Airline Complaints on the Rise in 2015

February 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If you follow the airline news, you might think we’re becoming a nation of complainers. As hard as our service providers try, we’re not happy. The airlines are bearing a large part of our dissatisfaction, and it may be unwarranted.

In a report by the Department of Transportation, while the number of on-time departures and arrivals went up in 2015, and the number of lost bags went down, the number of passengers who complained about their travel experience went up by 20 percent from the previous year.

Delta A330 airplaneWhile it’s true that more people flew during that time period than the year prior, and that data from Spirit Airlines was added to the pool, it still appeared that travelers found things to complain about. Roughly 30 percent of the complaints were about delayed or cancelled flights and the number of “mishandled” bags (i.e. delayed, but not lost) dropped to 3.5 per 1,000 fliers from 3.8 the year before.

Travelers also vented about oversales — selling more tickets than they have available seats, and hoping for no shows — by airlines, a growing practice that leaves the traveler without many options, other than a later flight and a small voucher.

So what’s going on? Perhaps it has something to do with the ability to voice our concerns that’s making it easier to give in to griping. Social media empowers frustrated consumers to lambaste an airline without having to go eyeball to eyeball with anyone who might be able to really do something about it. It’s also easier to complain online at the DOT’s website, which is where the DOT collects their data.

What has your overall experience been for plane travel? Are you seeing the airlines’ efforts at doing better, or do they have a ways to go? Let us hear from you in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: Gietje (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Eight Ways to Spot a Lousy Hotel

January 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

You know the feeling you get when you show up at a hotel, and it’s nothing like you imagined? That sinking feeling when you open the door to your room, and wonder if someone is playing a prank?

Thankfully, today there are many tools at your disposal online to help you spot a lousy hotel before you get there.

The Cecil Hotel, which inspired the American Horror Story: Hotel series.

The Cecil Hotel, which inspired the American Horror Story: Hotel series.

  1. Photos. If the pictures online feature close-ups or artistic shots that don’t give you a clear impression of the room or the amenities, chances are something’s up.
  2. Too good to be true Photos. If the property seems to feature amenities that don’t jive with the neighborhood, like a beach in Kansas, or they feature something that seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Dated website. If it’s obvious, either by the outdated material or the glaring typos, that the hotel’s management doesn’t seem to care that much about maintaining its online presence, you should be wary of your physical presence on their premises.
  4. Google Maps street view. If the site is short on pictures, but touts its amazing location, do yourself a favor and put the address in Google Maps to take your own look around. Sketchy neighborhoods can’t be hidden when you do a 360 view at street level.
  5. Poor reviews. You can usually tell if the recent reviews are factual or fake. Take note if every review is glowingly positive or completely negative. Black and white reviews aren’t a true representation of a property or an experience.
  6. Poor online etiquette. If management replies to the negative reviews online, that should be your first clue. Customer complaints should be handled privately, not responded to publicly. The one caveat: if management is actually showing how they’ve positively responded to a situation, that’s great. But if they get into arguments with customers, that’s not so great.
  7. Bed Bug Registry. It’s a real site. It only takes a few minutes to do a quick search before you book your room, instead of frantically searching for the bedside light in the middle of the night to find what you felt crawling on you!
  8. No interior photos. If the site has no pictures of the accommodations but only of the area surrounding the hotel, odds are what you see around is better than what you’ll see inside.

How do you spot a lousy hotel? Do you have any favorite websites or review sites? Tell us about them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Five Ways Airlines are Making Travel Better

December 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

So you can’t get a less cramped seat these days, unless you fly business or first class. But some airlines are adding perks they hope will help you think better of them while you’re wishing for more leg room. They’re trying to make travel better for everyone, regardless of which class seat you fly.

  1. Suitcase delivery. Through a service called Bags VIP, Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United will all allow you to skip baggage claim entirely and meet up with your bags at your home, office, or hotel, provided it is within 40 miles of the airport. Yes, it costs extra, but if you’re wanting to make the most of a short stay at, say, Disney World, you could use this service to go directly to the parks instead of waiting for your bags.
  2. Food and drinks on-demand. Virgin has found that it’s so “old school” to have its flight attendants push a cart down the aisle to provide its travelers food and drinks. Instead, passengers can order just what they want, when they want from touch screens mounted in the seat ahead of them. The airline reports it sells more items this way. It also keeps the aisles clear for those who feel the need to use the restrooms at the thought of a beverage.
  3. Baggage carousel, Kuala Lumpur airport

    Baggage carousel, Kuala Lumpur airport

  4. Baggage on-time or else. Since 2015, Alaska Airlines has given travelers who have to wait more than 20 minutes for their bags a travel voucher equal to the $25 check fee. This year, Delta added teeth to its similar promise by offering 2,500 miles to those inconvenienced at the baggage carousel. Alaska gives you two hours to report your claim and Delta, three days.
  5. Coat check. What do you do with your winter coat if you’re leaving New York’s JFK for a warmer clime? If you’re flying with JetBlue, you can use its coat check! The service is good only on domestic flights and costs $2/day, but it beats having to lug a parka with your luggage once you get to your sunny destination.
  6. While entertainment options have been fairly abundant on planes for years now, the latest upgrade offered is streaming directly to your own smartphone or tablet. Delta has the most comprehensive service in this category, providing streaming on all but its 50-seat regional jets and on more than half of its international fleet.

These perks show that airlines are betting that providing a customizable, more personal travel experience will create brand loyalty. (We’d still like some more leg room though.)

Have you taken advantage of any of these amenities? What did you think? Let us hear from you in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: David McKelvey (Flickr, Creative Commons)

10 Things Airlines are Doing to Make Coach more Comfortable

December 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

While the price may not be going down, many airlines are making an effort to demonstrate that they care about their coach customers’ comfort as much as they do about those in business and first class by instituting some changes to the seats and providing amenities.

We found a Yahoo Travel article that showed us some of the ways airlines are working to make coach more comfortable.

A British Airways 747 - coach cabin

A British Airways 747 coach cabin

  1. Air New Zealand, China Airlines, and Air Astana all offer flat bed options in economy class. Dubbed “Cuddle Class” on Air New Zealand, a row of seats can be purchased so that two people can lay flat during the flight. The only catch? They have to purchase the third seat in the row, but it’s only half the price of the other seats.
  2. Air New Zealand is offering the Space Seat in its premium economy class. It gives passengers space and privacy and the couch-style seats rotate for better legroom.
  3. Lufthansa has created a slimmer seats and Delta now offers economy comfort class, which includes priority boarding, 50 percent more recline, four more inches of legroom, and adjustable head and leg rests. Qantas, Southwest, and Virgin Atlantic have also made improvements to their seating configurations.
  4. KLM is offering passengers the opportunity to select their seats using social media connections. We’re not sure this is an improvement or a way to stalk other passengers, but passengers of the Dutch airline seem to have taken to it.
  5. Virgin America, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Emirates all claim improved in-flight entertainment options. Now at least we’re not stuck watching that one film everyone has seen.
  6. Other airlines are figuring out another way to improve entertainment options. OpenSkies and Quantas offer free iPads to stream their in-flight entertainment content, and Jetstar, Philippine Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines will rent an iPad to you.
  7. United, Alaska, Malaysia, and American Airlines have all adopted the Boeing Sky Interior, designed to make the cabin seem bigger and brighter.
  8. LAN Chile, JAL, Air India, Royal Air Maroc, and United utilize Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner planes, which have special air filtration and cooling systems. These filter bacteria, viruses, and odors.
  9. Singapore Airlines has employed Michelin-starred chefs on its longer flights to create more appealing food in all its classes.
  10. Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, JetBlue, and Etihad Airways are all offering amenities kits with items ranging from socks to pillows to toothbrushes.

What are some changes you’ve seen on your favorite airline? How are they (or are they) making coach more comfortable for you? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Boats, Trains, and Automobiles: Luggage Options When You DON’T Fly

December 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Travel seems to revolve around airplanes these days, but there are other ways to travel the country. If you don’t have to conform to airline guidelines and your plans take you away from home for more than a week, you may need to take more with you. Investing in larger luggage allows you to get your stuff from here to there without putting yourself or your clothing through contortions to do so.

We offer many options for those who choose other means of transportation for their getaways. While not everyone needs the space afforded by larger luggage, it can be a space saving option to consider, especially for families traveling by car.

30 inch Tpro Bold Drop Bottom Rolling Duffel

30 inch Tpro Bold Drop Bottom Rolling Duffel

Our 26″ and 30″ rolling duffel bags can accommodate the needs several travelers, particularly several children or the clothing for an adult and a child, reducing the number of bags in the trunk or on the train or boat. Many of these duffels are drop-bottom, meaning that there is a separate lower compartment for storing shoes, cables and other odd-sized items. If you want one large compartment, you can unzip the divider panel for one large packing space. They are an excellent value for the price.

Travelpro has developed a specific bag for the non-airplane traveler: the 33″ Expandable Spinner model. Available only through certain retailers, this case is our largest offering, designed specifically for the traveler whose needs exceed the 28″ and 29″ cases. The bag operates with a spinner wheel system, allowing it to be pushed or pulled, and it is surprisingly lightweight for its size.

Or if you’re like most dads, you may want a “hotel bag” — the bag that gets taken into the hotel so you don’t have to unpack everything — on long car trips. A smaller duffel or backpack could serve that purpose.

What kinds of bags do you take when you’re not traveling by plane? Do you have a favorite or a go-to bag? Share your stories with us in the comment section below, or on our Facebook page.

Cheese It, It’s the Baggage Police!

November 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Ever feel like you’d like to conduct a citizen’s arrest of a fellow passenger whose oversized baggage clearly violates the size limitations for what is considered carry-on? Several airlines are deploying their own “baggage police” to try to enforce carry-on compliance among their passengers.

Jetstar in Australia and United have begun instructing employees to eyeball customers at security checkpoint entrances and instruct them to return to the ticket counter to check their bags. United has even placed new carry-on compliance boxes at its counters and has sent an email to frequent fliers reminding them of the policy.

But can either airline truly carry out this policing? We love the sentiment, but we’re not sure it will last or be picked up by other airlines.

English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340...

Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340-600 aircraft (economy class). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The issue seems to be the lack of industry standards, both domestically and internationally. Airlines don’t mandate checked baggage on certain flights even when they know the plane being used won’t be able to accommodate even a normal carry-on bag. Instead, airline personnel hand out gate-side checking tags issued for all carry-on luggage, so it can be gate checked and stowed in the regular luggage hold. Why is this?

The answer has to do with overhead bin space and consumer retention. An industry standard for carry-on bags cannot be enforced because the amount of overhead bin space is different with each type of airplane. Some have small bins on one side, designed only to accommodate briefcases, backpacks, and small duffels, while the opposite side has large bins for traditional carry-on luggage.

This means that not all passengers have equal access to that coveted real estate. If it can’t be made available for everyone, enforcing a standard isn’t possible. Bigger airlines have already heard consumer complaints on this issue. No carrier wants to get a bad rap for being a strict enforcer when others aren’t.

It is true that baggage storage issues contribute to boarding times, and can impact an airline’s record of on-time departures and arrivals. But unless equal space is available, it doesn’t seem that airlines are going to have much success enforcing baggage limitations with passengers. Until that day, we advise: Keep calm and carry-on.

Do you have any carry-on luggage horror stories? Share them with us in the comments below or
on our Facebook page
.

The Pros and (Considerable) Cons of Bus Travel

November 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Some people really like a deal. Others are gluttons for punishment, especially reporters who need a column topic.

Seth Kugel, the Frugal Traveler, recently profiled Megabus and his experience traveling from New York to Silver Springs, Md., to Knoxville, Tenn., to Lexington, Ky. The entire itinerary cost him $63. But was it worth it?

Haven’t heard of Megabus? Well, perhaps you’re not cash-strapped and looking for the cheapest possible way to get to your desired destination. Megabus’ fares start at $1. No, that’s not a typo.

English: Megabus #58538 sits on the west side ...

Megabus #58538 waiting to depart on the Megabus M24 line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Serving the 14 of the 50 states, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and eleven countries in Europe, Megabus is all about bang for the buck.

Megabus is a double-decker, climate-controlled, clean coach that will get you where you need to go, but it doesn’t boast it will do much more than that. Still, it’s not trying to pass itself off as something that it’s not. It’s no-frills, affordable, reliable way to travel. Period.

Megabus is just the latest iteration of bus travel. Greyhound popularized affordable mass ground transportation and became a favorite of those averse to flying. My sister was one of those travelers.

While she lived in Grand Rapids, Mich., the rest of the family lived in Jackson, Miss. In order to visit us, she would embark on a road trip that took 48 hours end-to-end. Her trek included long layovers at terminals in major cities as well as circuitous routes between her Point A and Point B. You could say that she wasted all kinds of time en route, but she preferred it to flying, and she thought it was completely worth it.

So, if you don’t have much money, but have to get somewhere within the United States or Canada, consider Megabus. Just remember Seth’s biggest suggestion: pack a pillow and a blanket.

How to Entertain and Inform While You Travel

November 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Remember the vacations you took with your parents? If you were lucky enough to fly, your entertainment only needed to last a few hours. But if you went over the river and through the woods to wherever you were going, then time yawned ahead of you. Unless you were properly prepared.

Nowadays, there’s no way you can possibly be bored while en route to your destination, thanks to all the entertainment and information available online? You might hear someone utter a few choice words if they discovered they didn’t have the latest episodes of their favorite podcast, that ebook they’ve been waiting to start, or the latest game app at their fingertips because they didn’t realize there wouldn’t be wifi.

iphoneSo, don’t be like those unfortunate souls. Take a few moments in the days before your trip and assess your entertainment and information needs. Perhaps you want to catch up on your favorite television show. Download recently aired episodes to your tablet or be sure to add the Netflix app to your phone so that your queue is ready to go.

Second, Flydelta.com and the Delta app are excellent ways to keep track of your flight status and can be shared with your ride at the airport, so they’re not endlessly circling or waiting in the cell phone lot, wondering where you are. The Trip Advisor app can also let you spend your time in the air planning activities when you land.

If you want to get some work done while en route, set up your documents folder to sync to a cloud service like Google Drive or iCloud so your work isn’t stranded while you’re soaring through the real clouds. Evernote is also a great place to store travel information, and it isn’t wifi dependent.

New podcasts appear every day and most are a free, quick way to learn new information or while away the time. Note to Self and Serial come to mind. Check Overcast or other podcasting apps to find a few favorites.

If you’re traveling with children, a new game app can buy you valuable minutes of silence. If you haven’t investigated this realm lately, believe us, there’s so much more than Angry Birds. Try Noodles or Two Dots. The fun thing about Two Dots is that you can download the soundtrack and enjoy it as background music if you don’t want to play the game.

Travel time doesn’t have to be down time. It can be productive, entertaining, and even relaxing. Just make sure you download and sync everything before you leave home or your hotel, and you won’t be dependent on airport or airplane wifi.

Photo credit: jeshoots (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

CBP to Expand Pre-Clearance Facilities

November 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The last thing an international traveler wants to deal with after a long trip is getting through customs. It’s always an unknown, like playing a game of roulette. Will it take a few minutes or will it take an hour?

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is in discussions with 10 additional overseas airports to roll out the “welcome home” banner by instituting pre-clearance processes similar to what it already has in place at 15 other international airports. It’s a lot like the TSA’s Pre-Check program, where select individuals can bypass the TSA checkpoint and walk right to their gate.

English: US Immigration and Customs at Shannon...

US Immigration and Customs at Shannon Airport, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I want to take every opportunity we have to push our homeland security out beyond our borders so that we are not defending the homeland from the one-yard line. Pre-clearance is a win-win for the traveling public. It provides aviation and homeland security, and it reduces wait times upon arrival at the busiest U.S. airports,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a DHS press release.

CBP currently offers this service at nine airports in Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnepeg, as well as airports in Dublin and Shannon, Ireland; Aruba; Nassau, Bahamas; and Bermuda. When passengers fly through pre-clearance airports, they are treated similar to passengers on a domestic flight.

The 10 proposed new sites include: Tokyo’s Narita International; Brussels, Belgium; Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Oslo, Norway; London Heathrow and Manchester in the United Kingdom; Madrid, Spain; and Instanbul, Turkey.

Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of the CBP, said that pre-clearance helps identify security threats. Last year it expedited re-entry for 17 million US-bound passengers.

Here’s how the process works: while in flight, passengers complete a simple customs form. Upon arriving, they are directed to a self-service kiosk. The kiosk scans their passport, photographs them to ensure their identity matches the passport, scans the customs form electronically, and issues a receipt. A customs officer scans the receipt and may ask a few questions. Then he or she sends the passenger on their way.

And they get to go home a little bit faster.

Four Travel Myths Busted

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

We all think we know the ins and outs of air travel, knowing as much about the rules and tendencies of airlines. But it turns out, these hard and fast rules aren’t nearly as hard or fast as we previously thought. Good Morning America and Yahoo recently busted four travel myths, and discussed how they’re not always correct.

Economy is always cheaper than first class. Not so. It depends on the route and how many stops you’re willing to make along the way. For instance, the same flight between LA and New York could be $500 less in first class than it is in economy if you’re willing to incorporate a stop into your travel itinerary. If you’re more interested in saving money than time, it’s a good idea to investigate flights with at least one stop. It might take you longer to get there, but the first class amenities might make you forget all about the time.

English: S7 Airlines Boeing 767-300.

S7 Airlines Boeing 767-300. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Non-stop flights are “never” cheaper. It’s possible they aren’t, but this statement misses the real question: how valuable is your time? Time is money, especially when you’re talking about valuable, not-getting-it-back vacation time. If you want to have more time on vacation, and less time traveling, you may want to spend the extra money on that nonstop flight.

Discount airlines “always” have the cheapest flights. Again, no blanket statement can ever bear the weight of being true 100 percent of the time! The only way you’ll know which airline has the cheapest fare is to comparison shop. Use a comparison website like Expedia or Travelocity, and then check out the airlines’ websites themselves. You may occasionally find the big legacy airlines are offering the cheaper flights.

Summer flights are “never” delayed as much as winter flights. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Thunderstorms can involve severe turbulence, lightning strikes, icing due to sudden temperature change, hail damage, and water ingestion by the engines. When thunderstorms occur at or near hub airports, the probability of any of these occurring can halt inbound and outbound traffic, which in turn can create ripple effects to more destinations than a severe winter storm in the Dakotas.

The takeaway is there are no absolutes in travel, and myths are often just that. If you can be flexible and do your due diligence, there’s a good chance you can find a flight that will suit your needs and your desires.

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