So many of us spend our lives connected via the Internet. We earn our wages and pay our bills online. With whatever money is left, we shop online. We stay connected to family and friends. We read our news, our books and magazines on electronic devices. We share photos, ideas and snarky comics via social media.
You’d think travel would be the one time we go off the grid, but it’s usually not possible. Travel is often work-related, requiring the posting of content and the reading of emails. We may leave family behind who we have to check in on while we’re away. And a few of us — not naming any names — are addicted to electronics. We panic when there’s no Wi-Fi available. And we don’t like to pay for it.
Yes, Virgin America offered free in-flight Wi-Fi last holiday season, and perhaps will again. And there have been a few promotions where Wi-Fi was offered free or discounted, but for the most part, we pay. When Internet service is provided by Gogo, as with AirTran, Alaska, American, Delta, United and Virgin America, it costs $4.94 to $19.95 for mobile devices (smartphones, tables and e-readers) and $11 to $49 for computer devices (laptops and netbooks). JetBlue and Southwest each have their own Internet service. Southwest’s is not yet widely available, but its free portal contains content such as a flight tracker, shopping and games, all at no charge. Internet access beyond that is $5 all day, per device.
Traveling with a Smartphone: Cut Costs Overseas
Paying for Wi-Fi annoys us , even if it’s only $5. We have hotspot entitlement syndrome. And we’re not alone. When we asked on Facebook if you’d use Wi-Fi if it was offered in air for free, few of you would take a pass.
Hilary Huffman Sommer said, “I would definitely use it, especially when traveling for work or when work intrudes on my leisure travel.”
Gregory Ellis also would log on to work. “Nothing else to do while in those busses with wings,” he wrote.
“Absolutely,” wrote Michele Cherry. She admitted to the amount of time she can kill on Facebook and that she can’t sleep on airplanes. And she already pays for Wi-Fi on international flights or longer domestic ones.
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Ofelia Gutierrez and Marcia Cloutier also already pay for Wi-Fi, so getting it for free would be a bonus.
“Beats listening to my husband snore,” Vicki Hannah Gelfo explained.
Not everyone is leaping at that free bandwidth. Saadia Shafati Shamsie would prefer airlines not offer free Wi-Fi; she’d be too tempted.
And Deb Crosby won’t give up her sleep and reading time while flying.
One more naysayer to continued connectivity is Lavida Rei. “I would prefer if everyone stayed off the grid and off my nerves while in flight,” she wrote.
We’ll take that under advisement, Lavida, and we’ll tap lightly when answering that e-mail.
— written by Jodi Thompson
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.
Find Cheap Airfare for Your Next Flight
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.
The Top Five Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment
What do you think? Did you have a particularly good experience flying in 2011?
— written by Ashley Kosciolek
Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.
The Deal: Southwest Airlines just kicked off a 72-hour sale featuring fall and winter flights for as little as $35 each way. Travel dates range from November 30 through December 14 and from January 4 through February 15. You can fly on any day of the week except Sunday. (We’re thrilled to see a sale that doesn’t tether travelers exclusively to midweek departures.) Fares are tallied based on length of flight as follows:
-Flights up to 450 miles cost $35 each way
-Flights from 451 – 1,000 miles cost $65 each way
-Flights from 1,001 – 1,500 miles cost $95 each way
-Flights more than 1,501 miles cost $125 each way
The Catch: While travel dates extend from November through February, flights around the holidays are excluded. Also, there’s that 72-hour problem. This sale doesn’t leave much wiggle room for anyone still sketching out a winter travel itinerary.
The Competition: AirTran Airways is running a fall and winter fare sale that’s virtually identical to this Southwest offer. But let’s be honest. AirTran isn’t exactly Southwest’s competition, per se. Southwest acquired AirTran in May 2011, and the two carriers will eventually merge into a single operator.
So how do the sales compare? Fares are similar and travel dates are the same. You’ll want to check prices for your particular itinerary with both airlines to see which one offers the best bargain for you. But keep a wary eye on those extra fees.
Southwest defeated AirTran in our deal of the week dust-up for one big reason: surcharges. First off, Southwest’s baggage policy beats AirTran’s by a mile. Southwest allows each passenger to check up to two bags for free, whereas AirTran charges $20 for your first checked bag and $25 for your second. AirTran collects an extra $15 for reservations made over the phone; Southwest doesn’t. And Southwest allows passengers to change their plans and use what they’ve already paid for future travel with the airline. AirTran, on the other hand, pockets a $75 change fee for any itinerary alterations.
Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.
— written by Caroline Costello
From the moment you book your plane ticket (want to select your seat in advance? That’ll be $10, please) to the day you roll up to the check-in counter and shell out $50 for your checked bags, the airlines leave no fee unturned. And this past weekend, most major U.S. airlines found yet another way to line their pockets at the expense of the flying public.
On Friday, Congress failed to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. As of Saturday, FAA-funded construction projects have been put on hold, all non-essential employees have been furloughed and — most importantly for fliers — the agency has lost the ability to collect various taxes that normally go along with the purchase of a plane ticket.
Hurray! Cheaper airfare for everyone, right?
Well, no. Instead of passing the tax savings on to travelers, most major airlines are raising their fares to offset the cost of the taxes — and pocketing the difference. The Associated Press reports that American, United, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue have all increased their fares, typically by about 7.5 percent.
According to an earlier AP report, “Passengers who bought tickets before this weekend but travel during the FAA shutdown could be entitled to a refund of the taxes that they paid, said Treasury Department spokeswoman Sandra Salstrom. She said it’s unclear whether the government can keep taxes for travel at a time when it doesn’t have authority to collect the money.”
Editor’s Note: On August 5, the IRS announced that passengers will not be getting refunds for taxes paid during the FAA shutdown after all. You can read the IRS statement here.
There are a few airlines out there that are giving travelers a break, including Virgin America, Frontier, Alaska and Spirit. Yes, that’s the same Spirit we wrote about a couple of weeks ago as one of the ugliest airlines in the industry. But hey, we can give credit where it’s due. It’s nice to see Spirit making the customer-friendly choice for once.
As for the big guys, shame on them. Really, it’s no wonder we hate the airlines.
— written by Sarah Schlichter
Two of the biggest discount airlines in the U.S. will merge next year when Southwest Airlines buys AirTran in a $1.4 billion deal, reports the Associated Press. The acquisition has been approved by the boards of both companies, but is still subject to shareholder and regulatory approval. Assuming everything goes through, the deal is expected to take effect in the first half of 2011.
What does this mean for travelers? Airline mergers typically spell reduced competition and higher fares — and this may well occur in cities where Southwest’s routes overlap with AirTran’s (such as Baltimore/Washington and Orlando). But there are a few silver linings too.
Travelers who’ve been waiting for Southwest to extend its low fares to cities outside the U.S. will get their wish; the airline will absorb AirTran’s current routes to Cancun, Punta Cana, Montego Bay and other vacation destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. In total, Southwest will gain access to 37 new cities, including Atlanta — which has been the biggest hole in its network. The airline will also strengthen its existing presence in major cities like New York and Boston.
Perhaps the best news of all? Once the airlines are fully integrated, Southwest does not plan to keep AirTran’s checked baggage fees (currently $20 for the first bag and $25 for the second).
What do you think of the proposed merger — will it help or hurt travelers?
–written by Sarah Schlichter
It’s nice to snag a seat in the front row of a plane and exit early … but is it worth 20 bucks?
With American Airlines’ recently announced Express Seats service, travelers can now select seats in the front of the plane for quick and easy debarkation. This new program also includes Group 1 boarding, which means passengers who sign up for Express Seats can be among the first coach fliers to board the plane. This is an especially beneficial product for those impatient travelers who bypass the line and slyly sidle up to the gate opening moments before the flight attendant calls their group number (and yes, we see you cutting the queue).
Surprise, surprise: This will cost you. Prices vary based on mileage, but introductory fees start at $19 each way. For example, buying an Express Seat on a flight from St. Louis to Chicago will cost $19, and on a flight from New York to Los Angeles the cost jumps to $39 (the service is available for domestic flights only).
American is one of the last big-name airlines to jump on the pay-for-priority bandwagon. US Airways, Continental, United, AirTran and several others have similar systems, charging coach passengers more for earlier boarding, seats that are near the front of the plane, or window and aisle seats.
Airlines have long been advocates of the class system, forcing proletariat passengers to wait in lines and wedge into shoebox-size seats while the elites fully extend their legs and ponder the in-flight wine list. But we have to wonder: Has this gone too far? In ancient times when checked bags were free and front-row coach seats were first come, first serve, a passenger who purchased a standard-fare ticket was qualified for a comfortable, pleasant flight. These days, a “comfortable flight” costs way more than the airlines’ published fares — and budget-minded travelers who simply wait in line and book ahead are denied the perks once to credited to early birds.
Will the airlines continue to split coach seats into sub-classes, forcing passengers to pay a fee for virtually everything but the smelly row next to the bathroom? Such a scenario isn’t realistic (well, we hope it isn’t), but there are still plenty of free onboard features, from tray tables to reclining seats, that could cost extra in the near future if this trend continues. Tell us what you think!