AirSnark’s Unscientific Guide To Ranking The Airlines!

So my shitty experiences on Delta, and some rather shaky/scary experiences on Skywest (“This is your Captain speaking. I’m sorry about the delay, but when we landed, a piece fell off of the airplane.  We had to find it and figure out what piece it was before we could fix it.”), I’ve decided to put together my own list of airline rankings, mostly for the Majors, but there will be a minor/secondary carrier that will show up here or there.  So far, these are the categories that I’m going to cover:

  • Safety
  • Onboard Amenities
  • Routes
  • Partners
  • Customer Service
  • Reliability

If you want or can think of other categories, let me know!  I’ll be publishing these throughout the upcoming week, so be on the look out!

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Who will make the next move in the Alaska Airlines vs Delta frenemies shuffle?

So there’s been a bunch of new developments along the lines of Alaska Airlines and their partner Delta.  When Delta started expanding into Alaska’s territories, things got bad.  Alaska started to retaliate, with some pretty bold moves into Salt Lake City, going from service just from Seattle to nearly every big airport in the West.  And just this morning, Today in the Sky is reporting that Alaska is offering double miles on British Airways flights between Seattle and London – while Delta starts that same route in a few days.

Delta and Alaska terminated their agreement for Delta to handle their ground operations in airports where Alaska isn’t as prominent, like Atlanta, Boston, and the like.  And what was Delta’s reaction?  They were all, “Fine!  I didn’t want to help out anyway.  Let’s terminate this thing early!”  And in Atlanta, they did just that.  Starting 2 weeks ago, Alaska has hired their own people to run the Alaska gate (moved to D8 from D14, though Atlanta airport still gets it wrong on the readerboards), and – I believe – Menzies to run ground operations.

But here’s the curious thing…  Why did Alaska hire their own people for two incoming and two outgoing flights per day in Atlanta?  Wouldn’t it be cheaper if they outsourced it?

Not if they’re going to increase flights to and from Atlanta!

I’m predicting that, like Salt Lake City, Alaska Airlines is going to ramp up their Atlanta flights, especially from Alaska stronghold markets like Boise, San Jose, and the like.  It just makes sense for them; they’re still keeping their partnership with Delta, and feeding passengers to Delta continuing flights, but they’re also making sure that they’re going to stay dominant in the airports that they count as strongholds.

Not sure if I’m right or wrong, but history will tell us.  But thing is, it just makes sense…

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THIS headline absolutely pisses me off

So I’ve got a Google keyword search that sends me a daily digest of the comings & goings of the Airline industry – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Well today can be safely thrown into the “ugly” category.  Seriously.

BusinessWeek.com’s website screamed this today:

Asiana’s San Francisco Plane Crash Seen Pushing Airline to Loss

Really?  I’m sorry, but didn’t we just lose a plane, injure hundreds, and call an entire industry’s training practices into question just a few days ago?  Not to mention the two 16 year old girls who won’t live to go to college, reach adulthood, and live a full, healthy life?  No, we don’t care about that.  Or at least the five financial analysts that put forth the data – and Bloomberg for publishing such tripe.

I get it; it’s a business.  But freaking come on, already!  Poor, poor taste!

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“Pay As You Weigh” is finally starting – in Samoa

Samoa Air, the small airline that flies small aircraft between places in Samoa, American Samoa, French Polynesia, and other island nations, is the first airline to start a “pay as you weigh” scheme.  Does it make sense?  The airline thinks it does.

When I think of Samoa, I think of people like Dwane “The Rock” Johnson, or the famous Samoan wrestler, Umaga.  These men are not small in the least (Umaga weighed in at 160kilograms or 350pounds); I don’t know what The Rock weighs.  And I typically think of larger people; Samoans aren’t well known for being svelte.

If you check Samoa Air’s flight schedule, you can see their new pricing.  Small hops, like Faleolo to Maota, which is under 20 miles away – but across the Apolima Straight, on a different island, cost Samoan Tala 1 per kilogram that the person weighs (WTS 1 = US$0.46).  So sending a 160 kilogram person on that route would cost WTS 160 or US$73.  Other flights would cost more, such as Maota to Pago Pago on America Samoa, which is about 100 miles away; those flights would be WTS 2.40 (about US$1.10) per kilogram.

The airline says it’s more fair, and that, say, families traveling with small children would make out like bandits, paying significantly less than they are now.  And they maintain that it’ll put Samoans into a healthier lifestyle frame of mind.  Me?  I’m not totally convinced.

What do you think?

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Scoop, or Bad Writing?

Okay, so we all know that American Airlines is looking to merge with another carrier – possibly – if the deal is right, and American comes out on top.  Immediately the pundits, including me, started talking about the possibilities.

But I’m startled by something.  There’s one source that I’ve found (after an admittedly short search) that says American is looking to specifically merge with Frontier, buying them off of Republic.  But does the article really say that?  Or is it just bad writing or conjecture on the part of the author?  You decide – and then you can tell me ’cause I have no freaking idea.

Most of the regular articles read like this one, and though they single out Frontier in the title, it’s clear that every one of the six carriers (though I highly doubt Virgin America – way too young, and not enough of a route-map to make a huge difference) is in consideration.  But read this one.  Notice the focus specifically on Frontier?  It’s odd to say the least.  At least further on, they do seem to muddy the waters and mention other carriers, but still.  It’s an odd duck.

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Now THIS is monumentally stupid

One of my regular blogs is USA Today’s “Today In The Sky” column by Ben Mutzabaugh; I check it a few times a day.  Today’s lead-off story is how a flier complained about having to sit next to a corpse for an overnight flight, and got a partial refund from the airline.

My complaint?  If, as stated in the article, that the corpse in question was indeed alive and having convulsions, then why in the hell did the airline taxi and take off?  This seems just monumentally stupid.  I mean, come on!  That is a medical emergency – the very definition  of medical emergency.  The plane should have never left the gate, much less the ground.  If the man had been taken off, he may well still be alive today.

When we were coming back from our last vacation, there was a medical emergency onboard.  A mother forgot her kid’s steroid inhaler, and basically from about 30 minutes into the flight from DFW to PDX, we had no idea if we were going to make it or not.  Luckily there was a pediatrician on, and the kid mostly responded to the medications he was given, but there were half a dozen times when the captain would come over the PA and ask for an update, saying we could be diverting (Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise are just a few that I remember) at any moment if the kid got any worse.

So okay, the flight above with the corpse was Kenyan Airways, and our flight was American Airlines.  But I’m sorry – a medical emergency is a medical emergency.  And the outrage is about sitting next to a corpse?  How about turning the man into a corpse in the first place!

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Paying Our Respects

I originally posted something similar to this over at CatastropheCast.com, but thought it should go here as well…

I’m not only a regular business traveler, but I’m an airline geek as well.  I have been my whole life; when other 7 or 8 year olds wanted to be astronauts and firemen, I wanted to be an NTSB aircraft crash investigator.  Seriously.

But I digress.

There’s something to be said about paying proper respect to those that deserve it.  It’s something nice, but doesn’t get done that often.  For example, did you know that one of the most horrific, largest loss of life airplane crashes on United States soil was American Airlines Flight 191, a DC10 that crashed in Chicago back in 1979?  There were 273 souls lost in that crash.  But as for a monument or memorial for these people?  It didn’t happen.  Not until a group of schoolkids got together and did a 2 year project, raising funds for it.  The memorial didn’t officially exist until 2011.

Another noteworthy crash, the crash of Continental Airlines flight 11, en route from Chicago to Kansas City to Los Angeles, happened in 1962.  The crash is noteworthy because it was the first time a jet (not turboprop) plane was brought down as an act of terrorism; a man bought a life insurance policy and then blew up the plane with 6 sticks of dynamite, the result of which started the era of passenger screening that we all yammer on about to this day.  But that crash didn’t have any type of memorial, either.  Not until fifty years later, when 100 people – including the surviving family members of victims and other townsfolk – gathered in Unionville, Missouri, and dedicated the memorial on May, 2012 on the 50th anniversary of the crash.

We owe these people something.  Something more than they’ve gotten.  For every significant crash (and where possible), these people shouldn’t be forgotten to history.  They should be honored, because their lives were not lost in vain; their lives, and the subsequent loss, has reshaped all of our histories.

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Cover me: I’m about to say something nice about the TSA

It’s not often that I say something nice about the Transportation Safety Administration.  Their usual treatment of individuals is pretty horrid; and I should know since I travel every week.  But I just recently became part of the TSA Pre program – and it’s glorious.

Here in Portland, Oregon, our local airport has joined the TSA Pre™ list of approved airports.  And since I joined myself (as a frequent flier of Alaska Airlines, they joined me up automatically, but only for flights on Alaska), it has taken me no longer than 7 seconds to get through TSA after showing my identification.  It has been glorious!

So if you’re a frequent business traveler, I’d look into it.  It’s so worth the $100 fee.

One note of caution.  When you join TSA Pre™, they will give you a few options.  I chose their Global Entry option, because it made the best sense for me.  Your decision may be different.  But they give you a “Global Entry” identification card, and it’s an official identification from the Department of Homeland Security, and can be used as proper ID.  It can, no matter if a TSA agent refuses it or not.  I fly out of the tiny airport of Prescott, Arizona, and the TSA there refused to accept my Homeland Security ID and wanted my drivers license.

So there you have it.  I did manage to balance some good with some bad, so take that, TSA!  But seriously – join Global Entry.  You’ll definitely be glad you did!  And drop me a line if you have questions.

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HRC Rankings of Airlines, Hotels, etc. and a Word about United

For those of you that aren’t familiar, HRC stands for The Human Rights Campaign, which is the leading LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) rights organization.  Okay, so you’re not part of the LGBT community.  That’s fine.  There’s 10% of the population that is, and there are people who will often choose organizations based on their corporate actions (how they treat women and minorities, including LGBT workers).

I’m happy to say that my 3 primary airlines (Alaska Air, American Airlines, and Delta) and my primary hotel chain (Marriott) all have a 100% rating from the HRC.  If you look down the list, there are others; Southwest has a 95 rating, United has an 88 rating, Hertz Rent a Car has a 70 rating, with Skywest one of the lowest at 15, and Frontier and Midwest both with big honking 0 ratings.  (Personally, I didn’t know that about Frontier; I was going to fly them in January to see how they’ve changed since the last time I’ve flown them in 2010; now I know I won’t even bother!).

Now talking about United specifically.

So they have an 88% rating with the Human Rights Campaign, which means they can do better.  And what’s the first thing they should do?  They should address the ugly issue that came up this past weekend where a gay couple was denigrated when trying to use a United Club in Denver, including being called “faggots” and “idiots”, among other stuff.

So come on, United.  Denounce this manager’s action and use it as a teaching opportunity for your entire organization.

Personally, I don’t see this happening.  I’ve flown United a dozen times over the last ten years, and every time (without fail), the customer service is downright horrid.  I mean talking down to passengers, at a minimum.  Last time I flew them, I was standing near the gate desk in SFO, and the 3 flight crew were ten feet from me – and were talking smack about passengers.  It’s like a trained thing for United flight crews; day 1 is emergency training, days 2 through 5 is “creative customer insulting”.

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Backscatter Machine Information

This is pretty incredible.  Mashable.com took on “The Science Behind Airport Body Scanners” and did a pretty good job at explaining them.  It’s a pretty damned good article, and you should read it.  But if you only read one sentence, it’s this:

No conclusive studies have been conducted that confirm that backscatter X-ray security scanners are safe for commercial use.

That right there is reason enough for the traveling public to demand that these dangerous machines be shut down and removed from use.  Never mind the privacy concerns.  Never mind anything else.  These X-ray backscatter systems have not been proven to be safe for the traveling public, and put us all at risk!  The group EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) has sued the TSA to stop these machines from being used.  Maybe we should all get behind them – forcefully!

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