Tag Archives: Air Travel

Flight Experiences

Living in the Miami area, and usually flying to Latin America, I usually fly with a select few airlines, like American, Lan, and Spirit, and most of my flights are non stop. Last week, however, I had to fly domestically (to Richmond), and had to fly on 2 different airlines, with connections both ways. This gave me the opportunity to experience other airline’s service and compare with what I usually get.

My flights to Richmond where on US Airways, which I had never flown before. I really can’t say there was anything wrong with the flights. They left on time, arrived on time, both in Charlotte and Richmond. What really surprised me was the barrage of announcements from the crew on the flight from Fort Lauderdale to Charlotte, asking for passengers to please keep the cabin clean and pass all the trash to the flight attendants. They said the airline no longer has a cabin cleanup crew (at least not for that flight), and the flight attendants were the ones responsible for getting the aircraft clean and ready for its next flight. I don’t know if this is standard operating procedure for US Airways, but it sure sounded strange. After all, if they can’t pay people to clean the planes, it doesn’t speak very well for their operation. By the way, no such announcement was made on the flight from Charlotte to Richmond. One flight attendant, however, did announce that “awful snacks are available for purchase”. OK, she did mean to say “Also, snacks are available for purchase”, but you couldn’t help smiling at her slip of the tongue.

My return flights were on Delta, through Atlanta. Other than a quick flight from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando, I hadn’t flown Delta in years. I have to say I was impressed. Our flight out of Richmond was almost 45 minutes delayed due to bad weather affecting the Atlanta area. The gate agents did a good job of keeping passengers informed, and made it a point to say that people with connection were not being affected by the delay. Sure enough, after landing in Atlanta, I had enough time to check for my next gate, head over there, and be there just when they were starting to board.

One thing I enjoyed very much on my flight from Atlanta was Delta’s entertainment system. In addition to the usual movies and music, for which you had to buy headphones or bring your own, it provided some video games (most of which you had to pay for). The one I ended up playing was a trivia contest, where you played real time against your fellow passengers. After each question, the screen shows which players had the right answer, keeps track of points, and even gives you the seat number of your competitors! It was a great way to pass the time and give dirty glances to the lady on 22C, or the guy in 26D, every time they got an answer you missed.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

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Flying with a Baby

If you ask passengers what are the things that annoy them the most while flying, misbehaving children and crying babies are sure to be close to the top of the list. After all, it’s not fun to be stuck around a young one crying her lungs out for a 4 hour flight. It’s not fun for the parents either, especially if they have any respect for the people around them. It’s not easy to quiet down a baby whose ears are hurting, or who can’t fall asleep on your lap.

I recently had the experience of flying with my own baby for the first time, and my wife and I tried to prepare as much as we could. I have to admit things went much better than we expected, and I want to pass along a few tips.

Tip #1 – Leave plenty of time to get to the airport: It goes without saying that traveling with a baby entails more work: more bags, more stuff to carry with you, more checks to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, and to make sure you have all you need for the plane. It doesn’t help the stress when 2 lanes on I-95 are blocked on your way to the airport either.

Tip #2 – Moving through security and on to the gate: Keep in mind that you’ll have more stuff to carry. In our case, laptop, camera bag, diaper bag, extra bag with more stuff, purse, stroller, and yes, the baby. Going through security will take longer than when you just travel with your own carry on. And you have to keep track of it all. Take the laptop out of the bag, take your shoes off, empty your packets, fold the stroller and try to fit it in the X-ray machine, show all your liquids, water and formula. You get the picture. By the way, I tried to find out if we’d be allowed to go through security with baby bottles with water (not mixed in with the formula). There is no clear answer on TSA’s site, and American’s Gold Desk couldn’t find out either. Their advice, which we followed, was to take the water and dump it or mix it it with the formula if they wouldn’t allow it. For the record, they did let us go through with it.

Tip #3-  Boarding: Take advantage of pre-boarding, if you can. Be ready to navigate around people jamming the boarding area waiting for their turn to board. I was quite pleased when the gate agent actually had people who were trying to board ahead of their group stand aside and wait their turn! You know you’ll have to check the stroller at the gate, right? Well, let’s say the strollers may not be handled with white gloves (broken guitars, anyone?). Make sure you don’t leave anything in any of the stroller’s pockets or compartments, including the net at the bottom where you keep stuff for months before you even forget it is there. Also, if your stroller doesn’t keep closed by itself or is easy to unfold, take something to tie it so it doesn’t open while being send down to the cargo compartment.

Tip #4 – The flight! We asked all our friends for tips and got very good ones. Taking stuff to keep the baby occupied is an obvious one. Keep the baby’s short attention span in mind when thinking of how much stuff you’ll need. Our girl was content watching out the window for a while, and then playing with us and listening to music. An iPod with a small set of speakers (at a volume where only we could hear it) worked wonders. Give your baby milk or water while the plane takes off and during the landing process. Swallowing helps alleviate the effects of the pressure changes.

Tip #5 – at your destination: Be aware of changes to your baby’s body and demeanor. Our baby started crying a couple of hours after we arrived. We finally discovered she had a colic and was very gassy, which is not usually her. We had to call a doctor to prescribe something for us. The problem was solved 30 minutes after she took the medicine, but reappeared a few more times over our stay. Why did this happen? Maybe the effects of the pressure changes in the plane, different composition of the water, different environment…who knows? Just be as prepared as you can. Talk to your pediatrician before traveling, especially if you’re going to another country, as medications may be different. Also, it’s much better to trust your own doctor to one called by a hotel, which you don’t know. We were visiting family, so we used their doctor, but you not always have that choice.

Tip #6: Enjoy the trip. Your baby will see a lot of new things and new people. New people will see your baby. Some may even want to hold him. Try not to stress over little things, accept help when offered, and remember, you’re also on vacation, different as it may be. So, make the most of it.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

United Woes

The last couple of weeks have been loaded with news from United Airlines. And not of the good variety. After all, you’re talking about the airline with one of the oldest complaint websites around, untied.com.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, some travel agencies received a letter from United stating that they would no longer be able to process credit card payments on behalf of the airline. So, if you bought a United ticket from them, the agency would have to process payment through their own merchant account, and then send payment by check or some other form to the airline. More on this later…

In late June, United announced they were issuing bonds for $175 million. The bonds were issued at a discount for lack of buyer interest, even paying over 12% per year. The fact that they were secured through a lien on maintenance parts didn’t help either. Do you really want to buy a bond who can’t offer better security than spare parts?

If its financial picture is not bright, they’re not doing much better (at least on the PR front) operationally. On July 2nd, their Chicago hub was practically paralyzed due to a failure of their check-in systems.

Then, in what has become one of the latest videos forwarded around the world courtesy of YouTube, Dave Carroll, of the band Sons of Maxwell, sings about how United Breaks Guitars. If you haven’t heard the song, you should, it’s pretty good! The story behind it is about the saga of trying to get United to pay for the damages to Mr. Carroll’s $3500 guitar. You can read the story here.

Now, back to the credit card issue. To summarize, a small number of travel agencies (with very low sales volume of United tickets, by the airline’s account), received a noticed that they won’t be allowed to process credit card payments through the airline. Normally, when you buy a ticket (or cruise, or tour, etc.) thrugh a travel agency, the credit card payment is processed by the airline, cruise line, etc. That’s why your statement would say “United Airlines” and not “KC Travel”. United is trying to change that around. So now, your travel agent, if affected by United’s letter, would have to charge your card plus a 3-5% fee charged by the credit card company (which the airlines most probably get a discount on), and then send the payment to United. Since the airlines are no longer paying commission on tickets, it’s not like your agency could absorb the merchant fee, so you’d be paying more.

Even more freightening, by not processing the card payment themselves, United may be released from its liability as a service and product supplier. If you have an issue with them, your credit card company would not be able to help, because the transaction was with the travel agency, not the airline. If you dispute a charge, the travel agency gets hit with it, not the airline. You’re due a refund from them? The refund would have to be paid in cash or check to the agency and then to you, not just credited to your card.

The implications of this change are so severe, that several Congresspeople have asked United to at least delay the policy’s implementation to investigate its repercussions. United just agreed to do this.

Why all the fuzz if this just affects a small number of no-name agencies? Well, airlines have a habit of testing the waters like this to measure the response or opposition to something, and then go full scale. They also have the ahbit of copying one another’s “cost saving measures” and fees, so even if you don’t see this affecting you because you don’t fly United, keep an eye open for what happens next.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Secure Flight’s Perils

Last month I wrote about the implementation of Secure Flight, TSA’s new initiative to improve security and reduce false positives to the watch lists. The first phase of this program requires passengers to fly under their full name, middle name included, as it appears on their travel documents. This phase started May 15th.

I warned that frequent fliers better make sure that their accounts reflect their full name, and not a shortened version under which they may have traveled before. Reservation systems match the name on the frequent flier account with the name on the reservation, and may make it more difficult for travelers to ensure they get their proper mileage credit.

Yesterday I encountered another instance in which Secure Flight may cause problems for travelers. A client of mine was planning a trip and wanted to use credit leftover from a flight canceled last year. No biggie, we do it all the time, right? Well, his reservation was made following Secure Flight guidelines, to John Steven Harris (fictitious name, obviously). His credit, however, was for a ticket made to a “John Harris”. Slight difference, but the airline (American Airlines in this case), would not process it because the names did not match. Now, airlines do not allow changes to the name once a reservation has been made, and to compound the problem, making a new reservation under John Harris would not have worked because the fare we were holding was no longer available.

After a call to the Agent Sales Support desk at American, they granted us a waiver to change the name so we could process the credit. In fact, they did it with me on the phone and issued the ticket using the credit.

The only issue is that the passenger will be flying under John Harris, which does not comply with Secure Flight rules. This will not be a problem in the first few months of the program, but as time passes, it will become more and more difficult to handle these exception. That is one reason why working with a travel agent can help you make sure all the ducks are in a row before you head out to the airport to a nasty surprise, or at the very least, a few additional questions by your friendly TSA inspector.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Secure Flight Takes Effect

Not much attention has been paid to this in the media, but  TSA’s new Secure Flight program’s first phase has just been implemented.

This program is being put into place to try to eliminate, or at least reduce, the number of false positive matches against the government’s watch lists. Over the years since the no-fly list was implemented, children and babies have been delayed because their names were on the list. So have Federal Air Marshalls and even Senator Ted Kennedy.

So what does it mean for travelers? It means that every time you make a reservation, the airline will have to collect your full name, date of birth, and gender. Your full name includes your middle name, which wasn’t required before.

The following diagram, taken from the TSA’s website, illustrates the complete process:

TSA Secure Flight Process

TSA Secure Flight Process

If your information is approved by TSA, you will be able to get a boarding pass. If not, you will be submitted to additional screening.

The first phase, which goes into effect tomorrow, just requires that tickets be issued with the passenger’s full name as it appears on travel documents. The important detail here is that your name will need to exactly match your documentation. So:

  • If your driver’s license says Jonathan, and you used to fly as Jon, you’ll have to remember to have your tickets issued to Jonathan.
  • If you usually travel under your middle name, you’ll have to start using your full name.
  • You’ll want to make sure that your frequent flier accounts are under the same name you will travel. That will ensure that you get prompt credit for all travel

This last point is sure to cause more than a few headaches, as airlines’ systems usually require that the name on the ticket matches the name on the frequent flier account. My recommendation is to start updating them as soon as you can to ensure you get credit for all your flights.

Stay tuned for more information on when dates of birth and gender will be required.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Improvements to American’s Advantage Program

One common complaint I have (and I hear from clients) about frequent flier programs, and American Advantage in particular, is that awards for redeemed tickets are for round trip travel. That means that if you wanted to fly one way, you’d still need to spend the miles needed for a round trip ticket. Also, if one of the flights you wanted was not available with the cheaper awards, you’d have to use more miles to use the Anytime award for the whole ticket.

American has now changed that. I received an e-mail today from them introducing One Way Flex Awards. One Way Flex Awards cost exactly half of the round trip award, and give the flexibility that was lacking in the previous scheme. A domestic one-way ticket can now be had for 12,500 miles, instead of 25,000 (with half of those going to waste).

Another advantage is that classes of service can now be combined. For example, travel to Europe on an overnight flight in Business Class, so you can rest better when you arrive in the morning, and return on an Economy award, on a day flight. You can now do that for 70,000 miles instead of spending 100,000 on a round trip Business Class ticket.

Also, you can combine the more restrictive Mile Saver awards with Anytime awards if needed to avoid having to pay for a ticket.

It’s not often that an airline will introduce positive changes that don’t have a catch in the small print. So far, I haven’t been able to find one in this case. If so, kudos to American Airlines.

What do you think of these changes? Feel free to comment below.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Spirit Adds More Fees

It seems like with the airlines, it’s always one step forward, two steps back. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about US Airlines eliminating charges for beverages. On the opposite side of news, Spirit Airlines announced a new fee last week. We’re used to Spirit and other airlines trying to charge us for whatever they can, but sometimes they go too far, in my opinion.

The newest charge instituted by Spirit was reported last week by the Sun Sentinel. If you look at Spirit’s press releases, you won’t find it there. So what is this new fee? They call it a “Passenger Usage Fee”, and it is $4.90 per flight (almost $10 on a simple round trip). Usage of what, you may ask? Well, using their website to book a flight on their planes! So now, you have to pay for the privilege of helping the airline make money and sell you a ticket. According the website, the fee is:

Passenger Usage Fee of $4.90 per traveling customer per one way travel applies to all reservations with the exception of those bookings created directly at Spirit Airlines’ airport locations. All fares are subject to change until confirmed and purchased.

So when you try to purchase by phone, you also pay that fee, in addition to whatever they are charging you to speak to someone. I called Spirit to compare prices, and the agent in India told me that he could offer me a better rate than the website (even though the recording I listened for 5 minuted said the opposite). He also told me that if I went to the website, I’d pay between $10 to $50 more than what he was offering me, and that there were no fees for booking over the phone.

I know he was just trying to make the sale, but he shouldn’t have to do it by misleading potential customers. Just to hear his reaction, I checked on the website the flights he was offering me for $239 per person, and the same flights cost $229 if purchased online. His tone quickly changed and told me to purchase it online but to hurry up because the price may no longer be available if I take too long.

I wish that Spirit and other airlines would stop with the misleading advertising, and the lowballing of prices. If it costs $250 to fly from one place to another, say so. Don’t advertise the flights for $50 and then tack on a million fees. On the Spirit flights I was looking at, taxes and fees were 30% of the total cost. The sad thing is, that’s not even close to the worse I’ve seen. On some international flights (especially those amazing fares to Europe you see advertised), fees can add up to more than 100% of the original fare. How is that allowed? Good question for our legislators…

In the meantime, you have no choice but to look closely at what you’re being charged for, and especially what you’re going to be charged for after you purchase the ticket (checking bags? Want a blanket?). Or, you can call your travel agent, who will do that homework for you and give you the best options overall.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171