Airlines

Comparing airlines, airports by on-time performance

Travelers use all manner of measurements to choose an airline to fly on or an airport to fly through and beyond price, punctuality is high on some lists.

Flight informatoin company OAG gathers oodles of on-time performance data and twice each year shares an ‘award’ ranking airlines and airports with OTP star ratings, 5 being the best.

For U.S. airlines, the latest list – found here – give high marks to Delta’s performance.

“It not only topped its mainline competition, but finished ahead of smaller airlines such as Alaska Airlines and Sun Country Airlines,” OAG notes. “In a U.S. air travel ecosystem that relies on major hubs, it’s easy for a single delay or cancellation to knock an entire day of flights off schedule. Despite managing one of the largest fleets in the world, Delta has remained a cut above its competitors. Southwest (78.9 OTP), American (78.8 OTP) and United (78.5 OTP) all performed admirably, earning 3 stars respectively.”

When it comes to airports, the standouts are Salt Lake City International Airport (earning 5 stars for an 85.2 percent on-time performance), Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (82.9 percent), Detroit Metropolitan Airport (83.1 percent), Charlotte Douglas International Airport (82.2 percent) and Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (85.1 percent).

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How 10 airlines reaped $28 billion from the ‘extras’

Buying an airline ticket now has a lot in common with a trip to the grocery store or the purchase of a new car.

After going up and down the aisles, “Shoppers don’t know the total cost of all the things they put in their grocery carts till they check out,” said Jay Sorensen, president of research firm IdeaWorks, “And most people don’t just buy the base model of a car. They start with the base model and then start adding on features. That’s how air travel is now priced.”

And like that quart of ice-cream that wasn’t on your shopping list and those heated seats the salesperson sweet-talked you into, when it comes to airfares, the modern day extras can really add up.

In 2007 the top ten airlines (ranked by total ancillary revenue), was $2.1 billion, according to an IdeaWorks report, but in 2016, the top ten ancillary revenue-earning airlines alone took in more than $28 billion from “beyond tickets” sales of everything from baggage fees and commissions on care rentals and vacation packages to frequent flyer points, advertising and products sold in fare ‘bundles.’

Which airlines earn the most from extras?

Spirit Airlines may be marketed as an “ultra” low cost carrier but, at an average of $49.89 per passenger, the Florida-based airline topped the list of earnings per passenger a la carte extras such as checked bags, assigned seat and extra legroom. In 2016, that represented 46.4 percent of the airline’s overall revenue, according to the report.

Allegiant, Frontier were also 2016 standouts, earning, respectively, an average of $48.93 and $48.60 in ancillary revenue per passenger, representing 42.4 percent of Frontier’s total 2016 revenue and 40 percent of Allegiant’s, according to the report.

When measuring total ancillary revenue, larger airlines United, Delta, American and Southwest topped the list, earning $6.2 billion, $5.1 billion, $4.9 billion and $2.8 billion respectively.

These larger airlines, notes Sorensen, earn their high rankings due mostly to the sale of miles or frequent flyer points to banks that issue co-branded cards. But Ryanair and EasyJet, also among the top ten earners (at $1.9 billion and $1.3 billion respectively) earned the bulk of their ancillary income through a la carte fees and commissions on products sold on their websites, such as car rentals and travel insurance.

“Some of the best in this category have extensive holiday package business with route structures built upon leisure destinations,” Sorensen notes in the report, “Allegiant in the US and Jet2.com in the UK share the common bond of emphasizing leisure travel. These are essentially holiday package companies that own an airline.”

For these airlines, everything for revolves around the ability sell hotels, car rentals and attraction tickets to people traveling to vacation-oriented destinations, Sorensen added.

Looking forward, “Airlines increasingly see themselves as retailers that upsell and cross-sell as their focus shifts from optimizing the revenue per seat to maximizing revenues per passenger,” said Raymond Kollau of trends research agency AirlineTrends “For example, Ryanair now regards itself as a digital platform with an airline attached. It eventually aims to give away the seat ticket for free and earn their income via all kinds of ancillary services.”

Here is list of Top Ten airlines for 2016, ranked by ancillary revenue per passenger. (Courtesy IdeaWorks)

  1. Spirit: $49.89
  2. Allegiant: $48.93
  3. Frontier: $48.60
  4. United: $43.46
  5. Jet2.com: $4246
  6. Qantas Airways: $42.38
  7. Virgin Atlantic: $42.45
  8. AirAsia X: $34.1
  9. Korean Air: $32.59
  10. Alaska Air Group: $31.41

And here are the Top Ten airlines for 2016, ranked by overall ancillary revenue. (Courtesy IdeaWorks)

  1. United: $6.2 billion
  2. Delta: $5.1 billion
  3. American: $4.9 billion
  4. Southwest: $2.8 billion
  5. Air France/KLM: $2.1 billion
  6. Ryanair: $1.9 billion
  7. EasyJet: $1.3 billion
  8. Lufthansa (network): $1.3 billion
  9. Qantas (excluding Jetstar): $1.1 billion
  10. Air Canada: $1.1 billion

(*IdeaWorks gathers financial information for these rankings from annual reports, investor presentations, financial press releases and other sources.)

(A slightly different of my story about ancillary income for airlines first appeared on CNBC)

KLM embraces Twitter & WeChat for flight info, updates

Last year, social media-savvy KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was the first airline outside the US  to start offering customers flight info service via Facebook’s Messenger and now 10 percent of all bookings on KLM are confirmed this way and 15 percent of all online boarding passes KLM issues are delivered via Messenger.

KLM counts that as success so now the carrier says it is the first to roll out delivery of flight info – including booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding passes and flight status updates – via Twitter and WeChat, the social media tool popular in China.

“The world is becoming more digital. And as a company with 98 years of history, we feel we should continue to be pioneers in innovation and embrace new technology as we did with Facebook,” Pieter Elbers, KLM President and CEO told StuckatTheAirport.com.

He said while Twitter is an important communication tool, WeChat is crucial for KLM to embrace as, after the US, China is KLM’s second largest market outside Europe.

“Zilch” and other compensation airlines may owe you 

Whether or not the power outage that caused British Airways to cancel all flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airport last weekend was caused by a worker pulling the wrong plug, the airline is looking at perhaps $100 million in compensation payouts to thousands of passengers whose travelers were disrupted by the snafu.

While acknowledging that it may take “a little longer than normal to process all of the payments,” due to the volume of customers affected, on its website British Airlines is assuring passengers whose plans were put into disarray by the outage that it will comply with European Union Regulation 261/2004.

The rule outlines the compensation airlines must pay passengers for flights that are delayed or canceled and covers scheduled flights to or from airports in EU countries (as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and some other non-EU regions) as well as flights to and from the EU  purchased on U.S. carriers but operated by a EU carrier.

“It’s who you’re flying not where you’re buying,” notes George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com.

“If it’s within the airlines’ reasonable control, then compensation kicks in, which can max out at 600 euros,” said Hobica, “Getting paid is another thing, and can involve paperwork and waiting or negotiating, which is why there are a half dozen firms that will do the work for you, for a cut of the money owed.”

But at least those passengers have the law on their side.

On US, Canadian, Middle Eastern, or other non-Euro airline flights that are delayed or canceled due to IT outages, mechanical issues, crew delays or other issues within an airline’s control, passengers are legally due “zilch, nada, nothing. Nothing mandated by law” said Hobica,

That doesn’t mean passengers always get nothing, though.

Policies outlining what services are provided to a customer waiting in the airport vary by airline and are contained in their contracts of carriage, advises consumer organization Flyersrights, noting that the contracts of carriage generally leave it to the airline’s discretion to distribute meal vouchers and hotel accommodations.

Delta Air Lines outlines its policies on situations such as delays, cancellations, diversions and bumped passengers in its Customer Commitment document.

For example, the airline promises to “provide hotel accommodations at Delta contracted facilities, based on availability, if you are inconvenienced overnight while away from your home or destination due to a delay, misconnect or cancellation within Delta’s control.”

In August 2016, the carrier went the extra step of offering $200 in travel vouchers to customers whose flights were cancelled or who were delayed by more than three hours due to a system wide IT incident.

United Airlines spokeswoman Maddie King said the company strives to provide customers with flexible travel options when there are unanticipated interruptions to operations.

“We actively assist in rebooking customers and often provide compensation for customers who experience extensive delays that are within our control,” said King, “During severe interruptions we will provide customers with a travel waiver to change their flights at no cost. (United’s policies on flight delays and cancellations are posted here.)

And JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights outlines, in perhaps the industry’s most straightforward language, what customers can expect from the airline “when things do not go as planned,” including specific credit amounts to be issued for cancellations and delays.

On its website, the U.S. Department of Transportation confirms that “for domestic itineraries, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled,” but does note a few situations that are covered by laws, including situations involving involuntary bumping of passengers, in which case required compensation can reach 400 percent of a one-way fare, but not more than $1,350.

As result of the recent United Airlines ‘incident’ involving a man being dragged of a flight in an involuntary bumping situation, United Airlines has issued policy changes which include the promise to offer passengers up to $10,000 to voluntary give up their seats in an effort to avoid having future overbooked flight situations.

Likewise, Delta has stated that it will offer up to $9,950 to passengers who volunteer to give up their seats on overbooked flights, said Zach Honig, editor at ThePointsGuy.com, “Though I wouldn’t be surprised if we never hear of the airline paying out compensation approaching that amount. Chances are enough travelers will volunteer long before the compensation offer gets well into the thousands.”

(My story about airline compensation for ‘inconvenienced’ passengers first appeared on NBC News.

 

Chinese New Year at airports & on planes

Lunar New Year and Chinese New Year celebrations begin this weekend and airports and airlines are celebrating the Year of the Rooster with decorations, special meals, promotions and events.

Vancouver International Airport, a major trans-Pacific hub, has special decorations in the terminals and a wide variety of events planned for this Friday, including a traditional Lion Dance, retail specials and an appearance by the Fortune God who will hand out red envelopes to lucky passengers who will have a chance to win prizes.

At San Francisco International Airport, which boasts that it serves more cities in China than any other North American airport, look for special Lunar New Year graphics on signs, on the airport’s social media outlets and on its website.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Friday, Jan. 27 with traditional and modern Chinese music from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Asleep at the Wheel stage, located across from Gate 10.

Lunar New Year activities at Hong Kong International Airport include daily Lion Dance performances and multiple chances to meet and greet the God of Fortune.

At Singapore’s Changi Airport, which does everything in a big way, the terminals are decorated with festive decorations and plants, the popular Pokémon installation has receive a seasonally-appropriate makeover, and there will be an award-winning Lion Dance troupe performing in the terminals on multiple days. The Fortune God Mascot will also be on hand distributing fortune cookies.

To mark the Lunar New Year, Cathay Pacific will be serving two types of festive puddings (Red Dates Pudding and Turnip Pudding with Conpoy and Chinese ham) to travelers in first and business class cabins on many long haul flights.

Qatar Airways is also celebrating the Chinese New Year by serving a special Spring Festival-inspired menu on board flights to popular Asia destinations from January 28-30.

Deal-wise, United Airlines is offering promotional fares (through Feb 1) on its flights to Hangzhou, China from San Francisco and other cities and Plaza Premium Lounge is running a Chinese New Year ‘Buy 3 Get 2 Free’ offer on lounge gift cards that is valid through February 6.

And Eva Air is celebrating the year of the Rooster with a special Chinese New Year menu on flights outbound from Taipei to North America and Paris on January 27, 2017 and special Chinese New Year-themed service items on these same flights from January 27 to February 5, 2017.

Many service items on Eva Air’s Hello Kitty Jets have also been refreshed for the Chinese New Year, and some new characters – Gudetama and Bad Badtz-maru are featured on the themed paper napkins, headrest covers and the traditional red envelopes handed out to family members and loved ones  to wish them health and prosperity this time of year.