Posts in the category "Airline policies":

Round-up of airline travel advisories & fee waivers

SnowglobeUpdated 2:45 EST January 21, 2014

Another winter storm is on its way to the east coast and airlines are canceling flights and posting travel advisories and change fee waivers.

If you’re traveling to, through or from an east coast city, there’s a fair chance your flight will be canceled due to weather. If your flight isn’t canceled (yet…) you want to change your plans anyway.

Here’s a rundown of cancellation and change fee waiver policies posted by many airlines as of Monday evening, January 20, 2014.

And as always, it’s always a good idea to check with your airline before you head to the airport.

Alaska Airlines: East coast travel advisory details here.

American Airlines: Travel advisory in effect for January 21-22. Change fee waivers apply to, from or through a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

Delta Airlines: Travel advisory posted for January 21-22 for tickets that must be reissued before January 25th. Change fee waiver applies to a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

JetBlue: Travel advisory applies to flights scheduled January 21-22. Waivers for cancellations or changes to, through or from a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

Spirit Airlines has a weather buster travel advisory in place. Details here.

United Airlines: United’s travel advisory covers January 21 (for now…) and applies to cities affected by weather in the New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. areas. Details here.

US Airways:
Travel advisory in effect through January 22, 2014 for a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

Virgin America: Northeast travel advisory covers flights through January 22 for flight to, through or from BOS, EWR, JFK, PHL, IAD and DCA. Details here.

Southwest Airlines  has its travel advisory information posted here.

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.

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)

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.

Wine flies free on Alaska Airlines

tasteAndToteBoxes

In the past 10 years the wine industry in Oregon and Washington has ripened into big business, with Oregon’s 465 wineries now contributing close to $3 billion to the state’s economy each year and Washington’s 800 wineries pouring more than $8.6 billion into the state’s coffers.

But while visiting wineries for tastings is now a popular tourist activity in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, taking home a case of wine can be costly.

Shipping a case of wine as freight can cost up to $60 via UPS and checking it as baggage on an airplane can cost $25 or more, depending on the weight of the wine and the number of other bags being checked.

“Ironically, we’d see people willing to spend $300 to $500 on a case of wine, yet that extra $25 to put it on the plane was a negative,” said Duane Wollmuth, executive director of Washington’s Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. “It did stop people from buying the wine at the wineries.”

In an effort to stem the flow of lost wine sales, in 2011 Washington wine growers in the Walla Walla area persuaded Seattle-based Alaska Airlines to extend a program it offers to passengers traveling out of California wine country via Sonoma County Airport (STS).

The airline now waives the charge for checking a case of Washington wine for anyone flying out of three airports in the state’s winery-rich regions (Pasco/Tri-Cities, Walla Walla and Yakima).

Now, instead of just one or two cases of checked wine per week, Alaska Airlines is transporting upward of 30 cases of wine a week per participating airport during peak season, according to airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

And the waived fees make a difference. For the 70 wineries in Walla Walla area alone, “the program represents at least a quarter to a half-million dollars of additional wine sales a month in the peak season,” said Wollmuth.

Washington’s “Taste and Tote” concept, which began as a pilot program,, is being extended. And through Nov. 20, visitors to Oregon’s wineries and tasting rooms can take advantage of the Oregon Wines Fly Free program if they’re flying on Alaska Airlines from any of four Oregon airports (Portland, Eugene, Medford and Redmond).

“Like any other business, we’re always trying to figure out a way to reach more people,” said Charles Humble of the Oregon Wine Board. “Tourism in many parts of our state is now incredibly linked to the wine industry and if people can come here, buy a few bottles of wine and take it home without having to pay for it to be checked, that’s a good incentive.”

But what is the incentive for the airline?

“It’s a good partnership for us,” said Egan,” “It’s a win-win for these areas that produce great wine and it’s a great way for us to promote these wonderful destinations that we serve.”

In addition to advertisements and mentions in social media the airlines gets from the participating wineries and tourism groups, Alaska Airlines asks the wineries in the participating regions to waive the tasting fees for its passengers who show their boarding pass.

That’s a benefit most wineries seem happy to offer. “Many of these folks have traveled to our region specifically to do wine tasting and they are motivated to buy,” said Ron Peck, executive director of Tourism Walla Walla, where wine tourism brings in about $100 million annually to the region.

“I think it’s clever for Alaska Airlines to appeal to the wine traveler,” said Chris Nishiwaki, a Seattle-based restaurant, food and wine writer. “It becomes an incentive for travelers to buy wine at their destinations since baggage fees have become such a nuisance. Furthermore, wine travelers spend over 10 percent more over other travelers. So it’s the ideal audience to cajole.”

(My story about the Alaska Airlines program to fly cases of wine for free first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

 

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