Advisories

Alaska Airlines joins gate-to-gate electronics club

Alaska Electronics

On Saturday, November 9, Alaska Airlines joined the club of airlines that allow passengers to use their personal electronic devices from gate-to-gate.

Already in the club: United, American/American Eagle* JetBlue, Delta and US Airways.

We’re still waiting to hear when Southwest and Virgin America will get FAA approval.

Horizon Air passengers should be able to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flight next week.

But beware: the rule does not yet apply on US Airways Express, United Express, Delta Connection and *American Eagle flights operated by some of its regional partners.

Stay tuned.

Travel Tidbits: blizzard, extra points and free Wi-Fi

Snowstorm

Thanks to Storm Nemo, on Thursday evening I was one of the hundreds of thousands of travelers who had to cancel important weekend plans that involved flying to the east coast.

Then I had to sit on the phone for hours trying to work out a new and, it turns out, quite expensive new plan.

For those of you still trying to figure out your options, here’s a link to a list of many of the change-fee waiver policies airlines have posted.

In other news…. Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport announced that it is the latest airport to join the Thanks Again program, which offers travelers frequent flyer miles or points for qualifying purchases made at the airport for things such as parking, food and retail items. Travelers at DFW will also be able to get points or miles for stays at the airport hotels, such as the Grand Hyatt, and at Paradise 4 Paws, the airport’s pet hotel.

170 other airports already participate in the Thanks Again program – which requires a simple sign-up and registration of a credit-card.

And during the month of February passengers at John F. Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark Liberty International (EWR) airports – as well as passengers at some New York City subway stations – will be able to get complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi sessions courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line, which is celebrating a new ship, the Norwegian Breakaway.

That should come in handy if you end up stuck at one of those airports – or in the city – this weekend due to Storm Nemo.

Airports digging out from blizzard; will travelers get to fly?

After a frightful day of snow and wind – and then more snow and more wind – New York area airports finally reopened on Monday afternoon.

Now the real “fun” begins as airlines try to reposition planes and find seats for travelers who have been stuck at airports around the country.

Here are some of the stories that have come out of the storm.

From the Wall Street Journal: Snow Keeps City at Standstill

From the Star Ledger: Hundreds of Stranded Newark Airport passengers hope to rebook flights

From the Christian Science Monitor: LaGuardia airport and others reopen, but stranded fliers still face ordeals

You get the picture…

Want to find out when you or someone you’ve been waiting for will get on a plane?

Make sure you’re signed up for all methods of flight status alerts and are following your airline and your airport on Facebook and Twitter – if they’re there.

Now that planes are moving, it should start getting easier to rebook and/or confirm a flight. Try doing it online yourself before getting on the phone or on a long line, which can take hours.  Several airlines are re-booking travelers via Twitter, so give that a try as well.  Keep in mind though, that it will take several days for get everyone where they’re going, so if you’re heading to an airport, take along some food, activities to keep you busy, a charged cell-phone, good humor and lots of patience.  While you wait, my USA TODAY airport guides and assorted apps from airlines, airports and third-party entities may help you find amenities, shops and restaurants.

And if you’ve missed the event you were heading to in the first place, ask for a refund, take out your calendar and start making a new post-blizzard plan.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner…

Peanuts on planes: got a problem with that?

Peanuts on a plane.

For a lot of people, that’s a more frightening scenario than snakes on a plane.

And a lot more likely.

And as I wrote in my msnbc.com column this week – Passengers peeved about peanuts on airplanes – a lot of travelers think the best way to enhance airline passenger protections is to ban peanuts on planes.

peanuts

Through September 23rd, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is taking public comment on a wide range of issues affecting airline passengers. Everything from peanuts on planes to involuntary bumping policies to surprise baggage fees.

Of the nearly 1,300 public comments submitted so far, the majority are focused on peanut allergies.

One problem though.

Technically, DOT doesn’t have the authority to change in-flight peanut policies. That’s because an appropriations law from 2000 prohibits the agency from passing peanut rules until a scientific study proves a rule change will actually benefit airline passengers with allergies. And no such study has been completed or commissioned.

Still, the agency is trying to gauge public opinion on ways to handle in-flight peanuts.

“We haven’t said we won’t do anything,” said DOT spokesperson Bill Mosely. “We haven’t ruled anything in or out. So we still do want to hear public comments about peanuts. We plan to read and review them all.”

The problem with flying peanuts

Peanut allergies among children have tripled between 1997 and 2008, and peanut allergies, tree-nut allergies, or both, are reported by 1 percent of the U.S. population, or about 3 million people, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a group that supports discontinuing serving peanuts on planes.

The fear of having a severe reaction from exposure to peanuts while locked inside an airplane keeps some allergy sufferers grounded. Under DOT’s rules, passengers with severe peanut allergies have a qualifying disability covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, which prohibits discrimination by U.S. and foreign carriers against individuals with disabilities.

As far back as 1988, DOT advised airlines to make reasonable accommodations for passengers disabled by their peanut allergies. Most airlines voluntarily comply, but no formal rules have been put in place.

Now, DOT is asking the public to comment on three alternatives to accommodate peanut-allergy sufferers on airplanes:

  • Ban the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all flights;
  • Ban the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all flights where a passenger with a peanut allergy requests it in advance, or;
  • Require airlines to establish a peanut-free buffer zone for passengers with severe peanut allergies.

DOT is also asking the public to comment on how peanuts and peanut products carried on board by passengers should be handled.

Peanut protections for airline passengers

If you’ve got a problem with peanuts, here’s what you need to know:

AirTran, Alaska/Horizon, American, Continental, JetBlue and United are among the major domestic airlines that do not serve peanuts. However, most airlines also post notices saying they can’t promise that some items served on board won’t contain nut products or that other passengers won’t bring their own nut products on board.

Two domestic airlines continue to ladle out legumes.

In 2009, both Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines served about 92 million bags of peanuts. “That does sound like a lot of nuts,” said Patrick Archer, president of the American Peanut Council, “But the airline portion of the overall U.S. peanut business is really very small.”

If alerted, Delta Airlines will accommodate a passenger with a peanut allergy by creating a peanut-free buffer zone for three rows in front of and three rows behind their seat. The airline’s website also notes that when advised that a passenger with peanut allergies is flying, “Gate agents will be notified in case you’d like to pre-board and cleanse the immediate seating area.”

And while Southwest Airlines can’t guarantee a nut-free airplane, it will suspend peanut service on an entire flight if a passenger with an allergy requests it. See Southwest’s peanut dust allergy page for more information.

Want to share your thoughts about peanuts-on-planes? You can leave a comment below.

You can also file comments for the DOT to read (through September 23, 2010) here.

Vintage airline air sickness bags

Reading back through the Delta Air Lines blog this week I noticed an entertaining entry from archives manager Marie Force: an airsickness bag from the mid-1960s that has a gin rummy scoreboard on one side:

And an aviation quiz on the other!

That led me to visit the Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum, of course, where the currently featured airsickness bag is this red number from Virgin Australia.

Unfortunately, I didn’t spend all that much time searching the airsickness bag museum site. But that was because I noticed this poster for sale in the gift shop and spent the rest of the evening trying to clear a spot for it on the living room wall in my house.