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airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Next time you’re in Beijing, don’t ask anyone behind the China Eastern Airlines desk which gate your flight is leaving from. They might just strike out at you for being so impertinent!

At least that’s what happened back in March when freelance journalist Matt Sheehan filmed an angry airline worker trying to hit several customers with a steel chair.

Now, I’ve heard of angry airline employees yelling at passengers and, of course, there’s the infamous case of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who deployed the emergency slide after claiming he was verbally abused by passengers. And I fully appreciate how difficult it must be for airline workers to rein in their anger when passengers are yelling at them — but this story takes the cake.

According to Sheehan, passengers waiting for a flight were ping-ponged back and forth between several departure gates as their flight was delayed later and later. After the departure gate was changed yet again, he and several other passengers went to the counter for information. Sheehan admits many of the passengers were angry.

Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

Enter the manager who tried to calm the crowd down, but also refused to acknowledge that the departure gate had been changed numerous times. And that’s when things got ugly. Two of the angry passengers lashed out; one threw a wadded newspaper at the manager, while another threw a plastic water bottle.

Take a look at how the manager reacted:



Okay, yes, the passengers shouldn’t have thrown anything. But the manager’s reaction was way out of proportion. Maybe if the passenger had thrown a knife, it would have been appropriate. But wadded newspapers and plastic bottles do not rate a steel chair response.

– written by Dori Saltzman

airplane etiquetteYou’re stuck on a plane sitting in between two people hogging both armrests, one of whom hasn’t stopped trying to talk to you the entire flight; what do you do? Do you ignore it? Say something? Passively fight back?

A new survey of travelers by the franchise travel agency company Travel Leaders found that whether people will say something or not depends on the infraction. For instance, nearly 70 percent of 1,788 travelers surveyed would say something directly to a passenger in front of them if their personal space were “invaded” with an article of clothing or someone’s hair. But slightly less than half would sit quietly and say nothing if they were stuck in the middle seat and had no access to either armrest.

Personally, when I have a woman with long hair sitting in front of me, I do the passive-aggressive thing. If her hair is hanging over the seat, I blow on it or “accidentally” tug it when I’m putting down the tray. Without fail the woman gets the message. As for being stuck in the middle seat, yeah, I do sit quietly and do nothing (though I’ve challenged myself to do it differently the next time I’m in that situation).

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

I’m not alone in my hesitancy to say something to someone impacting my comfort on a plane. In only two hypothetical situations did more than half of respondents say they would say something directly to another passenger. Both involve the person in front of them: the passenger invading personal space via clothing/hair (as above) and the person whose chair is so far reclined that you can’t lower your tray table or open a laptop computer. In the latter case, 55.4 percent of respondents said they would say something directly to the person.

In some cases, calling on a flight attendant for help is a popular option, though by and large, survey respondents did not indicate eagerness to “tattle” on another passenger.

In only three hypothetical situations did more than a quarter of respondents say they would turn to flight attendants for help:

- 28.1 percent said they would call a flight attendant if the person in front of them ignored crew member instructions to have their seat back upright for takeoff and/or landing;

- 27.9 percent would hit the call button if someone on the plane were talking so loudly everyone could hear;

- 46.7 percent would ask a flight attendant to speak to a parent of a screaming child who was making no attempt to comfort or control the child.

Travelers were also asked what they would do if the person next to them on a flight insisted on trying to talk to them the entire flight. Most (38.1 percent) said they would use a book or other reading materials to limit the conversation, while 18.9 percent said they’d put on headphones and use reading materials. Some (12.2 percent) said they’d actually engage in conversation for the entire flight. Just over 10 percent said they’d be honest and tell the person they prefer not to talk.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

Ever found yourself in one of these situations? How did you deal?

– written by Dori Saltzman

rafael nadalRafael Nadal is a traveler after my own heart. After more than a decade of crisscrossing the globe to play in one tournament or another, the pro tennis player from Spain has learned a few things about travel.

In a recent interview with CNN (see the video below), he reveals that, like me, he prefers to pack light. For a two-month trip, he brings only three bags, including his tennis rackets. (He carries those rackets as hand luggage rather than checking them — a wise move. Remember when Delta wrecked a $10,000 guitar that a musician had checked?)

Like most of us, Nadal appreciates a hotel room with a comfy bed that’s easy on his back. And he admits to an endearing propensity to be late to the airport — something I’ve personally improved upon after missing a flight a few years back.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Of course, a man ranked at No. 16 on a recent Forbes’ list of highly paid athletes probably isn’t jetting around in coach class the way I am — nor am I the part owner of a beach resort. (If you want to stay at Rafa’s digs, check into the Secrets Aura Cozumel.) And I can’t say I’ve ever tried to get a more spacious room at a hotel to make room for my massage table. Must be nice.

That said, Nadal and I have one other thing in common, whether we’re sitting in first-class or the back of the bus. Even after so many years and so many miles, he still gets nervous on bumpy flights. “If the plane moves, some turbulence, I am nervous flier,” he says. “My hands start to sweat.” Me too, Rafa. Me too.

Fear of Flying

Check out the full interview in the video below.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

unhappy travelerAs is the case with most things, air travel has come a long way. Gone are the days of breezing into an airport 30 minutes before your flight leaves and visiting the captain in the cockpit before taking your seat. What hasn’t changed, though, is the fact that people love to complain — so we’ve come up with the following list of travel gripes to take you back to the policies of yore. Read on, reminisce and be sure to leave your own additions in the comments section below.

Then: “My bags are so heavy I won’t be able to carry them all.”
Now: “My bags are so expensive I won’t be able to pay for them all.”

Forget nickel-and-diming. Fees for checked bags are becoming downright ridiculous.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Then: “I’ll walk you to your gate.”
Now: “I’ll walk you to the ticket counter.”

Regulations have become so strict that you can’t accompany a traveling friend or loved one to the gate anymore. In fact, you can’t even make it much past the ticket counter without proof that you’re actually flying.

Then: “Will this flight really take five hours?”
Now: “Will this security line really take five hours?”

Little known tidbit: Experts* say the amount of time it takes to clear the security checkpoints at the airport is equivalent to the amount of time it takes to plan for, pack for and work enough hours to pay for a trip.

*By “experts,” we mean nobody at all.

Then: “What do you mean I can’t bring a rocket launcher onboard?”
Now: “What do you mean I can’t bring a snow globe onboard?”

As if packing weren’t already difficult enough, now we’re reduced to toting the world’s tiniest bottles of shampoo and conditioner. And does lip balm go in the quart-sized bag or not?

Airport Security: Your Questions Answered

Then: “The person next to me is smoking.”
Now: “The person next to me is taking up half of my seat.”

Sure, the ways in which fellow fliers infringe on your personal space has changed, but the basic fact that they infringe hasn’t changed at all.

Then: “I’m 6’2″, and I have hardly any room to stretch my legs.”
Now: “I’m 6’2″, and I have even less room to stretch my legs.”

As airlines try to cram more passengers on each flight, seats have become smaller and smaller while passengers seem to get larger.

How to Get the Best Airplane Seat

Then: “This food isn’t good.”
Now: “This food isn’t free.”

It used to be that passengers would complain about the quality of the food. Now they complain about having to pay for the right to complain about the quality of the food.

What would you add to this list?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

If you’re lucky, you’ve never experienced the sinking feeling you get when your luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel post-flight. But if you’re me — or one of millions of other fliers — you deal with said feeling by either praising yourself for packing a well-stocked carry-on or immediately going into panic mode.

Regardless of your luck with lost bags (or lack thereof), you’ll likely be comforted to know that, according to SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques) — an organization that deals with air transportation communications and works with most major airlines — the number of incidents of mishandled bags has been nearly cut in half over the last five years.

Fun with Numbers: Report Exaggerates Airline Complaints

To see the numbers in an easy-to-understand format, check out the infographic below, published by Irish Independent and designed by Boldface on Visual.ly. (Click the image to see a larger version). It shows that the number of mishandled bag incidents in 2007 was nearly 47 million; in 2012, the number was down to a little more than 26 million — a decline of nearly 45 percent. (Note: “Mishandled bags” includes luggage that fell victim to transfer mishandling, loading failure, loading errors, arrival mishandling, airport/customs/weather-related issues, ticketing errors/baggage switches or tagging errors.)

Source

But wait. Isn’t 26 million a lot? It’s a huge number overall, but the graphic also states that nearly 3 billion passengers flew in 2012. That means less than 1 percent of all passengers had a mishandled bag.

So let’s keep this in perspective. Yes, there are still far too many lost bags, but at least it seems like the airlines are doing something about it.

What to Do if an Airline Loses Your Bag

What’s your take? Have you lost a bag? Do the stats make you feel more secure — or more likely to pack an extra-large carry-on? Weigh in with your comments below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

spaceshiptwo Richard Branson, the brilliant billionaire owner of all things Virgin-branded, has been in the travel news quite a bit over the past few days, and it’s been an interesting mix of stories — good, bad and ugly.

Yesterday, Branson’s youngest stroke of travel company genius, Virgin Galactic, took a giant leap closer to its ultimate goal of space tourism when SpaceShipTwo ignited its rocket motor for the first time in mid-flight, bringing the spacecraft to a speed of Mach 1.2. With this supersonic test out of the way, Virgin Galactic anticipates making its first passenger space trips next year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The company will offer daily trips to sub-orbital space, including about 10 minutes of zero gravitation. The price tag? $200,000. Considering Virgin Galactic has already taken 580 reservations worth about $70 million in deposits for a company that can’t yet deliver, you’ve got to give Branson credit for his genius.

But like Robert Louis Stevenson’s brilliant scientist Dr. Jekyll, Branson has not so much a darker side as an idiotic Mr. Hyde side. Sometimes he just does or says stupid things.

For instance, Virgin America recently launched a new seat-to-seat delivery service on flights. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Well, it could be a mom sitting a few rows away from her kids, having a snack box delivered to them. Or — and here’s what USA Today believes Branson has in mind with the service — it could be a passenger sending a drink to another passenger, just as he might do in a bar if he were, say, attempting to pick someone up.

Here’s how it works. Fliers find their intended recipient on a digital seat map, select an item to be delivered, swipe a credit card and then follow up with a text message using the seat-to-seat chat function.

Um, yuck. I guess if you’re happy to hear from a stranger sitting a few rows away it’s not so bad, but what if you’re totally uninterested? It’s not like you can go anywhere.

Not Branson’s most genius moment, if you ask us.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

But it gets worse.

On Sunday, Branson criticized the British Foreign Office and other Western governments for issuing warnings about terrorism in travel advisory format.

Huh?

As reported by The Independent, Branson says that by warning people of the risk of attacks, governments are giving in to terrorists and harming those countries in the process. These warnings, he continued, should be discarded. Instead, Branson suggests that rather than warn people against visiting these places, people should be encouraged to participate in tourism and trade, in order to aid them. He cited a British Foreign Office bulletin about Egypt, an Australian government warning about Bali and a U.S. State Department alert on Kenya, which he said contributed to the decline in tourist numbers in these countries.

The Foreign Office soundly rejected Branson’s suggestion, saying it has a responsibility to make sure British citizens have the necessary information to make their own informed decisions.

While we understand the need to avoid needless monetary damage to a country, we have to side with the Foreign Office on this one. We’d rather know what our risks are before we make a decision, so as not to walk into a potentially hazardous situation.

Traveling in a Developing Country: 11 Dos and Don’ts

What do you think? Is Virgin Galactic a stroke of genius? Do you want someone you don’t know on a flight to be able to buy you a drink? Should governments issue travel alerts that include warnings about terrorism? Let us know below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

airport sign Are you flying somewhere fun in the near future? Exotic? Far away? I’m half jealous and half not. While I’d love to be getting away, I don’t envy anyone having to deal with flying right now. In the past two days, the flying experience has gone from not so fun to downright unpleasant.

According to a Washington Post article, flights have fallen behind schedule for the second straight day at two of New York’s three major airports, a direct result of air traffic controller furloughs. By 8:45 a.m. today, delays of 30 to 45 minutes or more were already being reported in New York.

With no end to the furlough in sight (an average of about 10 percent of controllers will be furloughed on any given day), these delays are probably not going to get any better any time soon. Congress has so far made no moves to end the sequester.

And New York isn’t the only metropolitan area to be hit by delays. Yesterday, airports across the country were backed up several hours. Chicago-based United told a reporter for Bloomberg that it saw “alarming” delays in Los Angeles as well. Flights into the city were delayed an average of three hours.

Delta told Bloomberg it also expects to see air delays in Chicago and in San Francisco.

Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

The consequences of these delays aren’t just grumpy passengers and getting somewhere late. It also means fliers need to allow more time for their transit. If before you needed an hour to an hour and a half to catch a connecting flight, now you’d better make it three to four hours. If you have to be in your destination by noon, you might want to consider flying in the day before.

The federal government is so aware of the delays that the U.S. Transportation Department is considering suspending enforcement of a regulation that prevents lengthy tarmac delays, the Bloomberg article reports. The rule requires that airlines give passengers a chance to leave a plane if it has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. Airlines can also be fined for the delays. Since 2009, when the tarmac delay regulation was passed, airlines have been canceling flights whenever it looks like a three-hour delay is imminent. With sequester cuts in place and delays of three hours or more entirely possible, that could mean a lot of canceled flights if enforcement of the law isn’t waived.

But it’s not all bad news for fliers. A controversial rule that would have allowed passengers to begin carrying small knives on planes again has been put on hold while the TSA considers additional input. Public opinion has been widely opposed to the measure, as have flight attendants and airlines.

Have you flown in the past two days? Are you flying soon? What are you dreading most? Weigh in below.

What Not to Do at the Airport

– written by Dori Saltzman

airplane silhouetteI have just as many gripes about airlines as the next person, and given that I’m a travel journalist, I tend to smile and nod vehemently when they’re crucified for decreasing seat sizes and charging for things like carry-on bags. But I can’t keep my mouth shut on this one.

After analyzing federal data, a group of private researchers says airline complaints from passengers increased by about 20 percent in 2012, despite more on-time flights and fewer lost bags, the Associated Press reports.

While I agree that customer complaints are bad — in an ideal world, there would be none at all — the article goes on to say this: “United Airlines had the highest consumer complaint rate of the 14 airlines included in the report, with 4.24 complaints per 100,000 passengers.” Forgive me if I sound insensitive, but is there really a reason to be terribly concerned if the worst offender generates only four complaints for every 100,000 of its passengers?

And let’s not forget this added tidbit: “That was nearly double the airline’s complaint rate the previous year.” Oh, the horror! Now four of every 100,000 United passengers are angry instead of two? I think I just heard the audience gasp.

To be fair, these numbers only include the passengers who were annoyed enough to report their grievances to the U.S. Department of Transportation; there are probably many more who took their complaints solely to the airline. And of course, seeing the number of complaints double is never a good sign. But let’s keep things in perspective.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

The AP also notes that larger planes and smaller seat sizes, which allow airlines to cram more passengers onto each plane, still aren’t enough to offset the decreased number of available flights — meaning last year saw a rise in the number of passengers bumped due to overbooking. “The rate at which passengers with tickets were denied seats because planes were full rose to 0.97 denials per 10,000 passengers last year, compared with 0.78 in 2011.”

In plain English, it means that of every 10,000 passengers, less than one person gets bumped because his or her flight is full. Can I get a big, fat “so what?”

Let’s focus on what the airlines are doing right. Want your bag to get to your destination at the same time you do? You’re in luck. According to the AP, the mishandled bag rate was 3.07 in 2012, down from 3.35 bags the previous year (and a high of 7.01 bags back in 2007). That means about three of every 1,000 bags were mishandled in the last two years. Yes, I’ve had lost luggage, and I know that for those three passengers, it’s terrible. But the stats are getting better.

The same is true for on-time arrivals, about 82 percent of which arrived on time in 2012 — an improvement over the 80 percent that landed on time in 2011.

I happen to think this is a positive outlook for the industry. Now, if only someone could figure out ways to speed up the security process and keep that middle seat unoccupied.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

What do you think? Is the report full of hot air, or does it have merit? Weigh in below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

overweight air traveler passenger airplane obeseDo you weigh a lot? You could end up paying a lot (more) for flights if airlines take a new “pay as you weigh” proposal seriously. The essay, written by a professor at a university in Norway, proposes three options for charging overweight passengers more money, explaining that the heavier a passenger is, the higher the fuel cost for the airline to transport that person. The author argues that said changes would benefit not only the airlines, but also consumers, both in terms of in-flight comfort (passengers would sit in seats of appropriate sizes) and overall health (it could be an incentive to lose weight).

More Obese Fliers, Smaller Airplane Seats?

Option 1
This option would involve a straightforward per-pound model, where passengers pay a fixed price per pound. Skinnier and/or shorter passengers would obviously pay less than taller, heavier ones.

Option 2
Under this scenario, each passenger would pay a base fare, and adjustments would be made from there — heavier passengers would be charged more, or lighter passengers would be charged less.

Option 3
In this model, three separate fares would be offered, based on body weight: one fare for underweight passengers, one fare for average passengers and one fare for overweight passengers. For the sake of his argument, the author uses the following as ballpark figures, which include the total weight of both the passenger and his or her luggage: underweight = less than or equal to 75 kg (165 pounds), average weight = 76 – 125 kg (167.5 – 275.5 pounds) and overweight = 126 kg (278 pounds) or more.

Poll: Should Obese Passengers Be Required to Buy a Second Seat?

The proposal, which seems logistically impossible, is unlikely to be adopted by airlines anytime soon, but the essay does address several bones of contention that might arise if it’s put into practice in the future. Won’t it discriminate against overweight/muscular/tall/pregnant people? How will it be enforced? How will it affect things like check-in time if airline personnel have to weigh luggage AND passengers?

“Weigh in” with your thoughts below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

car keys saleA cocktail, a sandwich, a set of headphones, maybe some Wi-Fi … most in-flight purchases aren’t exactly weighty or expensive decisions. But if China’s Spring Airlines has its way, travelers could be pondering a much larger purchase on an upcoming flight: a new car.

Bloomberg reports that Spring Airlines could begin selling automobiles on flights next month, at prices starting around $16,000. The Shanghai-based discount airline flies largely within China, with some international service to Japan. The car sales would be introduced on flights from Shanghai.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sold on the concept. Sure, sitting on a plane gives you plenty of time to pore over the various features of one car or another. But 35,000 feet isn’t exactly a prime spot for a test drive. And I can’t help but feel badly for the flight attendants, whom Bloomberg notes “will be trained on the car details.” They probably didn’t know when they signed up to hand out drinks and keep the cabin safe that they’d also end up shilling cars.

So what’s next for in-flight commerce? Perhaps flight attendants should become certified realtors and sell us our next house as well.

9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

– written by Sarah Schlichter