United’s shiny new terminal in Houston

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s brand new website breaks out + Chinese tourists on notice + Fast trains in Spain + United’s 787 Dreamliner plans + New Oneworld lounge at LAX + Global Entry at Oakland 

Rendering of United's new Terminal C North at Houston Bush Intercontinental. (Image: United)

Rendering of United’s new Terminal C North at Houston Bush Intercontinental. (Image: United)

A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport for a new Terminal C North concourse, part of United’s hub operations there.

United has teamed up with the Houston Airport System for the $244 million project, which will have 11 boarding gates and will total 265,000 square feet — more than 100,000 square feet larger than the existing C North concourse.

That existing concourse will be torn down after this project is finished in early 2017, clearing space for the later reconstruction of Terminal D, the airport’s international terminal.

United said the expansion and redevelopment of the international terminal is “critical” to accommodating more connecting traffic at IAH, “particularly for those customers connecting between United flights and flights operated by United’s international airline partners.” Those partnership links keep growing; e.g., United’s Star Alliance partner All Nippon Airways will begin Houston-Tokyo Narita service next month, and Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand will start flying between Houston and Auckland in December.

United’s new C North concourse will feature 20 new dining and retail options, larger gate areas, and floor-to-ceiling windows.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s brand new website breaks out + Chinese tourists on notice + Fast trains in Spain + United’s 787 Dreamliner plans + New Oneworld lounge at LAX + Global Entry at Oakland 

The United Explorer Card is perfect for those who don’t fly or spend enough to earn elite status– that’s because the card provides some nice elite level perks like priority boarding, passes to United Clubs and free first checked bags. Other nice perks: no irritating foreign transaction fees, primary car rental collision coverage and double miles on tickets purchased from United. Right now you can get 50,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Details in our TravelSkills post about the card here.


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Air New Zealand coming to Texas

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky + Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 

Air New Zealand will use a 777-200 to Houston. (Image: Guillaume Besnard/Flickr)

Air New Zealand will use a 777-200 to Houston. (Image: Guillaume Besnard/Flickr)

Air New Zealand is targeting a December start for service to Houston, which would be its third gateway in the mainland U.S., along with San Francisco and Los Angeles. (The carrier also flies to Honolulu and Vancouver.)

Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH) is a hub for Air New Zealand’s Star Alliance partner United; ANZ plans to fly the new route up to five times a week, and to code-share on several United routes into IAH. United’s code will also go onto the IAH-Auckland flight. Tickets will go on sale starting this month.

The company said a connection to its new Houston route will be the fastest way for business travelers from key business markets like New York and Chicago to get to Auckland.    

Air New Zealand will use a 777-200 on the route, one with premium economy seating as well as the carrier’s newly refurbished business class cabin. The plane will have 26 Business Premier seats, 40 in Premium Economy and 246 in regular economy.

Air New Zealand also offers the unique “Economy Sky Couch” option: Pay $1500 extra and you get three economy class seats with a cushion that’s about 3′ x 5′ for sleeping.

Last December, Air New Zealand moved its LAX operations into the Tom Bradley International Terminal, where it also manages a new Star Alliance lounge. The carrier plans to increase Auckland-LAX service this summer from 14 weekly flights to 17.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky + Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 


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36 most/least frustrating airports

Did you know that there's a five star hotel (with a great bar) inside Vancouver Airport? Photo: Chris McGinnis

Did you know that there’s a five star hotel (with a great bar) inside Vancouver Airport? Photo: Chris McGinnis

Just in time for the holiday crunch, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek has put together a spot-on ranking of the 36 largest airports in the US and Canada.

What’s best about this ranking is that it is based on a survey of 3,000 frequent travelers who know a thing or two about airports, plus a full analysis of drive time to/from airports, and airport on-time data.

Let’s start on a positive note and look at the those that come out at the top of the list for being LEAST frustrating overall:

#1 Vancouver YVR

#2 Portland PDX

#3 Austin AUS

#4 Calgary YYC

#5 Phoenix PHX

Every one of these top five airports puts a smile on my face. I love Vancouver for its indoor creek and 5-star hotel on the premises. I’m in awe of Portland’s glassy rain canopy that connects the airport to parking lots. Austin has live music, rocking chairs and BBQ!

Portland's glass canopy and great public transport  give it high marks (Port of Portland)

Portland’s glass canopy and great public transport give it high marks (Port of Portland)

One thing that jumped out at me about this study was that Canadian airports rank so high. In addition to Vancouver and Calgary, Ottawa ranked #8 overall. However, Toronto Pearson (YYZ), Canada’s busiest, ranked near the bottom of the pack at #30– just ahead of the reviled LAX and JFK. I can relate– nearly every time I fly to or from Toronto or pass through Pearson, I get lost. The first step Toronto could take toward a better airport would be better directional signage.

The bottom of the list should be familiar territory to all TravelSkills readers…these airport laggards nearly always fall at the bottom of every list, so there are few surprises here:

#32 New York Kennedy JFK

#33 Chicago O’Hare ORD

#34 Washington Dulles IAD

#35 Newark Liberty EWR

#36 New York LaGuardia LGA

Here's how Bloomberg described LaGuardia airport

Here’s how BusinessWeek described LaGuardia airport

Why the disdain for NYC area airports? Probably because they are dinosaurs– and most are too busy to make way for many improvements. Although I think it’s fair to say that there have been some improvements in New York. And there are more on the way… but it’s going to take a while…

For example, Delta’s new Terminal 4 operation at JFK is a dramatic improvement over its old digs at the long gone PanAm Worldport. The biggest downside are the unusually long walks required to get to gates at the far end of the concourse. I was just in JetBlue’s big, bright and happy JFK Terminal 5 last week and was impressed. And United’s operations at Newark are slated for improvements as we reported on TravelSkills this week.

Washington Dulles Airport's curves are sure lovely. Bu not its commute! (Photo: Joe Wolf / Flickr)

Washington Dulles Airport’s curves are sure lovely. Bu not its commute! (Photo: Joe Wolf / Flickr)

Another thread among the most frustrating airports is drive time. Washington Dulles is the most dramatic example of this… there is little worse than a five-hour transcon flight to Dulles, then another hour or two fighting traffic to get into downtown DC. Thankfully we have Washington National, which came in at #13. The top three airports in terms of drive time to/from during rush hour are: Boston BOS, Atlanta ATL and San Francisco SFO.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses! 

Some other interesting notes from the study: Delta’s big hubs at Detroit and Atlanta came in at #11 and #12 respectively- well into the top half. While both are big and always busy, they work well. When I lived in Atlanta, people would say, “Atlanta Airport is about as pretty as a Xerox machine. But it works like one, too,” referring to the overall efficiency of the world’s busiest airport.

My hometown airport San Francisco International ranked #17– firmly middle of the pack. While SFO has some award winning terminals, organic food and excellent runway views, I’m sure its poor on-time performance in rain and fog likely pushed it down in the rankings.

Bloomberg airports

Click to see the full report!

Take a look at this fascinating report!  and leave your comments about it below. Were there any surprises in it? 
 
>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!

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United changes rules + Radical plan for NYC airport + Centurion “Studio” + Uber’s friends in DC

United

Somewhere over Greenland up in the bubble on a United B747 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES. 

Did you get the email from United last week? As expected (and as usual) the carrier mimicked Delta’s recent move to increase the amount of dollars members must spend to get (or maintain) Premier status. The 20% bump up applies to qualifying activity in 2015 for status in 2016. The 25K spend threshold on MileagePlus co-branded credit cards  for status is not affected by this. Details here. So far, American is still sitting back, watching and remaining vague about any plans it has for the move toward a revenue based program. So what do you think? Last time we wrote about airlines’ new revenue requirements, the general reaction from TravelSkills readers was, “Mmmeh, I’ll easily meet those spending requirements.” And some even lauded Delta and United for weeding out the gamers who don’t pay much but have figured out wily ways to snag awards and upgrades. Please leave your comments below. 

AIRPORTS

New Amex Centurion “Studio.” American Express can’t always find a airport space large enough for its super popular Centurion Lounges, like the brand new on in San Francisco. Such is the case in Seattle (SEA), where Amex announced that will open a smaller Centurion Studio instead. Amex says: “The Centurion Studio will be a retreat for Card Members but in a smaller space, featuring some of the amenities Card Members say are most essential: comfortable seating, charging stations, fast and free WiFi, and complimentary healthy snacks and beverages.” Amex told TravelSkills that it will be located “right off the Main terminal towards concourse B, post-security and easily accessible to all terminals.” It will be interesting to see how the smaller studio handles crowds…we’ve heard from several TravelSkills readers already about overcrowded conditions at the SFO lounge and elsewhere….

A grand re-imagining of New York's LaGuardia Airport- enter on Riker's Island & take a train to your plane (ReThink NYC)

A grand re-imagining of New York’s LaGuardia Airport- enter on Riker’s Island & take a train to your plane (ReThink NYC)

Visionary plan for LaGuardia. The New York Times reports that one local resident who thinks big has a grand plan for remaking LaGuardia Airport. His concept would move airport access much closer to Manhattan and expand the airport from two runways to four, and have as many as 160 passenger gates. How could this be? The airport would take over nearby Rikers Island — currently home to a big city jail — and put all the passenger gates there, freeing up space at the existing airport for more runways; a transportation terminal at the southern tip of The Bronx would bring in passengers from subways and Amtrak trains; and the whole thing would be linked with underground trains. Talk about outta-the-box thinking!

Big improvements planned at DCA. Airlines at Washington Reagan National have come to terms with the airport authority on a plan to invest $1 billion in facility improvements over the next 10 years. The plan calls for construction of a regional airline concourse linked to the north pier; connecting the three B/C piers inside security by moving TSA checkpoints from level 2 to level 3, making for easier connections between American Airlines flights; adding a new parking garage; and overhauling Terminal A.

Bonus Offers: How about a round trip to Hawaii or Mexico for less than $100 on US Airways? Or enough points for two roundtrips and a big jump on coveted Companion Status on Southwest? More…

CARS

(Photo: Uber)

(Photo: Uber)

Uber gaining Capitol friends. A new report finds that ride-sharing service Uber is making big inroads among Congress people and their staffs. Specifically, their use of Uber for local transportation increased from a zero percent market share in the 2010 election campaign to 61 percent this year. “Uber has overtaken taxis in both number of rides and amount spent,” the researchers said.

SFO adds another private ride provider. San Francisco International Airport, which in recent weeks reached agreements allowing UberX, Lyft and Sidecar to operate there, has issued a pilot permit to another operator — Wingz (www.wingz.me). Unlike the others, Wingz specializes only in airport transportation, offering a $35 flat rate to SFO for a private ride with “an awesome trained and background-checked driver.” Service should begin within 30 days.

Note: This is part 2 of our weekly “Catch Up” — have you read Part 1? 

Study tracks rental processing time. How effective are car rental firms’ express service programs for business travelers? The latest rental customer satisfaction study from J.D. Power finds that the vehicle pick-up and return process for business renters averages 41.5 minutes (including the shuttle ride) — only about three minutes less than the process takes for leisure renters. Overall customer satisfaction dropped slightly this year after rising steadily since 2009. Enterprise, National and Alamo topped the J.D. Power list this year. Hertz ranked #4.

Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!

HOTELS

Hackers said to steal business travelers’ data at hotels. Internet security giant Kaspersky is warning business travelers about a corporate espionage campaign it calls “Darkhotel” that targets senior executives staying at luxury hotels — especially U.S. executives doing business in the Asia/Pacific region. The hackers “trick the person into downloading and installing a backdoor that pretends to be an update for legitimate software, such as Google Toolbar, Adobe Flash or Windows Messenger,” Kaspersky said, and can then hunt for stored passwords and logins as well as business data. The firm said travelers should be “suspicious” of suggested software updates when they are abroad, and should use a VPN provider. Has this ever happened to you– or anyone you know? Do you take any precautions when using a Wi-Fi connection in your hotel? Please leave your comments below. 

In Case You Missed It…

Note: This is part 2 of our weekly “Catch Up” — have you read Part 1? 

 

New extra bonus offer: Get a whopping 50,000 Rapid Rewards points by signing up for Southwest’s Premier card – that’s enough for TWO free tickets. 

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Virgin America's Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America’s Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Anyone who has flown through Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport knows that, despite efforts to gussy it up, it is a hulking relic from the 1960s.

To get inside, you must first pass through a TSA screening area wedged in a cramped, low-ceilinged and awkward space (that luckily has a mostly fast-moving PreCheck line). Once inside, there’s a Burger King, a Starbucks, a grab and go bakery and a few Hudson’s news shops. The outpost of LA’s popular Gladstone’s seafood restaurant is nice, but there’s frequently a line to get in, especially when flights are delayed.

Terminal 3 is the LAX home of Allegiant, Virgin America, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines- all low-cost, low-fare carriers that don’t really have the funds for deep terminal renovations like Delta has underway at Terminal 5…or that the major international carriers (and the city) have created at the outstanding new Bradley International terminal.

Virgin's LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin’s LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standing out from the drab dreariness of Terminal 3 is Virgin America’s colorful LAX Loft. I have known about the Loft for a while– via Virgin’s PR machine, from TravelSkills readers, and from reading the lounge’s mixed reviews in the blogosphere. It’s been open since 2012.

Since I’ve had relatively good luck with flight delays at LAX, I have never had reason to decamp from the main terminal, so I’d never seen it in person.

When Virgin invited me to check it out during my recent trip to LA, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the lowdown:

Entering the Virgins' LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entering the Virgins’ LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entry: Anyone traveling on Virgin America or its partner airlines can pay a $40 fee to enter the Loft. Full-fare first class passengers on long haul flights get in free. So do Gold and Silver Elevate members with their annually allotted day passes. Priority Pass or Lounge Club cardholders (plus companions) can also get in without a fee by presenting a valid membership card.

It’s located on the upper level of the terminal main gate area, accessible by elevators or a staircase and is open daily from 6am to 11pm. LAX is one of Virgin’s two primary hubs, so there is a steady stream of passengers all day long who might duck into the club.

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The views: The club’s most outstanding feature? The breathtaking runway views. Plane-spotters can just sit back, relax and watch those colorful tails LAX is known for float by on the runway. Endlessly entertaining!

Wi-fi: free, password-protected, very fast and much better than the LAX’s free wi-fi. Plus, in Virgin style, there there are plenty of power plugs all over the place.

Design: It’s fun, mood lit and very much in keeping with what you see onboard Virgin America flights- lots of red, white and black. Modern furnishings (like Frank Gehry tables and big red Vitra sofas) float on a glossy gray (recycled material) floor. Regrettably, there is scant desk or table space for business travelers planning to get some work done. There’s a lively bar area, several separate seating areas, bathrooms, a marble-topped snack buffet and big views out to runways. There’s even a pair of powerful binoculars to check out what’s happening outside the big floor to ceiling windows.

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Food: Basic but good. There used to be a more elaborate buffet when Virgin Australia passengers used this lounge. But since that carrier moved into the Bradley International terminal last December, the repast is now on par with what you may find at most domestic US airline lounges- the current Loft menu in the morning includes pastries, bagels, breads, yogurt, fresh fruits, juices, cereal, and an espresso bar. In the afternoon/evenings, there is hot soup, breads, a cheese platter, fresh fruit, cookies and grab-and-go snacks like Krave Jerky and mixed nuts.

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what's going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what’s going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cocktails: Complimentary! I noted booze brands such as Glenfiddich, Jack Daniels, Tanqueray Sapphire, Bacardi and Sauza. Plus there are a couple vats of fruited, iced waters and an espresso bar. In addition to the usual beverages  you can also order “Lofty Libations” crafted by the bartender that include the Virgintini, Mile-High Margarita and Runway Ruddy Mary.

If you were stuck at LAX would you pony up the $40 for a visit? Have you visited Virgin’s LAX Loft? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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Best and worst days for holiday trips

Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was very busy and very expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season.

When’s the best time to buy airline tickets? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations. My favorite sites for shopping for air travel this year: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com.

Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five-hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. Good news this year is that gasoline prices are at their lowest in many years. One of my favorite new smartphone apps for driving trips is Waze, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards…and speed traps.

What are the best days for traveling this year? The good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is longer than usual with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Christmas and New Year’s both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact, crowded and expensive season.) Smart travelers will depart on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to avoid the biggest crowds and snag the lowest fares.

Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50%-70% on airfare or hotels. For example, airfares to Europe can be remarkably inexpensive during winter months. The best sites to shop for these dead week deals: Hotwire.com, Priceline.com and TravelZoo.com. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.

Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. Instead of dealing with those frustrations, focus on your credit card points! For example, the when redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you are not subject to blackouts or other restrictions. If a seat is available on any airline, you can get it!

What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays– the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FEDEX or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.

What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

‘Tis the season for Holiday Travel and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to produce a series of travel tips and advice for those heading over the river and through the woods this year. 

Chris McGinnis 

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SkyMiles upgrade (seriously) + Buying MQMs + Southwest shrinkage + Delta's big bump + Southwest surprise

Delta's Tiffany bag tag

Delta’s Tiffany & Co bag tag

Yesterday, Delta announced some welcome changes for its top tier platinum and diamond medallion flyers. This is especially good news considering the series of downgrades to the program we’ve seen over the last year. Regrettably, the move targets only Delta’s super-elite…the SkyMiles world is still a relatively cold and lonely place for those carrying silver and gold. 

FREE INTERNATIONAL UPGRADES…Well, almost. Diamond Medallions will finally have international upgrade certificates they can use on any flight no matter what fare they paid. Beginning in March of next year, Diamond members can select 4 Global Upgrades as one of their Choice benefits. These are good on any fare (except for the most restricted, and rare, E class) and subject to availability (we’ve been unable to determine how easy or hard this might be since Delta blocked Expert Flyer from showing upgrade space). Previously, systemwide upgrades were only good on pricey Y, B, or M fares. This move puts Delta in line with American, which offers similar systemwide upgrades to its top tier on any fare and above United, which requires a certain fare class to use systemwide upgrades. The new Global upgrades will also work on certain higher fare classes on KLM for upgrades to business and on Air France for upgrades to Premium Economy. Regional upgrades are another Choice option made available for Platinum (four certificates) and Diamond Medallions (eight certificates) and are good on any economy fare (except for E class). They are available to use on any flight that traditionally offers complimentary upgrades and can be requested and confirmed in advance. If no space is available, these upgrade certificates will receive a higher priority than complimentary upgrades.

UPGRADE CHANGES…If you are Hawaii-bound, Delta is now following United’s footsteps to offer free Medallion upgrades on flights that depart from Western cities. Flights from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle to Hawaii are now eligible for Medallion upgrades, but the Atlanta-Honolulu nonstop is not. Nor are any of Delta’s “direct” flights that stop over on the west coast on the way to Hawaii.  Delta giveth and taketh away though. Beginning March 1 of next year, those premium, flat-bedded, transcontinental flights between JFK and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle (which don’t touch ATL) will no longer be eligible for complimentary upgrades. This means that a Diamond Medallion would have to redeem a Global upgrade, redeem miles, or purchase a business class fare (currently in the $3,500 range) to sit up front on those plush transcons.

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MORE CHOICE BENEFITS…Platinum and Diamond Medallions that reach certain flying thresholds will also have more choices next year. In addition to the new regional and global upgrades, starting in March Delta will add Global Entry application fee waivers (Diamond Medallion members get two and Platinum Medallion members get one. Value: $100 each) and two Diamond Medallion luggage tags from  Tiffany & Co.

Here’s Delta’s announcement regarding the coming changes.

Please leave your comments about the changes below! 

Lookout for Delta's holiday carts

Lookout for Delta’s holiday carts

DELTA CHEER CARTS MAKE HOLIDAY APPEARANCE…Delta’s flight attendants and pilots will be rolling out “cheer carts”  at various locations in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle throughout the month. On the carts will be a selection of drinks, snacks, and gifts offered to passersby to promote the holiday spirit. Coca-Cola products and Biscoff are expected giveaways, but other treats will include airline swag like wings, t-shirts, scarves, and water bottles. Look for the carts on city streets throughout the holiday season as part of the airline’s surprise and delight efforts. To find out where the nearest cart may appear, visit Delta’s Facebook and Twitter profiles for more details. To watch the holiday video that features the cheer carts in action, click here. 

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 4.17.55 PMGOT CASH?, BUY MQMS…If you are short of MQMs for the year, Delta is following repeating its annual year-end opportunity to buy access to elite status at ridiculously high prices. (The deal was a lot better in leaner times! Remember this? Or the time Delta offered up to 15,000 MQMs for those who donated to charities like AID Atlanta or Grady Hospital? Those were the days!) Anyway… for flyers who are still missing MQMs, buying them is rarely the answer unless time is of the essence. Delta knows that many customers will come up short at the end of the year and has traditionally cashed in on those that need that slight nudge to the next level. The rates vary depending upon your Medallion level, so hold your nose and at least go check this link.  We are already getting comments about this like this one from CL: “Have you seen this year’s version of “buy your way to Medallion?” What a rip. Prices have doubled. Remember a few years ago where making a couple of $500 donations could get you 10k, and then last year, $995 cash got you 10k? This year it is $1,995 – what are they thinking?”

HOLIDAY FAVOR? Hey TICKET readers, will you please do us a favor? Please copy and paste the link to this post, forward it to at least FIVE FRIENDS and encourage them to sign up for The TICKET! We need more readers and this would help out immeasurably! THANK YOU!!

SOUTHWEST DITCHES THREE CITIES…Bags will no longer fly free from three cities beginning next summer when Southwest ditches service to Branson, Missouri; Jackson Mississippi; and Key West, Florida. None was able to sustain the demand that Southwest needed to continue operations there. The cities will be dropped from the route map next summer.

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DELTA BUMPS ENTIRE FLIGHT…Delta received some unwanted press recently when a Delta Connection flight was canceled for maintenance reasons from Gainesville, Fla. to Atlanta. Passengers may not have been so upset if they had not noticed the University of Florida basketball team boarding their same aircraft. They later learned that their flight was canceled so that the team could make their scheduled game in Connecticut. While the gate agent was not entirely forthcoming to passengers as to why the flight was canceled, Delta was certainly within reason to cancel the flight. The basketball team is also a Delta customer (sports charters are big business for airlines), and canceling one flight to move aircraft to serve another flight for maintenance reasons is not uncommon. What do you think about what happened? Would you have upset if the gate agent had been more honest about the situation?

SOUTHWEST SURPRISES FLYERS WITH NINTENDO…In a nifty partnership with Nintendo, customers aboard Southwest flight 1883 from New Orleans to Dallas Love Field on Nov. 26 received a free Wii U console. Mario, of Super Mario Brothers, was awaiting customers in the terminal to hand out their new high-definition video game system. Lucky flyers!

ATLANTA AIRPORT MANAGER RETIRES…Hartsfield Jackson’s airport manager is planning to retire on Jan. 3 after spending 37 years in the aviation industry. He has worked at Atlanta’s airport since 2010. Louis Miller has helped boost the airport’s economic status in the community while also managing the successful opening of the Maynard H. Jackson international terminal. A new interim manager will step in until another airport chief is hired.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

 

AVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1,000 Delta SkyMiles! 

In case you missed it:

Free booze + Airport roads + TSA tax + CNN @ATL + Delta #1

16 brand new must-see NYC hotels

Try the new Greencoat Valet Parking at ATL and earn 1,000 SkyMiles

Did I get it right about Atlanta? 

Southwest, but not AirTran, joins PreCheck

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

 


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Free booze + Airport roads + TSA tax + CNN @ATL + Delta #1

(Photo: jspatchwork / Flickr)

(Photo: jspatchwork / Flickr)

FREE BOOZE FOR EVERYONE…Earlier this month, Delta introduced a change that all international passengers are sure to like: free cocktails for all economy passengers on international flights that feature BusinessElite service. This means that transatlantic, transpacific, and deep South American flights will now offer complimentary wine, beer, and cocktails to all passengers on board. Until now, only BusinessElite and Economy Comfort passengers were enjoying the free stuff. This welcome change puts Delta in line with its joint venture partners including Air France and KLM.

ATL AIRPORT ROADWAY DETOURS/DELAYS…Drivers will soon notice detours and unexpected delays on roadways leading from I-85 to airport terminals, which began last Thursday (and in which your TICKET editor was stuck in unexpected traffic). The roadway improvement project will upgrade the roadway network between Interstate 85 and Camp Creek Parkway north of the airport, and Riverdale Road to the south. We’ll all have to be on the lookout for detours, rerouting, dust and dirt through the end of next year when the project should be complete.

AFA Airsick bagTSA FEES COULD DOUBLE…Airlines for America, a trade association that supports airlines and air travelers, is lobbying Congress to nix a proposed raise in the Sept. 11security fee, which funds the TSA. The hike would double the fee from $2.50 per flight segment to $5 per segment. Airlines argue it could affect ticket sales. The trade association is even distributing airsickness bags at airports with the slogan, “are high air taxes on travel making you sick?” Cuts from budget sequestration have prompted this scramble for additional revenue, but critics find it hard to believe that an bureaucratic organization like the TSA needs to have more funds thrown at it rather than improving its existing operation.

READER NOTE: This week we are experimenting with posting The TICKET more frequently…this week you’ll get 3-4 shorter-than-usual issues from us with various bits and pieces of travel news. Let us know what you think.

 

CNN's in depth behind the scenes look at ATL

CNN’s in depth behind the scenes look at ATL

CNN PROFILES ATLANTA AIRPORT…CNN recently profiled the full 24-hour operation of Atlanta’s airport in a fascinating article on its website. While much of it may not be a surprise to seasoned travelers, there are lots of interesting tidbits and photographs that give a behind-the-scenes look at the airport. For example, it was shocking to read about the number of homeless people that sleep at the airport and the amount of people that spend the night at the airport due to flight disruptions.

AMEX PLATINUM CARD DOWNGRADE… American Express Platinum credit card holders may be in for a surprise next year when the card’s airport lounge program drops access to American Admirals Clubs and US Airways Clubs on March 22, 2014. This means that the AMEX Plat card (we’re talking about the grey, non-Delta affiliated card) will now only provide access to Delta lounges domestically. For those who were using the card to access other airline lounges because they are already Sky Club members, maybe it’s time to reconsider the $450 annual fee.

Delta at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Delta at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

DELTA TOPS BIZ TRAVEL SURVEY…Delta kept its top-place position for the third time in three years in the Business Travel News Annual Airline Survey. Voted on by travel agents and travel managers, the survey targets those with the best knowledge for capturing business travel data. The survey focuses on inflight amenities and overall service, but does place an emphasis on flyer programs—if it did, Delta surely would not have scored as high. Do you agree? Does the Delta’s captive audience in ATL really have it so bad compared to those in other airline hub cities? As much as we like to gripe about the big D, I think Atlantans are actually pretty lucky. Am I wrong? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

 

AVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1,000 Delta SkyMiles! 

In case you missed it:

16 brand new must-see NYC hotels

Try the new Greencoat Valet Parking at ATL and earn 1,000 SkyMiles

Did I get it right about Atlanta? 

Southwest, but not AirTran, joins PreCheck

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

 


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Strangers in the PreCheck line…

Just who are these new people in the PreCheck lane? (Photo: Jaxworld)

Just who are these new people in the PreCheck lane? (Photo: Jaxworld)

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Have you ever been in the PreCheck line along with someone who has no idea why they are there? Ive noticed is a lot lately. And I’ve heard from TICKET readers who wonder the same thing.

How could someone in the PreCheck line NOT know what it is, or that they don’t have to remove shoes, belts or laptops when they go through?

Turns out it’s because the TSA has vetted them, allowing them to use the PreCheck lane to relieve the pressure on the regular lanes. Here’s what TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez told The TICKET:

“Currently, TSA’s Secure Flight system uses information provided when making a flight reservation – such as name, date of birth, and gender – to identify and prevent known or suspected terrorists or other individuals from gaining access to airplanes or secure areas of airports. TSA will now use that information to identify passengers who present a lower risk to aviation security and offer those passengers expedited screening. This initiative will occur on a flight-by-flight basis and will not require passengers to enroll in a DHS Trusted Traveler program. If a passenger is eligible for expedited screening for a particular flight, a TSA Pre✓™ indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass so that when scanned at the checkpoint, the passenger may be referred to a TSA Pre✓™ lane….This process will allow TSA to maintain its high security standards and create greater efficiency while offering more travelers the benefit of expedited screening through TSA PreCheck lanes.”

What do you think? Have you noticed this? Please leave your comments or observations below.

Chris McGinnis 

AVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1000 Delta SkyMiles! >>See ad…click on ad>>

In case you missed it:

Try the new Greencoat Valet Parking at ATL and earn 1,000 SkyMiles

Did I get it right about Atlanta? 

Southwest, but not AirTran, joins PreCheck

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

 


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Did I get it right about Atlanta?

Have you been inside the mode new Hyatt Atlanta Midtown hotel at 10th & Peachtree yet? (Chris McGinnis)

Have you been inside the mod new Hyatt Atlanta Midtown hotel at 10th & Peachtree yet? (Chris McGinnis)

As many TICKET readers may know, I wear a lot of hats in the travel biz… one of my roles is Business Travel Columnist for BBC… I write the monthly “BBC Business Trip” column which features what’s new, exciting, helpful or interesting about major business travel destinations around the world.

This month, I wrote about our home town, Atlanta and I’d like to hear what you all think… did I get it right? What did I leave out? What sort of advice would you give a business traveler headed to Atlanta for a few days? 

Here’s the introduction to my story… click on the links provided to read the whole thing. 

Business Trip Atlanta BBCLike its official symbol, the phoenix, Atlanta is rising from the ashes of the recent recession, maintaining its position as the commercial capital of the fast-growing southeastern US.

Over the last five years Atlanta has added a $1.4 billion international airport terminal, opened or renovated a slew of hotels, attracted additional national and regional business headquarters, and spurred development of once decaying downtown neighbourhoods with multimillion dollar mixed-use developments and parks.

Evidence of Atlanta’s comeback: overnight visitation was up 9% in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. In October 2013, Korean Air added daily 407-seat Airbus A380 nonstop flights between Atlanta and Seoul. The city ranked fourth in the US for meetings and conventions in 2012, after Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas. Its surprisingly sophisticated and dynamic dining scene continues to enthuse visitors and locals alike – Atlantans dine out more often than New York or Chicago residents, and enjoy restaurant prices well below the national average, according to Zagat.

Most business travellers arriving in Atlanta will meet, eat and sleep somewhere along the north-south corridor, which starts in the city’s central core (downtown) and moves north to MidtownBuckhead and the sprawling Perimeter Centre/Dunwoody area, which has more office space than downtown. Stick close to this spine and you can get around easily by taxi or MARTA (the city’s rapid rail system).  But if business takes you into the tech-heavy northern suburbs such as Marietta, Alpharetta or Gwinnett County, a rental car is necessary to traverse the sprawl.

I wrote about the new mod new Hyatt in Midtown (a down to the studs revamp), the chic Le Meridien out by Perimeter Mall, the classy Mandarin Oriental near Lenox and the popular St Regis, Buckhead. For dining, I suggested The Optimist, King + Duke, KR Steakbar and the unusual new Gunshow. I suggested a walk or ride along the new Eastside Trail and Beltline, and talked a bit about southern manners.

Please take a read and let me know what I may have missed! What would YOU suggest to an international business traveler coming to ATL? (Leave your comments below) And use this as a resource to send out to colleagues coming into town.

Chris McGinnis 

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

 

 

 


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Southwest (but not AirTran) joins PreCheck

TSA PreCheck lanes (Chris McGinnis)

TSA PreCheck lanes (Chris McGinnis)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today announced the expansion of TSA PreCheck to Southwest Airlines, Atlanta’s second largest carrier.  

Important: This does NOT apply to flights on AirTran Airways, which Southwest Airlines purchased in 2011. Why? A Southwest spokesperson told The TICKET: “It’s a function of technology. We are on two different reservations systems. With AirTran flights decreasing each schedule release, the technology was only enabled on Southwest.”

Today’s announcement makes a total of eight domestic carriers including: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America. 

As most frequent travelers know, PreCheck allows pre-approved travelers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on in select screening lanes at 100 airports nationwide.

Passengers who are eligible for TSA PreCheck include U.S. citizens of frequent traveler programs — including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards — invited by participating airlines. Additionally, U.S. citizens who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program and Canadian citizens who are members of CBP’s NEXUS program qualify to participate. Later this year TSA will launch an application program, allowing more U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to enroll in TSA PreCheck.

tsa_precheck_boardingIf a Southwest Airlines passenger is eligible for expedited screening, a TSA PreCheck indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass so that when scanned at the checkpoint, the you’ll be granted access to a TSA PreCheck lane. Southwest Airlines will also print a TSA PreCheck indicator directly on the boarding pass so passengers will know in advance that they have been cleared for expedited screening. But remember, the TSA warns that is will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport, and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening. (which is why I still carry a CLEAR card, which works at both SFO and San Jose)

Here’s how it works:

Elite level Rapid Rewards members will receive notification that he/she is eligible to opt-in to the program and chooses to participate or a passenger includes a Known Traveler Number within a reservation, Southwest Airlines will share certain information with the TSA Secure Flight System.

Note: Only reservations booked after opting-in are eligible for TSA PreCheck.

Global Entry or Trusted Traveler participants will need to provide their CBP-assigned PASS ID number in the “Known Traveler #” field during the booking process at southwest.com andswabiz.com. The passenger’s Trusted Traveler information will be submitted along with reservation information to TSA’s Secure Flight system. Trusted Traveler program members should also remember to enter their full name, date of birth, and PASS ID exactly as it appears on their membership card.

tsa_precheck_whosflying

IMPORTANT: Global Entry and CBP Trusted Traveler participants can add their PASS ID number to their Southwest Rapid Rewards Member profile to have the number automatically sent to TSA when booking reservations. 

For more information, see www.southwest.com/TSAprecheck.

Chris McGinnis 

*****

In case you missed it:

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.


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Valet parking at ATL + 1,000 Delta SkyMiles (sponsored)

Make your reservation, then look for the green blazer at the curb at ATL! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Make your reservation, then look for the green blazer at the curb at ATL! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

How many times have you been slowed down by the hassle of finding parking at ATL…schlepping your bags across a cold, rainy, or dark parking lot…or riding in a bouncy shuttle bus through traffic to or from the terminal?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just drive your car to the front door of the airport, and hand your keys to a valet who is waiting there for you?  When you return from your trip, the valet is there waiting for you, keys in hand, car warm and dry, and you jump in and drive home?

This fall, GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet Service cranked up operations at ATL, and it has partnered with The TICKET to get word out to frequent travelers in and around Atlanta.

make_a_reservationPartnerships like this help fund The TICKET and keep it free for readers, so we encourage you to read on, learn more about this unique new service… and give GreenCoat a try!

GreenCoat is currently offering an introductory rate of just $20 per day to encourage first time users. In addition, they are offering 1,000 Delta SkyMiles to all TICKET readers! (Just enter coupon code #SkyMiles when making your online reservation.)

Here’s how to try it for yourself:

1> Make advance reservations. GreenCoat does not have a valet stand at the airport like you might see at a restaurant. You must make a reservation in advance via www.gogreencoat.com or by calling 678-865-8400. Upon making a reservation, you will receive a courtesy phone call from a GreenCoat concierge to confirm all details.

2> Meet your GreenCoat concierge at your selected terminal door at ATL at your selected time. You just saved 20 – 30 minutes on departure!

3> When returning to ATL, text or call GreenCoat when you land.

4> Meet your GreenCoat concierge at your selected exit door. You just saved another 20 – 30 minutes at arrival!

Ameripark CEO Chip Patterson

AmeriPark CEO Chip Patterson

GreenCoat is part of Atlanta-based AmeriParkthe largest valet parking company in the US.  The company was started in 1986 by longtime TICKET reader Chip Patterson—he or one of his valet parkers likely took care of your car at a Buckhead restaurant, mall or hotel back then.

Now, AmeriPark operates all over the US, and offers similar airport valet parking services in Birmingham, Charleston and Louisville.

Please, give GreenCoat, The TICKET’s new sponsor, a try and let us know what you think!

Make your online reservations here.  Leave your comments, questions or experiences about the new service below.

See www.gogreencoat.com

 

*****

In case you missed it:

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

****

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.


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ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Tempting, yes. Healthy? Not so much. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Tempting, yes. Healthy? Not so much. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ATLANTA AIRPORT FOOD RANKS LAST. First, the good news: Overall, airport fare has become a lot healthier in recent years… we’ve come a long way from those wizened wieners and dried out triangles of pizza from years gone by. According to a new study from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 76% of airport restaurants offer at least one cholesterol free, plant-based entrée such as salads, veggie soups, wraps or burgers—that’s up from just 57% in 2001. Now the bad news… all those yummy Chick-fil-a sandwiches with waffle fries, Varsity dogs and rings with F.O.s and IHOP pancakes have put our airport at the bottom of the list when it comes to healthy food. According to the study, only 51% of the restaurants at ATL offer at least one high-fiber, cholesterol free option. ATL has ranked last for the past three years. Airports in Denver, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles ranked first, with over 80% of restaurants offering healthy options. What’s your favorite restaurant or food stand at ATL? Does it offer anything “healthy?” Please leave your comments below.

One Flew South at ATL Concourse E has some healthy options (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

One Flew South at ATL Concourse E has some healthy options (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

IN SEARCH OF HEALTHY FOOD? Here are some suggestions from the Physicians Committee for finding healthy food at ATL: Fresh Healthy Café (Concourse C) may be travelers best bet with fresh kale wraps, dairy- and gluten-free salads, mega berry smoothies, and spiced apple oatmeal bowls. Try cauliflower and parsnip soup, edamame, and garden mint sushi at One Flew South (Concourse E) or stop by D8 Grill for a black bean burger. Checkpoint Grill (Concourse T) offers fire-roasted tomato soup and a grilled Southern vegetable plate, overflowing with grilled asparagus, collard greens, and a side of sweet potato fries.

AWARD CHART CHANGES PART DEUX…Following United’s move last week to drastically increase mileage prices, Delta has taken the knife to its SkyMiles chart yet again. Despite already announced increases beginning June 1, 2014, Delta is raising rates for awards for travel on or after Feb. 1, 2014, clearly an opportunity Delta did not want to miss for snatching away more hard-earned miles. Take a peek and you’ll see increases on popular awards including low-level awards in first class to Hawaii (up 5K from 85,000 to 90,000 miles) and business class to the South Asian subcontinent (up 20K from 120,000 to 140,000 miles) and in low-level economy to Hawaii (up 5k from 40,000 to 45,000 miles), the Middle East (80,000 to 85,000 miles), and the South Asian subcontinent (80,000 to 85,000 miles). And if you are crazy enough to redeem high-level awards for business class travel, increases to Africa and most of Asia are also in place. These are additional increases set to take effect before the third devaluation in June. Confused yet? There are now THREE charts to muddle through: current, interim (Feb 1-May 31, 2014), and new. Good grief! Thoughts please at the bottom!

DOUBLE MILES FROM SEATTLE…Delta is really sinking its teeth into the Seattle market and is offering double miles AND double MQMs on all Delta-operated flights between SEA and Anchorage, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco. In what is direct, head-to-head competition with partner Alaska Airlines, this is certain to get some attention from local flyers. Even better, the promotion lasts until October 31, 2014. When was the last time you saw a year-round promotion? Maybe it’s time to move to Seattle! Register here

Virgin Atlantic's Clubhouse spa at London Heathrow Terminal 2 (Josh Friedman)

Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse spa at London Heathrow Terminal 3 (Photo: Josh Friedman)

DELTA MAKES BIG LONDON CHANGES…In partnership with Virgin Atlantic, Delta is moving its JFK, Boston, and Seattle nonstops to terminal 3 at Heathrow beginning April 2, 2014. This is a big plus for passengers excited about using Virgin’s famous Clubhouse lounge. All other Delta flights will continue to operate from the newly-renovated-but-still-not-as-sexy terminal 4 including the nonstop flights to Atlanta. This may cause some initial confusion, and passengers connecting at Heathrow from other SkyTeam flights (a minority of travelers overall), will have to switch terminals. Delta is also adding a second nonstop from Heathrow to Detroit beginning June 1, 2014. Virgin and Delta are also re-timing some of their flights to spread out frequency on the London-New York route with a total of nine departures daily including departure every 30 minutes during the early evening peak from New York.

AMEX POINT TRANSFER BONUS. American Express is offering a 20% bonus on points transfers to partner British Airways through Dec 31… and a 30% bonus on transfers to Virgin Atlantic through Nov 30.

All of Delta's 747's now refurbed (Photo: Redlegsfan)

All of Delta’s 747’s now refurbed (Photo: Redlegsfan)

DELTA COMPLETES 747 REFURB…All of Delta’s 747s are now equipped with comfortable flat-bed seating in BusinessElite. With 16 747s in the fleet and a full schedule between the U.S. and Asia, it is no easy task to pull them aside for interior refitting. The main deck biz class features 1-2-1 seating in the main section with 1-1 seating upstairs and in the lower deck’s nose section. These aircraft also received new economy class upgrades with entertainment systems installed at all seats, which was a much-needed and, now appreciated, overhaul.

HILTON OFFERS DOUBLE MQMs…Earn 250 MQMs with every two-night qualifying stay at a Hilton family property between now and Dec. 13, 2013. Plus, you will receive double SkyMiles if you have opted to receive points and miles with your Hilton HHonors account. Click here to register.

TSA SETS NEW RECORD FOR GUNS FOUND; ATL #1…The total tally for guns found year-to-date in coat pockets or in carry-on bags at airports across the U.S. comes to more than 1,500. The majority of the guns were loaded, and a third of them even had a bullet in the chamber. Atlanta is still the number one airport for guns discovered at TSA checkpoints with 91 found so far this year. Plans are in place to increase the signage indicating that weapons are not allowed. Perhaps these people forget they have them with them? Or are they trying to prove a point? Or were they living in a cave for the past decade? What do you think?

EXPERTFLYER LOSES UPGRADE DATA…If you use ExpertFlyer.com to access upgrade data, both Delta and United have nixed some of this information from public view via the service. Both airlines prefer to keep this information private, but for Delta frequent flyers searching for certain upgrade availability, it was often the best way to find RU/OU classes (complimentary domestic and Caribbean/Central American upgrades). If you are a Medallion and buying a ticket within your upgrade window, Delta.com will still show if upgrade inventory is there, but ExpertFlyer gave this information in advance of the upgrade window. Luckily, the inventory for systemwide certificate or mileage upgrades (RP/OP) still shows on ExpertFlyer.

NEW FLAT-BED SEATS ON JFK-LAX…Delta is placing three Boeing 757 aircraft equipped with new Business Elite flat bed seats onto the premium JFK-LAX run beginning July 1, 2014. Tickets are now available for purchase. By 2015, all flights on this route will feature the flat bed seats up front. These aircraft are primarily used on long-haul flying to Europe and South America plus these premium transcontinental flights between JFK and LAX, SFO, and SEA. LAX will be the first to see officially these on the schedule; if you know your summer plans, the beds are open for booking!

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

Subscribe to The TICKET via E-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

 


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ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

The first ever airport IHOP opened last month at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

The first ever airport IHOP opened last month at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

FIRST AIRPORT IHOP LOCATION OPENS IN ATLANTA…Need a maple or boysenberry syrup-drenched griddle before takeoff or a carb reload after landing? Well, ATL can now proudly proclaim that it is the first airport to offer an IHOP at its terminal. The restaurant is dubbed “IHOP Express,” and it’s open 24 hours a day. It’s located before security in the main terminal atrium with seating for 100. A “to go” section will be available for those that prefer their pancakes on the plane instead of having them in the restaurant to enjoy. IHOP says it plans to open other airport locations in the near future.

VALET PARKING ARRIVES AT ATL. Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1000 Delta SkyMiles! >>See ad…click on ad>>

Delta Boeing 717

DELTA BOEING 717 DELAYS DUE TO CERTIFICATION ISSUES…The Boeing 717s coming from AirTran to the Delta fleet were originally supposed to enter service in September, but snags with FAA certification of the aircraft have pushed the first flight into late October. (First flight to Newark was on Friday Oct 25) One of the problems that had arisen involved tray tables in the emergency exit rows, which needed to be reworked before approved. The rows were readjusted to accommodate for Delta’s Economy Comfort seating. The updated 717s will eventually replace many of Delta’s ancient DC-9s and cramped CRJs.

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SKY MILES AWARD BOOKING HOLDS BITE THE DUST…Delta quietly discontinued its policy for 48-hour courtesy holds on award bookings for elite members. This change was proposed to be a positive for customers since it will make more award space available rather than having it tied up in “holds” for customers. However, for many passengers, the reverse is true since it means that travelers will have to lock in their trip right away, and using the clunky delta.com reservation process makes that even more cumbersome since finding connecting flights on award partners and organizing hotels make things more complex. Just when you thought the Delta award booking process could not get more difficult, it got worse. If you don’t have free mileage redeposit as a Diamond or Platinum Medallion, how will this  change affect you? Please leave your comments below.

Progress on Delta's installation of flat bed seating

Progress on Delta’s installation of flat bed seating

MORE DELTA UPDATES:  Delta will soon add new flat bed business class seats on its 767-300 flights between ATL and Zurich. Currently 69% of Delta’s international fleet have lie-flat biz class seats. Delta’s once per week nonstops between ATL and Freeport, Bahamas starting Dec 19. Delta will test the waters in Haiti with a new nonstop 737 flight between ATL and Port-au-Prince starting next June, but the seasonal service will only run through August.

DELTA’S HOLIDAY SAFETY VIDEO. It’s not even Halloween yet! But with everyone already talking about the holiday travel season, Delta’s just released its new holiday themed pre-flight safety video. Check it out for a few cameos from familiar faces…and the same kinda cute ‘n corny antics from the current pre-flight video collection. Insiders say that Delta’s already working on a new round of in-flight safety videos…we’ve heard that some of Delta’s top brass ordered the update… stay tuned! What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

DOUBLE SOUTHWEST RAPID REWARDS POINTS…Between now and Nov. 21, Rapid Rewards members will receive double points on Southwest flights. To register for the promotion, visit www.southwest.com/nationwidedouble. New Southwest flights from ATL to Jacksonville, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Antonio crank up next April (replacing AirTran service), and sale fares as low as $99 one way are in place to kick off the new schedule. Travelers to or from San Juan can enjoy triple Rapid Rewards points for travel between now and Dec. 12 no matter what their destination or origination.

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No more hot nuts on Delta's overseas flights (Photo: SFO777/FlyerTalk)

No more hot nuts on Delta’s overseas flights (Photo: SFO777/FlyerTalk)

NO MORE HOT NUTS?…Delta has revamped Business Elite meal service again, and some customers may have strong feelings about the changes. In the new service, hot nuts have been eliminated from the cocktail service, and customers are pushed right into the appetizer along with their first drink. (However, packaged nuts are offered with pre-flight beverages before take off.) In addition, drinks and trays are delivered from an economy class-style cart cleverly disguised with a cloth to hide its industrial side. The soup and salad course are now served together. The overall change is meant to speed up meal service to allow for more sleeping time, which some customers may appreciate, but for others…the change could be perceived as a downgrade to the more robust offerings that the Business Elite brand was based upon when launched. What do you think about these changes? Have you noticed them yet? Please leave your comments below. 

AMERICAN EXPRESS CENTURION LOUNGE OPENS AT DFW…Following a recent opening in Las Vegas, Amex has opened another Centurion Lounge; this time, at Dallas-Fort Worth’s international terminal D. The airport lounge is swankier than most facilities in the U.S. because it features its own spa (offering 15-minute treatments to all entrants for free), more substantial food menus in partnership with Dean Fearing of Fearing’s restaurant in Dallas, signature cocktails by Jim Meehan, and concierge services that go beyond just airline issues to extend to destination assistance. The best news of all is that American Express Platinum (Note: NOT SkyMiles Platinum) cardholders now receive free access to the Centurion lounge system (previously, it was reserved only for Centurion or “black” cardholders). Access comes with two guests or one’s spouse and children and includes all Centurion lounges in the system including Las Vegas. Day passes for $50 are open to cardholders of other American Express cards. Our sister publication The B.A.T. reports that a new Centurion Lounge will open at San Francisco International next summer, located in United’s Terminal 3. (Delta, Southwest & AirTran fly out of Terminal 1)

$100 HOTEL ROOMS IN NYC? YEP. Anyone who has traveled to New York recently has felt the pain of some of the highest hotel rates in the country. But that will change during the cold dark weeks of early January. From Jan 3-12, you’ll find rates of $100, $200 and $300 available at a variety of properties, (many of which currently go for nearly $500 a night), so the savings can be substantial. For example, the popular Affinia Manhattan is going for $100 per night; the hip and brand new Refinery Hotel (garment district) and Jade hotel (Greenwich Village) are going for $200 per night. For $300 you can squeeze in the trendy new Thompson LES (Lower East Side) for $300. For a full listing of participating hotels and how to get the discount see this. 

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DELTA MOST PUNCTUAL U.S. AIRLINE IN SEPTEMBER…Would it surprise you to learn that Delta had the most on-time flights of any major U.S. airline in September? We here at The Ticket have been impressed with the smooth operation of our Delta flights over the past few months, and Delta’s 89.3 percent of on-time arrivals in September, according to FlightStats, is not surprising. On-time flights are defined as those that arrive within 15 minutes of schedule. Behind Delta was Alaska with 86.8 percent and Virgin America with 84.8 percent. Southwest had a poor showing with only 76.6 percent of its flights arriving on time in September. What have been your recent experiences?

DELTA DOUBLES UP TO SAO PAULO…Beginning in March 2014, Delta will place a second aircraft on the daily service rotation to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Like all other Sao Paulo flights, the second flight will feature full flat-bed seats in Business Elite and Economy Comfort seating in the main cabin. Delta secured the extra landing slot from the Brazilian authorities, and it is made even more beneficial for travelers thanks to the codeshare possibilities with Brazilian airline partner GOL

 

Ramsey Qubein & Chris McGinnis

*****

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8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

 

Nice view out the window as  the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Nice view out the window as the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Good news for TravelSkills readers who spend a lot of time on the West Coast! In early September,  Delta added hourly “California Shuttle” flights between San Francisco International and Los Angeles International using a fleet of Embraer 175 jets. And last week, Delta  announced that starting next April it will add six flights per day between SFO and Seattle using the same type of aircraft. 

Delta now offers up to 15 flights per day on the busy SFO-LAX route using the 76-seat Embraer 175 operated by its partner Compass Airlines. Flights depart SFO as early as 6 a.m. and return from LAX as late as 9 p.m.

Delta recently invited me to give the new service a try on a Tues-Sat trip from SFO to LAX.

Here’s what I liked:

Loath crowds? Delta's Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

Loath crowds? Delta’s Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

1> A ghost town of a terminal for my mid afternoon flight south on a Tuesday at  4 pm. That’s likely to change as Delta bulks up at SFO with even more flights to Seattle next spring. But be warned: Delta’s Terminal 5 at LAX is much busier, more crowded, and currently undergoing a major renovation, which will be complete in 2015.

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta's Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta’s Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

2> Fast and easy check in (including PreCheck) and security at Delta’s nearly exclusive terminal 1, Boarding Area C location.

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

3> Nice, new, roomy Embraer 175 jets w big square windows, all leather seats and overhead bins large enough for my rollaboard bag.

 

Delta's Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

4> Three classes: standard economy (52 seats) , Economy Comfort (12) configured 2-2;  first class (12) configured 1-2.

Full first class section on Delta's California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

Full first class section on Delta’s California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

5> The first class section was full on both my south and northbound flights. Economy almost empty on the way down from SFO, full on the 9:30pm Saturday night departure from LAX

Healthy inflight dining for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Healthy inflight snacks for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

6> Super friendly, eager to please flight attendants and healthy, organic snacks like edamame hummus, raw sunflower seeds, whole grain crackers, raw veggies– for both first and economy passengers.

7> Gogo wifi on all flights (although my connection was spotty)

8> Free beverages, beer and wine, for all passengers in first and  economy include Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. craft beer, Starbucks coffee and Wente Vineyards wines.

Although Delta paid for my ticket, fares are always low on this hyper competitive route, no matter what airline you fly. Currently, economy fares range from about $100 to $350 round trip, depending on how far in advance you book. First class runs $300-$500 round trip.

Chris McGinnis

 


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Elements of Sky Priority for sale + Food at ATL + Southwest devalues + MQDs + PreCheck + SPG upgrades + Delta's Porsches

Summer's officially over and it's time to hit the road and skies again. (DickTay2000)

Summer’s officially over and it’s time to hit the road and skies again. (DickTay2000)

SOME SKY PRIORITY BENEFITS FOR SALE…Delta is putting elements of Sky Priority and other travel benefits up for sale for general SkyMiles members between now and Jan. 5. The cost is $199 and applies to up to eight additional travelers in the same record, which is an extraordinary value for a family or group of colleagues that travels together and checks luggage. Medallion members cannot purchase this benefit. The Smart Travel Pack, as Delta is calling it, includes one free checked bag per person, priority boarding, a discount for Economy Comfort seating (half off on domestic flights and 25 percent off on international flights), and access to preferred seating. The member that buys the package will also receive a benefit of 20 percent more SkyMiles. While it is good to see Delta making additional revenue, it could come at the expense of Medallion members who book tickets at the last minute since they may now have fewer preferred exit row and bulkhead seats to choose from…was that not the point of introducing the preferred seating in the first place? However, Medallions and first class passengers will probably still hold priority in boarding, but it certainly increases the percentage of people that have first crack at the overhead bins. Pretty much everyone has priority boarding these days! How do you feel about this move? Please leave your comments below.

UPDATE: Delta reached out to The TICKET this morning to respond to the above item stating: “The sale of Delta’s Smart Travel Pack does not diminish any benefits that a Sky Priority eligible customer would receive through their SkyMiles Medallion or front of cabin status. While certain elements similar to what customers receive through Sky Priority are offered in the Smart Travel Pack promotion, they are not the same. For example, Priority Boarding offered through this promotion comes after Sky Priority customers are invited to begin Delta’s boarding process.”

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 3.05.12 PMSOUTHWEST DEVALUES RAPID REWARDS. So it’s not just Delta devaluing its frequent flyer program. Southwest is jumping in the game, too. This week they sent out this friendly warning that the points required to redeem is lowest fare tickets would soon increase 15%: “We want to inform you of an upcoming change to the Rapid Rewards Program that will affect the number of points needed for reward travel. Wanna Get Away reward flight bookings made on or after March 31, 2014 will require 70 points per dollar. This is an increase from the 60 points per dollar currently required…We hope you understand that in order to continue providing these benefits, we must make changes to the Rapid Rewards Program from time to time.” Sound familiar? Do you understand? 

MQD TALLY NOW APPEARS AT DELTA.COM…The Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) amount, the total number of dollars you spend on qualifying Delta or partner airline tickets beginning with -006, now shows online in your profile. The breakdown also appears next to each flight segment along with your earned mileage. Remember taxes and most fees are not included in your MQD tally, which will be used as an additional measurement of attaining Medallion status in 2015. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the MQD minimums will need to be met in addition to MQMs for each level ($2,500 for Silver; $5,000 for Gold; $7,500 for Platinum; and $12,500 for Diamond). MQDs earned in 2013 do not count and do not carry over; they are simply listed now to get travelers used to the idea.

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New Chick-fil-a, PF Chang's and more now at ATL Concourse A (Getty)

New Chick-fil-a, PF Chang’s and more now at ATL Concourse A (Getty)

NEW FOOD COURT OPENS IN ATL CONCOURSE A…Hungry? Well, there is no better time to get your grub on than now. Terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson has unveiled a new food court featuring several eateries including Boar’s Head Deli, Qdoba, Chick-fil-A, and Boardwalk Burgers and Piano Bar. Also recently opened on the same concourse is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro with seating for 190.

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW NOW IN EFFECT. On Sept 13, Southwest’s new no-show policy went into effect. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other higher priced fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not changed or canceled within 10 minutes of departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

CHOOSE RENTAL CAR FROM PLANE? Yep. National Car Rental’s Emerald Club members will soon be able to fire up their phones when the plane touches down and using the new National smart phone app, choose among a real time display of available cars by make, model, even color. It’s sort of a virtual version of National’s popular Emerald Aisle where travelers who have reservations for a mid-sized or large car are allowed to choose any car on the lot. The new app will work at airports in Omaha, Richmond and Tulsa starting September 30 and National says it should be working at a total of 25 airports by the end of the year. Check out this video (above) of National’s Rob Connors explaining how it all works.

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TSA PRE-CHECK MORE THAN DOUBLES AIRPORT COUNT…The popular TSA Pre-Check program is expanding from the current 40 airports to an additional 60 by the end of the year. The list of new airports is extensive and a huge boost for travelers that are tired of enduring long lines. Not every concourse will have the expedited screening, but the list includes airports where at least one terminal will have it. Delta was the first airline to add the indicator on boarding passes alerting travelers as to whether or not they have been pre-selected. Southwest is planning to add TSA Pre-Check capability sometime later this year. Is it coming to an airport near you? Here’s the full list: http://www.tsa.gov/press/releases/2013/09/04/tsa-precheck-expands-60-additional-airports

NEW LAX TERMINAL OPENS. This week marks the long awaited opening of the new $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. At 150,000 square feet, it’s half again as large as its dingy predecessor. The new curved-roof terminal we’ve all watched under construction in recent years is bathed in natural light, full of electronic art, mod furnishings, upscale dining and retail, new airline clubs and fantastic views of the tarmac and runways.  The terminal is still a work in progress– it won’t be fully opened until 2015. To see more, check out this slideshow from the LA Times.

STARWOOD PLATINUMS TO GET DELTA UPGRADES…Delta’s Crossover Rewards program has taken yet another step in its groundbreaking industry stride and given Starwood Platinum Elite members access to Delta’s first class cabin on domestic and Caribbean flights free of charge. Technically, though, the only people this will hurt is nonrevenue Delta employee flyers as Starwood Platinums would only clear after ALL Delta Medallions have cleared (unless the SPG Platinum member is a Medallion member). So it will not take away from Delta flyers’ access to free upgrades, but provides a nice boost to Starwood Platinums. Be sure to link your Starwood and Delta accounts here: https://www.delta.com/profile/spgLanding.action

Korean Air gets its official squirt at ATL (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

Korean Air gets its official squirt at ATL (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

AIRBUS A380 TOUCHES DOWN AT HARTSFIELD-JACKSON…The long-awaited arrival of Korean Air’s Airbus A380 has finally come. The first flight from Seoul Incheon touched down on August 31, but the official water cannon salute festivities did not occur until Sept. 6 due to the Labor Day weekend. Still, the excitement at the airport was tangible with numerous employees and support staff on the tarmac and in the terminal ready to greet the aircraft and snap plentiful photos. Did you know that the KAL A380 must dock at ATL’s Concourse E and not at the new $1.4 billion Terminal F? That’s a surprise to many. Delta flies nonstop to Seoul from Detroit and, just recently announced, Seattle, but Korean Air’s service is preferred by many travelers for its more attentive in-flight service and Korean-inspired meals including bibimbap and bulgogi. Korean Air also features both first and business class lie-flat beds and has fewer seats on board the entire aircraft (407 to be exact) than any other A380 operator. A duty-free showcase store displays goods for sale, and the Celestial Bar and lounge can be enjoyed by premium cabin passengers in-flight. The double-decker jumbo jet only operates three times a week (777s operate daily), but the A380 is expected to appear daily beginning in late October. Korean Air already flies A380s to Los Angeles and JFK, as well as to Hong Kong and Frankfurt. THE TICKET hopes to bring an in-flight report to readers in the coming months.

When customers are given a ride from one jetway to another, they are handed this card as a takeaway to thank them for flying with Delta and to find out more information about Porsche vehicles. (matthew-daniel.com)

When customers are given a ride from one jetway to another, they are handed this card as a takeaway to thank them for flying with Delta and to find out more information about Porsche vehicles. (matthew-daniel.com)

HAD THE PORSCHE TREATMENT YET?…Well, if you are a Diamond Medallion or high value customer and have not been picked up in a Porsche in Atlanta with a tight connection, you now have your chance in Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, and Los Angeles. The service is never guaranteed, but is meant to surprise and delight customers on a tight connection. An agent holds a sign with your name on it in the jet way and whisks you down to the ramp and speeds you across the bustling tarmac traffic to your next flight. Want this kind of treatment? Well, travel on stormy days and spend a fortune! (Interesting to watch United mimic Delta’s move with jet way pick-ups in Houston by silver Mercedes-Benz.) Have you experienced the Porsche treatment?

delta 747FLY THE WHALE…Delta’s Boeing 747-400 aircraft typically fly international routes, but aviation geeks may have their chance to fly the “whale” on select domestic flights this fall. A Delta 747-400 is scheduled to fly Atlanta to Seattle on Nov. 30 and Seattle to Atlanta on Dec. 1. Also, the jumbo jet will fly one way from Atlanta to LAX on Jan. 5. Talk about excellent upgrade chances! Remember, Delta can change the schedule at any time, but for now these planes are on the schedule.

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JFK TERMINAL TWO GETS A FOOD UPGRADE…Delta is partnering with OTG, an airport food and beverage supplier, to enhance the dining options in JFK’s terminal 2. While most of the attention has been on the new terminal 4, the older terminal 2 continues to handle some domestic flights and regional jet operations. Customers will be able to place orders via iPads placed at seating areas if they wish from numerous eateries including Due Amici (Italian), BRKLYN Beer Garden, Shiso (Japanese), Croque Madame (French bistro), and Tagliare (New York-style pizza) among others.

A Nokia 820 used by Delta flight attendants (Photo: Delta)

A Nokia 820 used by Delta flight attendants (Photo: Delta)

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS GET NEW INFLIGHT SMART PHONES…Delta is providing all flight attendants with new handheld devices (Nokia Lumia 820) designed to allow them to more easily process in-flight payments. Now, swiping a credit card will happen in “almost” real time (whereas before transactions were only completed once the aircraft landed). The device also opens up new sales opportunities including allowing passengers the option to upgrade to an Economy Comfort seat in-flight. (Remember when AirTran pioneered this concept?) The device will prompt flight attendants the correct amount to charge, and the option will be rolled out progressively beginning with longer transcontinental and international flights. Flight attendants will also have the ability to issue coupons (bonus miles or coupons for future Delta flights) in the event of a service failure (faulty entertainment system, etc). The goal is that flight attendants will soon be able to access more information about passengers (destination, elite status, tight connections, etc) to provide better service in-flight.

NEW AIRBUS ORDER FOR DELTA…Forty new Airbus aircraft are on the books within the next decade including 30 Airbus A321 aircraft, which will be a new type never before flown by Delta. The aircraft will feature 20 first class seats, 22 Economy Comfort seats, and 148 economy seats. (Roughly the size of a 757) They will also feature Airbus’ new sharklet winglet designed to reduce fuel consumption. Ten Airbus A330-300 aircraft will supplement Delta’s growing fleet of the long-haul aircraft. These planes will be specially modified to carry additional payload giving them a longer range and permitting Delta the opportunity to open or grow markets across the Atlantic and the Pacific. In addition to Economy Comfort, the widebody A330s will also have 34 fully flat Business Elite seats. Deliveries of these aircraft are expected to begin in 2015.

DELTA BUMPS UP BAY AREA-LAX AGAIN. Earlier this summer, Delta announced that it would launch shuttle-style service with 12 flights each way between SFO and LAX. THis month it announced that it’s adding even more Embraer 175 flights for a total of 15 per day in each direction, starting as early as 6 am. It’s also now flying five times per day between San Jose and LAX. Fares range from $150 to about $400 roundtrip depending on how far in advance you book. (I’m jumping on one of these new Delta flights later this month, so stay tuned for a trip report!)

SOUTHWEST SHOWS ATLANTA SOME LUV…Southwest Airlines has become the Official Airline of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. The museum, which will open next August following its relocation from Indiana to Georgia, is located next to the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. Southwest is also the official airline of the Atlanta Falcons.

Ramsey Qubein & Chris McGinnis

*****

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More SkyMiles devaluations + Award holds + Aspen + Albany

Are Delta's lie-flat business class seats worth 25% more? (Delta Air Lines)

Are Delta’s lie-flat business class seats worth 25% more? (Delta Air Lines)

DELTA RAISES AWARD PRICES BY 25%…Thought Delta had punched you in the gut enough already? It ain’t over. Delta is bumping up the prices for those already scarce low-level BusinessElite seats by as much as 25 percent for flights after June 1, 2014. The advance notice is appreciated to allow flyers to book trips at the 100,000 level, but only if they can find them using Delta’s frustrating delta.com website. The pricing tool is often broken or confusing, and the calendar feature can be misleading showing low-level awards when they are not really there. Delta claims this change is actually positive, in a way, since the introduction of new flat-bed seats across the fleet (coming soon to 757s flying overseas) and new amenities like Tumi amenity kits and Westin Heavenly Bed pillows and duvets have made the flying experience better (hence, the seats are more valuable). We believe, however, that those upgrades were actually just catching up with the competition. Burn your miles now before they are devalued yet again. Tell us what you think! Please leave your comments below.

AWARD HOLDS GONE…Delta has also shortened the window to hold awards down to 48 hours on delta.com. The change goes into effect Sept. 9 and is hailed as a positive since it will free up seats for people ready to book awards. While this may be the case in some situations, Delta is making it seem that it will drastically improve award availability. However, it’s almost guaranteed that delta.com will still deliver the same clunky errors and poor award space results as before. Still, Diamond and Platinum Medallion members can book rewards and cancel or modify them prior to 72 hours before departure.

Tokyo Haneda NaritaDELTA CEO WANTS TO MOVE TOKYO HUB TO HANEDA…Richard Anderson is urging the Japanese government to open the country’s skies to greater competition from non-Japanese airlines and wants to move Delta’s Narita hub to the more convenient Haneda airport. (It’s located just 30 minutes south of central Tokyo while Narita is 90+ mins to the east.) The government controls the slot restrictions heavily at Haneda and often prioritizes domestic carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines before catering to foreign companies. Ever wonder why some of Delta’s Haneda flights have such odd departure and arrival times? Slots. The government contends that the airport is full and that adding more than the planned 42 daytime slots coming next spring could pose a safety concern. Delta wants 25 more slots in order to make the move. Have you flown into Haneda; what did you think?

NONSTOP SEATTLE TO SEOUL AND HONG KONG…Delta is beefing up its Seattle presence even further adding nonstop flights to Seoul Incheon and Hong Kong. The Seoul flight will operate aboard a Boeing 767-300ER while the Hong Kong flight will ply the route using an Airbus A330-200. Both are outfitted with lie-flat beds in BusinessElite and Economy Comfort seating. This announcement continues the growth at Seattle/Tacoma, but also comes in the shadow of Delta announcing the cancellation of nonstop Seattle to Osaka service.

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Entry at Albany's shiny new terminal (Photo: Charles B. Gillespie)

Entry at Albany’s shiny new terminal (Photo: Charles B. Gillespie)

BRAND NEW TERMINAL FOR ALBANY. The Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany debuted a shiny new $11 million terminal earlier this month, which replaced the aging McAfee Terminal. Delta Connection serves the airport with three 50-min flights per day to/from Atlanta. Roundtrip fares are about $250. (Hat tip to long time TICKET reader Charles Gillespie for bringing this to our attention!)

Lines at Global Entry kiosks? Oh my! (Chris McGinnis)

Lines at Global Entry kiosks? Oh my! (Chris McGinnis)

DISAPPOINTMENT WITH CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION…The traveling public is not the only group of people annoyed with the inefficiency of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Long entry times at numerous airports (including Delta’s new terminal 4 at JFK) have created a tremendous backlog of missed flights and delayed passengers. Each passenger traveling internationally pays a portion of taxes included in their ticket to support the immigration and customs process so it is only fair to have this service rendered appropriately and efficiently. Even Global Entry kiosks, hailed by many as a time saver, are often not functioning or have lengthy lines of their own. Delta’s CEO recently joined the chorus of rants about CBP saying, “I think it’s an embarrassment for our government that as much as we as an industry pay into Customs And Border Patrol that we have issues at not just JFK but at Newark, at Chicago, at Los Angeles where we cannot seem to get our government to perform a very basic service. And those of us that travel extensively around the world and go to countries like Japan and China and Europe, Customs is a breeze. And in the U.S. despite all the investment that we make as an industry – we collect a fee from every passenger – we cannot get the kinds of levels of support … we’re pursuing every avenue in Washington and in Congress to get this problem solved.” Relatively speaking, CBP does a pretty good job at ATL. Agree or disagree? Have you experienced lengthy waits at U.S. entry points recently?

SKI BUMS GET NEW SERVICE…Delta will add new nonstop, daily, seasonal service to Aspen/Snowmass, Colo. from Atlanta and Saturday-only flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul beginning Dec. 21. The flights will be operated with CRJ-700 regional jets featuring nine first class, eight Economy Comfort, and 65 economy class seats. Aspen’s airport cannot accommodate larger aircraft, which is why the CRJ-700 is performing this lengthy flight. Aspen is providing Delta with financial incentives to offer the new flights.

MORE DL LOVE FOR LAX…Delta is extending its chauffeur-driven Porsche service to the tarmac of Los Angeles International Airport. In a service similar to what’s offered in Atlanta, high-valued passengers, especially those with extremely tight connections, will be shuttled to their next gate in style. Like Atlanta’s offering, it is an unexpected offering that is never guaranteed, but meant to surprise important travelers with wallet power to continue being loyal to the widget.

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Delta's party in LA w actor John Stamos (Overallsite.com)

Delta’s party in LA w actor John Stamos (Overallsite.com)

STAR POWER…If you thought Atlanta and New York were the only thing on Delta marketing folks’ minds, think again. The power list at its latest LA glamour party included local bigwigs and Hollywood celebrities including John Stamos. Why that one singular star was invited is vague, but the effort by Delta to make in-roads in the Hollywood and greater LAX market is not. As one of the U.S.’s biggest travel markets, the impressive market share by Delta is growing. Most recently, announcements to launch daily Cancun and Puerto Vallarta year-round service and double-daily Guadalajara summertime flights and Delta’s new LAX-SFO California Shuttle have bolstered the schedule.

CENTRAL U.S. TO CARIBBEAN BOOSTED…Delta is following the footsteps of package-tour and charter operators (a la USA 3000 Airlines) and launching service from Middle America to the Caribbean on weekends when planes are otherwise sitting idle from operating business-heavy flight schedules. New flights from Pittsburgh to Punta Cana and Nassau have been added to the schedule, which already includes Saturday-only flights to Cancun and regular flights to Paris. Indianapolis also picks up weekly service to Punta Cana and Nassau in the winter in addition to its weekly Cancun flight. Atlanta flyers should only find joy in these announcements as it boosts upgrade possibility from Atlanta by diverting Medallion-stronghold Midwestern traffic to nonstop flying.

TSA STILL TELLING ATLANTA PASSENGERS NO GUNS…As if you did not know by now, guns are not allowed on airplanes. As reported in The TICKET last month, TSA officials in Atlanta are still reporting record numbers of passengers passing through security with armed weapons. (ATL holds the dubious title of the airport where this happens most often.) Warnings were recently issued by TSA officials in Atlanta of jail sentences and fines up to $7,500 of passengers caught bringing armed weaponry through the checkpoint. While TSA is far from perfect (seen more random gate checks of your coffee and ID at the gate lately? Thank your tax dollars for that), there seems to be a subset of travelers that has not watched the news in over a decade. Keep your eyes peeled at security!

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW POLICY TAKES EFFECT…Beginning Sept. 13, the full no-show policy will go into effect on Southwest tickets. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not canceled prior to departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Delta backs down + Better food? + New ATL lounge + New Delta plane

(Credit: CaptainKimo.com / Flickr)

(Credit: CaptainKimo.com / Flickr)

DELTA BACKS OFF SAME-DAY CHANGE RESTRICTIONS…But just barely. Following significant feedback from customers, Delta has made the decision to soften the blow of recent changes to same day rules. Now, same-day confirmed changes can be made any time 24 hours prior to flight time. No fee will be required for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members, but the same booking class must be available. This booking class restriction remains in place from the initial change, but the window for free changes has been extended to 24 hours (rather than within the previous three hour window). If your same fare bucket is not available, the free standby option remains. If you were upgraded on the original flight, going standby only puts you in the running for a seat in coach since the upgrade list is generally cleared first. This new policy is expected to be fully in place by late August. How do you feel about this slight “giveback”? Please leave your comments below!

Hugh Acheson of Empire State South

Hugh Acheson of Empire State South

DELTA HOLDS COOKOFF FOR NEXT CHEF…Delta is teaming up with Food & Wine magazine to look for the next celebrity chef to provide input on meals for Atlanta-departing flights. The culinary video series, named “Cabin Pressure Cook Off,” features four contestants including two Atlanta stars: Hugh Acheson of Empire State South and Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House. The Cabin Pressure Cook Off, which will air in October on Delta flights, will feature culinary challenges filmed at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Delta prepares more than 110,000 inflight meals daily.

NEW LOUNGE OPENS IN ATLANTA… As mentioned on The TICKET Facebook page, The Club at ATL lounge on Concourse F has opened. It welcomes Lufthansa and British Airways premium passengers in addition to full Priority Pass members. Other passengers can buy a day pass for $35, which is cheaper than the Delta Sky Club $50 fee for general one-day access. Complimentary beverages (including wine and beer) in addition to light snacks and free wi-fi will be on offer, but the lounge is still little competition for the flashy new Sky Deck at the neighboring Delta Sky Club. Similar The Club lounges are located at airports in Raleigh-Durham, Las Vegas and Dallas. Have you visited one yet? Thoughts? 

FIRST CLASS SNACK BASKET CHANGES…Noticed a few changes in the Delta snack basket recently? Delta is now stocking Fritos chips instead of SunChips (some flights may still have the latter until stocks run out). Other new items include Pirouette cookies and Hershey’s chocolate bars. Luckily, fresh fruit and Biscoff cookies are still here to stay in addition to other favorites like Pretzel M&Ms, Quaker granola bars, and peanuts. What’s your snack basket pick? Please leave your comments below.

Some of the firearms found in hand luggage and confiscated by the TSA

Some of the firearms found in hand luggage and confiscated by the TSA

TSA FINDS MORE GUNS AT ATL THAN OTHER AIRPORTS…Atlanta TSA agents discovered more travelers attempting to pass through security with guns than any other U.S. airport last year. TSA didn’t keep statistics on guns intercepted before 2011, but the government agency says there is an upward national trend in recent years. In the first six months of the year, screeners found 894 guns nationwide either on people or inside carry-on baggage. Atlanta set the record last year with 96 guns found. Do these people not watch the news? The help build awareness, the TSA now has an Instagram page with photos of confiscated weaponry. Take a peek— you won’t believe what you see.

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O’HARE CREEPS UP ON ATLANTA’S TITLE…Since Atlanta stole the title of world’s busiest airport from Chicago O’Hare in 2005, the race has been fierce, and O’Hare is finally gaining traction again. This year, Chicago’s largest airport has seen an increase in flights, and according to a recent Chicago Tribune article, many believe it may steal back the title with the most flights in the coming years. In the first half of 2013, Atlanta handled 453,800 takeoffs and landings, while O’Hare accommodated 426,800 flights, a preliminary FAA tally shows. Atlanta carries also more passengers than O’Hare. In 2012, Atlanta was the busiest airport in the world for total passengers, and O’Hare clocked in at number five. But just wait…airports in China should supersede ATL or ORD any day now…just wait.

Southwest B737 at ATL. (Chris McGinnis)

Southwest B737 at ATL. (Chris McGinnis)

ATLANTA A WEAK PERFORMER FOR SOUTHWEST? In a recent earnings call Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly included ATL among cities where it’s struggling. Here’s the quote: “In terms of what I think we would be comfortable sharing for competitive reasons, the markets that are in more of a transition from AirTran through some step process into Southwest, those are the ones that are in more development. So, if you sort of think about the Atlanta, Baltimore, Milwaukee where there’s a lot of change taking place. Those markets are not performing as strong as markets that aren’t affected by that kind of transition, that’s very clear.” How would you gauge Southwest’s performance in Atlanta so far? Have you tried Southwest? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below.  

Buh-bye Pinnacle, hello Endeavor Air

Buh-bye Pinnacle, hello Endeavor Air

ENDEAVOR AIR FLIES FOR DELTA CONNECTION…Never heard the name? Troubled Pinnacle Airlines has rebranded as Endeavor Air with a fresh logo. The Delta Connection carrier, a subsidiary of Delta following its investment in the bankrupt Pinnacle, will continue flying about 1,000 flights daily. The airline had its headquarters in Memphis, but it has since moved to Minneapolis. Only a handful of Endeavor’s flights touch Atlanta, and most flights are operated by CRJ-900s. The airline also operates CRJ-200s, but these are being phased out quickly.

WATCH YOUR MOVIES LONGER…Notice something different on your last Delta flight with inflight entertainment? Delta has decided to switch on the entertainment system upon boarding rather than after takeoff to allow people to watch live TV, movies, and other programming from the moment they sit in their seat. This will ease some of the stress from summer weather delays although it will be difficult to sell headsets in the main cabin before takeoff so stash a pair in your carry-on. Have you noticed the change? 

Simulated look at a Delta Boeing 717 (NBflightsim.com)

Simulated look at a Delta Boeing 717 (NBflightsim.com)

DELTA DEPLOYS NEW AIRCRAFT TYPE. Remember the news last year when Delta agreed to buy all of AirTran’s Boeing 717s from Southwest? The first of those planes will be deployed on Delta’s ATL-Newark route starting Sept 19. By the end of October, all flights between ATL and Newark will be on the 717. The aircraft will feature Gogo wifi, 12 first class seats, 15 Economy Comfort seats, and 83 economy seats. More 717 destinations will be coming online soon.

UNITED TEAMS UP WITH MARRIOTT…United copied Delta’s move to team up with a hotel brand. While Delta offers Crossover Rewards with Starwood allowing flyers to earn hotel points and hotel elite status (Starwood elites earn Delta benefits too), Marriott and United now provide similar benefits. Marriott Rewards Platinum Elite and Platinum Premier Elite will receive complimentary United Premier Silver status. Good advice from reader LH: “This may offer ATL AirTran business travelers, that meet the Marriott Rewards Platinum-level qualification, an elite status option over the pending switch to all-coach class Southwest. While it may be United’s lowest tier, the instant elite status will provide an alternative for those not wanting to start from the bottom with Delta. United Silver status brings complimentary upgrades, 25% mileage bonus and free Economy Plus seating within 24 hours of departure. Register here. United elites will also benefit from special benefits and elite status with Marriott as well; United Gold Premiers and above get automatic Marriott Gold Elite status, which offers club access, free breakfast, late checkout and more. What do you think about these instant elite partnerships? Are they fair to people who work to earn status the hard way? Please leave your comments below.

SEATTLE TO HEATHROW NONSTOP…Delta has announced nonstop Seattle to London Heathrow nonstop service beginning March 29, 2014. The flight will be operated using a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft with lie-flat seats in the pointy end of the plane. The flight is part of the new code share with Virgin Atlantic.

SOUTHWEST ON ATL-DCA. Southwest will operate one of the six daily Atlanta to Washington Reagan National flights beginning Feb. 13 with AirTran continuing to fly the rest.

Can you ID this plane type? Please leave your comments below!

Can you ID this plane type? Please leave your comments below!

DELTA HERITAGE MUSEUM GETS A MAKEOVER…Delta is investing in memories and updating the Heritage Museum located near the Atlanta airport and corporate headquarters. The $6.3 million in renovation funds are coming from The Delta Air Lines Foundation and corporate sponsors and will restore the historic hangars, which house significant amounts of important airline memorabilia. Its most popular items on display are the Spirit of Delta, a Boeing 767-200 aircraft purchased through employee contributions in 1982 as a sign of appreciation and now housing an interior cabin mockup display, and Delta’s first 1940s era Douglas DC-3 aircraft. Tours, event space, and a gift shop will all be part of the revitalized facility when it reopens in the summer of 2014. Have you ever taken a look a the Delta Heritage Museum? Why or why not?

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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How to avoid rising inflight wi-fi prices

Taking a ride on the Gogo inflight internet lab last year in Itasca, IL (Chris McGinnis)

Taking a ride on the Gogo inflight internet lab last year in Itasca, IL (Chris McGinnis)

Inflight wi-fi provider Gogo released statistics today showing that San Francisco International has the highest percentage of passengers using its service, followed by New York JFK and then John Wayne/Orange County. LAX is the fourth most-connected. Interestingly, Atlanta did not even place in the top 10. (See infographic below.)

It’s no surprise that airports located in coastal areas with a preponderance of longer transcontinental flights come out near the top of the list. It’s just not worth the hassle or the cost to break out the laptop or tablet on a flight under two hours. That’s why the poorest performers when it comes to wi-fi (such as Pensacola, Savannah or Akron) are small airports that primarily offer only short commuter flights to larger hubs where longer flights await.

In other Gogo news, the price to log-on onboard has jumped lately. Last week when flying between Atlanta and SFO, I noticed that the fee for a day pass purchased onboard had jumped to $26.95. Ouch! That’s a lot when you consider that Gogo competitor Row 44 only charges $8 per day  per device for inflight wifi on Southwest Airlines flights.

When I tweeted about the surprise price increase, Gogo responded with the suggestion that frequent users purchase a $14 all day pass BEFORE they get onboard. That represents a significant savings, and will be something I do before every transcontinental flight in the future. Especially now that it seems that buying wi-fi at the last minute at overly bloated prices is like buying last-minute airline tickets at overly bloated prices.

What’s nice about the $14 day pass is that it’s good for 12 months on any Gogo-connected airline– so if you end up not using on one flight, you can use it later. For those with a heavy month of travel ahead, a monthly pass is available for $49.95. Gogo is also offering a three-pack for just $30 good for flights through the end of August. (Look for the “Summer sun 3-pack” on the Gogo home page.)

The key here is that Gogo obviously is pushing us to buy passes ahead of time instead of onboard. 

Are you a heavy user of inflight wi-fi? Does the availability of it influence your airline decision? How much is too much to pay for the convenience of logging on on the fly? And finally, have you noticed any improvement is speed or connection using Gogo lately?

Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

 

Gogo most connected cities wifi

 

*****

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Delta/Virgin done + pricey summer travel + PreCheck @ SFO + mess at United

Virgin Atlantic's route map

New places to go! Virgin Atlantic’s route map

DELTA AND VIRGIN ATLANTIC INK DEAL. Delta’s recent acquisition of 49% of Virgin Atlantic Airways is now complete, paving the way for the roll out of new benefits for travelers. Immediately, Delta Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members plus business class flyers gain access to Virgin Clubhouses (oases of luxury with restaurant menus, luxury bars, beauty salons, and spas all with Virgin’s compliments). Unfortunately, those of you flying from London-Heathrow to Atlanta (or New York) on Delta will still be using Heathrow’s nice but more prosaic SkyTeam lounge since Virgin flights do not depart from terminal four where Delta flights leave. However, if you are a Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion member flying back to the states on Virgin, you’ll have access to its super-posh Clubhouse in Heathrow’s Terminal 3. Now there’s a reason to arrive early at the airport! Have you flown Virgin before? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

Virgin's super posh, recently renovated Clubhouse at JFK. Seen it yet? (Virgin Atlantic)

Virgin’s super posh, recently renovated Clubhouse at JFK. Seen it yet? (Virgin Atlantic)

DELTA-VIRGIN DEAL BOOSTS NYC-LONDON FREQUENCIES. There are no current plans for Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta, according to a Delta spokesperson. But the key  development of this new partnership is that Delta and Virgin will now offer 9-10 flights daily (depending on the seasonal schedule) on New York – London, one of the world’s busiest and most lucrative routes. In addition to reciprocal lounge access, Delta flyers will earn mileage on Virgin flights and have access to priority check-in and boarding plus increased baggage allowance. Would you fly to London via New York (JFK or EWR), Boston or Washington DC instead of nonstop on Delta from ATL to fly on Virgin Atlantic or to sample its clubhouses? Please leave your comments below.

DELTA FINED FOR IMPROPER BUMPS. This just in from New York Times:  The government has fined Delta $750,000 for bumping some passengers involuntarily, without offering compensation or seeking volunteers first. Airlines sometimes sell too many tickets for a flight, and have to move, or “bump,” them to a later flight. If travelers do not volunteer, the airline has to compensate them. The Transportation Department said Wednesday that in March 2012 it visited the Atlanta headquarters of Delta and reviewed 310 complaints about how it handled overbookings from November 2010 to January 2012. The agency said it found numerous cases where Delta had failed to tell overbooked passengers about their rights to receive payments, failed to provide written notice, or failed to seek volunteers before bumping passengers involuntarily. Full story here. 

PRICEY SUMMER. This is expected to be the busiest summer travel season since before the recession of 2008. The peak of the peak summer travel season, which runs from roughly June 21 through August 10 this year, is now upon us. Airlines say that the busiest days of this summer will be Thursdays and Fridays, so avoid those if you can. Since this is THE most expensive, most crowded time of year to travel, try to postpone trips until late August if you can, and you may get through this summer with your wallet and sanity intact. (Check out my in-person travel tips in the above video, which is part of a summer travel project I’ve been working on with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.)

United flight attendants improvisation when toilet paper ran low. (Credit: Unknown)

United flight attendants improvised when toilet paper ran low on an London-SFO flight (Credit: Unknown)

UNUSUAL TP ON UNITED? By now you’ve likely heard about United flight 931 from London to San Francisco that somehow took off… without enough toilet paper. United uses a 747-400 on the 10-hour daylight flight from Heathrow, which has nine lavatories. Over the last week, the story has gone viral. A quick Google news search using “United Toilet Paper” shows at least 28 stories have run so far.While the story was originally posted on FlyerTalk, here’s our favorite take on it, from the Daily Beast: “Is it us, or does flying keep getting crappier? Every airline seems to be cutting back on something, but United took it to a whole new level by taking off for a ten-hour flight without [enough] toilet paper on board. Some quick thinking flight attendants stocked the bathrooms with cocktail napkins, but the effort didn’t sit well with passengers. In a statement, United said, ‘We apologize to our customers on this flight for the inconvenience and would like the opportunity to welcome them back.’” Another good headline from USA Today: “United is wiping up after a customer service mess.” CNN confirmed that the lavatories lacking TP were in the coach section, not in business or first class. Thoughts please! Leave them below in the comments section.

Precheck logo TMPRE CHECK ARRIVES AT SAN FRANCISCO. Delta flyers soon will have access to the speedy PreCheck lane when traveling on from SFO’s Terminal 1 Boarding Area c used by Delta. The lanes are expected to open in mid-July.

NEW SEATTLE-SHANGHAI SERVICE. Delta continues to bolster its Seattle-Tacoma gateway with international flights and has added nonstop Seattle-Shanghai service using a Boeing 767 aircraft fully equipped with lie-flat beds in BusinessElite and a retrofitted Economy Comfort cabin. Delta’s commitment to growing Seattle is also evidenced by Alaska Airlines’ recent announcement that it will drop all other international codeshare agreements (including Qantas and Emirates) to focus on its partnership with Delta. In the SEA-TAC gate areas, Delta has also added popular charging stations for those needing a power boost. We are hearing rumors about a potential new Delta nonstop between Seattle and London-Heathrow. Stay tuned!

MEMPHIS HUB OFFICIALLY AXED. Delta has finally announced the closure of its hub operation in Memphis, meaning more than a dozen cities lose nonstop flights to the one-time Northwest Airlines hub. Most of these flights used gas-guzzling CRJ-200 50-seat regional jets that Delta is phasing out anyway. This will funnel more traffic through the Atlanta hub, but Memphis will still maintain flights to major cities including Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC.

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CINCINNATI SAFE, ACCORDING TO DELTA CEO. Richard Anderson publicly announced that Delta’s Cincinnati hub will continue to operate despite speculation that Delta might dump it, too based on the raft of recent cuts there.  For now, Delta still maintains a significant presence including nonstop service to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Anderson was even quoted as saying, “the hub is doing quite well…we feel really good about where are service levels are there.” What do you think… will CVG survive? Please leave your comments below.

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

DELTA CEO HAILED AS A HERO. Richard Anderson grabbed the spotlight in a positive way after quietly giving up his seat to a distressed traveler on her way to pick up her daughter from a diabetes camp. She has had experienced a trail of delayed and canceled flights throughout the day. In a classy move, neither Delta nor Anderson flaunted the act of kindness until the traveler publicly commented about the incident via a thank you letter on Facebook that went viral. Apparently,  Anderson even helped her lift her bag into the overhead, then sat upfront in the jumpseat with pilots for the flight.

UNITED FOLLOWS DELTA IN REVENUE REQUIREMENT FOR ELITES. Delta’s move to establish revenue requirements for flyers looking to maintain elite status  caught the eye of United, which followed suit this month with an even more harsh plan. United’s revenue requirements include similar spending levels and a credit card-spending pathway to avoid the revenue thresholds. However, United’s top-level, Premier 1K, (equivalent to Delta’s Diamond) does not qualify for an exemption no matter how much you spend on a co-branded United credit card. Flyers must spend $10,000 if they wish to maintain that top level of elite benefits. Like Delta, the changes go into effect in 2014 for 2015 elite qualification. Now the big question is whether or not American will join the club. What do you think?

ATL TO GET TOUCH-SCREEN GUIDES. A $2.1 million project to replace existing signage in Atlanta’s terminals with interactive screens is set to begin, pending a final approval from the city. These new signs will be easier to use and allow passengers to look up information about the entire airport such as the location of certain shops or restaurants. The old-school, static signs now are location-specific.

ANOTHER ATL NONSTOP TO SAO PAULO COMING. Delta has received preliminary approval for a second-daily nonstop between ATL and Sao Paulo. If approved, it will feature all lie-flat seating in business, plus several rows of Economy Comfort seats (which are now fitted on all mainline aircraft).

Delta's new Sky Deck at ATL. (Photo: Brad Bell)

Delta’s new Sky Deck at ATL. (Photo: Brad Bell)

SKY DECK OPEN AT ATLANTA TERMINAL F. The long-awaited Sky Deck at the Sky Club has opened allowing al fresco seating for club guests as they await their flights. See photos of JFK deck here. Views of the tarmac and aircraft below are captivating, and they are similar to those found at the newly opened Sky Deck at JFK terminal four. Outdoor seating was designed by Thom Felicia in partnership with Architectural Digest magazine. Have you tried it yet? Or are you waiting for the summer humidity to die down?

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

PORTABLE BLUETOOTH SPEAKERS. Last month Beacon Audio sent me one of their new, fist-sized, Phoenix Bluetooth speakers ($49-$99 depending on where you buy it) for a test drive. I’m no audiophile, but this tough, rubberized, rechargeable and travel-friendly speaker packs a wallop of sound that’s great for jamming on iTunes in the hotel shower—it also adds a deeper dimension to watching videos on my iPad. I plan on bringing it to the beach later this summer. Do you pack a portable speaker for your listening pleasure when on the road? What’s your speaker of choice? Why? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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New York to California in 45 minutes? Maybe

Since Elon Musk (the mind behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX) quipped about a new “hyperloop” high speed transportation system last week, futurists and techies have been abuzz about a new mode of transportation that could eclipse air travel one day—cutting travel time between New York and California to just 45 minutes, or between New York and Beijing to just two hours.

One company called ET3 is apparently working on a plan for “Evacuated Tube Transport” which is loosely based on pneumatic systems once used in banks, offices or hospitals (for those old enough to remember) to transport documents within buildings using capsules inserted into suction tubes.

(ET3/YouTube)

Six person capsules include luggage bays (ET3/YouTube)

ET3 says that its tubular network could transport 6-passenger, automobile-sized capsules up to 4,000 mph in a frictionless environment inside tubes using magnetic levitation. The company claims that ET3 can be built for a tenth of the cost of high speed rail, or a quarter of the cost of a freeway, and provide 50x more transportation per kilowatt than electric cars or trains. Tubes could be built along US interstates, could travel across Alaska to reach China or even go underwater.

(ET3)

Travel by tube? (ET3)

Is this the answer to carbon spewing aircraft…or how we’ll be traveling when we run out of fossil fuels? Who knows? But it’s certainly an interesting thought and likely something we’ll be hearing more about.

While Musk was short on details, he has described the technology as “a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.” He hinted that he might have more to say about it later this month.

How would you feel about a 45 minute hop to NYC for lunch? Would you take “the tube” across the country or around the world? Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Fewer Sky Club freebies + JFK Extension + New PreCheck lane at ATL

Delta's Sky Club Luxury Bar on Concourse E (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Sky Club Luxury Bar on Concourse E (Chris McGinnis)

FEWER FREEBIES AT SKY CLUBS. With little notice, Delta has moved several beverages from the Sky Club complimentary bar menu to the Luxury Bar pay menu. You’ll now be asked to pay for beers like Heineken or local brews, liqueurs such as Bailey’s and other popular pops.  We contacted Delta to determine what it still offers at no charge at Sky Clubs and a spokesperson sent over this list of the free stuff:  Vodka – Gordon’s; Gin – Gordon’s; Rum – Myers’s Platinum; Scotch – Scoresby; Bourbon – Jack Daniel’s;  Sweet & Dry Vermouth – Martini & Rossi; Beer- Budweiser & Miller Lite; Wine- no changes.  Delta also sent us the new Luxury Bar Menu, effective May 15. Which of your favorite adult beverages has disappeared from the “complimentary” list and what are the new prices? Please leave your comments below.

Delta now operates from T4 and T2 at JFK. The old Pan Am Worldport will soon be gone.

Delta now operates from T4 and T2 at JFK. The old Pan Am Worldport will soon be gone.

DELTA’S JFK EXTENSION. On May 24, Delta took the wraps off its new digs at New York- JFK, which will replace the now shuttered vintage Pan Am Worldport, or Terminal 3.  Delta is currently demolishing that leaky old Mad-Men-era terminal to allow easier movement and more parking between terminals 2 and 4. It’s important to note that Terminal 4 is not brand new—it’s been around since 2001– but Delta has completely remodeled and lengthened the B-side space adding nine new gates to the existing seven. The new terminal also features TSA PreCheck, something that many international terminals do not have presently. New dining options include an outpost of Manhattan’s favorite burger joint, Shake Shack. T4’s opening also gives Sky Club members their first look at a new SkyDeck, an open-air, glassed-walled terrace overlooking the tarmac—great for spotting all those exotic tails that float around JFK runways. Outdoor seating and umbrellas are a great way to get some fresh air. A similar SkyDeck will open later this year in Atlanta’s F concourse. The Sky Club at JFK’s T4 is now Delta’s largest.  Many domestic flights and nearly all Delta Connection flights will continue to use Terminal 2 (JFK’s oldest), while most Delta transcons and all international flights will now use T4. By 2015, Delta will add an additional 11 gates to T4.

DELTA WAITS IT OUT. Earlier this month CEO Richard Anderson said that Delta is in no hurry to order new aircraft like the Boeing 737 Max or Airbus A320neo. He said Delta would rather have other airlines test them first to work through any kinks such as the recent battery issues exhibited by the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. He said that not only does this allow for a more efficient rollout of aircraft within its fleet, but it also allows for more affordable pricing when it comes time to upgrade a fleet. Delta is, however, taking new Boeing 737-900s in the coming years, but these are already being flown by a number of airlines including United, Delta’s closest domestic rival at the moment.

MORE PRECHECK AT ATL. Atlanta’s north security checkpoint now has a TSA Pre-Check lane for expedited security. The north checkpoint is used primarily by non-Delta flyers, which means Southwest/AirTran travelers will eventually enjoy speedier access once it joins in on the PreCheck fun. Southwest will only say that it is working on getting into PreCheck…nothing certain yet. If it wants to compete with Delta for business travelers in Atlanta, it frankly needs to get on the stick and become part of PreCheck. Agree? 

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FLAWS IN RECENT AIRLINE SURVEY. IdeaWorks’ fourth annual survey of airline award seat availability ranked Delta dead last. But to be fair, we must point out that the survey only used airline websites to gauge availability, and we all know that Delta’s is pretty dismal when it comes to redemptions. IdeaWorks searched for two tickets on 280 different dates, at the restricted award levels. Southwest clocked in at first place, and Delta tied with US Airways for the worst among domestic airlines. By picking up the phone (after doing significant research via other websites like AirFrance.us via its Flying Blue program), Delta flyers usually find much more open space. But, the survey does not reveal that. What was accurate and fair about the survey was that it ranks Delta much higher for close-in availability as award seats are often released more freely within two weeks of departure.

ON THE OTHER HAND, KUDOS. On a brighter note, Delta ranked as the top legacy carrier in the recent JD Power survey. It also ranked second best (after Southwest) among majors in a recent Consumer Reports survey. It’s easy to pick on the dominant, hometown carrier…but compared to its peers, Delta’s sitting pretty these days.What do you think? Do Atlantans whine too much about Delta when they might have the best of the bunch in their own backyard? Please leave your comments below.

Love the rocking chairs a Charlotte Douglas Airport (Francesco Mucio)

Love the rocking chairs (but hate the high fares) at Charlotte Douglas Airport (Francesco Mucio)

NEW GOUGE: CHARLOTTE. From TICKET reader JJ: “Has anyone noticed that since Southwest and AirTran left the Atlanta-Charlotte market that Delta fares (a few weeks ago were $200 or a little more) are now over $600 no matter how far out you book? This used to be the case before AirTran went into Charlotte and now that they have left, good old gouge you Delta is at it again. Oh well I guess I’ll have to go back to driving to Charlotte – hate that drive.” (Agreed! That drive up truck infested I-85 is awful!)

THOUGHT DELTA WAS SNEAKY? Delta is not the only airline monetizing its upgrade programs. For example, passengers can bid how many miles or how much money they are willing to spend to upgrade on long flights. Air New Zealand, Austrian, Etihad, and Virgin Atlantic are all offering this type of program. Customers can still use miles for business class seats, but this new auction system allows the demand to ratchet up the price on busy flights putting more money in the airline coffers. It also helps to fill seats that would otherwise go empty making low bidders quite happy (although the cheapest fares are often restricted). Could Delta be next? What do you think about such an idea? Please leave your comments below.

NEW SOUTHWEST FLIGHTS. Atlanta will see additional Southwest flights to New Orleans, New York LaGuardia, St. Louis, West Palm Beach beginning Nov. 3. Also on that date, AirTran’s Atlanta to San Juan flight will switch to Southwest instead of an AirTran plane with business class.

CURTAIN CALL FOR AIRTRAN BUSINESS CLASS. AirTran regulars may have noticed that there are no longer curtains between business and coach class. This removal is part of the alignment with the Southwest model and preparation for operating with a single cabin of service. So its buh-bye business class…but at least it’s a long buh-bye!

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest Devoted TICKET readers:  The TICKET needs more readers!  Can you help us out? Please forward this link to at least three frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love The TICKET and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

An Alaska Airlines 737 at Atlanta Airport (Atlanta Airport)

An Alaska Airlines 737 at Atlanta Airport (Atlanta Airport)

PLUS PORTLAND. MINUS SEATTLE. Delta partner Alaska Airlines will add a new Boeing 737-800 nonstop between ATL and Portland, Oregon on August 26. When the Portland-Atlanta route begins Aug. 26, Alaska Air will reduce its Seattle-Atlanta route to once daily.

FLINT. With AirTran/Southwest out of the picture on the ATL-Flint, Michigan route, Delta is deploying a larger A319 on the route, adding 60 extra seats between the two cities starting in June. Delta is currently using an RJ on the route. With Delta as the only nonstop in the market, you can only guess which direction prices have gone recently….

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills chat on Friday mornings!

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills Twitter chat on Friday mornings!

SEEKING SUMMER TRAVEL DEALS AND ADVICE? Join in the #TravelSkills chat with @JohnnyJet and me every Friday at noon Eastern! Our new chat has been trending in the US on Twitter on nearly every Friday, so stop by and join the fun. And learn something, or uncover a summer travel deal! See www.travelskills.com/chat

Chris McGinnis

*****

 


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5 travel fees worth paying

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The whole country seems to be making a collective groan when it comes to planning summer vacations.

And why not?

An early look at airfares (especially to Europe) shows some painful peak pricing, especially in July and early August. For example, July nonstops from Atlanta to cities such as London, Frankfurt and Paris are already running $1,500+ roundtrip. (And if you don’t book now, you’ll likely pay close to $2000 round trip later this summer.)

United made us all go bug-eyed when it announced that it was raising change fees on nonrefundable tickets to an egregious $200 last month. Our eyes popped even more when American, Delta and US Airways quickly matched the higher fee.

Then Frontier Airlines announced that it would begin charging $2 for in-flight beverages (including water) and $100 for gate-checked bags that don’t fit under the seat.

While I think that bag fees and change fees are rotten, the airlines love them—last year they collected nearly $6 billion in baggage and change fees alone. Fees, which now comprise nearly 30% of airline revenues,  are what’s been keeping them in the black in recent years.

But airlines aren’t the only ones playing fee-for-all. By now nearly every frequent traveler has been hit by a surprise “resort fee” or overpriced wi-fi fee at hotels. (Beware of those evil “per device” vs per room wi-fi fees, especially when traveling with others!) Rental car companies pile on all kinds of extra “concession” fees or hit us with obnoxiously high per-gallon fees when we don’t have time to fill up the car on the way back to the airport.

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

But all fees aren’t bad. As a matter of fact, I’m happy to pay fees that can truly improve my travel experience.

Here are five fees I don’t mind paying:

>Roomier seats. Elite level members of airline frequent flyer programs get free access to “premium economy” seats near the front of the cabin and by exit rows. However, non-elite travelers can pay a fee for access to these seats. Airlines determine such fees by the length of the flight and demand, and can range from $10 to $100. But on a long flight, a few extra inches can provide enough space to open up a laptop and be productive inflight. It can also make a big difference in comfort if you are tall like me, so it’s a fee I’ll pay when I have to.

>Early boarding. One of the most cherished benefits of elite status with airlines is the ability to board first and lay claim to overhead bin space. However, I spread my airline business around, and I’m not elite on every carrier I fly. So, for example, I’m happy to pay Southwest a $12.50 “Early Bird” fee to get me near the front of the boarding line—especially in the heat of the summer when planes are packed and overhead bin space scarce.

>Inflight wi-fi. When inflight wi-fi from Gogo or Row 44 works well (which seems increasingly rare), it’s definitely worth the fee to me, especially on transcontinental flights. We are lucky in Atlanta with both Delta and AirTran at 100% coverage for domestically configured flights. Delta is adding new satellite connections on its international fleet. It helps pass the time, keeps me productive and eliminates arriving at my destination to a full email box. $20 for a good connection on a five-hour flight? Sure. That’s money well spent to me.

Tip: To help sooth the sting of high fees, consider this: When you charge these travel related fees on credit cards linked to rewards programs, you are earning points you can use for free trips down the road. For example, with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I earn two points per dollar spent on travel (including most fees). Eventually, all those charges will add up to points I can redeem to help cut the high cost of future trips.

Inside the nice new Club at LAS near the Virgin America gates at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside the nice new Club at LAS at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Airport Club access. Have you ever been stuck in Chicago, Dallas, or Houston or during the summer thunderstorm season? Hordes of summer vacationers milling around…air conditioning systems straining to keep things cool…then the clouds roll in and gum up the works for hours. That’s the time it’s worth the $50 fee for a day pass to airport lounge. But get there early—once the lounge fills up, it’s open to members only. Also, be on the lookout for new non-airline, pay-to-play lounges such as The Club at SJC, Club at LAS (Las Vegas) or others like it– the per use fee is just $35 and definitely worth it during a long layover!

>Hotel Club Floor. When you know a trip is going to be all business all the time (and you don’t plan to get out much), a hotel club, executive or concierge floor is almost always worth the extra cost. When you pay the premium, you’ll likely get breakfast, snacks, booze (sometimes) and heavy hors d’oeuvres at night, free wi-fi, gym and business center access. Rooms are usually slightly larger and likely to be on upper floors offering better views. Plus, you can check in and out in the lounge and not have to wait in lines that can form in the hotel lobby. If I’m not planning to get out much, I’m usually happy to pay the premium of 20% or 30%. A weekend holed up on the club level at a Ritz-Carlton can be awesome!

Do you agree? Which travel fees seem most onerous to you? Which are you  happy, even eager to pay? PLEASE leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: My company, Travel Skills Group, Inc, has a commercial relationship with Chase Card Services, which is mentioned in this post.

*****


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Airport warns of significant security delays

(Photo: Hyku)

(Photo: Hyku)

Airport officials sent the following alert out on Friday May 10 regarding significant delays (up to 70 minutes) at ATL due to TSA staffing issues. Have you noticed? Please leave your comments below. 

ATLANTA – In light of TSA staffing shortages and long lines at the domestic security checkpoint, Department of Aviation officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport advise passengers to arrive 90 minutes to two hours prior to their scheduled departure time.

Wait times were as long as 70 minutes on Friday, as passengers experienced what appears to be the effects of sequestration on TSA staffing.  The Airport has 22 checkpoint lanes at the main checkpoint in the domestic terminal.   However, only 13 lanes were open when lines were at their longest.

“It is unacceptable to have so few lanes open during peak passenger traffic,” said Louis Miller, Aviation general manager.  “It’s obvious TSA has a staffing shortage.   And, it is affecting our ability to offer the level of customer service we’re committed to.”

Airport officials have stationed extra customer service representatives along the checkpoint lines to direct passengers to the shortest lines within the checkpoint areas.  Additionally, the representatives monitor all three domestic checkpoints to determine when passengers should be directed to other  least congested areas.

“We’re doing everything we can do to keep the lines moving,” said Louis Miller, Aviation general manager.  “ But we will continue to meet with TSA to stress the importance of providing enough staff.   Hopefully Congress will take the appropriate action to rectify the problem.”

Hartsfield-Jackson , the world’s busiest airport, sees about 45,000 passengers pass through it domestic checkpoints on an average day.  Officials estimate that approximately 55,000 passed through on Friday, the start of a busy Mother’s Day weekend.

Have you noticed? Please leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Delta's new $200 fee + PreCheck at kiosk + More flat seats + Routehappy

DELTA’S  $200 FEE. This morning Delta joined United and US Airways in raising its standard change fee to a painful $200, up from $150. Like the same-day-change policy shift we wrote about last week, this news is particularly painful to business travelers, who are most likely to make ticketing changes. So far, American is the holdout in the move to the $200 fee. And as you may know, Southwest does not charge change fees at all—however, you do have to pay for any difference in price if the fare you booked is no longer available. How do you feel about a $200 fee? Is this enough to force the many Atlanta-based Delta devotees into the arms of Southwest? Please leave your comments below!

DeltaTSAboardingPass

GOT PRECHECK? It is becoming even easier to know if you are on the TSA’s A-list. Delta now prints PreCheck notifications on boarding passes picked up at airport kiosks. This means that you’ll know whether or not you are selected before getting to security and waiting (hoping) for those beautiful three beeps.  Soon, boarding pass notification of PreCheck status will also be available for mobile boarding passes. You should see it on the same line where your elite status appears– directly underneath your name.

SOUTHWEST FLYERS NEXT IN LINE. Southwest Airlines, the only major airline that does not currently offer PreCheck, is apparently in negotiations with TSA to join in the fun. A Southwest spokesperson told The TICKET: “We are currently reviewing the program and considering participation sometime before the end of year.”  Insiders say that it’s not that Southwest does not want to participate, but that its reservations system is not capable of incorporating PreCheck yet. (San Francisco-based Virgin America just announced that it would participate in PreCheck this summer.)

TIGHTER SQUEEZE. Prepare to suck it in a little more when entering an even smaller lavatory aboard Delta’s new Boeing 737-900s pretty soon. Delta will install a new lavatory design that’s so small that it will be able to cram in an extra four seats on each plane. Delta says that much of the space is taken from the wall behind the sink so it will not be as noticeable (was there much space to steal from the bathroom anyway?). Get the hand sanitizer ready!

Business class on Delta's A330s (Photo: Delta)

Business class on Delta’s A330s (Photo: Delta)

GETTING FLATTER, FASTER. Delta has really sped up the installation of new flat-bed seating on international aircraft, and the Airbus A330 is the last aircraft type to be retrofitted. Delta inherited these wide-body aircraft in the merger with Northwest, and they all came with angled lie-flat “cocoon” style seat. Soon, all A330s will have 34 new lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Once the retrofit is complete (Delta says summer 2014) , all long-haul aircraft in Delta’s fleet will feature the new flat bed seating with the exception of the B757s flying to Europe on routes including JFK to Reykjavik, Iceland and Malaga, Spain, which have cradle-style seats.

SOUTHWEST SPREADING OUT AT ATL. This from the Dallas Morning News: “Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said the airline will spread out its daily flight schedule at the Atlanta airport to attract more local travelers instead of those connecting to other cities. The number of daily flights won’t change from 175, he said. With fewer people and bags moving from plane to plane through the Atlanta airport, Southwest won’t need as many ramp and customer service workers, such as ticket and gate agents and baggage handlers.” The result? Southwest will lay off 300 AirTran workers at ATL.

FREE INFLIGHT WI-FI. Blackberry’s doing everything it can to get its hot new Z10 smartphone in the hands of travelers, and its teaming up with Delta to say “thanks” to those who’ve made the big switch. Fire up your browser on your Blackberry inflight, and you’ll enjoy free Gogo wi-fi on all Delta domestic flights through June 30. The promotion is in honor of Blackberry’s new Z10 device, which is on display in various airports around the system including stations in numerous Sky Clubs like New York LaGuardia and Boston. PLEASE take our poll! Which type of smart phone do you carry? (Be sure to click on the “Vote” button below… it may be hard to see) 

How will United's new spending requirements affect your ability to attain or maintain Premier status?

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WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest Devoted TICKET readers:  The TICKET needs more readers!  Can you help us out? Please forward this link to at least three frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love The TICKET and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!


SNEAK PEEK AT DELTA’S T4 AT JFK. Delta just released a new video showing progress on its big new hub project at New York-JFK’s Terminal 4. Opening on May 24, the new terminal sports a giant 23,000 square foot Sky Club (See 1:40 in the video). In Manhattan, Delta has opened a new T4X “popup” demo of the new terminal in SoHo, and invites folks to come by for a look-see… and a $4 lunch!

MORE SIZZLE AT SEATTLE HUB. Delta’s and Virgin Atlantic’s plans to institute a joint venture on transatlantic flights is certain to be a boon for all Delta and Virgin flyers. It also brings about the possibility of new routes including a proposed flight between Seattle/Tacoma and London Heathrow. The flight is expected to benefit from the feed from Alaska Airlines codeshare flights and would make Seattle an even more important gateway in the Delta network. Neither Virgin nor Delta currently serves London from Seattle.

DELTA CEO PAY. Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson saw his compensation jump 42% last year — a combination of his long-term incentive pay and the fact that Delta made more money than its peers. His overall compensation rose to almost $12.6 million, up from $8.9 million in 2011, according to an Associated Press calculation based on an SEC filing Tuesday.

A China Eastern A330 at the gate at SFO (Photo: Peter Biaggi)

A China Eastern A330 at the gate at SFO (Photo: Peter Biaggi)

GET SHANGHAID. There’s a new way to Shanghai on SkyTeam partner China Eastern via San Francisco. The Airbus A330 departs SFO at 11:30 am and arrives at Shanghai Pudong airport (PVG) the following day at 4 pm. On the return, the flight departs Shanghai at 1 pm and arrives at SFO at 9:30 am. Three days a week, the flight offers continuing service to Wuhan (pop 10 million), a central Chinese city many refer to as “the Chicago of China.” China Eastern offers two types of business class seats on its Airbus A330-200—one type is the angled lie flight, the other is a true lie flat (180 degrees flat). China Eastern’s San Francisco manager Charlie Gu tells The TICKET that the San Francisco flight will always get the newer plane with the true lie-flat seats. Every seat on China Eastern’s A330 (coach and business) has personal seatback entertainment systems and access to AC plugs. China Eastern is the second largest carrier in China (after Air China), and flies a relatively young fleet—with an average age of just seven years. Have you flown or heard much about China Eastern? Please leave your comments below!

MARVELOUS MAKEOVER. In partnership with the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports, Terminal 5 at LAX will benefit from $229 million in construction and refurbishment work (expected to take place in phases beginning now through 2015). Ticketing and security screening areas will be expanded and include a separate VIP entrance and SkyPriority check-in lobby similar to that at JFK. The Sky Club will finally receive additional charging stations for passengers needing juice for electronics. There are plans to install a pricey new Luxury Bar replacing the more popular (and cheaper) self-service bar. Other terminal amenities include new baggage carousels and baggage recheck areas for inbound connecting passengers, and a fresh new look and new restaurants and bars that reflect LA’s culture and lifestyle.

TERMINAL F MAKES THE GRADE. The coveted LEED designation has been given to the new international terminal in Atlanta recognizing its environmental design and Earth-friendly production materials. Many features promote sustainability including a water box on the roof that collects rain water for filtering and release to the environment; thermal glazing to prevent loss of heating or cooling through windows; low-flow faucets in bathrooms; energy-efficient lighting, and a strong recycling program. It also includes those new “waterless” (and stinky!) urinals—men, do you know what I’m talking about here? P.U.!

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 9.41.54 AMARE YOU A HAPPY FLYER? Just fiddling around with the new Routehappy website makes us feel happy. Why? After a year of  researching, analyzing, and grading aircraft types and amenities, Routehappy applies “happiness factors” most business travelers care about such as seat pitch, width and layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, in-seat power, plane quality, and trip duration to help you pick the option flight. In addition, it manually gathers complex information about flights from sources like the airline’s website, press releases, staff, industry analysts & influencers, blogs, forums, news stories and reviews from road warriors and “route experts.” It then applies a “happiness score” to each flight to help make the best decision. For example, I’ve always known that Delta’s roomy, jumbo B767 flights between ATL and SFO are much more comfortable than those long, narrow torture tubes known as Boeing 757’s. Routehappy exposes that. This sounded very similar to Hipmunk’s “Agony” index, which uses an algorithm to rank flights based on price, duration and stopovers. Routehappy seems to have taken flight ranking a step beyond that with more robust information that includes human input. Take a look at Routehappy and let us know what you think. Leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis

*****

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No SkyTeam for Virgin + New Delta Jets + 500 miles for middle seats

Upper Class seats on Virgin Atlantic (Photo: Gary Bembridge / Flickr)

Upper Class seats on Virgin Atlantic (Photo: Gary Bembridge / Flickr)

VIRGIN WON’T GO ALL THE WAY. For now, at least. Delta says that its new partner, Virgin Atlantic, won’t be joining SkyTeam any time soon. Seems strange considering joining an alliance was one of the main reasons troubled Virgin said it needed to partner with Delta back in December. Delta paid Singapore Airlines $360 million for its 49% stake in the British carrier. “At some point down the road SkyTeam will come up, and I’m certain that over time it will be viewed favorably, but right now that’s not the priority,” said Delta’s Ed Bastian, as reported by Bloomberg. “Their main priority is addressing their financial needs in respect of the losses they’ve been posting.” So it sounds like everyone who was hoping to be able to once again earn or burn SkyMiles for Upper Class seats on posh Virgin flights are going to have to wait a while.

BIG (NEW) DELTA JETS. Reuters reports that Delta is in talks to purchase small and wide-body jets from Airbus and Boeing in deals potentially worth about $6 billion at list prices. Potential orders involve about 20 each of the plane makers’ most popular jets – the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 in the medium-haul, narrow-body class and the Airbus A330 or Boeing 777 in the long-range, wide-body category. Sorry folks, no A380s or 747s—or the currently grounded 787 Dreamliner. What’s your favorite Delta jet… and why? Please leave your comments below. 

Middle seat in business class on ANA's Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Middle seat in business class on ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BOEING 787 UPDATE. Speaking of, Boeing is apparently ready to test batteries on two 787 flights, which could lead to the resumption of flights “in a matter of weeks.” Boeing is also polling frequent flyers on their perceptions of the beleaguered aircraft, but keeping the results of these polls confidential.  Let’s help them out with a poll of our own. (Hover over the “Vote” button to cast your vote...on some browsers the button might appear clear)

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NO FOOD INTO SKY CLUB. Even though the signs posted at Sky Club entrances state that no outside food or drinks are allowed, members are still surprised when they enter a club and get scolded by agents. But, what is a traveler to do if entering a club with food purchased outside but with the intent to eat it on the plane later? Hide it! The no-food policy is intended to prohibit smells, trash, and stains from filling the club, but if you are headed for a long flight, buying food in the airport is a good plan. Typically, coffee and bottled drinks are permitted, but that Big Gulp is not. If you bought a sandwich in the terminal, hide it in your purse or briefcase and promise not to open it until you leave.

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500-MILE MIDDLE SEAT BONUS. Did you know that Delta randomly surprises Medallion level members of SkyMiles when they get stuck in a middle seat on Mondays? Apparently, it’s a practice that’s been around for a couple years, but it was news to us when reader JK emailed to tell The TICKET about his pleasant surprise. Plus, he only had to endure this middle seat for the short flight between Atlanta and Tampa. Would you accept a middle seat for 500 miles? Please leave your comment below.

TICKET POSTS ON CNN! Remember our post a while back about smart strategies for saving money using smart phones overseas? It was one of our most popular posts last year. CNN liked it too, and grabbed TICKET editor Chris McGinnis at the airport for some advice in this segment.

LAX GROWS AGAIN. Delta is beefing up its LAX schedule again with new flights to Nashville, Tenn., San Jose, Calif., and Seattle and Spokane, Wash. Seasonal summer service to Anchorage, Alaska, Boston, Mass., and Bozeman, Mont. bolsters the schedule even further. On the international front, Delta is beginning new nonstop service to San Jose, Costa Rica and adding a flight to Guadalajara, Mexico (the current flight is a sleep-busting red-eye on SkyTeam partner Aeromexico). More frequencies are being added to New Orleans, La., Oakland and Sacramento, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz., and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

BOOKING HOTELS ON DELTA.COM. Did you know that you earn one SkyMile for every $2 spent on hotels when booking your room Delta.com? Not bad! However, remember that you do NOT earn hotel program points when booking on Delta.com.

NEW ATL FLIGHTS. Delta is adding service out west for the summer season with additional nonstops from Atlanta to Bozeman and Kalispell, Montana plus Saturday nonstops from Atlanta to Missoula. The flights begin June 22.

Korean Air A380 floating over Seoul Incheon Airport.

Korean Air A380 floating over Seoul Incheon Airport. (Photo: JangSu Lee)

AIRBUS A380 (FINALLY) TO ARRIVE AT WORLD’S BUSIEST AIRPORT. Korean Air will be the first airline to fly the world’s largest passenger aircraft to Atlanta nonstop from Seoul Incheon. Service was supposed to start earlier this year, but was delayed to August 2. The plane will park at terminal E where the airport spent nearly $30 million to upgrade the gate facilities and taxiways. Korean is a Delta SkyTeam partner and passengers can earn and redeem miles for economy or business class flights. SkyMiles members can earn miles for flying Korean Air first class, but miles cannot be redeemed for Korean Air first class flights (a restriction that Delta has for all SkyTeam international first class flights…business class is going to be as good as it gets!). Watch for the big blue jumbo jet to touch down this summer! Have you flown Korean Air lately? How was your trip? Please leave your comments below.

PHOENIX SKYTRAIN TO PLANE. Starting April 8, the PHX SkyTrain will connect to the Washington & 44th St station for Valley Metro, Phoenix’s light rail system—which means you can get to/from downtown Phoenix or Mesa relatively seamlessly via just two trains.

BRAZIL FLIGHTS COULD DOUBLE. The Brazilian government is permitting U.S. airlines to apply for additional frequencies to its airports. Delta is applying for a second flight to Sao Paulo from both Atlanta and New York-JFK. If approved, both flights would have the same guaranteed flat-bed seats up front as all existing Delta flights to Brazil with the exception of Atlanta-Brasilia.

NEW IDEAS INFLIGHT APP. Facebook users can now have their say on their in-flight experience by submitting ideas for Delta’s marketing department via the new Ideas In-flight App. Other customers can comment on ideas and vote on their favorites in the hope that new practices will be feasible enough to be adopted on a larger scale. Not all ideas are good ones, but it is certainly fun to weigh in with your thoughts and learn what other travelers think about the Delta in-flight experience.

Gettin' cozy on Delta.

Gettin’ cozy on Delta.

SNUGGLE UP WITH DELTA. A new partnership with Westin Hotels and its Heavenly Bed program is coming to a BusinessElite cabin near you. United Airlines was the first carrier to offer such a partnership, but Delta quickly followed suit offering its own version of comfy duvets. The new cushy comforts will also be available on domestic BusinessElite flights from JFK to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle plus from Atlanta to Honolulu. The new duvets and pillows will appear in June, and on ultra-long-haul flights over 12 hours, a special lumbar pillow will be provided.

MORE LIE-FLAT SEATS TO JAPAN. Starting April 1, Delta will offer lie flat seats on its Boeing 767-300ER flights between SFO and Tokyo Narita. Flights between Portland PDX and Narita already have the flatties.

DRIVING TO/FROM NYC AIRPORTS. Hertz on Demand members can drive a Hertz car between airports and several locations in Manhattan for less than half of what you’d pay a cab or car service…and there is no membership fee. Would you?

STARWOOD CROSSOVER REMINDER. If you have not yet linked your Delta and Starwood accounts, be sure to do so here. Starwood Gold and Platinum members can begin earning Starwood points on all Delta purchases made through delta.com or a travel agent (third-party opaque sites like Hotwire or Priceline do not qualify) and Medallion members can earn SkyMiles on all of your Starwood hotel stays (one mile per dollar spent although the same restriction on third-party opaque sites still applies). This double dipping will prove to be a great partnership for travelers looking to rack up points. Platinum and Diamond Medallion members will also benefit from free Internet access at Starwood hotels while Starwood Platinum members can enjoy SkyPriority access and a free checked bag.

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRIP: BANGKOK. Are you headed to Bangkok…or do you just dream about going there? Check out  the advice and photos inChris McGinnis’s latest BBC Business Trip: Bangkok— read up on the rash of new luxury hotels, where to get great Thai food, where to get a suit made, and why you should NOT ask for chopsticks.

DELTA IN AFGHANISTAN. Flyers may find it interesting that Delta has opened its first sales office on the Bagram Military Base in Afghanistan to help facilitate travel for civilians and military personnel to and from the country. While this does not indicate new Delta service to Kabul, it does mean that Delta is trying to attract military and civilian flyers to its overseas flights by connecting them on other carriers to Delta flights (notably from Dubai to Atlanta). The two-person sales office helps Delta travelers with SkyMiles accounts, ticket purchases, and other travel-related issues. Next time you are in Kabul, be sure to stop by!

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World's favorite airport?

Urinals with an amazing view

Urinals with an amazing view at Singapore’s Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore’s Changi Airport is frequently recognized as the best in the world. On a recent trip to Singapore (on an assignment for my BBC.com Business Trip column, I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about, so I asked its communications team for a tour.

We walked all over the facility– smaller than you might imagine, and not really remarkable architecturally like airports in Seoul or Hong Kong– but it feels very welcoming, comfortable and easy. Come on along for the ride and see why people love this place so much. (Slideshow starts below.)

Some interesting tidbits I picked up during the tour:

>There is an outdoor pool, jacuzzi, patio and tiki bar that anyone can enter for a $14 fee. Nice! (See photos below)

>Airport security screening is done at each gate instead of a central security checkpoint– that means all you have to do is show your passport and ticket to get into the terminals. This decentralized approach eliminates any peak time lines. Smart!

>There’s an outdoor butterfly garden open to all passengers. Talk about peaceful…and beautiful! (See slideshow below)

>The airport has a full time staff of 10 horticulturalists and 100 gardeners and there’s not one fake plant anywhere.

>Changi is pronounced “Chawng-eee” with a soft g sound.

>The airport provides free internet access via wi-fi and 550 free terminals placed in pods throughout.

>What we call “moving sidewalks” they call “travelators.” (I like travelator and plan to incorporate that into my lexicon!)

>There is a basic by-the-hour hotel in each of its three terminals. There’s also a 280-room Crowne Plaza hotel in the middle of the airport, which mainly houses travelers on layovers from the “kangaroo route” between the UK and Australia. (However, QANTAS is switching its stopover point on the kangaroo route to Dubai next year.)

>Changi is the name of a local tree– a pleasant, eco-friendly change from other big airports named after politicians.

What’s your favorite airport in the world? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

Use the arrow keys on each image to move forward or back. Be sure to read the captions for an explanation of each shot.

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February update

We still get excited at the sight of a big ole Delta B747, especially now that they all have new lie flat seats! (Photo: Redlegsfan21 / Flickr)

We still get excited at the sight of a big ole Delta B747, especially now that they all have new lie flat seats! (Photo: Redlegsfan21 / Flickr)

Check out our new look! And help us celebrate! We’ve been busy working on a new look for The TICKET that we hope will be easier on your eyes, and easier to navigate. Please bear with us as we polish up the new look and let us know if there’s anything that does not make sense, or seems out of place. Also, this month marks an important milestone in the life of The TICKET– it’s TWENTY YEARS OLD! Yep, the TICKET cranked up as a paper newsletter ($37/yr) mailed via the USPS way back in February of 1993. How many of you have been reading that long? 

Remember when The TICKET looked like this?

Remember when The TICKET looked like this?

IMPACT OF SKYMILES CHANGES. Our informal poll of TICKET readers gauged the response on the recent addition of dollars spent to miles flow to achieve SkyMiles medallion status. 42%of the poll respondents said they will easily be able to make both the spending and mileage requirements to maintain status. About 18% said it would be tough, but they would be able to make the cut. The other 40% said they will be up a creek. See the survey responses and read interesting comments regarding that post here.

MILLION MILERS CAN CHILLAX. If you earned Silver, Gold, or Platinum Medallion status based on being a One, Two, or Three+ Million Miler, you are exempt from the new revenue requirement. If you want to continue rolling over MQMs, however, then you must meet the requirement of the level from which you want to rollover. Still have questions or concerns? Delta has posted a helpful FAQ about the new program here.

DELTA + STARWOOD = NICE. Delta and Starwood have launched a unique new program called Crossover Rewards, which offers reciprocal benefits in both programs. This means that starting March 1, Delta Diamond and Platinum Medallions (who are not already elite with Starwood) will get elite level benefits in the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, including 4 pm checkout, free internet, and one SkyMile per dollar spent on room rate in addition to Starpoints. That’s great. But it also means that elite level SPG members will have access to already crowded priority check in and boarding lines. They will also get one free check bag. What do you think? Is this a good thing, or not? If you are a Delta Diamond or Platinum beholden to another hotel brand, will this make you consider a switch to swanky Starwoood? Please leave your comments below! Details and registration here: delta.com/crossoverrewards or spg.com/crossoverrewards. Insiders tell The TICKET that a Starwood brand will team up with Delta later this spring with some trendy inflight amenities or other promotions.

HILTON HHONORS DEVALUED: Effective March 28, Hilton HHonors will play under a new set of rules. (Sound familiar?) Instead of the current seven award tiers, there will be 10. The highest tier will now require a whopping 95,000 points per night, up from just 50,000. You’ll pay more during high season, and less during low season. This is indicative of a travel industry trend I’ve been following—when paying with cash or with points, peak season prices are rising through the roof due to rising demand from travelers. The only way to get the best deals at rates that feel reasonable, is to fly or stay during low or so-called “shoulder” seasons. How do you feel about this? Angry enough to dump Hilton and move to a competitor? Well, not so fast…Today Starwood rolled out its adjusted list of hotel award categories, with more hotels moving up than down—not as severe as Hilton’s, but still. Thoughts?

GLASS-BOTTOM JET. Hey iPad users… have you tried out Delta’s cool new Glass Bottom Jet feature, which shows what’s going on beneath the plane as you are flying across the country? To use it, you must first download the Fly Delta for the iPad app. Give it a go, and let us know what you think. And if you have no idea what we are talking about, watch the video above! 

AMERICAN + US AIRWAYS. The proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways will have a minimal impact on the Atlanta market. Neither carrier has a large presence here. US Airways flights to Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix will likely be folded into American’s operations out of the T-gates at ATL—that’s an improvement for US Airways customers who’ve had to trudge out to Concourse D. Plus, they will have access to American’s nice Admirals Club near the T-gate spine. Another plus: If you have some stray AAdvantange or Dividend miles lying around, you’ll be able to combine them in the new program. What do you think? Will the merger have an impact on you?   

DELTA TO TOKYO. Delta has received the go-ahead from the DOT to shift its Detroit-Tokyo Haneda flight to Seattle-Haneda.The new flight will be an excellent option for Atlantans who prefer close-in Haneda– avoiding the long transfer (1-2 hours) from Narita into town. While it does involve flying to Seattle first, the Seattle-Haneda flight will be flown with Boeing 747-400 aircraft (like the Atlanta-Narita flight) with new lie-flat seats in BusinessElite and individual entertainment screens in Economy Comfort and Economy.

TICKET editor Chris McGinnis's Business Trip column on BBC.com

TICKET editor Chris McGinnis’s Business Trip column on BBC.com

SPEAKING OF TOKYO. Your TICKET editor is fresh back from a business trip to Tokyo—the result of which is his latest BBC.com column. Check it out to learn about Tokyo’s recovery from the earthquake, its luxury hotel boom (one brand new hotel is inside Tokyo Station!), and where to find a decent meal.

AIRTRAN-SOUTHWEST CODESHARING BEGINS. The two carriers, which have begun the merger process, have started placing their codes on a handful of each other’s flights. While this may seem like a non-event for the average traveler, AirTran still charges bag fees ($25 for the first, $35 for the second). If you purchase your ticket via Southwest’s website under a Southwest code (even if it is operated by Air Tran), you will be spared the bag fee. Agents are certainly going to be hell bent on charging the fee, but the official policy is that your source of purchase should dominate. Note that not all AirTran flights appear on Southwest.com– only the current handful of code share flights.

ONLY 25% OF MILES FLOWN? SAY WHAT? Delta has cracked down on the SkyMiles it awards customers who book tickets as part of a package. Those hotel, car rental, and flight bundles found on Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and other travel sites can offer excellent value, but will now come at a cost. They are known as unpublished fares and fall into the same category as student airfares and consolidator bookings. While these tickets may appear to book into standard L, U, and T fare categories, if they are booked on third-party sites, only 25% of flown mileage will be awarded. Also included in this new restriction is airfare purchased through a cruise line as part of a package. This does not affect flight-only purchases on third-party sites, which continue to earn the full mileage flown. (Hat tip to TICKET reader SG for bringing this to our attention.)

Delta's new Tumi inflight amenity kit.

Delta’s new Tumi inflight amenity kit.

NEW AMENITY KITS. Delta’s Business Elite amenity kits have seen many incarnations including the collector’s tins from the late 1990s, the zippered triangles in the early 2000’s and the more recent red cylindrical tubes. Customers will have a new one for their collection beginning this month. The new kit comes from luggage provider Tumi and features a smart, stylish design. It is packed with Malin+Goetz toiletries like neroli hand lotion, lip balm, and the standard accoutrements of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, and eye shades. New to the kit is an antibacterial wipe. These kits are being introduced throughout the month on all long-haul international flights. The older red kits will continue to be used on domestic transcon flights between JFK and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle until the stock is depleted. Do you use the amenities airlines provide in these kits? Leave your comments below!

GOOOAAALLL! A new partnership with Gol Airlines of Brazil (an airline in which Delta recently acquired an equity stake) now offers more benefits like reciprocal lounge access and priority check-in for Delta passengers. Already in place was the ability to earn and redeem mileage with Gol, which has an immense network throughout Brazil and South America. New complimentary lounge access at Gol’s lounges in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are open to Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members when traveling with Gol or Delta.

NEW DELTA ROUTES. Although it was expected to be eclipsed by Beijing this year, ATL held on to its title as the world’s busiest airport yet again in 2012. Delta is helping its biggest hub hold onto that title by adding nonstop flights to three U.S. destinations: Anchorage AK, Burlington VT and Green Bay, WI. The first two cities will be served with Delta mainline aircraft while the Green Bay route will be flown with a CRJ-700 featuring 9 first class seats. Delta is also starting new service between LAX and Seattle and San Jose, California and adding an extra flight between JFK and Dublin three days a week this coming summer.

All passengers at Singapore's Changi Airport have access to this outdoor patio, pool and bar for a $14 fee. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

All passengers at Singapore’s Changi Airport have access to this outdoor patio, pool and bar for a $14 fee. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AHHH. FRESH AIR. Flight delays may just be a good thing on warm spring and summer days now that Delta has announced plans to open terraces or “SkyDecks” at the concourse F Sky Club in Atlanta and the new JFK club later this year. Fresh air, patio-style seating, fabric umbrellas, and large glass walls ringing the space will be a welcome change to the often over-crowded clubs these days. Plane spotters will have excellent views of the tarmac (unless the glass is not cleaned regularly!). The outdoor areas are a collaboration between Delta, Architectural Digest, and fashion designer Thom Felicia. Your TICKET editor recently enjoyed an afternoon at the enormous public sky deck at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport…have you ever been to an airport that offered access to the great outdoors? If so, where? Please leave your comments below.

SKY CLUB RATES BUMP UP. Better renew your Sky Club membership now because in March annual rates will get a boost in price of about $50 (depending upon your elite status). Rates have not increased in the past three years, and Delta’s heads-up to customers to renew in advance is certainly appreciated.

NEW DELTA WEB SITE GLITCHES. Delta agents now freely admit the new website is problematic…several have acknowledged that phone calls are coming in “by the truckload” about buggy features. Whether it freezes halfway through a transaction or simply refuses to load on Safari or Internet Explorer, Delta flyers continue to put up with a disappointing raft of missteps. Some TICKET readers who don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to work the new site have reported that they are resorting booking travel on third-party sites or even other airlines to get away from the frustration of delta.com. Have you experienced the same website freezes or disruptions that stop you from booking a revenue or frequent flyer ticket? Keep us informed so we can investigate and let the Delta team know what’s frustrating TICKET readers.

LAX SKY CLUB CHANGES. In a reversal of what many clubs seemed to be offering, the Sky Club at Los Angeles is being redesigned again (surely you have noticed the dreadful construction over the past few months) and re-installing its staffed bar. Delta removed the bar in the last renovation in favor of a stylish, kitchen ambiance with refrigerators stocked with drinks of all types and a self-service bar. Presumably, the return to bartender service is intended to sell more drinks from the Luxury Bar. Customers wanting juice or soda must now wait in line. A similar removal of the self-service bar took place at one of Minneapolis/St. Paul’s SkyClubs and has been met with mixed reaction. What do you think? Do you prefer to make your own drink or would you rather leave that up to a bartender? Please leave your comments below.

NEW FEES AT SOUTHWEST. Southwest Airlines passengers who are used to not showing up for a flight and then requesting full credit for that flight for future use later are in for a surprise. Southwest says it will soon impose a no-show fee on cheaper restricted tickets if you don’t contact the airline and cancel your plans within 24 hours of flight time. Southwest’s “Early bird” check in fees have increased to $12.50 from $10. In addition, if you want to nab an open position in the first boarding group, Southwest now charges a $40 fee (based on availability) for that. In addition, the fee for oversized or overweight bags, or a third checked have increased from $50 to $75 each. Southwest still does not charge for the first or second checked bag…but industry scuttlebutt is that Southwest will likely join other carriers in charging bag fees starting next year.


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Airline-Airport Update

Great shot of Virgin Atlantic’s swanky new Clubhouse lounge at New York-JFK (Photo: Virgin Atlantic)

WHAT WILL DELTA+VIRGIN BRING? With the deal so new, it’s tough to say much at this point, but let’s speculate: First, the Delta-Virgin tie-up is likely to have much more impact on New York than Atlanta. It would be nice, but unlikely, if Virgin would compete nonstop with Delta between ATL and London-Heathrow, but a man can dream, no? Like before, those who would like a taste of Virgin Atlantic using their SkyMiles will likely fly Delta from ATL to Washington, New York, Newark, Chicago or Boston, and then change to Virgin for the over water leg to London. From there, the Virgin partnership offers some interesting new options for flying to Africa, India, and Asia. Interesting aircraft, too—it has six Airbus A380s and 15 B787 Dreamliners coming online in 2014-15. Once Delta and Virgin are housed in the same terminal at Heathrow, we’ll all have access to Virgin’s swish Clubhouse there. The big IF in all this is Delta’s much-anticipated switch to a revenue-based frequent flyer program—many expect this new program to be announced in 2013, and then put into effect in 2014. If you are wondering what a revenue-based program looks like, just take a look at Virgin America’s Elevate plan…which of course opens up a whole new can of worms with everyone wondering if Delta’s going to enter into some sort of arrangement with the mod, very popular, but money-losing SF-based carrier. Would YOU like to speculate? Please leave your comments below…

DELTA.COM FRUSTRATION. Our post last month about Delta’s switch to a new website elicited a slew of angry, confused comments from readers expressing their dismay at a redesign that makes the site clunkier to load and harder to get around. Even purchasing a ticket seems difficult. The display sorting method is partially to blame since certain options are often left out and more desirable flights are often four pages deep.  In addition, Delta has switched to a password-based login adding one more step to an already frustrating process. We’ve been unable to get Delta to tell us WHY it felt the need to change the website in the first place…but have received no reply. WHY do YOU think Delta has burdened us with this clunky new site? In the spirit of focusing on the positive… can you name a thing or two about the new site that is an improvement? Please leave your comments below!

DELTA FIRST CLASS FARE SALE. Delta’s offering a great deal on upgrades to first class on US and Canada flightsduring the busy holiday season– Dec 15 – Jan 5. Upgrades on the cheap! Details here. Not a bad idea to pony up a little extra cash as a gift to yourself (or others) for the Holidays!

>>>Have you signed up to get The TICKET via e-mail yet? If not, do it right now! Email in the box to the right, please!>>>

Buh-bye to Delta’s cramped CRJ200’s show here (Photo: Redlegs / Flickr)

BUH-BYE CRJ-200s. Delta is (thankfully) accelerating its removal of the cramped, 50-seat, one-class CRJ-200 aircraft and has placed an order for 40 more CRJ-900 aircraft that will be fitted with first class, Economy Comfort, and wi-fi. These 72-seaters are more efficient to operate allowing Delta to deploy them on routes that are too big for a CRJ-200, but too small for a mainline aircraft.

SOUTHWEST OVER WATER.  Starting in April, Southwest will fly nonstop from Orlando and Tampa to San Juan, its first over-water flights. For the time being, AirTran will continue to fly nonstop to San Juan from Atlanta, but the new SW flights offer a new one-stop choice for the Caribbean-bound.

ROLLOVER CONFUSION. TICKET reader B.R. reached out to us with an interesting issue that sheds light on confusion regarding rollover miles for those who have earned their status for life through the Million Miler program. It seems that customers who achieve Silver or Gold Medallion by earning Million Miler status instead of earning it by flying, do not carry over the extra MQMs into the New Year the way other travelers would. Let’s say you flew 35,000 MQMs in 2012 and are a two Million Miler (giving you lifetime Gold Status). Now it seems that the 10,000 extra MQMs over the 25,000 Silver Medallion threshold do not roll over since you technically did not fly up to the Gold Medallion level you have achieved to begin carrying over. You still maintain Gold status for life, but rollover seems to begin only above and beyond your current status level for the year. Delta helped The TICKET out with an answer to this, pulling this little nugget from its Terms & ConditionsMembers who receive complimentary or gifted Medallion status [ie, Million Milers] are ineligible for Rollover MQMs unless they earn more MQMs than the gifted status requirement. For example, if a member is gifted Silver Medallion status in 2012 and also earns 30,000 MQMs in 2012, s/he will be able to roll over 5,000 MQMs since the Silver Medallion requirement is 25,000 MQMs.

(Have you scored your 500 Delta SkyMiles bonus for using TICKET sponsor Peachy Airport Parking yet?)

ATL’S DATA-DRIVEN SCULPTURE. Here’s another reason to go check out ATL’s new International Terminal F: The new AirFIELD liquid crystal sculpture hanging from the ceiling that is synched to real-time flight data. Each flight that lands or takes off at ATL activates small ripples in the sculpture for small plane and big ripples for jumbos.  Go check it out! Or just get hypnotized by the video above.

FULLY FLAT DETROIT-SAO PAULO. Delta now offers its new flat bed seat in all Business Elite markets to Brazil. Until now, the Detroit flight was a notable exception.Speaking of South America, Delta’s celeb-chef Michelle Bernstein has overhauled menus on overnight flights to South America with more regional dishes. Have you noticed?

BAD BAG POLICY CHANGE. Starting January 15, Delta will no longer through-check baggage to its final destination if you are traveling two separate tickets… and the second ticket is not a Delta ticket. Delta will only check the bag through to your first stop, requiring you to exit the airport secure zone, fetch your bag at baggage claim, re-check it at the non-Delta carrier counter, and then re-enter the terminal via airport security. What a pain in the butt! How often do you buy two separate tickets for a single trip?

NEWEST AIRPORTS W PRECHECK: Atlanta was one of the first four airports in the country to get PreCheck back in Oct 2011, and TSA has been busy rolling out the program at the nations busiest airports ever since then, now totaling 35 airports. Some of the latest additions are: Anchorage, Nashville, Santa Ana (Orange County), Ft Lauderdale, and San Francisco. Note: Airports with multiple entry points may not support Pre-Check at all of them. For example, there are only two PreCheck lanes at SFO—one for United flyers at Terminal 3, the other for American flyers at Terminal 2. However, there is no PreCheck line at SFO’s Terminal 1 used by Delta, Alaska and USAirways, all of which participate in PreCheck. The following are airports where DELTA operates with PreCheck: Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall, Charlotte Douglas International, Chicago O’Hare International, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, Denver International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Honolulu International, Indianapolis International, John Wayne, LaGuardia Airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran, Logan International, Los Angeles International, Luis Muñoz Marin International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Orlando International, Pittsburgh International, Portland International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Salt Lake City International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Tampa International, Ted Stevens Anchorage International and Washington Dulles International airports.


SHAPING UP AT ATL. Next time you are out at ATL’s Terminal E and feeling a little pudgy or bloated from too much travel, pick up a pack of Spanx to help keep your girly or manly figure. Spanx was invented by an Atlanta fax salesperson who started the company out of a rental house in Virginia Highland. Spanx at ATL opened this month. See the video for the interesting story!

>Are you signed up for our Facebook page yet? We frequently break news on our Facebook page that eventually makes it into our monthly roundups. So if you want news when it happens, come on and get on our Facebook page.

GOING GREEN. Delta has achieved status in The Climate Registry for its greenhouse gas emission inventory. As the first US carrier to do so, the award recognizes the numerous procedures Delta has put into place to save fuel including taxing on one engine (something that is unique to Delta). Over the past six years, Delta has lowered its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent.

Check out that super shiny floor at Peachy’s climate controlled indoor lot on Sylvan Road.

Please say THANK YOU to our sponsor, PEACHY AIRPORT PARKING for helping keep The TICKET free for readers this year! If you have not done so already, give ’em a try, get your SkyMiles, and let us know what you think! 

EASY 500+ SKYMILES BONUS. The holidays are the BEST time of year to avoid oversold on-airport parking lots…. so why not help out The TICKET, and our newest sponsor, Peachy Airport Parking, on your next trip? You’ll help yourself, too, since Peachy is offering TICKET readers 500 SkyMiles plus three SkyMiles per dollar spent. If you are tired of worrying about on-airport lot sellouts, long, dark walks to your car or the congested mess that is Camp Creek Parkway, just exit I-85 south at Sylvan Road, one mile north of the airport, and follow the signs to Peachy. Once there, you’ll find extra wide spaces in a secure, climate controlled indoor lot, a free car wash and a short two-minute shuttle ride to the airport. Daily rates are just $6.99 outdoor or$8.99 indoor. COME ON! Help keep The TICKET free by clicking on this link or on the ad to the right to learn more about ATL’s newest parking option. Note: You have to click on the link and print the page to get the SkyMiles! 

*****

 


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Delta's wacky website, first class upgrades on sale, wi-fi at ATL, MQM-Sky Club bonus

Delta’s explaining page regarding changes to its website.

NEW DELTA.COM. Likey or no likey? We’ve all heard that sometimes change is hard—but eventually we get used to it and realize that the change was for the better. Is that what’s going on with Delta’s recently revamped website? It’s been two years since Delta last finagled with it, and now that you’ve had a few weeks to play around with it, what do you think? Many of the design elements are the same, but a new drop down twist is new and feels a little buggy.  Have you memorized your complicated new login password? How does Delta’s site compare to other airlines or booking sites you’ve used? Bummed that Delta did nothing to improve its broken online SkyMiles award booking site? Do you plan to “get social” with Delta and link to your Facebook or Twitter pages? Suggestions for the web designers? Here’s a link to Delta’s online introduction to the new site. Please leave your thoughts below.

PRECHECK NUMBER. With all the complaints about missing or incorrect profile info migrating to the new Delta site, PreCheck members should be certain that their GOES “known traveler” number is intact. But finding that is tough. Here’s how: Login at Delta.com, then go to your profile> in left hand column, open “Basic Info”> scroll to “Secure Flight Passenger Data”> click the “Edit” button to the right> click on the “Add Redress or Known Traveler Number” link> then check to be sure your known traveler number is there… and correct. Phew! I hope you get your three beeps!

DELTA FIRST CLASS FARE SALE. Delta’s offering a great deal on upgrades to first class on US and Canada flightsduring the busy holiday season– Dec 15 – Jan 5. Upgrades on the cheap! Details here. Not a bad idea to pony up a little extra cash as a gift to yourself (or others) for the Holidays!

WIFI AT ATL. FINALLY FREE. No more squatting on the floor outside the Sky Club to snag free wi-fi. ATL has decided to install free wi-fi beginning in the fall of 2013. As the airport adjusts to a heftier system to accommodate the increased demand, it will gradually lower the price of access until it becomes completely free. This revenue loss accounts for around $1.5 million to the airport, but with airports around the country offering it without charge, Atlanta has finally succumbed to the pressure.

MQM BONUS FOR SKY CLUB. Need to renew your Sky Club access for the coming year? If you do it now, Delta will throw in 1,500 bonus MQMs that can help with Medallion status in the coming year (or opt for two free months of membership added to your current Sky Club account). The offer is valid until Dec. 31. Details here.  If nothing else, it’s an easy way to snag some extra MQMs without having to book a last-minute flight somewhere before the end of the year. http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/airports-and-aircraft/delta-sky-club/membership/delta-sky-club-promotion.html 

>>>Have you signed up  to get The TICKET via e-mail yet? If not, do it right now! Email in the box to the right, please!>>>

MORE SHRINKAGE IN MEMPHIS. Delta’s cutting back in Memphis once again, this time nixing nonstops to Birmingham, Jacksonville and Ft Lauderdale. It also will trim one daily round-trip flight between Memphis and the following cities: Jackson, Kansas City, Knoxville, Little Rock, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham,  St. Louis, San Antonio and Tulsa. As we’ve long expected, this adds fuel to the fire that both Memphis and Cincy will eventually not be Delta hubs at all.

What do you think of the mod, minimalist design of the front desk at the recently re-vamped Grand Hyatt San Francisco? Leave your comments below!  (Photo: C McGinnis)

SOUTHWEST TO THE KEYS. Southwest will take over AirTran’s flights between ATL andt Key West via Orlando and Tampa beginning in March 2013, making it Southwest’s 8th Florida destination.

DELTA SOARS IN CORPORATE TRAVEL. While it might be tough for Atlantans (most of whom love to complain about the 900-lb gorilla out at ATL), corporate travel buyers ranked Delta first among its peers for the second year in a row in the Business Travel News Annual Airline Survey. Delta says that the recognition is a result of its $3 billion investment in improving the flying experience—like upgrades to business class seats, the roll-out of economy comfort, pervasive inflight wi-fi, the re-vamp of multiple Sky Clubs, a new terminal at NY-LaGuardia and JFK. With United crippled due to a botched merger and American fighting with unions in bankruptcy court, Delta’s mopping up new customers all over the country—even in non-hub cities. What do you think? Is Delta getting better? Please leave your comments below!

At Las Vegas’s nice new Terminal 3. Have you seen it yet? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRIP. What are the top five hottest, newest hotels and restaurants in Las Vegas…and have you heard what they are going to do the THEhotel next year? Do you love Vancouver as much as I do? Do you have any plans to travel to India’s capital city of Delhi… or have just wondered what it might be like to take a business trip there? Take a peek at the latest in my BBC Business Trip series to learn the answers!

AIRTRAN+SOUTHWEST INTEGRATION. An excellent look by the AJC at how the combination of the two carriers came about and how it is progressing through the eyes of AirTran’s co-founder Lewis Jordan: “A year and a half after the deal closed, the combination of the two carriers’ operations is still in progress, and the AirTran name is expected to remain in some form into 2015. AirTran still had roughly 170 flights a day from Atlanta this fall, while Southwest had about 20 daily flights. Next year, Southwest plans to connect AirTran’s route network with its own. Southwest has cut some AirTran routes as it gradually dismantles the AirTran hub in Atlanta to decrease the focus on connecting passengers.”

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NEW CHINESE PARTNER FOR SKYTEAM. Xiamen Airlines is set to join the Delta-led alliance later this month adding another option for travelers to Asia. The airline is a heavily domestic Chinese carrier and expands travel options for those flying to fast-growing but poorly served secondary and tertiary cities. While the addition is hardly cause to drop everything and plan your next vacation, SkyTeam is certainly becoming the market leader in China. Mileage earning and redemption will be in place by the end of the year.

HERTZ/SKYMILES PROMO. A new Hertz promotion for reservations between now and the end of the year offers bonus SkyMiles  based on the number of days of your rental. One to two day rentals earn a 500 mile bonus, three to four day rentals earn 900 extra miles, and five days or more brings in 2,000 bonus miles. Hertz already offers 100 miles per day for SkyMiles members (200 miles per day for Medallions), and these extra miles sweeten the pot. To reserve, visit the offer page.

TIME LAPSE ICE RINK. Southwest put together an interesting one-minute time-lapse video showing how they set up the ice skating rink at Park Tavern in Piedmont Park. Have you ever seen how they do this? Pretty neato!

>Do you follow TICKET editor Chris McGinnis on Twitter? Every day I sift through all the business travel news out there and tweet items that I think would interest my readers most.

POSH UPGRADE TO DELTA TRANSCONS. Too bad these flights don’t touch Atlanta… but if you are out and about…. Delta is upping its game against transcontinental competitors with true Business Elite service on these cross-country flights. Until now, Delta only offered its famous multi-course meal service and in-flight amenities (duvet, large pillow, noise-canceling headsets, menus, and amenity kits) on these high-profile flights. The 757s used had the recliner-style seats, but soon, all flights plying these routes will have full flat beds up front. Boeing 767-300ERs will be added to certain flights (the first starts in March 2013 and is timed to connect with the LAX-Sydney flight) while the 757s go in for a retrofit to flat beds. The addition of Seattle to the list of domestic Business Elite flights signals Delta’s heavy commitment to this market. Beginning in May 2013, all transcon flights with the new product will depart from JFK’s renovated Terminal 4. It will take two years for this change to be implemented across all transcon flights so be sure to book your flights accordingly. What do you think? Is a flat bed on a transcon all that important…or is it overkill? 

 

Dusk at SEA-TAC (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

DELTA + ALASKA. The code share agreement that Delta has with Alaska Airlines is proving to be a meaningful source of revenue as passengers can connect to a host of international cities from Seattle including Amsterdam, Beijing, Osaka, Paris, and Tokyo Narita. According to Alaska and Delta, there are as many as 1,200 daily connecting passengers between Delta and Alaska flights. Have you flown Alaska lately? What did you think?

TIME TO DONATE MILES?Even though Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on its northeast operations in early November canceling flights and tugging on profits, Delta made a hefty $100,000 donation to the American Red Cross’ relief efforts through the Delta Air Lines Foundation. In addition, Delta has a long-standing agreement with the Red Cross to provide cargo and seats needed during disaster relief efforts.Customers can also donate SkyMiles to the Red Cross or other charities here. 

Artwork in display at the new Holiday Inn next to London’s Olympic Park

CHRISTMAS IN LONDON. Is like something out of Dickens… And Delta is matching other airline’s promotions to offer a hefty pile of SkyMiles for passengers flying to London on full-fare tickets. Your first round trip will earn 15,000 miles; the second round trip earns 35,000 miles, and the third scores 50,000 miles. Three roundtrips equal enough for a free roundtrip award in Business Elite to Europe. Full fares including J, C, D, S and I in business class and Y, B, and M fares in economy. Register and fly before Jan. 31, 2013.

EASY 500+ SKYMILES BONUS. The holidays are the BEST time of year to avoid oversold on-airport parking lots…. so why not help out The TICKET, and our newest sponsor, Peachy Airport Parking, on your next trip? You’ll help yourself, too, since Peachy is offering TICKET readers 500 SkyMiles plus three SkyMiles per dollar spent. If you are tired of worrying about on-airport lot sellouts, long, dark walks to your car or the congested mess that is Camp Creek Parkway, just exit I-85 south at Sylvan Road, one mile north of the airport, and follow the signs to Peachy. Once there, you’ll find extra wide spaces in a secure, climate controlled indoor lot, afree car wash and a short two-minute shuttle ride to the airport. Daily rates are just $6.99 outdoor or$8.99 indoor. COME ON! Help keep The TICKET free by clicking on this link or on the ad to the right to learn more about ATL’s newest parking option. Note: You have to click on the link and print the page to get the SkyMiles! 

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Holiday mileage runs, buying Delta MQMs, dead weeks

My mom’s famous marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole– a holiday staple! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The next big item on every frequent traveler’s calendar is Thanksgiving– and it’s early this year – now less than a week away on November 22.

Since an increasing number of Americans are now taking the whole week off, expect big crowds, and long, slow-moving security lines at the airport today (Friday), over the weekend and of course, next week. (Thank goodness for PreCheck at this time of year, right?)

Flying during the holidays means paying a premium of anywhere from 30% to 70% compared to other times of year—especially on long haul flights, according to FareCompare.com. Christmas/New Year’s holiday period airfares are running at an average $454 this year, up 5% from the same period last year when they were $434 according to Expedia.com. Average fares during the peak Thanksgiving period are only slightly less, averaging $442, which is also up 5% compared to last year.

If you are hitting the roads or the skies next week or next month, here are five ways improve your chances of having a happy holiday trip:

1-Postpone peak season trips

If pricey holiday airfares will keep you grounded this year, celebrate with your family during “dead weeks” instead.  Dead weeks are travel industry lingo for the annual low points in travel demand, which ironically come in the middle of the peak holiday travel season. And when demand plummets, so do prices.

The catch is that you have to travel when everyone else is staying at home. Dead weeks typically occur right after the big Thanksgiving rush, and again right after the Christmas/New Years rush in early January. The good news this year is that with an early Thanksgiving (Nov 22) we have one extra dead week—the last week of November—and the deals are plentiful.

For example, if you’d like to fly to San Francisco for Thanksgiving on peak days next week, you pay close to $800 round trip. But when checking on dead week deals earlier this week, we found Delta round trip fares of just $220 round trip during the dead weeks of early December. As of this morning, those fares had increased to about $327– still not bad.  

2-Use dead weeks to score a good  mileage run–or buy MQMs

Dead week deals are not only a great opportunity for flexible travelers to save, but an easy way for frequent travelers to top off their mileage balances on mileage runs in order to keep or bump up their cherished elite level status.

As stated above, Delta was offering roundtrips between Atlanta and San Francisco for just $220 round trip during early/mid December! That ATL>SFO round trip nets a whopping 4,300 MQMs, so that would have been money well spend. Regrettably, when we checked this morning, the deal was gone.

But it may not be gone for good. Keep an eye on this as fares have been bouncing up and down all week because ATL-SFO is a route where Delta, Southwest and AirTran are competing heavily. Expedia has a helpful tool for monitoring the lowest fares. 

This week Delta unveiled a rather weak MQM buying program (compared to previous offers) for those who’d rather buy than fly… but this year, you’ll really pay up for the honor of preserving your status. The MQM prices below are $100 more expensive than last year‘s prices. Will you do it?

 

This fun video (which we shared before) sorta puts the whole mileage run game into perspective!

3-Book nonstop flights

While the lower price of a one-stop flight might be tempting, you increase your chances of a delay or cancellation by 100% when you take two flights instead of one to get to your destination. Why take that chance, especially if you are headed home for just a few days, and a delayed or canceled flight could spoil the entire trip?

In many cases nonstop flights cost the same, or only $50 to $100 more. I think of that extra cost as an insurance policy against a hassle-filled trip. (If you don’t know the difference between a nonstop, direct or connecting flight, please read this!)

Another tip to ensure a delay-free trip: Book early morning flights, which are frequently parked at the airport overnight and not reliant on arriving from another airport.

(Have you scored your 500 Delta SkyMiles bonus for using TICKET sponsor Peachy Airport Parking yet? Click here for the coupon!) 

4-Stay at a hotel

Why burden the in-laws with the hassle of houseguests during the already stressful holidays? Instead of bunking on that lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, book a nearby hotel.

Due to lack of demand from business travelers, most hotels are dirt-cheap during the holidays, and offer the chance experience a five-star hotel at a two or three star price.

Example: Do you have family visiting for the holidays? I’ve found rooms at the five star InterContinental Buckhead hotel for just $139 per night during Thanksgiving or Christmas, while at other times of year they go for $400+.

Rooms at comfortable suburban hotels like Best Western that may be closer to your relatives are likely starving for business during the holidays—so call the hotel directly to see if you can negotiate a great deal.

Or show off your travel-tech-savvy by pulling out your fancy new iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3 and using last minute hotel-deal apps like HotelTonight to score some amazing rates.

5-Splurge a little

While you can always pay a lot more to sit in first class, you can now pay a little bit more, and get a more comfortable coach seat. During the busy, crowded holidays, that’s money well spent.

While getting a few extra inches of room always helps, the real benefit of paying for a better economy seat is that you are usually allowed to board early—with elite level flyers. Early boarding means you get early access to scarce overhead bin space, and since these seats are located near the front of the plane, you’ll be among the first to exit when the plane lands.

These premium economy seats cost from $20 to $200 more, depending on the duration of the flight. For example, for a trip home for the holidays, those without Medallion status could pay Delta $70 extra for one of its Economy Comfort seats for the 4-5 hour nonstop between Atlanta and San Francisco. A cheaper option would be Southwest’s EarlyBird check in fee of just  $10 each way—which gets you closer to the front of the line for boarding.

Have a great trip and a very happy holiday!

–Chris McGinnis

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Northeast Airports: Some open, some closed

Screenshot from FlightStats shows which NE airports are closed as of this morning. Click on map for updates.

In the wake of superstorm Sandy, many key airports are closed today. But surprisingly, many are open. According to FlightStats

The following mid-Atlantic/Northeast airports are closed this morning as of 10:30am EDT.

  • (JFK) John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • (LGA) La Guardia Airport
  • (EWR) Newark Liberty International Airport
  • (ACY) Atlantic City International Airport
  • (GON) Groton-New London Airport
  • (HVN) New Haven Airport
  • (MMU) Morristown Municipal Airport
  • (TEB) Teterboro Airport.

Airports that are OPEN include Boston, Hartford, Providence, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington Dulles and Washington National— however, while the airports are technically open, many flights are still cancelled or off-schedule as airlines try to get their planes back in place. With local public transportation shut down in NYC today, its three main airports will have a tough time cranking back up with only skeleton staffing in place.

The situation remains fluid, and many airports could crank up again today, so here’s the link to get current airport closure information.

Looking at current flight boards, it appears that most  flights from ATL to Boston-Logan Airport, Baltimore and Washington National are on schedule today. However, all flights into New York La Guardia appear to be cancelled all day.

Some good news: While airlines cancelled some 7,000 flights yesterday and today, only about 600 are cancelled for tomorrow. So we are making some progress.

But I do not think that the nation’s air travel system will full recover from this blow until this weekend at the earliest. My advice from yesterday still stands: If you don’t really need to go this week, and your flight is cancelled anyway, get a full refund from the airline and take your trip next month instead.

Have you been affected by this storm yet? How have you been treated by the airlines? Please share your storm stories below! 

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My advice re: Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy at 8 am Monday. Landfall is expected late tonight and into tomorrow. (Screenshot from FlightAware.com)

This is going to be a tough week for business travel, no matter where you are headed.

That’s because the nation’s air travel network is deeply tied to getting people to or from the “Megalopolis” which extends from Washington DC to Boston. And the megalopolis is essentially shut down to air and rail travel today through at least Wednesday.

If you are flying anywhere this week– even if your itinerary does not have you anywhere near the Northeast, your flight could be affected due to the ripple effect of this storm. This means that the flight that you might be catching to fly from Atlanta to Chicago could be using a plane that is normally flying in from New York or Washington. And with Sandy bearing down on those airports and shutting them down…it’s likely that your plane won’t be arriving in Atlanta. You might end up on a different type of aircraft. Your seat assignment could be different. You might have to fly earlier or later than expected.

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That is why it’s essential to stay in touch with your airline online (phoning is impossible) to monitor the situation. Other helpful resources are the flight delay maps at FlightStats or FlightAware.

I think the most important thing to remember during storms like this is that if your flight is cancelled, and you decide NOT TO TRAVEL AT ALL– meaning you decline any re-accommodations or waivers offered, and just zap the whole trip, you are entitled to a full refund from the airline.

And that’s what I suggest you do if you have plans to travel to the Megalopolis this week. Your flight has likely been cancelled, so just don’t go,  give up your seat to someone who may really need it, take your refund and try again next week or next month.

Note: You are only entitled to a refund if you flight is cancelled– not simply delayed.  Also, if you are stranded by this storm, airlines are not required by law to provide you with overnight accommodations. Many will try to help, but remember, there is no federal statute that requires them to pay for hotels during force majeure events like this.

Based on the severity and duration of this storm, I do not expect the air travel system to recover until this weekend, or early into next week. Currently, it appears that Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia are going to get the brunt of this storm. New York is going to get walloped, too– low lying La Guardia is especially susceptible to damage from a storm surge. Boston is still open this morning and might just get sideswiped.

Luckily, we are not in a peak travel period, so it will be somewhat easier for airlines to re-accommodate stranded travelers on flights that are not sold out. However, airlines have cut back on capacity so much in recent years, that empty seats are few and far between, so it’s going to take a while.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the fall weather, and don’t try to get to the megalopolis this week if you don’t have to.

Have you been affected by this storm yet? How have you been treated by the airlines? Please leave your storm stories below!

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>Do you follow TICKET editor Chris McGinnis on Twitter? Every day I sift through all the business travel news out there and tweet items that I think would interest my readers most. Come on! Follow me!

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Airline update: Delta, Southwest, ATL news

Having fun at the new Southwest Airlines Porch at Piedmont Park (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

SOUTHWEST PORCH AT PIEDMONT PARK. Southwest Airlines has just opened a “Southwest Porch” at Park Tavern overlooking the southeast corner of Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta. Visitors can relax in lounge chair, enjoy a beer or a snack, and take part in fun Southwest events and giveaways while taking in park and skyline views. Later this winter, they can watch ice skaters on the adjacent Southwest Rink. Southwest opened the Southwest Porch at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan in 2009—and it’s now a popular hangout with 3.5 stars on Yelp. Denver’s Southwest Porch at Skyline Park opened in September 2010 and has morphed into a seasonal operation called the Southwest Rink at Skyline Park. Last month, the Southwest Porch at Strauss Square opened in the Arts District in Dallas. Southwest, which arrived in ATL last February, now has 29 daily nonstop flights to 15 cities from Atlanta. Will any of you Delta die-hards stop by the Southwest porch for a beer and some brand building?

DELTA’S DOING JUST FINE. In its third quarter financials released today, Delta reported that it has $5.1 billion in cash on hand. Nice. It’s load factor for the quarter was a very packed 86.4%, slightly higher than last year. It’s still cutting capacity, though, stating it plans to cut 1-3% more in the fourth quarter, even after cutting out 2% in the third. We could only find one foreboding statement in this report, “However, we are in the process of implementing a $1 billion program of structural initiatives that we anticipate will generate significant savings in the second half of 2013, while maintaining the high quality product, network and operation we have built.” Hmm. “Structural initiatives.” What do you think that is? Please leave your comments below.

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RANKING TSA THEFT BY AIRPORT. Here’s an interesting story from ABC News, which obtained figures from the TSA via a Freedom of Information Act request, ranking airports based on the number of TSA employees fired for theft. No surprise that Miami came in numero uno with 29 firings, followed by New York-JFK (27) and Los Angeles-LAX (24). Atlanta took the #4 position with 17 firings. The idea to obtain the numbers on TSA firings was initially sparked by an investigative report showing how an iPad was planted and “lost” at airport security in Orlando, and then tracked to the home of a TSA officer.

Mt Rainer looms over Seattle (Photo: scsmith4 / Flickr)

SEATTLE GETS A BOOST. Seattle/Tacoma was an important gateway for Northwest and is now an important (and very profitable) gateway for Delta. At a recent event that included CEO Richard Anderson’s presence in Seattle (that’s how you know something is really important!), Delta announced major upgrades for its SEA-TAC gateway such as new Boeing 747-400 service to Tokyo (more seats compared to the current A-330), lie-flat Business Elite seats on all international flights including Seattle-Paris, Amsterdam and Osaka, an application to begin nonstop flights to Shanghai and Tokyo- Haneda (the latter switching from Detroit), and new upgraded transcon Business Elite service on the quartet of daily Seattle-JFK flights. This focus on the Seattle gateway shows that Delta is shifting focus away from Atlanta as its primary “Worldport.” In addition to its already strong JFK hub, the larger Delta is now taking advantage of market opportunities in all corners of the country.

DELTA-ALASKA AIR BENNIES. The major Seattle announcement put Delta’s Alaska Airlines codeshare partnership in the spotlight again. In case you didn’t know, Delta passengers get on upgrade waitlists for Alaska Airlines flights 24 hours before departure. All Alaska MVP elites will clear ahead of Delta flyers, but several TICKET readers report good success on upgrades on certain routes. Alaska elites can upgrade on Delta too, but only after all Delta Medallions have had a shot (yes, even suffering Silvers). Also, Sky Club members can access Alaska Board Room clubs in Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in conjunction with an Alaska flight. Be sure to take advantage of these perks!

EARNING DELTA MQMs. Running low on Medallion Qualification Miles as we approach the end of the year? Delta and Hilton have partnered up with a promotion allowing guests who stay at Hilton to earn 250 MQMs in addition to double miles. A two-night stay is required anytime between now and December 15, 2012. It is important to make sure your Hilton HHonors setting is switched to earning miles (some people have it switched to earning additional HHonors points instead). Sign up for the promotion here. Hertz is offering a similar 250 MQM promo for rentals of three days or longer—details here.

NEW AIRTRAN/CHASE CARD. When Southwest took over AirTran, it dumped Barclays as a card provider, and recently switched over to Chase to offer the new AirTran A+ Rewards Credit Card Get the new card and spend $1,000 in the first three months and you’ll receive 16 award credits and two upgrades to AirTran’s business class. The award credits equate to one free roundtrip—and the upgrades? Well, enjoy them while you can because (as revealed in a recent interview) business class is set to disappear completely by 2015. New AirTran/Chase cardholders get the $69 annual fee waived for the first year. Plus, cardholders get two credits at the end of every year they hold the card. Another nice perk: Cardholder credits are good for two years on AirTran vs just one for non-cardholders. Not bad—and don’t forget that credits can now be redeemed on AirTran or Southwest. (Note: Chase targeted certain members of A+ in September, offering whopping 32 credits for $2000 spend…the deal expired Oct 4. Did you get the offer?)

Opening day at the new iTravel store at ATL. (Photo: Myrna White)

APPLE DETHRONES BLACKBERRY AT ATL. Have you noticed that the Blackberry store near gate B-17 at ATL has turned into an Apple store? The new iTravel store (an Apple authorized re-seller) opened last month, offering a full array of Apple products…and experts on hand to answer any questions you may have about your new iPhone or iPad Mini or Mac.  Interesting: The US Patent Office recently awarded Apple ownership of a new concept called iTravel, which will eventually use Near Field Communications (NFC) so iPhones can be used as e-wallets or e-tickets—along the lines of Apple’s new Passbook application, which stores loyalty program credentials, airline boarding passes, etc in iPhones. Do you still use a Blackberry? Are you considering a switch to a new device? Which one?

NEW BANK AT ATL. Have you noticed all the construction by the old car rental counters at the top of the arrivals escalators at ATL’s main terminal? Word from airport officials is that the space will soon be a new Wells Fargo bank branch.

Airlines ranked by 2Q 2012 baggage fee revenue, dollars in thousands (000)

BIG ON BAG FEES. While most TICKET readers cringe at the thought of ever paying to check a bag on Delta (due to their elite status), it’s interesting to note that Delta leads the pack when it comes to bag fees. In the first half of this year, Delta collected nearly half a BILLION in bag fees—which are what keeps airlines in the black these days. While business travelers like to think it’s their high fares and loyalty that keep airlines afloat, the emergence of bag fees, which are primarily paid by INfrequent travelers, could be switching up that equation.

(Have you scored your 500 Delta SkyMiles bonus for using TICKET sponsor Peachy Airport Parking yet? Click here for the coupon!) 

MORE PARIS. With Delta’s recent transatlantic flight reductions, it’s increasingly likely that Europe-bound travelers will be making a stop at Paris CDG on the way to their final destination. Combined, Delta and Air France now offer four daily nonstops between ATL and Paris. Delta has announced it will add new nonstops to Paris from Newark and Boston. Charles de Gaulle Airport has recently expanded and enhanced its new S4 satellite terminal (slideshow) with big bright business class lounges and nicer gate areas, which should make even the most vociferous CDG-haters feel a little better about making transfers there. (Don’t forget that you can always transfer at Amsterdam Schipol on SkyTeam partner KLM.) With Europe racked by a recession, which is depressing demand for air travel, it’s likely going to be a while until we see the return of the raft of nonstops between ATL and smaller European cities. Bon voyage! UPDATE: Air France is expecting a strike on Oct 26– while it says it will transport all passengers, it also advises them to check for updates at www.airfrance.us

EUROPEAN ECONOMY COMFORT. Economy Comfort seats (similar to Delta’s) will be available on KLM’s Boeing 737 flights within Europe departing December 1 onwards. (EC was previously only available on KLM’s intercontinental flights.)  The carrier is reportedly considering the possibility of adding the roomier coach seats to its KLM Cityhopper fleet, too.

Do you know which brand new Chicago hotel is inside this wavy building?

BUSINESS TRIP. What are the top five hottest hotels and restaurants in Chicago…and what condiment should always be left OFF a Chicago-style hot dog? Do you know the names of the four brand new 5-star hotels that have opened in Toronto the last year? Take a peek at the latest in my BBC Business Trip series to learn the answers!

>Are you signed up for our Facebook page yet? We frequently break news on our Facebook page that eventually makes it into our monthly roundups. So if you want news when it happens, come on and get on our Facebook page.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. In a move that seems to foreshadow something interesting, the highly-reputed Etihad Airways (based in Abu Dhabi, UAE) along with Air Berlin have signed a partnership deal with Air France-KLM. The deal comes on the heels of Qatar Airways announcement that it plans to join the American Airlines-led Oneworld Alliance. This is especially interesting because until now, the three main Gulf carriers (Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar) were firm in their commitment to remain independent rather than hook up with global alliances. Qatar’s move may prompt the others to follow. For now, the partnership is strictly a codeshare agreement and not an opportunity for Delta/SkyTeam flyers to earn and burn miles—for now. But things change rapidly in the world of airline alliances, so sit tight and let’s see what happens… Have you flown a UAE-based airline yet? What did you think? Leave your comments below…

AN UNSAVORY MIX AT SKYCLUBS.  In recent years, TICKET readers have raved about the new array of sweet and savory snack mixes from Montego Bay to Mesa Rosa on offer at Sky Clubs. But those raves have turned to rants as club attendants have started to dump new mixes on top of the old, leading to stale snacks and random surprises like spicy cheese chips and crunchy corn kernels in an almond-cranberry nut mix. Noticed it?

AIRPORT WHEELCHAIR ABUSE? According to the New York Times, some sneaky travelers hoping to avoid airport security hassles are asking to be wheeled through airports and cutting in security lines in wheel chairs…even if they are not disabled. Here’s a snippet from the story: “Once cleared [at security], the woman suddenly sprang up from her wheelchair, hoisted two huge carry-on bags from the magnetometer’s conveyor belt and plopped back in the wheelchair. She gave a nod to the person pushing her, and they rolled off to the gate.” Hmm. Have you noticed this yet? Leave your comments below.

>Do you follow TICKET editor Chris McGinnis on Twitter? Every day I sift through all the business travel news out there and tweet items that I think would interest my readers most.

Silver Airways routes from ATL

SILVER AIRWAYS PICKS UP ATL ROUTES.  For years, Delta (like many other airlines) flew to smaller cities that were funded by the federal government as Essential Air Service (EAS) routes. This program guarantees that smaller communities get connections to the same global airline networks as larger cities– subsidized by the federal government. Delta recently decided to drop many of these routes on its own and forfeit the payments it was receiving from the government. Silver Airways has stepped in to offer new air service (using 19-34 seat propjets) to these communities from Atlanta including Tupelo, Hattiesburg, Meridian, and Greenville in Mississippi and Muscle Shoals in Alabama. Silver also serves Gainesville, Florida and Greenbrier Valley, WV from Atlanta. Have you flown Silver Air? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

DELTA MUGS MILWAUKEE. Once the domain of Northwest and then AirTran, Delta is aggressively inserting itself into this important Midwest market by nabbing naming rights to its main convention center The Delta Center (formerly the Midwest Airlines Center). Delta’s name will also be added to the US Cellular Arena and Milwaukee Theatre.

OBRIGADO. Delta’s prolific “immediate help service” on Twitter now speaks Portuguese at @DeltaAjuda. Delta’s real-time customer service channel on Twitter is staffed during business hours from Monday through Friday, offering something other airlines lack. Have you used DeltaAssist or Ajuda to help solve a travel issue? What was your experience?

RECHARGE. Those popular recharging stations that have appeared at many airports like Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, JFK, Norfolk, Omaha, and Seattle are coming to even more airports. Four gates at Tokyo Narita have been upgraded and you’ll soon see the stations in: Anchorage, Austin, Denver, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston Intercontinental, Kansas City, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Ontario, CA, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Syracuse.

EASY 500+ SKYMILES BONUS. You gotta park at the airport anyway, so why not help out The TICKET, and our newest sponsor, Peachy Airport Parking, on your next trip? You’ll help yourself, too, since Peachy is offering TICKET readers 500 SkyMiles plus three SkyMiles per dollar spent. If you are tired of worrying about on-airport lot sellouts, long, dark walks to your car or the congested mess that is Camp Creek Parkway, just exit I-85 south at Sylvan Road, one mile north of the airport, and follow the signs to Peachy. Once there, you’ll find extra wide spaces in a secure, climate controlled indoor lot, afree car wash and a short two-minute shuttle ride to the airport. Daily rates are just $6.99 outdoor or$8.99 indoor. COME ON! Help keep The TICKET free by clicking on this link or on the ad to the right to learn more about ATL’s newest parking option. Note: You have to click on the link and print the page to get the SkyMiles! 

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Problems w PreCheck, Faster wi-fi, Delta devalues miles, fall season outlook

Delta introduced Economy Comfort on domestic flights this time last year, and by June of this year it was on all two-class aircraft. Does that make you happy…or sad? Please leave your comments about EC below. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

PROBLEMS WITH PRECHECK? We are hearing from an increasing number of travelers frustrated that they are not being chosen for PreCheck, the TSA’s new trusted traveler fast lanes at ATL and elsewhere. While the TSA will not reveal why or why not travelers are chosen, we are now hearing about some patterns… for example, those who are NOT chosen have made their reservation within 24 hours of flight time. Others report that they are never chosen if they are flying on the domestic leg of an international trip. I’ve found that using the Delta mobile app, which displays my boarding pass on my smartphone, nearly always gets me the “three beeps” and into the fast lane. What about you? Are you noticing any other patterns in the TSA’s “random” selection process? Leave your comments below.

BETTER, FASTER INFLIGHT WI-FI. Canadian regulators have given the greelight to Gogo, the popular in-flight wi-fi provider, to get started on extending its ground-based network north of the US border. Service should be available starting in 2013. Also, JetBlue now says that it will (finally) offer a faster new satellite-based inflight wi-fi product—for free—starting in early 2013. JetBlue says that the new service is fast enough to allow streaming of movies in-flight—something you cannot do on the current version of Gogo. Maybe this competition will force Gogo to temper its recent price increases—now running at $18 for transcon flights. Not to be outdone by JetBlue, its largest competitor in the key NYC market, Delta now says that using new technology, it, too will offer the option of streaming movies and TV shows using inflight wi-fi on all 800 of its domestic two-class aircraft “by the end of 2013.”

WI-FI SURPRISE. With Delta and AirTran leading the industry with in-flight wi-fi on nearly every flight, we in Atlanta are pretty spoiled. Such ubiquity is not the case elsewhere, and in fact, only 31% of domestic flights (1,165 aircraft) in the US have it. At Southwest, 35% of planes have it, just 22% of American Airlines planes have it, and at United, the world’s largest carrier, only 1% of its flights have it.  Another big surprise: Usage of inflight wi-fi on the planes that offer it it miniscule—just 5.4% for the first half of 2012. I think that number is quite low due to the fact that most flights are so short that it does not make sense to log on in-flight— but I have witnessed a much higher usage rate on those 3-5 hour transcons out west. As a matter of fact, the availability of wi-fi is THE main factor when I’m chosing an airline for flights longer than three hours. What about you? How important is in-flight wi-fi in your airline decision? Please leave your comments below.

TOUGHER TO TRACK SKYMILES. Customers who keep track of their mileage program balances on sites like AwardWallet.com or TripIt Pro are losing the ability to track their Sky Miles. Delta is cutting off these sites from accessing our frequent flyer program data and frustrating members in the process. According to a cease and desist letter, Delta feels these sites are performing “computer trespass.” What this means is that Delta is making it tougher for its best, most loyal customers to keep track of multiple programs in one place. In addition to Delta, American and Southwest/AirTran do not participate with third party programs designed to make life a little easier for frequent travelers. To us, that’s short-sighted and frustrating. Frequent flyers, not the airline, should be able to choose with whom they share their program data. Do you agree? Have you used these programs to help monitor your miles? Please leave your comments below.

EASY 500+ SKYMILES BONUS. You gotta park at the airport anyway, so why not help out The TICKET, and our newest sponsor, Peachy Airport Parking, on your next trip? You’ll help yourself, too, since Peachy is offering TICKET readers 500 SkyMiles plus three SkyMiles per dollar spent. If you are tired of worrying about on-airport lot sellouts, long, dark walks to your car or the congested mess that is Camp Creek Parkway, just exit I-85 south at Sylvan Road, one mile north of the airport, and follow the signs to Peachy. Once there, you’ll find extra wide spaces in a secure, climate controlled indoor lot, a free car wash and a short two-minute shuttle ride to the airport. Daily rates are just $6.99 outdoor or $8.99 indoor. COME ON! Help keep The TICKET free by clicking on this link or on the ad to the right to learn more about ATL’s newest parking option. Note: You have to click on the link and print the page to get the SkyMiles! 

SEEING DOUBLE AT SOUTHWEST/AIRTRAN. From now through November 15, Southwest Rapid Rewards and AirTran A+ Reward members earn DOUBLE points on all flights. On Southwest, more expensive Business Select fares earn 24 points per dollar– that’s four times more than the standard six per dollar on its cheapest Wanna Get Away fares. Must register here to get the bonus: Southwest | AirTran

TICKET editor Chris McGinnis discusses his outlook for the fall travel season on national news! If you have plans for trips between now and through the holidays, tune in!

SKY CLUB NUMERO 54. The 54th Delta Sky Club (and third at La Guardia) has opened in the lounge that was formerly the US Airways Club in Terminal C. Now part of the expanded Delta operation there, passengers transfer between the two terminals by shuttle bus, but a bridge is already under construction. The club features the same snazzy look of other renewed clubs around the system and has excellent views of Delta’s new gates and terminal operation. (Stay tuned to The TICKET for a slideshow of Delta’s new Sky Club at ATL’s new Terminal F.)

EASIER CHARGING. Tired of being one of the huddled masses gathered around the single electrical outlet near your gate? Delta is adding new charging stations at gate areas in 13 more airports. For example, in Tokyo, four of Delta’s gates were recently updated with power stations that feature six standard U.S. 110 volt outlets and two powered USB ports. Delta also is adding the popular feature at airports in Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; Denver; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Houston Intercontinental; Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee, Wis.; New Orleans; Ontario, Calif.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; and Syracuse, N.Y.

DC-9’S STILL FLYING. With Comair out of the picture, Delta has reinstated mainline jet service (using its fleet of ancient DC-9s inherited from Northwest) between Atlanta and Chattanooga, and Atlanta and Wilmington, NC.

While there is plenty negative news coming out of ATL’s new Terminal F, here’s a bright spot: The Varsity is there! Have you been? I love to sit back and watch non-English speakers try to understand the “whaddya haves!” (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SHOOTING THE MESSENGER? Atlanta Airport has fired three long-term PR professionals in the wake of the generally negative reception by travelers and the media of ATL’s new terminal F.  Yep, these were they key contacts who helped The TICKET with our extensive coverage of the new terminal. They have all received stellar employee reviews over the years, but were served termination papers effective this month.  We are vexed by the whole thing…. it just smells funny. What do you think? On our Facebook page, W Evans comments: “It is so political there. From what I understand these three were wonderful employees. Guess someone’s relative needed a job!” Leave your comments below.

DID YOU KNOW… Did you know: That the TSA now allows travelers aged 75 and older to pass through airport security screening with jackets and shoes on?

MUSICAL SEATS ON THE AIRBUS. Delta has quietly removed a row of first class from its Airbus A-319 and A-320 planes. When these were in the Northwest fleet, they offered 16 seats, but now the planes offer just 12. It’s important to understand that Delta did this to add Economy Comfort seats in the main cabin. Since many of these planes are used on routes to Latin America or cross-country, the added space in Economy Comfort when an upgrade doesn’t clear is certainly appreciated. What do you think? Is it better to have more first class… or more Economy Comfort? Leave your comments below.

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STEALTHY SKYMILES AWARD CHANGE. Earlier this month, Delta quietly raised the award redemption levels for a few mid- and high-tier mileage awards by 5,000 miles—with no advance warning. These include economy class awards to and from the Caribbean, Mexico, deep South America, and Europe where, for example, the mid-tier redemption increased from 90,000 miles to 95,000 miles. Luckily, travelers willing to pay the exorbitant high-tier mileage for a business class ticket to Southeast Asia can save 20,000 miles since Delta dropped the redemption level on that lone award. Surprisingly, many travelers do redeem their SkyMiles for these mid- and high-tier awards despite being a very poor redemption value. For now, at least, none of the low level awards were affected. Hmm. This does not bode well for the future…as airlines have consolidated and competition is reduced, I’m afraid we’ll see more high-handed and troubling moves on the part of Delta…and all the remaining legacy leviathans. What do you think? Is it time to start dumping those miles before they are devalued out of existence? Please leave your comments below.

B-A-A-A. Did you hear that ATL, like a handful of other airports in the country, is considering using a herd of sheep and goats to help keep plant growth near runways trimmed back? WXIA reports that these goats would be the same ones that have helped clear kudzu and other growth at City of Atlanta parks like Chastain. Apparently the herbivores do a better job than humans, and help avoid the use of harmful herbicides.

Coming soon to The TICKET! Our slideshow of images and our take on Delta’s newest Sky Club at ATL’s Terminal F (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

EASIER ORDERING AT MSP. Flyers used to ordering a meal on the built-in iPads in the New York Delta gate areas can now enjoy the same service when flying through Delta’s Minneapolis/St. Paul hub. The concept has proven quite popular and Delta is now working with restaurant operators to distribute 250 iPads to restaurants in Concourse G: , MinniBar, an upscale “sandwich bar;” Mimosa, a French country restaurant and raw bar; and Shoyu, a Japanese eatery. The iPads will be placed inside the restaurants at each seat so diners can order from a visual menu. While waiting for their meals, customers can use the iPads to surf the Internet, check email, or visit social media sites. Plans call for expanding the program with 4,500 iPads to other Delta hub airports.

HOLA ARGENTINA. Aerolineas Argentinas, Delta’s first full South American partner is now officially a part of SkyTeam. However, the full roster of reciprocal benefits does not begin until the end of 2012. Between now and then, travelers can earn and burn miles on the Argentine carrier and make use of its lounges, but Sky Priority benefits will not be extended until the end of the year at their hubs. From the US, Aerolineas Argentinas flies nonstop from Miami to its hub in Buenos Aires only. Have you ever flown Aerolineas Argentinas? If so, what did you think?

FREE WI-FI AT LAX. On your next visit to LAX, be sure to take advantage of their new, free-of-charge wireless Internet service. The airport is dropping its expensive fees to use its signal and joins numerous other major airports like San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, and Orlando in easing the strain of waiting for a flight. Hello, Atlanta Airport?? Hello?

TICKET readers see a lot of gross things on the plane such as barefeet on the bulkhead. What do you think? Should travelers be allowed to prop their feet (bare or shod) on the bulkhead? Please leave your comments below. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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✈ Summer airline & airport news

Hello TICKET readers! We hope you are having a great summer. We’ve been busy working on new endeavors. The best way for you to keep up with what we are reading and seeing this summer is via Facebook and Twitter. If you are not already following us on these outlets, please sign on today!

Here’s a brief chronicle and links to some of the most important travel news for TICKET readers over the last couple months:

Delta flight attendant Katherine Lee, aka “Deltalina”

NO MORE DELTALINA? If you are a fan of Delta’s popular 2008 safety video and the lovely Deltalina finger wag, get ready for a surprise. Rumor has it that later this year Delta will be unveiling a new safety video featuring a different cast of crew members– with a possible cameo appearance by flight attendant Katherine Lee, a.k.a Deltalina.  The new video is reportedly going to be light hearted and funny to attract the attention of those who don’t think it’s important to watch. Delta has neither confirmed nor denied the rumor of a a new safety video. Have you ever had Deltalina as your flight attendant? How do you feel about Delta possibly changing its pre-flight safety video?

NO MORE COMAIR. Delta has finally pulled the plug on long-ailing Comair– a move that continues the shrinkage of Delta’s once large hub operation at Cincinnati. Comair was founded in 1977. Delta purchased Comair for almost $2 billion in 2000.

ECONOMY COMFORT. Delta has made it easier for corporate travelers to book economy comfort seats via their travel agencies by making them available through the Amadeus GDS. Prior to this, travelers only had access to the roomier coach seats via Delta.com

TRIPLE MILES. You’ll earn triple Delta SkyMiles at Marriott brands beginning with your second stay from July 1-October 31. Details here. 

DISADVANTAGED MULTI-MILLIONAIRES? Several of Atlanta’s politically connected elite with lucrative airport concessionaire contracts (including Maynard Jackson’s heirs) may not deserve “disadvantaged” designation…and some have never even visited the stores that they “own.” According to this investigative story by the AJC, there’s a standoff between the FAA and GDOT over the recent reshuffling of airport contracts.

DELTA DOES DALLAS. With Southwest Airlines in its crosshairs, starting Sept 5, Delta will launch 5x daily roundtrips between ATL and close-in Dallas Love Field using 50 seat CRJs. Delta is able to get around the Wright Amendment by using aircraft with fewer than 56 seats. Since Southwest only flies much larger 737’s, it can’t offer ATL-DAL flights until the Wright Amendment expires in 2014. Would you fly to Dallas Love? Or will you stick with the more familiar DFW? Leave your comments below!

 

Southwest Airlines California state flag themed 737 at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ATL-SFO&LAX. Southwest Airlines begins offering a two daily nonstops between ATL and San Francisco on September 30. Outbound flights depart ATL at 11 am and 6 pm. Return flights depart SFO  at 7:40 am and 3:00pm. AirTran will continue with its two daily, two-class roundtrips through at least early March 2013. Similarly, both Southwest and AirTran now fly nonstop between ATL and Los Angeles LAX. Eventually, as AirTran phases out, your only nonstop, non-Delta option on these 4-5 hour flights to the west coast will be on Southwest. AirTran has already turned over the long ATL-Seattle run to Southwest only.  It’s on these transcons that the absence of AirTran’s business class is going to be felt most!

PRIORITY CLUB 24-HR SALE. From noon Aug 15 until noon Aug 16, you can book Holiday Inn Resorts using Priority Club points for half price. Only good for trips September 4 thru November 2– but not a bad deal at all if you have the points and the time off.

PRE-CHECK GROWTH. We are hearing that PreCheck lanes at ATL security are frequently longer than other, supposedly less exclusive lines. Agree or disagree? PreCheck expanding fast, and is now available for Delta flyers at Charlotte, Chicago ORD Terminal 2, Detroit Checkpoint 2, Indianapolis Checkpoint A, New York La Guardia Terminal D, Las Vegas D gates, Boston-Logan Terminal A, LAX Terminal 5, Minneapolis Checkpoint 4, Orlando East Checkpoint, Portland PDX, Washington-Reagan South Pier, Salt Lake City Terminal 2, Seattle Checkpoint 5 and Tampa Terminal E.

LOSS OF SERVICE. This month AirTran ends nonstop service between ATL and Sarasota. It’s also dumping its popular nonstops between ATL and New York’s Westchester County airport. On September 1, Delta will stop flying between ATL and New York’s Stewart Airport, located about an hour north of NYC. Delta has axed CRJ nonstops between ATL and Meridian, MS, to be replaced by Silver Airways, which uses Saab turboprops.

TATTY SKY CLUBS? From TICKET reader GN: “We just spent 2 hours in the renovated Philadelphia Sky Club.  While it is a vast improvement over the old Crown Room location, I was very disappointed to discover that the ‘new’ furniture is already worn out and broken.  The designer made some furniture selections that do not hold up to the wear and tear this space receives.  It’s a shame because it detracts from an otherwise very nice space.”

Gorgeous circles at Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul. (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

BEAUTIFUL LOUNGES. Check out my latest Executive Travel Magazine slideshow on the World’s most Beautiful Airline Lounges! (NOTE: Look for the purple “Launch Slideshow” box to the left of the copy.) Do you agree with my choices? 

DELTA WI-FI OVERWATER. Delta announced that starting in early 2013 it will begin installation of new satellite-based inflight Wi-Fi from Gogo on 150 long-haul internationally configured Boeing 777, 767, 747, Airbus 330 and transoceanic Boeing 757 aircraft. Currently, the Gogo system only works via a land-based network of antennae in North America.

SORRY, SILVERS! The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story on the plight of silver elite level members of Delta and United. It points out that the pool of elite level flyers has swollen in recent years, primarily due to mergers and exaggerated credit card mileage bonuses. At The TICKET, we covered this sad state of affairs in 2010  and that post remains the #1, most read and commented-on post of all time.

DELTA PENTHOUSE. Take a look at Delta’s new business class configuration upstairs in its 747s.

BETTER FLYING ON BIG DELTA JETS. The recent announcement of Southwest/Air Tran’s 717 fleet moving to Delta is good news for those who hate the small 50-seat jets operated by Delta Connection. These new planes are part of a plan to phase out the smaller jets (which have poor efficiency in the current high fuel environment) while maintaining similar capacity in the marketplace. The new 717s, not expected to come online for at least a year,  will be outfitted with 12 first class seats, 15 Economy Comfort seats, and 83 economy class seats, all of which will have access to Gogo wi-fi.

NEW NEW YORK FLIGHTS. Delta will launch a series of new nonstop flights from New York LaGuardia and JFK to feed into its growing New York hub. A new daily LaGuardia to Bermuda flight will operate aboard a Boeing 737-800 beginning in April 2013. Nonstop service to Nassau will switch from weekly to daily from LaGuardia beginning in December. From JFK, new daily service to Montego Bay, Aruba, and Punta Cana will please sun seekers who want to get away from the cold. These new daily flights begin in December just in time for the holidays. Floridian-bound travelers will also have expanded service from LaGuardia with double dailies to Sarasota/Bradenton and additional frequencies to Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Ft. Myers. The latter also will gain a new daily nonstop to JFK.

DON’T CRY FOR ME. In anticipation of Aerolineas Argentinas’ entry into SkyTeam, the agreement has now been inked to allow earning and redeeming of SkyMiles on the Argentine national carrier’s flights. The airline should formally join SkyTeam later this year.

Aeromexico jets lined up at Benito Juarez Int’l in Mexico City (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

HOLA MEXICO. In addition to Delta nonstops, SkyTeam partner Aeromexico now has nonstops between Atlanta and Mexico City. Daily flights using an Embraer 190 depart Atlanta at 2:40 p.m. and arrive at Mexico City at 5:25 p.m.;  flights depart Mexico City at 9:05 a.m. and arrive at Atlanta at 1:40 p.m. If you are headed to Mexico City soon, be sure to see my latest BBC Travel story Business Trip: Mexico City for the latest and greatest tips and info.

DESERT-BOUND? Saudia Airlines has officially joined SkyTeam opening dozens of new destinations throughout the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent that were previously unreachable with partners. These include cities in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. While they may not be at the top of your vacation plans, many are important business destinations and this strengthens SkyTeam’s global position since most airlines in the Middle East are not part of a larger alliance as of yet.

Long waits for cabs at ATL turning away convention biz.

EMBARRASSING CAB QUEUES AT ATL. From TICKET reader BB: “Only in Atlanta. Did you know that to use a credit card in a taxi at ATL, you first have to stand in one line, and have a clerk run your credit card to get an authorization. She then hands you a paper slip with the authorization and only then can you stand in another line for cabs.  Whaaaa?? No where else in the world…… Just ridiculous! This was actually mentioned in a feedback forum for the conference I was attending as another reason it won’t be held in Atlanta again.”

BUH-BYE PARTNERS. Indian carriers Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines will discontinue their partnership with SkyMiles Oct. 1. Until then, travelers can earn and redeem miles on both carriers on applicable fares. This is a great value as both airlines offer excellent networks within the region although Kingfisher has been undergoing severe financial problems as of late.

HOW TO USE TERMINAL F. (Thanks to TICKET reader Richard Higgins for the following advice)

>To get to new international terminal F, drive down I-75, NOT the old route via I-85. The MARTA does not go all the way to the new terminal.    There is a shuttle bus between (old) domestic terminal and new terminal F, but allow an extra half-hour if you choose this option.

>International departures may go out either from F or E, but all departing international passengers are processed at the new terminal F.

>Arrivals: International flights may arrive at either F or E, but you and your baggage will be processed through F, so arrange ground transport at F.

>Baggage from all international flights to Atlanta will be picked up at F.

IMPORTANT EXCEPTIONS:
>If your departing international flight has a USA stop before going international, ignore these instructions and go to domestic terminal as before.

>If your arriving international flight has a USA stop before arriving in Atlanta, ignore these new instructions; you will arrive at domestic terminal as before.

Speaking of Terminal F, check out what the AJC has to report on that LOOOONG walk between Terminal E and Terminal F reported by TICKET readers earlier this summer.

HELP US HELP YOU! If this info was helpful to you, please tell your friends and colleagues about The TICKET! Tell them to SUBSCRIBE! 

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Chic new Air France lounge at Paris CDG (new photos)

[All photos credit: Air France]

Air France opens its largest and chic-est business class lounge at the new S4 boarding satellite area at Paris CDG Terminal 2E on Thursday, June 28. Some notes:

>All SkyTeam (including Delta) long-haul flights to/from the US and elsewhere will now dock at S4 (some also at nearby S3). The new terminal can accomodate 16 flights, including SIX giant A380s. “S4″ stands for “Satellite 4.”

>The new business class lounge is located in the middle of S4.

>The new S4 space cost 580 million euros.

>Air France will provide lounge customers with with digital tablets (like iPads) on which they can read magazines and newspapers.

>Clarins will operate three “cabins” where passengers can get facials or other beauty treatments.

>Full buffet of hot and cold food, including a pasta and risotto bar. And champagne, of course.

What do you think? Does this new addition to CDG make the prospect of a trip to or through Paris more appealing? How does this lounge compare to others in the SkyTeam alliance? Please leave your comments below. 

HELP US HELP YOU! If this info was helpful to you, please tell your friends and colleagues about The TICKET! Tell them to SUBSCRIBE! 

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Airline/Airport Update

TICKET reader DW sent us this photo showing a spelling error that needs fixin' at ATL's new International Travel Complex at Concourses E and F.

ATL’S NEW CONCOURSE F: As expected, travelers are experiencing a few kinks as ATL’s newest concourse makes its debut. In the midst of the hoopla surrounding the opening of ATL’s new International Concourse F, gripes we are hearing at The TICKET include the unusually LONG walk from Concourse E to Concourse F. Now, all Atlanta-bound passengers arriving at either Concourse E or F are funneled through customs and immigration at Concourse F. That means those arriving at Concourse E must walk from their arriving gate to the central spine, then hike the 1000 or so feet through the underground tunnel (or take a moving sidewalk) leading to immigration at Concourse F—the Plane Train is not an option. More evidence that the new terminal was built with a lot of thought for CONNECTING passengers—less so for Atlanta residents. What’s been YOUR experience at Concourse F? Please leave your comments below.

MORE ECONOMY COMFORT. Just in time for peak summer season, Delta’s entire mainline fleet and its Delta Connection planes with first class are now outfitted with Economy Comfort. On domestic flights, the extra four inches of legroom is a huge plus, and on international flights, the free cocktails are an added bonus. Zone 1 boarding is nice, too, especially on full flights. Until now, not all Delta planes offered Economy Comfort– and the seats were not available for sale until the entire fleet was upgraded. Now, non-Medallion travelers can purchase these extra legroom seats for $19-$99 depending on the length of the flight. Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members get these seats for free—Silvers get a 50% discount. Have you tried Economy Comfort yet? Would you pay extra for it? LET US KNOW. Leave comments below.

A famous AirTran 717... soon to be painted in Delta colors. (Photo: Willamormedia / Flickr)

DELTA / AIRTRAN DEAL. AirTran’s Boeing 717 fleet will not leave Atlanta as soon as expected. The slender jets will get some new paint and switch terminals to become part of Delta’s fleet beginning as soon as next year. The move is dependent on the ratification of a pilot’s contract that will allow them to fly the smaller jets. This fleet upgrade will lower the average age of Delta’s fleet by accelerating the retirement of its aging DC-9s. They will also replace many of the inefficient Delta Connection CRJ-200 aircraft. The 717 fits well between a regional jet and smaller mainline plane like the DC-9 allowing Delta to adjust aircraft to capacity and provide more first class seats (yay!) in certain markets. Delta will make the replacements on a capacity-neutral basis meaning that the retirement of CRJ-200s and DC-9s will be in line with the 717s based on the number of seats still available in the fleet.

FLY SOUTHWEST AIR TO LATIN AMERICA? Just today Southwest Airlines has obtained approval from the City of Houston to build a $100 million international hub at its Houston Hobby airport facilities. This means that ATL travelers will soon have a low cost option for flights south of the border via a connection in Houston. Flights could start as soon as 2015. It’s a move certain to ruffle the feathers of United and Delta which now pretty much own the US-Latin America market. Federal approval is still pending.

CLEAR Card COMING BACK? This month the CLEAR card began operations at all terminals at San Francisco International. Since the company was resuscitated by new investors in 2009, CLEAR has come back to only three airports: SFO, Orlando and Denver. Dallas is next on the list, although no firm date for installation of kiosks has been announced. We are hopeful for a return at ATL, but there is no strong indication that ATL is on CLEAR’s radar, for now at least. In case you don’t remember, CLEAR offers members access to special biometric-kiosk-controlled fast lanes at airport security for a $179 annual fee. It’s currently honoring any time left on previous memberships, and has a two-month free trial. 

NEW SUMMER SNACKS ON DELTA. New seasonal food-for-sale items aboard Delta mainline flights include Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia or vanilla ice cream, Blue Moon beer, and Tequila Avion. To kick off the new summer menus, Delta offered free chips and salsa and margaritas to passengers on select transcon flights over the Cinco de Mayo weekend. All of these items are available for purchase in the main cabin. Specialty beverages are complimentary in first class, but there’s still a charge for ice cream. Also making a comeback this summer for Caribbean and Latin American routes are the popular mojitos. Other new items on the EATS menu for the main cabin include a smoked turkey and egg salad sandwich on breakfast flights and basil pesto chicken sliders with asiago cheese on a pretzel roll. What are your favorite…or least favorite… Delta meals? Please leave your comments below.

 

Delta's new "Dine Up" meal-- Cost: $17.99. "Flavorful trio starts with thinly sliced salami, peppers, wedges of smoked Gouda and brie cheeses, fresh strawberries and red grapes. Alongside sliced seared beef tenderloin, with roasted bell peppers and cippolini onions, and grilled rosemary shrimp with fresh jicama slaw. Creamy horseradish sauce on the side. Served chilled."

DINE UP AT DELTA. Delta is testing “DineUp” a new concept allowing coach passengers to pre-buy premium meals online (up to 48 hours before flight time) on its transcon flights between New York City and California. The meals look tasty… and range in price from $12 to $20. If you end up with an upgrade, your meal will be delivered to your first class seat—no refunds. For now, DineUp is limited to NYC-CA flights but might expand. What do you think… would you dine up?

HOTEL BONUSES: Multiple Hyatt stays earn 4x or 5x Delta SkyMiles (2,500 max) bonuses between now and August 31. Marriott Rewards is offering one free night for every two paid stays between now and August 31. IHG’s Priority Club is offering 1000 bonus points or 200 bonus miles per night through September 3. Also, in a new twist, Priority Club now allows members to redeem points for digital downloads such as music, games or even foreign language lessons.

DELTA-SUNTRUST CHECK CARD. Yet another miles-earning opportunity is available with a new check card from SunTrust bank. As the only check card to earn SkyMiles, this is a great option for those who do not want to apply for a credit card. It comes with a $75 annual fee, but also gives applicants the opportunity to earn as many as 30,000 SkyMiles when they sign up. More details can be found here.

PRE-CHECK EXPANDS. Have you enjoyed TSA’s amazingly swift and convenient Pre-Check program at ATL’s south concourse entrypoint? Well, it is now available at Orlando and Portland (PDX) as well. Special pre-check lines are reserved for invited Delta Medallions and Global Entry members—they get to speed through security without removing liquids, laptops, and shoes. The TSA hopes to continue expanding this program across U.S. airports in the near future. Luckily, Atlanta (and Delta) were chosen to beta-test the concept, and as we know from fellow TICKET readers, it was a roaring success (see our post and reader comments here). But…do good things last forever? We are hearing that the program’s become so popular, that PreCheck lines at ATL are sometimes LONGER than others. Tell us about your recent experiences in the comments box below.

ALASKA AIRLINES UPGRADES. Flying out west? Don’t forget, when traveling on Alaska Airlines, you are eligible for Medallion upgrades to its first class cabin. While its MVP elites receive priority, the odds of scoring a premium seat on Alaska are much better. Many gate agents and passengers are still forgetting about this perk for Delta flyers, so do not forget to ask about it, as they sometimes do not process automatically. In a throwback to the glory days, Alaska even serves splits of champagne and full bottles of beer in first class with printed menus on transcon routes—including its single daily flight between ATL and Seattle.

DELTA AXES MORE ROUTES. The current economic roller coaster and a steady stream of gloomy news from Europe has Delta making adjustments to its long-haul flying schedule, axing routes like ATL-Accra, ATL-Monrovia and shifting routes like ATL-Milan and JFK-Athens, Nice, and Rome to seasonal (summer) service only. Overall, capacity across the Atlantic will be down 3-4% for 2012, more than Delta had originally planned. Delta is also reducing frequencies on many overseas routes with multiple daily flights. As reported in The TICKET earlier this year, Delta is yanking nonstops between ATL and: Copenhagen, Athens, Prague, Moscow, Tel Aviv and Shanghai.

MORE ON TIME AT ATL. Delta barely squeezed into the top ten list of on-time performance for North American airlines in April—it ranked #9, but ahead of many of the other major U.S. airlines like American, United or Southwest. In the airport category, Atlanta came in at #3 in on-time performance among the world’s major airports with 88.5 percent of flights arriving on time. Only US Airways’ hub in Charlotte had a better ranking among U.S. airports.

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First look: Delta's flagship Sky Club (Slideshow)

Here are a few slides of the festivities around the opening of the new International Concourse F at ATL, which now includes Delta’s flagship Sky Club. These photos were supplied by Delta. Stay tuned for more once we have a chance to get inside it.

We are now on our second iteration of a new slideshow tool. This one should work with all browsers including Internet Explorer. We also fixed the slideshow of Delta’s Sky Club on Concourse E— please take a look if you were unable to view it last week.

Please understand the slideshows are still in beta testing, so take a spin and again let us know if there are any bugs!

 


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Q&A with ATL about new International Concourse F

 

For the great majority of business travelers who catch a cab, get a ride or drive and park at the airport AND take international flights that will depart and arrive at ATL’s Concourses E and F,  the big changes coming to the airport are likely a good thing. But for those who have more complicated trips that include ground transportation options like MARTA, rental cars or off-airport parking, the new “international complex” at ATL is going to cause frustration. (This is the second in a series about ATL’s Concourse F. Here’s the first installment.)

This week The TICKET wrangled airport authorities away from preparations for the big grand opening of the new Concourse F (May 16th) to answer our burning questions. You are bound to have more. So leave your questions or comments below and let’s see if we can get them answered. And finally, don’t complain too much until you’ve given Terminal F a try. Here goes:

Q: Are there any airlines that will specifically be assigned gates at F? Is there any way to know which terminal (E or F) you will be using based on the airline you are flying?

A: All carriers offering non-stop international service will have ticketing counters in the International Terminal. At this time, Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa will primarily use gates on F, but may be assigned elsewhere as needed. Delta Air Lines will operate from both E and F.

Q: How many gates are in each terminal? How many gates in E are used for domestic flights? Will this continue? Will Terminal F ever be used for domestic flights like E is now?

A: Concourse F has 12 gates. Concourse E has 28 gates. All 40 international gates can be used for domestic service during non-peak international operations.

Q: When or if an airline brings in an A380, which terminal will it use… E or F?

A: E for the foreseeable future. A project is in progress to upgrade gates E1 and E3, which will allow them to work together to load or unload an A380.   It was announced in late February that Korean Air has scheduled the Airbus A380 for its daily service between Atlanta and Seoul. The service is slated to begin as early as January 2013.

Q: Will any airlines other than Delta and its SkyTeam partners have a lounge in F?

A: No, however there will be a full-service, state-of-the-art common-use lounge available for other airlines club members. This will open later this year on the mezzanine level of Concourse F.

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Q: Will there be two different customs and immigration halls at ATL… in both E and F? If so, will I have an option to choose which hall I want to use upon arrival?

A: Yes there will be two, but passengers will not have a choice which one to use. The CBP [Customs and Border Protection] facility on E will remain fully operational and serve passengers arriving at Concourse E connecting to other flights. Atlanta-bound passengers arriving on Concourse E will pass through a sterile corridor with moving walkways to the CBP area on Concourse F for processing. All passengers arriving at Concourse F will process through CBP on Concourse F, whether they are connecting to other flights or finishing their travel in Atlanta.

Q: What if I depart on a domestic flight, and park by the main terminal, but I arrive back in ATL on an international flight at F—how will I get to my car?

A: A designated shuttle (The International Shuttle Connector) will transport passengers from the arrivals level of the international terminal to the domestic terminal ground transportation center, which provides access to all domestic parking lots and MARTA.

Q: What if I depart on an international flight and park by F, then return to ATL on a domestic flight arriving at A. How will I get to my car?

A: The International Shuttle Connector will take passengers from the domestic terminal ground transportation center to the international terminal arrivals level.

Q: If I’m departing from F and parking my car on one of the private lots on Camp Creek, how will I get to Terminal F? Will the shuttle from parking lots stop at both Main and F? Will parking lots have dedicated shuttles to F?

A: All parking shuttle providers have the opportunity to serve the international terminal, but passengers need to check with their provider. However, a new 2,400-space International Park-Ride facility will be open May 16 on Maynard Jackson Jr. Blvd. at just $12 per day. The shuttle to the international terminal will take about 3 minutes.

Q: If I’m arriving at F and I want to rent a car… how will I get from F to the rental car center? What about arriving at E?

A: The international Shuttle Connector will transport passengers from the arrivals level of the international terminal to the rental car center.

Q: If I arrive at Concourse E and have checked baggage, how will I get it to the main terminal?

A: Atlanta-bound passengers arriving on Concourse E will go through immigration, collect checked baggage and clear customs on Concourse F and leave through the arrivals level of the international terminal. [To get the the main terminal from there will require a ride on the shuttle because once you’ve cleared customs, you are out of the airport sterile area.]

Q: If I arrive at Concourse E and have checked baggage, how will I get it to the parking lots by F?

A: Atlanta-bound passengers arriving on Concourse E will go through immigration, collect checked baggage and clear customs on Concourse F and leave through the arrivals level of the international terminal where they can access the international hourly parking facility, the International Park-Ride shuttle and other ground transportation services.

Q: Does the same train run all the way from main terminal to Terminal F? 

A: Yes, the Plane Train and pedestrian walkway have been extended from E to F.

Q: If I have arrived on a flight at Concourse F and want to get to the main terminal, should I take the train or the shuttle?

A: [The plane train is not an option in this case.] Only ticketed passengers can pass through a security checkpoint, therefore these passengers will access domestic terminals north and south via the International Shuttle Connector.

Q: What if I park at F, but my flight departs from E…how do I get to my gate?

A: All departing international passengers traveling on non-stop international flights will check-in at the international terminal regardless of whether their flights leave from Concourse F or Concourse E.

Q: How do I get to the MARTA station if I’ve arrived at F with checked baggage?

A: The International Shuttle Connector will transport passengers from the arrivals level of the international terminal to the domestic terminal ground transportation center, which provides access to MARTA.

Q: How do I get to the MARTA station if I’ve arrived at F with carry on bags only?

A: The International Shuttle Connector will transport passengers from the arrivals level of the international terminal to the domestic terminal ground transportation center, which provides access to MARTA.

Have any more questions? Check here for the airport’s pre-prepared FAQs which are helpful. Or ask your question here and we’ll try to get some answers for you! Bon voyage!


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Delta revamps, expands Sky Club at ATL's E-15 (slideshow)

Dear Readers: Please note that we are beta testing a new slideshow program for The TICKET! Please take a spin through the show and let us know what you think and if you experience any bugs. Place your cursor over the right side of the image, then click on the arrow to advance thorugh the show. Note the captions in the gray bar at the bottom of the image. Enjoy! (Leave your comments below…) **UPDATE: Known issue: The slideshow is not working on some versions of Internet Explorer. Sorry! Please standby as we try to fix. UPDATE 2: We are still working on this. Apologies for the delay. In the meantime, you may view the show on Firefox, Chrome or Safari browsers.**
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Delta has finally completed Sky Club renovations on Concourse E to combine what was previously two clubs into one near E15.This club is now over 18,000 square feet with seating for nearly 400 guests – making it the largest Sky Club at ATL and the 2nd largest in the Delta system (the largest is at Detroit airport).This Sky Club sports eight shower suites (take a spin through the slideshow to see the dramatic red glass tile!), a full service bar (including Luxury Bar), private work areas for up to 16 people with printers, fax and copy machines and four cyber bars overlooking the new International Concourse F and south runways.Similar to some of Delta’s other renovated clubs that have a large population of international travelers, this Sky Club offers relaxation room with specially created ambiance to facilitate relaxation– check the slide show to see the starry ceiling.

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TICKET reader reviews ATL's new Concourse F

New entry from I-75

Longtime TICKET reader Daniel Woodruff was one of 1,600 volunteers chosen to take Atlanta’s new International Concourse F on a test drive this week. The new concourse will officially open on May 16. We were able to grab Daniel for a few minutes of Q&A about his experience at the trial and got some great insight that we’ve not heard anywhere else:

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you learned about the new terminal that you think business travelers need to know? 

A: That not all international flights will actually depart from this terminal.  While everyone will check in here, some international flights will still depart from Concourse E, necessitating a walk or train ride through the concourse tunnel.

Q: What are your thoughts about taking the shuttle bus vs the airport train between F and the main terminal? 

A: The train will be faster, but travelers need to be checked in already to take it.  The biggest issue with the shuttle bus is going to be the time and effort needed for travelers checking in rental cars or arriving via MARTA who then need to move all their luggage and themselves over to F to check in. [The airport says that the shuttle bus ride between F and Main is 12 mins; 15 mins to the car rental center.]

Q: Overall, do you feel that this is an improvement over Terminal E? 

A: Very much so, and in two significant ways.  First, inbound travelers with Atlanta as their final destination will not have to re-check their luggage after clearing customs and immigration only to reclaim it again as they do now – that added over an hour to my last return from London.  Second, this terminal will offer more truly “international” amenities, such as short-term rest facilities and common lounge areas for travelers with long wait periods.

Q: What advice would you give a business traveler heading out on an international flight in June? 

The biggest thing to remember is to plan out your new route to the airport!  The new terminal is located off of I-75, so heavy-duty travelers can’t just go on autopilot when they drive to the airport for their International flight.  And when they return, they need to be very careful getting onto I-75 again – the HOV on-ramps are easy to mistake for the regular ramps, and a ticket isn’t a great way to end a long International journey!

Daniel Woodruff is a 48 year old marketing communications consultant with extensive experience in the hospitality industry.  A native of San Francisco, he has called the Brookhaven neighborhood of Atlanta home for the past 18 years.  As a former road warrior, he now only travels once or twice per month and enjoys the extended time at home.  When he does travel, his favorite destinations are California and Europe and his favorite seats are lie-flat business or first-class seats and his least favorite are business class recliner seats. The one flight schedule he’d add to the current Atlanta roster would be a daytime flight to London!

 

Stay tuned for more coverage from The TICKET as the opening date approaches. In the meantime, do you have any questions about the new international terminal? If so leave them below and we’ll try to get an answer for you. 


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Delta update- New Sky Club; NYC Expansion; boarding brouhaha

Seeing stars? The new "Relaxation Room" at Delta's new Sky Club on ATL's Concourse E.

DELTA’S LAGUARDIA EXPANSION BEGINS: Now that Delta’s expanded schedule is in place at LaGuardia, construction is underway to connect the old US Airways terminal with the existing Delta terminal. The addition of 4 million new seats to the market requires a 600-foot airside bridge between the two terminals so that the hub can operate effectively. (For now, you must take a shuttle or walk between Delta’s two terminals.) The existing Delta Sky Club in terminal D will be expanded (again), and the former US Airways Club in terminal C (now closed for renovation) will be converted to a Sky Club opening late this summer. Expanded security lanes (including Sky Priority lanes) are also in place to handle the increased traffic.

DELTA’S GROWTH AT JFK. Delta’s growth strategy continues at JFK, too, where work is visibly underway at Terminal 4 to add nine additional gates, more customs and security lanes, and what Delta claims will be one of the largest Sky Clubs in the airline’s system. (By the way, do you know where Delta’s largest Sky Club is?? Take a guess! And see below).  Once up and running, Terminal 3 (Worldport) will be demolished and a long bridge will connect Delta’s existing Terminal 2 to Terminal 4.

SKYCLUB PROMO: Considering a 30-day Sky Club membership to help get through the upcoming peak summer season? Between now and April 30, Delta’s offering a 20% discount (just $72) on its 30-day pass as a thank you for helping them reach 300,000 followers on Facebook. The 30-day pass permits entry to all Delta Sky Clubs and a select list of Delta partner lounges (including an Air France lounge in Paris and a KLM Crown lounge in Amsterdam). At Delta Sky Clubs, you can also bring up to two additional guests or immediate family members. Here’s a list of partner clubs.  Remember to act by April 30 on this promotion by entering code FB30D at this link.

BIGGER BETTER SKY CLUB AT ATL: After months of construction combining two clubs, Delta’s giant new Sky Club at ATL’s Concourse E (near E15) is open for business. The bright modern space offers floor-to-ceiling views of Delta planes coming and going to different global destinations, there is also a small relaxation room with starry ceiling, lengthy bar, vastly more seating with plentiful electrical outlets, new showers, and a more visually appealing brand look. The new club will have a full day of operating hours unlike before when only one of Concourse E’s Sky Clubs was open in the morning and got quite busy during the Caribbean and Latin American rush hour. (Stay tuned for a slideshow of photos of this nice new club.)

BETTER FOOD IN COACH?  You may read a lot about all the great things happening at the front of the plane when it comes to in-flight food, but we’ve got a snippet for those stuck at the back: Passengers on long-haul international Delta flights now have a choice between three entrees: the traditional chicken, pasta or a new cold salad with chicken option for the more health-conscious. This new cold option only comprises about 20% of the choices catered on the plane, so request one early if you want one!

A Delta Airbus A330 (Photo: Yakusa77)

BETTER INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT ON A-330s. If you are traveling overseas on Delta, stay tuned for more entertainment options. All of Delta’s Airbus A-330s now have modified inflight entertainment systems with an easier-to-use interface (the old Northwest version was rather clunky and hard to use) and 150% more content including 100 movies, 20 hours of HBO programming, eight hours of Showtime, 27 hours of TV choices, 4,200 audio selections, 16 radio channels and a new Sky Kids feature for families. Sadly, the Boeing 747-400s and 767-300s that comprise more than half of Delta’s overseas flights still have rudimentary systems that force economy passengers to watch one film on the main screen as if this were still the mid-1980s. Luckily, upgrades are coming for these planes too, but not soon enough for many travelers headed overseas this summer who will likely be stuck with below par entertainment options. (Tip: BYOE—bring along your own entertainment!)

PROBLEMS WITH “PREM?” Delta’s boarding procedure, especially at ATL where everyone seems to have some sort of special status, is getting even crazier.  For example, the designator “PREM” appears on boarding passes of those in the premium cabin on that flight. In the Delta boarding hierarchy, these should be the first passengers to board.  However, we’ve noticed that many passengers who have SkyPriority status still believe they are qualified to board at the same time as those with the “PREM” designation. Then there are those carrying the new Delta-branded American Express cards offering “front of the line” access who think THEY can board first, too. Here’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work: Delta boards PREM passengers first. Next are Sky Priority passengers (Diamond, Platinum, Gold, and SkyTeam Elite and Elite Plus AND Alaska Airlines MVPs). The third tranche allowed on board (including those irritated Silver medallions) are those in “Zone 1.” Confused yet? Seems like a case where everyone starts out feeling special, but in the end, no one does. Have you experienced an unusual boarding issue recently? Please leave your comments below!

SPECIAL NOTE FROM CHRIS:  One of the many hats I wear is that of business travel columnist for BBC.com. This month, I wrote “Business Trip: San Francisco,” which offers advice to visiting business travelers. This is the twelfth in a series of destination focused business travel pieces I’ve written for BBC.com over the last year– other cities I’ve recently written about include: LondonSeoulRio de Janeiro and Frankfurt. Take a read and you’ll get my take on top upscale hotels– both elegant and edgy, dining or entertainment suggestions, local color and local protocol or etiquette advice.

 

 Pssst: The largest Sky Club (by square footage) is the one in the Main Terminal (near gate A38) at Detroit-DTW.


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Airline Update (Delta, AirTran, Southwest)

A new crystal mobile in the center of ATL's new Terminal F, which opens May 16 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

FARE ADVICE.  Delta is quietly matching a fare sale initiated by AirTran and Southwest today—prices are decent, but only available for flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through June 27—not bad if you’ve got to make a quick two-day midweek trip. Also, given the price of oil and the fact that airlines are trying like mad to RAISE fares to pay their fuel bills, it might be time to shift your schedule around for these sales. Going forward, I expect that we’ll see few “across the board” sales any more—like this one, they will be of very short duration, or very limited to slow days—like Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Our advice: If you find a fare that feels remotely reasonable, book it—because it is likely to increase as summer approaches. This will hold especially true for flights to Europe this summer, specifically nonstops  during the summer peak between about June 15 and Labor Day, which are already in the $1500-$2000 range—for coach!

FAIR WARNING: In case you’ve not noticed, we are in the midst of collegiate spring break, and the airport is packed with rowdy students, who typically travel Friday-Monday. The same holds true for beachside hotels in Florida. Also, remember that the Master’s Golf Tournament over in Augusta runs from April 2-April 8 this year, which puts a lot of pressure on Atlanta airport—and rental car prices soar. This year, the tournament runs during spring break for kids in elementary and high school (the week before Easter on April 8 ) so plan on getting to the airport early if traveling this week. (Check out my latest Spring Break Travel Trend report.)

BIG CHANGES AT LA GUARDIA. Effective March 25, Delta will add 100 new flights at New York’s La Guardia Airport as a result of a slot swap deal with US Airways. Delta plans to spend $160 million on a renovation of Terminals C and D as well as a new bridge to connect them. This is big news for New York area Delta customers who are less likely to have to connect in Atlanta or other Delta hubs to get to their destinations. It won’t have much of an effect on Atlanta travelers who can already fly nonstop to most of Delta’s new destinations from LGA—but it’s a huge coup for Delta, which now seems well on its way to its oft stated goal of dominating the New York market. See Delta’s new LGA route map.

AIRPORT PRE-CHECK EXPANDING. Stay tuned for a special post about the expansion of the popular PreCheck expedited airport security screening program and how signing up for the American Express Platinum Card from links on The TICKET can help get you to the front of the line.

AIRTRAN ON THE MOVE.  As Southwest’s embrace of AirTran gets closer, AirTran flights at New York -LaGuardia, Los Angeles (LAX), Philadelphia will move to gates alongside Southwest operations. At La Guardia, flights will remain in the B concourse of Terminal B, just moving closer to Southwest’s—same thing at Philly’s Terminal E where both airlines already operate, just not side-by-side.  At LAX, AirTran will move from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1.

The fate of AirTran's Boeing 717s (pictured) may rest with Delta

DELTA GRABBING AIRTRAN 717s? Everyone has been wondering what all-B737 Southwest would do with AirTran’s fleet of Boeing 717s. While we’ve not been able to confirm this, industry buzz is that Delta’s grabbing them to replace those ancient DC9s it inherited from Northwest. (Which AirTran jet do you prefer…the 717 or the 737? Leave your comments below. )

LAST GASP FOR AIRTRAN A+. We were surprised to see the latest very generous bonus from AirTran: Triple credits for coach and quadruple credits for business on all flights to/from Atlanta. Not a bad deal at all, especially when you consider that your AirTran credits will one day switch over to Southwest—although we don’t yet know what the conversion rate will be. If you have not done so already, register here for the promo.

AXE MAN AT DELTA. Current high fuel prices require that low-yield routes be cut from airlines’ networks. This means that certain regional jet flights become vulnerable such as long, thin routes (long distance, but not enough seats on the plane to pay for the fuel). The most recent casualty is McAllen, Texas, which will lose all Delta service on May 1. Delta needed a 75% load factor to make a profit, and the airport was only delivering about a 60%. Delta has forged an agreement with American and Continental (United) to handle customers traveling from the airport after it leaves.

MORE AXING AT ATL. Tiny Vision Airlines has pulled the plug on its Atlanta flights to Louisville and Destin, and is redeploying aircraft to markets where it can make money. (Making inroads in Atlanta, with low-fare powerhouses Southwest and AirTran in full swing is not easy for upstarts like Vision.) In addition to previous cuts announced by AirTran, high gas prices are definitely thinning things out at ATL.

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THE CONVERSATION AT FACEBOOK. Over on The TICKET’s Facebook page, we are conducting an experiment: We’ve opened up the page so readers can now post their tips, observations or questions on the page. See or learn something you thing other TICKET readers need to know? Wonder why something is the way it is? Ask the 900 or so Facebook friends of The TICKET and see what happens! (Just look for the box that says, “Write Something.”)

LESS TO LONDON ON DELTA. Delta will cease serving London Gatwick airport starting April 17. Delta’s Atlanta flight and US Airways’ Charlotte flights are currently the only remaining US carrier-operated services at the airport, known for its convenient train access to Victoria Station and less congested security lines. Delta will, however, begin a second daily Atlanta-London Heathrow flight to replace it. Also being cut on April 17 are Delta’s short-lived Miami-London Heathrow flights. Customers booked on these flights will be re-accommodated on other flights as needed.

BUSINESS ELITE LOUNGE ATL CONCOURSE E. Have you seen the makeover in progress at Delta’s old BusinessElite lounge on Concourse E at ATL? One half of the lounge has been remodeled and is now open. The other half is now under construction, and should open later this spring or summer with new furniture, more power outlets, faster wi-fi.

IT’S OFFICIAL. ATL’s new International Terminal F will officially open on May 16. Keep in mind that Terminal F will complement, but not replace the current Terminal E, which will still handle mostly international flights. Stay tuned for a closer look and more info about how the new terminal is going to work in a future issue of The TICKET.

EASIER SECURITY FOR SENIORS. In a new test, the TSA says it will now allow travelers 75 and older to pass through security screening with jackets and shoes on at four airports: Chicago ORD, Denver, Orlando and Portland, ME. Based on results from this test, the policy could roll out at more airports.

SHOP AMAZON ON DELTA. Don’t feel like paying for inflight wi-fi, but need to get a little online shopping done? You can now access Amazon for free using Gogo on Delta flights. To do so, fire up your laptop, turn on wireless, and access the Delta Connect Wi-Fi portal then click on one of the Amazon banners to begin shopping. Delta Connect also provides free access to real-time travel information, news content from The Wall Street Journal and People magazine.

A Southwest Airlines 737 in California State Flag livery at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

DELTA FIRST FARES OUT WEST. With AirTran’s ATL-SFO flights switching over to all-coach Southwest flights in October, we’ve been waiting for Delta to jack up its first or business class fares—but they haven’t. For November flights, the round trip fare for a seat up front is currently in the $1400 range. Not much different than before.

CHAMPAGNE TASTE? Over on the Delta blog there’s a poll asking customers if they’d prefer French Champagne or non-French “Sparkling Wine” from other regions. So far, champagne is winning with 54% of the vote! In any case, Delta says, “we’re testing new options for circulation in late 2012 and want to know what amenities are most important to you,” so nothing is definitive yet.

DELTA-HILTON HHONORS BONUS. We are a little late with this one, but worth squeezing it in if you can. Book and stay at a Hilton family hotel by March 31 and get 2,012 bonus SkyMiles. Registration required.

NEW GO AFRICA PASS FROM SKYTEAM. This new offering opens tremendous options for travelers exploring Africa, a destination that has long been known as expensive for air travel. The new pass is available for those booking SkyTeam tickets to Africa (both revenue and award tickets are eligible). As few as three segments are required, up to a maximum of 16. Fares are calculated based on the mileage of the trip and can offer as much as 75% off the standard ticket price. Travel must be on SkyTeam’s African partner Kenya Airways, which serves 45 destinations across the continent and has set a goal for itself to serve every African capital city within the next two years.

AIRTRAN OR SOUTHWEST? Now that we have both AirTran and Southwest flying in and out of Atlanta, and even “competing” on some routes (Like ATL-LAX, PHX or LAS), but still operating two separate frequent flyer programs, which one is best to focus on? We asked Southwest and they said to focus on both: “While we can’t say yet when the two programs will be completely integrated, we are working towards a solution that will allow Members of both programs to use their current currency in either program.  We haven’t announced a date when that will occur, but I think it’s safe to say that it won’t be long after we receive our Single Operating Certificate, which we anticipate will be sometime in this first quarter. [They got the SOC on March 1.]  We believe that Members will benefit more by joining both programs which will give them better opportunity and flexibility during the time before A+ Rewards is integrated into Rapid Rewards.”

IN-FLIGHT WI-FI. Southwest has confirmed to The TICKET that as AirTran jets are converted over to Southwest, they will be outfitted with the Southwest’s Row 44 in-flight wi-fi system instead of the Gogo platform that you’re used to. Good news: Southwest only charges $5 per flight segment, no matter how long. Also, Southwest told The TICKET that Gogo will remain operational on all AirTran jets until they get their overhaul, so there will be no gaps in coverage.

Southwest's latest interiors

AIRTRAN-TO-SOUTHWEST CONVERSION. So far, only one of AirTran’s 52 Boeing 737s has been converted into a Southwest jet. The AJC reports, “The aircraft conversion will transform an AirTran Boeing 737-700 with 125 coach seats and 12 business class seats into a Southwest plane with 143 coach class seats…. In addition, the all-coach cabin will have a new layout Southwest debuted last month, squeezing six more seats onto the plane with thinner seats and less recline. AirTran’s seats are 18 inches wide; Southwest’s seats are 17 inches wide.”

DELTA WHOMPS THE WI-FI.  Delta has completed the installation of wi-fi on its 800th mainline and Delta Connection aircraft— it now has more planes flying with wi-fi than all other U.S. airlines combined! Are you a frequent user of in-flight wi-fi? Does it drive your decision when choosing carriers? How is the quality of the in-flight connections you are getting from Gogo?  Please leave your comments below.

WELL, ALMOST ALL AIRCRAFT. Delta’s international fleet is NOT equipped with wi-fi, so while you might get a ride on one of Delta’s fancy B777’s across the country, you won’t be able to log on if it’s the first or last leg of an international flight. Case in point: Delta’s popular B777 flight from ATL to LAX, which continues on to Sydney. Which would you prefer for the transcon: An upgrade to the nice herringbone business class seat… or the wi-fi?? Please leave your comments below.

MEM-AMS. Delta’s nonstops between Memphis and Amsterdam will become seasonal only starting this fall. The flights started in 1995 under a partnership between Northwest and KLM making Memphis the smallest U.S. market to have a nonstop flight across the pond, serving as a source of pride for many Memphis citizens and airport staff. Here’s the perspective from the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “The numbers don’t lie. Memphis International Airport has 28% fewer flights and a million fewer people a year walking its concourses after a dramatic downsizing by hub carrier Delta Air Lines.” And “Everyone wants to know about Southwest.”  Full story.

DELTA TO COLUMBIA, MO. Delta will offer one daily nonstop between ATL and Columbia, MO starting June 7.

NOTICING ANYTHING NEW AT AIRTRAN? On our latest AirTran flight, about the only thing that seemed different were the masked over XM Radio players. And some increasingly shabby looking business class seats that are on their way out. Are you noticing many changes as Southwest makes its mark on AirTran? Please leave your comments below!

DELTA AT JFK. Delta is making a lot of progress on its soon-to-be new home at New York JFK’s Terminal 4. Here’s a cool time-lapse video of the progress since groundbreaking. http://youtu.be/tN0YCwdaSJU

 


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Friday Funday: Delta's flash mob video

Delta has posted a video of employees in Atlanta warbling in the South Concourse at ATL, and then flash mobbing (which starts at about 1:10) at airports in Atlanta, New York and in Detroit. The video’s gone viral– last night it had 300 views. Today as we post this, view count is approaching 20,000. ABC News just posted it on their site this morning.

Take a gander and let us know what you think. See any familiar faces? Love it or loathe it…we’d love to hear your take. Leave your comments below.

Here goes! Woot!


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Here comes Southwest; Delta update

SORRY! Please disregard this old post from The TICKET that was mysteriously re-sent today. It should not have been sent. We are investigating how this occurred. (SUNDAY APRIL 15)

Apologies! — chris m


Southwest Airlines route map showing new nonstops from ATL

Stay tuned to The TICKET for AirTran/Southwest news (and our commentary and advice) as Southwest enters the Atlanta market over the next few months. Here’s what we’ve got now…more on the way…

HERE COME THE RED BELLIES! This time next month, travelers at ATL will notice a new bird buzzing around the airport— Southwest’s Canyon Blue (upper fuselage) red (undercarriage—the “belly”– and tail) and orange (tail) Boeing 737’s. Empty planes will be ferried in from Dallas on Saturday, February 11, and the first scheduled Southwest flight will depart ATL on Sunday morning, February 12 at 6 a.m. destined for Baltimore. Later that day, flights will depart for Chicago MDW, Denver, Houston Hobby and Austin. On March 10 Southwest will add nonstops flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix. On June 10, it will add one daily nonstop between ATL and LAX in addition to AirTran’s three daily flights. Southwest flights will, at least for now, arrive and depart from Concourse C at ATL.

AIRTRAN DOWNSIZING. As Southwest moves in and re-arranges things to its liking, ATL will be losing some nonstops to smaller cities currently served by AirTran. Starting August 12, AirTran will stop flying to Allentown, Lexington, Harrisburg, Sarasota, Huntsville, and White Plains. Southwest will not deploy its aircraft on these routes leaving the nonstop market to Delta (only) so you can expect to see higher fares and more restrictions on those tickets. (See below…)

KEEP AN EYE ON SEATTLE. On August 12, those loooong flights between ATL and Seattle will changeover from AirTran to Southwest aircraft… meaning no more business class, and no more guaranteed Gogo wi-fi. (Southwest offers wi-fi on only 150 out of 500 jets now…so there’s no guarantee you’ll get it on the ATL-SEA flights.) Keep an eye on Seattle fares… it’s going to be interesting to see how Delta and Alaska Air respond as the only two carriers with nonstops with premium class service between ATL and SEA—and will help us predict how Delta will respond when Southwest no longer offers AirTran business class between ATL and other long haul west coast routes like Los Angeles or San Francisco.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES ROUTE MAP. (See map above) If you are interested in watching how Southwest takes over AirTran’s hub at ATL…keep an eye on its route map. Right now, AirTran and Southwest offer two separate maps, and will continue to do so until they get a “single operating certificate” (SOC) from the FAA—expected this March. Southwest told The TICKET, “The Southwest route map shows what Southwest is currently selling; the AirTran route map shows the same for AirTran.  Until we obtain SOC from the FAA, the carriers continue to fly separately and have not published any schedules where the networks are connected. When Southwest launches ATL service on February 12, we’ll do so with the nonstops and published schedules we’ve already announced:  Austin, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Denver, Houston (Hobby), Las Vegas Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix.  The Southwest map references those nonstop options and additional, published connecting services. AirTran continues to offer its schedule and, as the integration progresses, it will have fewer flights and Southwest will have more – more routes, more Employees, more aircraft, etc.”

ATL-DFW: A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME? As most TICKET readers know by now, AirTran/Southwest was forced to abandon its nonstops between ATL and Dallas Ft Worth due to the Wright Amendment. We predicted that fares would increase on the nonstop route dominated by only Delta and American. Today we got this email from TICKET reader RP: “Wow, what is up with prices from ATL to DFW on Delta? Pricing out three and four weeks in advance and its $700 round trip. I’ve been traveling from ATL to DFW for 11 years and have never seen prices like this outside of the 14-day window and plenty of seats are unsold.  Just for fun, I priced out a ticket for next week and it’s not much more.”

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AIRPORTS TRIM THE FAT. Eating healthy on the run has always been a challenge that road warriors must face, but the nation’s airports are beginning to take notice. According to the latest report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which assesses the fare on offer at restaurants in 15 major airports, Delta’s Detroit hub offers some of the healthiest food option in the country. Other airports that ranked high include Washington Dulles and San Francisco. Airports are ranked based on the percentage of their restaurants that have at least one healthy option on the menu including a low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée. Charlotte scored as the most improved in the country. Other top choices included Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, and Miami. Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson and Washington Reagan National ranked at the bottom of the pack. (You know you’ve been sneaking in too much of that fried chicken and waffle fries at Popeye’s and Chick-fil-a.) Regarding Atlanta, the report offered this advice: “But travelers looking for healthful meals can find a few choices, including spicy tofu made with vegetarian broth at Asian Chao, burritos or tacos with black beans, pinto beans, or tofu crumbles and grilled veggies (hold the cheese) at Moe’s Southwest Grill, or Bistro Del Sol’s Mediterranean Trio: hummus, tabouli, and stuffed grape leaves.” Gosh, imagine what’s going to happen to the score when the Varsity arrives at ATL…What’s YOUR favorite food at ATL?? Leave your comments below.

DELTA SKY PRIORITY GOES GLOBAL. The Sky Priority branding familiar to Delta SkyMiles Gold, biz and first class passengers that provides expedited boarding, ticket counter assistance, and other preferred travel benefits in the US will now be adopted by the entire SkyTeam alliance. This means that eventually, the Sky Priority features will be available on all SkyTeam flights including the popular separate boarding lane allowing customers to bypass the line. It will take some time to implement this at all SkyTeam airports, but major hubs in the alliance network will see it first including Amsterdam, Nairobi, Shanghai, and Taipei. In 2013, the premium airport program will be rolled out at nearly 1,000 airports worldwide. SkyTeam is the first alliance to adopt such a program for its premium travelers.

DO BIZ TRAVELERS LUV SOUTHWEST? A Travel Leaders travel agent network survey found that many AirTran clients are seeking alternatives that offer a premium cabin now that Southwest has announced it will eliminate Air Tran’s business class offering. Southwest does offer two free checked bags and does not assess those awful $150 change fees, but many travelers have come to love their Delta upgrades and see them as the only solace left in today’s travel environment. Delta is bound to be the prime beneficiary of defectors, but other airlines may also take notice and offer competitive fares and frequent flyer promotions to lure away AirTran loyalists. What about you? Will you give Southwest a chance when it arrives on February 12? Please leave your comments below.

TECHNO-DELTA. PC World magazine named Delta the top tech-friendly airline in the US. Delta has been a leader in this category with amenities like recharging stations in the top 19 airport gate areas, a clever smart phone app, and more wi-fi equipped aircraft than any other carrier. A favorite of many passengers is the smart phone app’s baggage tracking feature and the ability to view upgrade lists in real time. The @DeltaAssist Twitter program also has earned instant respect from travelers who reach out for assistance during their travels and receive on-the-spot assistance. Do you agree? Please leave your comments below…

SKYMILES UP NORTH. Delta has signed a codeshare agreement with Canadian airline WestJet allowing travelers to earn SkyMiles, through check their bags, and book connecting itineraries with ease. In the partnership’s first phase, the Delta code will be placed on WestJet flights to 15 cities including flights between Toronto and Edmonton, Halifax, Kelowna, Ottawa, Regina, and Vancouver; between Calgary and Las Vegas, Vancouver, and Victoria; and between Vancouver and Honolulu, Kelowna, and Las Vegas. The WestJet code is being placed on flights to five Delta city pairs including between Detroit and Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa; and between Boston and Toronto.

AIRTRAN DUMPS XM. Atlanta is preparing for Southwest’s arrival, which will bring many positive changes for travelers like no baggage or change fees. However, one change will not be so exciting. Southwest has opted to remove XM satellite radio from Air Tran planes to standardize its entire fleet. The free amenity will be removed from planes progressively beginning immediately. What do you think? Did you use the XM service? Will you miss it? Leave your comments below.

NEW FLIGHTS TO HAITI. Delta will launch new Saturday-only flights from Atlanta to the Haitian capital Port Au Prince April 7. This new flight follows a two-decade hiatus for nonstop service from Atlanta. Delta also flies daily from JFK to Port Au Prince to serve the large Haitian community living there. After the massive earthquake in Haiti two years ago, Delta was among the first airlines to fly relief aid to the country.

 

 


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Exciting new look inside ATL Terminal F (video)

Construction updates from ATL regarding the new Maynard Jackson International Terminal F are fast and furious as opening day approaches in April or May (no hard date set yet). The latest “January Update” video (below) shows a nearly completed terminal— it looks like all they need to do is add the potted plants and passengers.

Won’t it be exciting to see a big A380 lumber up to the gate? Our bet is that Korean Air may be the first with the big bird…but who knows? Maybe Air France or Lufthansa will run one in here next summer.

Best part about the new Terminal F? Atlanta-bound passengers (ie TICKET readers!) will no longer have to re-check bags and pass through security in order to leave the airport (as they do when arriving at Terminal E). Also, the Terminal’s new parking deck will include a special GOLD RESERVE parking lot.

What are your thoughts about the new International Terminal? Please leave you comments below.

 

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Biz travel in 2012: My predictions

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It’s that time of year again, when travel pundits and prognosticators do their best to predict what may or may not happen in the coming year. Here’s what I see on the horizon for frequent travelers in Atlanta and around the worlds in 2012.

Apart from uncertainty about the eurozone, the global economy is slowly improving, meaning individuals and companies are likely to increase their budgets for both business and leisure travel. But just like improvements in the global economy, any expansion in travel budgets is going to be slow– very slow. Atlanta seems to be emerging from the great recession at a slower pace than many other US cities– but nonetheless, we are still traveling, still out there working hard and helping our companies recover.

Increased demand for travel in 2012 will mean higher prices for transportation, fuel, lodging and food, with the biggest jumps in fast-growing regions such as Asia, India and South America. Business travel to and from Japan should continue to improve, but leisure travel there will stay slow — forcing down rates for what has long been one of the most expensive countries in the world.

In the US, hotel prices will continue to increase in big coastal cities such as New York, Boston, Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco where business is brisk, but will remain mostly flat in the heartland where economic recovery is slower. Airfares in the US are currently 10% to 20% higher than two years ago, and should remain high as airlines continue to reduce capacity, consolidate, or, like bankrupt American Airlines, shrink their way to profitability.

In Atlanta, Delta has already announced several cuts to its transatlantic schedule and AirTran/Southwest is trimming away at its domestic schedule from ATL and elsewhere. We are seeing some decent fare sales, but the restrictions around them make it tough for business travelers to use– for example, the current AirTran sale for January is only good for those who can travel on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

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With Europe’s economic woes, demand and prices for travel in the region could flatten, but this will not be by much. European companies are likely to crack down on extravagant spending by cutting back or eliminating business class air travel, enforcing the use of midrange hotels and asking travellers take trips by car or train instead of flying. In the unlikely event Greece reverts back to the drachma, prices could take a tumble there, opening up opportunities for bargain-focussed vacationers.

Click here on my BBC.com column for a full round up of what to expect regarding… Airfares, hotel rates, travel deals, gas prices, wi-fi, mobile and meetings & conventions…

***

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Airline Update: MQM promo extended, more wi-fi, New York, Brazil

(Photo: Skampy / Flickr)

NOT TOO LATE FOR MQM PROMO. Delta has extended the time in which SkyMiles members can buy their way into Medallion status with MQMs next year. When the news about the promo broke in The TICKET last month, Delta said it would end on Dec 14. But last week it extended the deadline to Dec 30. (Why would Delta put limits around a nice revenue stream like that?) Did you take Delta up on this offer? LET US KNOW! Leave your comments below.

FREE WIFI AT ATL! Skype is sponsoring one hour of free wi-fi at ATL (and many other big airports) during the holidays– Dec 21-27Details here.

MORE FREE HOLIDAY WI-FI. eBay is sponsoring a half hour of free Gogo inflight wi-fi on Delta flights now through Jan. 2. The move should help  spur online shopping purchases for the holidays and post-holiday sales—you can shop on eBay as long as you want, but access to the web ends after 30 minutes. Has anyone experienced difficulty logging on or staying online as a result of heavy usage by others? Please leave your comments below!

DELTA BUMPS UP BRAZIL. With business booming in Brazil (and demand soaring for flights there), Delta has placed its 767-400ER aircraft (with true lie-flat seats in biz class) on all nonstops between New York and Atlanta to Sao Paulo. Delta now offers daily service between Detroit and Sao Paulo and Atlanta and Brasilia. These latter two flights, however, are not part of Delta’s all-flat announcement just yet since they do not operate with the 767-400ER aircraft. In addition, Delta recently announced that it would make a $100 million investment in Brazil’s Gol Airlines, a SkyMiles partner.

A Virgin America A320 touches down in Palm Springs, the carriers's newest destination (Photo: C McGinnis)

VIRGIN AMERICA TO ATL? “We want to be flying to every major business travel destination, and Atlanta is in the top five cities we are targeting for expansion,” said Virgin CEO David Cush in a recent interview with TICKET editor Chris McGinnis. “But we’ve got Delta, the 800-lb gorilla, to deal with there, and we want to see how the AirTran-Southwest integration plays out before we make a move. We won’t fly there unless it is profitable for us, especially since it is a long haul route.” I asked, “Do you think there would be an opportunity for you to capitalize on Southwest’s decision to eliminate AirTran’s business class on the route, leaving Delta as the only carrier offering premium seats on those long hauls to San Francisco and Los Angeles?” After a long thoughtful pause, Cush grinned and said, “Yes, that is something we are taking into consideration. Our first class, and even our coach class is like something Atlanta’s never seen before.” What new carrier would YOU like to see at ATL? Please leave your comments below!

WE [HEART] PRE-CHECK. We continue to get plenty of love letters (and comments on our recent post) from users of the nifty new TSA Pre-Check lines at ATL. TSA recently has or will soon expand Pre-Check to three more airports: Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. Will it last forever?

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TICKET SURVEY! Thanks VERY much to our loyal TICKET readers. We were heartened at the HUGE response we got to our recent rader survey—620 of you took the time to tell us a bit more about you and your travel habits. Stay tuned for a full report on exactly who you are! So far, we’ve been super surprised and delighted. Thank you again.

SORRY SILVERS. Delta quietly instituted another sleight to Silver Medallions last week by cutting their allotment of free checked bags from two down to one (but with the more generous max weight of 70 lbs).  Of course, if the Delta Gold, Platinum or Reserve AMEX is in your wallet, you still get that second free checked bag!

Delta tail and La Guardia's new control tower (Photo: Pro-Zak / Flickr)

DELTA’S MARCH ON NYC CONTINUES. Delta’s long-sought “domination” of the New York market is getting closer… With its slot transfer deal with US Airways complete, Delta has announced more than 100 new flights from its rapidly expanding La Guardia hub, pushing it to near top of the heap in the NYC market. By next summer, Delta says it will be serving 60 cities from LGA, up from the current 35. The majority of flights will be operated by Delta Connection and fly to cities along the East Coast, replacing those that were operated by US Airways prior to the slot swap. While the addition of flights for Delta customers into the New York area is great news, passengers in many communities on the East Coast are actually losing flights because US Airways operated to LGA with heavier frequencies than Delta is planning. Delta will soon expand into US Airways Terminal C in addition to its Terminal D, and continue to operate its shuttle flights between LGA and Chicago, Boston and DC from the Marine Air Terminal.

CITIES getting additional or new Delta service to LGA include Burlington VT, Denver, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke, Charlotte, Greensboro/High, Point/Winston-Salem, Raleigh/Durham, Wilmington, NC, Jacksonville, Ft. Myers, Miami, Cleveland, and Dayton among others.

MORE JFK, TOO. Delta is also boosting its capacity at JFK by adding new flights to Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem, New Orleans, and Kansas City. Other existing JFK network cities like Buffalo, and Richmond will see additional frequencies.

SKTEAM BEIJING. All SkyTeam carriers now fly from under the same roof at Beijing Capital International Airport’s sprawling Terminal 2. Speaking of SkyTeam, check out my recent BBC.com biz travel column about the best airline alliances and see how it stacks up to the competition.

ATL TO LOSE “BUSIEST AIRPORT” CROWN. According to a variety of sources, Beijing Capital airport is set to overtake ATL as the world’s busiest next year. Too bad it will lose the title in the same year it opens the shiny new International Terminal F.

VOUCHER? SCHMOUCHER! Do you have any Delta electronic travel credits in your account that need to be used? Be careful. Delta has quietly implemented a policy that limits the number that can be used per ticket to just one. This means that if you have only one ticket to book before two vouchers expire, you will need to choose the one with higher value to use. If you received these vouchers (denied boarding, remaining credit from unused ticket, etc) before Dec. 15, you can still use more than one at a time, but only one post-12/15/11 voucher will be applied per ticket going forward.

WORLD’S LARGEST CARRIERS. A series of mergers over the last decade has created a group of mega-airlines that reach almost every corner of the globe. Here are the world’s largest airline companies based on the number of miles their passengers flew in 2010:

  1. United Continental: 181,939 million
  2. Delta Air Lines: 165,900 million
  3. American Airlines: 125,443 million
  4. Air France, KLM: 125,043 million
  5. Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian: 108,811 mm
  6. British Airways, Iberia: 97,384 million
  7. Southwest, AirTran: 97,360 million
  8. Emirates: 89,266 million
  9. China Southern Airlines: 68,689 million
  10. Qantas Airways: 62,082 million

Source: AP calculations on International Air Transport Association data

NEED A NEW BAG? I’ve dragged around the same black, two-wheeled Briggs and Riley carry-on bag for at least 10 years, and it’s still going strong. But when I’m at the airport and see travelers toting four-wheeled “spinners” or shiny polycarbonates in a rainbow of colors, I get luggage envy. To help me decide if it’s time to bag my old bag and try something new, I asked the experts for some advice on what to look for, and wrote the results up here in a recent BBC.com column.

How do you define business casual? (Photo: Tink20seven)

DELTA SHRINKING AT CINCY. Good AJC story about Delta’s vanishing act at CVG—which now ranks as the smallest Delta “hub”:  “Cincinnati, where Delta once had more than 600 daily departures, has now shrunk to the carrier’s smallest hub with roughly 130 flights a day. Delta used to operate its hundreds of flights out of three concourses at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. It has since pulled out of two of them and uses just one concourse.”

DEFINING BUSINESS CASUAL. “Two of my least favorite words in the English language are ‘business casual’ as it means different things to different people,” said Joyce Newman, president of the Newman Group, which offers high-level speaker, media and image consulting to global executives. “The definition varies widely between cities, countries, cultures – even industries – and it’s a real dilemma for travelers because you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Are you vexed by invitations to business casual event in the US or abroad? Then check out my recent BBC.com column “Defining Business Casual” which offers some great tips and advice.

 

 

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Delta picking up pax in Porsches at ATL

ATL's train...or a four-door Porsche Panamera? (Photo: SocialisBetter)

Delta is being uncharacteristically coy about a flashy new program underway at ATL since early November. Several TICKET readers report being pleasantly surprised by  new chauffeur service (via Porsche no less) from the jetway to their cars upon arrival at ATL.

Here’s what we are hearing:

From reader Eason Jordan:

As I disembarked from my LGA-ATL Delta flight last night, I was surprised to see in the jetway two young men holding up signs with the names of six passengers – my name included.  When I asked the fellow holding the sign with my name on it what he wanted, he escorted me down the jetway stairs to the tarmac and ushered me into the front passenger seat of a new Porsche Cayenne SUV.  He told me Delta recently embarked on a trial program in partnership with Porsche to show their love for top-tier Delta frequent fliers.  Two fellow frequent fliers hopped in the back seat, after which we were whisked not to the main terminal but directly to our cars in separate parking lots at opposite sides of the airport. What a ride!

I quizzed the gregarious driver about the program.  He said the unpublicized program was the brainchild of Delta’s CEO.  Why Porsche’s involvement?  Porsche is moving its North American headquarters to a new site adjacent to the airport, and Porsche wants to impress Delta’s most elite passengers – potential Porsche customers.  The ATL Delta-Porsche program fields eight always-working passenger-shuttling Porsche vehicles – six SUVs and two sedans.  Two vehicles work each select inbound flight.  Sometimes the Porsche team shuttles late arriving connecting elites to a far-flung terminal connecting flight, while other times the Porsche team shuttles incoming elites directly from the arriving tarmac to their cars in airport parking lots.  My driver said the program caters to medallion fliers – mostly Diamond, but others, too.  I’m a three million miler with Delta, and at times I’m among Delta’s most vocal critics.  I pleased to say this surprise reward program is a big-time winner, leaving me grateful and dreaming of owning a Porsche SUV.

Here’s another from Reader JK:

Have you heard about the DL/Porche customer appreciation program that started Nov. 1 (I’m sure you have…you know everything!).  We landed this morning at ATL, B24.  As the door opened, my name and another passengers were announced to proceed to the plane door where we were met by a member of DL’s Elite Service Representatives.  He briefly explained that as Diamonds, we were to follow him down the jetway stairs where a Porsche Panamera was waiting.  He told us that DL and Porsche were partnering to provide a special customer service for Delta’s best customers.  We loaded into the car and he drove us from the tarmac to our cars in the Daily Parking lots!  What a thrill!!!!  Way to go Delta!  Way to go Porsche!

**Porsche because, as you know, it will be building its NA HQ on the site of the old Ford plant adjacent to I-75 and end of runway.

Interestingly, Delta’s being very tight lipped about this. We asked for more details, but Delta would do nothing more than just confirm that the program is indeed in effect. Delta’s only made one public comment about the program over on the FlyerTalk boards:

I see that you’ve noticed a few of the spanking new vehicles trolling around ATL. It’s true that we have a team dedicated to transporting our highest value customers around the Atlanta hub and they’ve got a fleet of several vehicles with which to do so. As part of our partnership with Porsche (which includes shipping cars from Germany to Atlanta), they’ve provided us with a few fancy new rides to add to our VIP fleet. A couple of things to clarify:

1. Delta didn’t pay for these cars.
2. You won’t see any of our executives in these cars – they’re for HVCs [“High Value Customers”] only.
3. The Porsches are quite literally a new toy we get to play with so we’re testing out how to best use them. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, they’ll be used as a “surprise and delight” for some of our best customers.

Have you been picked up in a Porsche yet? Why do you think Delta’s being so coy about this? Perhaps they don’t want to be seen catering to the recently maligned 1%? Maybe they don’t want Medallions to start to expect the service, and complain if they don’t get a ride? Please leave your comments below! And if you get picked up in a Porsche, take a picture and send it to us… we’ll post it right here!

___ ___ ___

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Airline Update: More Delta legroom, holiday fare advice, disappearing Biscoffs

A few inches makes a difference! (Photo: Dipdewdog / Flickr)

ECONOMY COMFORT EXPANDS. Good news for sore knees! Following in the footsteps of rival United Airlines (and its Economy Plus seating), Delta is expanding its popular Economy Comfort seating from just international flights to nearly all aircraft fleet wide—including domestic flights. The first three to five rows of the main cabin on all Delta mainline and regional jets (except CRJ-200’s) will soon feature three more inches between rows. Passengers seated in this section will enjoy priority boarding—but there will be no free booze in domestic Economy Comfort. The first domestic 757 with Economy Comfort will enter service this month, and Delta says all aircraft will be equipped with the seating by late 2012. Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallions can select these seats at time of reservation free of charge. Silver Medallions may request them 24 hours prior to departure free of charge or reserve them at a 50% discount at time of reservation. All other passengers may purchase these extra legroom seats for a fee of $19-$99 depending on the length of the flight. Note: With Southwest doing away with AirTran’s popular business class seating, Economy Comfort will be a welcome option on those long transcons out to the west coast. What do you think about Economy Comfort?

HOLIDAY FARE SHOPPING? AirTran and Southwest launched another winter fare sale today (must book by Nov 14), but as usual the fine print reveals multiple blackout dates around Thanksgiving or Christmas. That’s not great news for holiday travelers, but if you’ve avoided business trips due to high fares, you’ll find some great deals for flights during the first three weeks of December, and much of January. So get out there and see some clients you’ve been avoiding! Here’s more advice on holiday travel peaks and valleys.

FREE BLURBS ON DELTA/GOGO PORTAL. Gogo wi-fi users will notice a new landing page when they launch their web browser on Delta flights. It includes details for your flight including the remaining flight time. Additional free content will include select news stories, PEOPLE magazine content, destination information and events, and shopping opportunities.

MORE SOUTHWEST CHANGES COMING. Bloomberg reports that Southwest plans to cut back on AirTran flights from ATL to smaller cities and focus on adding more nonstops to larger cities that are more profitable. Southwest’s first flights to/from Atlanta (with no biz class…and no bag fees) begin in February. Stay tuned! Have you decided whether you’ll give Southwest a go when it comes to town? Leave your comments below.

FLAT BEDS AT 30%. Delta updated its progress page last month showing that 30% of its international fleet now has true (vs fake) lie-flat seats, up from 25% in August.


SNACK BASKET CHANGES.
First class loyalists have learned to love the famous Delta snack basket on flights without a meal (increasingly common). First class customers now get Walker’s shortbread cookies, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, fun size Snickers, Chewy granola bars, and the traditional peanuts, pretzels, Twix and M&Ms. What is noticeably missing, however, are Delta’s famous Biscoff cookies (oddly still available in coach) and those puffy bags of SunChips. Delta confirmed the case of the disappearing Biscoff from the first class basket during afternoon and evening flights, but said that they are still offered on morning non-meal flights.  Thoughts on the new snack additions (and deletions)? Is Walker’s shortbread a suitable substitute for the beloved Biscoff? Please leave your comments below.

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LAST MINUTE MQMs? Remember when Delta teamed up with certain SkyWish charities last December offering valuable MQM’s to those who gave generously? AID Atlanta hauled in a tidy $745,000 as a result of the promo. Generous SkyMilers were able to avoid those pesky end-of-year mileage runs. Delta built a lot of goodwill. Everybody won! We are now trying to determine if Delta will offer something similar this year for those hoping to snag or maintain Medallion status by the end of the year. So far our Delta sources say there’s nothing in the works, but that could change. Another reason to stay tuned to The TICKET!

DELTA IN THE BLACK. Delta reported its financial figures for the third quarter of 2011 and continues to stay in the black partly due to wise fuel hedging, growth in ancillary fee revenue (ya know, those change fees, baggage fees, etc), and a slight decrease in capacity to adjust to travel demand (that’s why flights are fuller these days). In the end, when Delta succeeds, it can spend more to invest in a better product…right?

DELTA #1 FOR FEES. Delta collected more baggage fees and reservation change fees than any other airline in the second quarter of 2011, according to the DOT. In the second quarter, it brought in $226 in baggage fees and $201 million in reservation change fees. American Airlines ranked #2. Overall, airlines brought in an extra $1.5 billion in fee revenue in the second quarter.

DELTA EXPANDS AT LGA. In case you were wondering what happened to the slot exchange at New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Washington Reagan National (DCA) between Delta and US Airways, well, it’s back on. The Department of Transportation has approved the exchange, allowing Delta the right to the majority of US Airways’ landing and takeoff slots at LGA in exchange for a major chunk of Delta’s slots at DCA. The move will allow both airlines to strengthen their position in the marketplace. Delta plans to use the neighboring US Airways’ terminal at LGA, build a connecting bridge between the two terminals, and add an additional Sky Club in the new terminal. A specific timeline has yet to be announced, but this swap will certainly mean more nonstop destinations for Delta passengers at LaGuardia.

HOW TO TRAVEL LIKE A FLIGHT ATTENDANT. Delta’s new Sky Store (www.deltaskystore.com) offers a selection of travel items including luggage, bag tags, apparel, and electronics. Many of the products come recommended by Delta employees themselves who provided the suggestions and inspiration to include certain items in the store. This new venture is designed to showcase the expertise of Delta’s own employees to help travelers find the best, most durable gear for their own travels. A special introductory offer includes a free Gogo wi-fi pass with your first purchase. NOTE: This is different than the Delta Shop (www.deltashop.com), which sells Delta-branded gear, apparel, and merchandise.

TICKET READERS RAVE: Did you see all the positive comments regarding the TSA’s new Pre-Check trusted traveler lanes at ATL? Who knew the much maligned TSA could provoke that kind of praise from jaded biz travel vets like TICKET readers? The program’s still in beta-testing, but let’s see what happens.

MCGINNIS ON BBC.COM. Have you read TICKET editor Chris McGinnis’s recent business travel columns on BBC.com? Here’s a sampling of his most popular recent posts:

>Business Trip: Atlanta (Lemme know if I got it right!)

>What to check out before you check into a hotel

>Avoid paying for overweight bags

>International travelers: 9 must-learn local phrases

>Good idea: Hire a tour guide on your next business trip

ATL’S TERMINAL F. Have you been watching the construction and wondering what ATL’s newest terminal will look like on the inside? Then see this very cool virtual “fly through” of the new International terminal. Well done. Can’t wait to give it a try when it opens this spring…

 

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AIRTRAN: Get the latest, greatest airfare deals from AIRTRAN.COM

DELTA: Click here for the latest fare sales and deals at Delta Air Lines

CHEAPO AIR: Air, hotel car rental and package deals galore from CheapOair.com

HOTWIRE: Great hotel deals and $13.95 per day rental cars with low Hotwire Hot-Rates!

 


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TSA scores with PreCheck expedited security screening

Here’s one of several first-person accounts among TICKET readers who have been selected for the TSA’s special “PreCheck” expedited security line at ATL.

So far, it seems like the frequently maligned TSA has knocked one outta the ballpark with this test. Time will tell if or when we see how far it expands beyond the testing stage. By the time the holiday crowds appear at airports later this year, everyone’s going to want to get into this special program! (Currently only at airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Miami.)

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Here’s how TICKET reader DW described his recent trip through the super special line:

I flew to Ohio this past weekend to visit family and tested the new expedited screening line at Atlanta.  From what I had read, I would qualify because I’m enrolled in Global Entry, but I wasn’t clear how they would verify that – so I brought my passport just in case.  Turns out I didn’t need it.

The location is at the end of the Delta ticketing area (the “T-South” screening area).  They have two lines there, one for regular travelers and one for the expedited line.  They scan boarding pass as you approach, so my Global Entry status must have been captured on the Delta boarding pass because they directed me into the expedited line.  There was one person in front of me at the ID check station and by the time the agent had confirmed my boarding pass and ID, that person was walking through the metal detector.  I walked in, put my bag on the belt and walked through.  No hassle.  From the time I approached the line to the time I was through the security screening it took a total of less than three minutes.

They don’t need liquids or laptops to be removed from cases, so bags can go direct on the belt and through.  And they don’t require that we remove shoes, belts or blazers so I kept all three on.  Really very easy – and if they do roll it out and the crowds increase, it’ll still go much faster without all the jockeying at the metal detector to remove shoes and laptops.

The experience was positive enough that my partner and his son are both going to enroll in Global Entry* – not because they travel so much internationally, but because it qualifies them for this lane . . . .

*Note that American Express Platinum card holders get Global Entry free as part of the card’s new benefit package.

What do you think…Are YOU one of the chosen few who’ve tested the new PreCheck line? Please leave your comments below!

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Delta Sky Club Luxury Bar officially unveiled

As we predicted in The TICKET last week,  Delta today unveiled more details including menus (and prices) for its new Sky Club Luxury Bar concept.

Delta says:

>Customer feedback has been very positive during test phases.

>The current selection of complimentary beverages will remain complimentary (Canadian Club, Bailey’s, Jack Daniels, Dewar’s, Skyy, Bacardi, Tanqueray and Martini and Rossi). The Luxury Bar is a separate program.

>Delta teamed up with beverage giant Diageo to offer its portfolio of premium wine and spirits (See below for full menu).

>Sky Club members will periodically see cocktail master classes, educational sessions and tastings.

>Luxury Bars will be managed by professional bartending staff selected for industry knowledge and skills.

>The Luxury Bar will be rolled out by the end of this year at all domestic Sky Clubs except Portland, OR (due to local licensing issues). Current locations in operation include: Newark, NY – (EWR), New York, NY – (JFK & LGA), Palm Beach, FL – (PBI), Seattle, WA – (SEA), Washington, DC – (DCA).

 

 


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Airline News Update

(Photo: DavidKenny / Flickr

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NEW CHARGES FOR PREMIUM BOOZE AT SKY CLUB. Delta is quietly unveiling new charges for premium brand liquor, wine and specialty cocktails at its Sky Club lounges, while well brands and non-premium beer and wine remain complimentary.  Other airlines charge for premium brands in their airport lounges, but Delta’s offering appears significantly more expensive with drinks such as mojitos and premium, top-shelf or call-brand cocktails fetching between $10 and $35. Prepare for the up-sell from your bartender mixologist! Not all clubs have instituted this program yet, but watch for it coming to a lounge near you soon– expect a formal announcement from Delta within days about this. (UPDATE: A TICKET reader just sent us what he says is a new Sky Club premium liquor menu, which includes $35 for Jose Cuervo 1942 tequila, $24 for Talisker 18 scotch, $18 for Johnny Walker Green, $12 for Bulleit bourbon or Ketel 1 Vodka, $199 for a bottle of Dom Perignon among others.) Have you paid for a cocktail yet at a Sky Club? What do you think about this new policy? Do you mind paying more for a premium brand that may not have been available before?

NEW TRUSTED TRAVELER LANES AT ATL. The AJC reports that the TSA’s beta test of a trusted traveler program called “TSA PreCheck” has begun at ATL. About 2,000 Delta frequent flyers and those with “Global Entry” status on their passports chosen for the program can use a special lane for expedited screening at the South security checkpoint. The lane has a metal detector instead of a full body scanner, and does not require travelers to remove shoes, belts or jackets.  TICKET reader Rupert Barkoff of Atlanta was startled to find the new expedited line open at ATL on Tuesday, and wrote, “If I hadn’t prepared for going through security (i.e., shoes, coat, pockets, etc.) I would have made it through South Security at Hartsfield from entry into the security area through the machine in less than a minute.” What do you think? Is a “trusted traveler” lane the answer to our woes, or is the current special lane for elite members enough for you? Please leave your comments below!

NICE ‘N EASY AIRTRAN A+ DOUBLE POINTS PROMO. Fly to any AirTran destination from September 15 through November 7 and earn double A+ Rewards credit for every flight. With this offer, you’ll earn two A+ credits for each one-way flight, which means you can earn a round reward flight after just 4 legs. Plus, if you book in business class, you will receive three A+ Rewards credits for each leg. You must register to get the bonus. And don’t forget, those A+ Rewards will eventually convert to Southwest Rapid Rewards points.

GOGO EXPERIMENTING WITH PRICING. Gogo has launched a new $1.95 15-minute in-flight wi-fi pass perfect for those who need to make a quick scan of email or check a website on a short flight. Right now, these bite-size passes are available on select flights only and appear on the Gogo home page when logging on during the flight. It’s also offering a $4.95 flight pass available on flights up to 650 miles, which is quite reasonable. On the higher end, Gogo is experimenting with raising rates. On a recent transcontinental flight, your TICKET editor paid $14.95 for wi-fi– $2 more than the standard $12.95 rate he was used to. A Gogo spokesperson told The TICKET:  “We are currently testing some new pricing structures on various routes to better gauge the value of the service on a per route basis.” Question: What’s the most you’d pay for wi-fi on a transcontinental flight? How much is too much? (I’ve always thought that charges for inflight wi-fi were quite reasonable given how much more productive I am on long haul flights. However, price seems to be an object for the general public—only about 7% of all passengers opt for wi-fi.)

SPEAKING OF GOGO. In a recent issue of The TICKET, you read that Delta Connection’s fleet of regional jets would soon begin getting Gogo wi-fi access. The first CRJ-700 of Atlantic Southeast Airlines is now ready to surf the web with 250 more to follow rapidly, and all regional jets with first class (CRJ-700s, CRJ-900s, EMB-170s, EMB-175s) will have wi-fi by early 2012. Have you flown one of these Barbie jets yet with wi-fi? Did it work just as well as mainline or was it faster due to fewer passengers on board? Good luck fitting your laptop on those tiny RJ tray tables, though!

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IS DELTA GETTING INTO BED WITH VIRGIN? Delta and Virgin Australia will launch a transpacific codeshare beginning in November as part of their existing joint venture. V Australia’s flights will move to Delta’s terminal at LAX to boost the number of passenger connection opportunities. This codeshare easily opens up nonstop flights to Brisbane and Melbourne from LAX in addition to Delta’s existing B777 service to Sydney. Earning and redeeming miles on each other’s flights and reciprocal lounge access are other benefits for consumers. And with Richard Branson’s near constant mentions of Virgin Atlantic’s interest in joining a global alliance, will this help SkyTeam bag one of the industry’s hottest names? Only time will tell! (Remember back in the day when you could redeem SkyMiles for Virgin flights to London from JFK?)

MCGINNIS ON BBC.COM. Have you read TICKET editor Chris McGinnis’s recent business travel columns on BBC.com? Here’s a sampling of his most popular recent posts:

>How to book a better hotel room

>Using the train to catch your plane

>Five easy ways to brush up quickly on a new country

>Getting your money’s worth in business class

 

EASIER ROUND-THE-WORLD SKYMILES TIX. If you’ve racked up enough SkyMiles to take a trip around the Earth (and that would be 180,000 miles in economy and 280,000 miles in business class), it just got a lot easier to plan. In the past, travelers were forced to endure long phone calls with agents crafting together these complex itineraries with rules (like no geographical backtracking). Now, SkyTeam has launched a user-friendly tool on its website that allows travelers to piece together their own round-the-world itineraries themselves before calling Delta to book them. The awards cannot be booked online and must be booked through a special service desk, but this new online tool eases the experience considerably. Here’s the link. Bon voyage!

LATIN/CARIBBEAN SKYMILES BONUS. If you have flight plans between Atlanta, JFK, or Boston and several destinations in Latin America or the Caribbean this fall, there are some bonus miles in your future. Register for this Sept. 15-Nov. 15 promotion at  and fly one of the promotional routes to qualify for double SkyMiles. Destinations include Santo Domingo, Bermuda, San Juan, Buenos Aires and Rio.

DELTA HUBS TOPS IN ON TIME PERFORMANCE. FlightStats ranked airports based on on-time departures during September, and Delta’s hubs performed quite well. Salt Lake City, Seattle/Tacoma, Portland, OR, and Minneapolis/St. Paul airports all exceeded 90% on-time departures. The average on-time departure performance for the group in September was 78% up over 6 percentage points from August’s 72%. On the downside, New York La Guardia and JFK ranked near the bottom.

  1. SLC Salt Lake City – 92.01%
  2. SEA Seattle – 90.84%
  3. PDX Portland – 90.79%
  4. MSP Minneapolis – 90.17%
  5. MEM Memphis – 86.66%
  6. OAK Oakland – 86.01%
  7. TPA Tampa – 85.58%
  8. YVR Vancouver – 85.28%
  9. ATL Atlanta – 85.21%
  10. PHX Phoenix – 85.14%

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Photos of new, expanded Delta Sky Clubs

As part of Delta’s multi-billion dollar overhaul designed to appeal to business travelers, its Sky Clubs have undergone a big transformation. In the last year, Delta has unveiled nine renovated or new clubs across the Delta system, all featuring the new Delta Sky Club design.

In just the last month, Delta’s unveiled a re-do and expansion of the club at Atlanta’s A-17.

It’s opened the first Sky Club ever out on Atlanta’s Concourse D.

And it’s built a brand new 8300 square foot perch on top of Seattle’s South Satellite Terminal near gate S-9 with big western sky views of Mt Rainier. Delta now has 38 daily departures out of Sea-Tac to 12 destinations, including Amsterdam, Beijing, Osaka and Tokyo-Narita.

Here are a few snaps of the new digs: What do you think of the new design? Please take a gander at the photos and leave your comments below! Thanks. And Happy Labor Day!

New ATL Sky Club at D27 (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

 

New ATL Sky Club at D27 (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

 

Re-do and expansion at Delta's big Sky Club at ATL's A-17 (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Re-do and expansion at Delta's big Sky Club at ATL's A-17 (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

 

Re-do and expansion at Delta's big Sky Club at ATL's A-17 (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

 

Entry at the brand new Sky Club near gate S-9 at Sea-Tac (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

The bar at the brand new Sky Club near gate S-9 at Sea-Tac (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

 

The seated bar at the brand new Sky Club near gate S-9 at Sea-Tac (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

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Two minutes with Southwest CEO re: Atlanta [video]

This week Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly took a few minutes to chat with The TICKET about the arrival of those red bellies at ATL in February.

In this interview, Kelly talks about fares and fees, pointing out that Atlantans will soon have access to Southwest’s vast low-fare network.

He also shows no shame in discussing Southwest’s boarding process (which some refer to as the “cattle call”), no assigned seating, or the fact that Southwest plans to eliminate AirTran’s popular business class. He stresses that Southwest offers a different product than what we might be used to, but he’s clearly confident that Atlanta travelers are going to appreciate those differences.

It’s a great interview and we are very flattered that Mr Kelly took the time to talk to The TICKET! Take a look!

Please post your comments and questions about Southwest below.

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Delta News

Happy end of summer! Hope you all are having a good one…or had a good one.

NO PLANS TO CHANGE DELTA’S NEW 72-HOUR RULE. Our post last week about Delta’s new rule that disallows changes to SkyMiles award tickets within 72 hours of departure was the most read and forwarded post on The TICKET to date in 2011. Folks are ticked off! If you missed it, here’s the post-be sure and read the comments. Despite the outcry, Delta seems intransigent on this one. The TICKET sent Delta the following message: “Can you tell us if Michelle and the gang have decided to soften the 72 hour rule at all? Are they even discussing it, or is it case closed? We think most TICKET readers, once they get over their frustration, sort of see Delta’s point, but feel that the rule is too harsh, and perhaps it could be softened a bit. Seems like the few bad apples have spoiled something for the rest of Delta’s best, and mostly fair-minded customers. Let us know if you know if anything’s in the works.” Delta’s reply to The TICKET: “Thanks for checking in.  We have no plans to make further changes to the 72 hour rule.” There you have it.

SKYMILES TRANSFER BONUS NICE BUT NOT CHEAP. From TICKET reader Tom in Atlanta: “I decided to be nice and transfer a few miles to a friend of mine since Delta was offering to double the miles I transferred (good thru 30 September).  Boy, was I surprised to find out Delta charges .01 per mile to transfer AND $30 per transfer.  So, according to my math,  I was going to give a friend 50,000 miles that would be doubled to 100,000 (what a nice guy I am). . .and it would cost me $530!!!  Not much of a deal if you ask me!  I’m nice, but not THAT nice.”

NEW AMEX SKYMILES BENNIE. If you’ve lost Medallion status, here’s a bit of good news: If you have the Gold or Platinum Delta Sky Miles American Express card, get ready to head back to the front of the line. Beginning Sept. 1, cardholders will receive priority boarding on all Delta and Delta Connection flights. This means boarding along with SkyPriority passengers including Medallion and SkyTeam Elite-level members. No need to show the card– if it is linked to your SkyMiles account, you and up to eight travel companions booked in the same reservation will automatically be placed in one of the first boarding zones. Once on board, you also get a 20% discount for inflight purchases including food, drinks, and movies. These extra benefits are in addition to the already substantial checked bag fee waiver.

TRIMMING THE FAT. Delta is discontinuing its seasonal routes from Atlanta to Barbados and from Atlanta to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. Delta has also said that it’s discontinuing flights to several tiny cities that had been subsidized by the federal goverment’s “Essential Air Service” program. Delta is also right-sizing its hub at Salt Lake City– cutting daily departures from 260 to 224. No route cuts planned, but flight frequencies will be reduced.  AirTran is discontinuing its flights from Atlanta to Atlantic City, N.J. (in January) and Newport News (in March).

We’ve got a BIG QUESTION for you this month, and we hope you can take a moment and share your comments at the bottom of this post: How has the recent stock market roller coaster affected your plans for fall business travel– if at all? Have you decided or have you been asked to cut back on travel spending at all over the last month as a result of the uncertainty? Please leave your answers/comments below.

TOO COZY WITH DELTA? The AJC reports that former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is joining the board of Delta, nearly two years after pushing for a lease deal between the city and Delta that some criticized as too favorable to the airline. Thoughts?

EASY 1000 SKYMILES. Don’t forget: Using Delta’s new mobile app to check-in earns you bonus miles. First register, then check in using the Delta app to earn 1,000 miles between June 30 and September 7, 2011.

FREE INFLIGHT INTERNET IN AUGUST. Were you able to log on for a little bit of free inflight wi-fi this month? Diet Coke sponsored two promos that seemed to be a hit with TICKET readers….except that so many folks signed on that service slowed to a crawl. Our post about this was very popular this month…check it out and see the comments if you missed it. By the way, you should still be able to get a free 30-minute trial between now and Sunday, August 31.


Video of the week: Bat on a Delta plane.

NEW AMIGO: AEROLINEAS ARGENTINAS. The TICKET recently reported that Aerolineas Argentinas had been invited to join the SkyTeam alliance. While it is not a full member yet, Delta has begun codesharing with the Argentinean flag carrier between both Miami and Atlanta and Buenos Aires. Beginning next year, passengers traveling on Aerolineas Argentinas can earn and redeem SkyMiles for their flights. Currently, a reciprocal club access program is already in place for SkyTeam Elite Plus members at the airline’s lounge in B.A. Speaking of amigos, Delta recently bought a 4% interest in Aeromexico…which is already a SkyTeam and codesharing partner.

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SHIP LUGGAGE. EARN SKYMILES. FedEx has a partnership with Delta allowing those who ship packages to earn SkyMiles. Between now and Oct. 15, earn triple miles for each dollar spent. For every fifth shipment, SkyMiles members get a 1,000 mile bonus. Not only does this benefit those who ship packages for work, but travelers tired of paying overweight or oversize bag fees. The price (depending on the weight of your bags) may not be that much more expensive, and you get the added bonus of scoring Sky Miles too. Who wants to schlep bags to the airport when the FedEx delivery truck can escort them from your front door to your destination?

LIVINGSOCIAL WITH DELTA. Delta has partnered with LivingSocial, a web site focused on aggregating destination deals and bargains in tandem with trips booked at Delta.com. The initiative will make it easier to save money once you land by highlighting specific restaurant, hotel, attraction, and business promotions that can save you money and time. The offers appear in the My Trips section of delta.com and align with the dates and times of your trip to zero in on the promotions that would only be of benefit during your travel. Some of the deals hack as much as 50% off a variety of services. Worth a look!

NEW DIGS AT JFK. You may be surprised to learn that Delta is the largest airline in the state of New York serving 11 cities with 439 daily departures. The bulk of its operation now takes place at its creaky JFK hub. However, work is well underway to demolish, reconstruct, and renovate Delta’s facilities at Terminal 4, next door to the old Worldport. Want a sneak peek at what you have to look forward to in 2013 following the completion of this $1.2 billion construction project? Take a look!

BETTER FIRST/BIZ CLASS. Those enjoying the occasional complimentary Medallion upgrades (and those who pay for first class) will soon see a refreshed product in domestic and Latin American first class. Those pesky placemats are being crumpled up and replaced with classier tray linens along with new china, silverware, and service items. Business Elite service between JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco is also getting classier and tastier with the introduction of menus from Napa Valley chef Michael Chiarello.  Amenity kits on international flights will have a new look and feel plus larger toothpaste, a softer eye mask, and high-quality Greek Korres brand toiletry products.

SKY CLUB PAYMENT PLAN. Considering a Sky Club membership, but don’t want to fork over for an entire year at once? Delta has taken a hint from financial services companies and now allows you to spread out the annual cost into monthly installments of $25.99-$39.99 each (depending on Medallion level). Like many lounge programs, there is a small annual fee (ranges from $25.99-$39.99 also depending on one’s status) in addition to the cost of the monthly payment. It is important to note this is not a true monthly membership since you must commit to one year, but it certainly does lessen the financial burden for cash-strapped travelers.

SPEAKING OF SKY CLUB. We need some comments about the new A-17 Sky Club on Concourse A at ATL! Did you know that this is the busiest Sky Club out there with 55,000 monthly visits? Delta removed the rarely used conference rooms to free up much needed space. Has anyone been yet? Please start a discussion below. What do you like or not like? The new club on Concourse D, down at “wheel level” is supposed to open this month…let us know as soon as you get in there! A new rooftop Sky Club is due to open in the South Satellite at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport—let us know when you check it out!

Repeat from above….We’ve got a BIG QUESTION for you this month, and we hope you can take a moment and share your comments at the bottom of this post: How has the recent stock market roller coaster affected your plans for fall business travel– if at all? Have you decided or have you been asked to cut back on travel spending at all over the last month as a result of the uncertainty? Please leave your answers/comments below.

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Cities that tax travelers most/least

Do you feel ripped off when you book a great hotel or car rental rate, but end up paying a final bill loaded up with taxes and fees? (That are used to fund things you’ll likely never use such as local stadiums or convention centers…)

The Global Business Travel Association has released the 2011 findings from its annual study of car rental, hotel and meal taxes in the top 50 U.S. travel destination cities– and the results might surprise you. For example, cities in Florida and California are cited as having the lowest taxes.

All taxes are not the same…some specifically target travelers, like Phoenix’s $2.50 rental car fee that goes to the “Maricopa County Stadium for debt retirement.” Or the 5% rental car tax imposed by San Antonio to fund “youth and amateur sports facilities.”

Cities with the lowest total tax burden ($20-$25 per day) in central city locations:

1.     Fort Lauderdale, FL

2.     Fort Myers, FL

3.     West Palm Beach, FL

4.     Detroit, MI

5.     Portland, OR

NOTE: The full list now includes many cities in California where the state sales tax recently declined a full percentage point.

Cities with the highest total taxes (around $35 per day) on travelers are:

1.     Chicago, IL

2.     New York, NY

3.     Seattle, WA

4.     Boston, MA

5.     Kansas City, MO

Discriminatory travel taxes are those imposed specifically on travel services above and beyond general sales taxes (like the ones imposed on airport car rentals to fund local projects).

The U.S. cities with the lowest discriminatory travel tax rates are:

1.     Orange County, CA

2.     San Diego, CA

3.     San Jose, CA

4.     Burbank, CA

5.     Ontario, CA

Cities with the highest discriminatory  travel taxes (those that single out travelers):

1.     Portland, OR

2.     Boston, MA

3.     Minneapolis, MN

4.     New York, NY

5.     Chicago, IL

Do you have any examples of outrageous taxes you’ve been forced to pay recently? Do taxes that seem to discriminate against travelers encourage you to travel elsewhere, or do you just grumble and pay up? Please leave your comments below.

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Photos: Private jets of the First Ladies

A flock of First Ladies flew into Palm Springs on Tuesday to attend memorial services for Betty Ford, who died there last week at age 93.

Publicist Joe Enos (who is an avid TICKET reader!) was on hand at Palm Springs International Airport with his trusty iPhone. He sent us photos of the jets of Ms. Obama, Ms. Clinton, former president George W. Bush, and Ms. Reagan.

“That would be three FLOTUS and one POTUS,” said Enos (using the acronyms White House staffers use to refer to the First Lady of the United States and President of the United States.)

Enos says that from his perch across the street from the airport, he saw each FLOTUS and POTUS deplane and could therefore identify the aircraft.

While former First Lady Rosalyn Carter was in attendance (and gave a eulogy) it is not known if she arrived on a private or commercial aircraft. (Her spokesperson told The TICKET that they do not release information regarding the Carter’s travel plans or itineraries.)

According to news reports, former president Bill Clinton’s private jet broke down in New York, forcing him to cancel his appearance in Palm Springs.

 

First Lady Michelle Obama's Boeing 757

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Boeing 757

 

Secretary of State and former FLOTUS Hillary Clinton's 737

Secretary of State and former FLOTUS Hillary Clinton’s 737

 

TICKET reader YPW emailed with even more details about Obama’s 757 and Clinton’s 737:

The first one [Obama’s]  is actually a C-32, which is a militarized version of the Boeing 757-200 which seats 50 passengers plus those in a state room. The Air Force has 4 of them. The typical “customers” are the First Lady (including Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama) and the VP (Gore, Cheney, and Biden), as well as some high-ranking cabinet officers and Congressional delegations. http://www.af.mil/information/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=90

The second one [Clinton’s] is a C-40B. There are variations on the plane that are used as “airborne offices” by senior military leaders. The VIP versions will typically get assigned to cabinet secretaries and Congressional delegations. http://www.af.mil/information/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=189

Former President George W. Bush's Gulfstream (Blue, center)

Former President George W. Bush’s Gulfstream (Blue, center)

 

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan's Challenger

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s Falcon

 


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Airline Update

DISCOVER HIDDEN SKYMILES AWARDS. Delta.com has its fair share of kinks that you must work through when booking SkyMiles award tickets. But, there is a way to reveal those hard-to-find seats at the lowest redemption level. Here’s how: Simply sign up for Air France-KLM’s FlyingBlue frequent flyer program. That’s right…use another airline’s web site to find Delta and partner airline flights. Just look for “Classic” awards, which are the same as Delta’s lowest level redemptions. The FlyingBlue web site also searches Air France, KLM, Alitalia, CSA Czech, and Kenya Airways award availability. To enroll, sign up free here. You can then call Delta directly to book the flights that show Classic availability for Delta’s lowest mileage level. Delta.com does show Air France, KLM, and Alaska partner availability and allows you to search a month at a time. However, it is temperamental and not always accurate. Try using the FlyingBlue site to do your research and find more opportunities to use your SkyMiles—and let us know it this works better for you! We’d love to hear your feedback.

Korean Air's new A380

SUPER-DUPER JUMBOS AT ATL? Atlanta is preparing to welcome the world’s biggest airliner, the Airbus A380 by spending $30 million to widen taxiways and runway shoulders and make terminal improvements that will enable it to handle the double-decker jumbo jet. Air France could bring theirs in during peak summer travel season next year. While it won’t yet commit to it, Korean Air says that Atlanta is one of the US gateways under consideration for its biggest blue bird. KAL starts A380 flights this summer between Seoul and New York-JFK, and then to Los Angeles-LAX in October. (SIDELINE: Have you seen Air France’s lovely new bird? Here’s a gorgeous video made by your TICKET editor Chris McGinnis of its first A380 touching down on cool cloudy San Francisco earlier this month.)

GOOD MAY AT ATL. AirTran and Delta ranked second and third, after first place Alaska Air, in on-time performance for the month of May according to FlightStats.com.

 

 

OVERSEAS BAGGAGE CHARGES. Flying across the pond this summer?  On Delta, the first checked bag when flying overseas is free, and the second bag is a whopping $75 (or $60 if purchased online). Delta has reduced the weight allowance from 70 lbs to just 50 lbs per bag for international coach passengers (including  Medallions). If you travel heavy, be sure to weigh your bag ahead of time to avoid the additional $75 overweight bag fee. (Note: The 70 lb bag weight limit with no fee remains in effect for first/biz class passengers.)

NO WI-FI ON THIS DELTA JET? Delta now offers Gogo Wi-Fi access on all of its mainline aircraft that regularly fly domestic routes. But remember that international aircraft flying domestic legs DO NOT have Wi-Fi. If you are unsure if your plane is an internationally configured aircraft, check the layout of the Business Elite/First Class cabin. Boeing 767 aircraft have four rows up front on domestic aircraft. If your plane has more than four rows in First/Business Elite, then you are on an international aircraft that will not have Wi-Fi. Boeing 757s can be trickier as some international planes are used on domestic routes between New York and LAX/SFO. The international 757s have four rows up front whereas domestic planes have six or seven rows up front. The latter are guaranteed to have Wi-Fi while not all of the international 757s do. No Airbus A330s, Boeing 747s, or Boeing 777s have Wi-Fi access. Domestic routes that may use international aircraft include ATL-LAX, DTW-LAX, ATL-DTW, ATL-LAS, and ATL-JFK.

QUAD MILES AT MARRIOTT. Marriott Rewards is offering quadruple Delta SkyMiles to those who stay at any Marriott brand at least twice between June 1 and August 31. Registration is required.

ECONOMY COMFORT IS HERE. Delta is now rolling out its new Economy Plus seating in the first few rows of all of  aircraft flying international routes. Seats are designated with a special headrest cover sporting the Economy Comfort logo. Other benefits include priority boarding and complimentary mixed drinks. The best benefit, though, are the four extra inches of legroom and improved recline. The seats are now available for sale on delta.com. Until now, it was pure luck if customers assigned to those rows flew an equipped plane. Now, delta.com sells the Economy Plus for a nominal fee on the flights that have it making it easier to get a modicum of comfort out of your long-haul coach experience. Of course, Platinum and Diamond Medallion passengers get access to the seats for free.

NEW BLACK  BOX. Under development: Aircraft black boxes that transmit data to satellites instead of going down with the plane (as was the case with Air France 447 which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.)

THE TICKET ON FACEBOOK: Are you signed up for our FACEBOOK page? If so, you would have learned first about nifty nuggets like a Delta/Zappos promo, a report on Delta’s average fleet age, or when AirTran will dump its ATL-Dallas/Ft Worth nonstops. Come on! LIKE The TICKET on Facebook today!

DID YOU KNOW… that airlines are now raking more fee income from checked baggage than they are from those onerous $150 change fees?

THE NEVER ENDING BONUS. It’s baaack! Delta and American Express are again offering mega bonuses for first time transfers from Amex Membership Rewards points to Sky Miles. The promotion requires registration. Transfer as few as 1,000 Amex points to Delta and receive a 50% bonus. So 1,000 Amex points becomes 1,500 SkyMiles. Plus if you transfer 100,000 Amex points, you will receive 25,000 MQMs (good for Silver Medallion) and 150,000 miles. This is only valid for first time transfers so if you have taken advantage of this promotion in the past then you are not eligible this time around. The offer is good until Sept. 30. NOTE: If you’ve transferred miles before and you don’t qualify for the above bonus, Delta’s got you covered… those who have transferred before can earn a 25%-40% bonus with a different promo that requires registration.

AMEX PLATINUM BONUS. Speaking of American Express Membership Rewards points, don’t forget to stop into any SkyClub if you have the AMEX Platinum card. Currently, all guests who enter a Delta lounge using the AMEX Platinum card (not the Delta-affiliated SkyMiles card) will receive a certificate good for 300 Membership Rewards points.

TO FLY…OR DRIVE? That is the question for a lot of TICKET readers. To help answer it, check out the cool Fly or Drive Calculator from BeFrugal.com. This site helps answer the age-old question among frequent travelers…. Whether it makes more financial sense to drive or fly to your destination. What’s clever about this calculator is that it allows users to enter specific data about their trip, which helps it come up with a specific answer.

THE TICKET PRINT-FRIENDLY VERSION IS BACK! YAY! For all of you who’ve been asking us to bring back a print version of The TICKET, we’ve now got you covered. Scroll down to the bottom of this post, look for the row of icons across the bottom and choose “PRINT WITH PRINT FRIENDLY.” Easy!

BETTER DINING AT DELTA GATES. Remember Delta’s major overhaul of restaurants at its terminal in LaGuardia last year? Well, they’re doing it again, but this time in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Plans include an upgrade to the dining options in the terminal with several new restaurants including Minnesota Beer Hall, a Japanese noodle and dumplings bar, a raw bar and brasserie, a grab-and-go gourmet food outlet, and an eatery under the direction of Andrew Zimmern of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods fame. Another unique feature Delta is testing at the airport is the rental of pre-loaded iPads featuring movies and games. Travelers can take them on board their flights and then mail them back upon landing. Like!

WI-FI AT ATL. While Atlanta remains one of the declining number of airports that charge full freight for Wi-Fi, some airports are rolling out a tiered system: Free for basic access such as email access, but a premium for heavy duty access for streaming or loading photos, programs, etc. Some hotels are already doing this. Thoughts?

COCKTAILS ANYONE? Delta is bringing back some of its signature cocktails for summer with the new “Margaritaville” mixed with tequila. The “Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey” combines Jack Daniels bourbon, honey liqueur, and ginger ale. Both are available for $7 in economy. Don’t forget that Medallion members can use free drink coupons that come in their annual renewal package for these drinks. (We’ve also seen Delta offers free drink coupons to Medallions who don’t get an upgrade and check in online…have you?) If you’re worried about alcohol breath, don’t worry, Wrigley’s Gum is also being added to Delta’s EATS food for sale menu.

WHO PAYS FOR FIRST CLASS? Passengers from the following cities purchased the most first class airline tickets in the first five months of this year: Beverly Hills, Greenwich CT, Atherton CA, Palm Beach FL, Haverford PA. Source: Airlines Reporting Corporation.

HELP A SICK KID, EARN SKYMILES. Delta has teamed up with the Children’s Miracle Network, which is hoping to reach $100 million in donations this year to help fund 170 childrens’ hospitals throughout North America. SkyMiles members who donate $50 or more by June 30 earn 1000 miles. Donate here.

PLAY BALL WITH DELTA. In New York for a Mets or Yankees game? Well, Delta has you covered, sponsoring free water taxis from either South Street Seaport or East 53rd Street Ferry Landing to all home games. Tickets are free on the two Delta-branded water taxis operated by New York Water Taxi. Taxis depart 90 minutes before opening pitch. On board, enjoy Delta-signature Fly Ball cocktails or other drinks and snacks while basking in the sun on the boat’s open deck. Reservations are not allowed, and each taxi can only take 147 people so be sure to get there early.

AIRFRANCE-KLM ELITES GET MORE THAN ME? Reciprocity ain’t always fair…Did you know that Air France-KLM elites get complimentary upgrades when traveling on Delta flights? It’s true. Their domestic upgrades are back in full force (a remnant of the agreement that Northwest originally had with KLM). To be fair, foreign elites only clear after every single Delta Elite has had the chance for the upgrade. Still, it’s a shame that Delta elites cannot be upgraded to Air France-KLM’s premium product within Europe. But, again in the spirit of fairness, not even Air France-KLM elites have the chance for free upgrades within Europe. Delta elites still come out on top, but don’t be surprised if you see partner elites inquiring with gate agents about upgrades.

DELTA DOWN UNDER. Delta and V Australia have announced a further codeshare on additional routes to Perth, Canberra and Adelaide in Australia plus Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. This means more redemption opportunities for Delta Sky Miles members and opportunities to earn miles when booking flights on codeshare tickets.  Initially, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne were the only cities included in that agreement. Sky Club members also benefit from access to V Australia lounges across Australia as well.

JUNE BABIES. If you were born in June, be sure to try and register for this promotion offering 1,500 bonus SkyMiles for a roundtrip flight flown before July 31. It is a targeted offer so not everyone may be eligible. You also receive a $100 discount on a future Delta Vacations package. While Delta has offered more lucrative birthday bonuses in the past, this one is better than nothing. Remember to insure that your birthday is listed in your Delta.com profile so that you can be included in similar future offers. Register at dmn.delta.com/ace_offers/june_bday/

IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR TICKET READERS! ACTION REQUIRED!
We are shifting to a new email distribution method powered by Google’s Feedburner. To continue getting The TICKET via email, you MUST sign up again— and it’s easy. Just enter your email in the form in the upper right corner. IMPORTANT: You’ll be asked to verify your subscription by clicking on a link in an email Feedburner sends to you. Be sure to click on the link! SIMPLE! QUICK! EASY! Please just do it today. We’ll continue sending emails alerting you to The TICKET via Constant Contact for a few more months, but we need you to go ahead and take action now. THANK YOU!

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Space travel over San Francisco Bay

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

As part of the festivities surrounding the grand re-opening of SFO’s Terminal 2 this week, Virgin America invited media (including your TICKET editor) and VIP’s on a special flight out over the Pacific where we met up with the new Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

This shot was taken from a Virgin A320 looking down on the Marin County coast, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. (See below for a fun one-minute video; more photos here.)

After flying over the Gate and then over the Bay, both aircraft landed in tandem at SFO. Spectacular! We then taxied to Terminal 2 where a big reception and tour awaited.

Onboard notables: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson.

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Cluster at the carousel

Sounds like our spring break madness prediction (see previous post) is coming true. Check out the following comment from TICKET reader DM re: a recent “cluster” at the ATL luggage carousel:

I’m a Diamond Medallion and understand completely that Spring Break means more passengers and luggage, but last night (Saturday, March 12th) at Delta baggage was absurd and causes me to write about a long-simmering concern of mine:  the ATL baggage system needs a major review and upgrade. Waited 53 minutes for luggage on a flight from Denver (even with my yellow Sky Priority tags); some carousels were over-capacity and shut down automatically (adding to delays), while the carousels on either side were virtually empty.  No one from Delta was in the vicinity.  After 5 minutes of waiting and a potential riot of angry passengers, I ran to the DL baggage room and got a few shrug of the shoulders until I pulled out my Diamond card and asked, pointedly, that someone get out to the carousel now, to help the hundreds of passengers waiting for bags. This scene, however, is played out regularly on a lesser scale every day.  It simply takes an unreasonably long time for bags to arrive in ATL (only DEN is worse), and the system for handling “oversized” items is a joke.  DL’s “award-winning” management needs to give this serious attention.  It’s an embarrassment to the City.

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Airline update March 11, 2011

DELTA’S TOKYO-NARITA SKY CLUB DURING EARTHQUAKE

JAPAN EARTHQUAKE. Having just visited Japan last year, our hearts go out to its gentle people this morning. News is happening faster that we can cover here in The TICKET. But anyone with plans to travel to Japan over the next month should re-consider. The US State Department has sent out an alert advising travelers to stay away until at least April 1. All flights to Tokyo have been canceled or diverted to cities in southern Japan. Delta is waiving change fees. All public transport in and around Tokyo is shut down. While the US west coast is under a tsunami warning, public transport (such as BART in SF) is operational. Low tides there could cancel out any significant impact of the wave.

DELTA’S #1. FORTUNE magazine puts Delta in its own elite status category, recently naming it “Most Admired Airline” worldwide in its annual survey that takes into account feedback from industry professionals and airline analysts. This is the first time Delta ranked at the top of FORTUNE’s heap, besting legendary greats like Singapore Airlines and Southwest Airlines. The honor ranked Delta highly in areas such as social responsibility, competitiveness and quality of management. However, when it comes to “quality of product” Delta ranked far below competitors.  I’m certain that there is divergent opinion among TICKET readers about this, so please, fire way! Click on the link below to leave your comments.

ELITE PARKING FOR ELITE FLYERS. Driving to an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field later this spring?  Delta is offering a new benefit to hometown loyalists that extends beyond the airport. SkyMiles Medallion level members will enjoy private parking in the Green Lot close to the stadium featuring 500 spaces reserved just for them. Flash your current membership card and pay the standard parking rates ($12) and save yourself a few steps. The Delta lot is directly across from the Turner Field main entrance at the corner of Hank Aaron Drive and Ralph D. Abernathy Drive. (NOTE: Keep an eye out for more Atlanta-specific bennies like this as Delta prepares to wage war with Southwest later this year.)

A NOTE ABOUT AIRTRAN. More AirTran news and updates forthcoming. While the Southwest and AirTran deal is scrutinized by regulators, no one is saying much. The deal should close in May….and there will be a LOT to say after that. One thing we have noticed is that Southwest’s once high-flying on-time performance record has tanked over the last year. It will be interesting to watch Southwest try to pull out of that hole once it’s largest hub is delay-proned ATL. Stay tuned!

BUSINESS CLASS TO LONDON: Delta’s new flights to London from Miami and Boston must be kinda light…the carrier is discounting Business Elite to just $599 each way from certain cities (not ATL)  March 26-May 17.

SPRING BREAK WARNING. We are in the midst of Spring Break. That means business travelers should be prepared for crowded airports and airplanes full of rowdy students, especially on flights to/from beachy climes. Beware, especially on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when most students are traveling. AirTran lines at ATL always seem to swell surprisingly at this time of year. To avoid noise,  consider asking for hotel rooms away from hotel pool areas at this time of year. Book away from the beach. (Unless, of course, you’d like to join the fun!)

DELTA FACE-FIRST INTO FACEBOOK. Social media mavens will be glad to know the popular @DeltaAssist Twitter contact is now making a presence on Facebook. Followers of @DeltaAssist have been pleasantly surprised with the nearly instant responses to questions and concerns regarding their travel plans. The positive feedback has led to the expansion of DeltaAssist to Facebook. Kudos to Delta for jumping face-first into the social media landscape. Customers now have another way to connect for anything from an unanswered complaint to a flight irregularity. (Speaking of Facebook, are you following The TICKET? Please do!)

Delta passenger wait to board at Tokyo-Narita (Photo: Elmada)

AWARD LEVELS TAKE A LEAP IN ASIA. Delta has made some changes to the SkyMiles award chart. There was no warning this was going to happen so those planning to redeem miles on certain routes are now slapped with higher rates. For example, awards within Asia used to cost one flat fee of 20,000 miles in economy. Now, it varies based on distance—so for example, it’s 15 ,000 miles for a Tokyo to Seoul roundtrip, but Tokyo to Bangkok roundtrip clocks in at 45,000 miles. To be fair, the old redemption rates were fairly generous for longer trips, and this change puts the mileage cost more in line with the actual cost.

JAPAN-BOUND TRAVELERS RACK UP Traveling to the land of the rising sun soon? (SEE ABOVE WARNING) Score triple miles for purchased Business Elite tickets and double miles for economy class tickets of all fares between now and May 31. Simply register and fly on Delta’s new nonstop flights between Detroit or Los Angeles and Tokyo Haneda Airport. Register here.  (Tip: Be sure to check arrival and departure times at Haneda. Flights are restricted to wee hours of the morning, and getting to/from the city by train might prove difficult.) Also, Delta’s swapped out 747’s for 777’s on Haneda routes…I guess the business they’d hoped for has not materialized. Have YOU flown to Haneda? LET US KNOW! Leave a comment below…

REDEMPTION DEALS? Delta SkyMiles may be tough to redeem for some, but for the savvy, it’s not so bad. The trick is knowing which routes are more likely to have award seats. Clearly, busier or higher revenue routes like ATL-London Heathrow are going to be slim pickings. But consider some less-traveled routes and you might luck out.  For example, some better-than-normal redemption opportunities can include routing yourself via new Raleigh-Durham/San Antonio flights to get to Cancun; JFK-Cairo (once the route resumes May 1– despite predictions, tourism is already picking back up); and JFK-London Heathrow might be opening up a little now that a third flight has been added to the schedule.

NEWER, LARGER REGIONAL JETS ON THE WAY! We’re all glad to see more of those those 50-seater CRJ-200s get axed from the Delta schedule, but that doesn’t mean that bigger jets are going to replace them. For now, the older Northwest DC-9 aircraft are helping to fill a gap in some markets, but these old planes will be retired within a year. Eventually, Delta will add newer, larger regional jets to the mix, many of which offer first class cabins and in-flight Wi-Fi. In addition, Delta is getting some new Embraer-170 aircraft from Virgin Blue of Australia. These jets will soon appear on the Delta Connection network under the Compass Airlines brand and they’ll offer coach seats only at first but will eventually be updated with first class seats.

BONUS MILES FOR FREE (ALMOST). Purchasing miles to top off your SkyMiles account? Score an extra 50 percent bonus between now and March 31. Simply purchase new miles or gift/share miles with a friend or family member’s account to earn the bonus miles. Register here first. This is the ideal way to reach that next award redemption level quickly.

(Photo: Andrew Currie)

MORE SKY CLUB ACCESS OVERSEAS. Delta’s Sky Club membership comes with access to a few partner lounges overseas in addition to Delta’s own branded clubs. Visit Delta’s list of lounge locations and select the Delta Sky Club member drop down to see the complete list (read the rules carefully as only certain lounges participate).  The list includes one of Air France’s lounges in Paris or Johannesburg, one of KLM’s lounges in Amsterdam, and the Air France lounge in Zurich. Note that certain SkyTeam lounge locations like London Heathrow do not participate in the Sky Club member access program. Important: Many lounge agents overseas are unfamiliar with this unique Sky Club agreement so be sure to have a printout of the list and rules handy. This list should not be confused with the more substantial list of lounges accessible to Business Class and SkyTeam Elite Plus members, however.

WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! What do you think about The TICKET? What’s great or not so great about this issue? What else should we be doing to make it better? Email your comments to us or leave them below. WE LIVE FOR FEEDBACK! So come on! Let us know.

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Details & insight on new ATL-Cuba flights

(Photo: TGIGreeny - Flickr)

By now you may have heard the news that Atlanta and eight other U.S. gateway cities recently obtained clearance to operate charter flights to Cuba. (Before this, flights were permitted from Miami, New York and LAX only.) As soon as I heard about this, my mind was full of questions and hope the day was coming when I’d finally get to jump on an ATL-Havana nonstop.

To get my questions answered, I turned to none other than long-time TICKET reader Eason Jordan, the CEO of the U.S.-Cuba Business Bureau, which helps U.S. companies better understand the Cuban marketplace and seek opportunities there.

For full coverage of this big news, check out TICKET editor Chris McGinnis’s article on BBC.com.

A special thanks to Jordan who interrupted his vacation to provide The TICKET with the following.

THE TICKET: What’s up with these new flights from ATL to Cuba? Is the dam about to break? Let us know if you know anything more than what the airport press release is saying. Thanks!

JORDAN: Is the dam about to break? No. But this is a big step forward.

Cuba-bound travelers must have a U.S. government license. Licenses are issued in two forms: general and specific. A general license permits broad groups of people — Cuban-Americans, for example — to go to Cuba without needing specific U.S. government permission.

Specific licenses require U.S. government approval in advance each and every time. All of this is governed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Tourist travel is specifically prohibited.

As far as U.S. government permission for Cuba charter flights is concerned, keep in mind Cuban government permission is required, too, and that hasn’t yet been granted for Atlanta to my knowledge, although Cuban officials have told me they’re eager to see Atlanta-Havana flights and closer relations and more business between Cuba and Georgia.

(Jordan spearheaded the opening of the CNN Havana bureau in 1997 and has made many trips to Cuba over the past two decades. During his 23 years at CNN, he served as chief news executive and president of newsgathering and international networks before departing and taking the entrepreneurial path in 2005. )

Have you ever thought about traveling to Cuba? Have you been there? Is your company or industry ready to jump into this market when the current barriers start to crumble? Are you looking forward to the day that you could redeem your Delta or AirTran miles for a trip to Havana? Let us know what you think! Use the space or click on the link below to leave your comments.

WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! What do you think about The TICKET? What’s great or not so great about this issue? What else should we be doing to make it better? Email your comments to us or leave them below. WE LIVE FOR FEEDBACK! So come on! Let us know.

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Cyndi Lauper soothes angry airport crowd

As airport delays and angst piled up at Buenos Aires Aeroparque Jorge Newbery Airport last Friday, singer Cyndi Lauper commandeered the microphone at her crowded gate and sang her hit, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”

London’s Daily Mail reports, “Her quick-thinking was just what was needed to diffuse the situation as the angry crowd settled down and began to join in.”

Lauper, 57, was in Buenos Aires as part of her current “Memphis Blues” world tour. Her Twitter feed from that day reads: “Ok, so chow Argentina. At airport.. So many delays. Wound up being announced, wound up sing two songs for airport. A first for me. Crazy day”

Maybe ATL should hire her to calm crowds on those rainy, windy days that shut down runways and raise blood pressure! She could croon away in the main terminal atrium, or out on the spine on busy Concourse A.


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Airline News

TICKET editor Chris McGinnis

CHRIS PREDICTS: BIG RISE IN AIRFARES. You can kiss all those rock bottom, dirt cheap fares that we’ve seen over the last few years goodbye as the economy warms up and demand rises faster than anyone expected. Add in higher fuel prices due to instability in the Middle East and airlines’ new-found discipline around capacity increases, and you’ve got the recipe for BIG fare increases, especially this summer when demand peaks. So far this year, airlines have been successful in pushing through several fare increases targeting mostly business travelers. So get ready for a pricey ride this year, especially if you are flying on routes where there’s no low-fare competition. If you’ve got summer plans to fly during July or August, it’s probably time to go ahead and buy tickets now…you’ll find prices already extraordinarily high, but they won’t be coming down. For example, we priced summer round-trip coach fares to Europe from ATL this week, and they are already averaging around $1200.

SKYMILES EXPIRATIONS EXPLAINED. This week Delta ditched the frustrating, consumer un-friendly (yet widespread) practice of putting an expiration date on miles earned. Until now, SkyMiles members had to show some sort of activity in the program at least once every 24 months, or face losing their earnings.  While this is not much of a problem for the frequent traveling TICKET reader, it does come into play for less frequent-flying retirees sitting on big banks of miles or those who may have moved away from a Delta hub. When Delta starts scrapping with Southwest later this year, you can bet it’ll pull this arrow out of its PR quiver since Southwest Rapid Reward miles expire after 24 months of inactivity. And don’t think that this is permanent– Delta once promised its Frequent Flyer miles would never expire (remember?), and it they changed the rules. It could always happen again!

AIRTRAN+SOUTHWEST. We’ve hammered our contacts at both AirTran and Southwest to get the scoop on when the proposed deal will close and the Southwest Red Bellies will soar over Atlanta skies. But no one is saying a peep as long as antitrust regulators are snooping around. Stay tuned! All we’ve heard is that the deal could close in “late spring.”

Delta borrowed the Economy Comfort idea from SkyTeam partner KLM

DELTA’S NEW ECONOMY COMFORT. As hinted late last year in The TICKET, Delta has unveiled its newest class of service on international routes and dubbed it Economy Comfort. This small subset of rows at the front of the economy cabin will be available on more than 160 Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777 and Airbus A330 international aircraft. Similar to United’s Economy Plus, passengers in these rows (designated by a special headrest cover) will pay a small premium to sit here and will benefit from up to four additional inches of legroom and 50 percent greater recline than standard Economy seats. (We’re a little concerned about what it may be like to sit behind someone with 50 percent more recline…but we’ll see…) The buy-up fee will average between $80-160 each way, but Diamond and Platinum Medallions (and up to eight people traveling in the same record) will have complimentary access to these seats. Customers who purchase full-fare economy tickets will also have access to these seats but Gold and Silver Medallion members on discounted fares will have to pay a fee. Delta’s Economy Comfort section has one additional benefit that United’s Economy Plus does not: free booze. All Delta international passengers enjoy free beer and wine, but Economy Comfort and Business Elite passengers have a complete open bar. On a similar note, the “New United” announced that it’s popular Economy Plus seats found on both its domestic and international planes will be a permanent part of the combined operations of United and Continental going forward.

BIG SPRING BREAK. With Spring Break just around the corner, Americans are opening up their pocketbooks and investing in travel. According to an AOL survey, 72% of respondents said they have more (31%) or the same amount (41%) of money to spend on spring break this year compared to last. So get ready to share your airport and airplane space with the shorts and flip-flops crowd if you are traveling anytime between early March and Easter (late, on April 24 this year).

PFC’s COULD RISE. Part of President Obama’s new budget plan could bump up ticket prices later this year. Currently, airport Passenger Facilities Charges (PFC’s) that airports use to fund improvements, are capped at $4.50 per segment. The budget proposal would move the cap to $7 per segment, potentially adding $14 to the cost of a nonstop round trip, $28 for one-stop roundtrips.

FREE FLYING FACEBOOK. From February 1 – 28, Delta, AirTran and five other airlines’ customers can access Gogo Inflight Internet to connect to Facebook without purchasing a flight pass, courtesy of Ford Motor Company. Just fire up your laptop or smartphone inflight and click on the ad from the Gogo landing page. And if you’ve not done so already, be sure to LIKE The TICKET’s Facebook page.

AIRTRAN OVERSEAS. AirTran cranked up its new flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic this week—and will add new daily flights to Bermuda from Baltimore/Washington beginning April 7 and from Atlanta on May 26. AirTran now flies to sandy destinations such as: Aruba, Cancun, Mexico, Montego Bay, Jamaica, Nassau, Bahamas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

SkyTeam lounge at London Heathrow

LOUNGE ACCESS FOR GOLDS. Remember that as of March 1, all SkyMiles Gold Medallion members are welcomed into the fold of SkyTeam Elite Plus meaning they gain access to all SkyTeam lounges overseas (even when flying coach). Since this is a new alliance-wide policy, confrontations between uninformed lounge staffers can be expected so always carry your Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion card.

FEEDBACK? COMMENTS? Email us or leave your comments in the space below!

DELTA FLEET ENHANCEMENTS. Delta has announced the expedited retirement of more than 100 regional and aging mainline aircraft from its fleet as capacity growth is trimmed. Rising fuel prices have played a role in the move. First to go will be the remainder of the DC-9 fleet over the next 12-18 months. By late 2012, those gas-guzzlers will be long gone (good riddance).  Also on the chopping block are the 26 Saab 340s (buh-bye!) inherited with the Northwest merger. The remainder of cuts comes from the removal of about 60 50-seat CRJ-100s, which is certain to bring applause from frequent travelers tired of the cramped Barbie Jets. This news comes on the heels of Delta’s recent request to review a narrow body replacement for its fleet to begin later in the decade. Keep watching The TICKET for any major aircraft orders that may be on the way.

CANADA’S SOUTHWEST AIRLINES. A new interline agreement is now in effect between Delta and Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet. The partnership is similar to that launched recently between Delta and Brazilian carrier Gol permitting passengers to connect between the two carriers’ flights, but SkyMiles earning/burning potential is not part of the deal yet. Calgary-based WestJet handles a third of Canadian domestic flying.

LEAK SCANNER IMAGE, GO TO JAIL. Even though the TSA insists that new body scanners cannot capture and store images, two U.S. senators propose criminalizing the dissemination of airport full body scanner images. Chuck Schumer (NY) and Ben Nelson (NE) are hoping to add an amendment to the aviation spending bill that would prohibit anyone with access to the images from copying and distributing them. If they do, they’ll face fines of up to $100,000 and a prison term.

ANDROID APP. If you’ve been feeling left out of the Delta smartphone app craze because you’ve got an Android device, your wait is over. Now, in addition to Blackberry and iPhone app, Delta’s Android app is ready for downloading from the Android Market. With the app, you can get your flight status and gate info, search schedules, get eBoarding passes, check SkyMiles balances and even set a reminder about where you are parked at the airport. Eventually, these apps could help customers stuck in winter weather situations, allowing them to view and choose flight alternatives.

HEY JAVA JUNKIES. Delta has announced a partnership with Seattle’s Best Coffee (a subsidiary company of Starbucks) to serve their coffee on board. This premium coffee brand will be served in all three classes worldwide. Quietly, Delta conducted actual taste tests aboard select flights with passengers to determine which blend would have the best taste at altitude. The winner? Level 4 (based on a scale of 1 to 5 of roast intensity). Level 4 will begin appearing on Delta mainline and Delta Connection flights in March. (We’ve just learned to travel with a handy pack of Starbuck’s VIA, a TICKET sponsor, to avoid the possibility of bad travel coffee!)

SEPTUAGENARIAN. Delta recently reached its 70th birthday serving Atlanta and celebrated with a big bash. As “Georgia’s hometown airline,” Delta deployed a new Boeing B777-200LR and christened it the “Spirit of Atlanta.” It will fly mainly on routes between ATL and Tokyo, Johannesburg, or Dubai.

NEW LOOK, BUT… The SkyMiles booking tool at  delta.com may have a new look, but feels as clunky as ever. Delta made a big splash about new options to filter, modify, and sort flight search results. However some available flights are now hidden unless searching by schedule (rather than price). Also, the site still displays crazy itineraries priced at 375,000 for a Business Class ticket. To be fair, Delta does offer some “low-category” mileage tickets around the globe, especially when traveling with partner airlines, but they can never be found on delta.com due to the consistently poor search engine. As always, to score the very best award deals you have to call a Delta agent. (And remember, you don’t pay the fee for the call unless you book a ticket.)

WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! What do you think about The TICKET? What’s great or not so great about this issue? What else should we be doing to make it better? Email your comments to us or leave them below. WE LIVE FOR FEEDBACK! So come on! Let us know.

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Silver lining for weather-weary travelers?

De-icing a United jet (Photo: Austin.Happel / Flickr)

The new “three-hour rule” that forbids holding passengers on board grounded aircraft for more than three hours is forcing airlines to change the way they deal with winter storms.

In the past, airlines hesitated to cancel flights hoping that weather might quickly change for the better and allow them to resume operations.

But with the threat of heavy fines for holding passengers on planes over three hours (now $27,500 per passenger) or having them stuck at the airport, airlines are now much more likely to cancel flights hours or even days ahead of time. Affected passengers are instructed to stay away from the airport until operations are up and running.

I think this is a good thing, because with ample warning, fewer passengers are likely to be marooned at airports for hours waiting for flights to take off. When airlines pre-cancel thousands of flights, as they’ve done during recent winter storms, they’ve done a relatively good job of letting affected passengers know to just stay home and stay warm.

Early notification of flight cancellations is also allowing more travelers to take advantage of an option airlines rarely trumpet: that passengers on canceled flights can opt out of any alternatives the airlines offer and get a FULL REFUND. That’s right. For example, let’s say you were booked on a flight from ATL to New York this past Monday for a Tuesday meeting, returning on Wednesday. If your flight was canceled on Monday and it no longer made sense to go to New York at all, you could refuse alternate flights and get a full refund.

The downside of this is that airline websites are still rather weak when it comes to handling the re-booking process, forcing many travelers to phone overburdened call centers and wait endlessly on hold. As a result of this weakness, I expect airlines to double up on current efforts to develop and roll out mobile applications that will allow passengers to re-book themselves on canceled flights from their smart phones.

Overall, despite all the recent bad weather and delays, there’s good new for air travelers here. I’d rather wait out a storm at home or in a hotel rather than at the airport. Plus, I’d be willing to accept a slightly longer delay to do so.

What about you?

Speaking of being weather weary, home bound or sick with cabin fever, we thought we’d share this short trailer from The Shining. It makes you realize that you don’t have it THAT bad. Right??

(Hat tip to ice-bound TICKET reader Jeff M for sending this our way!)

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Top 10 predictions for frequent travelers in 2011

(Photo: Garry Knight / Flickr)Happy Holidays! It’s that time of year again…when travel pundits and prognosticators do their best to gaze into the future and predict what may or may not happen in the big wide world of travel in the coming year.

Here are The TICKET’s top ten predictions for frequent travelers in 2011:

1-RISING PRICES. Business travel prices will continue to rise, but not enough to dampen renewed demand.

2-AIRFARE. Fares will continue to rise sharply, especially for flights between cities where only one or two legacy carriers operate. From Atlanta, all you have to do is follow the route map of AirTran (and soon, Southwest) to know where the deals are (or aren’t). We do not expect much change in AirTran operations in 2011– 2012 will be the big year for full integration with Southwest. Also, prepare for more fuel surcharges as oil nears $100 per barrel– it’s currently about $89 and rising.

3-TRAVEL DEALS. In terms of travel deals, there will be a wider gap between peak season and off-season prices. Those with flexibility to travel outside the peak travel dates will continue to find good deals and more short-term “flash” type sales. (Think Jetsetter or Sniqueaway) Those who must travel during peak periods will face sticker shock. (Peak periods generally run when school is out: Holidays, long weekends, July and August.)

 

4-HOTEL RATES. Due to continued overcapacity, hotel rates should remain about the same or slightly up, on average, over the next year. Hotel rates in New York City will rise, but a steady supply of new hotels opening there should keep rate inflation to acceptable levels, especially among mid-tier properties.

5-FREE WI-FI. More upscale hotel chains will join their midscale counterparts to offer free in-room Wi-Fi. We’ll also see hoteliers pay more attention to bandwidth issues on their existing systems. What good is free Wi-Fi if it doesn’t work? In-flight Wi-Fi prices could moderate as Southwest’s $5 flat fee for inflight Wi-Fi expands to more flights.

(Like what you are reading? Then or TWITTER)

6-LONGER STAYS. Hotel chains will offer more loyalty program promotions designed to get travelers to increase the duration of their stays. (Such as “buy two nights, get the third free.”)

7-DRIVING VS. FLYING. Due to recent changes in security screening, the airport hassle factor could return, and more frequent travelers will consider driving instead of flying. The “five hour rule” might change to the “six hour rule.”

8-MOBILE DEVICES. We’ll see more focus on business travelers’ smart phones, which will soon be used to open hotel room doors and will be accepted as payment instead of credit cards. There will be more promotions designed to encourage the use of mobile devices to book and manage travel reservations

Old school Airfone

9-IN-FLIGHT PHONING. In-flight phone calling, now available on several non-U.S. airlines will become more prevalent and might even be considered by a domestic carrier. High per-call rates and peer pressure should keep abuse in check– remember those pricey GTE Airfones that no one ever used because they were too expensive? I expect the same with in-flight cell phone use.

10-MEETINGS & CONVENTIONS. More of us will attend large annual trade shows and conventions this year as pent up demand is released. Many companies banned non-essential travel over the last two years and business travelers are eager to get out of the office and re-establish face-to-face contact with customers and colleagues. However, I think small and medium-sized meetings will face more competition from virtual alternatives.

(ONE EXTRA PREDICTION: 11- Better airline coverage in The TICKET! We’ve brought on a new airline correspondent, Ramsey Qubein! Ramsey,  a Diamond Medallion on Delta, has been enhancing our airline coverage with great insider news and tips over the last month. Stay tuned for more from him and The TICKET in 2011.)


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Some flyers "get what they pay for" with free Wi-Fi

How’s that free holiday in-flight Wi-Fi working out for ya?

As many frequent travelers know by now, Google is sponsoring free in-flight Wi-Fi on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America through January 2. That’s a great thing!

However, as often happens when something is free, you end up getting what you pay for.

Over the last several days I’ve heard from several readers experiencing frequent outages or poor connections when using in-flight Wi-Fi. This sounded unusual to me because, as a frequent user of the Gogo system, I’ve been very impressed with its ease of use, great connections and lack of any technical difficulties at all.

But it sounds like that’s not the case this month. Here’s a sampling of emails I’ve received:

>“Just flew Denver-Atlanta. Bumped off three times.” -R.S.

>“I had lots of outages on a flight to Las Vegas two weeks ago. I would have rather paid and had it work.” -J.B.

>“Last week I flew up to Charlotte from Atlanta and to Miami this week. Gogo fails constantly and is unreliable now. I would rather be given an option to pay for the connection, versus what I experience now.” –D.O.

The TICKET contacted a spokesperson for Aircell/Gogo to inquire about the outages. Here’s her response:

Anytime we give away Gogo access for free, we see the usage soar through the roof.  This holiday promotion has been no different and almost every day is a new usage record for us.  Pushing the boundaries certainly makes the system run a bit slower, and there are some situations in which we’re limiting the number of users who can get on the web on a given flight.  Though a passenger might perceive that we’re having a technical issue, the reality is that we’re managing the network such that we permit the maximum number of passengers to use Gogo without degrading the experience too much.  As you can imagine, that’s a tricky balance to strike – and while it has the potential to leave a few travelers unhappy, we think most are pretty pleased.

I’ve also heard from other airline insiders that the problem is especially acute when flying around the Atlanta area. This of course is due to the fact that both AirTran and Delta are the two carriers operating the most flights in the world with in-flight Wi-Fi—and the pipe is just not fat enough. Apparently, recent usage levels are close to 50 percent of passengers, up from the normal 5-10 percent.

So enjoy it while it’s free—if you can get on.  Connections should improve when the freebie is over on January 3.

Have YOU experienced any recent connectivity issues lately when using Wi-Fi on AirTran, Delta or Virgin America? LET US KNOW what happened! Leave your comments below.

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING? PLEASE HELP THE TICKET INCREASE READERSHIP! Think of it as your holiday gift to us! Just copy and paste the following message into an email to your frequent traveling family and friends: >> Hey there: You should check out The TICKET, a blog I always take the time to read and one that always provides a tip or two I have not read anywhere else. It’s free. There’s no spam. You’ll get 2-3 emails a month from them. Check it out and subscribe here: http://www.travelskills.com <<

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Best/worst days for Christmas/New Year's travel

(VIDEO: Television interview with Chris McGinnis on best/worst days for Christmas/New Years trips.)

Despite the abundance of dark and scary warnings about a Thanksgiving travel meltdown, most of those hitting the skies last week found smooth sailing. There were no major meltdowns at airport security, the weather cooperated for the most part, airlines and airports were hyper-prepared. To the surprise of many, it all went off without a hitch. That’s a good thing.

Now it’s time to focus on round two of the holiday travel season: Christmas and New Year’s. Here’s hoping that we’ll be just as surprised by a smooth peak travel season! But in any case, here are a few points to keep in mind:

1> With Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on Saturdays this year, the holiday season is going to be very compact. A shorter season means peak travel days are going to be more crowded and more expensive than what we saw over Thanksgiving.

2> Travelocity says that the average Christmas/New Year’s fare this year is $457. That’s 21 percent higher than the $380 or so we paid, on average, for Thanksgiving week travel. If you are planning to travel during this week, you’ve probably already missed out on the best deals and the most convenient flights. Sorry!

3> The best days for holiday travel in terms of crowds and pricing will be the Tuesday before Christmas (Dec 21), Christmas Day (Dec 25) and New Year’s day (Saturday, Jan 1). Keep in mind that even though these days will be slower than others, we are still talking about PEAK season travel, so it’s going to be more expensive and more crowded than almost any other time of year.

4> The worst (most crowded, most expensive) days to be flying will be the Wednesday and Thursday before Christmas (Dec 22 and 23), the Sunday and Monday after Christmas (Dec 26 and 27) and then the Sunday and Monday after New Year’s (Jan 2 and 3). Christmas Eve (Friday, Dec 24) is always relatively a relatively light day– but since it’s on a Friday this year, I’m thinking it might be busier than in previous years.

5> Don’t forget about the so-called “dead weeks.” These are the first two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January. Travel demand plummets during these weeks, so if you are a tough bargaineer and have a lot of flexibility, check out last minute deals on sites like Hotwire.com or Priceline.com during the dead weeks. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll find. (Exception: New York City is at its most crowded and expensive during the first two or three weeks of December due to holiday shopping.)

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Cool, calm and collected advice re: Airport screening

(Photo: USWGO / Flickr)

(Photo: USWGO / Flickr)

The peak holiday travel season is upon us. At the same time, the media frenzy surrounding new airport security measures has hit a peak. At The TICKET, we’ve cut through the hype and come up with five tips (and pics!) travelers need to know about airport screening. If you are looking for anger, venting or hyperbole, there are other places for that. We are providing advice on dealing with the situation as it stands right now:

1) RELAX! Despite the media hullabaloo, chances are that you won’t face a full body scan or pat down at all in coming weeks. Full body scanners are currently deployed at only 68 of 450 airports across the country. (See a list) At those 68 airports, most security lanes are using more good old-fashioned magnetometers (metal detectors) than the newer (and more controversial) full body scanners. Also, know that every single passenger does NOT get the new enhanced pat down. Only those who set off the metal detector, appear to have an anomaly on their body during a full body scan, or those who refuse a full body scan are subject to a pat down.

2) IN ATLANTA. At Atlanta airport, there are 14 millimeter wave scanners scattered across 43 security lanes at the four checkpoint entries (three in main terminal, one in International terminal). Full body scanners are similarly dispersed at other big airports. For example, San Francisco International has nine full body scanners across a total of 44 lanes. This means you are much more likely to walk through a magnetometer than a full body scanner.

[Read more…]


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Airline News

(Photo: testpatern / flickr)

WORD OF WARNING: If you think you’re beating crowds by taking off for Thanksgiving this weekend, beware. Airlines and online travel agents report that some of the holiday’s busiest days will be this Friday and Saturday. In another new twist, the TUESDAY before Thanksgiving is expected to be busier than Wednesday, a traditional peak day. And as always, be prepared for tough days at the airport on the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving— be particularly wary of Monday morning back ups at airport security checkpoints. Add to that a high level of angst about new security screening procedures and we are ripe for disruptions this week. Plan accordingly.

BODY SCANNERS. In case you’ve not been to ATL lately, there are now 14 of the controversial new full-body scanners scattered across all four security checkpoints. Some good news: The scanners in use at ATL are “millimeter wave” machines instead of the newer “backscatter” ones now being rolled out across the country. I’m no expert on radiation, but from what I’ve read, the millimeter wave scanners use radio waves which sounds less threatening than the low-dose X-rays used by the newer backscatter machines. There’s a lot of hyperbole surrounding the machines this week, so if you are interested in reading a well researched and informative article, check out this one from Bloomberg (written by a fellow TICKET reader Mary Jane Credeur!) One good nugget from the article: A radiology professor at the Mayo Clinic says, “You would need 1000 or 2000 airport scans to equal just one dental X-ray.”

AIRTRAN+SOUTHWEST CLOSING DATE? Closing date for the sale is expected to be this coming spring and then full integration of the two carriers will take about two years. Currently, the deal is under government anti-trust scrutiny which most observers don’t expect to significantly slow down the integration time line. So far, no date has been set for the first Southwest “redbelly”  (see photo below) to touch down at ATL.

SOUTHWEST’S BIGGEST CITY? Right now, it’s Las Vegas, but guess what? Once Southwest gobbles up AirTran, Atlanta is going to be its largest city in terms of daily flights. So in ATL, we’re Delta’s biggest city AND soon, Southwest’s biggest. Go figure…

COKE…NO PEPSI. Just in case Atlantans are wondering or worried…Southwest Airlines is a COCA-COLA airline. However, its selection of in-flight beverages is not as robust as AirTran’s.

SEARCHING FOR SOUTHWEST. One thing Atlanta-based travelers are going to have to get used to when Southwest moves into town:  more time devoted to searching for low fares. Unlike AirTran, Southwest Airlines does not participate in systems that allow its flights to appear on online travel agency sites like Expedia or Travelocity. They don’t show up on meta-search sites like Kayak, either. To compare, you are going to have to check southwest.com, the only site that lists all of Southwest’s flight and fare info.

HOW DO TICKET READERS FEEL ABOUT SOUTHWEST? Be sure to read the COMMENTS section of our post, 10 Things you need to know about Southwest + AirTran. Very revealing!

MORE AWARD SEATS. Delta announced a fatter international summer travel schedule this week, which could help out if you’re having trouble redeeming your SkyMiles. From Atlanta, Delta is re-launching B777 nonstops to Shanghai. From NYC there are new flights to Iceland. Boston and Miami get nonstops to London Heathrow. Paris gets new or more nonstops from Boston and Pittsburg (via a skinny B757…not so sure about that!)

DELTA SKY CLUB RE-DO. Delta’s opened a new SkyClub at Indianapolis’s flashy new airport terminal. The new look for this Sky Club is expected to carry over to new Sky Clubs in Philadelphia and Seattle and in others where renovations are in the works such as ATL and LAX. Here’s a short video tour of the club at Indy.

premium economy on British Airways

PREMIUM ECONOMY ON DELTA? Our contacts at Delta won’t confirm it, but several sources point to a leaked internal Delta memo that shows plans underway for a new class of international service between coach and business class. This is good news for travelers at companies that forbid business class travel, but might turn a blind eye to a product called “premium economy.” If Delta’s product is anything like competitors such as British Airways, the premium economy cabin will be separated from standard economy and offer a slightly larger seat with slightly more legroom and better food and beverage service.  It’s a poor substitute for a nice flat business class bed, but a welcome step up from the horrors of eight-plus hours in coach. For transatlantic flights from the East Coast, I would expect Delta’s premium economy fares to run in the $2500 round trip range.

DELTA READY TO RUMBLE WITH SOUTHWEST. In an interview with Business Travel News, Delta CEO Richard Anderson sounds confident that Delta’s product will beat Southwest’s when it comes to business travelers. Here’s what he said: “AirTran had first class, they had assigned seats, and Southwest has no first class, no assigned seats, doesn’t sell through global distribution systems—a very different product than what AirTran offered in the market. It’s very distinguishable. If you want international service, if you want high frequency all around the world, a club, business class, first class, don’t have to stand in a line to get on airplanes when you’re a business traveler—that’s the product Delta offers.” What do you think? Will you be giving Southwest a try? LET US KNOW!

REGIONAL JETS BECOMING…REGIONAL! Delta and its subsidiaries are dumping Barbie jets like crazy these days. Seems they’ve finally figured out that RJ’s don’t make much economic sense, they tend to clog up airspace and runways, and travelers don’t like them. All this means that on Delta you will no longer find regional jets used on flights longer than 750 miles (or about 2.5 hours).

At the CLEAR sign up kiosk at MCO

CLEAR IS BACK. But only in Orlando for now. The airport security line by-pass lanes reopened on November 9 at MCO’s Main terminal East and West.  Plans to open up lanes in Denver this month have been stymied, but stay tuned. If you had a CLEAR card before, new owners are honoring membership terms. Have a minute? Check out the new company’s clever new video describing how CLEAR works. Cost: $179 per year.

DELTA + MARRIOTT = 5000 MILES. From now through January 31, SkyMiles members will earn a 5000-mile bonus when Delta flights coincide with Marriott stays. Not bad! Details.

DELTA NOT SO DREAMY. Delta has pretty much thrown in the towel on the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner,” delaying delivery for TEN YEARS (to 2020). It had inherited an order of 18 of the new fuel-efficient but delay-plagued wide bodies from Northwest. This means that at least the next decade, Delta’s wide body fleet will remain 777, 767, 747 and A330. United hopes to be flying the 787 sometime next year…

DILUTING MQM’s? As you know, it’s getting harder and harder to travel on award tickets. I’m writing to tell you that I’m really disappointed to see the newest oncoming freight train – the awarding of MQMs by someone other than Delta.  I’m sure that the new Hilton promotion is going to be great for Delta, otherwise you wouldn’t have  written about it in The TICKET.  BUT it makes the Medallion Qualifying Miles worth far less to us Delta fans and that’s at a time when Delta need all the friends it can get. I’m a friend!  And I’m a Hilton Honors Gold level but I’m still annoyed by what I see happening: the demise of the value of the MQM.  I know there’s a segment qualifier, but the MQM devaluation is really a disaster.  I wonder if you’ve heard about this from others or am I the only crab in town? –JL from Atlanta. Is he? LET US KNOW! Leave your comments below.

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Airport security: What's the solution?

That's me getting scanned by a new backscatter machine at San Jose Airport last May

That’s me getting scanned by a new backscatter machine at San Jose Airport last May

Over the last week, a storm has erupted around new airport security procedures and devices. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just google “airport body scanners” and you’ll get half a million results. (Here’s a good round up article from Bloomberg.)

On one hand, we’ve got new “enhanced pat downs” from TSA officers that include touching breasts and genitalia, full-naked-body scans, and no clear answer about radiation risks from new backscatter machines.

On the other hand, we’ve got a very recent incident in which terrorists were able to pack explosives in a printer cartridge and get it on a plane. We are less than a year past the infamous “underwear bomber” incident in which a terrorist nearly brought down a Delta jet over Detroit.

I don’t like the frisky frisking. I worry about radiation. I’m concerned about our right to privacy.

But what’s the solution?

Do we get rid of the scanners (that cost $75,000 each) and go back to magnetometers only?

What will we all be saying if an “underwear bomber” gets through a magnetometer and succeeds in blowing up a plane?

I know the readers of this blog are smart, frequent travelers who know the system well. Can you all suggest any solutions? I look forward to hearing from you. I will forward your suggestions along to my TSA contacts.

And please, let’s just talk SOLUTIONS here and avoid hyperbole and venting. There’s enough of that out there already.

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A look behind Delta's gate counters at ATL

TICKET reader Ramsey Qubein (far left) spent a day working behind Delta's gates at ATL

(Ramsey Qubein is a young buck frequent traveler and blogger and says he has long read and admired The TICKET. He reminds me of me when I was 31– eager to jump on any plane at any time no matter what, and a sponge for every tidbit of travel information I could get my hands on. Ramsey and I met at a media event in London recently and he told me about his turn behind Delta’s gate counters at ATL. I asked him to share a little bit of his experience with The TICKET.  –Chris)

Spending an entire Sunday at the airport is not ideal for most people, but I jumped at the chance to learn what takes place on the other side of the mysterious counter as a Delta gate agent in Atlanta. Delta invited a group of about 40 frequent flyers and Internet bloggers to undergo this unique exchange with its frontline employees. With 300,000 annual miles and over 4 million lifetime miles at Delta, I know the airline well. This experience, however, was an eye opener.

Gate agents have multiple tasks including driving the jetway, opening the door, arranging wheelchairs, directing passengers to connecting gates, clearing standbys, boarding new passengers, gate checking bags, and getting the flight out on time. If the flight delays by even one minute, they are held accountable and must face their supervisors.

I was shocked when people approached my clearly marked gate to ask if this was the gate for some other city. Or ask me to look up their gate despite information screens 50 feet away. Finding a bathroom, getting directions to the escalator, locating an electrical outlet, and asking what time boarding begins pummeled us all day even though signs are plastered all over the airport.

You can be as efficient as possible, but one mistake causes the house of cards to crumble…>>

[Read more…]


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No ticket needed at some ATL parking lots

(From Atlanta Airport:)

Credit card in/out system goes into effect today

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has implemented a quick, convenient and secure ticketless parking system. The west economy, Park-Ride Reserve and Park-Ride B lots are now on an automated, credit card in/out system. No more parking stubs will be issued, and cash no longer will be accepted at these lots.

Credit card in/out allows a customer to insert a credit card into the card reader upon entering the lot and insert the same credit card upon exit. The system computes fees based upon length of stay and charges the credit card.

On-airport parking provides convenient access to the Airport’s main terminal. For more information about Airport parking, please go to www.atlanta-airport.com/Parking/.

(This new arrangement got a big thumbs down from TICKET readers who have used it over on our Facebook page: Look for the parking post here.)

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Airline/Airport News

Fall is the time when you just might find a few empty seats on planes.

SIGH OF RELIEF. Ah, fall! If the madding crowds of tourists have knocked you around this summer, relief is on the way. Over the next few weeks, packed planes, sold out hotels, lines at the breakfast bar and shrieks and squeals in the hotel pool area should subside. Airlines and hotels are already rolling out the fall deals and discounts, which is a signal to me that they’re a little skittish about declining demand. That means lower prices, more deals and some welcome breathing room for travelers.

Delta's new 747 BizElite seat

NEW BIZ ELITE SEATS AT DELTA. Delta announced that it will introduce yet another version of BusinessElite when it re-vamps interiors on it’s fleet of Boeing 747 starting next year. (I don’t know about you, but I get excited every time I see a big ole Delta 747. There’s just something about that plane that makes me feel great about flying!) Anyway, the new seat appears to be a cross between Delta’s herringbone BizElite pattern on its 777’s and the boxier 1-2-1 configuration on its 767’s and 757’s. Can’t wait to hear what TICKET readers think once the seat’s installed— but it won’t be here until next summer. In the meantime, if you ride on a Delta 747, you’ll get an old Northwest recliner in business class. (More photos here)

TRIPLE A+ CREDITS ON AIRTRAN. Buy a round trip between now and September 6 and you’ll earn triple A+ Rewards credits on AirTran. This means you’ll earn six A+ Rewards credits for every nonstop round trip originating in Atlanta and flown by November 17, 2010, instead of the standard two A+ credits. (PLEASE buy your ticket via links from here on The TICKET! Look down or to the right!>>)

$800+ ATL-NEWARK? Guess what’s happened since AirTran left the ATL-Newark market in the hands of Delta and Continental? Midweek trips ATL to EWR are now $800+! Stay over a weekend, or fly to La Guardia (where they compete with AirTran and American) and you’ll pay only $200-$300. Amazing! Check for yourself. (Below is a screenshot from a mid-October, Monday-Wednesday itinerary.) Make us wonder what will happen to ATL-Miami nonstop fares when AirTran exits that market on Oct 7. We’ll see….

COMP UPGRADES FOR SOME. SkyMiles Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members (sorry, Silvers!) are now eligible for complimentary upgrades when traveling on frequent flyer award tickets. (Keep in mind that those who’ve actually paid for tickets get first priority, so it’s probably going to be tough to get at upgrade to/from ATL…but you never know…)

NEW WAY TO PAY AT ATL. The West economy lot has always been my favorite place to park at ATL. For a while there, it was almost a secret. But that cat got out of the bag long ago. Anyway…the airport is experimenting with a new credit card in/out payment system at the West lot. It’s a fully automated system where you enter the same credit card when you arrive and when you exit the lot—no need to collect and keep track of a paper ticket anymore. Expect to see the new system roll out airport wide sometime next year.

Delta's iconic, but dilapidated Worldport at JFK will soon disappear

DELTA TO DEMOLISH JFK WORLDPORT. Most ATL-based fliers only use JFK as a last resort— and for good reason. Delta’s dilapidated, ex-Pan Am Worldport facility there is a disgrace.  Good news: it will soon be demolished and Delta will move international flights to an updated Terminal 4. Not so good news: Delta’s holding on to its mediocre Terminal 2 for domestic flights. The two terminals will be connected by a very long enclosed walkway. (Note: Your TICKET editor arrived at JFK at Terminal 4 last week and found the immigration and customs process and facilities outstanding—truly set to international standards.)

FREE WI-FI ACROSS THE BAY. San Francisco International has finally joined Oakland and San Jose airports offering FREE Wi-Fi throughout the airport. Log on and look for the “sfo free wifi” network.

(Many of these items come from my Twitter feed. You’ll get more frequent updates by following me on Twitter.)

ICELAND ANYONE? Delta adds new 757 nonstops JFK-Reykjavik Iceland starting June 1, 2011. This is a great SkyMiles redemption idea! I’ve always wanted to go there…and hope that they can keep the volcanoes at bay until I do!

AIRTRAN EXITS QUAD CITIES. AirTran will eliminate nonstops between ATL and Quad Cities/Moline on November 30.

BUY ELITE SEATS. No longer an elite level on American Airlines? Now you can buy many elite privileges per flight with its new “Express Seats” plan. Example: Pay $29 extra when you check in for ATL-DFW and you’ll get a coach seat near the front and early boarding. Details. Worth it?

AIRTRAN UPS BAG FEE. Starting this month, AirTran will now charge $20 for the first checked bag, up from $15. Not such great news for travelers, but it’s good news for AirTran— the higher fee is expected to net the carrier an additional $63 million per year!

(photo: Riptheskull / Flickr)

HOLIDAYS ALREADY? Yep. Time to pull out the calendar and make those reservations. Based on previous peak seasons, we expect the lowest Thanksgiving fares on Monday, Nov 22 and Friday, Nov 26. You’ll get the lowest Christmas fares on Tuesday, Dec 21 and Tuesday, Dec 28. Other days around the holidays are going to be expensive this year, so don’t lolly-gag– when you see a fare that seems fair, book it!

GETTING TOUCH-FEELY. Most travelers know by now that they can opt for a pat down instead of going through those new full-body scanners. Now the TSA says that it’s “enhancing” the procedure to allow screeners to use their hands where they previously used just the backs of their hands. Sounds fun! Details

DELTA IS HIRING. Delta recently said that it’s hiring up to 1000 new workers to help cope with near record loads and it’s rapid expansion.

GOOD GRUB HUB. Sometimes I get tired of all the fancy meals on the road and long for a good, simple, cheap meal. The new Taxi Gourmet blog helps me do just that: the blogger interviews taxi drivers in NYC and elsewhere to get the skinny on good local eats.

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Airline News

AIRTRAN AND DELTA REPORT PROFITS. The two largest carriers at ATL reported second quarter profits, which is great news for the ailing airline business. But it’s not such great news for travelers who are paying substantially more than they were this time last year. For example, AirTran says that its average one-way fare in the second quarter increased 10 percent to $97. Overall, summer airfares are 24 percent higher than last summer according to Bing Travel.

FEES HERE TO STAY. Airline revenue from ancillary fees totaled $7.8 billion in 2009, a 42 percent increase from 2008. That fat number includes $2.7 billion in checked bag fees, $2.4 billion from reservation change fees and $2.7 billion from miscellaneous fees. Delta alone raked in  $1.6 billion from ancillary charges in 2009.

MORE AIRPORT PERKS FOR AMEX PLATS. If you fork over $450 per year for your American Express Platinum card, your benefits just got better– cardholders now get access to US Airways airport clubs, as well as those from American, Delta and Continental airlines.

DELTA BEEFS UP IN NYC & DC. Stung by the feds disapproval of its slot-swap scheme with US Airways, Delta is nonetheless charging forward toward its goal of “dominating the New York market.” Beginning Sept. 7 it planes to add flights from New York (either LaGuardia or JFK) to  Nashville, St. Louis, Norfolk, Richmond,  Kansas City, San Antonio, Cleveland, Charlotte, Orange County, Baltimore, Montreal and Toronto. More details. And don’t forget that Delta recently expanded its Delta Shuttle operation with 11 new daily flights (and fat mileage bonuses) between New York-LaGuardia and Chicago O’Hare. Delta’s also expanding at Washington Reagan National airport with a total of 22 destinations served, up from the current 16.

GET DELTA HELP VIA TWITTER. If you are one of those whose eyes glaze over at the mention of Twitter, consider this: Delta has wrangled a team of social media and customer service reps to try and solve problems via Twitter. Delta asks that users to “tweet your questions, comments, concerns, praise – we love praise ; ) – etc. to @DeltaAssist.” And as long as you are on Twitter, be sure to follow my updates! @cjmcginnis

TIRED OF BAD COFFEE IN THE SKY OR ON THE ROAD? Our new sponsor Starbucks VIA plans to help out good-coffee-starved TICKET readers with an exclusive giveaway in a coming issue. Stay tuned!

Virgin America A320 Interior (Photo: Crucially / Flickr)

VIRGIN AMERICA TO ATLANTA? Don’t get your hopes up yet, but sassy California startup Virgin America just picked up 40 new Airbus jets at the Farnborough Air Show and is looking to expand to several major business travel markets over the next year. For example, it just announced new flights between SFO, LAX and Orlando. “Atlanta is definitely on our prospective cities list,” said Virgin spokesperson Abby Lunardini when contacted by The TICKET. If Virgin jumped into the Atlanta market, it would likely add flights to both San Francisco AND Los Angeles (LAX) where it operates nearly as many flights as it does at its home base at SFO. Would YOU fly Virgin America if it came to Atlanta, or would you stick with Delta and/or AirTran? LET US KNOW! Leave your comments below.

APPLE TO THE RESCUE. There’s a very helpful new iPhone application from the TSA that allows users to check airport security wait times and flight delays in real time.

FREAKISH FEES? While Congress and the airlines battle it out on Capitol Hill over new fees and transparency, the smart folks over at TripAdvisor have fashioned a very helpful “fees estimator” to its search engine– allowing users to enter the number of bags they plan to check as well as their frequent flyer program affiliation and status. Then the site calculates the TOTAL fee you’d pay and presents it for comparison on a matrix. Nice! See www.tripadvisor.com/flights and try it yourself.

AMERICAN BACK ON ATL-LGA. Earlier this month, American Airlines launched five daily roundtrips between ATL’s Concourse T and New York’s close-in La Guardia airport. It’s using smaller CRJ-700 “Barbie jets” on the route, but they all have first class sections, which helps. From now through September 30, AAdvantage members earn double miles. Register at www.aa.com/offers

HEATHROW EXPRESS DISCOUNTS. The fast and easy rail link between London’s Heathrow airport and Paddington station is half price (9 pounds instead of the normal 18) for groups of two or more through Sept 5. Details here.

EASIER SEAT SEARCHES. We love us some Seatguru.com when trying to pick the perfect seat for a long international or transcon flight. In the past it was tough because there are so many different configurations flying around out there. Seatguru’s solved that by letting you enter your airline flight NUMBER first, which means you’ll always see the exact layout of your flight.

THE TICKET GOES TO NBTA. Your TICKET editor will be hitting the tradeshow floor and checking out all the latest news and trends at the annual National Business Travel Association convention in Houston this August. Stay tuned for reports and videos! Interesting: I booked a standard car from Enterprise for three days in Houston via Hotwire for just $104 all in. Not bad, considering Hertz wanted a whopping $375 for the same car class!

RADICAL DESIGNS ON COACH CLASS. Check out this well done CNN video report on Air New Zealand’s radical designs on coach class seating for long haul flights.

WATCH THOSE VALUABLES. A 47-year-old Air France flight attendant is facing 10 years in jail after pleading guilty to stealing from business class passengers sleeping on long haul flights. She targeted passengers who would fall asleep after a big meal with lots of alcohol.

AIRTRAN TO THE D.R. AirTran will fly to another warm-weather destination, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, starting February 16. Punta Cana is closer to the D.R.’s increasingly popular all-inclusive resorts and is easier to navigate than Santo Domingo, the capital. And in case you are geographically challenged, the D.R. shares the island if Hispaniola with Haiti. It’s located between Cuba (to the west) and Puerto Rico (to the east). It’s AirTran’s fifth Caribbean destination. No word yet on fares.

NEW AIRPORT IN INDIA. Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport just opened Terminal 3, a much needed 6.4 million square foot addition that includes 78 gates and 168 check in counters.

Delhi's new Terminal 3 welcomes travelers this week. (Photo: AP)

DELTA + GOL. Delta and Brazil’s GOL Airlines have linked the SkyMiles and SMILES programs allowing members to earn miles on both carriers. Redemptions are expected later this year.

SADNESS OF THE SILVERS. We received quite a lot of responses to our post about Silver status with SkyMiles. Check them out here—by far the longest list of comments we’ve EVER seen on The TICKET.

DOUBLES AT HILTON. HHonors members earn double points OR double airline miles for each stay between now and September 30, but you must register first.  (As always with Hilton, you earn both airline miles and HHonors points at qualifying rates, but in the case of this promo, you must choose which one you want to earn the bonus.)

VACATION BARGAINS? If you are still wondering where you’d like to go for a summer break, consider Florida where hotel prices have crashed due to the oil spill, even though most beaches remain unaffected. Expedia reports that average daily rates crashed nearly 30 percent in popular summer destinations such as Miami, the Florida Keys, Ft Lauderdale and New Orleans. On the other hand, don’t expect the place to be deserted. Smith Travel Research reports that hotel occupancy in the region was up 7 percent in June year-over-year and will be up around 4 percent in July.

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Airport CLEAR card program makes a comeback

Remember the CLEAR registered traveler program? Those who shelled out $179 per year got a special bio-metric membership card, which provided access to exclusive, shorter security lines at 21 airports across the country.

While CLEAR won the hearts and wallets of its customers, it struggled with debt and demand and abruptly shut down last June.

In recent months, a new company called Alclear announced an agreement to purchase the assets of the old company (Verified Identity Pass) and crank the operation back up.

Alclear’s first move was to update the www.flyclear.com web site, which had been dormant. The revived site encourages previous, new, or just curious travelers to fill out a form and vote on which airports where they’d like to see the service.

However, it does NOT state which airports it intends to target for the re-launch. (Prior to shut down, CLEAR operated at ATL.) Don’t get your hopes up yet. The new company has to sign all new airport agreements, a process which could take quite a while. The site says, “We are in discussions with multiple airports to re-introduce CLEAR,” but does not mention any airports by name. However, Denver is rumored to be the re-launch airport sometime this fall.

The site’s FAQs also state that the new company will honor previous members’ remaining membership terms as of June 2009. (For example, those who had three months left in their term will get three months free membership.)

In what appears to a bungled first step, this week Alclear sent out a confusing and unwieldy email (two full pages, 1200 words) to former members. The gist of the tome was to ask those former members who DO NOT want back in to send the new company a letter (via snail mail) asking to “opt-out” of the new program and have their data destroyed. (Here’s the full email.)

Anyway… I was a former member of CLEAR and must admit that the service paid for itself, but not because it actually saved me all that much time. As an elite level member of several frequent flyer programs, I already had access to shorter, faster security lines.

What CLEAR did was remove the uncertainty from the airport screening process– at ATL as well as in other airports that don’t have special elite lines, or those that have unpredictable wait times. To me, as a frequent business traveler, that kind of peace of mind was worth $179.

So, frequent travelers, what do you think? Would you sign up again or for the first time?

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New-generation full-body scanners coming to ATL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzRKw567GVo

Remember last Christmas when the “underwear bomber” almost brought down a Delta jumbo-jet over Detroit?

That prompted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to grab a big pile of federal stimulus money for about 150 more full body scanners– you know, the ones that produce images like the one you see below.

There are currently 97 of the so-called “advanced imaging units” in use at airports across the country  but TSA says that number will soar to around 500 by the end of this year– with nearly 1000 in place by the end of 2011.

There are currently three full-body scanners in use at ATL. Two are located at the main terminal checkpoint and one is at the international arrivals checkpoint in Terminal E. When the additional machines are deployed there will be machines at all of the airport’s checkpoints.

Earlier this month, The TICKET  was invited to San Jose Mineta International Airport to check out the first batch of four new “backscatter” scanners. These are different than the “millimeter wave” units you may have seen at ATL and elsewhere, but represent the latest technology. This means that you’ll see more backscatter machines appear at ATL and 28 other airports (see list) between now and the end of the year.

(See video for a look at the new generation units.)

Here’s what you need to know:

>WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE? The newer backscatter machines look like two big blue boxes with a small open alley down the middle. (Millimeter wave units are rounder looking with the passenger surrounded by Plexiglas for the scan.)

>HOW DO I GET SCANNED? You walk into the scanners, turn sideways, place feet in square boxes marked on the rubber floor, hold hands up and wait for the TSA agent to tell you to exit. The whole process takes about five seconds. (See video for a real-life walk through.)

>WHAT IS DIFFERENT? As usual, you must remove shoes and belts and place them with carry-on luggage in bins. But when getting a full body scan, you must also remove your wallet or any other non-metallic objects from pockets. (Wallet removal is not necessary with the standard magnetometers.)

>WHAT ABOUT RADIATION? The TSA says that the radiation emitted by these machines is equivalent to what you are exposed to during about two minutes aboard at aircraft at altitude, and far less than what the government permits for cell phones.

>WHAT DO SCANNERS SCAN? Body scanners only expose what’s between your skin and the clothes you are wearing. They are NOT like x-rays, which penetrate your skin and show internal organs and bone. (This is a plus for travelers with artificial joints or other metallic implants who’ve been slowed down and forced to submit to pat downs at traditional magnetometers.)

Dummy image provided by TSA

>WHO SEES MY PRIVATES? The TSA agent directing you into the full body scanner never sees your image. This officer is wearing an earpiece and is in radio contact with another TSA officer viewing your image in a remote area. Once your image has been checked, this officer then tells the attending officer to allow you to pass, or to subject you to secondary screening if he/she sees any anomalies. (See video for a behind the scenes look at the remote viewing room.)

>WHAT HAPPENS TO THE IMAGES? The TSA emphasizes that these images cannot be stored, saved or transmitted. In addition, they do no allow officers to bring cameras, cell phones or PDA’s in rooms where images are viewed. (Except for ours, of course, but that was just for the media…)

>WHAT ABOUT ADULT DIAPERS OR SANITARY PADS? Citing confidentiality, the TSA officer at San Jose Airport would not tell me how or if the machines can tell the difference between a sanitary pad and contraband placed in the crotch area.

>WHO IS PAYING FOR ALL THIS? You are. The units cost about $150,000 a pop, which means that the TSA spent nearly $75 million on this latest round of full body scanners. (Check out how the stock of OSI Systems, parent of scanner manufacturer Rapiscan, has soared since Christmas when this order was placed)