Infrequent Flyer 1/14: Airlines are Businesses… Trying to Make Money
Oct 28th, 2011 by Mike

What most Americans don’t realize is that next to your power company, airlines are some of the most heavily regulated and taxed companies in the nation. Between the FAA, TSA, NTSB, and God knows how many other federal agencies, airlines deal with mountains of regulations and paperwork every day. And the funny thing is that they sometimes make money. The aviation business is incredibly cyclical. They’ll make money for a few years and then bleed cash for a few years. When they make money, they make it hand over fist. And when they lose money, the face extinction right in the face.

If you’re watching ABC’s Pan Am, they’re trying to take us back to the days when travel was glamorous and less… well… sucky. There used to be a day when Tourist Class seats (what we today call Economy) used to have more legroom than today’s first class seats. And the inflight crew used to cook meals right on the aircraft. Those days are long gone.

The Boeing 747 was designed so that airlines could put a piano and lounge on the upper deck of the aircraft. Despite Boeing’s good intentions, airlines just tried to cram as many seats as possible into the space they have.

When you complain about how shitty air travel is, I have to ask you to get over it. Those days are long gone. Airlines are a business, trying to make money. They make money by moving people from point A to point B. It used to be a great score to get an exit row seat. Guess what. You’re going to pay for that little luxury now. The same thing is true for getting an aisle seat near the front of the plane. And checking your bag? You’re probably going to pay for that, too.

Airlines are trying to make money. It’s what all good businesses do. They’ve had to change their business models over the year, and their customers don’t necessarily like that. If you don’t like it, you have other options, such as walking, driving, or even swimming. In the long run, air travel is still a pretty good deal.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that you pay a great deal of taxes on your airline tickets. My friend Drew would argue that you don’t pay enough taxes. Airlines and their customers are large consumers of government services. Most airports are run and maintained by some local government agency. The FAA maintains the airspace, air traffic control, and such. And the TSA gives us the perception that we’re safer while flying.

Not all airlines survive forever. Pan Am, National Airlines, USAir, and TWA are all chapters in aviation history. They all had great runs but are now history. And for the record, US Airways was days away from bankruptcy when they were bought by America West, who chose to keep the US Airways name.

One of these days, I’ll go on my rant about TWA being barely able to make their payroll when they decided to buy a new aircraft every ten days in order to drive down their maintenance costs.

Still, it’s a business. And it’s a really screwed up business model. What other industry charges their best customers more money than their occasional customers? If you have an answer, please let me know because I can’t figure that one out.

Tips for the Infrequent Flyer
Sep 27th, 2011 by Mike

I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles over the course of my career. This spans flights all over the US and Canada to several European destinations to Australia. And in all of my flying, I’ve learned a few things. If you don’t fly very much, I hope these tips will be helpful to you.

This really stemmed from a picture I saw on my cousin’s Facebook page recently. I saw that he, his wife and daughter were in the very last row of the aircraft, and I just cringed. That’s when it hit me that these folks fly very infrequently and didn’t know that the last row of seats rarely recline.

In the next few blog posts, I plan on taking you through some very important lessons I’ve learned through the years and miles.

  • Airlines are Businesses… Trying to Make Money
  • What’s Important to You?
  • Do Your Homework
  • When to Call a Professional
  • Know Your Aircraft
  • Choosing a Seat
  • Connections, The Good, Bad, and the Ugly
  • The Airport Matters
  • Airport Productivity Time (Surviving Long Layovers)
  • Monogamy Isn’t Just for Sex
  • The Dirty Secret to Frequent Flyer Programs
  • Dealing With Irregularities
  • Why I HATE US Airways
Leaving it to the Professionals
Jun 29th, 2010 by Mike

I think I’m at the point in my life where I can figure out what I can do myself and where I need to turn to a professional. When it came time to install stainless steel tile in my kitchen, I turned to my friend Tom, who is a licensed contractor. And when it comes to my upcoming vacation, I totally turned to my friend Rick, who is a professional travel agent.

Sure, we’re in the days of Travelocity and Kayak, who can help you find the best published fares. But there is something those sites can’t give you, and that’s experience. If I’m going to San Francisco or DC or even London for a weekend, I can do that myself. But I’m planning a nine-day trip that spans multiple countries. Yeah, this needs a professional.

Could I figure all of this out myself? Absolutely. Could I find a better deal online? Maybe. But can I get those little nuggets of experience about connecting at Heathrow or Milan without intensive Google searches? Absolutely not. My friend Rick has been an absolute wealth of information, and that’s why I trust him. The thought of flying across the Atlantic in coach seemed a little repugnant to me, so I was wondering if it was worth a little more money to fly Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy class from Boston to London. Sure, there are tons of reviews online saying how great it is and how much it sucks. But those are just virtual people. I called on someone who has actually flown it and gave me feedback that I trust. That’s where this whole trip started.

In all my travels, both personal and professional, I’ve learned to trust my travel agents.

Several years ago, I was in Germany on vacation. This was before we had cell phones that worked in other countries. I got to Frankfurt without a hotel reservation, only to find there were no hotel rooms available in the city. None. I called Rick, from Germany, in tears. He asked for my credit card number and told me to call him back in 20 minutes. When I called him back, he had me booked in a train to Mains with hotel reservations for that night. That solidified my belief in the value of a travel agent.

So just what is this vacation all about? Well, at this point, I’m flying into Milan and then spending a few days in London at my friend Steve’s house. Those are definite. Everything else is subject to change. At the moment, I’m planning on spending a few days in Conegliano, Italy. That’s where they make Prosecco, which is my favorite wine. After that, a night in Salzburg and then a few days in the Champagne region of France before heading to London.

Am I excited about this? You have no idea.

Spreading the LUV
Aug 31st, 2009 by Mike

@southwestair

Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of Southwest Airlines.

Recently, I had an experience that proves why Southwest does something right that most airlines have wrong.

My travel plans for next weekend have changed. Josh’s closing got pushed back due to a problem on the seller’s end. That means I’m not helping him move this weekend. Instead, I’m going to be spending the weekend in Washington, DC to see an old friend from college. I had already purchased my airfare on Southwest weeks ago. With most other airlines, my $265 fare would have been history. But not with Southwest.

I went to southwest.com and canceled my reservation. That meant that I had $265 in credit available for my next flight. Instead of losing money, I can apply it to my trip to DC this weekend without any additional fees. A refund would be nice, but that’s not very good business. But by giving me an opportunity to use that money toward a different trip, they keep me coming back for more.  THAT’s good business.

It gets better, though. As the day has progressed, I’ve decided to take Friday as a vacation day. Reggie is heading to my friend Chris’ house on Friday morning now. That means I can catch an earlier flight. Most airlines will charge you a fee for this. Instead, my flight has a lower fare available than my original flight. Southwest is giving me the fare difference as a credit.

You’ll never see US Airways do that.

Delta’s New Safety Video
Feb 20th, 2008 by Mike

I read in a recent blog post that Delta is premiering their new safety video.

It’s awful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgpzUo_kbFY

If the cheesy acting isn’t bad enough, the flight attendant wagging her finger while telling me that smoking is not allowed on any Delta flight is just too much.

Maybe I’m just nitpicking the aircraft, but they filmed this on a Boeing 757 and the graphic showing the exits is a 737-700. Keep in mind that Delta doesn’t even fly the 737-700.

In all fairness to Delta’s people, these things are incredibly boring to watch, so making them has to be even more painful.

 

UPDATE: Okay, in fairness, I double-checked my facts and wasn’t entirely accurate. I was correct when I said that Delta doesn’t fly the 737-700. They fly the 737-800. However, Delta does have ten of the 737-700 on order. (details)

Odd Flights
Feb 18th, 2008 by Mike

This is one of those things that airlines do and I’ll never understand it. Frequently, you’ll see a flight that starts in one city, stops in a second, and then continues on to a third. For example, a flight might start in Philadelphia, stop in Pittsburgh, and then continue on to Los Angeles, all on the same flight number. Southwest does this a lot. In most cases, the plane stops, but you don’t actually have to get off the plane because it’s just a stop.

This situation, though, is very different. Delta flight 118 starts in Boston, stops in New York, and then continues on to Paris. This is fine except for one thing. The flight changes planes yet it keeps the same flight number. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

image

And as much as I love flying on the Boeing 757, I really don’t like the idea of flying across an ocean in a narrow body aircraft. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe. It just seems… somehow wrong.

Tahiti
Feb 18th, 2008 by Mike

In my little fantasy world, I would have an unlimited supply of money and the ability to travel to exotic destinations on a whim.

Tonight, I was looking at the Hawaiian Airlines website and noticed that they serve Tahiti. Just for giggles, I priced out the airfare from Boston to Papeete, Tahiti since Hawaiian doesn’t serve Boston. $1500 in May is a little more than I can afford for just the airfare. Anyway, what caught my eye is that Qantas (the Australian national airline) served it from LAX. That had to be a codeshare since it was on an A340, and in fact, it was. It turns out that this is an Air France flight. That, too, sounded like a code share. Why would Air France do LAX to Tahiti? If my geography were a little better, I would have known that Tahiti is also known as French Polynesia.  So yeah, Air France serves this one from LA.

It sounds like an absolutely wonderful place. Perhaps that should be a destination for me in the future.

Off to NYC
Dec 2nd, 2007 by Mike

I’m off to New York in the morning. I have a ticket for the 6:00 AM US Airways Shuttle and the 6:15 Acela train. I’m thinking I’ll take the Acela, which takes longer but is a lot less stressful. I booked a first class return ticket on Wednesday for the 4:00 PM Acela.

I dropped Reggie off with Beth at her work yesterday afternoon. She reports that he’s already marked her knitting bag.

After dropping Reggie off, I stopped at Borders to pick up a book to read on the train. I finished it in about 18 hours. Oops. I also stopped at a store to look at luggage. I know exactly what I want, and they didn’t have it. I want a 22 inch Travelpro Crew Series 6 rollaboard.  It’s the replacement to the one I already have, which has been with me for about eight years and across the country countless times. The 26” bag is just as old and has been across the Atlantic several times, as well. Both bags are really showing their age and need to be replaced. But I don’t travel as much as I used to, so it’s hard to justify spending a lot of money on luggage. Still, going back to my Clorox Bleach theory, there are some things where I just won’t skimp on quality, and my luggage is one of them.

While in New York, I’m there for two nights. Monday night, I have reservations at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. It’s going to be a little expensive, and I’m not sure I can justify that on my expense report. I also want to see the tree at Rockafeller Center, something I’ve never done. Tuesday night, I’m supposed to meet up with somebody for a drink. This is a guy I’ve been chatting with for a few years. He lives in Brooklyn with his partner, so that might be fun.

This trip to New York is completely pointless. Our business project manager promised that someone from the technical team would be there this week for their implementation, thus I’m going. Still, there is no pressing need for me to be there.

Back to Europe?
Nov 18th, 2007 by Mike

I’m kicking around the idea of going back to Europe in the spring.

I really hate the idea of flying across the Atlantic in coach. When I had a bazillion frequent flyer miles to burn, I got spoiled by upgrading. Once you fly business class across an ocean, you’ll never want to sit in the back of the plane again.

The flipside of this is the price. The cheapest business class seats I’ve found across the Atlantic start about $2500, but most of them are in the $3500 range. That’s a pretty big price tag for a round-trip flight. This has me looking for other options.

There are options. One of them is a low-cost business flight from New York like MAXJet.  One problem with MAXJet is that it lands at London’s Stansted airport instead of Heathrow or Gatwick.  Another problem is that I don’t get to earn miles that I’d ever be able to use again. Oh, and I’d have to get to New York, too.

Another option is to fly Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy non-stop from Boston to Heathrow and then hop a train to wherever it is I’d like to go.  That will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars, which is much more palatable than other business class fares. The downside is that I don’t really want to go to London. I’d rather go to Berlin and Amsterdam on this trip. However, I certainly wouldn’t mind taking the Eurostar train.

I really have no idea what I’m going to end up doing. It’s going to require some thinking and planning.

Mesa Grill
Nov 9th, 2007 by Mike

I have to go back to New York in early December. The Monday night I get there, I have reservations for dinner at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. My niece is going to be jealous, even though she does say he looks like a monkey.

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