December 2008

Top 10 News Stories (Okay, Blog Posts) of 2008

Posted December 31, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Newyearsclock Gather ‘round, ye friends and neighbors, as 2008 draws to a hasty close. We shall now take a moment to reflect upon the departing annum and remember what was most important to us all throughout the year. Obviously, I’m talking about BookingBuddy Blog posts.

Here at the BookingBuddy offices, we’ve filled our cups of wassail, nog, and grog and toasted together in glad tidings as we perused our posts for the year. Read on, goodly reader, and enjoy our Top 10 Countdown of the Best Posts of 2008.

10. In a mere 20 days, we’ll get a new president. So, ask not what you can do for your president, but what your president can do for air travel. We had a few ideas.

9. Good news for some, bad news for skeevy old men? Nanoseconds after airlines announce they’ll be offering Wi-Fi, they also announce that they’ll be blocking porn.

8. High-speed trains could move at the speed of light! Okay, not really&elips;but only slightly slower: Potentially 300 miles per hour. Frickin’ awesome.

7. A new age for crime dawns when a couple steals 5,000 airplane tickets. The kicker? She worked for Southwest, he was a bailiff at the Bexar County Justice Center, and his coworkers were customers. Classy.

6. What’s better than being strapped into a seat for two-and-a-half hours? Being strapped in there and getting all jacked up on energy drinks. This dubious plan comes courtesy of Southwest, whose new slogan may be "We crave overstimulated passengers."

5. This was not a big year for refinement and class, especially in the airline advertising category. Remember Spirit’s "We’re Having a Threesome" Sale?

4. When journalists go undercover as flight attendants, it’s like 21 Jump Street for the airline industry with all the excitement and agony of a prime-time drama. Tune in.

3. It may be the final frontier, but that’s not stopping Sir Richard Branson. The gazillionaire makes plans to launch you (or a richer version of you) into space with Virgin Galactic space tourism.

2. The lips that launched a thousand [air]ships. Delta makes safety videos strangely steamy with a pair of luscious lips and a rather naughty finger wave.

1. You read it, you marveled at it, you puzzled over it, and you sent it to friends but not necessarily to your parents. That’s right all, I’m talking about the absolute, A-Number-One, Best Travel Story and Trend of 2008: Nakations.

Happy New Year from all of us at BookingBuddy. May 2009 bring plenty of travel lunacy and mayhem for us all to enjoy.

(Photo: thejudopodcast.com)

Viva Las Vegas … Or Not

Posted December 30, 2008 by Carl Unger

Crapstable_2 Passenger traffic at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport has declined for 13 consecutive months, including a nearly 15 percent drop in November compared to November 2007. Among the airlines seeing a precipitous falloff in passengers this year is none other than Southwest, far and away the biggest presence at McCarran. US Airways, for its part, took the biggest hit in November, with a whopping 31.4 percent drop in traffic.

So what the heck is going on? Do you really have to ask? It's the economy, man. We've been in a recession for a year already, so naturally people are going to stop spending money to fly to a city designed to take more of it

Of course, with falling demand comes falling prices. Southwest (did I mention it's the numero uno carrier serving Las Vegas?) launched a 50-percent-off sale to Sin City, good through early March. What bad economy? 

But seriously, as is the case around the country, falling demand forces airlines to slash prices, which results in deals for folks like you and me. So if Vegas is your thing, now's the time to go. Just stay away from the craps table, okay?

(Photo: netcasinolinks.com)

U.S. Airlines' Top Christmas Gifts to Customers

Posted December 24, 2008 by Zak Patten

Christmasgifts 'Tis the season for delays, storm-caused cancelations, capacity cuts, and a poor economy that makes "normal" airfares feel like extravagances. But Instead of being a griping Grinch, I'm thinking Christmas Eve is the perfect day to spread some good cheer about travel. So read on for some of this year's best gifts, from U.S. airlines to passengers like you and me.

First off is everyone's favorite carrier from the frozen north (maybe they have an in with Santa?). Alaska Airlines is full of charitable goodwill, donating more than 80,000 lbs. of food to food banks in Seattle and Portland (Oregon) this year.

Further south, American and Continental are doing something nice for their tech-loving passengers by offering paperless boarding passes. What's a paperless boarding pass, you ask? It's a bar code sent to your mobile phone or PDA that is simply scanned at check-in. Just don't lose that phone!

Those among you who actually want to go somewhere on one of these airlines may appreciate Delta's gift of new routes. The Atlanta-based airline will be flying to Australia and Brazil, as well as the island of Tobago in 2009. Happy New Year!

JetBlue is paying special attention to the good little boys and girls of Boston (where I'm writing this entry) in the form of lots of new daily flights. With American also in the giving spirit, Beantown will soon have more connections to domestic cities including Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, and St. Louis. New flights to London and Paris are also on order.

Last, but certainly not least, Southwest is giving perhaps the greatest gift of all: nothing. This past year may one day be known as the "Year of the Airline Fee," but it won't be because of Southwest, which has still not instituted any new baggage fees in 2008. If you happen to be flying the LUV airline this Christmas, that means you can pack all those presents in your suitcase … for free.

And so the weather outside may be frightful, but that's no reason to say "Bah, humbug!" this holiday season. You've read my list of U.S. airlines' top holiday gifts. What have I missed? Please leave a comment below and let me know. And to all a good night!

(Photo: Cow's Life)

'Tis The Season to … Sue An Airline?

Posted December 23, 2008 by Carl Unger

Lawsuit_2 The Times of London reports that a man is suing United Airlines for serving him too much wine, which led him to drunkenly quarrel with his wife after they landed—obviously United's fault. Elsewhere, a man is suing British Airways for "hurt feelings" after the airline fired him (and then reinstated him) for stealing 12 small bottles of whisky. He claims he simply forgot to pay for them.

I'm only halfway done with my mail-order law degree, so I can't really tell you if these cases will actually hold water. But the theme here, if you haven't already guessed it, is people suing airlines for absolutely preposterous reasons. The Times has a list of other ridiculous lawsuits, including a woman in Sweden who sued a local airline for freezing the family hamsters, and a man who sued (and lost) after British Airways booted him from a plane because he was, to put it politely, malordorous. The Times also threw together a fake lawsuit, so see if you can pick it out (hint: it's not the hamsters).

What are some of the more ridiculous airline lawsuits you've come across? People suing for emotional distress due to subpar airline food? Severe trauma from a horrible in-flight movie? Leave a comment below and share your favorite!

(Photo: zdistrict.com)

Southwest Marks 10 Years of E-News You Can Use

Posted December 18, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Spamguy Dear Esteemed Friend,

Please pardon the intrusion into your life today. I would not dare to bother you but for a tremendous problem that I hope you, in your great generosity and kindness, will be able to assist me with. I am legal counsel for the fourth son and of the King of Addis Ababa, who is heir to $48 bajillion dollars currently held in a bank in Norway. For allowing us to transfer that money to your account…

I get a lot of those emails. I also get a lot of them from banks with which I do not hold accounts, several from people selling "Rolex" watches for $19.99, and many, many offers to help me "make action in the bed all the time you want." Um … thanks.

Proportionally, what I don’t get a lot of is emails with information that’s actually helpful. With that in mind, I think we should all take a moment to give thanks for a relatively unique phenomenon that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year: Southwest’s Click’N Save e-newsletter. This little decade-old dynamo packs the double-punch of being a verified useful newsletter as well as offering exclusive airline deals before anyone else. Hot darn!

Imagine, if you will, an inbox that’s filled not with emails for illicit prescription medication and questionable websites but, instead, with offers and information about things you might actually want to buy! You would never have to return to your computer after a day away and wade through 347 emails. I, similarly, would never again have to wonder why my friend Carla, who is supposed to be in Portland, emails that she is instead in the Philippines and needs me to wire her $3,000 to get her passport back from a corrupt hotel owner. And, if you were my friend, you would never have to get eight emails from me that day asking, “Wait, are you sure it’s not from her? What if it is?” and answer, to each of them, patiently, “No, it’s not from her. I’m really sure. Really, really sure. Let it go.”

<sigh>

Could such a dream ever come to fruition? I truly do not know. I the meantime, we’ll all just have to look wistfully into the distance … and then turn back to our computers and open the emails from Southwest.

(Photo: elilabs.com)

JetBlue Goes to the Dogs (and Cats)

Posted December 17, 2008 by Carl Unger

JetBlue recently launched JetPaws, a new travel service that is pet "fur-iendly." (I swear I did not come up with that! It's from JetBlue's press release!)  OK, so what does JetPaws provide, you might ask?

PettravelOn the surface, it doesn't look like JetPaws is much more than a new branding initiative for JetBlue's existing pet policy, which consists of a $100 each-way fee for small dogs and cats in the cabin (JetBlue apparently doesn't allow animals in the cargo hold). But there are benefits to the new service.

JetPaws will kick in two TrueBlue points each way when you travel with your pet, which is a nice perk. Other than that, customers receive a pet carrier bag tag, which, JetBlue says, will "let everyone know your pet is ready to jet," as well as Travel Petiquette, "a handy list of JetBlue's social graces of pet travel." JetBlue will also send you a welcome email with information and tips for your upcoming flight, and the airline has a free pet travel guide available for download on its site.

From there, it gets kitschy. JetBlue is selling trademarked pet travel gear, including a Pet Carrier and a Pet Travel Kit, which includes a fleece blanket, a white rubber bone toy, and a 16-ounce bowl emblazoned with the JetPaws logo. And, for the four-legged passenger that wants to display some JetBlue love, the airline has dog-sized  polo shirts and hoodies sporting the JetBlue logo and cute phrases like "JetWag" and "I only beg for Blue Chips." Seriously.

I'm a pet owner (the cutest dog and cat you ever did see), so I'm glad JetBlue is making pet travel seem more like a service than a hassle, even though my dog is too large to fly the JetBlue skies. And JetBlue does seem to have its heart in the right place by making (small) pets welcome aboard its planes. But JetBlue Doggie Polo shirts? I draw the line at dog clothes. I mean, small dogs in funny clothes are cute and all … the way they waddle around looking sort of confused … adorably confused … you know, I bet my dog would look cute in one of these … and Christmas is around the corner, so—wait! What am I saying? No clothes for dogs! No!

But good job otherwise, JetBlue. A well-deserved wag of the proverbial tail to you.

What do you think? Is JetPaws a step forward for travelers with pets, or just clever marketing? And would you get your little canine friend a JetBlue hoodie? Don't be shy

(Photo: Flickr)

The Very Best and Very Worst of Air Travel Today

Posted December 11, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Facialexpression It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. While I can’t take credit for that opening line (props to you, Chuckie D!), I felt it was rather appropriate for today’s post. We’ve come to a point in air travel history when there’s never been so much potential for things to work out really, really, well. (I heard that scoff; bear with me for a moment.)Technology, security, weather predictions, pilot and flight attendant safety, and, well, in-flight entertainment options have never been better.

Indeed, things used to be not-so-hot in the air travel sector. Heck, it wasn’t even until the early ‘70s that all passengers were screened for firearms before boarding. Better yet, hijackings of U.S. planes used to be so common that the Cuban Government sold $30 sandwiches to the passengers who had been diverted to Havana airport. (The State Department picked up the tab.) Nowadays, we’ve got a better handle on issues of this ilk. And, as if that weren’t good enough, airlines have also figured out more ways to cater to our needs than just protecting us from sandwich-wielding Cubans. Briefly, I’ll call to your attention the special swankiness of some airlines, new routes being added as needed, seat upgrades, and numerous other things. Hey, air travel isn’t so bad!

Ooo, then there’s the other side of the coin. On which things sometimes look an eensy, weensy, bit lousy. On-time arrivals and departures are at a low, frequent flyer charges are up, airline fees continue to climb, and, depending on who you talk to, it either sucks to deal with flight attendants or to be one. (I’m simplifying a long argument here; I’ve dealt with many fantastic flight attendants. Please don’t remember my name and make me sit in the bulkhead.)

To paraphrase Mr. Dickens, there’s a whole load of good and a whole load of bad. Personally, I sat on a plane on the tarmac at Boston’s Logan Airport on and off (mostly on) for nine hours only to then have my flight canceled. Thumbs down. However, I’ve had Midwest ticketing agents hunt me down and finagle new flights for me without being asked just because they noticed that I’d have trouble making a connecting flight. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

So, my question for you is: What have been your best and worst experiences with air travel? Please leave your answer in the comment field below.

(Photo: linguistics.berkeley.edu)

JetBlue Partners With LimoRes.net to Offer Luxury Car Service

Posted December 9, 2008 by Zak Patten

Limousines Whoever thought a low-cost airline would pair up with a high-end car service that specializes in limousines? Isn't that like a frog trying to kiss a princess? In this case, not exactly. As we all know, JetBlue is not exactly a no-frills airline, even if it does operate on a low-cost business model. And its new partner LimoRes.net appeals to clients who may actually shine their own shoes (at least once in awhile).

The tie-up will allow passengers to book ground transportation through LimoRes on jetblue.com/cars with "exclusive savings." And LimoRes will be in place at most of the carrier's destinations, including Boston, Fort Lauderdale, L.A./Long Beach, New York City, Orlando, and Washington, D.C./Dulles. But is this really a good fit? I think so.

Everyone's favorite airline may generate a lot of buzz among bargain hunters, but its snazzy new terminal featuring elegant cuisine at New York's JFK airport is sure to please Wall Street's superstar traders (thanks, bailout!) at the same time.

On the automotive side of this deal, LimoRes offers a wide variety of upscale rides, from the Lincoln Town Car to Mercedes limos and even behemoths like Hummer stretches (after all, gas is cheap again). And instead of getting a cabbie, you get a chauffeur. The two could be brothers, but if you're gonna pay for a limo, you know you want the driver with the white gloves. And LimoRes isn't just some Big Apple firm—there are apparently locations in 5,000 airports throughout 172 countries. It's the perfect big-time car service for the big shot in you.

OK, you see how amazing the service is, but now you're thinking, "with the economy crashing down, is this really the time for such extravagances?" Well, this is where we see that JetBlue and LimoRes might not be that different after all. Both offer a top-notch product while simultaneously keeping budget-conscious travelers in mind. JetBlue has all kinds of $49 sales and even LimoRes is offering a "2008 Recession Discount" that features 15 percent off online bookings. And their lowest rates aren't all that bad—just $32 from LaGuardia to midtown Manhattan (though that's probably not for rides in a stretch Escalade).

It could be a fairy-tale ending after all.

What do you think? Will you splurge for a LimoRes car and driver the next time you fly JetBlue? Leave a comment below and let me know.

(Photo: Orlando Limo)

Singapore Airlines Is Best in the World

Posted December 3, 2008 by Carl Unger

Singaporeairlinesfirstclass For the fifth consecutive year, readers of Global Traveler named Singapore Airlines the best carrier in the world. According to GT, "It is no wonder the esteemed carrier is a consistent favorite among our readers. The innovative airline continually upgrades its product to meet the demands of its passengers. In 2008 Singapore Airlines introduced a new business-class seat—the industry’s largest fully flat bed features in-seat power outlets, USB ports, a 15.4-inch LCD TV screen and more."

Of course, saying Singapore's business class makes it the world's best airline is like saying Richard Branson's ultra-private Necker Island resort is the world's top hotel: I'm sure both are great, and I'm sure the dozen or so people that can afford either love the service, but what about the rest of us?

Enter Air Canada. The carrier from up north took the honors as Best Airline in North America (and Best Airline in Canada). Global Traveler wrote, "With programs like On My Way, a service designed to ease complications due to cancellations and delays, Air Canada proves ensuring its customers’ wellbeing is a top priority."

What about our domestic carriers? American won Best Airline for Domestic First Class. And that's about it. Slow clap, everyone.

When surveys like this come out, it's always fun to ask people to share their thoughts on it. Do you agree with the selections? If not, which airlines would you pick? Leave a comment below with your choices. Thanks

(Photo: Singapore Airlines)

Spirit Pilot Starts Flight School, Will Airline's Unique Style Follow?

Posted December 2, 2008 by Zak Patten

Flight_training We learn a lot from the places we work.  And that can serve us well throughout our careers. But we can also pick up some of the stranger aspects of our workplaces. Which is why I'm curious about ProFlight Training Academy, the new flight school started by Ron Jung, who, according to The Jackson Citizen Patriot, has "spent a decade as a pilot for Spirit Airlines." Will Jung's new venture employ the locker-room-style advertising and hyperactive marketing Spirit has championed? Will the school offer ridiculously cheap courses to match Spirit's penny-pinching fares? More to the point, can you take the pilot out of Spirit Airlines without taking the Spirit Airlines out of the pilot?

As for ads, I wonder how a flight school could work some of Spirit's fare sale names like "M.I.L.F." and "Threesome" into its pitches. Perhaps the latter could be a special deal&mash;you and a fellow student and your flight instructor could take to the skies together. Just one of you would be flying the plane, but at least you'd be up there, and maybe Jung would you give the non-pilot a discount. I'm not crazy about the idea of handing over the controls in midair, and I hope Jung wouldn't be either.

Spirit made a bit of a splash in the fall when it introduced advertising "on seat backs, window shades, overhead bins, tray tables, and drink carts." How might this translate for the ProFlight Academy? Well, while you're up there learning how to keep yourself up there, Jung could decide it was a good time to tell you about the benefits of a new car from a local dealership or why you should really consider Lipitor. I'd prefer he focus more on actually teaching you to fly, but if the "Spirit" of marketing saturation compels him, you are a captive audience and he might feel like bringing in just a bit more revenue on that particular flight.

No doubt some vulgar ads and lots of sales pitches would be in keeping with Spirit's ways, but nothing would call to mind Jung's airline employer more than if he goes rock-bottom on prices. Spirit's deals are certainly eye-catching, with their one-cent fares and the like. I even recall Spirit <em>paying you</em> to fly, though you were still responsible for taxes and fees. To live up to this obsession with price points, Jung should rename his ProFlight Training Academy the "CheapFlight Saving Academy." That would get some attention. As would cut-rate classes. Instead of charging the $160 per hour (his current rate), Jung might slash that to 160 <em>cents</em> per hour. Who doesn't want to learn to fly for less than the price of a Starbucks latte?

Only time will tell if ProFlight is to become the Spirit Airlines of flight schools. But if Ron Jung has learned  anything from his old bosses (besides how to fly a plane), expect something a little shocking.

(Photo: ProFlight Training Academy)


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