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Thursday, January 29, 2009

That's Not the Spirit

Just when you think flight attendants might be getting a little respect, thanks to the miraculous US Airways incident, along comes Spirit Airlines with another one of its brilliant advertising concepts.

You see, the low-cost carrier, in its continuing quest to add revenue any which way it can, has a plan to bring ad revenue in through placing Bud Light logos on flight attendant uniforms.

Yes, the company that brought you "Double D" deals and “The Return of the MILF Sale” (classy, guys) is considering turning its flight attendants into walking billboards. The idea is to have flight attendants advertise alcohol on their aprons during the beverage service. Nice.

"Turning flight attendants into walking billboards is unacceptable," Deborah Crowley, president of Spirit's flight attendants union chapter, said in a statement. "The proposed aprons diminish the primary and federally mandated role of flight attendants as safety professionals." Patricia Friend, president of the U.S. Association of Flight Attendants, adds, "I feel as though I have entered a time warp and am reliving the battles for respect and justice for women that we fought for 40 years ago.” Referring to the DD (Double Discounts) and MILF (Many Islands, Low Fares) promotions, Friend says the not-so-subtle innuendoes are demeaning to all of America's professional flight attendants. Furthermore, she says, "They offend not just the female population of this country, but the male members of humanity who admire and respect women."

Believe you me, I’m not one to defend the spirit of said advertising methods, but maybe, more than being sexist, the airline is just an advertising whore. After all, Spirit leads the pack in putting ads everywhere on the plane, from overhead bins to tray tables to window panels. Still, I would feel a little better if the airline tamped down on tacky and chauvinistic tactics not seen since the days of National Airlines' "Fly Me" campaign in the early 1970s. Message for Spirit--National is no longer in business. Bone up on that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dances With Turkey

We’ve all heard about big Hollywood stars who take their talents and notoriety overseas to film commercials. They figure they can sell out abroad while protecting their images stateside. Kevin Costner, actor and Academy Award-winning director of Dances with Wolves, is the most recent to take the bait. According to a news report, Costner is in Turkey this month to take part in filming a commercial for Turkish Airlines.

I can’t quite figure out why Costner would be the ideal spokesperson for Turkish Airlines. After all, he’s somewhat of a has-been, kind of a Bull Durham of the acting set. But the airline’s executive board chairman says Costner was chosen because “he was a very good actor and that he was very famous and handsome.” I wonder if the past tense of "is" was used intentionally in that quote. Probably not...but if so, IMHO, it’s apt.

According to the article, Costner has no way out of explaining that he hasn’t actually flown on the airline. He cites his connection to Turkey thusly: "I started playing music three years ago. Turkey was the first country that invited me and my music to come. I was very surprised, I had never thought of coming. This was a very important step in my life. That is why I have accepted this commercial proposal.” Germans love David Hasselhoff’s music; Turks love Costner‘s. Go figure. Perhaps European fans of Tin Cup have tin ears.

If you do start flying on Turkish Airlines this year (which is a member of the Star Alliance), you may actually see Costner on board. He was presented with an Elite Plus card, given to Turkish Airlines’ best customers. Considering Costner’s never flown on one flight, the club can’t be all that elite, can it?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sky-High Wi-Fi

2009 will be known as the year that Wi-Fi went sky-high in the air over America.

Nowadays, more than 65 percent of business travelers and one third of all leisure travelers in the United States carry laptops with them when they fly. What’s more, about a third bring along Wi-Fi enabled phones and PDAs. And those numbers are increasing by the day. But until recently, said devices were unusable once a plane took off.

Although wireless Internet access availability in the wild blue yonder has been attempted before (in 2000, Boeing announced its Connexion for large airliners, but the system never took off), U.S. airlines are now truly getting on board with the concept. And this time, it’s likely to fly. That’s because, as airlines are looking for new services for which to charge fees, Wi-Fi is the perfect solution. It’s new, so customers won’t be enraged about paying for something that was previously free. It’s something customers want. And it’s something for which many a traveler (particularly those on expense accounts) will be happy to pay a premium. Some predictions say Wi-Fi will bring $1 billion in extra revenue to U.S. carriers by 2012.

Last August, American Airlines became the first domestic carrier to launch full wireless service on some of its flights. Customers traveling coast to coast can access broadband Wi-Fi services for $12.95 per flight, "enabling passengers to surf the Web, check any e-mail, instant message, access a corporate VPN and more," the carrier said in a statement. American is using the air-to-ground Gogo network of in-flight connectivity provider Aircell.

Delta is using the same system. Gogo is initially being introduced on Delta’s fleet of 133 MD88/90 aircraft and will expand to the rest of Delta’s domestic fleet through the first half of 2009. The airline expects to have 330 planes outfitted with Wi-Fi by the summer. Delta is following Aircell's pricing of $9.95 on flights shorter than three hours and $12.95 on longer flights, but "will look at package pricing and subscriptions," says Delta manager of global product development Chris Babb.

For techies, devices that communicate with the Gogo system include laptop computers with 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi capability, smart phones and other PDAs, and BlackBerry handheld devices. Coast-to-coast Gogo service is possible due to Aircell's national network of 92 transmitter sites.

Aircell is the first to bring full Internet capabilities to the in-flight domestic market, but other connectivity providers are securing deals with U.S. carriers and are ramping up their systems.

Aircell’s biggest competitor in the Wi-Fi wars is Row44, a satellite system designed for commercial aircraft. While Aircell’s is a ground-to-air system, Row44 is satellite-to-plane. The advantage to the latter--there is consistent connectivity, even over water.

The company demonstrated its system this past week during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Later this month, Row44 will have a free public trial on select Southwest and Alaska Airlines flights. Southwest is preliminarily installing the system on four of its jets, while Alaska is putting it on one.

Row44 CEO John Guidon says the price point will eventually be determined based on how the service is offered. “In some cases, the airlines will determine what the prices will be,” says Guidon. “But if the airline is not determining the price, then I think Row44 will be making a price in the $7.99 range for a domestic flight for a laptop. If you're on something like an iPhone or a PDA—and we can tell that, by the way—we'll charge you less, something like $5.99."

As for other U.S. carriers, Virgin America introduced Gogo Wi-Fi last November. By the second quarter of 2009, the airline expects to offer Wi-Fi on its entire fleet of planes. JetBlue has had limited Internet capabilities through LiveTV since the end of 2007. The free service enables connectivity through its seatback televisions, BlackBerrys and laptops. Yet, it can only access a limited number of services, including Yahoo! mail and instant messaging, Gmail, AOL, and Windows Live, which includes Hotmail and MSN e-mail accounts. Continental Airlines plans to use LiveTV to make in-flight Wi-Fi available early this year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ho-Ho-Holiday Travel Tips

Let's make a list and check it twice. It will have nothing to do with who's naughty and nice, however. Rather, said list is designed to help you, dear reader, get through your holiday travels with the greatest of ease.

Tip #1: Stay home and have everyone come to you. Sure, you may have to pick people up at the airport (depending on the time they are arriving, it may be easier to pick them up from the departures area than at arrivals--chew on that for a minute), but you never have to actually step foot in the airport.

Tip #2: If you are flying, check in on line. Getting your seat assignment and boarding pass ahead of time will ease your journey through the airport.

Tip #3: Don't wrap gifts. Most people know not to wrap gifts being tucked into carry-on bags. But wrapped gifts in your checked bags may also send off warning signals to security officials. Forget the gift wrap and just use gift bags. Or...

Tip #4: Send those gifts ahead of time. The cheapest way to do so--order goodies on line and have the e-commerce site send the gifts directly to the recipient. Look for sites offering free holiday shipping to save even more.

Tip #5: You've probably already booked your flights. If you haven't, what are you waiting for? Christmas? But if you haven't, look for non-stop flights leaving from "alternative" airports (Chicago Midway, Burbank) early in the day. If you have to connect, consider the hub carefully. Flights through Chicago are more likely to be delayed by winter weather snafus than those through Dallas or Atlanta. Also, consider flying on the holidays themselves. Planes are less crowded and I have found that everyone, from the flight staff to your fellow passengers, is nicer.
Ho, ho, ho.

Tip #6: You want to stay healthy during the holidays, right? If so, I recommend three things. First, wash your hands constantly (you'll need to carry body lotion to re-moisturize). Second, bring along an anti-bacterial product in a three-ounce bottle. Third, I love Emergen-C. This elixir of the gods, as I like to call it, contains super-high doses of Vitamin C and other essential nutrients, all of which help give the immune system a much needed boost. And who couldn't use a little more energy, particularly when dealing with holiday travel?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: Part VII

As you book your tickets for the holidays this month, don't forget about those darned fees. If you are going to be traveling with gifts (which I recommend you don't do), you may need to carry extra baggage. But remember, in most cases, every additional piece of luggage is going to cost you.

Of course, all fees are not created equal. Therefore, even if the actual ticket charge is less on Airline A than Airline B, Airline A's higher baggage fees may render the cost differential meaningless.

Let's do some comparison shopping among real airlines.

American: First bag is $15. Second bag is $25. Third bag is $100. Oversized bags are $150 each.

United: First bag is $15. Second bag is $25. Third bag is $125. Oversized are $175.

Delta and Northwest: First bag is $15. Second bag is $25. Third bag is $125. Oversized are $175.

Continental and US Airways: First bag is $15. Second bag is $25. Third is $100. Oversized are $100.

Southwest: Free for first and second bag. Third bag is $25. Oversized are $50. And the tickets are usually cheaper to boot. This is your best deal.

JetBlue: Free for first bag. Second bag is $20. Third bag is $75. Oversized are $75.
AirTran. First bag is $15. Second bag is $25. Third bag is $50. Oversized are $39.

For those prices, it really makes more sense to ship gifts ahead of time. Better yet, order on-line at sites offering free delivery anywhere in the country. That way, you can arrive at your holiday destination lighter, richer and less stressed.

Friday, November 14, 2008


The election of Barack Obama is causing a tourism boomlet in such diverse places as Indonesia, Kenya, Japan (home of a town called Obama), and the United States. In conjunction with Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism is launching a three-day presidential tour route. Details are still being finalized, but it's guaranteed the tour will take in Chicago's Hyde Park, home of the new "Western White House."

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, despite sky-high prices, hotels are almost completely sold out for the Inauguration festivities. Among the few things still available are the most undemocratic high-end packages being offered by the city's five-star hotels. But those will be going soon.

For Obamaniacs still looking for a place to stay in the DC area, there's always CraigsList. But even there, "hosts" are driving hard bargains. One owner of a one-bedroom condo in the suburbs (albeit near a Metro station) wants $1500 a night. Don't do it, readers. Meantime, the owner of a two-bedroom house in a toney DC neighborhood wants to trade a three-night stay at his house during Inauguration Week for a two-week stay at a European villa this summer. Meanwhile, a ranch owner in Wyoming is asking for a four-day Inauguration stay in DC in return for a two-week summer vacation for a family on his spread.

I'll keep you posted on what's being offered on CraigsList, and will offer other insider tips on visiting DC during the Inaugural. Stay tuned.