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Posts from the Travel Category

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.

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!

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-400 "Combi"
In the exciting or “happy to hear it” news department, Alaska Airlines and Japan Airlines announced a partnership this morning. The partnership will start on June 29, 2016 and will allow customers to earn miles on each carrier and other partner benefits. However, the press release does not go into detail on earning rates or the redemption rates, but it’s clear from Alaska’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Andrew Harrison, that those details are coming.

“For the first time, our members will be able to earn and redeem miles within Japan, taking advantage of 600 daily flights on JAL’s broad domestic network.”

I have always thought that Japan was a gap for Alaska Airlines. You could fly Delta or American but in a lot of cases it required a connection, sometimes two. The Japan Airlines partnership opens up a number of California non-stops into Japan. There is also the Japan Airlines flight from Vancouver, B.C. though that means going through Canadian transit immigration. In any case, I am excited about not having to overfly Japan to just fly back on Cathay Pacific. This partnership also opens up a bunch of connections out of Tokyo. Off the top of my head it makes parts of China, Japan, and some southeast Asia destinations really easy to reach.

Alaska Airlines continues to impress me with their growth and planning, let’s hope it carries into the merger with Virgin America.

Delta has been growing their Seattle hub operation over the last couple of years, trying to cultivate a west coast hub that can serve Asia as well as some domestic U.S. destinations and parts of Europe. They released a new commercial recently, that you can watch below, that is directly targeting their Seattle market.

The general consensus is that the commercial doesn’t really get Seattle or the Pacific Northwest. I can see that. The ad doesn’t say much except to give a nod to Seattle’s proximity to both Tokyo and London and how the city has momentum (whatever that means).

More concerning than the commercial is a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune where Delta’s new CEO had some interesting thoughts on the airline’s future plans in China.

In September 2014, then-CEO Richard Anderson told a group in Minnesota that Delta hoped to explore a new nonstop route from MSP to China “in the next three to five years.”

Bastian, who has served as president since 2007, succeeded Anderson, who formally retired Monday. Bastian said he also believes an MSP-to-China route “would be an ideal opportunity” once Delta receives its new Airbus 350 planes — which will replace the retiring Boeing 747 aircraft — next year, and if U.S. carriers are granted more traffic rights in China. Foreign governments negotiate how many flights from each country it will allow to operate within its borders.

So why is Delta focused on building their Minneapolis hub’s reach in China when they have a rather large presence in Seattle, where they can use aircraft that don’t require ultra-long ranges? I am not sure. It seems like the complete opposite of what they were originally trying to do when they opened the hub in Seattle. United has started flying to non-top tier airports in China out of San Francisco, capturing a part of the market that Delta will quickly lose unless they make a move soon. By spreading their transpacific flights over multiple hubs I am a little worried that they are diluting themselves and not really building up the Seattle base. There has already been a slight withdrawal with the reduction of Seattle-Hong Kong and threats to stop flying to Tokyo from a number of U.S. airports if they are not granted certain slots at Tokyo-Haneda. One has to wonder how much more Delta’s presence at Seattle will retract all while they release commercials touting its awesomeness as a hub.

According to U.S. Representative Walden’s website, the House has unanimously approved the Treating Small Airports with Fairness Act. The act name is kind of cheesy but essentially it would bring back TSA screening to small airports that lost service at the beginning of 2013 and has a commitment from an airline for service.

The TSA Fairness Act would require the TSA to restore screening services to any airport that lost service after January 1, 2013 and that has a guarantee from a commercial airline to resume service within one year. There are currently at least six airports nationwide that have commercial airlines seeking to resume flights after undergoing a temporary gap in service, but are being denied TSA security screening and personnel. Instead, the agency directed the airports to allow passengers to fly unscreened to their next destination, and undergo screening there.

Klamath Falls is one of the closest airports to Crater Lake so this change will make it easier for tourists to make it to that lovely attraction, not to mention the rest of southern Oregon. If the act passes in the Senate the airline that has already been tapped to operate the Portland-Klamath Falls service would be PenAir, who has already started a number of routes out of Portland and is partners with Alaska Airlines.

There is no date for when the Senate would vote on the legislation, but I will definitely be on the look out for its passing.

The New York Times posted an article titled, “Avoiding the Dreaded Middle Seat May Now Cost You” and it is a pretty accurate depiction of the landscape of commercial air travel. Most major U.S. airlines will soon have a “basic” economy fare that is essentially only the price for a seat on a plane between origin and destination. No other benefits. Want to check a bag? That’s $50. Want to select a seat? That’s $15-30 depending on the route. Want that seat to be an aisle? That’s another $10.

Recaro Slimline Seat 1
Some would argue that the unbundling of airfare into different components is good for the consumer because they can purchase just the items they want for the trip and save money. But that would imply that the different services airlines provide, seat selection, baggage handling, etc. are things that are completely unrelated, which is far from the truth. When you travel you need a seat and you might need to check a bag. Neither of these is a cost that is unaccounted for by the airlines. They are going to have to handle cargo/bags/mail whether you fly or not. A seat selection, in simple terms, does not cost the airline money. This is the illusion of unbundling. Yeah, if you and your family do not mind sitting in random middle seats around the plane, you will probably save a few dollars. But, if you don’t want your mother seated at the rear of the plane while you’re ten rows up, that’s going to cost you. This is the illusion of cost savings. Sure you might save $100 in airfare but as soon as you check a bag or select seats that cost savings dwindles and it is hard to tell where the equilibrium is between that “basic” economy fare and the regular fare that would have included the items you paid for. If you do not check bags, travel with family, or care where you sit, then unbundled fares are probably for you.

There is also the illusion that unbundling items from airfare will keep the airfare low. Well, that would go against the basic argument of unbundling, which is that the airfare and the ancillary items can act independently of each other. So, if the airlines decide that $60B in ancillary fees is not enough, they can adjust those prices, leaving airfare untouched. Or, they can manipulate airfare to fit a market and leave the ancillary fees alone. I am not against the airlines making money but it is disingenuous to paint the unbundled fares as “saving customers money” when the basic facts point to the scheme as being solely about revenue generation. And that’s fine, airlines are businesses, they are supposed to make money. Just don’t promote a revenue generation tool as mystical cost savings awesomeness, because for a lot of people, it means they will be sitting in a middle seat, delayed at LaGuardia.