Category Archives: Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – December 2015

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid surrounded by Alaska Airlines and Hainan Airlines Flight Attendants

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid surrounded by Alaska Airlines and Hainan Airlines Flight Attendants

By Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

Airplane Seats Never Die…

…they just upcycle! If you’ve not heard of “upcycling”, it’s the process of repurposing something to create an item of greater value, either financially or environmentally. Alaska Airlines has recently taken this to new heights, no pun intended. In the process of replacing seats on its Boeing 737-800 and -900 fleet, Alaska found itself with a lot of leather seat covers that it had no use for. But Alaska is a creative company and environmentally conscious. It found a willing partner, Mari Cla Ro, a Canadian manufacturer and retailer that was able to design a new line of stylish handbags, carry-ons, passport covers and more. It’s dubbed the Atlas Collection, with geographic names like Detroit and HAV (for Havana?). You won’t find these items at Wal-Mart, but Mari Cla Ro sells them at their boutique in Toronto or you can buy them at the Alaska Airlines Company Store if you happen to be in Seattle. These are handmade, and represent something really exclusive and unique. Prices, however, are moderate.

Now, to be sure, this is not the first time that airplanes and their contents have been upcycled. JetBlue partnered with Manhattan Portage, a New York City-based retailer to create a selection of backpacks and accessories made from employee uniforms. To name just a few more, Delta partnered with Skyebags for a line of bags and Southwest with Looptworks for their “LUV” line. Entire airplanes have been converted into restaurants, vacation homes and even, in Scandinavia, a youth hostel.

Cabin service items have a unique worldwide following where people collect and trade everything from cutlery, china and glassware, even swizzle sticks (when they had logos) and yes, air sickness bags. There are exhibitions of these around the US where fevered trading goes on between collectors. Naturally the rarer the item, the higher the value. With the airline industry going through consolidation, a lot of famous names from the past (think Pan Am, TWA, Eastern and dozens more) have become like vintage wine labels.

Document Delay

When traveling internationally, do not forget that all important document that opens doors, your passport. Pity the poor pilot due to fly Hong Kong Air’s flight one day in October from Shanghai to Hong Kong who suddenly realized before takeoff that he had forgotten his. Now if it were a passenger who forgot it, the flight would depart without them. But a crew member has to fly the plane, so everyone endured an hour and a half delay while he retrieved it. It can happen to any one of us. I travel internationally a lot, and I panic if I can’t find my passport at some point in my trip. Getting a replacement can be an enormous hassle, especially since consulates can be few and far between. On my very first trip to Argentina many years ago, I was so excited that I left mine at the airport bank when I exchanged money upon arrival. I was lucky, as I was able to get it back, despite that it meant a return trip to the airport immediately in a driving rainstorm that caused street flooding.

Nowadays my passport is usually in my trouser pocket, where I can feel it against my leg. But I don’t sleep with it, and there are times when that’s not convenient, i.e. going swimming. Some places you are advised not to carry a passport in the street, but a copy, which is what I do in most places. In other countries, you must carry it or risk being detained. (That trip to Argentina was during the military dictatorship, and that was one of the times you had to have your original passport if stopped.) It’s technically illegal for Americans to make a color copy of their passport, but I have done it and it’s accepted most places for identification or to exchange money – although not to cross a border. And now that I have a new passport, I have to carry the old one too, bulked up with two multi-page inserts, some of which still have valid visas, but this makes for a rather thick bundle. A copy of his passport wouldn’t have done the trick for our forgetful pilot, but chances are he’ll never do that again. Do you know where your passport is right now?

China’s No Fly List

No, it’s not what you think. This is a “list of uncivilized behavior” of Chinese tourists who have distinguished themselves by their bad behavior and have been punished by the government and can be refused service by airlines, hotels, travel agents and tourist sites for one to three years. A true no-fly ban is being considered. Think of it as the “Ugly American” of years ago. The offenses range from fighting over seats to throwing tea at flight attendants and some have occurred on the ground at tourist sites. Airline travel and overseas tourism have become more routine for today’s Chinese citizens as disposable incomes have risen and foreign visas are much easier to obtain and valid for longer periods. Airline routes have also dramatically increased. As such, many are first timers. The government was embarrassed by episodes of tourists reported in the press, and felt the list was needed to remind travelers that they represent the country abroad. Oh yes, the list is published so everyone knows who the scoundrels are.

Southwest Earns Its Heart

In the middle of Thanksgiving, Laura Genovich in Michigan got a call informing her that her mother in Florida had suffered a stroke and was comatose. She immediately bought a ticket, took her 3-month old daughter and boarded a flight at Grand Rapids connecting to Orlando. The flight sat on the runway for an hour and then was cancelled, returning to the gate. During the long wait, Mrs. Genovich had been talking to her husband on the phone and getting updates about her mother and frantically trying to figure out how to get to Florida. As the passengers deplaned, a woman in the seat in front of her, introduced herself as Mary and told Mrs. Genovich that she had overheard her conversation and had been praying for her, assuring her she would not leave her alone until she was on a flight to Florida. Mary and the panicked mother and infant set off to a gate, bags and all, where a flight was departing for Orlando in five minutes. In an empty waiting area, Gayle Mutschler, the Southwest gate agent, said there were seats but she was not allowed to sell a ticket so close to departure time. After hearing the story, she agreed to do so, but Mary insisted on buying the ticket. As a result, Mrs. Genovich was able to spend precious time before her mother was taken off life support a few days later. She posted her story on Facebook and was reunited with Mary, at least virtually, but she did meet Gayle Mutschler a few days later and had an emotional reunion. Southwest, whose company culture revolves around love (“LUV” as they say, as in Dallas’s Love Field, near where they are based), earned its heart that day in Grand Rapids thanks to Gayle and a stranger named Mary.

Speeding Up Your Amazon Delivery?

The Seattle Times reports that Amazon is in talks with cargo carriers to directly lease up to 20 Boeing 767 freighters to speed up deliveries and reduce dependency on third party carriers such as UPS, FedEx and the USPS. If this comes to fruition, considering Amazon’s well publicized plans for drones, this is just another step that deliveries are going to be faster than ever before. Brick and mortar shopping centers may be going the way of the buggy whip!

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Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – June 2015

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – June 2015

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

 

 

 

 

 

By Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

Common Sense Left at Home

People traveling do the strangest things on the spur of the moment. Take the young Italian couple who, due to traffic, missed their Ryanair flight home from Malta. The door was closed, stairs removed and engines running when Enrica Appolonio and Matteo Clemento got to the gate. Undaunted, the couple pushed through an adjacent security exit and ran out onto the tarmac to signal the pilots to let them on. You see, it was Enrica’s birthday and she was going to miss spending it with her friends and family. Instead, the couple were arrested, hauled into court and spent the occasion in jail, not to mention a $2600 fine. Meanwhile in Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a man stripped stark naked at the gate when told his US Airways flight to Jamaica was overbooked. The crowd of onlookers, which included children, looked on for nearly 40 minutes, and several snapped pictures which are now easily found online.

The Bees Have It

Just a few weeks apart, bees caused aircraft to return or divert their flight. An airliner from FlyBe, no pun intended, was on its way from Southampton to Dublin when it was discovered that a bee had crawled into a sensitive instrument. The crew had to return to Southampton to have the insect removed.

On the other side of the Atlantic, an Allegiant Air flight enroute from St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport to Niagara Falls had to divert to Orlando/Sanford, to remove a wasp that had done the same thing, entering a sensor. Indeed, these can be safety issues. In both cases, the flights were delayed for bee removal reasons, good fodder for cocktail party conversation.

Someone Didn’t Leave the Light On

A delayed American Eagle regional jet departed Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for a short 125 mile flight to Wichita Falls, Texas, an airport I know well. As the flight approached the airport, the crew noticed the runway lights were turned off. Unable to reach anyone to turn them on, the flight circled for 30 minutes. Passengers were informed of the problem, and the plane returned to DFW. At smaller airports without 24 hour staffing, it is not unusual for the pilot to be able to turn the lights on remotely, but in this case the crew did not have the proper radio frequency.

All You Wanted to Know About Airport Carpets

Yes, Virginia, there’s a website for this, too. The site www.carpetsforairports.com reviews dozens, if not hundreds, of airport carpets with a simple globe search method, and uses creative descriptions to rate them. You’ll want to check out the lily pad patterned carpet in Darwin, Australia, learn that the carpet color changes every two years in Mexico City or that the Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport resembles either ”an architectonic exploration of form in space or the wiring diagram for a 1957 Pontiac Chieftain”. The biggest disappointment is reserved for Italy, where most airports are carpet-less. Beware of the “toxic” carpet in Sydney, Australia which has “poisoned travelers who have casually walked on it in bare feet”. But the most interesting one is Portland, Oregon, where the much loved carpet has nearly 14,000 followers on its own Facebook page! The famed carpet has appeared on socks, hats and clothing, most of which the fervent fans have created themselves.

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – March 2015

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – March 2015

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

By Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

The Clampetts are Back

In the past few months, the global media has breathlessly reported on a series of incidents in China where passengers did seemingly unthinkable things on board commercial airliners. These ranged from throwing hot noodles at a flight attendant on a Thai AirAsia flight enroute to Nanjing over a seating dispute to numerous cases of passengers opening emergency exits on a number of different airlines at various stages of flight, before takeoff, while taxiing to a gate after landing and, thankfully unsuccessfully, in midflight. The reasons varied, to protest an extended delay, to “get fresh air” or “get off quicker” or inebriation. A rural farmer lit up a cigarette in the lav on a Cathay Pacific flight. Most, if not all, of these passengers ended up in jail, and the Chinese government introduced a “National Uncivilized Travel Record”, a sort of no-fly list for bad behavior, on which the errant passengers names were recorded. Why? Well, as living standards in China have risen, more and more passengers have taken to the air for the first time whereas in the past the train was the most common mode of inter-city transportation. China does have an enviable high speed rail system, but train tickets now can sometimes cost the same as an air ticket. This brings back memories of American Airlines’ introduction of “Value Pricing” in 1992, which resulted in a fare war that made flying too cheap to pass up for people who hadn’t previously flown. Those passengers new to air travel, were called, in airline speak, “FIRID” (for “first time flyer”), although they became known as “The Clampetts” and that summer of full flights was labeled “The Clampett Summer”. The Clampetts were a fictional family on a US situation comedy called “The Beverly Hillbillies” that ran in the late 1960s who had struck it rich, but were unfamiliar with creature comforts of living in a mansion. Stories that summer about passengers unfamiliar with airline travel, such as not opening a window, smoking, not knowing what to do with a seat belt and much more emerged among the employee ranks. These kinds of incidents also happen elsewhere, due to the unfamiliarity of an airplane in emerging nations. Although these incidents are far from comical; they can result in expenses, inconvenience to others and, yes indeed, a threat to safety. In the meantime, when flying in China, keep an eye on your fellow passenger as this era, too, shall pass, as air travel becomes more routine.

Speaking of Smoking

Why do airplanes still have no smoking signs lit up? Can you believe it’s been 25 years since flights (of six hours of less) became no smoking in the U.S.? Not long after that, all flights were smoke free. The rest of the world soon followed. The American Heart Association and other health organizations celebrated that anniversary on February 23 of this year. There are some of us who remember upon check-in, being asked “smoking or no smoking” and when boarding passes reflected that option and yellow nicotine stains were obvious around air vents – and seats had ashtrays. Most airlines relegated smoking to the rear of the cabin, which meant the back of the economy class section but also the last row or two of first class. Essentially, after takeoff, when today the announcement about electronic devices is made, it used to be the “smoking is now permitted” PA. Some passengers in the non-smoking section would congregate near the rear galleys to grab a smoke. On some airlines, such as Lufthansa, as I experienced, “to be equitable”, smoking was permitted on one entire side of the aircraft.

Noah’s Ark

Yes, the “Ark” is coming to New York’s JFK International Airport. Not quite Noah’s, but it’s for animals and their travel experience. The new $48 million, 178,000 square foot transport and quarantine “terminal” will handle 70,000 domestic and wild animals annually when it opens next year. The Ark is designed with its customers in mind to reduce the stress of travel, with an animal arrival and departure lounge, gourmet food, showers, an overnight pet resort called “Paradise 4 Paws” and veterinarian services. The facility is being designed out of the former Cargo Building 78 and will feature climate controlled vehicles for transfer to and from aircraft. For horses, planes can taxi directly to the terminal. Of note is the livestock handling section which has been designed with the input of famed animal welfare advocate Temple Grandin.

Copyright Photo Above: Antony J. Best/AirlinersGallery.com. Up-close nose view of Icelandair’s special Aurora Borealis color scheme on Boeing 757-256 TF-FIU (msn 26243).

The Northern Lights, Outside and Inside

Icelandair, in recognition of the Aurora Borealis, has introduced a new livery on one of its Boeing 757s that flies back and forth between Europe and North America, via Iceland, of course. But in addition to the paint job of the plane named Hekla Aurora, the airline has fitted the interior with blue and green LED lighting that brings the natural phenomena inside. The company says it celebrates the Icelandic stopovers they are known for, since it is one of the places in the world where the Aurora Borealis can be seen most often. Actually Reykjavik is a cool (as in fun, not temperature) place for a stopover, where 365 days a year, one can breathe clean air, eat fresh seafood, or swim in one of the many naturally indoor or outdoor heated pools or relax in the man-made Blue Lagoon, which is right near the airport.

Copyright Photo Below: Richard Vandervord/AirlinersGallery.com. A side view of TF-FIU.

Amenity Kit Retro

American-Piedmont amenity kit (MBI)(LRW)

Above Copyright Photo: Michael B. Ing/AirlinersGallery.com. The Piedmont Airlines version of the new American Airlines legacy carrier amenity kits.

Since we’re talking liveries, American Airlines has introduced special liveries of its predecessor companies. That’s not unusual, but now it’s taken the same idea to its amenity kits, which are distributed to first and business class passengers on long-haul international routes. The kits, which contain the usual items like eye masks, moisturizer, toothbrush and toothpaste and such, are sized to be used as a cover for mini tablets. They’ll be debuted over several months.

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Joel’s Airline Corner (December 2014)

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

From Buffalos to Birds

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

 

Once again, airplanes and animals have crossed paths, and not always in a good way. From large to small, here we go… A dangerous situation occurred when a fully loaded Spicejet Boeing 737 took off from the Indian city of Surat and struck a buffalo grazing on the runway. There were no serious injuries, although the buffalo didn’t make it, and the plane was damaged. Then there was the incredible story about the woman on the day before Thanksgiving who was permitted to board a US Airways flight at Hartford with her large pig, which she claimed was needed for emotional support. Passengers thought she was carrying a duffel bag on her shoulders as she proceeded down the aisle. But the animal immediately began doing its “business”, to put it nicely, causing a big stink. It got worse as the woman tried to clean up the mess, and both she and the pig became vocal. They were both ordered off, since airlines can reject emotional support animals if they believe they could be disruptive. A few weeks earlier, a shipment of crabs got loose in the cargo hold of another US Airways flight at New York’s LaGuardia Airport bound for Charlotte causing a thirty minute delay. It took five hours for crews to find a stowaway mouse in the cockpit on a Norwegian Air flight ready to depart Oslo for New York. That could have been more serious since rodents can chew through wires. As they say on TV, “on a lighter note”, a woman who was booked to travel for Christmas from Seattle to Phoenix on US Airways (sorry, US Airways again) was informed she could not travel with her lovebirds even though she’d been booked for months. The airline had changed its policy and could only offer a refund. Alaska Airlines came to the rescue after the story aired on local TV news and offered the woman and her lovebirds free tickets to Phoenix. Nice job, Alaska.

Passengers Behaving Badly, Again

The same week as the famous “Korean Air nut” incident (it got wide publicity, so I won’t go into it here), some Chinese passengers on a flight from Bangkok to Nanging were upset at not being seated together. They proceeded to throw hot water and noodles at a flight attendant, and the plane returned to Bangkok. Many passengers filmed the incident, which escalated beyond just noodles. The Chinese government was not amused, and they threatened to “severely punish” the offending Chinese nationals. Good!

Crews Behaving Badly, Sadly

It’s sad when crews can’t get along. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. In Cairo, 150 passengers were evacuated from a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight when a pilot and steward got into a fight which resulted in both being injured. The flight was delayed six hours. A Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Dubai was delayed ninety minutes when both pilots got into a heated argument. No injuries on this one. It’s good that these disagreements, sad as they are, occurred prior to the flights becoming airborne.

ANA Takeoff Mode

Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has introduced a “takeoff mode” app to calm passengers who get apprehensive on takeoff. The app features a game to keep the user involved, and it changes based on the ambient noise inside the aircraft. New US DOT regulations allowing the use of cell phones, at the airline’s discretion, during takeoff make this app possible. It’s available for i-Phones only at this time.

Airports as Gyms

As airlines squeeze more and more seats onto airplanes, personal space has shrunk. One can barely open a laptop “safely” or stretch out normally without going into contortions. Taking a stroll around the cabin to “stretch one’s legs” is limited to a trip to the lav, so you’re pretty close to remaining stationary for the duration. A good idea is to try and get some exercise before, after or during a connection, at the airport. There are certainly enough concourses to walk, some by necessity if you’re changing planes. But Phoenix, Philadelphia, DFW and Boston Logan, among others, have risen to the occasion to address the sedentary life of a passenger. Philadelphia Airport has replaced rocking chairs with 30 stationary bikes in the waiting areas of the airport. Reaction has been very positive. San Francisco has yoga facilities and Milwaukee table tennis. In Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, a two mile fitness trail, with nice views of the surrounding area, has been marked out through the concourses, complete with water bottle filling stations. (I’ve seen the latter in several airports as drinking fountains go the way of pay phones.) DFW also has a marked path, with long staircases in Terminal D in place for some step exercises as well as a yoga location. Boston’s Logan Airport has walking paths marked, along with stations where passengers can check their weight, height and even body mass index. More airports are expected to follow.

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

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – May 2014

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Economic Inequality

Often political talk raises the topic of economic disparity, the gap between rich and poor. Nowhere is this more evident than in the airline business. The old 80/20 rule (80% of airline income is generated by 20% of the customers) applies, and in some cases the numbers are even more extreme. So it’s understandable how airlines focus on first and business class passengers. Everything from limo service to luxurious onboard accommodations is critical, while economy class passengers are finding seats and legroom tighter along with extra charges for things previously taken for granted like seat assignments, a boarding pass, water and overhead bins. Of course this varies by carrier, and in the middle, some airlines do offer a premium economy seat, sometimes in a separate cabin that might or might not come with added amenities. I’ll take a look at some of the more extremes in my column this month.

Apartment in the Air

Middle Eastern airlines are trying to outdo themselves since they tend to have a lot of ultra-long flights and widebody aircraft, attracting traffic in markets that can connect via their home airport. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has fired the latest volley, introducing “The Residence by ETIHAD™” on its Airbus A380s. These are what the airline describes as three-room “First Apartments” which, with 125 square feet of space, feature double or single occupancy bedrooms, a living room with minibar and 32 inch flat screen TV and even ensuite showers and bathrobes. Chefs prepare whatever you wish, whenever you wish. If that’s not enough, they also come with a personal butler and are accessed through a lobby complete with a bar. On the smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliner, they are called the “First Suite”. Business travelers on both aircraft are accommodated in “Business Studios”. There are several videos online, and if you’d like a guided tour of the apartment, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLZ2iDLPcxw.

More Room

Premium economy class is offered on many international carriers, and in the U.S., just the allure of extra legroom, for a fee or as an elite status reward, is available on most network airlines like American, Delta, United and others. Even ultra-low cost carrier Spirit offers 18.5 wide “Big Front Seats™” with an extra 6 inches of legroom. Let’s not confuse this with the full length beds they were offering in the cargo compartment – that was an April Fool’s joke! Allegiant similarly introduced 25-inch wide “Giant Seats” on its aircraft featuring “Legroom +”. Those extra six inches feel pretty good relative to 28-30 inches of pitch in the other rows. Allegiant had to put the larger seats in a couple of rows to comply with an FAA rule for crew rest on long flights, but they are available for a fee on flights where they’re open. On JetBlue, a few non-consecutive rows of seats are designated “Even more Room” and come with preboarding. JetBlue Airways will introduce its “Mint™” product targeted at premium trans-continental flyers in June. This is a compartmentalized first class seat, unique to the domestic market, and it features gourmet New York style dining and even an amenity kit.

Frugal Flyers

With all the brouhaha going on up front, it’s the folks in economy class that are finding smaller seats, less legroom and extra charges. Russian airline Transaero Airlines has announced it will cram 652 passengers (in three classes) on its new Airbus 380s. That’s better than Air Austral whose short-lived plans to install an all-economy 800 seat configuration won’t happen. Airbus and Boeing differ on how narrow a seat can get; Boeing says 17inches, Airbus 18. Budget carrier Frontier Airlines just announced new charges for carry-on bags, which Spirit has been doing for several years. And we won’t even talk about Ryanair and easyJet, which have set the standard for frugal travel in Europe for a while – minimum seat pitch and padding, no window shades or seat pocket – well, you get the idea. On short haul flights, this is not a surprise, but Norwegian has launched several long-haul flights between unexpected places like Bangkok, Oakland and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, connecting via their hubs in Oslo and Copenhagen. The fares are cheap, based on demand, but be prepared for extras as on short haul flights.

For the Dogs

Our furry friends have not been forgotten, and www.petfriendlytravel.com offers a list of airport “relief areas” (doggie restrooms) at airports, some of which, generally in larger hubs, are within the secure terminal area. Often the terminal locations are restricted to service dogs and these are not just patches of grass – the facility in Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport just opened and cost $75,000. And then there’s Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport which has really gone to the dogs. Thanks to HALO (Human Animal Link of Oklahoma), trained therapy dogs are walked throughout the airport to help stressed out travelers. Their yellow jackets invite travelers to pet them. The project started last month. Travelers are cautioned not to pet dogs being walked by Homeland Security personnel since they are involved in law enforcement and might not take kindly to being approached!

Allergic or Not?

Two European airlines have taken some steps in their inflight service in somewhat opposite directions. Swiss International Air Lines, this month, announced a partnership with the European Center for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) to make their cabins more comfortable to those with sensitivities whether with food, odors or materials. Pillows will be stuffed with synthetic materials, while flowers and air fresheners will not be used in the cabin. (Some countries require cabin crew spray insect spray before landing – but that’s out of the airlines’ control.) Iberia Airlines is going a different route to make flying more comfortable, at least for some. They’re opting for the air freshener route, both onboard and in lounges, by introducing an “exclusive, fresh and lively scent”. “Mediterráneo de Iberia” has notes of fruit, flowers, wood and a touch of citrus. The Swiss are always so practical, but the Spanish are so romantic!

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Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – February 2014

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Perennial First Class Ticket

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

It could happen anywhere, but out of China comes the story of a man who purchased a first class ticket on China Eastern Airlines and managed to use it to partake of the food and beverages in the VIP lounge at the Xi’an Airport – for nearly an entire year. In China, airport lounges are open to ticketed first and business class passengers and offer copious buffets including noodles, soup, dumplings, fruit, sweets and much more. After eating, he changed the date on his ticket and went home. He repeated this more than 300 times, not even taking a flight. Premium class tickets often have little or no penalty fees for changes, although it’s hard to believe someone could take this to such an extreme, but then again he might have just passed for a “very” frequent flyer.  As tickets are valid for one year, when he tried to get a refund, one of the staff got suspicious and confronted him. Hard to believe it, but this loophole apparently didn’t break any rules.

Oops, Wrong Airport

Flights might land an airport other than the intended destination for a variety of relatively common reasons such as in unplanned medical, mechanical or weather situations.  In airline lingo, this is called a “diversion”. A flight I was on from Burbank to DFW landed in Phoenix to deplane the woman sitting next to me who fainted; the flight then continued on. These are very routine events, and sometimes, if the diversion point is interesting enough, it becomes fodder for cocktail parties. A few days ago, a Delta flight from Amsterdam to Seattle landed in an airport (with a very long runway) serving the snowy hamlet of Iqaluit, Nunavut in far northern Canada due to a spoiler problem. The passengers were accommodated in the Royal Canadian Legion Cadet Hall, as the airport terminal was too small, until a replacement airplane arrived. My friend Kevin’s Delta flight from Tokyo to the US was diverted to Cold Bay, on one of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska where he and hundreds of his fellow passengers got to triple the population of the town, spending nine hours on the plane and in the Bearfoot Inn.  Sometimes, however, these incidents can hardly be called routine. An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 777 was recently “hijacked” to Geneva by the co-pilot on a flight from Addis Ababa to Rome. Passengers thought the plane was landing in Milan due to Rome weather, but after the plane stopped, the crewmember escaped via a rope from the cockpit window and asked for asylum. This is indeed pretty unusual.  What have also made the news of late are the landings in the wrong airports.  Southwest’s Boeing 737 enroute from Chicago’s Midway Airport to Branson, Missouri recently landed at the M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport nearby, with a much shorter runway. Luckily no one was injured. A Boeing 747 jumbo jet with no passengers landed at a small airport near Wichita, Kansas just weeks before instead of a military airport in Wichita. The Associated Press reported that in the past twenty or so years, commercial airplanes have actually landed at the wrong US airport about 35 times. Statistically this is still extremely rare.

Safety Videos, Again

On a lighter note (but airlines do take safety seriously), airline instructional safety videos are once again in the news.  On the heels of its holiday video, Delta introduced an 80’s “retro” video complete with big hair, Alf, Rubik’s Cube, Tab® and tacky fashions. See what you think here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eduNjwNvcH4. But hats, or actually clothes, off to Air New Zealand, who likes to push the envelope and has featured Betty White, Richard Simmons, hobbits and even flight attendants in uniforms painted on their bodies. The airline released its newest safety video entitled “Safety in Paradise” which features Sports Illustrated® models, briefly attired, filmed on the beautiful beaches of the Cook Islands, one of its destinations. The video was, of course, met with wide-eyed attention, but also naturally it had its critics.  You decide:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQDip9V49U0.

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