Tag Archives: Airline Travel

Norwegian Airlines Steals the Show

On my travels back from London, I was stranded without a flight and so I went looking for the best deal in business class from London to Boston non-stop. That’s when I discovered Norwegian Airlines. At $650 one-way, their business class competes very well against the main carriers in terms of price (approximately 75% cheaper). However, would it really be 25% of the experience then? It was worth taking the risk and anyhow I had heard so many interesting things about Norwegian that I knew I had to try it.

Norwegian is the third largest transporter of passengers in the low-cost sector of the European airline business. It sits behind Ryanair and EasyJet. They run around 30 million passengers per year and they started their long-haul operation in 2013. Unlike WOW Airlines, who also have incredibly inexpensive fares, Norwegian provides a business class experience for travelers that would like to pay slightly more.

Norwegian operates out of London Gatwick Airport. Getting there involves an easy train link from Victoria Station to Gatwick directly. The train service is great, is relatively inexpensive, runs every 15 minutes, and takes about 30 minutes to get there. Norwegian operates out of the South Terminal which in actual fact is the first airline you encounter as you come out of the train station. Thus, there is no need to take another train transit to the North Terminal. You are straight in and straight out. Incidentally, security lines at Gatwick, at least in the South Terminal, are fantastic compared to those at Heathrow. There is virtually no wait time and it’s highly efficient. Norwegian even has a lounge right in the extensive shopping area. Although I only could spend 10 minutes there, it was satisfactory.

So, how was the flying experience?

London to Boston is around a 7.5 hour flight and the Boeing Dreamliner is used exclusively on this route. I love that plane. In economy, all of the seats looked fine with enough leg room. In business, I had a ton of leg room although the seats did not go back into a full bed. However, for a day flight, I would never usually use that feature anyway. The seats were a little light on padding but not a problem. The food was basic and came in a box but it was fine. When is airline food ever more than fine anyway? The service on board was fantastic and everyone had a great attitude. The entertainment center was decent as well. I always carry my own headsets on a plane and it was quite easy to find the plug to connect on this flight. That is something I can’t say about most other airlines I fly with.

How good was it? Well, on a scale of 1-10 based on $650, it was a 10. Would I take it again? For $650 you bet! I loved it!

Another Reason to Travel to Canada

I have been thinking a lot about Canada recently. We just opened our trips to Canada for school groups and it has already grown in extraordinary fashion. It seems as though Canada is on everybody’s “Places I’d like to Live” list. The healthcare is good, college is great and practically free, and there’s lots of open space. In addition, it has mountains for skiing on both the east and west coasts and a train service that connects the savvy traveler across the country with arguably one of the best rides in train travel that there is.

So, there’s more good news about Canada. The USA dollar is strong – about 25% more than a Canadian dollar – which also means that Air Canada has started to become an interesting player for international travelers. Air Canada has strengthened its Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver hubs, and have made it easier for USA passengers to transit through. As everybody knows, when you pass through Canada on the way to the USA, then you clear customs in Canada. Given the state of the lines at immigration here in the USA, that is a massive boost so as a connect destination it’s a player.

What else does Air Canada have to offer? In addition to the good service and cheaper prices, since every single air trip that travels between the USA and Europe or Asia has to pass over Canada anyway, the transoceanic part of the journey is cut down. The fleet that Air Canada uses has been refreshed with new Boeing 787s and 777s and it has lie-flat business class seats on every long-haul flight. Consumers are giving them the thumbs up by flying them. Increased passengers gives Air Canada the leverage to open up more flights and more access points into the USA.

So, I guess it’s not just the healthcare, the fabulous education, and the quality of life. In addition, it’s about a transoceanic experience that just got better.

When Your Bag Never Arrives

Word on the street is that airline technology is moving in so that you can track your bag through messaging on your phone. That means that you don’t have to wait for half an hour at a baggage carousel when the airline already knows that your bag is not going to show. A simple alert, and you can head straight to baggage information.

But airlines are moving beyond this and want to eliminate that mess. You know, selecting what your bag looks like on an identity kit picture and filling out a silly form that is filed away (FYI: never lose your bag at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport!). So, this is an improvement. However, airlines get a whopping $4 billion per year in baggage fees. This is another way for them to give you false statistics. If you do not fill out the form and they inform you your bag is missing, you can alert them on where you would like to receive your bag. That means that your bag is not lost or missing but is simply “arriving for your convenience at your home address.” So they look a little more efficient than they are. They still charge you for the baggage fee. All they have done is change the goal post, make our lives a little better, and make themselves look fabulous.

I for one am all for avoiding the dreaded line at baggage services. That’s at least a two-hour killer right there. Frankly, the only reason that you should ever check your bag is if you’re skiing or emigrating.

Flight Delays: A Lesson in Patience

While stuck at LaGuardia for 7 hours due to a delay,  I was reminded about the issues facing our teachers who are travelling with their large groups and encounter a situation similar to the one that I encountered.  Let’s face it – in travel, stuff happens, and weather, equipment problems, and any host of other issues can cause delays to occurs.  It’s one thing for a single traveler to have to deal with a delay, and that in itself can be a bit of a nightmare.  Tempers get frayed and the best plans get ruined under the best of circumstances, when flights are delayed for only a couple of hours.  But now add 30 people and group travel to the mix and you have a whole different ball game going on.

First, most of us who travel regularly, tend not to check our bags.  That is a huge advantage when you are faced with a delay because you can move around easier and abandon ship quickly without having to wait for your bags to be retrieved.  But mostly everyone travelling with a group has checked their bag so there’s no flexibility.  Furthermore, everyone travelling with a group is super time-sensitive about their scheduled itinerary.  There are excursions, dinners, a tour guide, you name it, everything is synchronized around an arrival and a departure date.  If you change one day, you cause a ripple effect that sometimes is tough to recover.  Three days in Paris is not easily tradeable. There are trains and timed entrances that hang on these itineraries. One day off can throw a whole year of planning out the window.  All of the meetings that have taken place to prep the groups, prepare the parents, and then all of a sudden, a weather delay can throw off the entire itinerary.

It’s so important to have a service-oriented organization that is ready to make adjustments quickly and do everything to make this better.  At ACIS, that’s what we try to do.  Make it better, accommodate requests, shift itineraries around, stay in constant touch with teachers at airports, and try to intervene and assist in guiding airline representatives as they attempt to sort out the mess.  The amount of emails flying around here during a delayed flight is astonishing.  Bottom line, everyone is trying to help and trying to get our clients to their end destination as efficiently as possible without skipping a beat.

It is not always easy and not always seen as such.  That’s the tough thing about delays and cancellations.  From our point of view, we try to think for the airline, look at options, and beat the crowds that have already formed at the gate as delays and inevitable cancellations start to cause havoc.  Just being able to see things that the rest of the delayed passengers can’t see, gives our ACIS passengers a key advantage.  Our air team is always looking to resolve this stuff ahead of the airlines.  If we can think for the airlines and come up with solid suggestions, we can beat the crowds.  That’s what we want to do.  Tour managers at the other end are busy accommodating these changes as well. They are trying to figure out how to synch the late arriving group with an itinerary that doesn’t quite look like it did.  We also ask airlines to accommodate groups, if they have the flexibility, by extending a day wherever possible.  Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t if there just isn’t the space on the return journey to accommodate.  Plus sometimes groups do not have the flexibility to add an extra day.  We add stuff to itineraries and redress the things that have been missed.  We want to get this trip of a lifetime back on track.  Usually, we succeed.  The most important part in all of this is the group leader.  They set the tone.  They are the leader.  More often than not, that is the difference between winning and losing.

5 Ways to Make Sure Your Flight Goes and That You’re on it

So what do you do when the forces of nature or mechanical problems cause a cancellation? Get rebooked ASAP because more often than not it’s first-come, first-served.  I misconnected on a flight from Geneva to London recently and eventually when I arrived at Heathrow it seemed that the whole world had suffered delays. The lines were unspeakably long; airline staff was pushed to the limits and I knew it would take me more hours than I had to connect to a flight that would get me back to Boston. This is where it pays to do the unconventional – don’t follow the crowds! Think quickly.  I went out through passport control, pretended I was arriving in London, went immediately up to departures, (pleasantly queue-free) and checked my options there. It worked!

In these days of trending away from travel agents and into DIY travel, you leave yourself exposed to the long lines that are choking your options, and the not-so-friendly folks who are overloaded too.  Does this sound terrible? Well, not really because it doesn’t happen as much as you think. But when it does happen and you’re stuck in this vortex of panic – be aware and be ahead of the game. Firstly, get to the front of queue as fast as possible.  If you have a responsive travel agency (like ACIS!) that booked your flights, contact them immediately – they can see things and evaluate a whole ton of options that will take you hours to figure out. Be alert and notice the signs of a potentially cancelled flight: delay, upon delay, upon delay, with very little explanation. And probably the hardest part for most people – you have to walk the fine line of being pushy, without being a pain. Airline personnel are invariably nicer to the nice people who understand what they’re going through as well. Get nasty and they’ll get nasty too.

Fun facts that would be nice in a carefree and no money limits world.

  1. Fly Internationally – these planes are huge and expensive to cancel.
  2. Don’t fly across the street – regional flights are 3x as likely to be cancelled than larger planes.  And they suck. There’s no room for bags and if you thought the drinks tray was scant on a big plane, you gotta check out the scene on one of these babies. And let’s face it, when those planes change direction it’s not subtle.
  3. Be important – seriously. No one is going to cancel Brad Pitt’s plane, assuming he doesn’t have his own. If you’re not important, look important.
  4. Borrow a kid – families get priorities on rebooking. Traveling solo? Saddle up next to a family of 5 and strike up a conversation. It helps if it’s Brad Pitt’s family.
  5. Avoid high season – flights are packed so if yours gets cancelled, good luck squeezing onto another one; winter travel is easier to rebook than summer travel so chances are you’ll be re-booked faster in the winter than in the summer when the airlines have less capacity to play with. Sure, it might mean a ski holiday or a freezing fortnight in Europe rather than a balmy Paris in July holiday, but these are the cards we are dealt!

Forget the list and take your chances – Imagine a world without delays, without mechanicals and with lovely weather. May the force be with you. The stats are.

Jet Blue

Got Jet Blues?

Got Jet Blues? According to all those Jet Blue junkies, Jet Blue is heading down the corporate greed path. They’ve taken their biggest single value proposition,” more legroom,” and shrunk it – and all because they want to make more money. Shame on them! Imagine an airline looking for ways to make more money, surely not! Oh hang on, most airlines make no money at all and usually the way to try to break even or make a little bit is to scrimp on practically everything. So what is Jet Blue doing that is so horrid to the Jet Blue faithful? It’s charging for luggage and it’s shrinking its seat pitch from 34.7 inches to 33.1 inches. In other words, it’s decided to take the money that’s currently being left on the table.

I know that Southwest let’s your luggage travel free, but JetBlue offers Direct TV and free Wifi! Plus Jet Blue offers Mint, a premium service for not much more money, that connects the East and West Coasts. Look at this way, I doubt they’re headed the way of Ryan Air, where you practically have to pay to go to the toilet.

So Jet Blue’s introducing new slimline seats that are two inches thinner. All of this means that the magic tube we sit in will give them an increased dollar yield, make it a little less comfortable, but still, and this is the sad news folks, they lead the way in seat pitch. By redesigning their seats and adding a few more, they still are not cramming and jamming the folks in. Most legacy carriers offer 31 inches on long-haul…yikes!

This is a great common sense move for Jet Blue; we want them to be a viable airline and make money. And they still lead the way in the two things that are important to most travelers – legroom and a smile. Below is what you can expect on the misery space level on the worst offenders for seat pitch in the business.

Virgin 32.6
American 31.8
United 31.8
US airways 31.8
Delta 31.3
Sprint 28.3
So if you want to save money, Sprint is the game – but you may have to buy some new knees at the end of the flight! And is that Virgin I see?