United Airlines Launches Color-Coded Process for Streamlined Boarding

December 18, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Customers spoke and United Airlines listened. Travel is becoming a bit more colorful for customers of United as their signage and boarding process becomes color-coded. The carrier recently launched its streamlined boarding process across its 1,000 gates worldwide, after Los Angeles International Airport was the first facility to test out the new process.

Maria Walter, managing director of Global Operations Strategy for United, said the change was inspired by customers. In a press release on the United website, Walter said, “We listened to customers and employees as we tested a variety of processes on thousands of flights until we found a better boarding process that results in less time spent waiting in lines, improved communication and a better way to recognize our Premier customers while balancing out the number of passengers in each boarding group.”

According to United:

The improvements start with reducing the number of boarding lanes from five to two, giving customers added space, more time to relax and less time spent in line. . . United app users will also receive a new alert when boarding has begun for their flight, making it easier to know when to make their way to the gate. . . Digital displays in the gate area also keep customers informed with updated helpful boarding information.

The traditional boarding process of using groups will remain, but passengers will be processed through a color-coded system creating shorter lines and shorter wait times. A recent USA Today article stated that instead of boarding by row — the method in place for decades — Group 1 travelers will include frequent flyers, active military, and families traveling with children under two. They’ll board first when airline personnel announce “Premier 1K.”
A diagram explaining United Airlines' new color-coded boarding process.
Group 2 will be called next, and includes first class and business class flyers; they’ll also board in lane 1. They will be joined by Platinum and Gold level frequent flyers. Both Groups 1 and 2 will use the Blue lane. Stragglers of Group 1 and 2 will still board through the Blue lane.

Meanwhile, Silver-level frequent flyers, select United credit card holders and passengers who have purchased priority access will enter lane 2, now known as the Green lane.

Following those two groups will be Groups 3, 4, and 5 which consists of Economy Plus, United Economy and Basic Economy. These travelers will board after the first two groups, entering through lane 2. They’ll also board in the Green lane.

United will begin adopting new technology to send text messages, as well as send updates via digital displays in the gate area.

What are your thoughts on United Airlines’ new boarding process? Is this something you’re looking forward to? What’s your ideal boarding process? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Courtesy of United Airlines

2019 Global Travel Forecast

December 11, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Travel agents and frequent business travelers will want to pay special attention to the latest information from Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), the global travel agency. Each year, they issue a forecast of what they expect the following year’s global travel forecast will look like.

The goal of the report, says CWT is “to enable travel buyers around the globe to create and support their travel programs for next year whether local, national, regional or in-between.

Here are a few of their predictions from their 2019 Global Travel Forecast.

The Asia Pacific region will see price increases: 3.2% for air, 5.1% for hotel, and .5% for ground transportation. The growth of the tourism and business travel market for Asia (especially China, now the world’s biggest corporate travel market) is putting pressure on the travel industry, which means travelers will have trouble not only getting rooms at their preferred properties but at their preferred rates as well. So book early, and have a backup plan ready.

The Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. The 2019 global travel forecast predicts higher prices and limited availability for hotels in Asia and other parts of the world.

The Fullterton Hotel in Singapore

There will be a global increase in demand for rooms. We already said tourism and business travel is going to grow in Asia, but this is also true for Europe and Africa. Plus, the introduction of “ultra-long haul flights” will also increase leisure and business travel. More people going to more places means a need for more hotel rooms. While this means that there will eventually be more hotels, it doesn’t help in the short term, so make sure you book early or consider Airbnb and other room-sharing websites to find a place to stay.

Rental car companies will increase their prices, at least in the U.S. CWT is expecting to see an increase in car rental prices in Q4 2019, as the three main car rental agencies — which cover 90% of the US market — are seeing their fleet costs and maintenance costs increase and the residuals on their used cars are going down. The projected increase in price is 1% for corporate business travelers.

Amazon’s artificial intelligence is going to have an impact on travel According to CWT’s report, the travel industry is full-to-overflowing with all kinds of data on travelers — credit card, travel and expense HR data, combined with all the actual travel data like flights, car rental, and hotels — AI and machine learning systems are able to personalize and automate a lot of business travel functions. This means self-booking travelers are more likely to interact with a chatbot than a real customer service person on the other end of the computer line.

Fare tracking, fare forecasting, and the use of chat bots to book flights and hotels are increasingly the norm. Personalizing travel is no longer just about upgrades and ancillary services. Algorithms are being built to fully understand traveler preferences and behavior, and to extract more revenue by offering relevant products and services in real time.

Right now, as the economy is in an upswing, we’re expecting more and bigger things to happen in the global travel market. More of you will be traveling more often to more places. Of course, you’ll pay a little more too, but if you’re able to see a positive ROI on your business travels, or just have a fun time on vacation, it will all be worth it. Just remember to book things early, and always keep your confirmation numbers handy.

What are your travel plans for 2019? Do any of Carlson Wagonlit’s predictions have an effect on what you’re planning for next year? Share your ideas and your own predictions on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Holgi (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Free Wifi On Planes? Make Sure You Practice STRICT Security

November 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

How important is it to you to have free wifi on planes? Are you able to stand being disconnected from the office for 1 – 6 hours? Or do you have to be connected at all times? And if it’s that important, are you willing to pay for in-flight wifi, or do you sit and suffer because you don’t want to pay $10 for a few hours of connectivity?

Delta Airlines is beginning to offer a rare incentive for their fliers and giving us all free wifi on their flights. Last year, they began offering free texting to their passengers, and this year, they’re upping the ante.

In a recent Travel Market Report article, Delta Air Lines said it would provide the free amenity, and according to Delta CEO Ed Bastian, it would be faster than what we’re already used to.

A man sitting on an airplane wearing a knit tube over his head and his laptop computer. His hands fit into little openings near the laptop. This is not good security if you're using free wifi on planes.

No, this won’t help.

Speaking at the Skift Global Forum in New York recently, Bastian said he didn’t know of anyplace other than in an airplane that you can’t access free wifi, so he wanted Delta to be the first to provide it to passengers. When the fee would be dropped remains unclear, but it is expected to be well-received.

We’re definitely in favor of free wifi, but it’s critical that you follow strong security measures in order to keep your computer and your personal information safe from prying eyes.

  1. Make sure you use a VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt all web traffic to and from your computer.
  2. Make sure your malware protection and firewall are current. If you don’t have any, buy some.
  3. Never do any banking or transmit sensitive financial data while you’re on a free wifi system. If you need to do it, wait until you’re on the ground, and do it on your phone with the wifi turned off. Cellular data is harder to intercept.
  4. Be sure the wifi system you want to log onto is the right one. There are many imposters that look legit — Free_Airport_Wifi may look legitimate, but you can’t always tell. Make sure you know the official name of the official wifi, and ask someone who works there if you’re not sure.

These steps are always important, even if you don’t travel very often. But if you’re going to use free wifi, whether it’s at a coffee shop, the airport, or even a plane, you have to take steps to make sure you don’t fall victim to cybercrime.

Are you looking forward to Delta’s free in-flight wifi? Or do you prefer to stay unconnected while you’re flying? Some people want to answer emails, while others just want to read a book. How about you? Tell us your thoughts on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Becky Stern (Flickr, Creative Commons)

How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

October 16, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Several weeks ago, we wrote about how one of the dirtiest places in the airport is the check-in kiosk at the front of the airport. Thousands of fingers poke at the screen every day, and no one cleans it off. Compare that to the airport bathrooms, which are cleaned hourly. In other words, the airport bathroom is much more sanitary than a computer kiosk.

Other germ-laden places you face during air travel? Armrests on the seats at the gates, armrests on the plane, and the tray tables.

And let’s not forget the security checkpoints. It turns out that the containers you send through the x-ray machine are also some of the nastiest places in the airport. Everyone touches the containers, but not everyone has clean hands.

The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in history, and we’re not sure what 2018-2019 is going to bring. And since it’s right around the corner, you’re at greater odds of getting sick when you travel this winter, so preventative measures are key to staying healthy.

One way to prevent the flu is getting a flu vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), now is the time to get one, and you should get it sooner rather than later, as it takes two weeks for the vaccine to provide the highly-desired protection. Even if the vaccine is not 100% effective, or you get infected with another strain of the flu virus, the vaccination reduces transmission in the population in general, as well as lessens your own symptoms.

Self-check-in kiosks is often the dirtiest place in the airport.If you want to avoid getting sick when you travel, there are a few precautions you should take. First, the CDC suggests carrying a travel health kit, consisting of tissues, soap, alcohol-based sanitizer, and pain/fever medicine. We’ll also recommend adding some sanitizing wipes as well. Having these items handy may reduce your risk of infection and keep you well.

Use the hand sanitizer whenever you touch a dirty surface, or use the sanitizing wipes to wipe down those surfaces before you ever touch them. Wipe down the the armrests at the gate and your armrests and tray table on the plane. Use the hand sanitizer once you board and again after you use the bathroom on the plane.

Avoid traveling when you feel ill. Should you become ill, your physician can prescribe drugs to treat the flu infection, making the illness shorter and milder. The same is true for a cold — it may not be as severe as the flu, but it can still put a damper on your trip.

And when you do travel, follow a few simple rules:

  • Avoid close contact with people who appear sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough by doing it in your sleeve.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after you blow your nose or use the bathroom.
  • Avoid touching your face if you’re in public because that’s often how the flu gets into your system — through touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with dirty hands.
  • Finally, hygiene, sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating right will greatly help reduce your risk of contracting most illnesses.

How do you stay healthy when you travel? Do you have any “I got sick on a business trip” horror stories? Share them with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Marek Ślusarczyk (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)

Air Travel Secrets from a Professional Airline Critic

October 9, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When it comes to finding the hidden secrets about air travel, there’s no one better to turn to than a tried-and-true expert. And not just an expert, but someone who’s paid to find problem areas in the airlines’ performance.

Brent Bowen is America’s leading airline critic — and frequent air traveler — who has uncovered a few secrets on how to find the right carrier for you, how to avoid pain on your flight, and how to understand those obscure rules of air travel.

Bowen is an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor, and he publishes the Airline Quality Rating, a report we’ve sometimes written about on this blog. And the fact that he still flies shows that he’s figured out several secrets, which means he has less-eventful flights and is able to relax more while he’s on the plane.

The bottom line is simple: if you don’t make an informed decision about your travel plans, someone else will, and chances are that “someone” will be the airline. Their main concern is getting you from point A to point B safely; it’s up to you to do it in comfort and style. So here are some of Bowen’s secrets for having a more comfortable flight.

Knowing the right air travel secrets can help you have a more comfortable flight.Finding the right airline for you is key. You need one that fits your needs and budget. Do you need early seating? Do you want to avoid extra fees? Or is seat room a big concern? Dealing with an airline directly may give you more control over seating preferences, so research tickets and loyalty perks before you settle on one for the foreseeable future.

Next, know the rules. Air travel has become complex and most folks are unaware of the recent surge of fees and restrictions currently held by airlines. Be aware of the rules, especially with “low cost” carriers, who will often make up the lost ticket costs with additional fees. Look for deals and chances to avoid fees, such as joining an airline’s loyalty program or buying your ticket with one of their points-earning credit cards.

Whenever possible, Bowen says, fly nonstop as stopovers increase chances of lost luggage, delays, or other misfortunes. You only have one flight to contend with, so if there are any delays, you’re still going to get to your destination. But if you have a multi-leg flight, one late flight can throw off the entire trip.

If nonstop is not an option, then avoid checking a bag. Try to purchase a better seat to avoid the middle seat/back of plane (choose the upgrade to Economy Plus). And check the airline’s website and see if you can choose your seat in advance.

If you’re traveling for business and these options fall outside your corporate travel policy, see if you can make your own arrangements, and request reimbursement later. Alternatively, it might be better to take a longer trip than one with additional stops.

What are some of your air travel secrets to make sure you arrive in comfort? Road warriors, what tips have you learned that we could all benefit from? Share them on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Vincent Desjardins (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

No Powders Will be Allowed onto Planes, says TSA

August 28, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Starting June 30 it will be more difficult for international travelers to bring powders on their trips, at least in large quantities. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has adopted a stricter policy on baby powder, protein powder, dry spices, coffee, tea, and more through airport security.

Basically, the new regulation states that any passenger on an inbound international flight with 12 ounces or more of powder might be subject to additional screening at security checkpoints. What’s more, if TSA agents can’t identify the powder, then it may be confiscated and thrown away. So while it may not be a problem for coffee and tea drinkers, since that’s easily identifiable, certain spices may pose a potential problem.

The TSA is no longer allowing powders on inbound flights from foreign points of origin.This means even dry baby formula could be subject to a search or even confiscation. Of course, this only affects international flights coming into the US. Flying from North Carolina to visit your sister in Portland, Oregon is still okay.

Still, if you’re trying to bring large amounts of powder through security, you may want to consider shipping it to your final destination anyway. This policy might not be limited only to inbound international flights for very long; it’s possible it could expand to domestic flights in the future.
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Airline Complaints Drop in April 2018, Rise in May

August 23, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Just like airplanes, airline complaints are going up and down. For the most part, airlines are continuing to improve their baggage handling rates and reducing the number of canceled flights, which is leading to fewer complaints from passengers.

Thanks to new baggage handling technology and better planning and scheduling, we’re seeing fewer issues for passengers, which is putting travelers in a better mood, at least for the month of April.

One of the common airline complaints is about arrival and departure times.According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the dozen airlines that report baggage handling issues had 2.39 cases of mishandled bags for every 1,000 passengers, as reported in April 2018.

That’s a drop from March which had 2.59. What’s more, April 2017 saw a rate of 2.5, so there was an improvement from month to month, as well as year-over-year.
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Which U.S. Airlines Have the Most Economy Class Legroom?

August 21, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you noticed your personal space is shrinking on flights? You’re not imagining things. The space between your seat and the seat in front of you is getting smaller (or maybe a little bigger), depending on your airline. Over time the average seat pitch — the distance between the back of the seat in front of you and the front of your seat back (i.e. your personal space) — has shortened. Only two decades ago the pitch could be anywhere from 34 to 35 inches. Today the legroom is closer to 30 or 31 inches, depending on the airline.

Do you know how much legroom is available in your airplane?There are, however some airlines that may “fit” your need better than others. If you want to stretch your legs and not your budget, here are several airlines and planes worth checking out.

If you don’t want to pay extra for “economy plus” or “premium economy” upgrades in the major airlines, here are the carriers’ current pitch sizes.
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The Dirtiest Place in the Airport is Not What You Think

August 14, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Often thought of as the filthiest of places, an airport public restroom may not necessarily be the dirtiest place in the airport. What could be worse? Security bins? Ticket counters? The place where you and thousands of other travelers have to take your shoes off?

Curious as to what spot actually is the dirtiest, InsuranceQuotes, a Texas-based insurance company, went to three major U.S. airports and airline flights and performed 18 tests across six different surfaces. Samples were sent off to a laboratory to find the average number of colony forming units (CFU) or bacterial or fungal cells per square inch.

Basically, the more CFUs there are, the more contaminated a surface is.

Self-check-in kiosks is often the dirtiest place in the airport.The results were surprising: self-check kiosks contained the highest level of CFUs with 253,857. Armrests at the gate were second with 21,630 followed by water fountain buttons with 19,181.

It makes sense: all day, countless people tap the same screen to get their tickets, unaware the dirtiest place in the airport is right at their fingertips. The self-check-in kiosk is the one place nearly everyone is forced to touch. Not surprising then is that the world’s business airport, Hartsfield-Jackson, was the germiest of all three subject airports. Just one kiosk alone came back with 1 million CFU.

Remember that “filthy” restroom? An airport toilet contains 172 CFU on average.

The close proximity of other passengers and stale air in the airplane is blamed for illnesses, but maybe it’s the pre-flight contact instead. We may never know.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

The best way is, of course, complete avoidance whenever possible. Check into your flight from your smartphone or at home on your computer (just your germs there).

That being said, if you do find yourself at the airport, here are a few tips for cleaner traveling:

  1. Barefoot is bad! Walking barefoot through security makes you more susceptible to germs and infections like athlete’s foot, so always wear socks through the airport security line.
  2. Hand sanitizer. Carry TSA-approved size mini bottles of hand sanitizer for quick clean ups after touching dirty screens.
  3. Resting your elbows on armrests at your gate is comfortable, but if you wipe them down with disinfectant wipes first, they’ll be comfortable and clean.
  4. No brainer: always, always, always wash your hands after using the restroom. Public or private. Airports and everywhere. Always. Use soap and warm water for seconds; that’s “Happy Birthday” twice or the Alphabet song once.

“Safe travels” has a whole new meaning when you say ‘bon voyage’ to germs.

How do you avoid germs on your trips? What did you think the dirtiest place in the airport was? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Marek Ślusarczyk (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)

Airlines Predict Fare Increases Due to Fuel Costs

July 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

While this summer is already trending to be the largest travel season ever — up 100,000 fliers per day over last year — travelers may find airline ticket prices going up due to a spike in fuel costs, even while seat availability decreases.

According to the International Air Transportation Association, the cost of gassing up is up 50 percent, with oil selling at $65 a barrel this summer compared to $45 for the same quantity in 2017.

Airline executives told attendees at IATA’s annual meeting they were still optimistic about their carriers’ profitability, since they’ve worked to restructure their businesses so they can absorb the increased cost that always seems to come around this time of year.

Delta Airline A330 airplaneWhile you might think a fuel surcharge may be tacked onto your ticket, there’s good news: the Department of Transportation has made such fees illegal on domestic flights five years ago because the DOT determined they were really just a hidden price increase. These surcharges are permitted on international flights, however, and flights to Asia have seen figures between $50 and $200 — almost 15 percent of the ticket price — tacked on.

Ticket prices to popular summer destinations, such as Europe, haven’t been severely impacted due to competition from the low-cost carriers, but flexible business class seats and fares to parts of the country where there’s less competition have begun to see hikes.

While this recent spike may seem large, airlines learned from the disastrous $140 per barrel season a decade ago. To avoid seeing profits plummet, they’ve implemented price hedging policies to protect their margins.

Bottom line, depending on where you’re heading, those fuel costs surcharges may be unavoidable. Just do your best to find the lowest-priced tickets you can and hope for the best. Also, buy your tickets earlier rather than later when surcharges could get bigger.

Do fuel surcharges affect your business travel plans? How do you deal with surprise fees? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Gietje (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

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