The idea has been discussed for years by travelers who’ve spent one too many flights listening to wailing children or enduring the pitter patter of little feet slamming into their seatbacks — and now it’s going to become a reality. Malaysia Airlines will institute a child-free section on its flights between London and Kuala Lumpur, starting in July.
CNN reports that families with kids under 12 will automatically be assigned to the family-friendly lower deck of economy class aboard the airline’s A380 planes, while the 70-seat upper deck will remain kid-free (unless there are so many families that the lower deck fills up). The lower deck seats 350 passengers.
This move follows the airline’s decision last year to bar infants from first class on its 747-400 routes.
Many parents will likely be upset by Malaysia Airlines’ policies, but I actually think the carrier has found a solid compromise. The double-decker planes allow families to have access to the larger main cabin, while those of us who’d rather travel with grown-ups only have a little nook of our own — a quiet car, if you will. (Of course, there’s no guarantee that adults on a flight will actually behave like grown-ups!)
Whether Malaysia Airlines will be copied by other carriers remains to be seen. Personally, I doubt that the idea will gain mainstream acceptance. As an Air Transport Association spokesman explains in The Hue and Cry Over Babies Onboard, “This is an industry that’s working very hard to return to profitability. No way is any airline going to discourage someone from taking one flight over another. I just can’t see that happening.”
Want to pack anything more than a laptop and a change of underwear on your next flight? You’d better pony up. As of tomorrow, low-cost carrier Allegiant Air will join Spirit Airlines in charging a fee not only for checked bags but also for any carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of you, reports MSNBC.com.
If you want your carry-on in the overhead bin, you’ll have to shell out $35 at the airport — or $10 – $30 (depending on your itinerary) if you pay online in advance. The charges will not apply to passengers who booked their flights before the new rules were instituted. If you check a bag instead, the cost ranges from $14.99 to $35, depending on where you’re traveling and whether you pay online or at the airport.
Spirit Airlines became the first carrier to charge for carry-on bags back in 2010 (which later inspired the design of a new suitcase to help travelers avoid the fees). For travelers like me who prefer to travel with a carry-on only, this is a frightening trend. Aviation consultant Robert Mann told MSNBC.com that he didn’t think these fees would spread to the major carriers: “No business-oriented airline would do this to customers with a laptop and valet bag — they would drive them right off the airplane.”
But I’m not convinced. If the airlines have a chance to make a few extra millions from yet another fee, why wouldn’t they? Let us know what you think.
Here at IndependentTraveler.com, we got through yesterday without slipping on any well-placed banana peels. (Whew.) But we did get a chuckle at some of the April Fool’s Day gags offered up by the airline industry this year.
Ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines extended its famous $9 fares to space travel with Spirit Galactic. Members of the carrier’s $9 Fare Club can enjoy ultra-cheap prices to the moon, but as always with Spirit, the devil’s in the details; additional “optional” fees include a million-dollar space suit and $1,200,000,000.99 for rocket fuel (“Hey, this stuff ain’t cheap”).
Skyscanner.net, an airfare search site, announced the launch of AirFair, a fare-free, “pay what you wish” airline that would allow passengers to give a donation based on what they think their flight was worth. “In order to ensure donations are sufficient to keep the airline profitable, AirFair has carried out extensive studies and plan[s] to offer flights only on routes most likely to generate high revenues,” reads the press release. “London City to St. Tropez, Monaco and Zurich are the first to be launched, whereas no flights to or from Scotland have been announced.” Zing!
Air New Zealand’s grabaseat.co.nz also trumpeted a splashy new product: Straight Up Fares, or standing-room-only tickets for full flights. Standing passengers, who can cling to hand straps dangling from the ceiling, will enjoy deep discounts “as consideration for the reduced inflight comfort, and the involuntary stranger-touching during turbulence,” according to the press release. For seniors who can’t easily reach the hand straps, says grabaseat manager Duane Perott, “We’ve modified a couple of Jolly Jumpers and hung them in the gap between the aft toilets. … We wanted to offer our elderly customers a solution with dignity, and I’m proud to say we’ve achieved that.”
On my last flight, the gate agent announced that anyone in boarding zone five with a roll-aboard carry-on should go ahead and bring it up to the desk to be gate checked, as there wouldn’t be enough overhead bin space for it on the plane. I wasn’t particularly surprised; it seems that every time I fly, the boarding process turns into a chaotic mess of passengers stumbling down the aisle with their hefty carry-ons, searching row after row for a precious sliver of overhead bin space. (And don’t even get me started on the de-boarding process, when all the people who stowed bags 10 rows behind their own have to fight their way against traffic to be reunited with their possessions.)
Fortunately, the airlines — who created this problem in the first place by imposing fees on checked baggage — are responding by making overhead bins larger. According to a report from the Associated Press, four U.S. airlines are planning or have already begun making changes to the overhead bins on select aircraft: American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways. These updates include more spacious bins as well as new bin doors with a more generous outward curve, allowing bags to be stowed wheels first rather than sideways.
Jet manufacturer Boeing is also tweaking the bin designs on its new planes to better accommodate standard roll-aboard bags.
On the one hand, it’s about time. Having effectively instituted penalties for checking bags, the airlines ought to be prepared to accommodate more carry-ons. On the other hand, if fliers know the bins are getting bigger, will they just bring more stuff? (According to the AP story, the airlines are going to be more vigilant about policing the size of carry-ons — so it may not be an issue.) Plus, the ballooning bins are just more dispiriting evidence of what we already knew: that those pesky baggage fees are definitely here to stay.
Hate gate checking your bag? Here’s how to prepare in case it happens to you: A Bag Inside a Bag.
No, that’s not a typo in the title. As America’s collective waistline expands, some airline passengers may be looking at even smaller seats on their flights. According to a report by TerminalU.com, airplane manufacturer Airbus may decrease the width of middle and window seats on its A320 aircraft models, which each offer two sections of three-abreast seating, separated by an aisle.
The move, which is still under consideration, would decrease each of the aforementioned seats by one inch (from 18 inches to 17) in favor of increasing each aisle seat by two inches (from 18 inches to 20). The larger seats would be designed to accommodate larger passengers — or merely those looking for more roomy flights. And, of course, airlines would have the option to charge extra for the “privilege.”
For years, we’ve been hearing horror stories of overweight passengers being booted from flights or forced to pay for two seats as per airline obesity policies. I’m glad the industry is taking a constructive look at the issue and presenting possible solutions, but I’m not convinced Airbus has arrived at the right one just yet.
Although an extra fee would likely be more affordable for larger folks than an entire second seat, there’s no word yet on how much airlines would charge for that extra fee. And, while this idea gives other fliers the option to choose more seat room, it also means that more passengers may find themselves needing — rather than wanting — to purchase for-fee seats as the size of a standard seat shrinks. I also wonder whether those sitting in regular seats would pay smaller fares since their seats are smaller — somehow, I doubt it.
And what about those who simply prefer sitting in the aisle? Some airlines already charge an extra fee for select aisle seats, and this would expand that unfortunate trend even further. Meanwhile, folks who prefer the window seat would have to sacrifice space to sit in their favorite spot.
I think someone needs to go back to the drawing board on this one. Perhaps this could be implemented for some rows but not all, or maybe some rows could include just two seats instead of three, essentially making each an entire half-seat larger.
What’s your take on Airbus’s idea — awesome or ill-advised? Sound off below.
Who doesn’t love a good awards show? Inspired by the Oscars this weekend, we’ve put together our own list of bests and worsts from the travel industry over the past year. The envelope, please…
Best Performance by an Airline
No, we’re not talking about on-time performance. We’re talking about music, dancing and having fun — and that prize goes to Finnair, for its toe-tapping Bollywood performance in honor of India’s Republic Day.
Worst Performance by a Leading Man
Two thumbs down for Alec Baldwin, who was booted off a plane for refusing to turn off his iPhone when the cabin crew requested that all portable electronic devices be shut down. His attitude that he was somehow too good to follow the same safety rules as the rest of us earned pans from many travelers.
In a sea of new hotels that opened in 2011, one stood — quite literally — above the rest. Hong Kong’s brand-new Ritz-Carlton is now the highest hotel in the world, reaching some 1,600 feet into the sky. Toast the view from the rooftop bar on the 118th floor.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Steve Jobs, who passed away in October, will always be remembered for innovations that changed the world — including the travel industry. As we wrote in Steve Jobs: A Traveler’s Tribute, “That awesome ATM finder or the currency conversion app you can’t globetrot without wouldn’t exist if Jobs hadn’t dreamed up the interface for it.”
Which awards would you give out to members of the travel world?
I never thought I’d say this, but maybe — just maybe — those extra baggage fees are worth it after all. According to a report by CNN, in 2011 the airline industry’s rate of lost luggage was the lowest it’s ever been. Last year also saw the lowest-ever incidence of passengers being involuntarily bumped from their scheduled flights.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, which has collected luggage data for 23 years and bumping data for 16, released last year’s stats for the nation’s airlines on Tuesday.
So what does this mean for air travelers? The quick and dirty is that, overall, airlines reported an on-time arrival rate of about 79.6 percent, just a smidge better than 2010 (79.8 percent). Industry-wide instances of mishandled baggage clocked in at about 3.39 cases per 1,000 passengers (down from 3.51 in 2010), and involuntary bumps came in 0.81 occurrences per 10,000 passengers (down from 1.09 in 2010) — not too shabby.
As for the top-performing airline, AirTran did the best in the luggage-handling department, with just 1.63 reports of lost or damaged luggage per 1,000 passengers. Hawaiian Airlines, blessed with good weather year-round in most of its destination cities, came out on top in the flight delay sweepstakes: nearly 93 percent of its flights arrived on time in 2011. In terms of bumping, JetBlue had the lowest rate, with just 0.01 involuntary bumps per 10,000 fliers.
I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, great. But which airlines performed the worst?” American Eagle, American Airlines’ regional carrier, walked away with the highest rate of mishandled baggage, with 7.32 reported cases of lost or damaged luggage per 1,000 passengers. Then there’s JetBlue, which had the lowest percentage (73.3 percent) of on-time flight arrivals. And Mesa Airlines, another regional operator, took the title for most denied boardings in 2011, with 2.27 involuntary bumps per 10,000 passengers.
Ever excitedly clicked on a super-low airfare, only to watch, horrified, as taxes and fees bloated the total cost to two or three times the original price?
This all-too-common experience could be a thing of the past for U.S. fliers. Starting this week, the Department of Transportation is instituting new regulations requiring airlines to include all mandatory taxes and fees in their published airfares. They will also need to offer a list of any baggage fees that could apply to your itinerary.
The new regulations are part of a broader slate of air passenger protections, many of which already went into effect in August 2011 — such as required baggage fee compensation for lost luggage, tarmac delay penalties for international flights and higher reimbursement for travelers involuntarily bumped from an overbooked plane. (See How Will the DOT’s New Airline Passenger Rights Affect You? for a full run-down.)
Besides the airfare advertising rules, other new provisions kicking in this week include the right to cancel your booking or hold a reservation without payment for 24 hours, provided that you’re booking at least a week in advance of your departure date. Airlines will also have to “promptly notify passengers of flight delays over 30 minutes,” according to the DOT press release, and they won’t be allowed to raise the price of your ticket after you’ve purchased it.
The new rules won’t actually make your flight cost less, and they won’t find your lost luggage. But at least you’ll know the true cost of your trip, and you won’t have to pay baggage fees for baggage you never see again.
Do you think the new rules go far enough in protecting fliers?
This post is the first in a new series called “Airlines Behaving Badly,” which will chronicle the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.
“This is an emergency announcement. We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.”
Not what you want to hear at 3 in the morning, cruising about 35,000 feet above the North Sea. But that is exactly what happened to some 275 passengers aboard a British Airways flight from Miami to London Heathrow on Friday night, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
As expected, the passengers — many of whom were awakened by the calm female voice on the automated announcement — panicked. Fortunately, they didn’t have much time to work up a frenzy as the cabin crew quickly canceled the alert.
Oops. A flight attendant reportedly announced on the public address system about 30 seconds later that the message was played by mistake.
The job of a flight attendant can be monotonous. Rote tasks include spouting lobotomizing FAA-approved safety briefings, maneuvering a heavy wheeled cart down a too-narrow passageway and repeatedly telling passengers to turn off their surreptitiously running electronic devices.
But there are those who’ve managed to elevate the craft.
In that rarified air, flight attendants rap, sing and execute pre-flight safety talks rife with wry quips about seatbelts fitting “low and tight like tailored pants.” The checked bags might be extra, but the instantaneous mood enhancement is included in the fare.
Here are three of our favorite flight attendants. We’d thank them personally if we could.
1. Many travelers argue that Southwest Airlines flight attendants are given the most comedic leeway — so long as they touch on the federally required safety points. Case in rap: Behold the rhyming flight attendant, MC David Holmes, who transforms a banal briefing into something a bit more bumpin’.
2. This sartorially inclined Southwest flight attendant believes that life vests, seat belts and “buttercup yellow” oxygen masks are the epitome of high fashion — more so if worn snugly to accentuate your waist or face. He even dispatches his coworkers down the aisles to see that passengers’ seat belts are fastened and that their shoes match their outfits.
3. Fly enough and you may witness a flight attendant leading the cabin in song (again Southwest seems to pop up most). But no stewardess has ever entertained like Trans American Airlines’ Randy, who belts out an ovation-worthy rendition of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “River of Jordan.”
(Look familiar? The above clip is from the satirical film “Airplane!”)