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Posts tagged airline

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.

*EVA has now made an official announcement of the Taipei to Houston route, so no more speculation.

It appears as though the much rumored EVA Air Taipei to Houston non-stop service is now official. Well, it’s loaded into the schedule it seems.

Airlineroute.net is reporting that the flight will start on June 21, 2015 and will have the following schedule:

BR52 Taipei to Houston departing 10:00PM arriving 11:25PM [Sun, Tue, Wed, Fri]
BR51 Houston to Taipei departing 1:15AM arriving 5:55AM (+1 day) [Mon, Wed, Thu, Sat]

The actual first flight will be on June 19, 2015 and that flight will arrive at IAH at 5:45pm. My guess is that this flight is timed as a positioning flight to get the aircraft to Houston to operate a day later while still allowing daylight for the press and local officiants to give their speeches.

Taipei to Houston is just under 8,000 miles and will take 14 hours and 25 minutes. The reverse, Houston to Taipei, will clock in at 15 hours and 40 minutes due to winds.

As far as service goes, EVA’s product looks really nice with full lie-flat seats in business and a very decent looking economy product. Ben Schlappig has a number of trip reports on his blog at One Mile at a Time and they are worth a look if you are interested in the EVA product.

It is great to have more options to Asia out of Houston and I think this flight is timed perfectly with connections in Taipei to allow you to get just about anywhere in Asia easily. This will also bring a little more competition to United (even though they are Star Alliance members) and maybe we’ll see some fare sales to Asia!

I won’t go into the details of the changes to the MileagePlus reward charts, Seth has done a good job of that. The quick summary is this: United raised reward rates and in the case of rewards on partners, the numbers are really, really ugly. One example, a business class reward Mainland U.S. to Europe on United becomes 57.5k miles one way, which is not a bad increase, but a business class reward on a partner is now 70k miles one way. That’s a 40% premium over the original 50k mile one-way reward that has been the norm for a while.

There is a lot of speculation as to why United made these changes. Some point to the 3rd quarter 10Q and the liability mentioned for outstanding miles. While I am sure this is part of the reason, United also likely wanted to offset some of the costs that they are obligated for when a passenger redeems a partner reward.

United's Jeff Smisek Talking about the 787

Is the sky falling?

While the changes are definitely not great from a customer perspective, it is not the end of the world. You can still redeem reward trips for reasonable rates on United and Copa operated flights. I think the biggest negative is that for those of us in Houston or Denver (or even Los Angeles) our options to Europe are somewhat limited. People will be looking for the more affordable mileage option to their destination, meaning United metal. Without a lot of non-stop flights out of certain hubs to Asia and Europe you end up with a lot of people competing. So while the prices may not be restrictive, the availability may become very scarce. Some travelers will give up and pay the higher rate for a partner flight while others will look for different dates for their trip. I doubt there will be a mass exodus from United, but I am sure there are those, like me, who have started looking at other airline options.

One of the caveats of the rewards is that you can redeem partner flights at the United rate if the partner flight is in a lower cabin. So if you flying Houston-Frankfurt in United BusinessFirst, you can connect on Lufthansa in coach for the United redemption rate. While this is great for places like intra-Europe where business class is a coach seat with a nicer meal, it stinks for places you cannot get without a partner or where partner availability is scarce. I am thinking of Africa where you can get as far as Lagos in BusinessFirst but then what do you do? Or southern South America (Chile, etc.) where your options are really Copa or Avianca, the latter of which you will pay a premium for.

What to Do

I have received a couple of e-mails from Houston based flyers asking what they should do in the wake of the changes announced by United. I will be quite honest, I do not know what I am going to do. If you are a leisure traveler who was mileage running on United for miles and you are willing to hunt down United operated rewards, then I would say nothing should change for you. The 57.5k mile business class reward to Europe is still a good deal.

My travel revolves mostly around work and rewards were the bright spot of being on the road. I could redeem for a very nice trip for my wife and I and be happy. Keeping that same focus is probably my best course of action, even though I am tempted to jump ship to American Airlines. One thing holding me back is the impending merger of US Airways and American. We have no idea of what the results of that union are going to be, leaving me uncomfortable devoting a lot of my flying to either of those carriers. Once that becomes more clear, I will start thinking about my options again.

These changes certainly are not the end of the world and like Seth points out, there is an even more impactful devaluation in Northern South America upgrades, but United’s changes to the partner reward chart are certainly a kick in the gut. Sure, other Star Alliance airlines have different reward prices for flights on partners, but MileagePlus was United’s shining star. I have flown them weekly for the nearly the past three years and the product has suffered but I stayed loyal because I do like redeeming my MileagePlus miles and hardly had any problems doing so. I will have to see if that continues.

United has a pre-flight video that talks about reward travel with MileagePlus and how United has a vast network of destinations. They should leave that video but add a disclaimer at the beginning or end that lets people know they will be charged a premium to get to some of those destinations on partners.

Yesterday I noticed a lot of tweets and blogs sending their traffic to an article on Slate titled The Recline and Fall of Western Civilization. The article asserts that we as a society are broken because we recline our seats causing those behind us to suffer. It then takes the utilitarian view that reclining seats should be completely done away with. The first thing that came to my mind was, “are we really that bothered by seats reclining that Slate needs an article about it?”. Then I started thinking about the subtle “me, me, me” that was going on here cleverly disguised as “it’s for the greater good”.

Obviously, everyone on the plane would be better off if no one reclined; the minor gain in comfort when you tilt your seat back 5 degrees is certainly offset by the discomfort when the person in front of you does the same.

This quote in particular stood out. Unless you are a very tall person the amount of discomfort one receives from that same 5 degree seat recline is minimal as well. Sure, you may not be able to use your laptop on the tray table anymore, but the idea that you will be “uncomfortable” is a stretch. I am on an airplane a good chunk of every week and there are a lot of other things that are much more annoying and inconvenient than the guy in front of me reclining his seat.

Sure, I think it is annoying when a person reclines their seat right after take-off, or even better, the guy who does it on the ground after the flight attendants walk away, but I see some value in seat recline. I have had a few instances of back pain where I needed some recline to help relieve that pain and that 5 degrees made a difference. If we’re going to ban reclining seats then should ban all items that make trash (people litter), people who sit with their legs open on the subway (takes up my space), and so on.

Maybe what the author really wants to see is a seat like what ANA has installed on their Dreamliners, essentially a seat where the seat back is a shell, the bottom cushion slides forward, and the back cushion slides down. Such a seat gives a recline, but does not infringe on the space of the person behind.

I will say this. No matter how tall you are, products that keep the person in front of you from reclining, such as the Knee Defender, are not the answer. In the end air transportation is similar to a bus. If people want the experience of how nice commercial travel was in the 1960s then we’ll need to bring back regulation, make air travel unaffordable for a section of the population, and close a few airports… No? But it means a “better” travel experience for those traveling.

I was lucky enough to be upgraded on Monday morning between Houston and New York-La Guardia. Breakfast options were cereal (Honey Nut Cheerios) and an omelet, broccoli cheese potato, and sausage. Both options came with strawberry yogurt and fruit.

United First Domestic Breakfast

I would love to see United spend a little more money to provide a better fruit selection. Right now it’s mostly pineapple and melon, with a few grapes and a single (or in this case a half) strawberry. Give me some raspberries, bananas, etc. It is a little change, but would definitely make the breakfast more interesting.

Fronts Harden in Lufthansa Labor Dispute (Der Spiegel) →

 

As expected, thousands of stranded passengers were none too pleased by the first strike on Friday at Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s busiest. Lufthansa had to cancel nearly half of the 360 flights scheduled to take off on Friday morning, and the airport almost ground to a complete halt until 2 p.m. Lines of waiting passengers in Terminal 1 wound their way through several parts of the building.

There was even uproar in the luxurious and normally serene first-class terminal, as furious frequent fliers ranted at Lufthansa staff. To add to the disarray, flight crews waved placards with anti-Franz slogans directly opposite, at one of the entrances to the airport site.

Things are kind of getting back to normal but Tuesday’s A380 flight from Frankfurt to Houston was canceled due to the strike and the effects of the strike will probably roll into next week. All of this stemming from the flight attendant’s union wanting an increase in pay and the same group being disenfranchised by the prospects of cost cutting by Lufthansa.

The Gulf-state carriers (Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, etc.) are a real source of “hard to beat” competition due to their seemingly bottomless coffers and their willingness to go into a new market and take it by storm. Lufthansa is attempting to cut costs to compete on lower fares. It’s just a question of how far are they going to take that.

In February the City of Houston and a group of Turkish representatives announced new service between Houston and Istanbul on Turkish Airlines.

If you follow airline announcements you know how quickly such rumors turn into pipe dreams or disappear completely. In the cast of the Istanbul-Houston route, I have been very skeptical, especially with fuel prices being what they are, but, this investor announcement from Turkish makes me a little more confident the service will actually launch. The page is in Turkish but here’s a poorly translated version:

Incorporation; aircraft availability and depending on the permissions in 2012, Istanbul-Houston-Istanbul and the Istanbul-Constanta-Istanbul route open, Mogadishu-Istanbul-Khartoum-Khartoum-Istanbul flights and Istanbul in Istanbul, Turkey-Djibouti-Djibouti-Mogadishu; Istanbul-Nakhchivan-Istanbul flights to Istanbul, the Istanbul-Ganja, Nakhchivan, it was decided to perform.

So, based on aircraft availability and the ability to obtain government permission, the Istanbul-Houston flights will start this year, possibly as early as this summer. I am really looking forward to this service starting! Turkish Airlines offers a great connection point to the Middle East, Europe, and Asia from their Istanbul hub and as a plus, Istanbul looks like a city I would have no problem having a stopover in. This announcement does not mean that flights are guaranteed to start between the two cities, but it adds a little credibility to the rumors and speculation.

A TSA checkpoint was left unattended in Sacramento

Officials told KCRA 3 that four of the individuals were ticketed passengers and one was an airport employee. According to TSA officials, “a walk-through metal detector was left unattended for less than one minute.”

And if that story was not enough, here’s a great write-up on why the TSA should go away, written by a former FBI agent.