Farelogix, a company that specializes in distribution technology that links travel suppliers with travel sellers, is planning to launch a consumer website in early October that will permit travelers to calculate baggage charges and research fees across airlines, according to trade press reports. The site will be at www.iflybags.com. Using data from ATPCo, an aggregator of airline fare and fee information for transmission to global distribution systems and online travel agencies, Farelogix will reportedly provide checked bag fees and policies from more than 300 airlines, updated several times a day. Besides permitting airline-to-airline fee comparisons, the site will also let users calculate the baggage fees for large pieces or items with unusual shapes, based on weight and dimensions. According to the newsletter Travel Technology Update, “Iflybags.com also will allow users to enter their frequent flyer numbers so that their status can be taken into account,” since most airlines waive some or all checked luggage charges for persons with elite status in their programs.
Air Travel News
Worldwide business travel is definitely on the rebound, but its rate of growth is much stronger in developing countries like Brazil, Russia, China and India than in the U.S. and western Europe, according to a new study from the Global Business Travel Association Foundation. The study, sponsored by Visa, estimates that total worldwide spending on business travel will jump by 9.2 percent this year, to more than $1 trillion; that comes on top of an 8.4 percent increase in 2010. During 2009, worldwide business travel spending fell by 7.8 percent year-over-year, GBTA said. The increased spending is not distributed uniformly, either by industry or by geography, the study found. For instance, it noted that the kinds of industries more prevalent in developing countries, like manufacturing and food processing, are boosting their travel spending much more than the kinds of service industries that are more common in the developed world, like finance and business services. That difference is reflected in the varying rates of spending growth by nation. For instance, the report predicts that the compound annual growth in travel spending from 2011 to 2015 will hit 11.2 percent for China, 10.8 percent for India, 7.1 percent for Russia and 7 percent for Brazil. The comparable projected growth rate during that period will be 3.8 percent for the U.S., 5.4 percent for the U.K., 3.3 percent for France and 2.9 percent for Germany, the study estimated. Japan is expected to show a decline in business travel spending this year, it added. The report said that China is now the world’s second-largest business travel market after the U.S., and is expected to rank number one by 2015.
A physicist has tested a variety of different boarding procedures for a single-aisle aircraft, and came up with a conclusion about the most efficient method for getting passengers in their seats quickly. Physicist Jason Steffen’s research used 72 volunteers and a mock-up of an aircraft interior on a Los Angeles sound stage, with a dozen rows of six seats per row. The winning boarding method went like this: Passengers holding assignments for window seats in every second row on the right side of the plane boarded first, from back to front; the second boarding group consisted of the same scheme for window passengers on the left side. After that, the remaining window passengers on the right side went aboard, again from back to front, followed by the same pattern of window seats on the left side. The next step brought middle-seat customers on board, again on one side first, in alternating rows from back to front, followed by the same scheme on the other side, and then by the remaining middle seat customers on the right and then the left sides. Finally, aisle seat assignments were filled using the same pattern. This method got all 72 seats filled in about half the time of the traditional back-to-front boarding method. The second fastest procedure was similar to the winning strategy, but it allowed all window passengers to board first, followed by middle seat passengers and then aisle seats. Ranking in third place was randomized boarding. The paper was in the Journal of Air Transport Management.
The Arizona Republic newspaper is reporting that US Airways will cut even more flights from its Las Vegas operation as it continues a three-year-old downsizing of its former hub there, a legacy of America West before it merged with US Airways. The newspaper said that starting in late November, the carrier plans to discontinue service from LAS to Boston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Overall, the report said, US Airways’ flight schedule at Las Vegas will shrink about 40 percent by the end of January 2012. It noted that the airline has gradually been cutting service at LAS for the past three years. Back in August 2008, US Airways was operating 105 flights a day out of the city, but by the end of January, that number will be reduced to just 21 daily departures. US Airways has said its long-term strategy is to focus its operations on hubs at Phoenix, Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Many companies rely on corporate security consultants and comprehensive travel insurance policies to protect their employees who travel overseas, and to get them out of harm’s way quickly when necessary. A first step in a security review might be to familiarize yourself with your own company’s strategies and programs for keeping you safe. If you’re not satisfied with what it offers, or if you are self-employed, it might be time to upgrade your own insurance to cover things like evacuation flights from countries where you’d rather not be hospitalized in an emergency, and perhaps even kidnap-and-ransom coverage if you’ll be visiting dodgy areas.
You might think the Middle East poses the greatest security risk for corporate travelers, but a recent survey of 570 corporate security experts, travel managers and other professionals, conducted by International SOS, found that the greatest number of them – 40 percent – cited Latin America as the most dangerous region, followed by the Middle East (31 percent) and Asia (20 percent). What were the greatest dangers for travelers? Some 44 percent ranked terrorism and civil unrest as the number one threat, followed by natural disasters (21 percent), crime/petty theft (17 percent) and kidnapping (16 percent).
Even if your firm provides first-class security programs and insurance, the primary responsibility for your safety and security rests with you. Do you have a good mindset for travel security, or do you tend not even to think about it? According to Christopher Falkenberg, a former Secret Service agent who now runs New York-based consulting firm Insite Security, international business travelers should “work on developing a keen sense of situational awareness.” What does that mean? “Think in advance of what types of emergencies could arise when you travel and have a plan in your head on how to act on that plan. Don’t make assumptions that someone else is providing a safe environment for you, meaning hotels, airlines, trains and so forth. Think about your personal security plan for when things go bad, and what you would do to escape that situation. What do those plans rely upon – like cellular communication, shelter, water source, et cetera, and how would you go about building that kind of redundancy into your travel plans?”
If your firm doesn’t contract with an international security consultant to provide intelligence on threats to travelers, you can easily do your own research through the U.S. State Department. Go to http://travel.state.gov and you’ll find a wealth of information about safe overseas travel. In the lefthand menu, you can find the latest country-specific travel alerts and warnings; or simply select a country from the pull-down menu and see the current security report as compiled and updated by on-site U.S. embassy and consular staff. The “International Travel” section of the website also includes valuable tips for persons traveling and/or living overseas, and a section that explains what the U.S. Government can – and can’t – do for you if you get into trouble in a foreign country.
When you’re overseas, you no longer have to go to the U.S. Embassy to register your presence – you can do that online now, with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/. You only have to sign up once, then add and delete information on your upcoming trips, and State will automatically send you current updates about security and safety issues in those countries. Signing up also makes it easier for embassy staff to contact you during emergencies – a vital link in the event of a major calamity like the Haiti earthquake, after which the State Department evacuated more than 16,000 U.S. citizens.
Selecting a safe place to stay can be a challenge, since there is no agency that rates hotels from a security standpoint, and since the hotels most likely to be considered safe – those of major international chains, many of which are western-based – can sometimes serve as a preferred target for terrorists. A Marriott security executive told a travel conference in Houston recently that in the decade after 9/11, there has been “an exponential rise in attacks against hotels.” As a result, he said his company has taken special precautions at its properties in dangerous countries, like installing a security officer at the entrance, making all persons entering the hotel go through a metal detector, installing shatter-proof windows, inspecting luggage, and checking IDs of everyone parking in the hotel’s lot. Another Marriott exec told the conference that the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, “is as close to a bunker as anyone has ever seen.” You can improve your own safety in a hotel by following some common-sense rules about selecting an appropriate room location and protecting access to your room whether or not you’re in it. Security consultant Chris McGoey has a security checklist for hotel guests at www.crimedoctor.com/hotel.htm.
Besides protecting yourself, you’ll want to make sure any sensitive data or company information that you take along with you is secure as well – not an easy task in these days of hacking and corporate espionage. According to the FBI, corporate espionage is “one of the most serious threats facing the executive traveler. The perpetrator of this type of espionage can be a competitor, opportunist, or foreign intelligence officer.” The agency has put together a comprehensive guide for corporations and executives that details the steps they can take to protect company secrets from predation by foreign interests during business trips. You can find it at http://nebraskainfragard.org/links/CSPvol1_iss2.pdf
For general security purposes, there is a huge inventory of products designed to keep the traveler and his property safe while on the road – everything from TSA-approved luggage locks to money belts, laptop cables, hotel door alarms and many more. You can shop for security at places like www.corporatetravelsafety.com, www.packinglight.net/Security-Products/3015/3014-3015/dept, and http://traveloasis.com/travel-safety.html.
In U.S. airline news last week, American announced new in-flight amenities for front-cabin customers on international routes; Delta cut the ribbon on a Sky Club at Seattle; and United is cutting schedules at Denver.
• American Airlines said it is adding new first and business class amenities for passengers on international flights. First class passengers will get a “quilted bed topper” designed to fit the carrier’s Flagship Suite, along with pajamas and slippers – all part of AA’s new “Turndown Service.” Also new for first class flyers will be a lightweight day blanket, premium duvet and pillow, and amenity kit with Dermalogica skin care products. Business class customers will receive the premium duvet and pillow, slippers, and new amenity kit. The new perks are available now on AA flights to London Heathrow. By October 1, the first class perks will be on all AA international 777s; and the business class extras will be on all international 777 and 767-300 flights, as well as select 757 flights to Europe.
• Delta Air Lines has opened a new Sky Club at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – an 8,300 square foot facility located on the roof of the airport’s South Satellite. The club has a wall of windows with views of Mount Rainier, along with showers, a “recharge zone” equipped with lounge chairs, full-service bar with free drinks and snacks, satellite TV, free Wi-Fi, power charging stations, desktop computers, wireless printers and more.
• The Denver Post reports that United Continental is planning to cut back service at Denver International Airport this fall by a significant amount. The paper said the two airlines’ schedules, including those of United Express, will offer 6.6 percent fewer departures in September than they did in the same month a year ago. The airlines’ year-over-year schedule reductions at DEN are 10 percent for October, 13.4 percent for November and 5.6 percent for December, the paper reported. It noted that seasonal reductions in flight schedules during the fall are common in the airline industry, but that United Continental’s cuts at Denver “are deeper than at the other hubs and stations.”
American Airlines announced on its website changes to the AAdvantage loyalty program that will make million-mile status harder to achieve in years to come. After December 1, 2011, the only miles that will count toward Million-Miler status will be those earned by flying on American, American Eagle, American Connection and other AAdvantage partner airlines, the company said. In addition, holders of the CitiExecutive/AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard will be able to count one mile per dollar spent toward Million-Miler status, but only for charges posted through December 2012. “For all members, your beginning Million Miler balance on December 1, 2011, will include every AAdvantage mile you ever earned in the program,” American said. But after that date, only the mileage types mentioned above will count, and Million Miler activity will be displayed separately from overall AAdvantage mileage balances in members’ accounts. “By giving members more than three months’ notice of the new program terms, we hope you have the opportunity to maximize your Million Miler starting balance,” the company said.
Under the new terms of the Million Miler status, members who hit one million miles will get lifetime AAdvantage Gold status and 35,000 bonus miles. Those who achieve two million miles will receive lifetime AAdvantage Platinum status and four one-way systemwide upgrades; and for each additional million miles, they’ll get four more one-way systemwide upgrades. American noted that all AAdvantage miles earned from any source will still be redeemable for awards in the program, and members who already hold a lifetime Gold or Platinum designation will still keep that status.
The next major international carrier to jump on the premium economy seating bandwagon will be Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific. Cathay Chief Executive John Slosar said in a statement that the new seating option will be introduced on all of the airline’s long-haul routes, including those to Europe and North America, as well as medium-haul services to the Middle East, Australia and other destinations. “The seat will be more like a regional business class seat,” Slosar said. “We’ll have great recline and plenty of leg space. But it’s not just the seat; we’ll have an improved service as well. The meal service will be improved and little extras will leave anyone who chooses Cathay Pacific’s premium economy feeling they really got value for their money.” Slosar said Cathay decided to go the premium economy route because it is becoming a “standard product” on many international carriers. The new seats will start to appear in Cathay’s planes in the second quarter of 2012, and will be installed at the same time the airline puts in new business class seating, as previously announced. “We’ll be doing all of this quite quickly, although it will still take most of 2012 before it is on most of our aircraft,” he said. Cathay didn’t say anything about first class seating in its announcement. However, the web site airlineroute.net, which tracks upcoming airline schedule changes and inventory through global distribution systems, noted that the first long-haul route to list a Cathay 777-300ER with the new configuration – Hong Kong-Toronto starting March 2, 2012 — shows availability only for business class, premium economy and economy, but no longer shows first class seating.
With the critical tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon just days away, many business travelers might be worried about the chance of another mass-casualty event. But government officials and security experts see little likelihood of any large-scale attack.
Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that her department has seen “no specific or credible threats involving the 9/11 anniversary.” In its latest terrorism advisory, issued in late July, the U.S. State Department said that in general, there is “an enhanced potential for anti-American violence given the death of Osama Bin Laden,” but State added that its best information indicates the most likely venues for such attacks are in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
“We are safer from large scale terrorist attacks because the terrorist infrastructure that threatened us pre-9/11 is gone,” notes Christopher Falkenberg, a former Secret Service agent and president of Insite Security, a New York City-based firm with scores of corporate clients. However, he adds that a threat does remain from “lone wolves,” i.e., “loosely organized groups of jihadist attackers and loosely organized conspiracies. Those threats are still around, but those attacks are poorly organized, not well supplied and are pathetic.” He cited the so-called Underwear Bomber and the Times Square car bombing attempt as examples.
As for threats to aviation, the Transportation Security Administration noted in a recent blog post that air travel security has been vastly improved over the past decade. TSA itself was created as a response to the attacks, and its government-employed and trained airport screeners now have an average of 3.5 years of experience on the job, compared with just three months for pre-9/11 screeners, who were simply private contract employees. In addition, today’s commercial aircraft have hardened cockpit doors, and many flights carry armed federal air marshals. The Secure Flight program checks every passenger’s name against government watchlists, and all checked bags are screened for explosives. And new full-body scanners currently being deployed to airports nationwide can detect non-metallic as well as metallic threats under a passenger’s clothing. None of this was in place before 9/11. There are also more than 800 TSA-certified teams of bomb-sniffing dogs in place at the nation’s airports – four times as many as before 9/11.
In New York City, both President Obama and former President George W. Bush are expected to attend memorial services at the former World Trade Center site on September 11, so security both in lower Manhattan and around the city will be at peak levels. That includes a 40 percent increase in the number of cops patrolling lower Manhattan, to a total of 670, as well as hundreds of closed-circuit cameras watching the area around Ground Zero. Subways have been an attractive target for terrorist activity in Europe, but in New York City, police have long deployed a variety of strategies to protect trains and their riders, including random bag searches, explosives detection technology, teams of tunnel inspectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and an extensive network of security cameras. Meanwhile, the Associated Press recently revealed after a months-long investigation that the NYPD’s antiterrorist operations include “one of the country’s most aggressive intelligence agencies,” with assistance from the CIA. AP said the NYPD’s terrorist intelligence unit “operates far outside its (i.e. the city’s) borders and targets ethnic communities” by using informers and undercover operatives.
“We’ve made New York City a much more hostile area for attackers,” said Falkenberg. “Law enforcement has played a large role, as has its pool of informants who are critical in mitigating the conspiracies that you hear about on the evening news.” He said New York is “safer because we’ve made it very hard for terrorists to get the equipment to undertake an attack.” Still, in terms of practical cautions, Falkenberg noted that terrorist attacks overseas in recent years focused on “target-rich, highly populated environments. Terrorists target places that are easy to attack with few restrictions and lots of visibility. We advise our clients to think like as terrorist. Avoid finding yourself in vulnerable, unsecured places.” Locations like Times Square and the Empire State Building are unlikely venues for attacks because of their “robust and focused” security, he notes. Terrorists are “much more attracted to less secure places, and those are the areas were you have to be careful.” But in general, Falkenberg said, “If you make a risk/reward calculation, it is highly unlikely for another attack to happen on September 11.”
Still, always remember the Homeland Security mantra: “If you see something, say something.”
In U.S. airline news last week, Delta placed a major aircraft order with Boeing as part of its fleet replacement plan; American makes changes in its preferred seating availability; and JetBlue Airways teams up with Brazil’s TAM as its newest foreign partner.
• Delta said it has placed an order with Boeing for 100 new 737-900ER aircraft, to be delivered from 2013 to 2018. The new 180-seat planes will replace older 757s, 767s and A320s, the company said. The new aircraft will come with Boeing’s “Sky Interior,” providing passengers with “expanded carry-on baggage space, a roomier, more airy cabin and an LED lighting system that provides different color schemes,” Delta said. The new aircraft will also be 15 to 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the ones they are replacing, the airline noted, and will have sufficient range to operate on any of Delta’s domestic routes.
• American Airlines announced it is expanding and renaming its “Express Seats” offering, now calling them Preferred Seats. The seating option is now available to all customers 24 hours before departure through all direct booking channels, American said, and through travel agencies with a direct connect link to the airline. Pricing for the seats varies by flight length and time of day. Preferred Seats are available free to AAdvantage Golds, Platinums and Executive Platinums, as well as full-fare customers, AAirPass holders and Oneworld elites. American said elites and full-fare flyers will still have access to “certain more desirable seats, including toward the front of the plane,” as early as 331 days before departure; those are now called Preferred Plus. Details are at www.aa.com/seats.
• JetBlue Airways has entered into an interline partnership with Brazilian carrier TAM Airlines, offering connections between the two carriers at New York JFK and Orlando. TAM has daily service from JFK to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and from Orlando to Sao Paulo. The agreement will permit JetBlue customers to book a single e-ticket itinerary for interline trips, with one-stop check-in for ticketing and baggage. JetBlue customers can book itineraries beyond Rio and Sao Paulo to dozens of other cities in Brazil and South America. Interline trips can be booked through www.tam.com.br, by calling 888-235-9826, or through global distribution systems or online travel agencies.