“We’re Going Where? On WHAT?”

It’s 2019, and modern airplanes can go further, carrying more people than ever before.  We’ve gotten used to that in the United States, where for-profit airlines are trying to make as much money off the flying public as possible.  Sure, there are holdouts, like Southwest, who still lets you check up to two bags included in the cost of your ticket.  And that’s awesome.

But now we’re getting into something more.  Back in the 1980s when I went to Hawaii from the West Coast, I remember flying an American Airlines Boeing 747 from LAX to HNL.  A big plane, that could carry a metaphorical buttload of people.  Even though it was a 5-hour flight from the West Coast, that was done in style, and you got to share the excitement of your upcoming journey with hundreds of people.  And on the way back, you got to lament with your fellow passengers that your vacation was over.

That was then.  Back when airlines had cheaper fuel and the desire to travel was less than it is now.  The lineup for airlines back then was the 747, the 767, and maybe for some, the 757.  I’m sure that there was A300 service back then, too, though I don’t follow Airbus as Boeing.

Alaska Airlines entered the Hawaiian market from the West Coast back in the mid 2010s, serving the islands with Boeing 737s.  Southwest just entered the lucrative Hawaiian market.  And like Alaska Airlines mainline (not counting acquired Virgin America), Southwest will service with their fleet of Boeing 737s.

And now JetBlue is going to enter the East Coast to London market, and those flights will be on the Airbus A321.

What do all of these have in common?  Single-aisle airplanes.  Planes that when you get claustrophobic and tired of being in the air for 5 hours, you really don’t have all that much place to go.  I mean sure, once you’re on an airplane there’s not really much place to move around.  But there’s a huge difference between flying on a 150 seater Boeing 737, and a 600 seater Airbus A380.

If I want to go on a long trip somewhere, I want to be on a plane that has more space to move around than your grandmother’s powder room.  So honestly, that’s why I would never fly a small plane for more than a three or four-hour journey.  I mean, I have – once.  Didn’t have much choice when we were supposed to go to Thailand on the Airbus A380, they had a military coup, and we ended up on a Boeing 737 for almost six hours each way because that’s really all I could get on short notice with points.

I know having a one-model type fleet saves airlines money.  But it doesn’t do the people any good when they’re stuck on that tiny plane for hours on end.  So if I’m going to plan a journey that takes more than a few hours in the air, I’m going to look for the biggest plane possible to get me there, even if that means bypassing my favorite airline to do it.

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Travel, Travel, Travel

I’ve been in a job where I’ve traveled basically weekly – at least 45 weeks a year – for work.  Rarely get work from home weeks so when I get them, they’re a blessing.  I get my alone time during the travel week and then spend time with my Boo when I am at home.  Well ever since I hit my Million Miler on Alaska Airlines, things have…changed.

My client ran out of money, but not out of project.  So they decided to keep me on, but in order to save money, decided that I needed to work from home 100% of the time.

Yeah, excited, I wasn’t.

So I’ve been home since the week of Christmas, working in my jammies, going to the kitchen whenever I wanted to and not needed to, and trying not to get on my husband’s nerves.  Luckily he travels from time to time, too.  And the thing is, I kinda like it.  Not that I want to stop traveling.  Hells no.  Hopefully, once the client re-funds the project I’m on, travel will start up again.  But for now, I’m enjoying the time at home.

Which brings me to my issue.  See, we’ve gone on vacation for the last three decades using either mine or my husband’s points – never having to pay for airfare or hotel.  Just drinks and food, thank you.  We were scheduled to go back to Puerto Rico for vacation this August, because we’ve been away too long, and Puerto Rico deserves the tourism.  It’s such a wonderful, warm, beautiful spot.  Only thing is, in order to get the tickets in first class (the ONLY way to fly), I had to book several one-way flights.  So PDX-DFW-PDX was fine.  But between DFW, MIA, and SJU, those were all one-way flights.  And on Saturday, American decided to change their schedule and screwed EVERYTHING up.  None of the flights would work anymore.

So hotel and flights get canceled, and we decided since the husband is changing jobs soon ::knock wood:: that we’d just use some pre-paid points at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.  Yes, it was kind of a timeshare.  Shut up.  The guy who sold it to us looked like a Latino George Clooney.  So sue me.  Anyway, our vacation changed on a dime, because of one little schedule change.

Airlines are making it SO much harder to use their points these days.  The whole reason for the one-way tickets was to fly first class.  It works most of the time.  But that is until the airline drops a deuce in the middle of your best-laid plans.

So keep being creative out there with your points and get out and see the world.  Just be mindful, and have a backup plan if the need arises!

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Well, that makes all the majors

With Alaska Airlines’ announcement that they are going to offer “basic economy” fares, that means that all the majors now offer complete no-frills fares.  Why?  Because they have to compete with the likes of Spirit and Frontier.  Instead of pulling fares – and service – up, the airline industry is now having to compete at the very lowest common denominator.

I mean I personally get it.  I once paid $24 for a one way flight from SNA to DEN on F9 (Frontier), even though with fees that are required to make the travel liveable (meaning advanced purchase and carry-on bag fees) brought cost an additional $70, which brought the fare – including taxes – to around $110.  And airlines love their fees.

The business traveler is a dying breed these days, and airlines aren’t seeing as many of us.  Just in the last four years since I’ve been traveling between PDX and SNA, the number of regular business travelers on my flight has decreased from more than half a dozen regulars per flight to just two.  So they have to make up the empty seats somehow.

So welcome to the club, Alaska Airlines!  You, Delta, American, and United should only have to compete with each other, and not the likes of an airline that is one step above charging for access to lavatories in flight.  But this is our world!

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Dear Frequent Flyer, Your Airline’s Just Not That Into You

Every road warrior has stories – good and bad – about their favorite airline.  But the thing is, for most people who have a favorite airline that they use the most frequently, those good stories outweigh the bad.  The “Hey, the flight attendant on yesterday’s flight was so nice because X and Y” stories outweigh the crappy, “Girl, you betta check yourself!” stories.  But make no mistake about it – the airline is a business, and they couldn’t really care less about you.  Your money? Yes.  But you?  Not so much.

Sure there are nice amenities to be had out there.  Complimentary access to lounges, free upgrades, and free drinks.  People who travel a lot get free baggage on the “big” airlines, whereas four of the top five airlines (Alaska, Delta, American, and United) will charge a fee for regular travelers.  As far as I know, Southwest is still the last hold out, and doesn’t charge.  Then again, Southwest doesn’t have the niceties that the other big airlines have – namely a first class section, nor parters that will get you halfway around the world on points alone.

But even with things like upgrades, nothing is a given anymore.  As an Alaska Airlines frequent flyer, I used to get complimentary upgrades on Delta when they were partners.  But it went from a routine thing to a more unusual thing. And by unusual, I mean that they would try and do their damndest to sell that seat out from under your “cheap” ass.  Why do I say cheap?  Because you were going to get it for free, and the airline is there to do one thing – make money for their investors.  So even if there were half a dozen seats open on a Delta flight and I was the only person on the upgrade list, Delta would do their damndest to sell those seats instead of upgrading me per their agreement with Alaska.

And now Alaska seems to be doing it as well.  No matter where you are on the upgrade list, if you haven’t been upgraded before a flight, don’t expect it to happen when you get to the airport.  On Alaska, I’m personally at 96% of my million miler status, and are one of the highest elites out there.  I could – and do – buy instant upgrade tickets so that the “perk” of having to leave my husband every week to go to work at least happens in a roomier cabin, with people who don’t touch you constantly and flight attendants who don’t splash you with errant liquids from the drink cart parked in the middle aisle.  Of course you don’t always get upgraded, and that’s a fact of flying.  But what’s gotten worse, is that now Alaska is in the habit of selling that seat out from under you.  Or at least me.  I’ve watched it happen countless times as I’ll be first on the upgrade list starting 24 hours before the flight, and there’ll be a seat or two open.  But once I get to the airport for my flight, suddenly there’s a new name on the list, they’re above my name, and they have that coveted upgrade seat.

Now I’m not saying that the people of your favorite airline, from the gate agents to the pilots to the cabin crew, don’t like you.  They more than likely do – especially if you make their job easy by being an easy flyer or maybe bring them a treat.  But the airline as a whole?  They don’t see you as a person.  You’re a frequent flyer number that’s a source of revenue to them.  Anything else that happens to occur that might be good or bad for you?  They really couldn’t care less.

In my book, “A Million Miles Amok“, I warn people not to let fancy things like upgrades and the like spoil you, though I myself have been spoiled.  But I think it’s becoming more and more transparent as of late; the airline wants you for your money, and really not much else.

The golden age of travel is, indeed, dead.

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Air Traffic Control Privatization? Not just no, but HELL NO!

There was apparently a bill that the United States Congress – you know, the guys and gals that have approval ratings that hover just above syphilis and people who microwave fish at work – to privatize the Air Traffic Control system.  And not only was it not laughed out of committee, it passed!  This in itself is insane.  And Trump has called on privatizing the United States ATC system as well.  I mean we have had disasterous results with things like this in the past.  Have we learned nothing?

For-profit private prisons:  These corporations get paid for 90% to 100% occupancy, and get paid no matter what the actual occupancy rate it.  And it’s been shown that in a for-profit prison, the prisoners are underfed to the point of malnurishment.  Sure, these are people who are paying a debt to society – but we cannot treat them like animals.  They have the right to human dignity just like everyone else.  And speaking of dignity – they are absolutely humans, and not slaves.  But that doesn’t stop them from being treated as such due to forced labor for which they are barely compensated for.  Corporations can make money no matter what, and make more money by not taking care of their prisoners while forcing them to work like slaves.  Sources: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20880-for-profit-prisons-eight-statistics-that-show-the-problems and http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-prison-industry-in-the-united-states-big-business-or-a-new-form-of-slavery/8289

For-profit universities:  If you can make money off of students no matter what, then what’s stopping you from abusing that right?  Like for-profit school ITT enrolling blind students in programs that require visual inspection of wires and colors.  Or the fact that they regularly had students take out loans that they might not be able to afford, and then lied about the job rates and salaries of their graduates.  And to drive the point home, just two words:  Trump University.  Sources: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/at-itt-tech-a-greatest-hits-of-abuses-attorney-2016-01-21 and https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/profit-college-company-pay-955-million-settle-claims-illegal-recruiting-consumer-fraud-and

For-profit hospitals and insurance companies:  We’ve heard time and again about fraudulent billing from for-profit hospitals.  Tenet and HCA alone have paid about $3,729,000,000 (yes, almost 4 billion US dollars) to settle fraudulent billing and other issues over the last few decades.  And who can forget Humana denying necessary procedures for those they insured, while buying extravagant items like spending almost $4,000,000 on a sculpture – or about the cost of 8 heart transplants.  Sources: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-dreier/humana-profits-over-peopl_b_327311.html and others.

Who in their right mind thinks that privatizing something so integral and necessary as Air Traffic Control is a good thing?  It’s already one of the top five most stressful jobs ever.  Can you imagine how much worse it can get when your boss is coming down on you to cut costs and raise profits?  At least when it comes to things like for-profit hospitals and health insurance companies most people have a choice.  But you literally put your life in the hands of the people who hurl that metal tube through the sky at 500 miles per hour, and the people how control where they fly and land.  You don’t have a choice.

Well honestly, we do.  And that choice is to tell our local Congress critter NO to privatizing the ATC.

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Because the US travel ban needed to get worse

If you’re an American, you already know that people around the world either hate us or think we’re just plain stupid.  Then again, let’s see what happens in France this weekend, and we’ll see if we get a pass.

Anyway, so there’s now a ban on anything larger than a cellphone traveling in the cabin of any airliner coming to the United States from 10 different Arabic countries.  The UK has decided to jump on that bandwagon as well.  But now, just about a month later, someone in charge was wondering, “So how do we make travel even more unbearable?”  And even though we thought it couldn’t be done – it’s one of those Ronco, “But Wait! There’s More!” moments.

Now it looks like you won’t be able to travel with anything larger than a cellphone even from European countries.  Seriously.

Think about it.  A five, ten, fifteen hour trip with just your cellphone.  No iPad, no Samsung Note, no portable DVD player.  And as you’re taxiing away from the gate, you hear, “We’re sorry, but Chief Purser Gopher just deleted all in-flight entertainment.  But somewhere we’ve got a VHS copy of Biodome with Pauly Shore somewhere,” screamed from the overhead.  Won’t that be great?

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Naming The Best AND WORST Airlines & Programs!

There’s a lot of “best” airline lists out there, but until now I haven’t seen much of anyone pushing a list of the worst.  But WalletHub has fixed that for us!  So if you’re interested, you can take a look at the best and worst airlines of 2016, as well as the best and worst airline frequent flyer programs.

Airlines link: https://wallethub.com/edu/best-airlines/20916/

Airline Programs link: http://www.cardhub.com/edu/best-frequent-flyer-program/

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Getting sucked into the oft-odd headline

So I get a few news alerts during the day that tells me about what’s going on with the big guys (hint, Delta just passed United as the second largest airline), or maybe some cool stuff about airplane design.  I mean who wouldn’t want to read an informational article about Boeing’s new patent for an airplane design that literally wraps itself around cargo for delivery?  Brilliant, eh?

But no – what headline do I get sucked into?  The one about the emotional support turkey that flew on a recent Delta flight.  Yes, I’m serious – this fowl actually got a seat on a mainline Delta flight, and someone got a picture of it.  It’s rather odd.

And non-American’s say that we have no common sense.  They’re right of course, but still.  I mean, at least the turkey didn’t get to sit in the exit row!

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Bad Form, Air Canada!

So I have a side hobby that keeps me busy called CatastropheCast, in which I talk about disasters and catastrophes that have happened in the last couple hundred years.  A big part of that is airplane crashes, which luckily have become much more rare these days.

Arguably one of the most important airline incidents was Air Canada flight 797, which happened in June, 1983.  That crash is significant in two different ways.  First, it’s the last time an Air Canada flight produced a fatality.  Second, there are safety issues that came out of the loss of flight 797 that affect us to this day – like fire suppression, smoke detection, and items in the cabin to help guide people out in the event of a smoke filled cabin.

Thing is, after a significant incident, flight numbers tend to be retired.  Delta 191, Korean 007, United 93 and 175 – which came back after the merger of United and Continental, and quickly were removed.  There’s a whole writeup on the phenomenon you can read here.

Thing is, looks like Air Canada forgot about this, because Air Canada still operates a flight 797.

site web.airsnark.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Air-Canada-797-Google-Search.png” rel=”attachment wp-att-537″>Air Canada 797 - Google Search

Bad form, Air Canada!  Bad form!

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So why am I so hard on Delta Airlines?

If you follow my twitter feed, then you’ll note that as of late, I’ve had some not very nice things to say about Delta.  Now don’t get me wrong; they are a big airline, and they have a very nice route map.  But I have to say it’s not the route map or the size of the airline that you get to know – it’s the people that fly with you in the sky.  And I have to say that the experiences I’ve have had over the just the last two weeks is enough to make me say, “ENOUGH, ALREADY!”

It’s no secret that I give each flight crew that I fly with a bag of chocolates.  Just a little $3.50 bag of Hershey’s Miniatures that I buy every week, and then give them to the crew.  As you’ll find out in the official AirSnark book that’ll be out late this year or early next year, I’ve had only a handful of bad experiences.  For instance, I was boarding a flight and handed the lead FA (flight attendant) that was greeting us boarding passengers a bag of chocolate.  They look at it, looked at me, and then said, “Well okay then,” and then tossed the bag in the trash.

I thought that was a one-off, but no, Delta tries to go that much further.  When I flew out of Portland last weekend, I handed the lead FA a bag of chocolates, which they accepted with a smile.  When that FA found me ten minutes later, she turned to the FA behind her and said, “This is the nice gentleman that brought us the chocolates.”

The second FA just looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, “People’ll do anything for a free drink these days.”

Listen, asshat – screw you.  I don’t do it for a drink.  You can ask FAs that I’ve flown with on many, many occasions; I actually rarely ask for anything, food or drink.  I’m probably one of the most low-key/low-need passengers that you’ll ever fly with.  But no, this guy just knew that I was trying to “gain the system” or something for a free drink, when all I was trying to do was do something nice to brighten up someone’s day.

Coming home Thursday, the unthinkable happened again.  Except this time, the lead FA didn’t say a work – they just dumped the bag of candy in the trash.

Just because you’re one of the biggest airlines, and you have a monopoly on the busiest airport in the world doesn’t mean you have the right to be an asshole to your passengers.  Unless you’re trying to alienate them and get them to fly your competitors.  But at least in my case, it’s working.  I’m going out of my way (and saving the client $450/week in airfare) by flying into a secondary airport for my final destination, all because Delta has probably the worst reputation of any one of the majors when it comes to customer service in the sky – where it matters.

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