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August 31, 2009

Summer Airline News: Bag fees, AA shrinkage, nerds, Wi-Fi, more

BAG FEES CONTINUE TO RISE. Virgin America has increased its bag fee to $20 for every checked bag. Meanwhile, nearly every major carrier has quietly raised fees for checked bags to $25 for the first, and $30 for the second (that’s an additional $110 round trip if you check two bags…). Some airlines will knock off $5 per bag if you pay the fee online. For international flights, the new custom is one bag free, then $50 for the second bag. (As usual, fees don’t apply to first/business or elite level frequent flyers.) Southwest remains the only major carrier not charging for checked bags.

AA SHRINKS IN THE BAY. American has eliminated the once popular “Nerd Bird” flights between San Jose and Austin, (is the techie crowd switching over to more teleconferencing? Or is it the economy?) It’s also cut its RJ flights between San Jose and San Diego and reduced frequencies between SJC and Orange County.  With Virgin America, Southwest, United and American all offering nonstop flights between SFO and Orange County, you just knew that one of them had to pull the plug. American will stop flying the route on Nov. 18. We think it’s only a matter of time before the great, shrinking United does the same.

HEY NERDS: YOU CAN STILL GET THERE FROM HERE. About the time American announced it was dumping the Nerd Bird flights, Alaska Air swooped in and announced a single new daily nonstop between SJC and Austin. The flight originates in Portland.

JETBLUE: MORE SFO, LESS OAK AND SJC. Hat tip to the fantastic Cranky Flier blog for this tidbit: “JetBlue will kill one JFK and one Washington/Dulles flight from Oakland. Those airplanes will now become a second daily flight from SFO to both JFK and Boston. JetBlue will also add two more daily flights to Long Beach from SFO and a single additional daily flight from Oakland to Long Beach. Those new Long Beach slots are coming from the three daily Long Beach – San Jose flights which are going away.”

MORE CREDIT CARD OFFERS FROM UAL. Chase is now offering United customers some new credit card flavors. The one that tempts me the most (since I lost Premier status) includes access to EconomyPlus seats ($275/yr). Another provides includes membership to the Red Carpet Club ($375/yr). Another gives Mileage Plus bonuses (such as triple miles for United purchases, double miles for everything else), paving the way to faster free flights ($130/yr). Details here.

UNITED CUTS REDEMPTION FEES. United has unilaterally dumped those obnoxious $75 fees for last minute Mileage Plus redemptions. Good move! Seemed mighty unfair to charge a fee for something that did not cost the airline a penny! (Interesting….other airlines have not matched this move.)

MY WI-FI EXPERIENCE. Your BAT editor has used in-flight wi-fi twice so far and was very satisfied with the experiences (The Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi system is now available on all Virgin America and AirTran flights and on about 60% of Delta planes. It’s also on American’s flights between SFO and JFK and should be on United’s PS flights at some point later this year.)  Signing on is simple. The connection is as good as the one I have at my office (except when streaming video.) The only downside is that wi-fi hogs battery power  (and the only carrier that offers in-seat power at ALL seats is Virgin America.) So my laptop shut down a couple hours into the four-hour AirTran flight between SFO and ATL—so I’m not sure I got my three-hour’s worth for $12.95.

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE. The DOT says that 76.1% of the flights operated by the nation’s 19 largest airlines arrived on time in June, compared with just 70.8% in June 2008. There’s a combination of factors at play here, including less congestion and more padding of schedules on the part of airlines. HOWEVER, NYC airports are still in the pits. Despite on-time improvements nearly everywhere, New York’s three airports are STILL stuck at the bottom of the list for major airports. JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airports ranked 29th, 30th and 31st, respectively, for on-time arrivals at the nation’s 31 largest airports.

PLANES ARE STILL FULL. Don’t’ think that the down economy means you might find an empty seat next to you on the plane this summer. Airlines are pulling their large planes out of the skies, parking them in the desert, and using smaller planes instead. They are also cutting back on flight frequencies. As a result, most major carrier planes are running 80-90 percent full this summer…about the same as last summer.

HOW MUCH ARE THEY MAKING IN LUGGAGE FEES? According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines are raking in the bucks when it comes to those obnoxious new checked luggage fees. American leads the pack at $108 million. Delta’s earned $103 million in fees. Which airline has made the LEAST on baggage fees (since it does not charge for the first two bags)? Southwest, of course, at just $6 million. And it even managed to turn a profit in the second quarter!

AMEX HONORING CLEAR CARD DISPUTES. If you charged your Clear Card on AMEX and disputed it, it looks like you should be getting your money back. BAT reader D. Cumpston was the first to email us with the good news: “I got a very welcome letter from AMEX last week saying, ‘We would like to advise you that the status of your claim on your account from Verified Identity Pass Inc. We suspended the amount of $179 and advised you we would contact the merchant on your behalf. Outcome: This dispute has been resolved in your favor. The merchant has not yet provided the information necessary to resolve your claim. Therefore we have issued a credit to your account and removed the previously suspended amount…’ NICE!” Thanks, Amex!

SPEAKING OF CLEAR CARD. After several recent Sunday afternoon flights and LOOOONG lines at SFO security (which looked much worse than they ended up being….they actually  moved very fast) your BAT editor is still missing his CLEAR card fast track. It was such a nice insurance policy against security line disaster. Anyway….There are some rumors floating around about the possibility of a resuscitated program. Stay tuned as we sniff these out! But don’t get your hopes up.

NEW TERMINAL B AT SAN JOSE: The new Terminal B at San Jose International opened last month for Southwest Airlines flyers (only) since the carrier has laid claim to its first five gates. Delta and Alaska Airlines will move in when six new gates open in Terminal B next summer. For now, all other airlines use Terminal A, which is also under renovation, part of a much needed $1.3 billion makeover of the Silicon Valley airport.

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April 1, 2009

RAIL RIDER RANT. FORGET THE $5’s.

Filed under: airports,BART — Chris @ 12:48 am

This is not really travel related…but it is transportation related. And I’m sure most BAT readers jump on BART or MUNI from time to time to get to or from the airport,  so here goes.

Last week I took MUNI home from my One-on-One class at the Apple store downtown. (Makin’ movies on my Mac! But I digress…)

I got stuck in the Powell Street station with the wrong sized bills and finding change to purchase my fare turned into a frustrating farce.

So I wrote a letter to SF Chronicle columnist CW Nevius, and he posted part of it!

So here’s the email I wrote (copying Mayor Newsom, SFMTA head Nathaniel Ford and my pal Angela Jackson at the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.) At the bottom is the link to Nevius’ column—and excellent reader commentary.

Hello there and thanks for your great work about what’s not working in SF! I read it every day in the paper delivered to my house (yes, I read the real paper!)

Here’s my observation and recent experience:

I am a travel writer living in SF and have experienced and enjoyed many of the world’s best municipal railways on my frequent journeys.

What kind of world-class city for visitors (or residents) is San Francisco if its most central Muni Railway/BART station cannot change a $5 bill?

This has happened to me more than once over the last year at the Powell St station (ground zero for tourists). I can’t imagine what it might be like for our many visitors who may not have a firm command of our language or our currency.

So here we go….

I walk into the Muni station with a $5 bill, a $10 bill and a $20 bill expecting to buy a $1.50 Muni fare.

I soon discover that none of the machines can accept a $5 bill.

So I walk over and ask the booth agent on duty how to buy my $1.50 fare.

He tells me that there are no machines that change $5 bills, but there are machines that will change my $10 or $20.

So I go back to that machine, insert my $20, and get back…. you guessed it…four $5 bills.

So I go back to the agent and ask again.

This time he informs me again that there are no machines that change $5 anywhere in the station. He tells me that I need to go into the adjacent Westfield Shopping Center and buy something in order to get the proper change for Muni.

You’ve got to be kidding me!

San Francisco can do better than this!

Can someone please install or modify the current change machines to accommodate a $5 bill?

This would be a smart way to spend some of the $67 million SFMTA is getting as part of the stimulus package.

Thanks for your consideration of this issue!

Chris McGinnis, Editor, THE BAT, http://www.batsf.wordpress.com
Noe Valley

And VOILA! My rant shows up in the paper!

January 14, 2009

Fly Nonstop from SFO/OAK/SJC to NYC-LaGuardia or DC-National?

Filed under: airports,OAK,SFO,SJC — Chris @ 12:38 am
Tags:

Maybe so! Our buddies over at the Cranky Flier tipped us off to this interesting tidbit:  Apparently Sen. John McCain is busy in Washington trying to abolish the silly, outdated “perimeter rules” that forbid airlines from offering non-stop flights to the more convenient New York-LaGuardia or Washington-National from most cities west of the Mississippi. (A few exceptions have slipped through the cracks, such as flights from Denver, Phoenix and Vegas and a handful of Alaska Air flights from LA and Seattle.) The rules were instituted back in the 60’s when the government wanted to promote the use of JFK and Dulles airports. Stay tuned for more on this one. I for one will not miss that LONG ride into DC from Dulles or the traffic choked haul to Manhattan from JFK.

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