Board being confiscated by security at the Sydney Airport.

Edit, not too long after posting this story, Cynthia Drescher clued me in on a great theory of why Casey was upgraded: