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Recently I had been looking for a ticket to Hamburg in late January and had a found a decent deal on United via Hamburg. 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:

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.

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.