Tag Archives: #airtravel

Sad news for Germany’s second largest airline

Trouble for Air Berlin

Disappointing news for Germany’s second largest airline.  The Berlin based Air Berlin has just announced plans to lay off 1200 employees and get cut 75 aircraft from its fleet. To counter some of the losses Air Berlin plans to lease 40 of its Airbus 320 aircraft to it’s competitor Lufthansa group1. This disappointing news comes as the struggling airline abandoned it’s earlier promises this year to return to profitability2. To regain profitability, Air Berlin will reduce it’s less profitable short and medium haul flights while expanding it’s more lucrative long haul service, especially to the United States. Air Berlin plans to expand it’s offering to the United States by 40% adding routes to Orlando, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In the meantime, Lufthansa has said that they will use 35 of the leased planes in it’s Low Cost brand Eurowings to counter growing competition from Ryanair and Easyjet3. The other 5 aircraft will go to Lufthansa’s subsidiary Austrian Airlines. For Lufthansa this deal is an obvious win. Lufthansa will use the new aircraft to expand Eurowing’s routes from secondary hubs like Munich. Lufthansa will also be expanding its routes to the popular holiday destination Majorca. In combination with Lufthansa Group’s recent acquisition of Brussels Airlines, this new expansion has positioned Lufthansa Group to be the dominant airline in western Europe4.

1http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/28/the-associated-press-germanys-air-berlin-to-shed-75-aircraft-1200-jobs.html

2https://global.handelsblatt.com/edition/414/ressort/companies-markets/article/air-berlins-future-up-in-the-air

3http://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Airline-News/Struggling-Air-Berlin-reduces-fleet

4https://airwaysmag.com/airlines/etihad-restructures-air-berlin-lufthansa/

Is the End Near for the TSA? Don’t Bet on It.

Transportation Security Administration

Recently, you cannot go anywhere on the web without seeing a news story related to the TSA, and all the news is bad. The Transportation Safety Administration, one of the most loathed agencies in the U.S. government, is facing an ever-increasing din of negative publicity in the media, harsh criticism from lawmakers, and an astounding backlash from the public; the agency has rightfully earned such scorn, due to its inability to reduce long lines at major airports or to prove that its existence increases passenger safety, but if you think this may result in the eventual demise of this hated institution, do not start celebrating just yet.

What seemed a good idea in the wake of the September 2001 attacks, has now lost nearly all credibility with the public and many in government. The agency has repeatedly demonstrated that it has not made the public safer with its numerous and well publicized failures to detect contraband items in tests. Furthermore, it has grown into an unwieldy bureaucratic fiefdom of the Department of Homeland Security, that refuses to accept responsibility for its shortcomings and poor management.

While the law that created the TSA was specifically written to include the possibility of airports using private companies (there are only fifteen airports nationwide that have private companies), the TSA has naturally been resistant to allow airports to switch. It is clear why they would do this, it would prove the TSA is unnecessary. The law requires that private security companies comply with TSA security procedures, that they have equivalent staffing, and pay in relation to the TSA. What this means, is that even if airports were to switch to private companies, not much would be likely to change because of these requirements.

The recent criticism by members of Congress, while unprecedented in it harshness, has still not resulted in major reforms. The new head of the TSA, Peter Neffenger, fired the Head of Security Operations, Kelly Hoggan, a man who was paid over $90K in bonuses while presiding over the current crisis as well as the debacle related to the failure of 67 of 70 secret tests where guns, knives and other contraband was not detected in carry on luggage. The surprising thing about this firing is that it is the first time the TSA has actually sacked anybody in upper management since the agency was created fifteen years ago.

The public outcry against the TSA has only grown from year to year, and this year it has reached a fever pitch due to the inordinately long waiting lines at major airports. Congress and the TSA are pointing fingers at each other, but this has not solved the problem. The TSA claims the fault lies with Congress for slashing the TSA’s frontline workforce by roughly 5000 people. The Congress has pushed back insisting that TSA has mismanaged staffing so that their budget would be restored. Clearly, there are not enough people in government willing to eliminate the TSA, but that is eventually what needs to happen. The careerist bureaucrats will resist this at every turn and as always resort to fear-mongering the public to accept it. But it is clear from the record of other countries who have private airport security screeners(France, Italy. Germany), that the days of the TSA are numbered; it is not clear, however, how long it will take before this hated agency reaches its end.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2016/0524/TSA-replaces-top-security-official.-Will-it-make-a-difference

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/05/24/tsa-head-security-forced-out-amid-furor-over-long-airport-lines.html

https://www.yahoo.com/news/convenience-security-lawmakers-push-tsa-better-balance-204129891.html?ref=gs

What is the worst seat on every flight?

Middle Seat Hell

The middle seat of course!  Everyone hates the middle seat because it offers none of the freedoms of the isle seat, nor does it provide a place to lay your head when you’re tired like the window seat.  Now that airlines are taking steps to make sure all flight are left as full as possible, avoiding the middle seat is likely to cost you.  According to MARTHA C. WHITE  of the New York Times, airlines are filling flights to fuller capacity and increasing the price to select seats.  For example, Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t assign seats, raised the price for early boarding from $12.50 to $15.00.  The legacy carriers are not including seat assignments in their lowest fare.  Some passengers have even taken extreme measures to avoid the middle seat, including purchasing an isle or window seat and a middle seat.  On legacy carriers this is often cheaper than first of business class.  Other’s have tried anything from bargaining to feigning medical conditions.  Personally I was simply asked to switch with nothing in return.  The problem was it was a flight from Europe to the United States and I paid 35 Euros for my isle seat so I declined.  My recommendation, if you do have a good seat, don’t give it up for nothing in return.  Even if the person does have their wife or girlfriend sitting next to you, ask for compensation.  Why should you take the middle seat and be miserable for the entire flight with nothing in trade.  Make them buy you a drink or three.   It’s clear that passengers are either going to have to plan ahead or purchase seat assignments to avoid the worst seats on the flight.  Showing up at the last minute to a prime time flight and expecting to avoid the middle seat is foolish and we don’t recommend it.

Airlines offering first class more likely to have Air Rage problems

Did you know that airlines which offer first class flights are 3.84 times more likely to have problems with air rage?  Who’d have thought that cramming folks into seats like canned sardines while rich blowhards get luxury beds on long haul flights might tend to tick people off just a little bit.  Sounds intuitive, but here we have some scientific evidence1. Researchers at the University of Toronto studied thousands of documented air rage incidents, anything from cursing at flight attendants to tampering with smoke detectors in the restrooms to smoke, to refusing to sit down and found that all had a common theme.  Namely the presence of a first class cabin. The incidents were further aggravated when economy class passengers were forced to board by passing through the first class cabin. When Economy class passengers are forced to pass through the first class cabin, the risk of air rage incidents increased a further 2.18 times2. An interesting finding was that the incidence was not purely out of envy on the part of economy class passengers. According to Dr. Katherine DeCelles, the awareness of the higher social status of first class passengers actually encourages some first class passengers to treat economy class passengers in an anti-social manner3 and display attitudes of entitlement. This provocative behavior increases the likelihood of conflict.

Air Rage
Fasten Restraints

What would be some possible solutions to reduce air rage incidents? If the findings, which are being published in the national academy of sciences prove to be correct, a possible solution would be to de-emphasize the disparity between first and economy classes. Having a duel boarding, where the economy class passengers don’t pass through first class would relieve the congestion and wouldn’t serve as a constant reminder to passengers of the inequality of passenger statuses. For more information on this study please check the published paper here.

1.http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/Connect/MediaCentre/NewsReleases/20160502

2http://www.sciencealert.com/air-rage-is-almost-4-times-more-likely-when-a-plane-has-a-first-class-cabin-study-finds

3http://www.sciencealert.com/air-rage-is-almost-4-times-more-likely-when-a-plane-has-a-first-class-cabin-study-finds

US Senate rejects plan to regulate Airline Seat Size.

The United States Senate rejected a new proposed bill to regulate the size of airline seats.  So the size of the seat will remain the sole discretion of the airline.

Airline Seat Size

What’s especially interesting is that some of the “low cost carriers” such as Jet Blue and Southwest are on the larger side.  Only the ultra-low cost carrier, Spirit Air has a significantly smaller seat than the traditional scheduled airlines.   More information on the airline seat sizes can be found here at CNN Money.

Why we still like JetBlue

JetBlue

I admit it, I took pleasure, you might say glee, in the irony, that the two biggest US low cost carriers offered service which was superior to the traditional airlines. While US low cost carriers were eliminating luggage allowances, overcharging for refreshments, and overall offering less for more money, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines continued to include luggage and overall better service. To our disappointment, JetBlue decided to eliminate the free baggage.1 Though at $20 dollars for the first bag, Jet Blue is cheaper than United2, American3, or Spirit (which charges for carry on bags as well)4, we think luggage should be included on trips. We don’t approve of their decision to eliminate the free checked luggage, but we still regard JetBlue as one of the better airlines, because they continue to offer better services such as their new wifi and in cabin entertainment.

JetBlue Entertainment
JetBlue’s new, redesigned in flight Entertainment Screens

JetBlue’s new state of the art WiFi, allows the user uninterrupted service from the moment they arrive in the terminal, throughout the flight and continuing to when the passenger arrives at their destination5. If you’re business traveler and you need to maximize your time, this feature will let you keep working uninterrupted. Most airlines airlines require their passengers to switch off electronic devices during takeoff, however JetBlue’s WiFi will remain active through the enter flight. The new WiFi is quick too at 12-20mps, your internet access is faster than most residential internet access. However the speed and uninterrupted performance isn’t the best feature. While other airlines are charging ridiculous fees per hour for on board internet access, JetBlue is offering WiFi free of charge.

If you don’t want to access the internet, at least the in flight entertainment selection is enough to pass the time. Jet Blue’s in flight entertainment runs on an android based, touch screen operating system. The customer has the option to watch over 100 Direct TV channels or choose from a library over 300 movies. To make the flight even more enjoyable, JetBlue plans to retrofit it’s plans with new 10.1” touch screens.

We like that JetBlue is innovating. Though the Airline is considered a low cost carrier, their services are still considerably better than the completing legacy carriers. Now, if only we could convince Jet Blue to bring back the complimentary checked bag.

1http://dealswelike.boardingarea.com/2015/07/02/jetblue-eliminating-free-checked-bags/

4https://www.spirit.com/OptionalServices.aspx?_ga=1.98083291.594628770.1454275428#Fare-Price

5https://www.yahoo.com/tech/ll-never-without-wifi-fly-224526666.html

Giving your luggage a voice

Wouldn’t it be great if you could monitor how your luggage is handled?

We’ve all been there. We travel and our luggage looks like it’s been through a war zone. After you check your bags and buy overpriced Starbucks coffee, your bag is being punted like a 50 yard field goal. Your souvenir precious moments, coo coo clock or whatever valuable souvenir from your trip is now in a billion pieces. Worse yet, you bought a valuable gift such as jewelry for your wife or girl friend and the noble TSA agents or baggage handlers open your bags for an “inspection” only to make off with your gift. How can you prove it? Without evidence or luggage insurance, you’re just out of luck. Statistically speaking, it’s inevitable that something will happen to your luggage as every year 24 million bags are mishandled. If you fly long enough, eventually something will happen. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a nanny cam for your luggage?

Bag Sentry Luggage Protection Device
Bag Sentry or Sentinel with Android App

There’s a new start-up project for a device called “BagSentry” also known as a “Sentinel”. The device is a USB powered monitor with a light sensor and motion sensors which record whether the bag has been opened or jarred while the luggage is being processed. The Sentinel can even detect if the bag has been left out in the rain or out on the hot tarmac, cooking your belongings. Other features are its ability to track airports, so you know exactly where your belongings have been. Anything that happens to your bags during the trip can be accessed via an android app. If a detailed report is required, such as claiming compensation for lost, stolen or damaged luggage, the Sentinel can be plugged into any computer’s usb port and produce a detailed pdf file of everything happening to the luggage.

Bag Sentry informs you if your luggage is disturbed.
BagSentry has a Luggage monitoring app

Critique of the BagSentry luggage monitor

Though this is a brilliant product, and would certainly help make baggage handlers and TSA agents more accountable, there are still some drawbacks. The first and most important downside is the price. Each Sentinel is expected to retail for $130 a piece. If you are a family of 4 that’s $520 right away. The pdf reports are not gratis. If your luggage is damaged, BagSentry charges $4 for a complete report to turn into the airline for compensation. The second suggestion would be to add a small camera to the device which will take a picture should the bag be opened. If something is stolen, it’s important to have evidence as to exactly who opened the bag. Hopefully future versions will include a camera and market competition will bring the price down so we can all secure our luggage.

A big thank you to Gizmoeditor.com for bringing this product to our attention!.

Ask Sir Trips a Lot: Incorrect Billing Address while booking.

Question: What happens if you attempt to make a booking and the airline or online travel agent’s website won’t let you enter your billing information correctly?

I recently was asked a question by a friend of mine who wanted to book a flight within the continental United States. He had already booked his international flight from Austria to the UnitedStates and he planned to be in several different locations throughout his business trip. Unfortunately when this friend of ours proceeded to try and pay for the flight at United Airlines’ website, he noticed that Austria wasn’t a valid country he could enter in his billing address. My friend being the cautious person that he is, and given that the United States government is over paranoid about security, decided to check with me to see what would happen if he entered say “Germany” as the billing address. Would he have trouble with the TSA or other US immigration authorities?

Error on United Airline's website.
Error on United Airline’s website.

Well this is an excellent question. First of all, I have to say it’s both sad and hilarious that a major airline like United left off a country like Austria off of their list. Perhaps they think Australia and Austria are the same place like in the movie Dumb and Dumber. That said, not putting your the correct billing address in won’t cause any problems whatsoever with the government authorities, assuming you’re able to make the booking. I’ll explain in a minute. When you make a booking, it’s very important that the passenger’s name, gender, and date of birth match the passport or official identification (if it’s a domestic flight). This is because the airline has to submit a passenger manifest to the appropriate authorities, and of course the security check is conducted to make sure you’re not on the “no fly list”. The security standards are much higher if you cross an international border and if your boarding pass (the name which is on the passenger manifest) isn’t the same as your boarding pass, you could be denied boarding. What isn’t checked is the billing address of the person who pays. This is just common sense if one thinks it through. The airline allows one person to purchase airline tickets for another party all the time. So it begs the question. Why ask for the billing address at all?

The answer of course has to do with the Airline’s online payment processing system. When you enter your payment information, the payment service provider cross references the given address with the address the bank has on file for your credit card. It also checks your IP address to make sure your location is where you say you are, and of course patterns of behavior which are highly probable to be fraud. E.g John Q. Smith lives in Austria. However the person making the booking enters a different address from what the bank has on file, the routing is Lagos, Nigeria to Bangkok, a route that Mr. Smith is unlikely to book, and his IP address is outside of Austria. This is a way of

pre-screening potential fraud. So what is our friend supposed to do if he wants to book a United flight, but can’t enter his billing address correctly. Well there is a much higher chance that Mr. Smith will either have his payment rejected if he instead puts “Germany” as his country, or at the bare minimum, the transaction will be held up for extra scrutiny, delaying the transaction and causing the lower priced fare to no longer be available.

What’s the solution?

In this case of such a blatant screw up. Call the airline and make the booking over the phone. This way you will bypass the online security and hopefully the agent will pass this problem on to United’s IT department. I hope this was helpful and thank you for reading!

An Explanation of Baggage Handling from the Airline’s Perspective: Why Luggage Gets Lost

A luggage handler a plane at Denver Airport
Luggage handler at the Denver Airport

In this edition of Sir-Trips-A-Lot we discuss how the baggage handling process works and what happens behind the scenes in the airport. Most people feel righteous anger when they are the victim of lost luggage, after all, the airline is supposed to transport you and your belongings together and that is what you have paid so much money to have done. Unfortunately, most customers don’t know what is necessary in order for that to happen. Believe me when I say that there are many pitfalls along the way that can and do happen occasionally, after all, airline companies employ people, and people make mistakes. This article should not be viewed as an apology for the airlines when they lose peoples’ bags, rather as an explanation of why it can happen.

Like most people, I did not have a clue what happens to my luggage after it leaves my sight at the check-in counter before it reappears at the baggage claim in my destination airport, but then I got a job at Continental Airlines at the Denver International Airport as a ramp service clerk, which is a nice way to say baggage handler. The job involves more than loading and unloading baggage, but baggage is the main priority. Once you do this job you get a feel for how complex a job it is to run an airline and how many things can go wrong in nearly every facet of operations. When you work on the “ramp” you see how connected all the different positions of the airlines are and how they work together. Gate agents, ramp agents, flight crews, dispatchers, fuelers, caterers, cleaners, all have specific tasks and all rely on the others to do their tasks in order to be successful.

So what happens when the plane comes to a complete and final stop at the gate? First, there are two kinds of flights for the ramp agents, the first is called a turn, which means the aircraft will be unloaded, serviced and reloaded with passengers and bags to fly somewhere else. The aircraft is literally being turned around to go out again. This is the most common type of flight during the day. The other types of flight is the terminators, and originators. These two are as their names suggest, the plane is done for the day, or the plane is the first plane to fly for the day. These flights are bit easier for the baggage handler because time constraints are not as much of an issue.

On a turn, once that aircraft stops moving, the baggage handlers are on a clock, which means they have a time limit to unload and reload the plane, the unloading time is dependent on the type of aircraft, for a Boeing-737 it would be approximately 12 -15 minutes. That means every bag, piece of cargo, and mail must be unloaded from the plane in that amount of time. From the time the plane stops at the gate, to the time the first bag comes up the baggage carousel is 17-18 minutes, and from the time the plane stops until the last bag comes up the carousel is usually 21-23 minutes. All these benchmarks are timed by the airlines. When on a turn, the plane is usually not on the ground for more than 1.5 hours. That means in that amount of time the plane will be unloaded, refueled, replenished with food and water, toilets emptied, and aircraft interior cleaned. In case you were not doing the math, in the above time line, that means the ramp agents must transport the bags from the plane to the baggage carousel in about 2- 4 minutes, and then unload all the bags in another 3-4 minutes so that all customers will have their bags within 23 minutes of landing. This does not always happen.

Transfer bags: where most lost bags occur. The transfer bags are always loaded first in the front compartment of the hold of the aircraft, and along with the first class passengers, are the first bags unloaded. A transfer bag is a bag that will not be placed on the carousel in the airport where the aircraft has landed, rather it will be transferred to another aircraft to reach its destination. You can see the possibilities for errors. If the “ramper” does not read the tag and throws the bag in with all the non-transfers, then your bag that was supposed to stopover in Chicago before being placed on the plane bound for Atlanta will instead spend a few hours at the missed transfer bin in the terminal at O’Hare. Besides transfers within the airline itself, there are also baggage transfers where the bag will be transferred to another airline because of codeshare agreements. This means the ramper will need to drop off transfers bags to be collected by the other airline’s baggage handlers and placed on their flights. This also means that if the other airline has already picked up transfers or failed to pick up transfers, then the bag will not reach its destination. It is quite common for a flight to be delayed and the transfer bags are also consequently delayed in reaching the transfer bins and thus do not make it on the intended flight; they must therefore be loaded on the next flight to that destination. The airlines call this delayed baggage. Your bag has not been lost, it is just going to get to you a few hours later than planned. In this case the airlines will try to accommodate you by delivering the bags to your hotel where you are staying instead of forcing you to go back to the airport to pick them up.

Sorting: not as mechanized as you think. You may have seen stories on the news or in magazines about how airports have automated their baggage sorting processes, but the truth of the matter is that there is still a great degree of reliance on people. When I worked at Denver International Airport, the sorting for Continental was co-located with Delta since Continental did not use Denver as a hub anymore. This meant that we had one carousel to sort all the bags for our flights, but because we were next to Delta we often got their bags on our carousel also. This may not seem like a big deal, but just a small error from the curbside check-in agent could result in your bag being sent on a Continental fight to Houston instead of its intended destination of JFK with Delta. On the baggage carousel underground, the handlers have a monitor which shows which flights are departing at what time and from which gate. The handler must assemble a train of carts which will be delivered to the waiting planes on the ramp. First class, business class and transfer bags will always be handled separately from the other bags because they are considered “priority bags”. No matter how automated the system is, it cannot account for tags that are unreadable because the tag is wrinkled or otherwise damaged. People have to check the tags manually and load the bags manually. In some cases there may be multiple flights scheduled to leave close to the same time and the sorters are throwing bags on the carts as fast as they can and they cannot keep up; at such times of stress mistakes often happen. Interestingly, the Denver International Airport did not open on-time due to its very complicated automated baggage handling system which never worked correctly and was eventually scrapped completely. The remnants of the system are still sitting there unused under the airport tarmacs.

Mechanical factors and the TSA. Another reason your bags could be delayed or lost has very little to do with the airlines and their personnel and more to do with your bag itself and where it might be going. Every bag that travels through a US airport is scanned for dangerous substances by the TSA. Every bag destined for international travel is screened an additional time. This is an automated process, but if the machine gets a hit, then you will get your bag back with a little sticker informing you the TSA has rummaged through its contents. Regardless of the reason for the machine rejecting the bag, it has to be searched and cleared by a person. If your bag is quarantined by the TSA, it is not going anywhere, and in serious cases, you will not be going anywhere either, because they can have you removed from the aircraft to question you about the contents of your bag. Another factor that people do not realize is in play is the many conveyor belts and slides that make up the sorting system for bags, and yes bags do get stuck quite often. This is a real headache for the airlines because sometimes one bag can cause a jam that disables the entire system. When this happens, you guessed it, a person has to come to clear the jam. The result is that sometimes other bags can stack up around the jam and even fall off the conveyor belt and not be noticed. It is also possible that your bags dimensions are actually too big for the system, and if the agent at the desk was not aware of that at the time they took your bag, then the likelihood of your bag getting stuck or causing a jam is also increased. Backpacks with hanging straps are notorious for getting stuck between the rollers of the conveyors in the baggage handling system and can cause major problems. When these jams occur they cause a ripple effect throughout the system resulting in more missed connections or delays.

We hope this blog has helped you understand the baggage handling process from the other side of the counter

The Rise of the Machines: Airport Edition

Self-Check Machine at the Munich Airport

If you’ve been to any supermarket or pharmacy lately, you’ll notice that there are more machines doing the jobs of people used to do. Though some companies still hire cashiers, most retailers are adding self-check out stands. What are the advantages? The company doesn’t need to pay the machine and the company trains the customer to do an employee’s work. In fact, experts agree that most sectors of the economy will face some level of automation within the next 20 years. If you’re curious about whether your job is on that list, check this Business Insider report.Low Cost Carriers, you’ll know that some airlines not only encourage you to check in on your own, they expect it and will charge a hefty fee if you haven’t completed your check in before arriving at the airport. For full service airlines, they also offer the option of checking in at one of their airport kiosks, using your mobile phone, or checking in the old fashioned way with a human being.

Self-Check Kiosk at the Munich Airport

The automation you’ve seen up until now is child’s play compared to what is coming down the pipeline. At some airports such as Munich’s Franz Josef Strauß airport, self check in luggage machines have been installed that automate the process of checking and weighing luggage. Using the machines, the airport check in process has been completely automated without ever having speak to a human being. According to the following article in Der Spiegel, the new self-check in program allows a traveler who’s already checked in to walk up to the baggage machine with minimal waiting, weigh and tag their bags and rest assured the luggage will find it’s way to flight’s storage compartment. The kiosk even allows passengers to purchase overweight luggage as the kiosk is capable of processing credit card transaction. Airport officials have said that every 4th passenger utilizes the automated baggage kiosks because it saves travelers time. Though time is saved, airport officials caution passengers using the machines that the deadline for checking in luggage is the same as the deadline as the normal check in procedure, which is 40 minutes prior to take off at the Munich airport.

If you would like to see a demonstration of the Munich Airport checking machines, please visit our Youtube channel. From Sir Trips a Lot, we wish you a pleasant journey.