Archive for Airlines

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.

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.

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

Frontier holiday disaster – summed up by

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.

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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Airline Arrival Performance Stats

Flightstats recently released a very interesting report around on-time airline arrival performance, and we thought we’d cover it for our readers in today’s blog. In the report, the stats on airline performance measured by on-time arrivals, are not only sliced and diced by market, but also by type of carrier (low-cost carrier versus major legacy airlines). Plus, there are some nifty infographics to boot, like this one, showing a red-yellow-green matrix rolling up the largest carriers’ on-time airline arrival performance.

On-time Airline Arrival Performance

On-time Airline Arrival Performance

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Airlines flying US-Cuba routes

Last year, I was able to make it to Cuba before the US eased travel restrictions and airlines flying US-Cuba routes started hitting the news. In today’s blog, I’m going to explore some of the ways you’ll be able to get to Cuba more easily from the US. US Airlines are all competing for some of the hottest routes out there right now, and consumers always win with airline competition (as explained here). Even though these are still charter flights (e.g. Visa restrictions apply), they will be open to the general public soon. Thanks to the guy sitting next to me on the Frontier flight I took from SNA to DEN last week for the blog idea!

Airlines flying US-Cuba routes - rolling out now!

Airlines flying US-Cuba routes

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PIT-PHX AA647 Flight Review

David MitchellToday’s AA647 Flight Review blog is written by David Mitchell, fellow #avgeek, Thunderbird, and travelphile. David is passionate about traveling and exploring as much of the world as possible for as cheaply as possible.  He has traveled to over 40 countries spanning 4 continents and has lived in 3 countries and worked in 2 countries.  He employs frequent flier miles and cheap fares to fly him all over the world.  Recently, he has been working on using credit card bonuses to help him travel in luxury.

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Competition in Aviation

A few weeks Hopper posted an interesting article about route competition in aviation, and specifically about what happens when a Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) enters into a market.

The article starts out talking about the glory days of old, when savvy route-scourers could occasionally find super-cheap flights to desirable places (like a transatlantic flight to Europe), elevating these travelers to guru status among their friend circle.

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2015 Thanksgiving Travel

Thanksgiving 2015 - courtesy of Presidential Aviation

Thanksgiving 2015 – courtesy of Presidential Aviation

It’s that time of year again in North America when we get ready to loosen our waistbands and over-indulge on turkey, fix-ins, and pumpkin pie – that is if the Thanksgiving travel rush doesn’t get the better of our well-laid plans. According to Orbitz, 61% of Americans say they will travel for Thanksgiving, a 6% increase over last year.

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The Battle At Dallas Love Field Heats Up

For those of you that have flown into Dallas on Southwest, you have flown through Dallas Love Field. If you need to get to downtown Dallas, Love field is much preferred as it is closer than DFW. Love Field has a brand new terminal that has received much praise and year to date the passenger traffic is up 50%. The growth, however, has not come without it’s fair share of issues. It is evident that people prefer to fly into Love Filed for the proximity to the Dallas but with a massive increase in passenger numbers, will the airport be able to handle the capacity and keep the airlines happy? Read more

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