Posts in the category "Air Travel":

CheapAir.com & other travel companies accepting bitcoin

Santa cruz photo

Bit by bit, fans of bitcoin—the virtual currency currently experiencing wild fluctuations in value—are finding ways to use the digital dollars for travel.

On Thursday, November 21, on-line travel agency CheapAir.com announced it would accept bitcoin as payment for flights booked on its website. Soon the company plans to accept bitcoin for hotel reservations and flights via its app as well.

Scroll through the Bitcoin.Travel website or Facebook page and you’ll find an eclectic listing of other real-world cafes, transportation companies, hostels and tour companies around the world advertising the fact they’re willing to accept bitcoin payments.

Among those is New Jersey-based A Class Limousine, which provides sedans, limousines, vans and shuttle buses for airport and point-to-point travel in its region.

The company has been accepting bitcoin payments since January “because it is cheap, quick, and virtually risk free,” said accounts manager Aaron Williams, “and because it helps us grow our client base.”

The benefit to travelers, said Williams, is that bitcoin is now an internationally accepted currency “so there is no currency to exchange before getting in your car or credit card forex fees. The long and the short of it is that people spend it and we want them to spend it on our services.”

In and around Santa Cruz, Calif., travelers are welcome to use bitcoin to pay for airport shuttles, wine tours and other services (even weddings) offered by Santa Cruz Experience or one of the other companies operated by Norcal Transportation Corporation.

Company CEO Austin Twohig said he added the bitcoin payment option in part because the fees charged to merchants are lower than those charged for credit cards and because there are no worries about charge-backs.

So far, though, he’s had no takers. And even though he’s been watching the value of bitcoin fluctuating wildly, “if someone called today and wanted to pay with bitcoin, I would not hesitate at all.”

Mike LaGrotta, CEO and co-founder of New York- and London-based Techno Tourist travel company is also a big fan, mostly because bitcoin helps avoid bank or credit card fees that can hover around 10 percent for clients sending payment from places such as North Africa and Eastern Europe.

“In terms of speed of payment and accessibility for people to use it to pay us, it’s just easier in every single way imaginable,” he said.

“It’s just a no-brainer for us to offer customers this option.”

Road warriors have another option for turning bitcoin into travel: gift cards.

Among the more than 150 brands of gift cards available through online gift card company, eGifter are cards from American Airlines, BedandBreakfast.com, Carnival and Celebrity cruise lines, Hyatt and Marriott hotels and the Global Hotel Card from Orbitz. Gift cards for meals, gasoline and other consumable travel items are also offered.

“One of the advantages to accepting bitcoin is that it has attracted a whole new market of early adopters,” said eGifter CEO Tyler Roye. “There aren’t a lot of places to spend bitcoins now and we provide a whole bunch of options in one move.”

The company has been accepting bitcoin since August through Coinbase, a company that creates a digital wallet for users and a secure way for merchants to get their cash at service charge rates below what most credit card companies charge.

“They accept the bitcoin and convert them to cash so that we never have to touch the bitcoin or figure out what to do with them,” said Roye.

The pass-through shields the company from market fluctuations and other risks associated with taking bitcoin.

“It’s just a no-brainer for us to offer customers this option,” said Roye.

(My story about using bitcoin for travel first appeared on the CNBC Road Warrior)

Airlines test new ways to board planes

The task seems straightforward enough. Get passengers from inside the terminal onto a plane quickly and efficiently so the flight can leave on time.

But if you’ve ever stood in the aisle waiting as another passenger s-l-o-w-l-y takes off a coat, fiddles around for a book and then attempts to cram an overstuffed bag into the overhead bin, you know how tedious the process can be.

Airlines would also like to hurry it up. Not just because slow boarding makes already cranky travelers even crankier but because time is money for airlines, and planes earn their keep only when they’re flying.

Most carriers now give first-class passengers and elite frequent fliers a head start down the Jetway; they then board by groups, from back to the front or from window seats toward the aisle.

In March, United Airlines created clearly marked lanes for five different boarding groups.

“We also started going to a window-middle-aisle boarding method,” said United spokesman Charles Hobart. “This reduces the interference that may occur in the aisle as a result of someone having to move to allow another customer to sit in a window or middle seat.”

On many flights, American Airlines gives early-boarding privileges to passengers who won’t be using space in the overhead bins. And Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t assign seats, “lines people up like schoolchildren and avoids the ‘mad rush’ to the door,” said a flight attendant who tweets as @PeanutsnCoke.

“By allowing people to naturally flow to the seat where they want to sit among the available options in front of them, the time savings is unmistakable,” said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins. “Across 3,400-plus flights each day, that saved time realizes incalculable savings not only for Southwest but for our customers. Less time to board the whole plane translates into less time sitting and awaiting departure.”

Some airlines will allow passengers to jump ahead in the boarding line for a fee. Others, like Spirit Airlines, “charge a heavy fee for carry-on luggage,” said Raymond Kollau of Airlinetrends.com. “But this seems to be an effective way to encourage passengers to check their luggage and shorten aircraft turnaround times.”

Future boarding scenarios?

Alaska Airlines boarding ramp

In some airports in Mexico and at some smaller U.S. airports without boarding bridges, Alaska Airlines boards passengers from both the front and rear doors.

Last spring, with the help of a solar-powered boarding ramp made by Keith Consolidated Industries of Medford, Ore., the carrier began testing the use of both boarding doors on some planes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (its home base airport) and Mineta San Jose International Airport in California.

The motorized ramp is driven to the backdoor of the aircraft, and three switchbacks covered in a nonslip material offer a gentle slope that makes it easy to pull a rolling suitcase or push a wheelchair from the ground level to the rear door of the aircraft.

“It’s powered entirely by solar panels but can also be hitched to a tug if necessary,” said Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey.

Testing is scheduled to continue through year-end, and while the carrier isn’t shaving 10 or 15 minutes off boarding times, Lindsey said, dual-door boarding is speeding things up a bit.

“What this initiative really is about is providing our customers with a more hassle-free flying experience, i.e., saving time boarding and deplaning, which gives customers back time,” Lindsey said. “It’s also right in line with our environmental goals.”

Another option being experimented with is seats that slide out of the way.

Hank Scott, a former Australian Navy pilot who now teaches aeronautical engineering in Colorado, was sick of standing in the aisle behind people who didn’t move very quickly.

“I thought the process would go faster if I could just walk around them.”

Scott’s solution is the Side-Slip Seat, which can be moved a few inches out of the way during the boarding and deplaning process to help widen the aisles.

“We’re looking at a 50 percent improvement in the rate you can get people on an off the aircraft,” said Scott, who hopes to have the seats certified by the Federal Aviation Administration at the end of the year.

And then there’s the Jason Steffen approach.

Steffen, a Lindheimer Fellow in the physics department at Northwestern University, recommends boarding passengers in a line so that when they enter the airplane their seats are spaced two rows apart.

“For example, the first passengers would be 30A, 28A, 26A, 24A, 22A, etc. If speed is the primary goal, I believe that this method is the fastest.”

No airline has adopted the plan, but on Oct. 16, as part of a four-part PBS special called “Making More Stuff with David Pogue,” his method will be tested against that of Southwest Airlines.

“They currently have among the fastest, if not the fastest, boarding method,” Steffen said.

But perhaps not for long.

(My story ‘Airlines test new ways to board planes’ first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Automated passport control machines speed up travel

Passport Kiosks ready to go at JFK_courtesy Delta Air Lines

Courtesy Delta Air Lines

On Monday, arriving U.S. passengers from international flights at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 began using automated passport machines to speed their trip through customs.

Similar self-service machines already in use at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Terminal 5, and at two airports in Canada (Vancouver and Montreal) are already helping to significantly cut down wait times at customs that, at times, have forced arriving international passengers to stand in line for up to five hours or to be held back on a plane.

JFK is the busiest U.S. entry point for international travelers, and 40 automated passport kiosks have been purchased by Delta for use in Terminal 4, where it is the largest tenant among more than 30 airlines. At JFK, only U.S. citizens will initially be able to use the machines, but soon Canadian citizens should be able to use the machines as well.

Delta would like the Custom and Border Protection agency to increase staffing and improve scheduling to accommodate peak arrival times. “But we don’t know how long that will take,” said Delta spokeswoman Leslie Scott. “This is something proactive we can do now as an investment in the customer experience. Because if a passenger has enjoyed the in-flight meals, the lie-flat bed and other aspects of an international flight having to stand on line for hours on arrival really ruins the experience.”

ORD KIOSKS

Courtesy Chicago O’Hare International Airport

According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, since July 1, when the automated passport control technology was rolled out at O’Hare Airport’s Terminal 5, daily passenger volume has increased by 21 percent, to over 15,000, but wait times during peak arrival periods have been reduced by 33 percent.

The number of passengers waiting over 60 minutes per day at O’Hare has been reduced by nearly 60 percent, and the number of passengers waiting for over two hours has been eliminated almost entirely. The number of passengers missing their connecting flights has been drastically reduced as well.

At O’Hare, only U.S. citizens could initially use the kiosks, but this month the program was expanded to include Canadian citizens as well.

(O’Hare also has another program in place that gets people through customs quicker: in International Terminal 5 a program called “1-Stop” is available to arriving passengers with proper documentation and only carry-on luggage.)

Several vendors, including the Vancouver Airport Authority, IBM and SITA, make and market the technology and the hardware, which will be rolled out at several other airports in North America in the next few months.

Machines made by SITA at Orlando International “are deployed but not yet in use,” said SITA’s Sean Farrell. “We’re just waiting for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to certify the system, but right now that agency is on furlough.”

Toronto Pearson plans to launch its automated passport control kiosks, being built by IBM, in mid-November.

Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport has 20 kiosks that should be operational by the end of the year.

On its own, Dallas/Fort Worth International is developing and building 30 automated passport reading kiosks that should be up and running by early November.

And 36 automated passport machines, purchased at a cost of $3.5 million by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, will be installed in November at Miami International.

“It’s pretty well documented that we’ve had challenges in our international arrivals area,” said Miami’s airport spokesman Greg Chin. “Our peak waiting times have been as much as two to three hours, and this is one of the ways we’re trying to mitigate the challenges.”

Visitor makeup is 70 percent U.S. citizens at O’Hare versus 70 percent non-U.S. visitors at MIA, said Chin, “And because U.S. citizens are easier to process, we don’t think our reduction will match [O'Hare's] 30 percent but we hope to at least approach that.”

(A slightly different version of this story first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior. This is an updated version.)

Solar-powered boarding ramps – in Seattle?

As we head into the dark, dreary and drippy season here in Seattle, my first question about the solar powered boarding ramps being tested by Alaska Airlines was “How can that possibly work?”

Alaska Airlines boarding ramp

The answer to that question – and a host of others relating to efficiently getting passengers on and off a plane – will show up soon in a story I’m working on for the CNBC Road Warrior.

If you’ve got an opinion – or a fresh idea – on how to streamline the boarding process please add a comment below. You might end up part of the story.

World’s Worst Airports?

Traveler by Duane Hanson

Traveler – By Duane Hanson

 

Any airport, even an amenity-rich one, can feel like hell if you’re stuck there when you really want or need to be somewhere else. Just ask Edward Snowden.

But many travelers have very specific reasons for loathing the time they spend at certain airports. For my July “At the Airport” column on USA Today Travel, I asked readers for the “worst” and got a suitcase full of nominations.

Worst US Airport?

Cheryl-Anne Millsap of Spokane, WA dreads Denver International Airport. “I always seem to get stuck there for one reason or another,” she said. “There’s no hotel and it’s a boring place to spend 6, 8 or 9 hours.”

John Barth, a media executive in St. Louis, describes New York’s LaGuardia Airport as “a dump and an utter disgrace. It’s filthy, crowded and there’s no room for what must be a massive business clientele.”

Jason Rabinowitz, editor of NYCAviation.com, agrees. “Before you even get to LGA, you are in a bad mood because it’s not connected to any meaningful public transportation, just a very slow city bus. Once inside, check-in areas are tiny, security lines overflowing, and your cell phone will most likely stop working because it has no signal. And Wi-Fi isn’t free.”

Los Angeles International Airport gets thumbs down from Jill Jackson, who lives in Washington, D.C. “It’s grubby, confusing and too cramped for space. And I always have to wait in line for 20 minutes just to buy a bottle of water,” she said.

Courtney Rugen hates stopping at Kansas City International Airport because it’s “inconvenient to have to go outside security to get food – or anything.” And Jeff Lutz, a Detroit-based marketing director, doesn’t like Washington’s Dulles International Airport because “it feels like you have to take a lengthy shuttle or leave security in order to move anywhere,” which makes for bad connections.

The “worst signage” on roads approaching Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport turns DFW into a “very confusing” place for Laurie Lee Cosby, a voice instructor from Fort Worth, while financial consultant Seth Bailey finds Philadelphia International Airport “kind of dirty, with staff [that] isn’t that friendly.”

With many others, Bryan Smith, a supply chain security consultant in Pennsylvania ranked Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR) as “the worst domestic airport.” Charlotte-based photographer Jamey Price finds the EWR security lines “always obscenely long; to go in each terminal you have to re-enter security, so to change airlines you have to renegotiate TSA and it always seems to make you late, or nearly late for the next flight.”

Not even small airports escaped being called “the worst.” At Colorado’s Montrose Regional Airport Travel, “there will be a long period of inactivity, then three large jets from different airlines and different cities will be scheduled to land within a ten minute span,” said travel and food writer Larry Olmstead. There’s only one luggage belt, so “once you get your luggage there is no place to go and on a busy day, every square foot of the terminal is jammed. Lines for departures stretch outside into the street, even in winter.”

Worst International Airports?

On work trips, New Yorker Bill Thayer is unhappy if he has to connect through Orly Airport in Paris. “I’ve been there on a number of hot summer days, making the packed bus rides from the gate to the airplane even more painful. Plus, there are seemingly giant crowds at every gate,” he said.

Victoria Van Camp considers the larger Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to have “the most confusing layout in the world, with signs pointing to heaven” when they mean “go straight.”

Aaron Gayhart of Atlanta, Georgia doesn’t want to go back to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya anytime soon. “It was built to accommodate 2.5 million people and it now averages double that, so it’s extremely overcrowded and cramped,” he said. When he was there, “it was dirty, hot, stinky and full of people asleep on the ground and scam artists eyeing tourists.”

And then there’s Chad’s N’Djamena International Airport. We thought NY-based healthcare communications professional Peter Cleary was exaggerating when he described it as “the worst airport ever.” But after learning about his bug-filled evening there when the air-conditioning was out, we may have to agree.

Cleary arrived to find that a door had been propped open for fresh air and “the light near the door attracted a biblical amount of bugs. Literally every surface of the classroom-sized departure lounge was crawling with insects.”

He tried sweeping the bugs off his bags and turning in a slow circle to keep new bugs from crawling over his shoes and up his pant legs. “Some of the bugs were so big you could actually feel them through your shoes as you kicked them away,” he said.

The evening went from bad to worse when it was time to board the plane and passengers were sent outside for an open bag security check. “This provided ample opportunity for larger bugs to join their smaller friends that had already worked their way into my luggage,” said Cleary. So when he landed in Ethiopia he dumped his luggage in the nearest garbage bin rather than take the suitcases – and all those bugs – home.

BONUS

After reading this story full of nominations for the worst airport, John Walton, Director of Data for Routehappy (a website that ranks flight on a happiness scale) pulled this list of ‘worst airports’ as rated by the site’s users.

Here’s the top of the list:

Amman Queen Alia, Jordan (AMM)
Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya (NBO)
Guangzhou, China (CAN)
Moscow Domodedovo, Russia (DME)
Phuket, Thailand (HKT)
Bali Denpasar, Indonesia (DPS)
Mumbai, India (BOM)
Manila Aquino, Philippines (MNL)
Berlin Schoenefeld, Germany (SXF)
Hobart, Australia (HBA)
Krakow, Poland (KRK)
London Luton, UK (LTN)
San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)

Please feel free to add your nominations for the worst airport below.

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