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This Week’s Top 5 Travel News Highlights

Qantas' fleet of A380s are still grounded for inspections (Photo: Tamsin Slater via Flickr)

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the travel news world this week… here are the top 5 stories you might want to know about:

1. Free Wifi This Winter

Google is partnering with three major U.S. airlines to offer free wireless Internet access on domestic flights this holiday season. The free Wi-Fi will be available for travelers on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America from Nov. 20, 2010, to Jan. 2, 2011, according to a blog post by Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google. This is awesome news for anyone flying home this holiday season!

2. Hotels Are Ditching The Front Desk

You read right – some hotels are cutting costs by removing the front desk. Andaz, a boutique brand owned by Hyatt, now has kiosks to check-into your room. MSNBC reports “Traditional front desks, however, may be destined for a scrap heap teeming with bygone lobby fixtures like key boxes, desk bells and hat racks. Some mid-market chains already are dumping imposing check-in counters for cozy, one-on-one welcomes or for virtual check-ins through kiosks or mobile devices.”

Hotels are saying they want to lure in a “younger, more tech savvy consumer”, like the wonderful readers of ChronicWanderlust. So what do you think about this automation in hotels?

3. National Parks are FREE This Thursday (Nov. 11th)

In honor of Veterans Day, national parks will not be charging any entrance fees on Nov. 11. It’s one of several fee-free days the park system has offered this year. Some outfitters, shops and lodges based in the national parks offer two-for-one deals and other discounts in conjunction with the fee-free program; details at http://www.parkpartners.org/Special-Offers-for-2010.html.

4.  JetBlue Comes to D.C.

Traveling to Washington D.C. just got much easier… JetBlue Airways launched service Monday at Washington’s Reagan National Airport with daily flights to Boston and Florida. Great news for snowbirds, lobbyists and school groups.

5. Qantas A380’s Still Grounded

Qantas has grounded its six Airbus A380s for at least 72 more hours, following a discovery of oil leaks in three engines, says a report by the Associated Press Monday.

Engineers from the Australian carrier conducted tests on the double-decker jets after an engine burst on a flight last week over Indonesia’s Batam island. The Sydney-bound flight returned and made an emergency landing in Singapore. No one was hurt.


Low Cost Powerhouse: Southwest Merges with Air Tran


Holy billion-dollar merger Batman! Southwest Airlines has bought AirTran for a whopping $1.4 Billion! In a public statement on September 27th, AirTran Holdings, the parent company of AirTran Airways announced that they have, “entered into a definitive merger agreement to be acquired by Southwest Airlines with the intent of merging the two airlines, combining operations and building the strongest and most diverse low cost, low fare airline network in the world.”

Photo: Mike Fisher via Flickr

Dollars and Cents

In AirTran’s public statement, they went on to explain that under the definitive agreement, “shareholders will receive between $7.25 and $7.75 in consideration per share of AirTran common stock subject to certain conditions based on the Southwest share price at closing. Currently, the transaction price would be $7.69 in cash and stock for all outstanding shares of AirTran Holdings, Inc., subject to regulatory review and approval of shareholders. This is a 69 percent premium over the September 24, 2010, share price of AirTran stock and is valued at more than $1.37 billion in equity based on more than 178,000,000 outstanding shares. Including existing AirTran Holdings, Inc., indebtedness and capitalized aircraft operating leases, the aggregate transaction value is approximately $3.42 billion.”… in other words, lots and lots of money is being thrown at this.

SWA in ATL? Atlanta might be SWA's next stop (Photo: Chuck Koehler)

What’s Going to Change?

  1. So Long Orlando! – Air Tran’s HQ in Orlando will be moving to Dallas, where SWA calls home. This means that Orlando no longer has a major airline to call their own. Not many details have been released about the move or what will happen to their training centers at MCO.
  2. Hello Atlanta! – With AirTran’s resources, SWA can now move into Atlanta, a major market for any airline. AirTran already has 200 routes through Atlanta, giving SWA room to start moving more flights into the city. SWA said they want to bring low-fare competition to nearly all large carrier hubs it doesn’t serve now.
  3. What about the employees? – AirTran hasn’t said exactly what will happen to their 8,000 employees, but does believe they are in better hands with a well-funded airline like SWA. An AirTran memo which was released to all employees says that the merger will have no immediate effect on their jobs.
  4. More LUV – SWA plans to move into most, if not all, of AirTran’s markets. Since this is all breaking news, SWA hasn’t given full details of their entire plan.  The airline predicts growth in flights, jobs and service – all great things for Orlando (if operations increase). SWA announced “significant opportunities to and from Atlanta… as well as Washington, D.C. via Ronald Reagan National Airport. The acquisition also allows [SWA] to expand  presence in key markets, like New York LaGuardia, Boston Logan, and Baltimore/Washington.”
  5. Goin’ Global – SWA plans to broaden their international flight offerings, most likely using AirTran’s routes to the Caribbean from Orlando. In SWA’s press release yesterday morning, they explained that they have, “access to key near-international leisure markets in the Caribbean and Mexico.”

Photo: Josh Hallett via Flickr

Opinions Matter

Travel pundits, bloggers and analysts are already speaking up, voicing their concerns and preaching their praises for the new mega low-cost carrier…

  • Tad Hutcheson, a spokesman for Orlando-based AirTran, called it “a great day for AirTran Airways and Southwest Airlines.”
  • Southwest CEO Gary Kelly believes that, “The acquisition of AirTran represents a unique opportunity to grow Southwest Airlines’ presence in key markets we don’t yet serve and takes a significant step towards positioning us for future growth.”
  • George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com said the merger, “spells bad news for low fares, since both airlines were leaders in the low fare space and had frequent, almost weekly, sales. I can only imagine that now pressure is on for American to find a partner, and also US Airways, and that will lead to even less fare competition.”
  • AirTran spokesman Christopher White explained that the deal will, “bring a level of competition to Atlanta that has never been seen before.”
  • “Southwest had been waiting to expand this past downturn and I think this acquisition proves that substantial organic growth is a thing of the past,” said Morningstar equity analyst Basili Alukos.
  • “No low-cost carrier can match the global access we bring to Atlanta,” said Delta spokeman Kent Landers.
  • Rhona Cook’s headline from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it all… “TRAVELERS CHEER SOUTHWEST-AIRTRAN DEAL”

Travel News: Stuff You Should Know


With all of the political hullabaloo, wars and scandals in the United States, travel news has been getting pushed further and further away by the mainstream media… hense, bloggers! Wahoo, so here are all some of the important and interesting highlights in the travel world that you should know about…

Hotels Pay For Your Checked Bags

We all know about airlines nickle and diming us for checked bags, but there are some ways to get around them. Some hotels are trying to offset the airline costs by giving you room credits or little incentives to travel.

Photo: Eric Molina via Flickr

Intercontinental Hotels (Holiday Inn & Crowne Plaza hotels) is offering to refund you the cost of a checked bag if you book 2 weekend nights from now until December 30th. They don’t make it easy though, you need to book with a Visa card and then file for a reimbursement, which can take about 8 weeks (but hey, it’s free money). Kimpton Hotels are giving $25 credits to guests who get charged to check a 2nd bag, all you have to do is show the receipt to the front desk and they immediately take the $25 off your room rate. Always call the hotel before you book the reservation to make sure that they offer the deal – sometimes certain hotels don’t participate.

Haiti Gets A Luxury Hotel

Investors are working on building a $33 million, seven story, 240 room luxury hotel neat the Port-au-Prince airport. The property borders the city slums near the airport, but will be “self-contained”, meaning it’s gated from the public and will operate like a tiny city with it’s own power plant, water treatment facility, spa, etc. The investors hope that the hotel will help revitalize the city after the earthquake devastated it. Bidding for contractors is expected in October and construction is planned to be completed in about 18 months. There’s no word on whether Haitian contractors will be given contracts, though manual labor will most likely employ people from surrounding areas.

Delta’s Drinking Problem

Photo: Andrei Dimofta via Flickr

Remember the big controversy from a few years ago when pilots were starting to get arrested for flying drunk? Well it happened again. A 52-year-old Delta Airlines pilot got nabbed by Dutch Police for getting into the cockpit of his jet bound for Newark. The Dutch Police reported his blood alcohol content was 0.023, above The Netherlands’ legal limit, which is much stricter than the U.S.. The cops let him go with a $900 fine and cancelled the flight. Delta hasn’t said much other than, “we’re investigating”. The FAA’s alcohol limit is 0.04, but if a pilot tests between .02 and .039 they are tested again in 15 minutes, and if they still are in that range they are prohibited from flying for eight hours.

I’ve been a FAA licensed pilot for 7 years, I also drink alcohol. I would NEVER, EVER, EVER get in the cockpit after having even just one drink. I’m sure being an airline pilot is stressful, but maybe he should take up smoking, chewing tobacco or something to take edge off after work that won’t put the lives of hundreds of people in danger. Some people say that 0.023 isn’t that bad, hell it’s only 2 or 3 beers, you could (but shouldn’t) legally drive a car. Flying a jumbo jet across the Atlantic and driving your Chevy home from T.G.I. Fridays are two totally different things.

Ryanair CEO Wants To Ditch Co-Pilots

Michael O’Leary, discount airline Ryanair’s famously stingy CEO, just might have lost his mind last week. In a recent interview, he explained that he’s asking aviation authorities for permission to operate short flights with only one pilot aboard, and replace the second-in-command with flight attendants. This is not a joke. His idea is to have pilots on short-haul flights fly their Boeing 737’s solo, using the assistance of a flight attendant for landing. He believes that computers do all the flying anyways, so the pilot only needs a flight attendant around so, “the first fella doesn’t fall asleep and knock over one of the computer controls.” I’m not kidding, he actually said that. While I haven’t heard a response from the FAA (probably because Ryanair doesn’t operate in the USA), I’m pretty sure their response would be a slightly more polite version of, “HELL NO.”

Boeing 737 cockpit

Boeing 737’s can technically be flown solo with all of the incredible computer avionics, but that’s only for extreme emergencies. Take a look at the cockpit in the picture above… it’s not easy to fly alone. A big concern is pilot-fatigue, yeah he/she might be able to fly solo, but that is an incredible amount of stress and pressure on a person who is already under an incredible amount of stress and pressure. Risking lives is not worth saving the bottom-line of the business. Get real Ryanair.

Squeezing Into Your Seat

If you thought economy class was bad, check out the new SkyRider seat that has been promoting themselves at airline conventions. The seat puts passengers in a semi-standing position, allowing airlines to leave only 23 inches of space between each row of seats, compared with traditional airline seats that are positioned 31 to 35 inches apart. Passengers must tuck their knees into the back of the seat in front. The seats don’t recline, but they do have a traytable.

SkyRider seats being demo'd by a strangely happy woman (jaunted.com)

The basic idea is that of a motorcycle seat strapped to a padded board, letting your legs dangle somewhat, keeping you in a half-standing position. I’m sure the SkyRider would give you one hell of a SkyWedgie. Luckily, the FAA hasn’t certified these seats as safe yet and no airline in the world has ordered one. Even Ryanair wouldn’t comment to the media.

How To Get Arrested On An Airplane


Have people gone mad? It seems like every week the media is blasting out a story about an unruly passenger doing something on an airplane, forcing it to make an unscheduled landing and then landing him on the 5 o’clock news with a mug shot resembling a face not too different from those of fellow passengers after a long flight. But what exactly is it that gets these folks to join this version of the less-than-sexy mile high club?

(U.S. Army photo by SSG Jim Greenhill via Flickr)

On August 13th, a JetBlue Airways flight from Boston to the Dominican Republic was diverted to DC because of an “unruly passenger,” the airline said. A TSA agent annonymously reported that the passenger may have suffered an anxiety attack during the flight. According to various sources, the female passenger started yelling that somebody stole her money and then allegedly punched a flight attendant.

On August 20th, “Jet Airways flight 9W 571 from Kuwait to Mumbai today made an unscheduled landing at Muscat following a security incident on board. As a precautionary measure, the Boeing 737 landed in Muscat and a thorough check of baggage and cargo was carried out,” a spokesperson of the airline said. The airline was alerted by Omani authorities that they had a tip about a bomb.

Also on August 20th, a hijacking threat against an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to New York which forced it to be isolated for three hours turned out to be a hoax, authorities say. The 163 passengers onboard the Boeing 767 were questionned, re-screened for security and two passengers were led away in handcuffs, but they were quickly freed, and no one was arrested. This entire series of unfortunate events spawned from what turned out to be a “non-credible” phone threat to a hotel clerk at a Hampton Inn in suburban San Francisco, police said.

On August 27th, a flight attendant “overheard a passenger on an aircraft that was going from Toronto to Chicago talking about a possible pipe bomb at Bishop airport,” said Const. Isabelle Cotton. Canadian officials searched the plane and, thankfully, didn’t find anything of worry.

On August 28th, this is easily my favorite story of the month, a woman was arrested after allegedly trying to smuggle a live tiger cub on to a plane inside a bag of stuffed animals in Bangkok. The woman, not surprisingly, denied the bag was hers and claimed another passenger had asked her to carry it into the plane. She’s in jail.

On August 30th, nine passengers aboard a United Airlines flight from DC to Tampa were removed before takeoff due to a comment made to a crew member. After the group was kicked off the plane, they “spoke with airline officials who rebooked them on another flight”. We still don’t know what they said.

George Rizer/The Boston Globe

On August 31st, two men were arrested in Amsterdam while on a flight from Chicago to Yemen. Police discovered “suspicious items” in their checked baggage and contacted the Dutch to stop them. Both men, Americans of Yemeni descent, had some weird items in their bags; box cutters, watches strapped to bottle and multiple cell phones. In addition, police discoverd $7,000 in cash hidden on one of the man’s bodies. A US law-enforcement official said the men did not have banned items in their carry-on luggage and that federal air marshals were on the flight. It turns out that this was just one gigantic misunderstanding. According to reports, the men were bringing items from America home to their families and just happened to pack them in an extremely poor way.

On September 3rd, Miami International Airport was shut down after screeners found a bottle of chemicals in a passenger’s checked bags. Police checked the passenger’s identity and found that the 70-year-old scientist once spent time in prison nearly a decade ago for illegally shipping vials of bubonic plague bacteria. The busy airport was closed for 7 hours because the item “greatly resembled a pipe bomb,” a U.S. government official said. The FBI interviewed the passenger and checked the bottle… turns out it was being used for legitimate scientific medical research.

On September 8th, a Thai Airlines flight from Bangkok to LA was held in isolation by authorities after a threatening message was found written on the mirror in the lavatory. Police still haven’t said what exactly was written on Flight 794’s mirror, but it must have been serious because the plane was turned inside out by police and bomb squads.

As promised in the title of this post, a list of ways to get arrested on an airplane, as proved by crazy people in the past month:

  1. Punch a flight attendant
  2. Threaten a Hampton Inn employee
  3. Smuggle live tigers
  4. Say “bomb”
  5. Travel in a group
  6. Be Yemeni
  7. Tape a watch to a bottle of Pepto
  8. Write things on the bathroom mirror
  9. Put chemicals in your checked baggage

Seeing all of these incidents poses a question; is there an actual increase in ‘dangerous’ passengers, or are we simply being more proactive than we used to? This jump in airline arrests has both positive and negative effects on the industry. On the good side, flying is safe. On the downside, people who are undecided on a mode of transportation for their next vacation are going to be more hesitant to fly than they used to.

In the wise words of Robert DeNiro from the hilarious film Meet The Parents, “You can’t say bomb on an airplane”.

The Anatomy of a Fuel Dump

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Yesterday, a Continental Airlines Boeing 777 had to make an emergency landing right after taking off from Newark International Airport due to a hydraulics problem. Continental Airlines flight 9 landed safely at 12:15pm and departed once again for Tokyo later that night.

CNN photo of Flight 9 dumping fuel in NJ

What made this story newsworthy was CNN’s report: “The plane circled above New Jersey, dumping fuel”… In light of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf, the story of a plane flying around Jersey spewing jet fuel strikes a stinging cord with many readers. As a pilot, I think it’s necessary to explain why and how a jet makes a fuel dump before landing, just like this Boeing 777 did yesterday.

An aircraft like a Boeing 777 is not only huge, it’s also incredibly heavy – especially when filled up with 47,890 gallons of fuel (Boeing 777-300ER). During the course of a flight, the plane obviously burns off the fuel and will arrive at its destination much lighter than when it took off. These planes cannot safely land at the same weight as when they took off because it can overload the landing gear and brakes – not to mention the extra danger in making an emergency landing with an airplane full of wildly flammable jet fuel (remember, the wings are gas tanks). So, when a plane has to make a landing early, it has to dump its fuel to lighten the load and make a safer environment for passengers.

Boeing 777 dumping fuel (aerospaceweb.org)

In an emergency event, like a hydraulic problem or passenger issue, the plane will not have enough time to burn off the fuel it needs to reach a safe landing weight – hence, the fuel dump. Modern aircraft are designed for possible overweight landings, but this is not done except in cases of extreme emergency because various maintenance inspections are required afterwards. Some planes, like the 737 and A320 don’t even have the ability to dump fuel.

Fuel dumps aren’t random – they are coordinated with air traffic control, and precautions are taken to keep other aircraft clear of such areas. Fuel dumping is usually accomplished at a high enough altitude where the fuel will dissipate before reaching the ground. Remember that fact if you try to blame Continental Airlines for environmental damages to Jersey. Fuel leaves the aircraft through a specific point near the tips of the wing so the fuel stays far away from the engines.

The dump nozzle (Photo: Gadling.com)

All types of jet fuel are derivates of kerosene, allowing it to rapidly evaporate in the atmosphere. Only a tiny amount of fuel actually reaches the ground in liquid form – so don’t worry Jersey, it’s not going to be raining gasoline any time soon. Kerosene dumped at high altitude on a warm day tends to evaporate fastest, but the characteristics vary depending on the weather conditions.

The FAA stipulates that fuel can only be dumped above a minimum altitude of 2,000 ft, to improve its evaporation and must be at least 5 miles apart from any other aircraft. The law also says that air traffic control has to direct the planes away from populated areas and major bodies of water.

According to Jeff Scott (Aerospaceweb.org), it has been estimated that as much as 15 million pounds of fuel was released over the world’s oceans by commercial and military aircraft during the 1990s. Although kerosene poses no danger to the ozone layer, it is a petroleum product that can impact water quality much like an oil or gasoline spill.

So now you know what CNN failed to explain; the fuel dumps are a necessary procedure to get a plane safely on the ground – its not harmless, but poses much less of a danger than an exploding airplane….

(Photo: Dailymail.co.uk)

The Important Stuff: Travel News Updates

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It’s been a busy time for the travel industry with all the new changes in airlines and transportation. Here’s a rundown of the important stuff you should probably know about…

Airline Mergers – In the past month there has been a lot of talk about airline mergers and acquisitions.

The most notable is United and Continental’s $3.2 billion merger to form the world’s largest airline. Airline experts have said that airfares probably won’t be affected between major cities, but they could increase for some international flights and for flights into and out of smaller cities, where the carrier has more pricing control. The deal appears to be a good one for business travelers, according to AP. United and Continental combined fly to 370 locations and have hubs in Houston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. They also fly to major cities such as Beijing, Tokyo, Rome and Munich. The top executives of the new airline say that ample competition in its major markets will make boosting ticket prices for leisure travelers tough to do. We’ll see… I don’t trust it, not one bit.

Virgin Blue and Air New Zealand Seek Alliance
Air New Zealand and Virgin Blue are seeking regulatory approval for an alliance, with the airlines hoping to challenge Qantas as the dominant force in the south Pacific region. Regulators are expected to take around six months to review the applications prior to authorization.

Caribbean Airlines to buy Air Jamaica
Air Jamaica, nearly broke, will keep its equipment and offices at the Kingston airport, and the Jamaican government will have a 16 percent share in Caribbean Airlines. The flights to cities such as New York, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Philadelphia will continue, and Caribbean Airlines expects to announce other routes soon. It’s good to see that the employees of Air Jamaica aren’t going to suffer from this.

– – – – – – – – – –
The Good

Tarmac Delay Rule Goes Into Effect

The new tarmac delay rule is designed to prevent planes on domestic routes from sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours with passengers on board. Airlines that violate the rule could face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger, the maximum allowed for violating any aviation consumer rule. DOT secretary Ray LaHood said that the tarmac delay rule to be strongly enforced. I’m thrilled with this new rule! 2 Years ago I was stuck on an American Airlines flight for 2 hours as it idled 20 feet from the gate at Orlando Int’l Airport because AA didn’t have enough personnel to unload the plane. It was a miserable, miserable experience which is why I will NEVER fly AA again… at least they were kind enough to offer us $5 sodas.

Thai Tourism Resilient Despite Bangkok Protests

Protests in Bangkok (AP Photo)

Even though there is a lot of political unrest in the Thai capital, flight searches to Bangkok for summer travel remain at normal levels. Skyscanner reported no drop in flight searches for Bangkok – great news for travelers!

Agreement means more flights between US and Israel

El-Al, Israel's national carrier

A deal announced last week will allow more airline flights between the U.S. and Israel, with airlines able to pick routes and destinations based on demand for passenger and cargo services. DOT announced that once both countries sign the agreement, there will be no limit on the number of flights into and out of the countries. It will also allow for US-Israeli code sharing. Previously, there were limits on the number of cities U.S. and Israeli airlines could serve in each other’s country, as well as restrictions on code-sharing. I’m very happy to hear this because Israel is a spectacular and exotic country that is often skipped by backpackers and travelers due to fears of security or religious issues. I was in Israel during the 2009 Gaza Conflict and I felt 100% safe the entire time!

Stratosphere jump opens to daredevils in Las Vegas

(stock photo)

The Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas has a new ride giving daredevils a cable, a platform and a chance to jump 829 feet down. “SkyJump Las Vegas” has opened as the world’s highest commercial decelerator descent. A cable line guides jumpers down from a metal platform, with great views of the Las Vegas Strip along the way. The ride was certified by Guinness World Records as the highest of its kind. I need to get to Vegas!

SeaWorld offers $5 admission for kids

I think that's worth $5...

SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego are offering $5 one-day tickets for kids (age 3-12) now until the end of the year. The $5 tickets are available online with the purchase of a regular adult ticket (about $60). SeaWorld says 100 percent of the proceeds from the discounted tickets will go to wildlife conservation projects. It’s good to see an amusement park giving families a discount AND doing something good for the world.

– – – – – – – – – –
The Bad

Carnival Cruise Ship Lists, 60 Passengers Hurt

The Carnival Ecstasy (AP Photo/Carnival Cruise Lines, Andy Newman)

At least 60 passengers were hurt when a Carnival cruise ship listed during a maneuver to avoid a partially submerged buoy that was adrift near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The Carnival Ecstasy had to make a sharp turn to avoid smashing into a buoy. Luckily, no one required hospital treatment and the ship was not damaged. It’s a good thing the Captain of the ship was able to save the ship! I wonder if those injured people will get a refund?

– – – – – – – – – –
The Ugly

Crazed Passengers = Diverted Flights

Passengers evacuate in Bangor, Maine after their CDG-ATL was diverted (AP Photo)

The media has been having a frenzy over a bunch of diverted flights in recent weeks because of disruptive passengers. My favorite story was of a SkyWest Airlines flight from Helena, Mont., to Salt Lake City which was diverted to Idaho Falls after a passenger began banging on the cockpit door, saying he was a space alien and wanted to fly the plane. A Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta from Paris was diverted to Maine last week after a passenger made threats about a bomb and was subdued by U.S. air marshals before being taken into custody upon landing.

Back in January, Two F-16s were launched to catch up with AirTran Airways Flight 39 from Atlanta to San Francisco after a report that an intoxicated passenger had locked himself in a bathroom. The winter blues got to a passenger on a Maui-bound Hawaiian Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon in January when it was turned around and escorted by two F-15 military fighters because of an uncooperative passenger. A guy was seated in the bulkhead row and was rather perturbed that he couldn’t keep his carry-on bag in his lap. Then the 56-year-old filled out a comment card with phrases about death and crashing, and he gave it to an attendant who passed it along to the pilot. The pilot was not happy about this suspicious behavior and landed the plane. I didn’t even know airlines had comment cards!

People need to realize that they can’t mess around and make empty threats on an airplane – it’s far too serious of a place for that kind of tomfoolery. In the wise words of Robert DeNiro in Meet The Parents, “You can’t say bomb on an airplane”.

Airlines made $7.8 billion from fees last year

The Department of Transportation said revenue from “ancillary fees” rose 42% to $7.8 billion in 2009. The biggest chunk came from checked baggage fees. Besides checked bags, other fees include those for reservation changes, pet travel and mileage sales.Delta, currently the world’s largest airline, collected the most revenue from fees at $1.65 billion. American was second, followed by US Airways. My favorite airline, Southwest, was ranked 4th on the DOT list. Even though they don’t charge for the first two checked bags, they do charge $50 for the 3rd bag, pets and unaccompanied minors. Part of the reason they ended up on the list was because SWA carries more passengers in the USA than any other airline. The most shocking revelation of this list – Spirit Airlines wasn’t in the top 10… because they don’t carry enough passengers.

Arizona Immigration Law Fallout

Protesters in Phoenix (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Anyone not living under a rock for the past month has heard about Arizona’s controversial new immigration law giving police the free reign to check a person’s immigration status. Many concerned citizens feel that this will lead to racial profiling in the state (I’m not getting political on this – I’m just stating facts). There is already, and will continue to be a huge amount of travel fallout for the state.
The Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association reported that 19 meetings representing 15,000 room nights have been canceled because of the immigration law. That’s a HUGE amount of money lost, and much to the dismay of hotel and restaurant owners, it’s only the beginning.

Cities across the country have started cutting off economic ties with Arizona and banning official travel to the state. The city of San Francisco was at the head of the trend, when its board of supervisors considered a measure to off the city’s economic ties with Arizona. The West Hollywood City Council is also considering banning official travel to Arizona until the state’s anti-illegal immigration law is repealed.

Two northern cities, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and St. Paul, Minnesota have also announced their own ban on Arizona travel. Milwaukee Common Council Aldermen may consider a controversial proposal to boycott certain Arizona businesses and St. Paul’s Mayor Chris Coleman already ordered city departments to no longer travel to conferences in the State of Arizona.

Even Denver Public Schools is taking a stand on the contentious immigration law in Arizona. The school district announced Thursday that it has banned all district-sponsored work-related travel to Arizona.
The USA isn’t alone – the Mexican government officially warned its citizens to use extreme caution if visiting Arizona because of the tough new law that requires all immigrants and visitors to carry U.S.-issued documents or risk arrest.

The Mexican government is urging U.S.-bound shoppers to avoid Arizona or prepare for unprovoked harassment by police. The governor of Sonora has called off an important cross-border tourism and trade meeting for the first time in 50 years, and Aeromexico has canceled flights to Phoenix.

The fallout will certainly continue as more states, cities, maybe even countries announce bans and boycotts of Arizona. This is going to play a big role on travel and tourism because that is one of Arizona’s largest parts of Arizona’s economy. Hotel rooms and conferences which would normally be booked in Arizona are going to be slowly moved to other cities. Only time will tell what happens…

Pack Less, Pay More: Neverending Baggage Fees


Last week, as you’ve probably heard, low cost carrier Spirit Airlines introduced a $45 carry-on fee for any baggage that doesn’t fit under your seat. Backlash was fast, fierce and far-reaching. The same day as the announcement, “#Carryon” was one of the most used terms on Twitter. Bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers, journalists and politicians all seem to agree on this issue… don’t charge carry-on bag fees!

Money in the bins for Spirit Air (Photo: Cote via Flickr)

Political views aside, we all owe a high-five to Senator Charles Schumer (NY) for announcing that Spirit’s carry-on fee is a  “slap in the face to travelers.” Amen, Senator.

He is currently working with the Treasury Department and DOT secretary Ray LaHood to plug the loophole allowing carry-on fees.  LaHood said, “I think it’s a bit outrageous that an airline is going to charge someone to carry on a bag and put it in the overhead. And I’ve told our people to try and figure out a way to mitigate that. I think it’s ridiculous… we’re gonna hold the airline’s feet to the fire on this. Because we have an obligation to do it and we have the ability to do it.”

Senator Schumer (Photo: Rochester City Paper)

Obviously, Spirit Airlines is defending their position. “In addition to lowering fares even further, this will reduce the number of carry-on bags, which will improve in-flight safety and efficiency by speeding up the boarding and deplaning process,” Spirit CEO Ken McKenzie said in a statement. So, basically Spirit feels that $90 for a round trip flight is worth the possibility of a slightly faster boarding process… I think not.

We’ve all been inconvienced by a fellow passenger trying to wedge his surfboard into the overhead bin, or the vultures from the back rows who stuff their bags in the front of the plane. It’s a pain in the ass, no doubt about it, but charging innocent passengers extra fees to curb these practices is just appauling. The cost vs. benefit is simply not worth it… each flight has the potential of saving a few minutes in boarding time, but will charge upwards of an extra $4,000 per flight.

Breakdown of Spirit Airlines fares:

It’s easier to understand their practices when you see an example of it in practice… here is the breakdown for a roundtrip flight from Washington DC – Orlando, including one checked bag and one carry-on.

Airfare: $76.03 each way.

1st Checked Bag Fee: $50 (booked in advance)

Carry-on Bag Fee: $60 (booked in advance)

Passenger Civil Security Fee:$10.00

Passenger Facility Fee:$18.00

Passenger Usage Fee:$16.00

Segment Fee:$14.80

September 11th Security Fee: $5.00

Grand Total: $325.86… after all US taxes and Spirit Air fees, you are paying over $325 for a $150 flight.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly will NOT fly Spirit Airlines again. Will you?

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