Probably the ugliest volley in the Delta/Alaska “frenemies” game

So everyone’s probably already heard about how Delta and Alaska – once great friends, have slowly been turning into enemies.  And while they still are cordial to each other, the heat is getting turned up – but quick.  Delta has decided to expand their West Coast presence with flights going from Alaska hubs Seattle and Portland down to the Bay Area and Los Angeles.  Alaska volleyed back with majorly expanding their presence in Salt Lake City.

But the biggest volley by far (in my personal opinion) is the fact that Delta is going to start a shuttle between Portland and Seattle (end of the article) – a la Horizon Air, Alaska’s sister airline.  The Portland/Seattle shuttle is a breadwinner for Alaska because those that can’t “get there” from Portland (or the surrounding communities), almost always can get there from Seattle.  In my 1.25 million miles, the most popular route that I fly has been between Portland and Seattle.

And while I think at first, if it actually does come to pass (I’m wondering if Delta’s version of the “Seattle Shuttle” will ever really get off the ground), I don’t think it will be all that long lived.  Or if it does, I can’t see Alaska’s partnership with Delta lasting all that much longer.

A quick side note: With Delta coming back for flights between Portland and Seattle, the first thing I thought of was D. B. Cooper.  He’s the man that hijacked a Northwest Airlines (now Delta) Boeing 727 out of Portland, headed for Seattle, then disappeared from the plane and was never heard from again…  Hey – maybe Delta can dub their flights the D. B. Cooper Express!

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About this electronics stuff…

Okay, so first it was Delta and jetBlue that got the okay to go gate-to-gate with electronic gadgets.  Then it was American.  I had a question from a friend on this new policy, because he flew Delta mainline, where they announced the new policy, and then flew a Delta Connection flight, where the flight attendant nearly came unglued when he wouldn’t put his iPhone away during taxi out to the runway.

Try as they might, airlines aren’t telling their customers the distinction between “mainline” flights and those that are subcontracted.  Indeed, my friend’s Delta Connection flight was on ExpressJet, though it was branded a Delta Connection flight.

Earlier this week I got an email from US Airways saying that they were rolling out gate-to-gate electronic use – but they were actually freaking helpful!  They said that the new policy applied only to mainline US Airways flights, and that the policy didn’t yet apply to US Airways Express flights; that would come at a later date.  And just now, I got an email from Alaska Airlines saying that starting Saturday passengers on mainline flights would be able to use electronics, with sister carrier Horizon coming up soon, as well as subcontractor SkyWest, pending FAA approval.

From what I can tell, US Airways and Alaska Airlines are the only ones to roll out this new policy correctly.

So congrats you guys!  Travel is just about to get a little more interesting.

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Differences in cabin crews

After yesterday, I felt I really needed to post this.

I fly primarily Alaska Airlines.  I think I’ve said this before, but I’ve never fully said why.  My flight on Delta yesterday should give you a good reason as to why.

Whenever I fly, no matter what airline, I always bring a $3 bag of Hershey’s Miniatures for the flight crew.  It’s just something that I do.  I have many flight attendant friends, and I know what they go through on a daily basis.  Trust me, it’s not always glamorous and fun.

So when I get on, say, a Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air flight, the reaction is always the same.  The person I hand the chocolates gets a big smile on their face, and they ask something to the effect of, “For me?  For us?  Really?”  And at that point, I either get a thank you or the biggest hug possible.  When I was flying American Airlines every week, I usually had the same flight crews – and often I would come down the jet bridge, and would here someone on the plane get on the PA and say, “Here comes the candy man!”  The flight crews on US Airways were almost as animated and thankful.

So I flew on 4 Delta flights this week.  Two of the times that I gave chocolate, absolutely NONE of that happened.  What happened?  The first time, the flight attendant basically rolled their eyes and took the chocolate, then turned to throw it away.  When I said that it was a treat for her and the crew, she “got it”, and said thanks.

Yesterday when I was flying home, I handed the bag of chocolate to the lead FA as I was boarding the plane.  What did he do?  Without asking or anything, he just turned around and threw the bag in the garbage.  I stood there kind of stunned for a second, then shook my head and walked to my seat.

I get people who tell me I should fly Delta all the time.  Why?  Seriously, why should I put up with the vapidity of a flight crew that many times a week?  It’s just not worth it.  As my seatmate on the plane yesterday told me, “I get treated better in Coach on Alaska Airlines than I do in First Class on Delta.”  And you know what?  He couldn’t be more right.

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Travel-Related Customer Service in the Digital Age

Remember when customer service meant having to call an 800 number?  Yeah, not in the digital age anymore.  Things have changed, but not always for the best.  Here’s a rundown of some of the best – and worst – interactions I’ve had with customer service in the digital age.  All of these are travel related companies.  Every single one of these interactions was done via Twitter.

Best: HorizonAir (web: http://www.horizonair.com, Twitter: @horizonair )
Interaction:  It’s hard to pull just one interaction that I’ve with Horizon.  They’re probably the most responsive of any of the companies that I’ve ever dealt with on Twitter.  Even just a quick tweet once, saying, “Arrived SEA early. Changed to earlier @horizonair flight – then it was cancelled. Hope to get home soon.”  They responded within an hour, saying, “Sorry about the cancellation – hope you got home safely!”.  Whenever I’ve had a question, or even a concern over the recent changes going on at Horizon, Horizon has been quick to respond.  I hope that doesn’t change under the new Alaska umbrella.

Honorable Mention for Best: Marriott International (web: http://www.marriott.com, Twitter: @marriottintl )
Interaction: I’ve not had much interaction with Marriott.  To be honest, hotels are so much more stable and reliable than airlines.  I mean, when was the last time you got to a hotel and they’d cancelled everyone’s rooms?  Flights, yes.  Rooms, no.  My first interaction was a tweet saying something like, “I guess even being @marriottintl Platinum Premier doesn’t guarantee you the type of room you reserved.”  Within a few minutes, Marriott contacted me asking me for details of the situation.  I told them I was really more blowing off steam than anything else, but they insisted on making sure everything was done the right way, and the hotel hadn’t done it properly.  They asked for the hotel, and talked to them the next day to ensure that proper procedures were followed for room guarantees.  Nobody got into trouble, which was my main point.  And they’ve guaranteed my room type every week ever since.

Good, but can do better: Alaska Airlines (http://www.alaskaair.com, Twitter: @alaskaair )
Interaction: Usually questions sent to Alaska Airlines will be responded to.  However, I’ve noticed lately that queries I bring up are ignored.  It’s clear that their Twitter team and their Facebook team are the same people.  On a couple of occasions, I’ve said things on Twitter, and commented on Facebook on a separate issue, and the Facebook response from Alaska contains reference to my tweet.  I’m not sure what the disconnect is lately, though.  For instance, I’ve asked about the Alaska Airlines Board Room a couple of times lately (two times in the last 60 days), but the questions go unanswered.  Totally weird.

The awful: Business Traveller Magazine (http://www.businesstraveller.com, Twitter: @btuk )
Interaction:  I used to subscribe to Business Traveller Magazine’s print edition a few years back.  Once I started heavy travel again (read: cross country flights twice per week – or worse!), I decided to subscribe again.  This time, I saw they offer an online version of their magazine.  This being the electronic age, I subscribed to the electronic version.  That’s when it got bad.  First, they’re supposed to contact you – just a simple email – when a new issue is posted.  I think I’ve gotten two, maybe three of these.  The rest?  Who knows.  I cite this as bad because, as we all know, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  If you don’t know it’s out there, are you going to go and look for it?  No, not really.  Second, I downloaded the IMR file that Business Traveller puts out and tried to open it.  Hmmm, what’s an IMR file?  I look through their website, assuming that I will be able to find how to open the file.  Nothing.  Not even on the issue download page.  So then I start contacting them through their website.  No response.  So I see that their Twitter account is active, and contact them through there.  Again, no response.  Tweet again, no response.  Wait a few of weeks, download the new version of the magazine that’s just been released (but alas, I still can’t open), and tweet them again.  STILL nothing.  I finally find the company that creates IMR files for companies out of your own magazines/PDFs.  They won’t respond.

If you’re looking for the black-hole of customer service, Business Traveller Magazine is your winner.  I think it’s unethical for a company to take your money and provide you with an unusable product.  Oh sure, I could read the issue online.  But WTF are downtimes waiting for your flight in the airport, or transcontinental flights good for, if not to catch up on your reading?

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Why I think we’ll be saying goodbye to Horizon Air soon

I alluded to this in a previous post, but now wanted to provide the proof/thought behind my reasoning.  I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m a big Alaska Airlines and Horizon Airlines fan; I’m MVP Gold 75K, and travel at least one of these two carriers weekly.  That’s what saddens me so much to report this.

My last trip PDX -> ORD came just days before I started a regular PDX -> SEA -> EAT routine.  I always read the inflight magazines (Alaska Airlines is here, and Horizon Air’s is here).  Mostly not for the features or articles, but for the airline information in the back.  I was particularly struck with the route mapping in the back of the Alaska Airlines magazine as opposed to the Horizon Airlines magazine.  So much, that I’ll show you what I mean

Horizon Air and Alaska Air Route Map from the Horizon Air Magazine

This is the route map that everyone is used to.  It’s the Alaska Airlines and Horizon Airlines route map, clearly distinguishing who goes where.  The PDX->SEA Shuttle, of course is in red meaning Horizon Air.  While SEA-DEN is in blue meaning Alaska Airlines.  This is the route they’ve used for forever.  And the ones that customers are used to.

Alaska Airlines route map October 2010

The above is the route map in the latest Alaska Airlines magazine.  Notice anything?  Yeah.  Everything is in blue.  And the map indicates that these are “Alaska Airlines Routes”.  PDX -> SEA Shuttle.  SEA -> DEN.  All of it.  Alaska Airlines.  No indication of Horizon Airlines at all.  The only red on the map is now what’s shown of partner routes (Delta out of MSP, DTW, ATL, and American out of DFW and ORD).

I may be reading into this, but I think I’m not.  With all the hints of Horizon changing (Alaska Air Express, anyone?) that I’ve heard from my flight attendant buddies, I’ve been waiting for this.  Not happy with it, but knew it was coming.  This is just one more bit of conclusive evidence to that fact.

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Know where Horizon Air is going?

Yes, there’s stuff going on with Horizon Air, and no real explanation as to what’s going on.  But this month’s Alaska Airlines magazine, take a look at the latest route map that covers Alaska and Horizon.  Oh wait.  It just now covers ALASKA.  Alaska Air routes used to be in blue, Horizon routes in red.  Now everything is just marked in blue.  And now they’re showing partner routes out of American and Delta hubs.

So it looks pretty much like Horizon is going to go bye bye in the near future.  Probably come “Alaska Air Express” or the like.  Bets?

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Tarmacs

I love taking smaller regional carrier for one reason – the ability to take pictures of aircraft from the tarmac!

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A very special plane

I just took the Horizon Airlines Portland/Seattle shuttle, and flew on a very special plane.  This is Horizon’s Bombardier Q400, dedicated to Horizon founder Milton G. Kuolt II.  I love that they’ve actually forgone the QX designation and gone with the MK designation for the plane’s registration.

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