Bagless passengers who don't need to vie for overhead-bin space—and
thus, likely don't care when they board—will now get to board before
those with carry-on bags. Isn't it ironic.
Today, American announced that it will allow flyers with just one
personal item that will fit under a plane seat (like a purse or tote
bag) to board early. Passengers traveling light will get on the plane
with group two, the section that boards right after elite flyers.
Virtually no one flies without any luggage. So you can board early
only if you check your carry-on and pay a baggage fee while clinging to
the forlorn hope that your luggage will make it to your final
destination alive. Checked baggage fees for domestic flights start at
$25 on American.
Is this, then, a good thing? "Yes!" says American. According to a
press release from the airline, the revised boarding strategy will help
American achieve "a more timely departure and arrival." A spokesperson
from the carrier said, "Our tests indicate that this new boarding
process will improve our dependability and on-time performance, while
being easier and more enjoyable for our customers. It's another example
of our promise to put our customers at the center of everything we do."
As usual, a major airline is implementing policy changes because it just wants its customers to be happy. How sweet.
American claims the initial test received "overwhelmingly positive
feedback from American's customers," which is strange because our
readers loved the idea about as much as they love flyers who recline.
Comments left on this site about the new boarding style range from "I'm
not sure this is really going to help" to "Stupid idea that contradicts
common sense" to "Makes no sense! WHY would you want to board early
unless to store a carry-on?"
I don't think anyone is fooled. This new way of boarding is more a
plan to spur additional revenue from checked baggage than a love note to
passengers. But the big question is whether other legacy airlines will
follow suit. We'll keep you posted.
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 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.
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.)
About 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.
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.
You ever have one of those days? You know, nothing's going right, it's raining and your umbrella won't open, your dog is sick, and your boss just dumped a pile of work on your desk? Or maybe you slipped on a wet kitchen floor—courtesy of the leak in your roof? Then, out of nowhere, a little ray of sunshine enters your life.
After a 2008 spent in the doldrums, the clouds have lifted on air travelers, if only for a brief moment. That's because American Airlines has picked today to test wireless Internet service on two flights between New York and Los Angeles. And if those tests go well, we're looking at more trials on planes from New York to L.A., San Francisco, and Miami.
Once the Wi-Fi goes live, "passengers will be able to connect free to American's Web site, Frommer's travel guides, and limited news headlines." All well and good, but what about the Holy Grail of all Internet users: unfettered access to the full capabilities of the World Wide Web? Not surprisingly, that isn't exactly free. Depending on the length of your flight, you'll be paying $9.95 to $12.95 to get fully online. No, that's not cheap. But in American's defense, it's not much more than an average airport lunch. And assuming there's enough bandwidth, the service will be incredibly useful to business travelers and armchair Web surfers alike. And the airline, like all of its peers, is in dire need of cash. You're not going to get all thrifty now, are you?
I know this announcement has brightened my day. How do you feel about it? Is there any technology you'd rather see on your next flight than wireless Internet? Share it with us by posting a comment below.
Well, with the recent news that American Airlines will now begin charging a $15 fee for all checked luggage as of June 15, those of us who can’t fit two days’ (much less two weeks’) worth of clothing in a backpack have some hard choices to make.
Or do we? To help ease the financial burden in an already tenuous economy, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions (some helpful, some less so) to deal with this new luggage fee.
1.) Wear all of it. 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.
2.) Adopt a Zen sensibility. As the “Personal Packing Crisis” was first explored on this very blog, it’s fitting that I will now offer a solution. Align your chi, say a few om's and become very comfortable with the fact that you will not look attractive or even presentable on your stay. Repeat to yourself this mantra: “I’m okay with only one change of clothing and no mousse all week long. I’m professional and put together on the inside.”
3.) Save up. And I’m not talking about giving up your need-it-to-get-through-the-day double lattes, either. I’ve devised a very simple plan to make it easily affordable to check as much luggage as you like. Those pennies you see on the ground and usually pass by? Pick ‘em up. For each item of luggage you’d like to check, picking up just one penny every day will pay off the fee in a mere 4.1 years.
4.) Get serious about good packing. Okay, it’s time to get tough: no more “just in case” outfits or “I might get cold” sweaters. If the answer to the question, “Do I really need this?” is anything less than, “Not having it will severely limit my ability to do absolutely anything,” consider leaving it at home. Strongly consider leaving it at home. $15 fee consider leaving it at home.
5.) Wear none of it. Instead, ship it. Depending on your immediate need for clothing and personal care items, any of your friends at UPS, FedEx, DHL, USPS, or Ed’s House of Shipping could get it to your destination at a comparable rate—and when’s the last time you heard someone say “FedEx lost my luggage”?
Of course, there are bound to be times when none of this information will be of help and you’ll be stuck paying the fee. In that unfortunate case, my best advice is … to get used to it. The way things are going, it seems like it might not be all that long before this kind of fee is standard on airlines and not one of us even bats an eye. After all, remember when airplane food was free?
And one big headache for American Airlines' accountants. To recap, (at least) five Chicago-area men conspired to defraud American out of $5,911,954 by creating phony invoices that billed the carrier for parts and services that were never delivered.
According to CBS News in Chicago, Gary M. Aumann, Donald E. Down, and Thomas Alessi pleaded guilty to "one count of mail fraud" after spending 10 years (1997 to 2007) bilking the airline. Apparently, Aumann's position as Facilities Maintenance Manager of American Airlines at O'Hare International Airport came in handy, because he was in charge of ordering and paying for items from vendors.
I'm no hardcore law-and-order guy, but doesn't one count of mail fraud seem like a lightweight sentence? I mean, these guys spent a decade scheming and stealing. It's not like they sent an email pretending to be a Nigerian prince with some short-term cash-flow problems.
Anyway, those phony invoices? They came from Mr. Down, who operated A & D Supplies and Addison Business Supplies. I wonder if those companies ever actually supplied anything to anyone, though we do know they sent more than $3 million in bills to American. Thomas Alessi, on the other hand, never let it get out of control. He only scammed the airline for a little over a million.
Two other people, one of whom is listed as age 70, were also indicted. They had bank accounts into which American deposited these payments. You have to admire a septuagenarian who still wants to use his skills to make a contribution to society. I guess Social Security just doesn't cut it anymore. Nice going, Grandpa!
Apparently, this little gang spent the stolen money on motor vehicles and boats, as well as property. At least they used it to purchase travel-related items. You'd hate to imagine all those airfares we pay being wasted.
In a bold move, American Airlines is soliciting opinions from its paying customers so the carrier can offer a better flying experience. The topic here is in-flight entertainment, and American has set up a website that allows people to vote on movies that will be shown in the main cabin. Of course, the process is a bit clunky, so I'll just paste the details here:
"Selection of movies must be done at least 60 days prior to a movie playing on board. The polling will be open for seven (7) days each month."
So basically you need to show up roughly two months before you fly, and within the unspecified seven days of that month. Good luck!
All kidding aside, it's nice to have an airline making decisions based on customer input (because Lord knows none of us asked for pay-as-you-go sandwiches, right?). To save AA some trouble, however, I've compiled a list of 10 movies that should never be shown on an airplane, no matter how many people vote for them. Here they are:
Surely, this cannot really be on the list! (And don't call me … oh, I can't do it). However, a movie about inept pilots, stewardesses, and air traffic controllers doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when you're soaring above the clouds. That said, of all the movies that will follow on this Top 10, Airplane! is one of the few I'd like to watch. By the way, is there anyone onboard who knows how to fly a plane?
Maybe a plane full of dudes would want to watch this, but a plane full of regular people would likely rather skip this steamy Kim Basinger/Mickey Rourke travesty. This is about as inappropriate as it gets, on so many levels. Hide the kids!
This Ray Liotta/Lauren Holly "film," about a stewardess who must fly a plane overrun by criminals, fend off a maniacal serial killer, and get to L.A. in time for Christmas, was nominated for a "Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property" Razzie in 1997. Sadly, it lost to…
Toss-up here, as both have the "stranded on a remote tropical island" vibe going on. Take your pick: Tom Hanks, in a shaggy beard, talking to a volleyball; or lots of generally good-looking folks, mysteriously absent shaggy beards, and a killer smoke monster. Either way, that's not a decision you want to be making at 35,000 feet.
This bizarre Stephen King TV miniseries involves a plane that flies through a time rift, which essentially vaporizes anyone not sleeping at the time. Then the plane lands in Bangor, Maine, which is deserted, and where the food has no taste, the soda no fizz, and so on. Then the Langoliers come, whatever they are, and it's all downhill from there. Again, not at 35,000 feet, thanks, and probably not ever.
1. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
This episode of the Twilight Zone was later remade in the movie version of the classic TV show, but the original, starring William Shatner, is where it's at. We all know the famous line, and we all know how silly the concept is, but we also all know we've looked out the window more than once and, deep in the darkest recesses of our mind, wondered if there was something on the wing.
So, what movie would you never want to see while in flight? Use the comment field below and add to the list!
(Photos: Internet Movie Poster Awards, Badpopcorn)