Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – September 2014

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Watch Your Vowels

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

With millions of passengers flying every day, some are bound to end up at the wrong destination. I’m not talking about diverted or cancelled flights, or even what airlines call “misboards” when someone board the wrong airplane by mistake which, despite all the security regulations and precautions, still occasionally happens. But booking the wrong destination can happen, especially with so many people booking online. There are multiple cities in the U.S. with the same name (Bloomington, Lafayette and Springfield come to mind), but globally there are Londons in Canada and England and Panama Cities in Florida and Panama, and many more examples. Spelling and pronunciation errors can cause someone going to Oakland, California to end up in Auckland, New Zealand or the wrong La Paz, in Mexico or Bolivia. Airline staff are used to this, but they make mistakes, too. An Australian couple bound for the World Cup in Salvador, Brazil this past summer, ended up in San Salvador in El Salvador due to an airline booking error and had to watch the game on TV instead. An American dentist and his partner, anxious to see the Alhambra booked a first class vacation trip to Granada, Spain through British Airways last year. Upon landing in London, they proceeded to their connecting flight to Grenada, with that single vowel causing the mixup. Twenty minutes into the flight, they noticed their flight on the inflight map was headed out over the ocean, at which point they were past the point of no return. Nine hours later they ended up on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. Since the dentist had a conference in Lisbon, Portugal at the end of the vacation, they flew to Miami and on to London. The little vowel error caused them to be on seven flights over three days and spend over $34,000 in airfares and in lost salary, for which the dentist sued British Airways since their agent erred. The case was finally dismissed last month in a Washington court. Let this be a lesson to you: watch your vowels.

The Game Plane

Are you into game shows? Is your idea of a comfortable airline seat in your living room? Here’s a new one for you, courtesy of Allegiant Air. For the past few months, “The Game Plane”, with reality host by Mark L. Walberg has been filming with somewhat captive audiences live on scheduled flights. Broadcasts in syndication began September 20, with real passengers as contestants getting chances to win prizes such as hotel stays in Las Vegas, Orlando and Hawaii. Now if you haven’t heard of Allegiant, they are what can be described as a niche, yet successful, airline, serving smaller cities to leisure destinations usually a few times a week. Think Shreveport to Las Vegas, one of the chosen routes for the game. The games range from “Bye Bye Birdie” (an inflight putting contest), the “Barf Bag Challenge” (choose questions from an array of air sickness bags) to “How Smart is Your Co-Pilot” (one half of a couple is sent to the isolation booth- the airplane lavatory). For some sample pictures, see http://gameplane.herokuapp.com/. Now I have no idea how they deal with turbulence….

Airline Food, Grounded

Some international travelers prefer to eat their meal on the ground before a red-eye flight to maximize rest time, especially when heading eastbound where hours are lost. Indeed, some airline lounges offer premium travelers pre-flight fine dining, especially those in the Middle East where most long haul travel involves an overnight, and even on the U.S. East Coast where most flights to Europe are scheduled to leave in the evening and arrive early. On recent flights on Turkish and Qatar Airways I was blown away by the selection of food, with everything from chefs to olive bars. But now we’re talking about airline food on the ground when you’re not even taking a flight. LSG SkyChefs, in partnership with Allyouneed.com, a German delivery site, has just introduced a test of home airline meal delivery in Germany, Cologne and Dusseldorf, to be exact. The meals are designed after Lufthansa business class meals, are prepared fresh, not frozen, and delivered to homes once a week, on Wednesdays. The meals, however, can be frozen and eaten later and feature both vegetarian and regular entrees, whatever is being served aloft on that day.

Copycat Freeloader

On the other hand, you can do what a “wanna-be” passenger did at Munich, but got caught, similar to what a man did at a Chinese airport for months. The European traveler bought a one way business class ticket from Munich to Zurich. The distance of this flight is only 162 miles. I flew this segment some years ago, and it took longer to get the checked baggage than the flight itself. However, these tickets are relatively expensive, at $895 (yes, you read that correctly), but they permit unlimited cancellation and rebooking without penalty. They also permit access to the premium lounge at Munich, which the guy used 35 times, without ever flying. Each time he checked in, helped himself to the copious food and drink, and then had his ticket refunded and reissued. After a few months of this, airline staff got suspicious, and Lufthansa took the freeloader to court. He was fined $2700, equal to the daily lounge charge.

“Keep Calm and Watch”

With all the stories of “air rage” these days, British Airways has discovered some ways to calm passengers and mesmerize them to relax on long flights. Last spring the airline introduced what one could only call “boring” movies. How about watching a seven hour trail ride to Oslo, or hours of bird feeding or knitting? A British Airways spokesperson equated it with watching the moving flight map. Just recently, a new channel, “Paws and Relax” was introduced, featuring romping dogs and cats. Think “Puppy Bowl” – non-Super Bowl watchers know that at the same time the big game is on, the Animal Planet channel shows the “Puppy Bowl” with furry juvenile canines playing with toys and each other on a little sports field. British Airways also recently tested a “Happiness Blanket” on some travelers between New York and London. A headband worn by the traveler measures electrical fluctuations of the brain, and the blanket turns blue when the user is calm, red when they are anxious or stressed. The blankets were used during mealtime, entertainment and sleep. No idea if this idea is going to be expanded. Some pictures here: http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/offers/partners/happiness-blanket

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