Because travel sucks ... now more than ever.
Thu, 2008/04/10 - 09:49 by aargh

Just when I thought I'd made my last AA-themed pun...

More AA flight cancellations: up to 1,000 flights yesterday, and some more today. Per news reports, expect even more tomorrow.

It's bad enough that American Airlines has to take planes out of service again... What's worse is that, yet again, the number of cancelled flights changed yesterday as the day progressed: in the morning, I heard 700 or 800. By the afternoon, 1,000.

So, does anyone really know what's going on here?

"In FAA Crackdown, American Expects More Cancellations"

"American Cancels 1,000 Flights in New Sign of Trouble"

Thu, 2008/04/03 - 10:49 by aargh

Two days too late for an April Fool's prank...

ATA has ceased operations to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Effective immediately. If you held any ATA tickets or, better still, jobs, you're out of luck. The low-cost airline cites loss of a key government contract as the reason for the shutdown. ATA claims that they were "not in a position to provide [their] customers or others with advance notice."


Admittedly, I'll hardly miss ATA. Aside from their cheesy "you're on vacation" jingle set to music reminiscent of Jimmy Buffet, my ATA experience boils down to one or two occasions in which they had the best last-minute fare. Nonetheless the sudden demise of any air carrier raises questions:

What will the stranded passengers do? It's tough enough when you're all set to hit the road and your outbound flight is cancelled. Now consider the folks who were heading back home today. Will they take a bus, train, or maybe try to purchase a seat on another airline? Maybe they'll follow the Virgin legend, which claims that Sir Richard Branson launched his airline by chartering a plane to rescue himself and his fellow passengers from a cancelled flight.

What will happen to the former ATA staff? In most businesses, employees see gathering storm clouds followed by some form of shutdown proceedings. The warning signs give them time to shop around for new jobs. Compare that to a sudden closing, which puts a large number of people (a couple thousand according to reports) on the job market at the same time. Chaos and intense competition, to the employees' detriment, are likely to follow.

How the hell did this happen? Was the airline really hanging by the thread of a single revenue stream? This is not uncommon in small, young businesses that are still trying to grow and it's part of entreprenurial darwinism. By comparison, ATA had been around for more than three decades. How many ATA insiders were aware of the risks that, minus this one contract, they wouldn't even have time for a proper wind-down?

What's next for the travel industry? Will other low-cost carriers beef up to take on ATA's traffic? Perhaps one of the larger airlines will make a move to absorb ATA customers and staff, maybe even buy out ATA? Will long-distance bus and rail services experience a mild increase in ticket sales? There are opportunities here for someone to fill ATA's crater.

Enough of my ranting. Here's a question for you:

What would you do if your preferred airline were to suddenly go belly-up?

Relevant links:

"ATA Airlines files for bankruptcy"

"ATA Files for Bankruptcy"

"ATA Airlines files for bankruptcy and shuts down"

Thu, 2008/03/27 - 10:54 by aargh

This, dear readers, is the definition of Travel Hell:

Unless you've been living in a cave, or recovering from jet lag, it's hardly news: yesterday, American Airlines grounded some of their MD-80s for last-minute wiring inspections and cancelled flights accordingly. By "some," I mean between 200 and 300 planes, depending on the source and publication time of the report.

If you've been flying with American Airlines long enough, you don't need anyone to tell you that they have a lot of those planes. You've earned plenty of miles in that familiar 2-3 seat plan. You no longer need SeatGuru to point out outlets in coach or exit-row seats. Your initial reaction to the news? Bloody hell, there goes the fleet! -and perhaps some unprintables if you were staring at the lounge's Departures board at the time...

Is this reason to worry about AA's airplane safety now? No more than normal, I'd say. (This event raises questions about the how the airline tracks its maintenance, but that's another story...)

What's disconcerting, however, is where we're getting information about the event. Newspapers, news websites, everywhere but the source: AA's website.

Let me check: On the landing page I see fares sales, a double-miles vacation promotion, an ad for the AA credit card... Anything relevant in the "AA News and Offers" block? Nope.

I'll try the "All News" link. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Nichevo.

Aha, I'll click "About Us" and then "Press Releases" on the left-hand navigation section. Voila.

March 26: American Airlines Statement On MD-80 Aircraft Maintenance


Wow. The "About American Airlines" section has more text than the press release itself. Where's the rest of the story?

If anyone from American is reading: You realize that those planes were going somewhere, with passengers, before they were pulled from service? Those people stranded at airports, they're your customers. Tell us how you're caring for them. In the very least, you'll show the world that you know how to pick up the pieces and keep moving. If you handle it well, you may even look like a hero.

I think Business Week recently published an article on how to wrangle a PR nightmare. Let me know if you'd like a copy. One of the tips was to speak up. Promptly. If you're silent too long, you'll leave people to develop their own conclusions. You don't have to wait for the journalists to come knocking, either. That fancy website? It's your strongest PR vehicle. -and right now I'd expect people to be on the hunt for news updates rather than fare sales.

In the meantime, would any strAAnded passengers care to tell us their story? Please feel free to sign up and speak your mind in the forum.

-and to The Fat Plat: don't get cheeky on me, mate: Delta's had to ground some planes as well. I'll leave it up to you to research how well they have publicized this matter.

Some reading material for you curious folks:

"Delta, American To Cancel 400-Plus Flights"

"American Airlines not out of the woods yet",...

"About 300 American Airlines Flights Canceled"

"U.S. airline fleets showing their age",1,630107.story

Thu, 2008/03/20 - 11:13 by aargh

My passport has picked up its fair share of stamps, with most of my transatlantic travel involving Paris. Those of you who have flown through Roissy/CDG know that AA hardly considers it a key business hub. Admirals Club? Yes, though typically a hike from the gate. Arrivals lounge? Not as of my last check. Aircraft? Old 767-300s, aka 763s. Compare this to the modern 777s that grace Heathrow and you may turn a shade of green...

AA's choice of aircraft weighed heavily in my choice of cabin over the years. I tried to like business class on that route, I really did, but I felt it was doing a half-hearted attempt to impress. It offered little beyond the larger seat and more, though not necessarily better, food. To compete with other airlines that provided seat-back entertainment centers -- in coach, no less -- AA passed out portable DVD players and upscale headphones.

No thanks, I said, I'll stay in coach.

(Hearing my pal The Fat Plat boast of Air France's business class accomodations, it's almost enough to make me switch airlines. Note to AA: once AF gets better US partners, let's have a little sit-down, shall we?)

I recently decided to give AA's biz class from Paris another try, and managed to crack a weak smile. The seats struck me as larger and more modern. The food? Sure, my salmon was a little tough, but it was salmon, dammit, and at cruising altitude. I've had worse in fancy restaurants.

-and lo and behold, the seat-backs boasted entertainment systems. They looked like a bolted-on after-thought, but it's a step forward, right?

A step forward, yes, but not quite the full distance. I was still riding in a creaky 763 that looks as old as I feel. Bathrooms? Same size as in coach. Those fancy video screens? Hardly fixtures. Imagine my surprise as flight attendants collected them as part of the pre-landing ritual...

Overall I was satisfied with the experience. It was better than the last time I had tried. Better than a seat in coach, by any stretch of the imagination. Was it worth the upgrade cost? Absolutely. Would it be worth the four-figure, full-fare price on a future voyage? Hmm...

Tue, 2008/03/18 - 14:56 by aargh

First, the self-service ticket kiosks. Then, printing your boarding pass at home.

Next step: using your mobile phone as a boarding pass?

Some airlines are currently toying with the idea of letting people check in and board via their mobile. So long, paper ticket! Flash your fancy phone to get past security and gate agents, and zip off to your seat.

This seems a logical step: modern mobile are so much more than plain old telephones... They're full-blown, hand-held computers. I'm glad to see airlines tacking on to the mobile trend. -and while I'm usually a privacy-minded individual, I don't see the airlines getting any more information than normal out of this. If you're a seasoned traveler, chances are your primary airline already has your mobile phone number.

What are your thoughts? Do you see any exceptional benefits or drawbacks to this kind of system? or, like me, are you holding out for more technical details before making any decisions?

(Originally spotted on CNET News.)

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