It’s no secret that American airlines have long had a bad reputation among Australians. For many travellers, they conjure up images of old planes, surly flight attendants and a sub-par meal service.
The good news is the big US airlines are now acknowledging the perception is grounded in truth – and facing increased competition from Gulf carriers in the international market and hip domestic carriers like Virgin America and JetBlue, they are working rapidly to improve.
American Airlines on Wednesday unveiled plans for a new premium economy cabin to be rolled out on its international aircraft from late 2016, offering a similar type of service to its partner airline Qantas – including more legroom, wider seats, noise-cancelling headphones, amenity kits and an enhanced meal service.
“Our customers tell us they want a class of service between business class and main cabin, and this feedback provided the genesis for our new premium economy service,” said Andrew Nocella, American’s chief marketing officer. “Premium economy is offered today by many premier carriers around the world. We studied those offerings and developed a world-class product.”
Virgin Australia’s trans-Pacific partner, Delta Air Lines, is meanwhile transforming its extra-legroom Comfort+ section to a more proper premium economy cabin. United Airlines, which flies to Sydney and Melbourne, on Wednesday said it would bring back free snacks to economy class on domestic US flights used by many Australians to connect to cities beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“We’re refocussing on the big and little things that we know matter to our customers, and shape how they feel about their travel experience,” said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s vice president of food services and United Clubs.
Free beer and wine
In June, United re-introduced complimentary beer and wine in economy class on its trans-Pacific services, in a move no doubt popular with Australian travellers who typically expect to have free alcohol on international flights.
In business class, Australian travellers have long been partial to pyjamas on long-haul flights, but they haven’t been on offer from the US carriers plying the trans-Pacific route. For sleepwear enthusiasts, that could be enough to tip the scales toward flying Qantas or Virgin rather than the US carriers.
But that’s about to change, too, with American offering pyjamas in business class when it begins flying the Sydney-Los Angeles route next week and Delta also adding sleepwear to its business class. United may not be far behind, amid reports on Wednesday that pyjamas were under consideration. United also recently improved its business class amenity kits.
American chief Doug Parker travelled to Australia with his senior executive team last month to show off the carrier’s flagship Boeing 777-300ER offering, trying to combat lingering perceptions that US carriers couldn’t meet Australian customer standards.
“If you haven’t flown American Airlines in a while, we look forward to having you back on,” he said at the time. “It is a new, modern American Airlines.”
Hawaiian Airlines has announced a new daily nonstop service from Honolulu to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, which will begin next July.
It becomes Hawaiian’s fourth Japan route after Tokyo Haneda, Osaka and Sapporo and the airline’s eleventh international service overall.
“Japan is Hawaii’s largest international market with arrivals from the market making up 18% of total arrivals to the state in 2014,” said George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority,
“Hawaiian Airlines’ daily flight from Narita to Honolulu is projected to contribute an annual $130 million in visitor spending and $14.7 million in state tax revenue.”
Hawaiian entered the Tokyo market in 2010 with nonstop flights to Haneda and added Osaka to its route network a year later.
“We’ve had the pleasure of carrying more than 800,000 visitors between Haneda and Honolulu since the launch of our daily A330 service more than five years ago,” said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian’s chief executive officer.
“With average load factors routinely exceeding 90 percent, it is clear Japanese travelers have chosen Hawaiian as their carrier of choice. We are excited to offer even more options for service between Honolulu and the Greater Tokyo region. “
The HTA said overall tourist arrivals were up in October by nearly 5% to more than 690,000 although average spend per arrival declined slightly.
From passive scanners to seamless corridors, airport security technology is on a rapid evolution to both increase accuracy and reduce inconvenience. The latest technology is one of our favorites: a scanner that actually determines the composition of materials rather than trying to see through them. Basically, it can tell the difference between a harmless object and a potentially dangerous prohibited item.
The Halo technology still uses X-rays to build the image, but it can process an object’s “material signature” to determine what it’s made of. Current technology can only mark whether an item is plastic, metal or organic, which leaves plenty open to interpretation. Marijuana and food, for example, are both organic, and there aren’t always obvious differences between explosive metallics and non-explosive metallics. Given those limitations, security screeners must physically inspect suspicious items. This new technology could theoretically eliminate many of these manual searches, as screeners could inspect items without opening the bag.
The Halo uses what’s known as X-ray crystallography, which is a technique that analyzes how a particular material scatters X-ray particles to determine its composition. By looking at the unique pattern that the particle scatter creates, the machine can then make determinations on what the object is made of. The Halo engineers then had to create a faster way of making this happen, and so deployed tubular X-ray beams which amplify a material’s signature.
In comments to The Engineer, Halo’s chief technology officer Paul Evans said:
“Our beam intersects the object, and concentrates the signal, so we can place various detectors inside the hollow beam, and see these unique patterns of diffracted radiation. Our aim is to ultimately produce a device that will not only produce signals, but also reconstruct three-dimensional images from these signals.”
These 3D images would then be matched against a library of materials, in order to make the determination of what materials are in any given bag.
The technology is also made to be automated, meaning that no humans would be needed to monitor the images. Halo will create an alert whenever a supsicious material is detected for further human inspection. So not only is there more accuracy and efficiency but there’s lower cost as well! Sounds like a rare win for airport security.
Delta will no longer accept pets as checked baggage, the airline said this week in a blog. The change will be effective March 1, 2016, and will affect anyone who has already paid for their animal to travel as checked luggage. Delta will be reaching out to those passengers to inform them of the change, as February 29th is the last day of the old policy.
The airline will continue to allow pets under 30 pounds to fly as a carry-on in all classes but Delta One, and will offer exceptions to its new No Pets as Checked Baggage rule to active-duty military traveling to new posts, and for certified support animals.
For those passengers who still want to fly with their pets, Delta Cargo will be the only way to ship pets within the United States. But brace yourselves, because the cost will be greater than that of checked bags. Although there is no price data currently available, a similar program – United’s PetSafe – can cost anywhere from $200 to $2,000 for shipping, depending on the animal’s weight and destination.
It’s also far less convenient, as passengers must drop off pets at least three hours before departure time at an area away from traditional passenger check-in. The airline also will not guarantee that pets will fly on a passenger’s schedule, potentially complicating travel even further.
For the past decade, Delta actually had the worst track recordrelating to animal safety. According to statistics from the Department of Transportation, 74 animals died on Delta flights between May 2005 and September 2015, almost 25% of all recorded airline pet deaths. This might explain why the airline has decided to completely transfer the operational burden of transporting pets to a different division, one more focused on cargo that also has dedicated areas of the airport that could prevent accidents, should a pet escape its carrier before or after a flight.
Delta offers the following guidance for travelers bringing pets under the new rules:
A separate booking from their flight itinerary is required. Additional fees and charges may apply.
A pet shipped domestically via Delta Cargo cannot be booked until 14 days prior to departure.
Pets are not guaranteed to be shipped on a customer’s same flight or flight schedule.
Shipping a pet requires dropping it off at a Delta Cargo location at least three hours before departure time at a location separate from passenger check-in.
Picking up a pet will also occur at a Delta Cargo location.
Delta Cargo will only accept international pet shipments from International Pet and Animal Transportation Association members.
NEW YORK – Air France confirmed a drop in demand following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, but said it’s too early to gauge the full impact.
“We have noticed some decline in our bookings,” Air France-KLM CEO Alexandre de Juniactold USA TODAY in an interview Thursday. He described the drop-off as “in line with what our competitors have faced in very similar situations,” referring to the impact on local carriers following terrorist attacks in London in 2005 and in Madrid in 2004.
Air France was not directly targeted in the attacks, thought to inspired by the ISIS terror group. But industry observers had been watching to see if travelers have become spooked about flying after the Paris attacks.
“We see an impact on Air France, but no impact on KLM,” de Juniac added. “So it has clearly impacted (France as a) destination.”
KLM is the Amsterdam-based Dutch carrier that merged with Air France in 2004 to create Air France-KLM. Each carrier continues to operate flights under its own brand.
Still, de Juniac cautioned “it’s a bit a bit early at this stage to make a precise estimate” about how much or how long the dip in demand might continue. “We’ll have clearer and more precise figures in the coming weeks,” he said.
Even with the fallout from the attacks, de Juniac said Air France-KLM “will still be profitable this year, as planned.”
He pledged to carry on with the company’s daily business, saying that offers the strongest rebuke to those who attacked Paris.
“The best behavior we can all have is to stand firm and maintain our plans and live normally,” de Juniac said. And he issued a resounding invitation to visit France.
“Are Americans saying they don’t want to go to France in the wake of the attacks?” Kaplan said, noting the U.S. market had been a bright spot for the carrier even as it posted losses during the past several years. “The one thing that’s still working pretty well for Air France right now is trans-Atlantic. If this impacts that demand, that wouldn’t be helpful.”
Kaplan suggested that Air France faces a delicate balance with marketing and sales efforts in such a sensitive environment.
“It’s different than when something happens specifically to the airline,” Kaplan said about how the Paris attacks might affect the airline. “Right now, when you say ‘France’ to someone, the first thing that comes to mind may not be a lie-flat seat. It’s definitely something complicated for them to deal with.”
DeJuniac said “it’s legitimate that people would raise the question” about whether they should still travel to Paris in the wake of the attacks. But the answer is “yes, go.”
While acknowledging the company “must be cautious,” he says management opted not to suspend any of Air France’s current marketing and sales campaigns.
“We think that the strongest blow we can do against terrorists and on people who are doing these kind of attacks is to tell them that it is has no influence on individual behavior and on our values,” de Juniac says. “We strongly encourage people to come to France.”
American Airlines announced Tuesday that it will start doling out frequent-flier miles based on the fare customers pay and not on the distance they fly. American’s move closely mimics changes already made by Delta and United, the USA’s two other big traditional carriers.
“American Airlines has spent the last two years being singularly focused on integration. Now we’re at a point where we can begin to look ahead and lay the foundation for the future of the AAdvantage program to ensure we’re rewarding our most loyal customers with the benefits they value the most,” Suzanne Rubin, president of American’s AAdvantage frequent-flier program, says in a statement.
Starting sometime in “the second half of 2016,” non-elite American customers will earn 5 miles per every dollar spent on the base fare and “carrier-imposed fees.” Elite customers will earn more, with Gold members earning 7 miles per dollar, Platinum 8 miles per dollar and Executive Platinum 11 miles per dollar. The earning levels closely mirror how Delta and United award miles.
Making sense of Delta’s frequent flier changes
United: Fliers earn miles based on fare, not distance
American detailed several other changes, including changes to the miles needed for many frequent-flier awards. Unlike “redeemable” miles that can be cashed in for free flights, miles that count toward earning elite status on American will still be tied to distance flown. But the carrier is tweaking that too, making it easier for customers buying expensive fares to rack up those miles even faster. American customers earn elite status by accumulating at least 25,000 miles in a calendar year.
But it’s the change in how American awards “redeemable” frequent-flier miles that appears to cement a fundamental shift in the nature of loyalty programs at U.S. airlines. Launched in the 1980s – first by American and quickly matched by most others – airline frequent-flier programs have since become commonplace among American consumers.
For decades, the programs run by the big traditional “legacy” carriers handed out miles based on the distance their customers flew. But that began to change last winter.
Delta became the first of the big carriers to tie mileage-earning to fares rather than distance. United followed Delta’s lead about three months later, making nearly identical changes to its loyalty program.
Low-cost carriers — including Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America — already employ a “revenue-based” system of earning frequent-flier points. Still, it’s been the change at Delta, United and now American that’s being viewed as a fundamental shift among the three big network carriers that control much of the U.S. market.
American stood pat with its traditional set-up for more than a year after its rivals changed. Still, it was widely expected that the airline would eventually follow suit once it had finished the heavy lifting in its merger with US Airways. US Airways made its last-ever flight last month, among the last moves in a merger that has left American as the world’s largest airline.
“I definitely think it’s because of the merger. And they’ve basically said as much,” says Brian Kelly, who tracks airline frequent-flier programs via his The Points Guy website. “To their credit, they’ve handled the merger beautifully.”
American’s switch to fare-based earning will begin sometime in the second half of 2016, though Rubin said in a call with reporters that the exact date has not been determined.
Despite that uncertainty, Rubin said American wanted to detail some of its planned frequent-flier program changes now because the carrier is “eager to be transparent” and to give customers advance notice.
Once the changes to earning miles begin in 2016, Alaska Airlines, Spirit and Frontier will be the last big U.S. carriers left to still tie redeemable frequent-flier miles to distance flown.
But while American has followed Delta and United in tying frequent-flier miles to fares, it did not match one other big change made by its rivals since 2014.
Delta and United now require customers to hit minimum spending thresholds to attain elite status. Previously, fliers on those carriers could earn elite status simply by flying a minimum of 25,000 “elite” miles in a calendar year. Now, both those carriers require customers also to spend a minimum of $3,000 in airfare — or spend $25,000 in an airline-branded credit card — to attain the lowest level of elite status.
American did not add such a requirement in its latest program change.
When asked if the carrier might add such a requirement down the road, Rubin said only that American would “continue to study that element of the program.”
Kelly said he thinks American may not be quick to add it.
“Now would’ve been the time to do it,” he says. “This will be a differentiator for them.”
Overall, however, “most of the changes are not good,’ Kelly adds about the changes announced by American on Tuesday. He says appears to have shifted more awards into higher-mileage categories. With the proliferation of airline credit cards, “billions and billions of miles have been pumped into the system. There’s going to be inflation” in the cost of frequent-flier award tickets, Kelly says.
But he’s quick to add that “there are a couple of bright spots” to the changes.
“I really like the changes for EQMs (elite-qualifying miles), Kelly says, saying American now offers “richer” elite qualifying options than both Delta and United. Beyond that, the changes are likely to help corporate travelers but work against bargain-seeking leisure customers.
“For passengers buying expensive tickets, they’ll likely get more miles under the new system,” he says. “Most leisure fliers will earn less.”
Other highlights from Tuesday’s announcement:
New low-mileage award for short flights: American create a new award category for flights under 500 miles. It’s “MileSAAver” award for those flights will now by just 7,500 miles each way, down from the current 12,500. The new awards will become available in March. Examples of sub-500-mile flights include Washington Reagan-Boston; New York JFK-Cleveland; Philadelphia-Montreal; Charlotte-Orlando; Chicago O’Hare-Memphis; Dallas/Fort Worth-Kansas City; Miami-Savannah, Ga.; Phoenix-San Diego; and Los Angeles-San Francisco.
Changes in earning elite status: In changes beginning Jan. 1, American is phasing out its system of “points” that count toward elite status but will enhance how members earn “elite qualifying” miles. Customers who buy “full fare” first and business class tickets will earn 3 “qualifying miles” per mile flown while discount first and business-class tickets earn 2. Full-fare coach tickets earn 1.5 miles while discounted tickets earn 1 mile.
So, for example, a customer buying a full-fare first class ticket on a 1,500-mile one-way route will earn 4,500 miles that count toward elite status. The same flight in discounted economy would earn 1,500 qualifying miles.
The points system is being discontinued, but customers will still be able to qualify by “segments” — which are equivalent to a single flight. A round-trip flight with a connection in each direction woudl be the equivalent of 4 segments. Fliers earn status be flying 30 (Gold), 60 (Platinum) or 120 (Executive Platinum) in a calendar year.
Mileage award levels changing: American will roll out a new award chart, increasing the miles needed for routes between some regions while reducing them on a handful of others. The changes will take effect in March.
Premium tickets on trans-Atlantic routes and cross-country routes are among those seeing increases. First-class tickets on American’s three-cabin cross country flights will now go for a minimum of 50,000 miles each way, up from the current minimum of 32,500.
Rubin says the routes are being “adjusted to match increased customer demand, including routes that feature our world-class A321T and 777-300ER aircraft.” American has rolled out cabin upgrades to those aircraft, including first and business class cabins that feature lie-flat seats.
At the other end of the spectrum, tickets to Mexico and the Caribbean will now be available for as little as 30,000 miles round trip in coach – a decrease of 5,000 miles round trip (or 2,500 miles each way).
Upgrades: Beginning Jan. 1, members who qualify for Executive Platinum status for 2017 and beyond will receive four “systemwide upgrades,” down from the previous eight. However, they’ll be able to two more (up to a total of four additional) for every 50,000 elite miles they earn beyond the 100,000 it takes to earn Executive Platinum status.
Upgrades (2): American’s Gold and Platinum elite members will now earn four 500-mile upgrade certificates for every 12,500 elite miles earned, up from the current 10,000. American says it increased the earning requirement to coincide with its increased elite-mile multipliers for high-fare tickets.
Another day, another strike-related mess for Lufthansa’s customers.
The carrier grounded about a third of its entire flight schedule on Thursday as striking flight attendants walked off the job for the sixth time in seven days.
The labor disruption forced the German carrier to cancel more than 930 flights, including most of its Thursday schedule to the United States. Lufthansa estimates that Thursday’s disruption has stranded 107,000 of its customers. The carrier has already pared its Friday schedule as well, preemptively canceling more than 940 flights that will impact about 111,000 fliers.
German airline refines the art of coping with strikes
The overall toll of the attendants strike has been staggering since it first began last Friday (Nov. 6). Combined, Lufthansa has canceled about 3,700 flights affecting more than 440,000 passengers – nearly half a million travelers.
Among the key disputes are retirement benefits. In particular, attendants are reportedly unhappy on Lufthansa’s plans regarding “transition” payments for members who retire early. Such transition payments help guarantee wages and benefits until government plans began at standard retirement ages.
Strikes have become a recurring problem for Lufthansa, which has been working to cut costs this decade. The carrier is facing increased competition in Europe low-cost rivals and in international markets from the rapid global expansion of Persian Gulf rivals Emirates,Etihad and Qatar Airways.
The strikes have come with a price tag. Bloomberg News estimates “Lufthansa’s losses from a series of crippling strikes over the past 10 months are set to surpass 230 million euros ($247 million), eclipsing expenses from a spate of walkouts last year.”
Virgin America is celebrating the most American of holidays (OK, maybe second most) with an incredible Thanksgiving week 50% off sale on First Class and Main Cabin Select tickets, in effect making it cheaper to fly first class than it is to travel coach.
There are some majorly tight restrictions here, so you’re going to have to get booking almost immediately. The sale ends at 11:59 Pacific Time on Wednesday, November 11. But for those of you who have room to spare on that credit card balance, use the code POSH at checkout on any nonstop or connecting travel routes between Thursday, November 19 and Friday, November 27 to score the sweet savings.
We previewed the deal ourselves (wishful thinking!), comparing prices on flights from San Francisco to Boston, and the deals speak for themselves. Regular prices for the trip:
Aaaaand the POSH discount prices:
First class tickets will actually cost you less than seats in the main cabin on that redeye flight, and that’s hardly the only deal worth taking advantage of. But again, remember that the POSH promo ends extremely soon. For a full list of restrictions, or just to have an excuse to “accidentally” book a trip out of town this month, check out the Virgin America POSH promo page. Happy Thanksgiving!
How much are U.S. airlines willing to spend on meals in the sky? The era of complimentary hot dinners may be long gone, but there’s still some creativity in the kitchen.
United Airlines just rolled out new menus for domestic flights, pledging to offer “restaurant-quality” food throughout its network. But is that possible, given airlines’ limited food budgets? A look at the latest numbers on in-flight food from the U.S. Department of Transportation show a vast range in what individual airlines are investing in their kitchens. In fact, among the ten largest U.S. airlines that report their culinary expenditures to the government, United is one of the most generous, spending, on average, $6.08 per passenger in 2014, second only to American, where the tab was $6.43 per person. (That’s for all classes of service, domestic and international.)
The average for all the airlines in the sample was $3.61 per person, but that’s because budget airlines like Spirit, which spent a beyond-budget 26 cents a person, get thrown into the mix. Spirit, along with Southwest and Allegiant, don’t serve food at all, except, perhaps, for a bag of pretzels. Others include Delta, which forks over $5.36 per flier; Virgin America, at $3.73 per person; and JetBlue at $1.39.
Now that airlines are in the black again, will customers’ stomachs get some attention?
But DOT’s data also reveals the degree to which airline catering has been on the decline since the late 1990s; average spending among major full-service airlines like American and United topped $8 a passenger in 2001, and the average for all carriers that year was $4.79. You’d have to go a long way back to find a time when U.S. airlines actually competed on the quality of their food, serving steaks to order and freshly baked cookies (think Pan Am in the 1960s). But the reality is that food quality comes down to what you paid for your flight—if you’re flying 14 hours in first class, you’ll eat well. Things went downhill after 2001, as gourmet dining wasn’t exactly a priority for money-losing airlines; the average food spending hit a low of $3.30 per person in 2007. According to the DOT’S Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average airline spending on food has dropped by about 25 percent since 2001.
Now that airlines are in the black again, will customers’ stomachs get some attention? United’s new food plan gives us hope; the airline is actually serving hot meals in the back of the plane as well. This isn’t the first reboot of its food program—it enlisted The Trotter Project to devise a new “Bistro on Board”—nor is it the only domestic airline getting creative. Alaska Airlines has offered up Cascade brisket chili, grilled cheese, or smoky BBQ chicken sandwiches developed by star chef Tom Douglas. Of course, those economy meals are for sale—the era of free meals in economy class is long gone, aside from on Hawaiian Air—but the addition of real cooked fare is indeed news, especially given the paucity of edible food aloft in recent years. The new selections, which include a “bistro bowl” with braised beef, vegetables, and steamed rice, will start showing up in cabins on November 1. New entrees for United first class passengers will include Spanish paella and mushroom risotto, and on the trancontinental p.s. (premium service) flights, steak and made-to-order sundaes are on the menu.