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nickel and dimingIf price is no longer the differentiator between legacy airlines like Delta, United and American Airlines and so-called discount carriers like JetBlue and Southwest, what is?

I say it’s the way they treat their customers.

The legacy carriers, who used to be all about providing the best customer experience, now seem to look at their passengers simply as cash cows. On the other hand, the “discount” lines, excepting small carriers like Spirit and Allegiant, are dedicated to the idea that a good customer experience with amenities included in the airfare is the path to success.

Case in point: a recent Forbes article argues that overhead bin space will be the next formerly-included amenity to be unbundled from the airfare.

Already the most deeply discounted carriers, Spirit and Allegiant, have gone that route charging for carry-on bags.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

And while it seems inconceivable that the major carriers would follow suit, some experts argue overhead been space has already being monetized via the sale of priority boarding passes, which passengers on legacy airlines buy almost exclusively in order to gain access to overhead bins first.

A New York Times article, cited by Forbes, quotes Jay Sorenson, president of airline consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany, who said revenue for early boarding is increasing; he predicts airlines will implement more such fees.

On the other end of the spectrum, JetBlue is making flying easier — and possibly less expensive — for its customers with a new frequent flier program called Family Pooling.

The program enables families of up to two adults and five children to combine their TrueBlue frequent flier points together to make it easier to earn enough points for a free flight. Even better, the two adults don’t actually need to be related; two friends can pool their miles, then split the cost of a second ticket. And the airline is doing this without having to charge extra for bags, either checked (first checked only) or carry-on!

How ironic that the airlines that used to have to separate themselves from the pack through low fares now only have to go back to the good old days of treating passengers like valued customers rather than piggy banks on two feet.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

– written by Dori Saltzman

airplane seatsFor every long-legged traveler who’s sick of being pretzeled into increasingly small airplane seats, a new study offers insight into how to land yourself a few precious extra inches of legroom.

Routehappy.com surveyed U.S. airlines in search of “Roomier” seats — those with at least 32 inches of seat pitch — that travelers could find in regular economy class without having to pay extra. The carrier on which you’re most likely to find these is Southwest Airlines, which offers nearly 1,000 domestic flights a day with Roomier seats (this reflects 31 percent of all Southwest flights). Alaska Airlines came in second with 752 flights, or 96 percent of its daily offerings.

While those airlines win out due to the sheer number of flights they offer, it’s worth noting that a couple of smaller airlines, JetBlue and Virgin America, offer at least 32 inches of seat pitch on 100 percent of their planes. JetBlue’s A320 planes have a generous 34 inches of seat pitch, and they’re wider than average to boot. Virgin America’s seats are also wider than most, offer 32 inches of seat pitch, and have both Wi-Fi and power outlets — a combination that you won’t find fleetwide on any other airline, according to Routehappy.

In all, you can find more spacious seats for free on 13 percent of domestic flights.

Secrets of the World’s Best Airlines

If you’re willing to pay extra for more space, you have plenty of options. Routehappy reports that of the 22,000 domestic flights that take off each day in the U.S., 9,000 of them have more spacious economy-class seats available for purchase. (Delta and United have the most, followed by American and JetBlue.) On international flights, 47 percent of the 1,800 daily departures have Extra Legroom Economy or Premium Economy options.

You can download the full report at Routehappy.com. The site also offers fare searches with results ranked by “happiness score,” which takes seat size, airplane amenities, length of trip and flier ratings into account.

Check out our tips for How to Get the Best Airplane Seat.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

jetblue food truck new york cityOn top of decimating houses and deluging city streets, Hurricane Sandy temporarily upended what we travelers take for granted: the ability to hop in a car or plane and go. But while that “right” has been more or less restored for most, many New York and New Jersey residents are still reeling (yesterday’s nor’easter didn’t help matters). Thankfully, along with an outpouring of aid from individuals and the expected charitable heavyweights, a number of popular travel brands have jumped in to help, some leveraging their leisure offerings in creative ways.

Last week, non-legacy favorite JetBlue partnered with NYC food trucks to offer free meals and snacks to hard hit residents of Staten Island, the Rockaways and Hoboken. The airline says thousands of locals were offered bites from mobile purveyors of grilled cheese, pizza, Lebanese specialties and cupcakes. JetBlue is also matching all donations to the Red Cross up to $100,000, and touting frequent flier miles as a bonus incentive. Those who give can earn six TrueBlue points for every $1 they donate by November 30.

Sandy Response: Which Travel Companies Stood Out?

Hip “for rent by owner” site Airbnb has partnered with the city of New York in an effort to offer free housing for residents displaced by Sandy. Several hundred local hosts have offered up their couches and spare rooms. Airbnb uses a mutual verification process — owner and potential renter must meet virtually and the owner always has final approval. (Renters and rent-ees can be both be “reviewed” and Airbnb cautions never to rent unless you’re completely confident in the occupant.) Though no money is changing hands, hosts are still covered by Airbnb’s guarantee. For those who can afford to shell out a bit for their temporary digs, there’s also a list of “discounted for Sandy” spots.

Toilet Paper Tussle at the Airbnb: How I Survived a Homestay

American Airlines is using its Web space and social platforms to promote the efforts of the American Red Cross — and throwing in some bonus frequent flier miles for good measure. Through November 30, 2012, AAdvantage members can earn a one-time award of 250 AAdvantage bonus miles for a minimum $50 donation, or 500 AAdvantage bonus miles for a donation of $100 or more to the American Red Cross.

Have a favorite travel brand you think deserves kudos? Share it in the comments.

– written by Dan Askin

republican democrat elephant donkey gopToday we bring you three stories from around the airline industry, including JetBlue’s toe-dip into presidential politics, a robot suitcase and a new approach to reducing airplane aisle gridlock.

If That Stupid [Candidate A/Candidate B] Wins…
I’m leaving the country on the next JetBlue flight. Even after Goodwill trucks pack up the last box of “Yes We Can (Again)”/”I Built This!” T-shirts on November 7, the losing side can take some solace. Nonpartisan airline JetBlue is giving away 2,012 flights to destinations outside the United States after the election. Entering is easy: Go to JetBlueElectionProtection.com and pick Obama or Romney. If your guy loses, you have a shot at becoming a temporary expat via one of JetBlue’s international routes, which include the Caribbean and Mexico. All of America wins.

About Time: Robot Luggage
Aussie air travel news site Terminal U is reporting on a new type of robot luggage that could someday hit an airport near you. An inventor has created a prototype of a hands-free suitcase, called “Hop,” which stalks its owner via signals from a cell phone’s Bluetooth. You move, Hop moves. You move, Hop doesn’t move? Hop alerts you by making your phone vibrate. (Hop moves, you move? The TSA bans Hop and you end up on the no-fly list.)

Check out this video of Hop in action:



About Time: Moving Airplane Seats
Reports the U.K.’s Daily Mail: U.S. company Molon Labe Designs claims that its “Sider Seat” — an aisle seat that can slide over and atop the middle seat — will save airlines two hours of extra flying time a day. Molon Labe says the movable seats would expand aisle width from 19 to 43 inches, allowing for whimsical twirling and quicker loading and unloading. The seats are not robots — a passenger or member of the flight crew must physically move them — and they do not recline. As one commenter on the Daily Mail site correctly pointed out, the approach to boarding would have to change in tandem with the furniture. What happens when the already beleaguered middle-seater finds he now has no seat?

IndependentTraveler.com has requested access to the airport bar napkin the idea was originally scribbled on.

Surviving the Middle Seat

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

– written by Dan Askin

tablet computer wi-fiSo 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.

Tips to Sleep on Planes

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

suitcase cell phone womanMaybe you’re having a disastrous day at the airport, trying unsuccessfully to get rebooked after a canceled flight. Or you’re sitting at home on hold with an airline’s customer service department, listening to hour two of Elevator Music’s Greatest Hits. In growing frustration, you may be tempted to take your complaint to social media — but when you pull up your airline’s Twitter page, you encounter something like this:

“@jetblue doesn’t respond to formal complaints on Twitter. For official customer concerns go to jetblue.com/speakup or call 1-800-jetblue.”

“Have a complaint/compliment to share with us? Go to usairways.com/feedback so we can followup [sic] directly. We aren’t able to provide a proper response on Twitter.”

“Tweeting is short and sweet, but sometimes you need more than 140 characters to get an issue resolved. If you require a specific response: For post-travel issues related to travel [on] a United Airlines operated flight, please contact Customer Care at http://united.com/feedback.”

Why are the airlines on social media if they’re just going to shut down the conversation? Can they really do that?

Turns out that they can’t — and despite what their profiles say, they don’t even try. Even though JetBlue claims not to respond to complaints on Twitter, a quick scan of its Twitter page reveals responses to a delayed traveler (“We hear your frustration. What flight are you on so we can provide the most up to date information?”), a person having problems with the airline’s Web site (“You can either try using a different browser or give our Getaways department a call at 1-800-JETBLUE and they can help!”) and a passenger whose TV didn’t work in flight (“Sorry to hear – per our Customer Bill of Rights, you’re entitled to a $15 credit for the inconvenience”) — all within the past 13 hours.

Make Your Travel Complaint Count

US Airways, meanwhile, tweeted this morning that it would rebook a delayed passenger, and asked other travelers having problems to DM (direct message) their confirmation codes so that the carrier’s Twitter team could look into the problem. United Airlines answered traveler questions and offered the appropriate customer service phone numbers and Web sites to Twitter followers who needed more in-depth assistance.

It’s clear that despite the airlines’ efforts to discourage passengers from speaking out on Twitter, people are doing it anyway — and the airlines are responding, often within minutes. Really, it makes sense; a tweet that goes viral can turn into a public relations nightmare, so it’s in the airlines’ best interest to resolve issues on Twitter as quickly and effectively as possible.

So the next time you’re fed up with a flight, consider the power you have in those simple 140 characters.

How to Use Twitter in Your Travels

Follow IndependentTraveler.com on Twitter!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane turbulenceA few weeks ago, problems with the hydraulic system forced a JetBlue flight into an emergency landing at Las Vegas‘ McCarran Airport. As the stricken plane careened into sharp turns and lurched from one side to the other, passengers became sickened and many began vomiting. This went on for several hours, as the plane had to burn off enough fuel to land safely.

Have you ever been on a plane that lurched or dipped or swerved? Have you ever thrown up on a plane?

I have. In fact, my strongest airplane memories involve bad experiences. Like when I was 13 and the plane I was on, flying from San Diego to New York, was hit by lightning. I saw the lightning strike the wing and I felt the plane lurch downwards. I started to cry because I thought the plane would catch on fire — I mean, that’s what happens in movies.

A nice older man a row in front of me turned around to calm me down. The planes are grounded, he said, so nothing bad can happen. (I found out later that this isn’t exactly the case; airplanes are protected from lightning because their exteriors are made of aluminum, which conducts the electricity out into the air, protecting what’s inside. But my fellow passenger’s words were comforting at the time!)

Fear of Flying

Another bad experience that stands out was flying in a puddle jumper from Punta Arenas in Chile to Isla Navarino, a small Chilean island located between Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. The flight passes over the Strait of Magellan and several channels including the Beagle Channel. For reasons I’m sure a meteorologist could explain, the wind currents in that area are pretty rough.

I won’t go into details, but let’s just say the hot dogs I’d eaten prior to the flight had to be washed off of my sweater later that afternoon. It was one of the most mortifying experiences of my life.

Airplane Horror Stories

But perhaps the worst flight experience I’ve ever had was also one of only two times in my life I actually thought I might die. It was a flight from Atlanta to New York’s JFK airport. Though the weather was clear when we took off, by the time we’d gotten to Maryland the New York area was experiencing heavy storms. At first they put us into a holding pattern, but then we began to run low on fuel.

Only one runway was open in the New York area and we were told it would take too long to change our approach to reach it. So we were diverted to Stewart Airport, a smaller airport in the Hudson Valley area of New York. Why that was deemed closer I don’t know, but to get there it felt as though we had to fly right through a doozy of a storm. That plane shook and rattled and bumped so violently I honestly thought it was going to crack apart. Overhead bins opened and bags fell out. Dozens of people threw up as the flight attendants passed handfuls of air sickness bags around the cabin. Landing that dark evening in an airport hours away from my original destination was one of the sweetest moments of my life.

What has been your scariest flying moment — or your most embarrassing?

– written by Dori Saltzman

As if we needed any confirmation — there isn’t an ounce of complacency left in fliers.

On Tuesday, passengers on a JetBlue flight from JFK to Vegas used their weight and two kinds of belts — seat and pant — to subdue an unhinged pilot who had what’s being described as a mid-flight meltdown.

After Clayton Osbon was locked out of the cockpit by a co-pilot who told FAA investigators that the captain was exhibiting “erratic behavior,” Osbon fumed and seethed about Iraq, Iran and Al Qaeda, beseeched passengers to pray, and said the plane was in immediate danger of being shot down. He called for a landing.

Osbon got his wish. With four passengers restraining the still-ranting captain, his colleagues, including an off-duty JetBlue pilot who was onboard, made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.

While the fliers-turned-security detail — reportedly comprising a retired police sergeant, a security exec and two others — held Osbon down, another passenger filmed the chaos in the cabin with a cell phone. The grainy visual won’t win any awards for in-flight cinematography, but the audio offers a glimpse into the chaotic scene at 35,000 feet. Following that video is a short clip of Osbon being removed from the plane.





The Christian Science Monitor reported today that Osbon, a 12-year pilot for JetBlue, has been charged with “interfering with crew-member instructions.” A CBS report published before the formal charges were issued now rings bizarre but true — it said that Osban could become the “first airline pilot accused of interfering with his own flight.”

Pending an investigation, JetBlue has suspended Osban from flying. CBS reports that FBI investigators are waiting to listen to the cockpit conversation preceding the incident captured on the plane’s “black box.”

Airplane Horror Stories

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger, who appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” Wednesday, called the incident a “medical situation that turned into a security one,” said Reuters. Osbon, whom Barger called a consummate professional that he’s known for years, is in federal custody at a medical facility in Amarillo.

This latest incident comes less than three weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant was subdued by passengers and de-planed after ranting about September 11 and saying the plane was going to crash. The AA jet was on the ground at the time.

Do incidents like these make you more nervous about flying?

– written by Dan Askin

airplane skyI 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

airplane sky writing loveThe Deal: JetBlue has announced a bargain that both couples and singles can enjoy this Valentine’s Day: a one-day Love-A-Fare sale with flights starting at just $39 each way, including taxes and fees. (Note that the advertised fare on the JetBlue site is $49, but if you check out the list of city pairings, you’ll see $39 and $40 fares in the mix too.)

Flights are available from gateways around the U.S. (like New York, Orlando and Boston), plus a few in the Caribbean (San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Croix). Travel is good between February 21 and April 3.

The Catch: For most destinations, travel is only valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (but check the fine print on the JetBlue site for a few exceptions).

The Competition: Southwest is running a U.S. domestic fare sale with flights priced from $65 each way, including taxes and fees. Like the JetBlue deal, this one is also good for travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But you have a few extra days to think about these fares — the deal doesn’t expire until February 16.

Find more bargains like these in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Sarah Schlichter