Airlines

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.

 

Worst days to fly this summer

 

Courtesy Chiago O'Hare Airport - busy day

My ‘At the Airport’ column this month for USA TODAY takes a look at the days airports traditionally see the highest traffic and the plans in place this year – given all the talk about longer-than-usual TSA lines – to smooth things out.

The good news is that airports and airlines, some of which have pitched in their own funds for extra staffing, are reporting improvements in passenger processing times. And for its part, TSA is working overtime to reassure travelers that its 10-point plan is having its intended impact.

Here’s what some airports have planned:

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. But Independence Day and Labor Day weekends are also heavy.

ATL expects the same peak days this summer, said ATL spokesman Andy Gobeil, and to prepare, “we communicate on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis with not only the TSA, but also with our airline partners.”

ATL is also where TSA partnered up with Delta Air Lines to install and test two “innovation lanes” at one security checkpoint to speed up the lines.

In 2015, the busiest travel day at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was Aug. 3 (92,497 originating passengers), with July 6 (90, 276 passengers) not far behind.

This year, the Chicago Department of Aviation expects a variety of high-traffic days at ORD during June, July and August and is working with the TSA and its airline partners “to explore every possible option” to help reduce TSA wait times, said CDA spokesman Gregg Cunningham.

Denver Airport planes

Denver International Airport usually sees its peak travel days in July and August and this year os expects the busiest traffic days during the July 4th holiday week.  To help out at the checkpoints this summer, DEN has hired seven contract security workers to assist with passenger divesting, bin management and line management.

July and August (peak season for cruises to Alaska) are traditionally the busiest months at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Thursday and Fridays are the busiest traffic days and this summer SEA hired 90 full-time equivalent private workers to free up TSA personnel.

Peak days at San Francisco International Airport occur during summer, and this year should be no different and to prepare for peak travel days airport officials meet weekly with the TSA to review security checkpoints and other security topics, and have planning meetings with airlines, service providers and other organizations to make sure staffing is appropriate for peak demand periods.

LAX Susan Goldman - pink lightband

Elsewhere, Los Angeles International expects a record 24.5 million passengers to travel through the airport this summer, an increase of 7.3 percent over last summer’s record 22.8 million travelers.

The busiest week of the summer is expected to be July 18-24.

“Lines at the TSA passenger screening checkpoints at LAX are being managed,” the airport said in a statement, “but they are expected to grow longer as the summer progresses with more travelers.”

JFK Airport rededication

Based on three years of data, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey predicts the busiest day of summer at JFK International Airport will be August 11, July 28,  August 4, July 21 and July 14, in that order.

Each of JFK’s terminals are managed separately, but the company that manages Terminal 4 (JFKIAT) teamed up with its 32 airline partners to invest more than a quarter of a million dollars on increasing staff levels at the terminal’s TSA checkpoints through September 10, the weekend after Labor Day.

While March sees the busiest passenger traffic at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, PHX officials expect the July 4th weekend to be the peak travel time this summer.

“We prepare for peak days by meeting with all of our partners – airlines, TSA, concessionaires, law enforcement and others – in advance,” said airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriquez, and during peak times “airport staff who usually work in the office wear special customer service vests and go out into the terminals to assist passengers and answer questions.”

Miami International Airport also sees its highest travel days during the winter travel season. But for the busy summer season, MIA officials went to Washington, D.C. to meet with TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger and other high-ranking federal officials, and came away with a commitment for 60 additional screening officers.

DFW ART in Terminal D

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is one of the beneficiaries of the $4 million American Airlines is spending this summer to help ease checkpoint backups at a variety of airports and, on peak days, the airport reallocates its volunteers, ambassadors and other staff as needed.

Going forward, DFW will have one more tool to help manage checkpoint traffic: in June, the airport’s board of directors recently approved a $600,000 contract to have AT&T anonymously track passenger cellphones in the airport to gather real-time information on wait times.

 

Travel Waivers for Tropical Storm Colin

(Photo courtesy Keene Public Library, via Flickr)

(Photo courtesy Keene Public Library, via Flickr)

Tropical Storm Colin is bearing down on Florida and many airlines are offering travel waivers to passengers who want to stay clear of the area.

Here are links to travel waiver policies for

American Airlines: for travel to/through or from Fort Myers, FL (RSW), Gainesville, FL (GNV), Jacksonville, FL (JAX), Sarasota, FL (SRQ), Tallahassee, FL (TLH) and Tampa, FL (TPA). Travel waiver was for those with tickets to travel June 6, 2016, but policy posted was only current as of June 5, so check if you are traveling June 7 or later).

Delta Airlines:: for travel to/from or through: Brunswick, GA(BQK), Charleston, SC (CHS), Fort Myers, FL (RSW), Gainesville, FL (GNV), Jacksonville, FL (JAX), Key West, FL (EYW), Sarasota, FL (SRQ), Savannah, GA (SAV), Tallahassee, FL (TLH), Tampa, FL (TPA). Travel alert currently includes ticketed flights on June 7, for travel rebooked by June 11.

JetBlue : affected cities include Daytona Beach, FL (DAB), Charleston, SC (CHS), Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL), Fort Myers, FL (RSW), Jacksonville, FL (JAX), Orlando, FL (MCO), Sarasota, FL (SRQ), Savannah, GA (SAV), Tampa, FL (TPA), West Palm Beach, FL (PBI). Travel alerts includes trips booked through June 7, with rebooked no change fee travel dates offered through June 12.

Spirit Airlines and United Airlines also have travel alerts posted for Tropical Storm Colin and updates may be posted for all these airlines later today.