Frontier holiday disaster

Prior to the Christmas holiday, the Frontier holiday disaster impacted travelers across 10+ airports due to flight cancellations and delays. I was also one of those impacted travelers, trying to get to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with my parents. And yes, it was really that bad. Check out this article by Westword explaining the frustration and impact to customers traveling out of DEN.

You can also see the disproportionality of Frontier flights being cancelled or delayed over the past week (Dec 22 – 29) as compared to other, larger airlines (notable exception was SkyWest Airlines). You can also see how poorly DEN performed (which possibly could share some of the blame being hoisted upon Frontier). While all airlines at DEN experienced some issues over the weekend of Dec 17/18 due to the snowstorm, most were back to normal operations by Sunday evening.

Airline performance over last 7 days

Airline performance over last 7 days according to Flightstats

Here’s a timeline of the Frontier holiday disaster, starting on 14 December with this Facebook post highlighting the delays due to weather.

  • Dec 15 – Weather delays throughout Midwest due to Winter Storm Decima. Frontier broadcast this on Facebook:
    Frontier holiday disaster

    Frontier holiday disaster timeline

  • Dec 16 – Frontier again issues a Facebook post further commenting about Winter Storm Decima and how delays and cancellations are piling up, and there will also be a delay in customer service (via phone and at the airport).
  • Dec 17/18 – No social media update on Facebook related to the storm, but 70% of Frontier flights experienced some kind of delay over the weekend. Incidentally a smattering of other time-inappropriate Facebook posts about new destinations, sales, and low-fares amidst the operational chaos did notably appear.
  • Dec 19 – this post was issued on Facebook: “We made several tough decisions to cancel and delay flights, and we understand this is a big inconvenience to our customers.” By the end of the day, 275 Frontier flights nationwide were cancelled and it completed about 65%, according to the Denver Post. By the afternoon, 40% of non-DEN luggage connecting in DEN were still not being re-routed properly through the system.
  • Dec 22: By the time my flight came around, the delays and cancellations were more under control but still not gone. On Thursday  I had a ticket for Frontier flight 415 from DEN to LAX, scheduled to depart at 440PM. I got to the airport around 2PM only to learn within minutes of arriving that the flight was delayed 6 hours. Frontier did not tell me this early enough to do anything about it and stay at home. So, my ride picked me up again and then dropped me off once more 5 hours later. In actuality, the flight didn’t take-off until about 1149PM, arriving at 1259AM. Annoyingly, not only was the flight super late in boarding, but then we actually sat on the runway for 24 minutes before getting clearage to leave (might have been a DEN airport issue, admittedly). This Frontier holiday disaster actually caused me to miss my own birthday dinner with my parents in Los Angeles 🙁
Reasons for the Frontier holiday disaster
  • Frontier too reliant on the DEN hub. Around 65 Frontier flights take off from DEN daily, making it Frontier’s largest airport. This manifests itself not only in market distribution (Frontier route saturation) but also in operational elements all overly reliant on Denver as a key hub. Frontier flies about 60 flights from DEN, where its largest crew contingency is based. According to the Denver Post, 650 pilots are Denver-based, three times as large as in Orlando and Chicago. 750 flight attendants are based in Denver, which is a little less than double the number in Orlando and Chicago.
  • Operational issues. Besides the baggage handling and routing issues mentioned above, the Frontier holiday disaster was  a comedy of operational errors. According to Capt. Brian Ketchum, who is chair of the Air Line Pilots Associated (ALPA) Frontier Airlines Master Executive Council:

    This most recent meltdown by Frontier Airlines is due to the same executive mismanagement and misplaced focus on cost-cutting that has placed Frontier near the very bottom of the industry in operational performance and customer satisfaction.

    This manifested itself also in the lack of functional (and not overly-DEN reliant) contingency and risk plans in place to stem the tide of cancellations and delays. One such example is the cascading effect that one poorly timed cancellation or delay can ripple through the entire scheduling system. The plane can be available but not have a crew due to crew members “timing out” (reaching the limit of the amount of time they can fly uninterrupted), or the crew being unable to reach the departing airport of the flight they are going to work because their flight in to that airport was cancelled. (Example: DEN to LAS is cancelled, causing Denver-based flight attendants not being able to work the LAS-CLE flight). These scheduling issues seem to run rampant at Frontier. Rather than stem the tide and pre-cancel flights to ease the bottleneck, Frontier sat on its hands and watched the disaster play out.

  • Staffing issues. To handle the Frontier holiday disaster, the airline brought in extra staff and recruited many non-airport Frontier employees to give up their time-off and work overtime to help sort and deliver bags. Frontier’s focus on bare bones service and poor customer service reputation clearly helps the carrier keep costs down. But, does it lead to employees wanting to go above and beyond when they feel over-worked and under-appreciated? Probably not. There were even rumors of a strike or walk-out taking place during this stressful time for employees.
  • Lack of empowered customer service agents. Customer service agents on the phone have no power to do anything to ameliorate or compensate a travel, and the airport agents are barely better off. The call centers were overwhelmed due to the cascading effect of the recent Frontier holiday disaster and wait times to reach a customer service agent at the airport exceeding several hours in some cases. By the end of Dec 19 alone, Frontier customer service agents received 1,800 emails and approximately 16,000 calls (not to mention the angry tweets). Also, poor training and lack of uniform procedure has also been cited as a reason for customer service related issues.

Traveler frustration over the Frontier holiday disaster was running high. Here’s a tag cloud representing passenger sentiment put together by @area51testpilot:

Frontier holiday disaster - summed up by https://twitter.com/Area51TestPilot

Frontier holiday disaster – summed up by https://twitter.com/Area51TestPilot

As one of those frustrated travelers caught up in the delay maelstrom, I can certainly empathize. However, for an $84.20 round-trip itinerary, it’s hard to complain too much. As is also the case with these no-frills, customer service limited Low Cost Carriers (LCCs), you pay for what you get. So there should never really be the expectation of helpful customer service, but I do think Frontier should still be required to honor the terms of their product – which is essentially to get me from point A to point B at a specific time. That’s the “business contract” I paid for, and I would expect any reputable business that wants to stay in business to deliver on that promise.

Frontier did not do that, nor did they have customer service agents empowered to compensate me or mitigate these circumstances at all. To date, after talking to phone customer service, customer service at the airport, and the gate agent (all of whom were able to absolutely nothing and explained that I would automatically receive an email with compensation after the flight departed), the best I was able to do is a $100 voucher. This seems to totally vary by experience, level of complaint, and social clout. I may try a renewed bout of customer service complaining when I’m at the airport for my return flight.

If you’re wondering what to expect from Frontier in terms of compensation and passengers rights, read this blog by airfarewatchdog. This statement from Frontier spokesman Richard Oliver pretty much sums it up:

Weather-related delays do not require compensation or rooms overnight. The same would apply with any other airline. When it is weather-related, we are not required, nor is it in the contract, to provide food.

Christmas travel update 2016

This week’s blog is a Christmas travel update for you to prepare for your holiday season flights and airport experiences. That includes information about when to book your flight (if you’ve already waited until the last minute) and also which days will be the busiest this year. Cheapair has done a nice job rolling up some of these statistics here as well. Read more

Holiday airport celebrations

There are a number of things to look forward to travel-wise this holiday season, holiday airport celebrations being one of them. This blog takes a look at what airlines and airports are cooking up to spread some holiday cheer in the coming weeks ahead.

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Airline luggage tracking goes viral

One of the recent trends in the travel industry has quite possibly been an over-zealousness is investing in airline luggage tracking solutions. This trend has been a long time in the making, and we think there’s finally been an inflection point in the adoption curve leading to widespread implementations globally of new and innovative airline luggage tracking technology.

A potential reason as to why now is the time for airlines to begin widespread adoption of airline luggage tracking technology is due to the advances of the necessary and difficult precursor technology of self-service check-in. Automating the check-in and bag drop process is the first step in a long line of foundational advances necessary for comprehensive airline luggage tracking processes. Finally airports and airlines have adopted automated self-service check-in and bag drop counters in earnest, being the harbinger to a wave of technological and process transformation around the entire luggage management experience (both customer facing and internal to airports and airlines).

For example, Adelaide Airport recently has pledged to install new SITA self-service check-in and back drop kiosks. One of the reasons this is becoming easier for airlines is due to the standardization and growth of product offerings  by 3rd parties in the domain. SITA offers a product called AirportPulse, which is an airport operations technology, AirportPulse, that the Adelaide Airport has recently adopted. AirportPulse includes a business intelligence portal that offers end-to-end airport visibility at strategic and operational levels. According to Marisa Garcia (aka @designerjet), “It gathers data from all common-use infrastructure to analyze, report and benchmark passenger movements, and reports on relevant activities to help the airport better manage shared resources.” Technologies like these are necessary to lay a networked foundation of sensors, networks, analytics, and reporting that can work in tandem. Think internet of things for airports.

And the next frontier has shown to be airline luggage tracking. If you recall tripchi accurately predicted in early 2014 the need for this technology and the relative ease of implementation (if an airport or airline was willing to make the investment). We even participated in a hackathon to create a smart beacon solution called FlyBeacon for airlines to adopt.

Fly Beacon Pitch at Mash Hacks Hackathon in Cambridge

Airline luggage tracking solutions go viral: Fly Beacon Pitch at Mash Hacks Hackathon

Companies like SITA has developers software suites like BagJourney that includes airline luggage tracking status updates vian API, delivered to many data clients like smartphone and tablet apps used by operations staff and consumers alike. Add in to the mix cheap and smart bag tags using RFID and it’s a match made in heaven. And it’s finally taking off.

Just doing a quick Google search for airline luggage tracking reveals that the tops airlines have already made investments in this technology, and making the information available to customers via their websites:

  • United. Here’s an example of what the online tracking application looks like:
    United - Airline luggage tracking

    United – Airline luggage tracking

  • Delta. Delta has again gone one step above its competitors as RFID will replace bar-code manual scanning as mentioned above. It handles 120 million bags annually, and this solution will ensure that the bags are tracked at a 99.9% success rate. You can read more about Delta’s airline luggage tracking solution here.
  • American also offers a similar online tracking solution as United.

We can’t wait to see what the future of technology offers airlines and airports alike to leapfrog the passenger and internal operations experience ahead. Keep an eye out this holiday season for new airline luggage tracking systems rolling out at an airport near you.

Worst airlines for Thanksgiving travel

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we wanted to give you some insight around the worst airlines for Thanksgiving travel, as well as the worst airports. This is a follow-on to the Thanksgiving travel wrap we gave last week as part of our newsletter.

We found some great data around both worst airports and worst airlines for Thanksgiving travel to share. Let’s start with the airlines. Read more

Thanksgiving travel 2016 – tripchi newsletter

Thanksgiving travel 2016 – November edition

It’s apparently November but nobody told that to Mother Nature, who is still treating us like it’s the end of summer (at least from our vantage point in Colorado). With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away and Christmas right around the corner, the busy holiday travel season is upon us. Have you booked your flights for Thanksgiving travel 2016?

If you haven’t, don’t – you might as well wait until the last minute at this point. The busiest travel days this year will be the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving, as well as the Wednesday before. The lightest day will be Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, so consider flying in that morning, especially if you still haven’t gotten your Thanksgiving travel 2016 flights.

In fact, the tipping point for finding cheap Thanksgiving travel 2016 flights has already passed. According to CheapOair – “Most searches will be done on the 11th and 12th, but most people will commit on the 13th.” Combined with the fact that airlines evaluate inventory with an eye towards lowering fares 10-14 days in advance, the 13th becomes a critical day. Aw, shucks.

On the demand side, airlines are expecting a 2.5% increase in Thanksgiving travel 2016 passenger traffic. To account for this on the supply side, airlines are taking measures to up capacity and the number of flights to meet this increase in demand. Sources say that airlines are, on average, adding 74,000 seats each day during the Thanksgiving travel 2016 period. It”s anticipated that more than 27.3 million travelers (a Thanksgiving travel record) will fly U.S. airlines worldwide from 18-29 November this year. This figure is up 2.5 from last year. Adding 55,000 daily passengers as compared to last year, airlines expect to be carrying 2.27 million travelers on average daily. This anticipated increase is below the purportedly additional 74,000 airline seats per day. So, while Thanksgiving travel 2016 will be, and continues to be, a nightmare, at least you will be able to get where you need to go with the added capacity.

And, you’ll be able to do it in a cost effective way this year. The average cost of a Thanksgiving travel 2016 round-trip flight this year is $409, following a historic 9.6% decline in fares earlier in the year. We covered this as part of our fare wars blog a while back.

Thanksgiving travel 2016 is not the busiest day of the year for air travel

Thanksgiving travel 2016 is not the busiest day of the year for air travel

Another interesting and lesser known fact is that the Thanksgiving travel rush isn’t even the busiest day for air travel in the year. Contrary to popular belief, the busiest travel day of the year is not actually the Wednesday before Thanksgiving – it’s actually August 7 (at least in 2015). But, the Sunday after Thanksgiving does come in at number 2, according to Quartz.com. In general, the July-August is busier than November-December.

As you’re going through your Thanksgiving travel 2016 journey, keep the tripchi airport app in mind. If you’re looking for a #layovertip or dining or shopping options during that long(er) layover, of course you can bring up the tripchi airport app and find a listing of what’s around you based on your flight time and the Concourse you’re leaving from. If you’re passing through any of the airports we cover, we’d love to get your feedback! Find these tips and more on the tripchi airport app.

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Airport food trucks and mobile dining

Foodies of all shapes and sizes will enjoy this week’s tripchi airport app blog on airport food trucks and other forms of airport mobile dining. Spurred to research this topic by the recent HMS Host Press Release on airport food trucks, we’ll take a look at the best airport dining options that are in a mobile format.

Airport food trucks - courtesy of HMS Host

Airport food trucks – courtesy of HMS Host

The food truck craze that swept North America in the last 10 years is also now taking hold in the aviation industry. Thanks to forward thinking airport restaurateurs like HMS Host, property management companies, and airport authorities too, an airport dining revolution is taking place right in front of our eyes.

The HMS Host press release highlighted why airport food trucks/mobile dining ventures are attractive to the airport restaurateur. The logic goes like this: if an airport restaurateur can distribute airport food trucks strategically throughout all gates, and not just in the concourse hub/mall areas, more people will find accessible food options and spend more money. The other attractive selling point to the business owner is the ability to be mobile and move from gate to gate, possible as flights arrive and people get off the plane feeling hungry (this idea of course may not be approved by the airport authority and therefore may not be viable).

Besides just the obvious short-term profit-driven reasons why airport food trucks are a good idea, companies like HMS Host also see these channels of food delivery the key to a broader innovation strategy. For HMS Host, that includes mobile app integration with Grab and Kallpod, including airport delivery services. Kudos to Grab to doing what tripchi could not do (point of sale integration).

As such, HMS Host has been on the forefront of innovation around the concept of airport food trucks. In fact, the company recently launched several airport food trucks and carts.

  • E Komo Mai Wagon at Honolulu International Airport
  • Wiki Wiki Wagon at Maui International Airport

Both of these mobile dining options offer locally oriented specialties fused nicely with global tastes. You can check out some Hawaiian BBQ chicken tacos with crunchy slaw as well as other tasty snacks.

Wiki Wiki HNL - airport food trucks example - courtesy of HMS Host

Wiki Wiki HNL – airport food trucks example – courtesy of HMS Host

Here’s a few more airport food trucks that we like:

  • Chicago O’Hare’s Mobile Ala Cart
  • Memphis International Airport’s Food Cycle. This option is mobile to the extreme because it actually delivers food to travelers at their gates.
  • Tampa International Airport’s food truck initiative in the cell-phone waiting lot. This airport program started in 2012, and the schedule for which airport food trucks will be by when are located on the Tampa airport Facebook page.
  •  San Francisco International Airport’s allows three airport food trucks outside of Terminal 1 every Thursday. Don’t forget that tripchi covers SFO in the tripchi airport app.
  • Long Beach Airport’s “Truck’n Tuesday” has a different group of airport food trucks every week.
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport’s daily food cart serves hots dogs and bratwurst.
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport’s Twist of Spice food trailer has been serving wraps, paninis and Mexican food in the cellphone lot since 2013. tripchi covers SFO in the tripchi airport app.

Some airport officials at SFO commented that they only make $300/month with an airport food trucks operation, and that the primary driver to airport food truck introduction was to improve the passenger experience. Whatever the motive, profit #paxex improvement, tripchi is glad this trend is taking airports by storm. Someday soon, airport delivery services will be ubiquitous – airport food trucks are the first step towards that inevitability.

Airport Halloween 2016 Spooktacular

This week’s blog takes a look at the celebrations across the world focused on making the airport Halloween 2016 experience one to remember.

First of all, it’s not only airports that get in to the spooky spirit this time of year – airlines like to celebrate as well with discounts, scary updates to their websites, and often unique airport Halloween 2016 passenger experiences. For example, Scoot Airlines, one of the Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) in Asia, is running a 50% off promotion Just enter the discount code “SCARY” when you checkout on their website.

Scoot gets in the Airport Halloween 2016 spirit

Scoot gets in the Airport Halloween 2016 spirit

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Traveling Around Brazil

CJ Traveling Around Brazil - in the plane

CJ Traveling Around Brazil – in the plane

I spent the last two weeks traveling around Brazil, and I thought it would be fun to roll up my journey as well as some travel hacks I observed while there. You might have already seen my blog on flying to Rio on the Dreamliner, but did you check out what happened next?

Here’s the road-map of my least epic adventure traveling around Brazil:

  1. Oct 15-16: Exploring Santa Teresa – Day 1 – read it here
  2. Oct 16-17: Rio in 2 Days – Ipanema, Corcovado, and Sugar Loaf – read it here
  3. Oct 17-20: Iguazu Falls – 3 Days in Paradise – read it here
  4. Oct 18: Paraguay from Brazil via Iguaçu – read it here
  5. Oct 19: Iguaçu National Park in Brazil – read it here
  6. Oct 20-21: Sao Paulo in a Day – #layovertips – read it here
  7. Oct 21-22: Manaus daytripping in Brazil – read it here
  8. Oct 22: Amazonian adventure – read it here
  9. Oct 23: Amazon Gero Tours – Into the Jungle – read it here
  10. Oct 24: Off the grid in the Amazon – read it here

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Flying to Rio on the Dreamliner

Recently, I decided to take a spur of the moment trip to Brazil with some friends and got to do so flying to Rio on the Dreamliner.

Here was my itinerary for Friday, October 7th (2016):

  • DEN-IAH 310PM-626PM UA1874 (787 Dreamliner)
  • IAH-GIG 930PM-925AM UA129 (flying to Rio on the Dreamliner)

My visa and passport came via FedEx overnight from Travisa the morning of October 7th, just in time to make my 310PM flight out of DEN so that I’d be flying to Rio on the Dreamliner. See more about that Visa process here.

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