Air Travel

So long, Sydney: take-aways from IATA’s meeting of world’s airline execs

The Vivid Sydney festival – which lights up iconic buildings and structures around the city – was a great backdrop for this week’s meeting of the world’s airline executives at the World Air Transport Summit (WATS) and the annual general meeting of IATA – the International Air Transport Association.

All sorts of briefings, reports, discussions, debates and newsy announcements take place at this event each year and will generate stories that will spool out over the course of the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here are just some of the highlights from the past few days:

Courtesy IATA

In his annual report, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, said that airlines are expected to achieve a collective net profit of $33.8 billion. That’s an average profit per passenger of $7.76 for the airlines, he explained, “A thin 4.1% net margin” in 2018.

Read his full report that also touched on safety, security, environmental issues and other topics here.

 

 

A bundle of 20-minute on-stage interviews were offered, on topics ranging from alternative fuels, gender equality in aviation, airport privatization and the benefits and risks of travel and tourism. Follow the links for more details from those sessions and videos of the interviews.

 

CNN’s gregarious Richard Quest was on stage with a panel of airline CEOs, including Calin Rovinsecu of Air Canada, Tim Clark of Emirates Airlines, Rupert Hogg of Cathay Pacific Airways, Pieter Elbers of KLM and Christoper Luxon of Air New Zealand.

 

Among the notable moments was when the all-male panel was asked to address gender equality (or the lack of it) at the top echelons of aviation:

Other sessions addressed everything from some creative ways getting passengers to and from airports more efficiently to the role airlines play in human trafficking.

For media attendees, the meeting wrapped up with a final debriefing session with IATA CEO and Director General Alexandre de Juniac, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker, who will serve as chairman of the IATA Board of Governors for the next year, and Alan Joyce, CEO of the Qantas Group, which hosted the IATA AGM in Sydney.

The Qatar Airways CEO is well-known for his bravado and controversial comments, but at an event in which other CEOs expressed a committment to increasing the role of women in the upper ranks of their companies, Akbar Al Baker’s comment that of course his airline had to be run by a man, “Because it is a very challenging position” was met with disbelief.

His comment may have been a ‘joke,’ – and he did go on to mention that Qatar has women serving as pilots, as senior vice presidents and in other top-level positions – but the comment did not sit well with the group assembled (I literally jumped out of my seat!) and just underscores the fact that this sector of industry has some real homework to do.

The end is near for separation between Virgin America & Alaska Airlines

The end is near. For most all outward appearances of Virgin America.

Alaska Airlines, which has spent the past 18 months folding Virgin America into Alaska’s operations, wrote to customers yesterday to let them know that, starting April 25:

  • There will be only one website (alaskaair.com) for all check-ins.
  • There will be only only mobile app (Alaska’s).
  • There will be one call center (Alaska’s).
  • And there we be only Alaska flight numbers.

At the airport, all check-ins for flights operated by the company will take place at Alaska’s ticket counters and kiosks.

The final switchover will take place on the night of April 24, says Alaska:

“We’ll complete physical changes at 29 airports around the U.S. and Mexico that are served by both Alaska and Virgin America. The only branding and signage will now be for Alaska Airlines. Signs and screens will all change to Alaska branding at curbside locations, lobbies, ticket counters, gates and baggage areas. While there will be some Virgin America painted aircraft still flying for a period of time after April 25, tickets will be sold only under the Alaska name.”

Travel Tidbits for air travelers

 Brazilian restaurant for Miami International Airport

A popular chain restaurant from Brazil – Viena – has opened on the top (seventh) floor of the pre-security MIA Hotel at Miami International Airport.

The restaurant, which replaces the “Top of the Port” restaurant that was in that spot for many years, has a menu featuring Brazilian and European dishes, including salt cod fritters (Bolinho de Bacalau), Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and the Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail.

In addition to great views, this new restaurant has free Wi-Fi, happy hour, large-screen TVS and electronic charging stations.

Foodie Week at Philadelphia International Airport

 March 12-18 is Foodie Week at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) with seven restaurants in Concourse B offering special entrees at a discount – $12 – throughout the week

  • Baba Bar: Harissa Chicken Sandwich
  • Boule Café: French Onion Grilled Cheese
  • Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar: Shrimp Calabrese
  • Germantown Biergarten: Cheddar Brat Platter
  • Love Grille: Cheesesteak Hoagie
  • Mezzogiorno: Short Rib and Tomato Pizza
  • Noobar: Spicy Chicken Fried Rice

United Airlines passengers can buy a place in line

United Airlines now allows standard economy passengers to purchase Priority Boarding, allowing them to board in group 2.

The cost is $9 per segment and, according to United, the number of passes sold will be “closely controlled based on flight, date, time of day and day-of-week restrictions.”

For those who already have TSA Precheck and really want to move up in the boarding process, this is a less expensive add-on than Premier Access, which offers priority boarding benefits along with other benefit such as access to premier check-in lines and security lanes. Prices for this add-on start at $15 per segment.

Keep in mind: the new Priority Pass option, like Premier Access, is non-refundable and is not available to you if you’ve purchased a Basic Economy ticket.

SXSW bring extra music to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport  

The SXSW mash-up of conferences and festivals is underway in Austin and the airport in the Live Music Capital of the World is doing its part to make sure everyone gets their fill of music.

In addition to the usual 21 live music events it offers each week, Austin Bergstrom International Airport is adding six extra performances during peak SXSW travel days – March 12, 13 and 19.

Of the extra performances, bands will play at the airport’s Asleep at the Wheel State at Ray Benson’s Roadhouse near Gate 10, while extra solo acts will perform at Annie’s and Waterloo. See the full schedule here.

Post Office plus at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports

The Parisian postal service – La Poste – has opened enhanced post offices at both Paris-Orly and Paris-Charles de Gaulle airports, In addition to 24-hour postal machines, these post offices will have gift shops, terminals where customers can make photo postcards, rentable work spaces, and other services, including a key drop.

Your face is your boarding pass

Passengers flying with British Airways from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to London Gatwick can now opt to use their face as their boarding pass, thanks to SITA’s biometric boarding technology, which scans a person’s face and matches it up with the data U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has on that passenger in their files.

The process is already being used with certain JetBlue flights at Boston Logan International Airport and British Airways flights at Los Angeles International Airport.

Going biometric isn’t a requirement to board the flights testing the new technology, but last year’s SITA’s passenger IT survey showed that 57% of passengers would use biometrics instead of a boarding pass. SITA reports that real world rates are even higher than that: nearly 100% of passengers are opting to use the biometric boarding during the trials.

Free things you can get at airports

Flying during the holiday season can be a stressful and expensive, once you add up ticket prices, baggage fees, parking and a meal with a drink (or two) in the terminal before your flight.

But from ping-pong and yoga to water and other top-notch entertainment, many airports in the U.S. and abroad offer a wide variety of amenities for free. Some are available year-round, while others may be tied to a certain season or event. Here are a Baker’s Dozen you can take advantage of now.

Free phone calls

At Denver International Airport and both Washington Dulles International and Reagan Washington National Airports, travelers can make free phone calls year-round.

In Dulles and Washington Reagan airports, local and long distance calls are free to anyplace within the 48 contiguous United States for the first five minutes from marked courtesy phones located both pre- and post-security in the main terminal and in each concourse.

Denver International Airport has ad-supported phones offering free domestic calls and 10 minutes of free long distance calling

Free yoga studios

A pop-up (pay) yoga studio is operating for a few months at Denver International Airport, but there are a handful of airports around the country, including San Francisco International, Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, Miami International and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airports, where travelers can make use of yoga rooms for free. Most have complimentary loaner mats available as well.

Free shoe shines

A throwback to the days when people actually dressed up to fly on an airplane, at Los Angeles International Airport, Denver International Airport and Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport travelers can set their own price or just simply leave a tip when getting a complimentary shoe or boot shine at an airport shoe shine stand.

Free movies

Free movies by local filmmakers are offered to travelers in the post-security 17-seat Hollywood Theatre micro-cinema at Oregon’s Portland International Airport, the pre-security Video Arts room at San Francisco International Airport and in the post-security See 18 Film Screening Room (by Gate C18) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Free first run films are offered at two 24-hour movie theaters at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Free personal shopper

Passengers traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport can book ahead to tap the complimentary services of the airport’s team of personal shoppers, who make no commission but make it their point to know the all the latest trends and the current stock available in all the shops. There is no minimum spend and consultations take place in a private lounge where free champagne is served.

Free art and history and games

 

SFO Museum Exhibition

San Francisco’s SFO Museum offers no fewer than 20 free exhibitions inside the airport at any one time, while airports in Miami, Albany, NY, Minneapolis, Portland, St. Louis and elsewhere offer a rotating schedule of free museum-quality art and history exhibits throughout the year.

Austin-Bergstrom International and Seattle-Tacoma International airports each present more than 20 free music performances each week and, at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, passengers can play ping pong for free.

Free water: bring your own bottle

Buying a bottle of branded water can set a traveler back $5 in many post-security airport shops, but travelers who bring their own empty bottles can fill them up for free at complimentary water bottle refill stations now located in airports in San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and many others cities.

Free city tours

Fliers with long layovers can take advantage of free city tours at some airports.

Passengers with layovers of two hours or more at Salt Lake City International Airport can get a free shuttle ride to and from Temple Square, where they can join in a free tour of the thirty-five acre historic site. Free city tours are also available to travelers with varying lengths of layovers at Singapore’s Changi Airport, South Korea’s Incheon Airport in Seoul, Tokyo’s Narita Airport, Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport in Doha (with Qatar Airways), and Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei.

Free ride to the city

Travelers who land at Boston Logan International can ride the Silver Line bus from the airport into the city for free. The bus picks up at every BOS terminal and offers free connections to the Red Line once in town. (Rides from the city back out to the airport, however, are not free.)

Free CPR training

At a growing list of airports, passengers can learn to save a life while waiting for their flight by taking a free course on an interactive hands-only CPR kiosk. A “how-to” video is followed by a practice session on a rubber manikin and a 30-second CPR test.

Airports with hands-only CPR training kiosks currently include: Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, Orlando International, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Harrisburg International in Pennsylvania and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA.  In many cases there are multiple units at each airport.

Free trading cards

They look like sports trading cards, but at more than 60 airports throughout the country, passengers can stop by information booths and tourism booth to pick up a free, collectible, airport-themed trading cards featuring a photo of the airport on one side and geographic and historic tidbits about the airport on the other.

Animal encounters

To ease the stress of modern-day travel, dozens of airports now have specially-trained therapy animals regularly mingling with passengers in the terminals. Most airports have dogs on their pet-therapy teams, but San Francisco International Airport has a pig on its team, Denver International Airport has a cat, and miniature therapy horses visit the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport twice each month.

Free travel item

Customers of Google’s Project Fi can use their phone to get one free item a week from Project Fi vending machines located in airports in Baltimore, LaGuardia, Chicago Midway and O’Hare, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Jose. Free items include bottled water, playing cards, fuzzy socks, eye masks and luggage tags. Travelers who aren’t Project Fi customers can also get free items by playing a trivia game on the machine.

Did I miss anything?

(My story about free things at airports first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different form.)

Got a passport? 60 percent of Americans don’t!

Happy Friday! Get your passport and get going.

Passports. Have one? If not, you’re not alone.

About 60 percent of Americans don’t have current passports and Hilton Hotels is doing its part to help potential international travelers get going.

Hilton is kicking off its Hilton Passport Project with a Passport Concierge booth in the American Airlines terminal at O’Hare International Airport from October 20 to 22.

At the Passport Concierge booth, travelers will have the opportunity to fill out their passport applications, get their questions answered by on-site U.S. Department of State experts and take passport photos and get some ideas about international destinations.

The booth will move on to the Hilton San Francisco Union Square from November 2 to 4 and to the Hilton Cleveland Downtown from November 9 to 11.

Thanks for visiting StuckatTheAirport.com.  Subscribe to get daily travel tidbits.