January 2009

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Posted January 30, 2009 by Katie Blais


Even though most people in my neck of the woods stopped watching football after the Pats went home—thanks a lot, New York—it's Super Bowl Sunday this weekend and there is no better excuse to gather with friends to enjoy some buffalo wings along with many other artery-clogging delicacies before heading into work Monday feeling a little under the weather.

For sports fans stuck at 30,000 feet during the big game, you can still get your Super Bowl on, if you happen to be flying JetBlue that is. You can catch the game, watch the Boss perform at halftime, and not miss a single zany commercial, thanks to JetBlue's 36 channels of in-flight entertainment. They are even throwing in something "super" special, offering passengers (of legal age, obviously) a game-day-themed drink with a little help from Stirrings Cocktail Mixers. Chose from a Steel Swizzle, Yellow Rush, Tumbleweed, or Shake your Tail Feather … it's a regular cocktail lounge in the cabin. If only you can find someplace to plug in a crock pot of pigs in a blanket and don't get stuck sitting next to an obnoxious fan from the opposing team.

If you want to spice up your Super Bowl party at ground level, here’s the recipe for Shake Your Tail Feather:

1 part Stirrings® Cosmopolitan Mixer
1 part Bacardi® Rum
 Splash of Ginger Ale

Got any of your own favorite Super Bowl drink (or food) recipes? Please share them in the comment field below.

Southwest Airlines Wants to “Friend” You

Posted January 29, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

SouthwestOnFacebook Tell me, do you tweet? Perhaps, instead, you flickr. Or are you a YouTuber? A Facebooker? A MySpacer? Maybe you’re just, oh, say, familiar with blogs. (Ding-ding-ding!) How new media-savvy of you. Tell me, while you’ve been out there, navigating through cyberspace, have you happened to come across a little company called Southwest Airlines? If you haven’t, you will and they’ll make sure of it.

Southwest is one of the only airlines to have taken advantage of the unique marketing opportunities that Web 2.0 has to offer. Regular posts on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and LinkedIn plus a rather popular in-house blog has put this airline right in front of your eyes in places you might not normally expect to see it. They’d love to get their cute little icon nestled right in there on your friend list, between those thumbnail pics of Katie from high school and Jim from college. And, as the end result, they’re hoping for a hefty dose of popularity and some bottom line-helping bucks.

The operating premise is that the better you get to know a brand and the more personal it feels to you, the more likely you are to spend your money on it. When one brand of toothpaste makes a concerted effort to introduce you to the names and faces behind each squeezable tube, they think you’ll feel more solidarity to this brand than to another.

In this economy, whether you can (or would) get to the point of saying, “Well, Airline X has this flight for a little cheaper, but I just love Southwest! I’m going to book with them!” is a make-or-break budget question. I’ll be honest with you: I’m a sucker for experience. I’d rather shop at a store that has a nice atmosphere and salespeople I enjoy talking with than somewhere with the same merchandise and a slightly less-pleasing ambiance. Maybe that makes me a fool. Maybe that’s what’s making me broke. Anyway, I’m fairly certain that if I came across enough of Southwest’s social media marketing, I’d probably fall in love: Hook, line, and sinker.

We know two things for sure: the first is that Southwest is one of the most beloved airlines in the industry. And the second? That Southwest is doing some award-winning relationship-building work. The question is: To what degree are the two related? How much does getting to know your airlines matter to you? Southwest is betting: A lot. Leave a comment below and let me know.

Offset Your Carbon In-Flight With Virgin America

Posted January 26, 2009 by Katie Blais

Carbon-offset-2Ah the basic worries of air travel … will I get stuck next to some overzealous talker with horrible breath for the next five hours? Will the in-flight entertainment be Air Bud 2? Is my luggage going to get lost … again? Will this plane ride from Tucson to Chicago up my carbon footprint? Well ,thanks to Virgin America, at least my green heart can rest easy. The low-cost carrier has teamed up with Carbonfund.org to be the first airline ever to allow passengers to offset their flights all from the comfort of a cozy window seat.

Virgin’s super-cool touch-screen entertainment system, Red, gets even cooler. Punch in your credit card info and it calculates the emissions your trip is producing, you know all that gas and smog you see out your window when you’re stuck sitting next to the engine. Your donation to Carbonfund.org helps to provide funding for such environmentally friendly projects like reforestation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

An average cross-country trip—let’s say BookingBuddy’s home base of Boston to L.A. —only costs about $10, which I think is about the same price as those tiny bottles of vodka you can buy onboard—an easy sacrifice to help save the planet!

Other airlines are also jumping on the green train, er plane. Don’t forget about JetBlue’s green plan when you’re weighing your eco-options.

(Photo: HowStuffWorks)

US Airways and More Have Super Bowl Flights ... for a Price

Posted January 22, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

Tickets Arizona football fans, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. First, the bad news: Fares for nonstop flights to Tampa from Arizona and back are up. Way up. If you can even find any by the time you read this story. For Friday arrival in Tampa and a Monday return to Phoenix, US Airways has flights from $1,323 and $1,747. If you don’t mind hanging out in an airport, oh, overnight for a stopover, you can get a flight on Continental from $527. American will offer you significantly less stopover time, but to the tune of $1,214 and up. (I should also point out that these prices and availability are accurate at the time of writing this story. Thereafter, you’re on your own, kids.)

OK, now for the good news: The economic laws of supply and demand are still in full force! Wait, wait, this really is good news; bear with me for a sec. These prices have gone up because more people want to take these flights. But, by those same laws, prices go way down when the flights aren’t as popular. When these same airlines offer flights for 60 bucks, we’re happy, right? Economically, it’s a good thing that airlines are still raising prices while the demand is high and lowering prices while the demand is low.

But, of course, if you don’t have a nice chunk of change to set aside for one of these flights, this good economic news might not adequately cheer you. Therefore, I’ll offer a few ideas for alternate means of travel.

Drive. Unemployment is up, but gas prices are down! Rent a car or take your own and, even with a night or two in a hotel, it’ll probably net out cheaper than a flight.

Walk. You could scarcely ask for a more pleasant trek than Phoenix to Tampa in the winter. Why, Northerners wish they could enjoy such a pleasant jaunt.

Bicycle. Looking to whittle that waist per your New Year’s resolution? Hop on a bike and burn some serious cross-country calories.

Take a bus. No, I’m just kidding; no one likes the bus.

Pretend. The real Tampa may just not be an option for you. But don’t despair! You’ve still got a TV, right? Well, fill the bathtub with saltwater, pop a couple of construction paper palm trees on your rec room walls and throw on a pair of black socks under your sandals. Presto! Instant Tampa Super Bowl weekend, right in the comfort of your very own home. Sure, it’s not the ideal, but it’s definitely a solution: Skip the plane ride, pass the nachos, and go, team, go.

(Photo: current.com)

American Airlines Gets All up in Your Business

Posted January 16, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

LookingAhead As they themselves will readily admit, American Airlines is getting personal. But not in the “What’s your sign, baby?” kind of way; more in the “Hey, you live in Boston? Fella, have I got some Boston deals fuh you!” And, despite how I make it sound, that turns out to be pretty darn helpful.

Good old American has begun personalizing their emails to, among other things, offer subscribers more relevant deals, highlighting great prices on flights from the subscriber’s hometown or cities near that hometown. This should help to significantly cut down on post-click disappointment (“$4 flights???” Click. “Oh, $4 if you’re flying from Estonia”). And, to do my full service to you, I should mention that they’re also running something called the Travel Brain Sweepstakes, featuring a grand prize of 250,000 AAdvantage Miles, a trip for two to a deluxe resort, and $5,000 cash. Why “Travel Brain,” you ask? No idea. None at all. It kind of sounds like a game, don’t you think? Or perhaps a threat to implant a microchip into your frontal lobe to track your airline preferences.

I digress.

I think it’s important to applaud American Airlines for making their emails more personal (read: useful) for us. I think it’s also important to take a step further and supply/inundate them with other personalization opportunities, because many, oh many, exist.

For example, I live in perpetual fear of being caught somewhere with nothing to read, so I prepare for any flight by packing at least three books and three magazines, just on the not-so-off chance that a two-hour flight will turn into 12 hours on the tarmac. The downside is that I suffer from having to carry these books and magazines along with my laptop and other travel necessities. Could an airline, instead, offer to tuck a book and magazine of my choice into the seat pocket of my seat before I board for the price of the book (discount Amazon price) and a $1 fee? Sure. Would I pay it? Probably. Do any airlines do this? Nope.

My other fear is that I’ll be trapped somewhere with nothing to eat. I may have lived through a famine in a past life because the very idea of being stuck somewhere, hungry, with no access to food makes me want to scream and cry and shake and moan. Out of consideration for my fellow passengers, I aim not to let this occur by packing a whooooooole bunch of protein bars, snack crackers, nut mixes, etc. Instead, perhaps an airline could offer the option to choose and purchase a snack ahead of time and have it delivered to me during the flight. Again, I’d pay a 50-cent fee. Who am I kidding—for food? I’d give up my firstborn.

And for those airplanes that have a built-in TV screen in the seat in front of you? How about letting you choose from any number of movies? They could set up a deal with Netflix to pull something from your queue or even a proprietary deal with film studios to see movies during regular release. Would I pay for that? You mean, would I pay to avoid having to choose between that latest slapstick box-office bomb and teenie-bopper romance flick? Yes. Yes, please. Yes. Yes.

This is just the beginning. I can see a whole realm of personalization options just waiting to be explored. Heck, if Starbucks can call me by name for a $4 latte, an airline can call me by name for a $400 seat. You want to get personal with me, American Airlines? OK! Start with personalizing my emails, progress with personalizing my experience.

United to Launch In-Flight Internet Service This Year

Posted January 15, 2009 by Zak Patten

Aircell-gogo-logo "Fashionably late." It's a cliche, but when you're attending a party, it's always better to be sure you won't arrive while your host is still showering. United Airlines seems to be banking on similar feelings from its passengers when it comes to in-flight Internet service, which the carrier has just announced it will boot up on "p.s." transcontinental flights between New York and California later this year.

United isn't exactly sending shockwaves through the travel industry by teaming up with Aircell to operate that company's Gogo Wi-Fi service. As we saw back in November, five other U.S. airlines— American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, and Virgin America—have some level of onboard wireless Internet already, most of it Gogo.

United is only offering wireless on its p.s. flights, which come with more amenities and greater comfort in all classes of service, and it's charging a flat fee of $12.95 for the entire flight. The other airlines mentioned above have similarly restrictive Internet service for about the same price.

If United is simply sticking with the pack, and not getting a head start, what is its value proposition to the us? Well, if you're the type of passenger who wants to kick back in your comfy seat and log on to the Internet, maybe you're also chilled out enough to appreciate the airline's "fashionable" timing.

(Photo: TechCrunch)

The Joy of Winter Travel

Posted January 7, 2009 by Carl Unger

ContinentalaircraftinsnoThere's much to love about winter: the soundless cascade of snow outside your window, a weekend of skiing in the mountains, the childlike glee you feel when your office closes early due to weather. But there isn't much to love about winter travel, particularly if you're heading to or departing from a snowy locale. Who among us enjoys lugging a suitcase through ankle-deep slush or waiting in the airport as flights are delayed or canceled altogether? Despite these annoyances, there are some things you can do to make traveling in the winter a less stressful experience.

First, if bad weather is heading your way, check your airline's website (or call) to see if it will waive change fees during the storm. Most airlines will allow you to reschedule for free if weather is going to impact your itinerary (Continental did just this recently). If you're flexible, this will allow you to push off your travels until the storm has passed.

Second, pack wisely and think small, especially if you're heading to a cold-weather destination. Remember: Winter clothes, such as sweaters and heavy coats, are generally big and bulky. Dress in layers, bring warm socks, compress everything, and you may get it all into one suitcase (or even a carry-on!).

Third, arrive at the airport early. Yeah, you may spend an hour or two sitting around, but better to be early in case your flight is canceled or otherwise affected by weather. If you're worried about being bored, bring a book (preferably a long one—Anna Karenina should do the trick).

Winter travel doesn't have to be a nightmare, but let's face it: The chances are pretty good that it will be a nightmare, meaning preparation is key to maintaining your sanity. Take these tips, add a healthy dash of patience into the mix, and you should be OK.

(Photo: NJ.com)

Virgin Galactic to Base Spaceport America in New Mexico Desert

Posted January 6, 2009 by Zak Patten

Spaceportamerica I know I'm supposed to be a serious adult, and most of the time I am. But every now and then, especially when the topic of space travel comes up, the geeky eight-year-old in me perks up his Vulcan ears and marvels at the wonder of it all. And so it was when I read that Virgin Galactic, the commercial space-travel outfit headed by Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic mogul Sir Richard Branson, had settled on a launch site near Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

The site, to be known as Spaceport America, sounds like something out of The Jetsons, and judging by the "artist's renderings," which are the only view we have of the project now, it may look a lot like a Kennedy-era model for the space station of the future, albeit in the U.S. desert. And Virgin Galactic won't be the only tenant. UP Aerospace and Payload Specialties, as well as the tantalizingly named Rocket Racing League and Microgravity Enterprises will also be in residence. 

Once construction has been completed on Spaceport America, "the nation’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport," the fun can really begin. Apparently Virgin Galactic has quite the waiting list for its sub-orbital flights, with 45,000 registered "potential astronauts." I'm imagining the scene at the spaceport in about 2015—passengers gazing out at the launch pad, sipping Tang, and munching on freeze-dried ice cream. It'll probably be a few years before Spaceport America is merely one hub in the Virgin Galactic route network (the others of course being Spaceports Europe, Asia, the Moon, and perhaps Venus), but a "spaceline" has to start somewhere, right?

I'm feeling decades younger just writing about it. How about you? Are you excited enough about having a spaceport that you'll take a vacation in New Mexico just to see a launch or talk to an astronaut? Or are you waiting until the spacefare ($200,000 right now) comes back down to Earth? Please comment below and let me know.

(Image: Spaceport America)

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