Leaving Doha

Wrapping up my six country three week trip, I was leaving Doha with a sense of personal and professional accomplishment. I had spent a few days in Canada, a few days in London (Windsor), and then 8 days touring the Arabian peninsula through British Airways, Oman Air, and Qatar Airways. I have already provided several #travelhacks if you happen to be flying through this part of the world. I also covered some #layovertips through Bahrain Airport and Muscat Airport here. For this blog, I wanted to spend some time on leaving Doha, and the journey back to DEN.

My journey home consisted of 4 legs on three different PNRs (3 segments). I know, I know, everyone tells me I’m crazy. But trust me, I had to do it this way due to the combination of a business and a personal trip and to complete certain inbound journeys for Gulf carriers that are Point of Commencement and file fares more cost competitively as round-trips. Here’s the synopsis on leaving Doha:

  • 915PM DOH-BAH: Although the flight was a quick 30 minute puddle jump, the next few hours were hard.

    Qatar Airways flight

    Qatar Airways flight

  • BAH Airport layover: I decided the best option for dinner at BAH airport was to pay the 10 BAH ($25 USD) to gain access to the Marhaba club that had food, drink, comfortable seating, chargers, and strong Wi-Fi, since I had a 4 hour layover in Bahrain. At the check-in desk to the club, I met a Saudi national that clung to me for the next 4 hours and wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried to do work and ignore him, but he kept striking up conversation. He was drinking a little, and nobody else in the club approved of him or of us sitting together for that matter. He wasn’t threatening or disrespectful, just a nuisance and a little too nosy, urging me to have children with just a little too much fervor considering I’m not even married. When we said goodbye, he promised to send me a gift as soon as I had my first child (who does that!?). This happens to me nearly every time I travel alone though, so it’s no big surprise. It’s always hard to just relax.
    Leaving Doha - and arriving in to the Marhaba lounge at BAH

    Leaving Doha – and arriving in to the Marhaba lounge at BAH

    The flight departing BAH again (on Qatar Airways) proved a wonderful view leaving Muharraq.

    Coming back in to BAH

  • 150AM BAH-LHR: The short flight from BAH-LHR, back on British Airways now, was easy. Luckily there was a Wi-Fi USB charger in the seat that allowed for continuous charging operations.This layover in LHR was also 4 hours, but luckily I slept 5 hours on the plane so I didn’t feel too bad. I was able to do work and blog after a minor hiccup as security where my liquids somehow turned up a questionable chemical (it turned out to be a false positive). I easily found a charging area, had a Starbucks, and powered through. LHR was a better airport than I remembered and the airport authority clearly had put some serious capital investments in place to improve it.
  • 1120AM LHR-YYZ: On this flight, I had a near SNAFU. The British Airways gate agent insisted that I check my carry-on (that incidentally was fine fitting in the overhead bins on the 8 other flights I took up to this point on this trip, 2 of them on British Airways). I told her that if I checked it, I would miss my flight to Denver. That bought no sympathy, and she tagged it anyways. Well, as she got distracted with something, and I walked it on to the jet-bridge, did not leave it plane-side as instructed, hid the tag, and walked right on to the plane, finding a spot in the overhead bin easily. Disaster averted. I followed Brice’s tactic of claiming ignorance in case I was called out.
  • 420PM YYZ-DEN: I had a 2 hour layover in YYZ why luckily did leave me enough time to check with Air Canada as well as the airport lost and found for the book I lost on the DEN-YYZ trip, go through immigration and security, and buy a smoothie :). This final leg on Air Canada turned out to be the first time I was really able to sleep, and caught some good z’s on a flight that otherwise didn’t have a lot of amenities nor even food service. I arrived in DEN and had already cleared US immigration in Toronto prior to boarding, did not have to wait for any checked bags, and caught a Lyft out of there in no time at all.

This harrowing finally journey home after leaving Doha had so many elements that could go wrong and derail the entire trip. Miraculously, everything executed to plan. And, it was a small price to pay for the amazing three weeks of this epic adventure through the Gulf, ending with a sparkling day in Doha.

Valentine’s 2017 – HMHost airport celebrations

HMSHostLove Chalkboard - Valentine's 2017

HMSHostLove Chalkboard – Valentine’s 2017

Will you be at an airport for this year’s upcoming Valentine’s 2017 and have some time to kill? If so, this is a great #layovertip for you.

HMSHost is one of the industry leaders in airport passenger experience innovation, and for this Valentine’s 2017 the company does not disappoint. You may have remembered our coverage of various HMSHost holiday celebrations, airport restaurant month, and other fun events throughout the year, and this Valentine’s 2017 celebration is in the same vein.

The fun actually has already started ahead of Valentine’s 2017, coming this Tuesday. HMSHost has been traveling across five US airports, asking passengers about the meaning of love to them. Besides in-person traveler interviews, passengers have been encouraged to share their thoughts on giant chalkboard installations. Passengers have also been encouraged to tweet their thoughts using hashtag #HMSHostLove.

The goal of the in-person interviews is to compile a video montage around thoughts of love, from the perspective of airport travelers. The video released just after Valentine’s 2017 to highlight travelers coming together to define what loves means to them. Here’s the video:

Which airports can you find the 7-foot tall, giant chalkboard installations and Valentine’s 2017 decor?

  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
  • Nashville International Airport
  • Orlando International Airport
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

What can you get if you leave a message on the board?

HMSHost is offering a dark chocolate bar and Valentine’s 2017 card, as well as a 15% off coupon at participating HMSHost restaurants.

Even if you don’t leave a message, you can still get a freebie by visiting an HMSHost restaurant and making a minimum purchase.

And of course, if you’re no flying through one of these five airports during Valentine’s 2017, you can still participate on Twitter with the #HMSHostLove hashtag.

See the HMSHost press release for more details and let us know if you see these pop-up installations at an airport near you!

Bahrain Airport, Oman Air, and Muscat Airport

Waiting it out at Bahrain Airport

Waiting it out at Bahrain Airport

I woke up semi-early for my vacation inclination so that I could make it to Bahrain Airport and then to Oman in time for a decent Muscat day tour with my guide. My flight from BAH-MCT was scheduled for 955AM but boarded about 45 minutes late due to a gate change, so I spent a little more time than necessary hanging around in the Bahrain Airport and using the free Wi-Fi to play Candy Crush and literally numb my mind.

Here’s a view of the airport – several options for coffee, but not enough nice, quiet sit-down places to work. It is nice seeing that many of the Gulf Peninsula airports have free Wi-Fi. My other critique of Bahrain Airport is that the only shopping options were Bahrain Duty Free – it could have done with some local shopping options and less fancy, traditional items.

I boarded my very first Oman Air flight without the gate agent even making an announcement (boarding just magically started, so it was a good thing I noticed the gate change!). To be fair, I think the airport did make an announcement about the gate change.

The Oman Air flights wasn’t a very pleasant experience. Eveb though it was just a short 1 hour flight, two young boys without an adult were seating in the middle and aisle seat next to me. Their parents were sitting on the other aisle grappling with 2 other small children and paid no attention at all to my side of the aisle. As usually the woman was overwhelmed and the man was doing nothing, chilling by the window on the other side oblivious to the chaos. I basically had to instruct the boys to sit still and put their seat-belts on and “be the adult”. Hate that shit. They were actually fairly well behaved for being totally on their own, but still kids obviously that did kid things.

The food on-board was awful – granted I wasn’t expecting anything at all for such a short flight, but pretzels, packaged, dry bread-sticks, mango chutney, and a package of date sticks (this was the best part) were pretty useless for a lunch. Oman Air also handed out apple juice and water.

The best part of the flight and the experience at Bahrain Airport was the view when were were descending in to Oman (and possibly Saudi Arabia?). You could see the mountains clearly and the city of Muscat (with a large sprawl) eventually emerged. My tour guide later said that about 1 million people lived in the capital (4 million total in Oman).

Oman Air flight

Oman Air flight

Immigration was a little confusing because we had to stand in line at the currency exchange to get the visa (using a $20 bill, where a Visa was issued and some random Omani Reali change). Luckily I was nearly first in line getting off the bus that had to take us from the airplane to the airport (the new airport was still under construction), adding about 30 extra minutes of transfer to our arrival in Muscat.

While I was waiting in line, I checked out the free Wi-Fi I had previously heard about. Tip for travelers (#traveltip) – Muscat Airport Wi-Fi requires an active SMS account, so unfortunately I was thwarted there as I needed SMS to get Wi-Fi and had purposely been traveling on Wi-Fi only on my Samsung Galaxy 7 to avoid data and text charges.

So I did eventually figure out how to hack the SMS Wi-Fi coupling conundrum on my next visit to Muscat Airport while headed to Salalah – you can simply stop by the information desk located near Duty Free in the central terminal area and get a code from the desk for two hours of free internet. Still, a bit silly and cumbersome, and also the lady at the desk was pretty annoyed to have to do this continually.

After obtaining the visa, I easily made it through immigration. With no bags to wait for, I was able to walk right out after perfunctory luggage scan (that nobody even looked at) before exiting the International Arrivals hall. My guide, Sulemain, from Majan Views tour company, was waiting for me with a sign in hand and we were ready to go start our Muscat day tour.

Arabian Peninsula travelhack

On a whirlwind trip spanning 5 countries and 3 weeks, late-night Jan 25 I finally found executing my perfectly designed Arabian Peninsula travelhack. After 10 days split between Toronto, Canada and Windsor (Langley), UK for work, I finally began my next 10 days of vacation – which I would split between Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar – and do so on a modest airfare budget of $460 whilst combining it with some business trips. Read on for my Arabian Peninsula travelhack.

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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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