Airlines

Passenger-friendly innovations in skies now – and on the horizon

(Airbus_A320 Family Airspace interior. Courtesy Airbus)

For CNBC this week, I put together some of the most passenger-friendly, or unusual, finalists vying for this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, which are set to be announced April 10 and often described as “the Oscars of the aviation industry.”

One of the more unusual and intriuging ideas on the list is something called a ‘Durinal,’ by Zodia Aerospace.

 

 

You know how it is: after meals and just before landing, bathroom lines get long and the lav-to-passenger ratio in the economy cabin on airplanes just seems wrong. Worse, when lavs get busy, there’s that wet floor issue that comes courtesy of the male ‘splash zone.’

The Durinal is designed to solve both problems by replacing one regular lavatory with two urinals. Durinal creator Zodiac Aerospace says installing the toilets on planes can improve lavatory “cycle time” and cut down on male use of the conventional toilets, “Thus leaving them more hygienic for the ladies.”

 

 

 

On flights that aren’t full, Zodiac Aerospace’s new Eco Zlounge concept makes it possible for passengers to stretch out with a mechanism that allows the cushion part of the seat in front of a passenger to fold down, creating more leg room.

No doubt the extra space will come with an extra cost, but on long flights passengers may be willing to pay that cost.

See more finalists in my CNBC story, here.

Fitness Friday: Wellness videos from Hawaiian Airlines

You’ve heard the advice: when you’re taking a trip on an airplane, it’s important to exercise before, during and after your flight.

Or at least do some stretches while in your seat.

Hawaiian Airlines is doing its part to remind and assist passengers follow the ‘move’ advice by adding a series of health and wellness videos to its inflight entertainment system.

Here they are so you can practice:

 

Are your favorite airports and airlines on these lists?

Airport Council International (ACI), the trade association of world airports,has issued its list of winners of the 2017 Airport Service Quality Awards (ASQ).

The awards cover  airports around the world and are based on more than 600,000 passenger surveys evaluating 34 performance indicators, including airport access, check-in, security screening, restrooms, stores, restaurants, and passenger comments about their best and worst experience at each airport.

In North America, Indianapolis International and Jacksonville International Airport tied in the Best Airport title among airports serving more than 2 million passengers a year.

There was also a tie for 2nd place in this category between El Paso (ELP), Ottowa (YOW) and Toronto Billy Bishop (YTZ) airports. Ditto for 3rd place in this category, between Austin (AUS), Columbus (CMH), Dallas Love Field (DAL), Halifax YHZ), Pittsburgh (PIT), San Antonio (SAT), San Jose (SJC) and Tampa (TPA).

Maine’s Portland International Jetport (PWM) was named Best Airport in North America among those serving less than 2 million passengers a year.

And Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport (CLE) was named the Most Improved Airport in North America.

When ranked by size (passengers served) and region, here are this year’s North America winners

2–5 million passengers per year: Ottawa (YOW)
5–15 million passengers per year: Indianapolis (IND)
15–25 million passengers per year: Tampa (TPA)
25–40 million passengers per year: Minneapolis (MSP)
Over 40 million passengers per year: Toronto Pearson (YYZ)

Be sure check out the full list of ACI’s 2017 rankings for airports in other parts of the world.

The Points Guy site also released its 2018 Best Airlines Annual Report, with rankings of U.S. airlines based on  evaluation of data and factors such as on-time arrival rates, passenger complaints, cabin comfort, baggage issues, frequent flyer programs and more.

Alaska Airlines topped this list for the second year in a row.

“The ongoing merger between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America hasn’t slowed down this customer favorite,” said TPG, noting that the Seattle-based Alaska Airlines ranked in its top three for airfare, on-time arrivals, customer satisfaction, baggage and a best-in-the-industry frequent flyer program.

Here’s how the rankings of the U.S. airlines shook out:

Alaska:

Southwest

Delta

United

Frontier

American

Spirit

JetBlue

Hawaiian

 

Airlines roll out new “smart luggage” rules today

Starting today, January 15, airlines will no longer allow passengers to checkg or carry on “smart luggage” with non-removable lithium batteries.

Powered luggage began appearing on the market a few years ago and some new versions of these high-tech bags can weigh themselves, be locked remotely, report their locations, provide power for gadgets, offer rides to the gate and follow travelers around.

The extras are enticing, but industry-wide concern over lithium batteries igniting and starting fires led the International Air Transport Association to instruct its almost 300 airline members to restrict carriage of certain bags:

“Effective 15 January 2018, for IATA member airlines, baggage with removable installed Lithium batteries (“smart luggage”) must be carried as carry-on baggage or the battery must be removed. With the battery removed the bag can be checked-in. If the battery cannot be removed, the bag is forbidden for carriage.”

Citing “safety management and risk mitigation,” American Airlines was among the first to alert its customers to the impending rule change. The carrier also said the standard question it asks customers checking bags – “Have you packed any e-cigarettes or spare batteries for laptops, cellphones or cameras?” – would be altered to include smart bags.

Other airlines are changing their check-in and boarding procedures as well.

“Throughout our guests’ journey, we will remind them to remove all lithium batteries from checked luggage, or disconnect and turn off batteries being stored in the overhead bins,” said Alex Da silva, a Hawaiian Airlines spokesman, “We are also training employees on the various types of smart bags so they may assist customers.”

Some smart luggage manufacturers are scrambling to redesign their smart bag products to comply with the new airline rules. Others are making sure customers know how, and how easily, the lithium batteries can be removed from their bags. And companies who have smart bags without lithium batteries are touting that feature.

“We believed that there would come a time when lithium batteries could be seen as a safety issue. So we purposely powered our luggage with AAA batteries to avoid any of these potential future rulings,” said Emran Sheikh, President and CEO of luggage manufacturer and distributor Heys International.

Sheikh and others emphasize that it is the type of battery used in some “smart” luggage designs that is the problem, not the category of ‘smart luggage’ in general.

“The airline industry’s recent attention to safety surrounding lithium ion batteries should boost our confidence that the travel industry is monitoring current trends and updating their own best practices to reflect modern travelers’ habits and needs,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association, Consumers can expect to see luggage manufacturers respond accordingly and release new iterations of smart luggage featuring even safer power sources.”

(My story on new smart luggage rules first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different form.)

Did Santa bring you “smart” luggage?

If Santa brought you some new-fangled “smart” luggage that can not only carry your clothes but charge your gadgets, weigh what you’ve packed and give you a motorized ride to the gate, be sure to check that the battery can removed.

Airlines don’t want the lithium batteries that power these smart bags in airplane cargo holds because (as we learned from hoverboards and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone fiasco) there’s concern over lithium batteries igniting and starting fires.

Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian,  Southwest and United are among the airlines that have posted notice that, come January 15, 2018, customers will only be permitted to board with smart bags that have batteries that can be removed.

Smart bags traveling as carry-ons must be powered off and any smart bags  traveling as checked luggage must have their batteries removed and brought into the cabin as carry-on.