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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rental Rants

If you plan to rent a car during your next trip, there are certain cities where renting off-airport will save you big bucks. That's because, in addition to federal and state sales taxes, many municipal governments also charge fees at airport car rental outlets to fund local development projects like stadiums or convention centers. And most airports charge rental agencies a concession fee, which is then passed along to the consumer.

According to the National Business Travel Association, the places where airport taxes and fees add the most to the car rental bill are Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix. Cleveland’s airport charges add up to 27.08%. In Dallas, the number is 24.77%, while in Phoenix, it's 24.42%. Chicago, at 23.59%, and Charlotte, at 21.17% round out the top five. In terms of the airports where fees are lowest, St. Louis comes out on top at 7.83%. Detroit is second lowest at 8%, while Honolulu is third at 8.08%. Both Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers in Florida come in fourth, at 9.17%.

So what's a consumer to do? Consider renting elsewhere, particularly if you are in town for several days. Take a shuttle, public transportation, or a taxi to your hotel and then rent a car from a central location. Some hotels actually have car rental agencies located in the lobby. If your hotel is not convenient to a rental outlet, consider working with Enterprise or other companies that are willing to pick you up and drive you to their rental offices for free.

If you are only in town for a day or two, do weigh the inconvenience, the extra time, and the cost of additional transportation to get to another location against the cost of the ancillary rental fees charged at the airport.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum VIII

A new year, a new fee. US Airways, the only airline that serves up a fee with its soft drinks, is now charging $7 for a blanket and a pillow. Yes, US Airways has managed to become the only U.S. carrier to charge for the two things that miff passengers the most--soft drinks and blankets. Now it should be noted that, among the country's major carriers, JetBlue is also charging for blankets and pillows. But at least JetBlue serves its soft drinks for free. Plus, that airline gives its passengers access to a free in-flight satellite television system.

I wonder if it's any coincidence that US Airways quietly announced the new fee just days before its heroic Flight 1549 crew was to make its victory lap around the media. After all, what grinch is going to say bad things about the airline that is providing us with the feel-good story of the year? Still, despite having a CEO who keeps insisting that passengers just love these fees, I can't help feeling that US Airways is sullying its reputation by constantly being at the forefront of the in-flight fee fiesta.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Laura Does The LA Times

With Valentine's Day coming up, LA Times reporter Hugo Martin called to get my thoughts on romantic places to propose. See the results at http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-trw-propose5-2009feb05.

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.