How to fly for free (or nearly free).

Accumulate Frequent Flyer miles

If you like to travel, flying is a significant portion of your budget.  One way to significantly cut down on your travel expenses is with frequent flyer programs.  I know “boo”, it  takes too many miles to  get a flight.  Or I don’t fly enough to earn enough miles.  Well, just hear me out.

The first thing you need to do is sign up.  If you don’t sign up for a frequent flyer program, your reward is zero.  Even the most casual flyer can accumulate a significant amount of miles over a long period of time.

Are you the type who pays off their credit card balance after every month?  I am, and some cards offer significant opportunities to accumulate miles for your favorite airline.  Some airlines like Lufthansa offer their own credit cards where you can get 1 mile for every 2 Euros spent.   If you make habit of putting all of your shopping on your credit card, and paying it off, you will earn either a free or fantastic discount on your next airline ticket.

Do you rent a car for business?  If you do, you can always include your frequent flyer number to accumulate even more miles.

For more information, check out the Save70 blog.

Sick of filthy airplane restrooms? Boeing has the answer.

How many have been flying and nature calls only to find the airplane restroom is filthy?  We all have and it’s disgusting.  Wouldn’t it be great if the bathroom could be cleaned after every person uses the bathroom?  Now Boeing may have the solution.  Boeing will begin installing self-cleaning restrooms which clean and apply ultraviolet light to sanitize after each use.  So even if you are a germophobe, you can rest assure that you will have the cleanest possible restroom.

Please watch at CNN money

 

 

US Travelers, please inform yourself before you fly!

American Airlines Check in, Boarding Pass issue

 

Though this article specifically singles out American Airlines, it could easily happen to travelers of any airline.  You must have a boarding pass when going through TSA checkpoints at US airports.  If you don’t have your boarding pass with your correct name on it, you will not be allowed to board.  American Airlines in particular, will not issue a boarding pass if the plane has started boarding, but given my experience in this business, once the boarding has started, check in has closed.  That means, it’s your last chance to get a boarding pass once check in has closed.  Make sure you have your boarding pass long before the plane starts boarding, or you will be turned away at security.

 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/travel/ct-american-airlines-rule-20160318-story.html

Insider Travel Tips from Airline Employees

Flight Attendant

Airline employees tell you how to get the most of your travel!  It’s good to see them admit we are correct about airline luggage SNAFUs (here).  There’s also some other interesting facts.  Have you ever seen the hillarious comedy “Airplane”, where the pilot and co-pilot have food poisoning?  Well many airlines actually have a counter measure.  The pilot and co-pilot never eat the same meal.

http://goo.gl/a0iAjd

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

America’s Crumbling Air Infrastructure

America’s Air Infrastructure was once the envy in the world

When discussing aviation  in a historical context, it is difficult to deny the influence and importance of the United States in the development of commercial aviation. From the time of the Wright Brothers first flight to the first solo Atlantic crossing by Charles Lindbergh, the pace of innovations made by the United States created the first standards for both pilots and eventually airlines that we recognize as modern aviation today. The development of commercial aviation sprang from the profitability of private pilots carrying mail for the US Post Office, which then led to passenger service between important cities. Airports and the associated infrastructure grew and changed to meet the needs of the expanding field of commercial aviation. For many years the US air infrastructure was the envy of the rest of the world, but in the last twenty years, the US has begun to lose its place as the airports in the US have started to age.

What happened to our Infrastructure?

For many years following World War II, US commercial airlines were strictly regulated by the government and this made air travel very expensive. By 1975, the US finally decided to deregulate the airlines which resulted in much lower ticket prices for passengers, but also made the industry itself much more volatile financially. As a result, airlines tried to minimize operating costs in every conceivable way, while at the same time, government levied more taxes on every ticket in an attempt to maintain the infrastructure necessary to keep the system running efficiently. This has predictably led to the current state of aviation where forty percent of the fare price for a ticket is taxes, where the airlines’ themselves have the smallest profit margin (3%) and the airports’ themselves must beg to keep the tax money allotted for improvements, but even the amount of facilities fees and other taxes are inadequate to keep up with the costs.

Newark International Airport, an example of Americ's crumbling infrastructure
Newark International Airport


As recent as 2013, the infrastructure of the US air transport system has been rated as D overall.1 The low grade is largely due to the facilities themselves, and critically, the aging and inefficient air traffic control system. For every successful, new, and well-designed airport, such as Denver International Airport (DEN), there are two dilapidated poorly designed airports in need of major renovation or replacement like NY Laguardia (LGA) or Newark Liberty Airport (EWR). Both the latter airports have horrible reputations among the flying public and in the Air industry. Even airports that have been recently renovated like Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) which had the entire terminal rebuilt in 1997 and was expanded in 2001, are limited not by gate space but by the number and length of their runways. As was the case with the recent new runway built at Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS) in 2006, the original plan was submitted in 1973 but was continually delayed by legal wrangling. It is nearly impossible to get approval and funding for airport expansions, even though the number of air passengers increases every year. In fact, it has been estimated that the infrastructure shortfall for funding for all commercial airports is about two billion dollars annually between 2002 and 2020 and during this time (up to 2013) Congress has actually cut funding for the Airport Improvement Program.2 Some of the nation’s busiest airports are not only horribly out of date, they are confusing, unattractive, and inefficient. It seems almost embarrassing that a country like Singapore, with far less wealth than the United States, has a more modern and better run airport in Kuala Lumpur than the US has in many of its largest cities.

One of the key areas of concern relating to airport infrastructure is the air traffic control system used in the US. According to Gary Kelly of CNN Money, the US is basically using 1950s technology in its air traffic control systems and these outdated systems are not only less safe than satellite-based systems, but they are far less efficient.3 The advantages of satellite-based systems are they are more precise and use airspace more effectively by charting routes more directly and by spacing planes more accurately. The result would be less flight delays, and better fuel consumption. The Federal Aviation Administration has a plan called NextGen, that is supposed to change over the to the newer technology, but the implementation has taken longer than expected and despite the fact the program was instituted in 2003, it has yet to be completed and is likely not to be completed before 2025.4

America’s Infrastructure needs an overhaul

It is a simple fact that improving the air infrastructure in the US would not only benefit the airlines and the flying public, it would provide many jobs and increase investment in other areas of the economy. For too many years, the federal and state governments have been complacent, and in many cases neglectful of heeding the importance of a properly funded and maintained air infrastructure; now many years later, the chickens have come home to roost and the costs have ballooned tremendously. If these deficiencies are not corrected, it could eventually affect the entire air industry and severely impact tourism as well as general airline safety.

1.Aging Infrastructure (October 2014), XL Group Insurance, Construction Insider, by Shannon Lawless and Bob Storey

3. http://money.cnn.com/2011/04/27/news/companies/air-traffic-control-modernization/index.htm, We need 21st Century Air Traffic Control, Gary Kelly, April 27, 2011.

4. Aging Infrastructure (October 2014).

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!.

What if your flight is disrupted and the airline refuses to compensate you?

Justice for airline travelers

Often times if a flight is either delayed or canceled, it’s difficult to determine whether the passenger is entitled to compensation. To make matters worse, for travelers who consult the so-called experts at travel advice websites such as “trip adviser”, the answer can be extremely confusing. Between the frivolous demands for compensation, even if the traveler is negligent, and the knee jerk “customer is always right attitude” which prevails on websites like trip adviser, customers often have difficulty sorting good advice from useless advice.

According to new EU regulations, passengers are now entitled to compensation from airlines due to excessive delays or cancellations. To assist passengers, there’s an organization of expert lawyers, specializing in aviation law to fight for the rights of consumers. They have created a website to assist customers with their claims based on the facts of the case. On the website flightright.com, a customer is able to enter the flight information and the details of the flight in question and receive instant advice on how to proceed. The website is also able to query the official flight data on the flight in question and determine the veracity of the claim. In other words, it’s not enough to just “claim” there was a 2 hour delay, causing a missed connection, this website is able to query the official records of the flight and verify whether the information is true without wasting either the lawyer’s or the customer’s valuable time. If no compensation is available for the flight in question, the website will give an answer based on current aviation laws and the incident in question. Should a traveler be entitled to compensation, the website will provide information to the traveler on how to claim their compensation. Since the legal team at flight right only gets paid if their lawsuit is successful, they will only take cases which have a strong legal claim.

By using resources such as “flightright.com”, airline travelers with legitimate complaints can receive the compensation they deserve, and hopefully the amount of frivolous claims can be simultaneously reduced.

The Emerald Isle, part one of our trip to Ireland

Emerald Isle, nead Dublin, Ireland
Howth Coastline, twenty-five minutes by train from central Dublin.

SirTrips-a-lot in Ireland.

Recently, I had the good fortune to visit Ireland on holiday. I would recommend Ireland to anyone and personally, I wish that I would have visited sooner. If you have never been to Ireland, you definitely should go because it is a wonderful place with an interesting culture, history, and a plethora of beautiful natural landscapes.

Starting Point: Dublin. Dublin is not only the capital of Ireland (Republic of), it is also the largest city and metropolitan area in the country. Over two million people live in the city or its environs. Dublin is served by a beautiful and modern airport that is located north of the city. Aer Lingus, the national carrier, has direct service to many destinations in central Europe as well as north America. Dublin has an extensive public bus system, and there are a limited number of street car lines, but no subway. Taxis are also readily available almost anywhere in the city day or night. If you need to take the bus from the airport into the city, you should be aware that the city buses are the cheapest and take the longest to get to the center because of the traffic congestion and the number of stops, but there are many coach lines that are express service to the center for about twice the amount of the city bus one way. If you travel with the city bus, it is best to purchase a ticket from the machines at the airport because the bus drivers do not accept bills and you must have exact change.

Dublin is a vibrant city with many different attractions. The city center is crowded with tourists and locals alike. Traffic congestion is a big problem in Dublin as the cars, delivery vehicles, and buses all compete for the limited space on the narrow streets; by the way, they drive on the left side of the street, so it is a good thing that at the crosswalks that they tell you to look right for oncoming traffic. If you are planning to travel in the city you should consider getting a Leap Card, that is a bus pass available at most grocery stores, post offices, and other retail establishments. You can get a three or five day unlimited pass, and then you can reload the card with money after the unlimited travel has expired. The five day pass costs 30 EUR.

Pubs galore. Naturally, you will want to visit one or twelve of Dublin’s wonderful pubs. You cannot walk more than a few hundred meters without seeing a new one. The atmosphere is always friendly and inviting and the food and beer are delicious. You cannot visit Dublin, or Ireland for that matter, without having at least one pint of Guinness. If you do not like beer, or you do not like stouts, do not worry, they have plenty of different beers to choose from at most pubs, including ales, and lagers from all over the globe. Be ready to open your wallet, a pint of beer is usually 5-6 EUR. You should probably avoid the Temple Bar unless you cannot live without visiting the most packed tourist pub in Dublin. In the Temple Bar section of Dublin, there are literally hundreds of Pubs and all of them are pretty good so do not be afraid to explore. I personally liked the Porter House, which is a brew pub near Trinity College. They make their own beer, so no Guinness on tap, and the food was great. Another nice pub was the Long Stone, a viking themed pub.

The Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland
The Temple Bar is the most famous pub in Dublin

 

Places not to miss. Of course, you have to visit O’Connell Street in the center of the city. This is one of the main shopping districts in the city. This is also the location of the Dublin Spire. There are shops of every description. Do not forget to visit the GPO (General Post Office) site of the 1916 Easter Rising. Dublin Castle is also worth the visit. It is the former seat of power for the English Lord Governors prior to Irish independence, and now it is the formal location for the swearing in of the heads of state and where formal state affairs are held. The castle is a whole complex of buildings including, a church, gardens and the castle itself. If you go, you should try to visit on a Wednesday, because admission is free. Saint Stephen’s Green is the best known park in Dublin. Wonderful verdant grass, trees, a small lake, and many different birds, it holds a certain charm for the Dubs and tourists alike. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is also a great place to see. The admission is only 3 EUR, which is really a bargain considering that you can wait and get the guided tour at no extra cost. Jonathan Swift is interned there. Trinity College is also worth a visit. The guided tour is 13 EUR, which is a little steep, but it also allows you to see the Trinity Library, which is really impressive, as well as admission to The Book of Kells, an illuminated copy of the Bible from the middle ages. Inside the Trinity College Library is the Buru Harp, the symbol of Ireland.

Dublin Castle, a real medieval castle in Ireland

The tour of the Guinness Brewery, is actually a tour of the old Guinness warehouse, and costs 29 EUR; the brewery itself is located on the banks of the Liffey and is not open to the public. I did not take the tour because I found the price to be a bit exorbitant. The Jameson Distillery also has tours for 16 EUR, which I also found too pricey. Do not worry, you can find official Guinness merchandise in every souvenir shop in Dublin, and there is no shortage of those.

I found it particularly helpful that all the public buses in Dublin have free Wifi. In fact, there were not many places in Dublin that do not have free Wifi. This is really nice because it can help you orient yourself with GPS enabled phones.

Come back next week for a further review of other places visited in Ireland, namely Galway, Kilkenny, Howth, and County Wicklow.