September 2008

TripAdvisor to Donate $1 Million, You Decide Where the Money Goes

Posted September 30, 2008 by Zak Patten

Tripadvisorcloudslikeearth So this is pretty cool. Our friends at sister site TripAdvisor are donating $1 million to five travel-related causes (no, your personal airfare budget is not among them), and they're asking all of us to help decide who gets what amount.

If you thought choosing a presidential candidate was tough, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Because the five organizations TripAdvisor has chosen as finalists are each so worthy that picking a winner is no small task. The good news is you can't go wrong with any of them, and each one is guaranteed at least $50,000. The more votes an organization receives, the larger share of the $1 million it will get. So, without further ado, the nominees (with their areas of focus in parentheses) are: Conservation International (ecotourism), Doctors Without Borders (emergency relief), National Geographic Society (exploring and sustaining authentic places), The Nature Conservancy (environmental protection), and Save the Children (aiding children around the world).

After you make up your mind, voting is a snap. Just head on over to TripAdvisor and click on your pick. It took me about 30 seconds. Just make sure to do it so you get to have your say. The voting runs through 11:59 pm ET on November 9th.

This money will make a real difference to the people and communities we visit when we travel. So what are you waiting for? Vote now or learn more at www.tripadvisor.com/Causes.

(Photo: iStockphoto)

Spirit Airlines for Sale

Posted September 25, 2008 by Heather Gilbert

Spiritadspace OK, the whole airline isn’t for sale.  But advertising space on seat backs, window shades, overhead bins, tray tables, and drink carts is. 

Starting last week, if you’ve got the dough, Spirit Airlines ' Mile High Media wants to hear from you.  Touting itself primarily as advertising your audience can’t get away from, Mile High Media is debuting with a campaign from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. 

What might I see aboard my next flight on Spirit?  Signage on my seat back?  Beats looking at old pilly fabric.  Flip-flop decals on the overhead bins?  I only see them as I shove my now-oversized-to-avoid-checking-it roll aboard in there.  And on the window shade?  I’ve only pulled that down to try and get some shuteye, so go ahead. 

As long as Spirit doesn’t plan on using the space for its own tasteless ad campaigns, it’s fine with me. I certainly don’t want to spend my whole flight thinking about threesomes and MILFs, thank you very much. And besides, they’re not the first low-cost carrier to go this route.  Ryanair practically invented onboard advertising.  And if by some teeny chance this lowers my fare by offsetting fuel costs, well they can put ads on my suitcase if they want.  Wait a minute here … hey Spirit, wanna buy ad space on my suitcase?  Let’s talk!

(Photo: Spirit Airlines)

Hard Times Hit Low-Cost Carriers

Posted September 23, 2008 by Carl Unger

Airsouthwestwinglets3Sky-high jet fuel prices have taken a toll on airlines of all shape and size, but perhaps none have borne the brunt of astronomical fuel costs as much as the low-cost carriers. That's right, those darlings of the aviation world—JetBlue and Southwest among them—could be in serious trouble if the situation doesn't improve.

As Aviation Week points out, exorbitant fuel prices are a big problem when your entire business model is built around low fares. Throw in a need for low-cost carriers to expand quickly and capture new markets, and you have a recipe for an overextended, underfunded mess.

Which is not to say all low-cost carriers are in dire straits. Southwest, as everyone knows, was either brilliant or lucky when it hedged its fuel well below what most airlines are paying now. JetBlue, for its part, decided to delay delivery of new jets that would have drastically increased its fuel needs. And across the globe, low-cost carriers like Ryanair have cut back on capacity and grounded less-efficient planes.

So will low-cost carriers survive the fuel-price fiasco? Probably not all of them. We've already lost Skybus this year, and honestly, in this financial climate, no airline can consider itself safe from potential ruin. But before panic sets in, remember that most of the airlines we rely on to fly us cheaply from point A to point B have their best minds on the problem.

(Photo: Southwest Airlines)

JetBlue Opens New Terminal at New York's JFK

Posted September 18, 2008 by Heather Gilbert

Jetbluejfkterminal Traditionally when someone buys a new home, they lay out the brie and Chardonnay and invite people over so they can show off their new abode.  The party is nice and hopefully nobody spills wine on the carpet or peeks in your medicine cabinet.  And that’s about the end of the story.  But what to do if you’ve just built a new 635,000-square-foot home to the tune of $800 million?  Better buy more brie, because that’s got to be one hell of a party. 

On Monday, September 22, JetBlue will be celebrating its new digs at JFK’s brand-spanking-new Terminal 5 (T5). This tri-level terminal has 26 gates across three concourses. And since it was designed with customer comfort and efficiency in mind, smack in the middle is a 55,000-square-foot central retail and concession marketplace.  Sounds pretty posh, right? Well wait ‘til you hear about the housewarming celebration!  JetBlue is so excited about its new domicile that it has invited a world-famous New York City dance troupe to perform the ribbon cutting, a famous pop singer to serenade guests, and T5 restaurant chefs to give cooking demonstrations.  Guests can also get ready to discuss their favorite New York City factoids with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the best things about pink beaches with Premier of Bermuda Ewart Brown, and why in-flight movie selections keep travelers happy with JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger.

Surely JFK’s Terminal 5 sounds like an oasis to weary travelers and here at BookingBuddy HQ, we’re excited by the concept of “customer comfort and efficiency.”  What do you think about this new mega-terminal? Leave a comment below and let us know.

(Photo: JetBlue)

Reporter Turns American Airlines Flight Attendant, Misses Old Job

Posted September 17, 2008 by Zak Patten

Flightattendant We in the travel media often criticize the airlines' policies, from checked-bag fees to the end of free onboard food. But we rarely take the time to consider those who have to enforce said policies. Well no more. Now that New York Times reporter Michelle Higgins has gone undercover as an American Airlines flight attendant—and lived to tell her story—it's time we all paid a little attention to what Higgins sees as possibly the least enviable and most stressful occupation of our time.

As this intrepid journalist points out, things weren't always so dire for the workers formerly known as "stewardesses." Back in the 60s, a flight attendant's career was filled with the glamour of exciting destinations, the prestige of flight (not everyone could afford a ticket when Southwest was still just a regional carrier), and the allure of "life in the air as a nonstop party."

Higgins' account of her short stint (just two days) as a crew member on American's New York-Dallas route is equal parts hilarious and depressing. The advice she gets from one fellow flight attendant to either water down a drunk passenger's drinks or make up a rule such as “I can only sell you one drink an hour" brings a smile to one's face, but tales of 4:00 a.m. wake-up calls, screaming toddlers, and obnoxiously drunk first-class flyers are sobering (pun intended). And when reading that "The average flight attendant salary today is around $33,500 a year," my sympathy level goes way up.

What about you? Do you feel for someone who has to "tell people that a two-and-a-half-foot-deep bag will not fit in a one-and-a-half-foot hole,” or do you think flight attendants need to adjust their attitudes in a more customer-friendly direction? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

(Photo: The New York Times)

JetBlue: More Fun Than Most

Posted September 11, 2008 by Heather Gilbert

Jetblueyoulookcute Remember your mother used to follow up every “are we there yet?” moaned from the back of the station wagon with an enthusiastic “getting there is half the fun!”?  Well, apparently your mom is now working for JetBlue.  This week, the airline won the World Airline Entertainment Association’s award for best in-flight entertainment for the Americas.  This prestigious award was voted on by real-life travelers just like you (or perhaps it was you, you on-line-survey-taking devil, you) and was celebrated with a “spectacular celebration choreographed and produced by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures as a salute to 40 years of in-flight entertainment.” Well then.  I had no idea in-flight entertainment had been around  that long.

This is not the first time JetBlue has been singled out for its commitment to making the journey half the fun.  They’ve already been recognized for excellent customer service.  We couldn’t be happier with their expanded movie selection.  And in-flight Wi-Fi?  We say Wi-finally! Yes JetBlue, keep it coming.  Keep those skies friendly, fun, and fi-ed (okay that last one was a bit of a stretch). We’re keeping our eyes on you!

(Photo: upgradetravelbetter.com)

Southwest's New Ads Amuse, Terrify

Posted September 9, 2008 by Carl Unger

Southwest released a pair of new ads recently, each of them touting the airline's "fees-don't-fly-with-us," mantra. In one, a road-weary Southwest customer is surrounded by travelers singing halleluiah hallelujah as he is told Southwest won't charge him for his checked baggage. Watch:

In the second ad, a man at a competing airline's counter is quoted a low price for his flight. This makes him happy. "Wow, that's not bad!" he says. Then the desk agent turns around, revealing a scary, demonic-looking face on the back of her head. The face begins demanding bag fees and booking fees before saying "just gimme the whole wallet." Note the voice effects:

All I can say is, wow. Did Southwest just turn the debate about airline fees into a Biblical stand-off between good and evil, or did the airline merely send its marketing staff to the Exorcist School of Advertising? Either way, that lady creeps me out, and I decided to find out what other people thought. Here's what I uncovered:

Clearly I'm not alone.

United Will Not Charge for Meals on Transatlantic Flights

Posted September 3, 2008 by Zak Patten

Airunitedb737500 We all know drivers who've headed down the wrong road and gotten lost in a seedy neighborhood, despite their passengers' pleas to turn around. Well, United Airlines is no different than those drivers. (OK, it's much bigger and not at all human, but bear with me.) United took a wrong turn by choosing to begin charging for meals in coach class on transatlantic flights and in business class on domestic itineraries. But, to its credit, when passengers spoke up, the airline pulled a u-ey and rescinded its earlier decision to can free meals.

Obviously, United wanted to cut costs and pull in revenue with its plan to start hawking food onboard, and the proposed $6 snack boxes and $9 salads would have brought in a certain amount of income. But along with the cash there would have been bitterness, and the airline's management was wise enough to read the writing in the sky. After months of watching new fees spread from one airline to another faster than you can say first-checked-baggage charge, it's heartening that United has decided to take heed of customer feedback.

Sometimes you don't need a GPS, or Google, or even a good old-fashioned paper map. Sometimes getting back on the right road is as simple as just listening to those sitting in your seats.

(Photo: United)

How Much Do You Love U.S. Airlines?

Posted September 2, 2008 by Carl Unger

AirplanemodelsNot as much as Chip Ponton. Ponton, a worker in the air cargo industry for two decades, has a collection of over 550 model airplanes in his home, housed in a room with a curved ceiling that invokes an airplane hangar. "Some would call it a sickness," Ponton tells commericalappeal.com, and indeed his passion for air travel is uncommon these days.

Ponton owes his love of flying to a lifelong association with the industry, starting with his father, who worked for Continental, and extending through his own career.

What strikes me most about this guy, however, is his worship of flying. "Most people," he says, "have an awe of flight. Just the fact that you can take a machine that's heavier than air and be somewhere in a couple hours, there's a wonder to flying."

Around here we like to joke and poke fun at the airline industry, but we should all be reminded that air travel really is a pretty amazing thing, no matter how much that fact gets buried in all the fees, crunched seats, and delays. Sure, that stuff is annoying, but perhaps we too easily take for granted that we can travel across the country in five hours, and across vast oceans in under 10. Just sayin'.

(Photo: commercialappeal.com)


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