October 2008

American Airlines Knows Why You Fly...But Not What to Do About It

Posted October 30, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Let’s talk advertising theory for a moment. (Just a moment, I promise.) In general, you want to convey to your potential customers the benefit to them of your product. For example, it doesn’t matter to anyone but the puffed-up CEO that Acme Co.’s new mousetrap reflects 50 years of research and it’s green. NEW AND IMPROVED GREEN MOUSETRAP! 50 YEARS OF RESEARCH WENT INTO OUR BRAND NEW MODEL! The mousetrap buyer doesn’t care. He wants to hear that it’s going to kill a mouse. Fast.

Which brings me to American Airlines’ new TV ad. The ad (as you can see below, should you choose to click) depicts a sports agent and his doofy, tall, presumably basketball-playing client traveling all around the world to try to get this clumsy fool a contract. OK. So then at the end of the ad, after this agent has finally gotten his client a job, they prepare to board a plane, the sign at the gate flashes “Going the distance for your client,” and the voice-over announces: “American Airlines. We know why you fly.”


Okay, so, you know why I fly. And, believe me, I appreciate that. How nice of you. There are so many reasons to fly, it’s got to take a lot of effort to keep track of all of that. Flying to visit grandparents. To find cheaper real estate in Tennessee. To flee Colombian drug cartels. Thanks for staying on top of that.

Unfortunately for American, the unexpected by-product of a benefit-less ad like this is a follow-up question. Specifically: “You know why I fly? Okay, what are you going to do about it?” Oooo. Probably not the response they were hoping for. I’m going to guess they were going for “good will” and “making a connection with their customers”. But by not letting people know what American is doing to make flying more pleasant, people are going to focus on why it’s unpleasant.

Which is not to say that other airlines aren’t guilty of this kind of real-information deflection, as well; But if you’re looking to set yourself apart and win back some loyalty, this kind of ad may require a follow-up. People are smart enough to see behind the story nowadays. The best way to win loyalty? Give your customers real reasons – benefits – to fly on your airline.

Or maybe just some cake. (Take advantage of low expectations, American; it’s not gonna take much.)

United-FedEx Baggage Shipping Service Saves Money, Hernias

Posted October 29, 2008 by Zak Patten

Fedex One of the biggest hassles for air travelers today is dealing with baggage. It's always been a "drag" to haul a huge broken-wheeled suitcase across a parking lot, but lost luggage remains a problem, and most carriers have instituted fees, even for first-checked bags. That's why United's new partnership with Federal Express is so welcome. Rather than having to schlep your bags to and from the airport at both ends of a trip, FedEx will swing by your home or office, collect your bags, and deliver them to your destination within 24 hours. Prices for this service start at $149 each way.

Back when United began charging for checked bags, BookingBuddy blogger Heather Gilbert took it rather hard, attributing a personal packing crisis to the new policy. As she wrote in February, "I’ve never gone on vacation and actually worn all the clothes I’ve packed. Most of my clothes are simply an insurance policy meant to cover my various whims and 'what-ifs.'" This spring, her fellow blogger Nicki Krawczyk came up with the ingenious solution of wearing all of her clothes onboard: "That’s right: all four sweaters, three shirts, two pairs of jeans and two pairs of khakis. You’ll be warm and rather bulky, but since other people don’t seem to care about encroaching on your seat space, you can pay that back in full."

Perhaps such extreme measures aren't necessary anymore. United's new service isn't cheap, but it's highly competitive with more established luggage-shipping services. According to the Wall Street Journal, United will get your 50-pound suitcase from Santa Monica to Manhattan for $179 one-way, while the same service from Luggage Forward would run you $364, and Luggage Concierge would charge $333.

So maybe it's time to travel light. You can throw your laptop and a few snacks into a carry-on and head on over to the airport. Leave the heavy lifting for the experts.

(Photo: Perfect Flight)

AirTran Debuts Onboard Seat Upgrades

Posted October 22, 2008 by Zak Patten

Airtranbusinessclassseats Nothing is less smile-inducing than going to the movies and choosing a seat, only to realize it doesn't recline. Or maybe finding the remnants of someone's Cherry Coke and Junior Mints stuck to the floor where your feet are supposed to rest. For whatever reason, you feel no compunction about standing up and moving to a more appealing part of the theater. Would that it were so easy on flights! Well, with AirTran's new onboard upgrades to business class, a little of that movie magic may be coming to a plane near you.

AirTran, the low-fare carrier that was recently named the fourth-most-reliable airline by Forbes, has now begun offering $49 to $99 seat upgrades after passengers have already boarded. While most airlines routinely allow upgrading at check-in or the gate, AirTran's move puts upgrades where they have the most immediate appeal. Because you never crave a better seat more than when you're faced with any one or all of the following:

  • Trying to squeeze your adult-sized body into a space clearly made for a doll.
  • A hygienically challenged seatmate who may just fall asleep (and drool) on your shoulder.
  • The latest issue of SkyMall as your sole source of in-flight entertainment.
  • Having to shell out money for every little mediocre amenity, from a one-ounce bag of pretzels to half a can of Sprite or a mini-pillow.

For fifty or a hundred bucks it's not like you'll be getting a private cabin a la Singapore Airlines. But when you first stretch out your legs, take that sip of gin and tonic, and look at the person next to you (as opposed to on top of you), that economy-class frown will just melt away.

(Photo: Justin Cederholm/Airliners.Net)

Reader Feedback on Flight Attendants Reveals Different Experiences

Posted October 21, 2008 by Carl Unger

Airfirstclassmeal1About a month ago, my fellow blogger Zak Patten posted a piece about a New York Times reporter who went undercover as an American Airlines flight attendant. While the article and Zak's entry were interesting in and of themselves, a few of our readers chimed in with illuminating experiences of their own. What we found is a wide range of stories and opinions, much of which reflects the strained airline industry we're all dealing with.

Here's one reader's take: "They act like the passengers don't matter at all. If I'm sleeping in the aisle seat because it's 2am and we've been sitting on the runway for 7 hours, don't yell at the person in the window seat about a drink such that you obviously wake me up - have some common decency and speak softly. If you want to play with your bag that you brought on board, move it out of the way so I can get to the bathroom - I'm the passenger and you're the service professional. It's your job to do everything you can to make my life easier. I couldn't care less about their personal issues - they should pop some pills and shape up."

A flight attendant posted as well, lending a voice to the other side: "Sometimes the people who sit in first class, esp. the women become so taken with themselves that frequently they never look you in the eye when you take their order. And worse than that they get their male companion to order for them never giving any acknowledgment of my presence. Do you think I'm going to knock myself out to serve that person-think again."

One reader offers a tip that will make flight attendants' lives easier: "One of the best ways to help them and all passengers is: No carry ons. Faster boarding and esp. faster getting off the filled aircraft. Big deal another 10 minutes to get your suitcase when leaving." Still, others are just plain frustrated with flight attendants in general: "It would be nice to have flight attendants at least START with a nice attitude."

Finally, another flight attendant posted a sobering paragraph, reminding us all to keep things in perspective: "When someone is screaming in your face because their vegetarian meal did not get on, or they may have to check the bag, or they forgot diapers, (you know this is all our fault by the way) I calmly take a breath and think of the thousands that died on 9/11 and realize how insignificant all these little issues are. What customers do forget is we are the ones that will get your *&#% off a burning airplane and we will put you before ourselves, because that is how we are trained so if you don't get that extra drink in the timely manner you are so accustomed to, maybe we're giving oxygen to someone who actually needs us, or we are checking to make sure you are in a safe environment. I personally apologize for any rude behavior on any stew's part and really there is no excuse, sometimes we just lower ourselves to that level when someone is spitting in our face about really insignificant issues"

Want to jump in on the discussion? We'd love to hear what you think, so leave a comment below.

The Second Most Important Vote

Posted October 16, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Listen, we all know what your number-one-most-important voting activity should be. (You've noticed those two guys on TV who keep messing up your viewing of The Office? Pick one of them to lead your nation.) But it’s the second-most-important voting activity that some people seem to be missing out on.

Last month, my esteemed colleague reported on this blog that our sister site, TripAdvisor, is planning to donate $1 million to one of five worthy charities, as chosen by a vote from the community at large.

Super; many of you have already voted. But … many of you have not. And many of your friends and family haven’t voted either. Here’s the thing, I’m not going to try to guilt you into taking 30 seconds and clicking a button to send a million bucks to help sick children or animals on the brink of extinction (Oops! Sorry, guilt is a reflex.), but I will make one little point: This is eeeeeeasy philanthropy. I know that you felt bad every time you nodded your head, mumbled, and shuffled past the fresh-faced youngsters collecting money for their candidate of choice. No worries, the 20 bucks you would have tossed in the coffer for your favorite politico ain’t nothing compared to the one million big ones you could be helping to give away.

So, vote. Vote now in this handy dandy little widget. Then, tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell your coworkers. Tell that certain someone you’ve had your eye on and he/she will be impressed and attracted by your selflessness. Possibly. But it’s worth a shot, right?

Just vote.

A Day in the Life of Southwest Cargo

Posted October 14, 2008 by Carl Unger

Imagine yourself in Baltimore, that grand old seafaring city, ready to sit down to a plate of Maryland's trademark dish—crab. You must be excited! After all, you've traveled all this way, right? Well guess what—so has your crab.

Well, maybe. I'm sure plenty of crab served in Maryland does, in fact, come from Maryland and its environs, and that crab is likely to be clearly labeled on your menu. But the fact is that some crab served in Maryland comes from Texas. And it flies Southwest.

This fascinating (not, I hope, only to geeks like me) video chronicles the journey of a crab shipment from Houston to Baltimore aboard a Southwest flight. Along the way we meet the folks who make Southwest's cargo business run, and get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on. Check it out:

If you're like me, you're asking yourself a few questions right now. These questions could be: How do the crabs not perish/stink up the cargo hold? Personally, I'm flummoxed by this. Second, cardboard boxes? Really? Third, what was that random shot of water around 1:22? Or was it ice?

Anyway, thank you, Southwest, for this enlightening insight into the worlds of cargo shipping and traditional Maryland cuisine.

Continental Offers Manhattan Chopper Service For Regular Joes

Posted October 10, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Ushelicopternewyork In my experience, it’s been mostly high-rolling corporate tycoons who have ready access to helicopters. Donald Trump. Steve Jobs. Lex Luthor. But now, to make up for insanely bad cab lines and followed by crazy-long rides, Continental is offering helicopter rides between Newark Liberty International Airport and Manhattan for a mere 45 bucks.

With a major Wall Street meltdown going on and a degree in finance no longer worth the bearer’s weight in gold, there are going to be some big changes in the big cities. Friends, it’s time for the little guy to start living large.

Even before your helicopter ride, plan to take advantage of head-honcho perks as you fly to Newark: All of those first- and and business-class seats that used to be taken up by traders and analysts and fund managers are pretty certain to be open and available. And when no one’s there to fill them, the price is sure to go down; that’s just simple supply and demand. (Thank you, Ben Bernanke.) Heck, if the airline tanks, the FED might have to bail them out, too, and, as a taxpayer, you’ll own those seats! Nice.

So then you’ll land in Newark, saunter over to the helipad, and take your big-shot ride into the Isle of Manhattan. And where are you going to go once you’re there? Forget Midtown, forget SoHo – get yourself down to Wall Street. It’s a ghost town! All of those high-end sushi places and $80-steak joints are going to be giving that stuff away. I’m willing to bet bargaining tactics will get you pretty far, too. As in, “My bill comes to $175. How’s about I give you $26.50?”

The middle class is rising to the top! Which may sound historically familiar, but this is waaaaay better than Communism because you’ll actually get to enjoy the bourgeois benefits instead of decrying them and moving to the tundra to raise potatoes. And stay tuned, because if things stay shaky overseas, there’s bound to be a little class disruption over there, too. Want to take a trip to London? Great, because if things continue as they have, Buckingham Palace might just be available for rent. Pip pip!

Airlines to Block Porn Viewing Via Onboard Wi-Fi

Posted October 8, 2008 by Zak Patten

Technologyonboardlaptops It may have taken awhile to get off the ground (pun intended), but the dream of in-flight Wi-Fi is fast becoming a reality. Most of the major U.S. airlines—including American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, and Virgin America—are now online in the skies to some degree. The only problem is: Airplanes are public places, and the Internet is chock-full of smut. But rest assured, the airlines are handling the situation in a balanced way.

Whatever prurient websites you may enjoy in the privacy of your own home is your business. But when you're innocently looking up soup recipes on your laptop in 18A and your neighbor in 18B is salivating on his keyboard, someone has to step in. With American and Delta both offering the Gogo service from Aircell, it's not surprising these two airlines have decided to ask Aircell to include porn-blocking software in Gogo. (Presumably the airlines are installing Wi-Fi on their planes to bring in extra revenue, so it would be interesting to see if any of the carriers is tempted to offer an "upgraded" service whereby the porn-blocking software is turned off. Only in first class, of course.) I'm assuming the other carriers will follow suit.

There's no word yet on what actions airlines will take to stop passengers from viewing illicit photos or videos stored on their hard drives, but my guess is flight attendants who see computers displaying such imagery will confiscate the offending machines faster than you can say "first amendment."

One issue lost in this debate is the privacy of those who aren't looking at dirty pictures. While some of the people surfing on the plane may want to share the contents of their computers with you, you may not want your fellow travelers watching you conduct online banking transactions or writing that break-up email to the person you just left behind at the airport.

I'd rate this latest move by airlines to maintain an air of civility in the cabin as neither too permissive nor too draconian. It won't be a cybercafe in Amsterdam's red-light district, but it won't be North Korea either.

(Photo: Mike Liu/iStockphoto)

AirTran, JetBlue, and Southwest Among Most Reliable Airlines

Posted October 1, 2008 by Carl Unger

Forbes.com recently released a report on what it considers to be the most reliable airlines in the industry. Southwest came out on top, with JetBlue third and AirTran fourth—meaning low-cost carriers (LCCs) took three of the top four spots on the list, ahead of all the "big" airlines except for Continental, which placed second.

Airtran_2 In short: LCCs rock.

Here's how Forbes came up with the list. The website "collected five years' worth of data relating to on-time arrival, cancellations, complaints and mishandled baggage from the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the Department of Transportation. Delays and cancellations, the factors most likely to ruin a flier's day, were given double weight." Forbes also included rankings from J.D. Power and Associates' consumer satisfaction reports, and factored in each airline's financial strength.

The result, as I mentioned above, puts Southwest firmly on top overall, as well as in several individual categories (particularly punctuality and cancelations). AirTran was the best at not losing its passengers' luggage, while JetBlue fared very well in customer-service topics.

What makes this list interesting is that LCCs, while typically successful from a price standpoint, and in some cases known for their customer service, don't necessarily have a reputation for good performance. After all, Forbes prefaces its own results by writing, "Budget carriers aren't always considered smooth-running operations offering a consistent level of service." As this report shows, however, the LCCs are doing more than holding their own in the hostile, turbulent airline industry.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

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