Do you like to travel? This group is for you!Planning a trip? Check out GovLoop’s Per Diem Calculator. Search by city or zip code and learn more about hotels, restaurants, events, and more, in cities across the country. We’ve even included links to Yelp reviews, to help you find the best places to stay, dine, or enjoy a night on the town.
Flying information over the holidays
November 12, 2009 at 12:19 pm #85285
From the Dallas Morning News
For infrequent fliers, changes are aboard this holiday season, experts say
By TERRY MAXON
So, you haven’t flown since last Christmas or maybe Thanksgiving 2007?
There have been some changes in the airline industry, let us warn you. There are fees for everything and fewer flights to choose from. But you might get Wi-Fi Internet on your flight if you’re willing to pay for it.
As we head into the busy holiday travel season, we asked industry experts for a rundown of what surprises travelers might encounter. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Fares on average are lower than last year.
Travelocity senior editor Genevieve Shaw Brown said that the average price for a round-trip domestic ticket over the Thanksgiving period is $361, down 6 percent from Thanksgiving 2008. For Christmas travel, the average domestic ticket is $398, down 7 percent.
Last year, tickets kept getting cheaper as the holidays approached, a reflection on the plummeting demand seen by airlines. Not this year.
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen prices creeping up,” Brown said. “That’s pretty normal as you get to departure date.”
2. Even with lower fares, the cost of flying could go up.
Unless you’re an elite-status flier who gets the fees for checked bag waived, you’ll be paying the airlines more this year to carry your luggage.
For example, a trip on American Airlines Inc. or Continental Airlines Inc. that departs Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Dec. 21 for Houston Bush Intercontinental and returns Dec. 28 will carry a round-trip fare of about $118. But take two bags, and the price per traveler is about $218.
“The reality is that for a family of four traveling cross country, each checking a bag, you could spend $360 on a family of four just to carry the luggage,” said Bryan Saltzburg, general manager of new initiatives at TripAdvisor. “That’s a surprise for travelers that happened over the last year.”
The move to charge fees for services that formerly were free began in the first half of 2008, but has really taken hold in 2009, with almost all carriers charging $25 or $30 for a second checked bag and $15 to $20 for the first bag.
A notable exception has been Southwest Airlines Co., which still doesn’t charge for the first or second bag. JetBlue Airways Corp. doesn’t charge for the first bag but will hit you for $30 for a second bag. Alaska Airlines Inc. held out longer than most, but added a first bag fee of $15 to go along with its $25 fee for the second bag.
3. Airlines have eliminated a large number of flights and seats since mid-2008.
In October, for example, the nation’s nine largest carriers operated nearly 11 percent less capacity than in October 2007, before the cutbacks.
As a group, they’ve eliminated enough capacity to create a new Southwest or Continental. Or, put another way, the capacity cuts since late 2007 are greater than the combined capacity of Alaska Airlines, AirTran Airways Inc. and JetBlue.
4. The result of the capacity cuts: Packed planes.
“You will see more crowded planes,” said David Beckerman, vice president of market intelligence for OAG/UBM.
Beckerman noted that fewer people are flying this year as the economic uncertainties have slowed demand.
“But you will hear people say the one trip they will take is for the holidays,” Beckerman said. “So if all those people are traveling, if you go to the airport this year and get on the airplanes, you’ll see yep, it’s pretty darn full.”
The Air Transport Association has predicted that 4 percent fewer people will fly over the Thanksgiving holiday than in 2008. But with the capacity cutbacks, that still means the average flight should have fewer empty seats.
5. Pray you don’t miss your connecting flight.
The full flights could make it tough for a traveler whose flight arrives late at a connecting airport.
“If you do miss your connection, that’s going to be a serious issue for a lot of travelers because there simply aren’t that many available airline seats to get into,” Travelocity’s Brown said. “If you’re talking about a family of four traveling together, you need four seats on the next flight. You don’t know when that next flight is going to have availability for you.”
6. But there is an upside to the capacity cuts.
With fewer flights, the industry’s operating record is improving.
“The good news with capacity being pulled in is that more flights are flying on time,” said aviation consultant Darryl Jenkins. “The bad news is that the airline gods always love to have bad weather during Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays.”
Through September, 79.6 percent of 2009’s flights have arrived on time or within 14 minutes of schedule. That’s up 6.4 percentage points from 2007, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says.
In September, 86.2 percent of U.S. flights arrived on schedule, the second best September since 1995. But Beckerman echoed Jenkins’ cautions.
“Those figures come out, and they look really good,” Beckerman said. “But we’re going into winter. So the fact that we had 86 percent on time in September, it’s not logical to expect the same thing in the middle or late December, particularly if you’re flying out of Buffalo.”
7. At least you may be able to get Wi-Fi.
If you can’t live without the Internet for even a few hours, there’s a greater chance that you’ll have access via Wi-Fi service during your flight.
Most U.S. carriers have begun installing Wi-Fi equipment on their airplanes. AirTran says its entire fleet has that capability. San Francisco-based carrier Virgin America Inc.’s fleet has it, and carriers such as American and Delta Air Lines Inc. are putting the service on hundreds of airplanes.
Saltzburg said a TripAdvisor survey showed that 70 percent of travelers would like to use Wi-Fi. However, only 9 percent were willing to pay for it, he said, most likely for business use.
“If you go on an airplane, you don’t see a lot of people using their laptop computers,” Saltzburg said. “People are used to bringing their own entertainment. They bring their iPods. They bring movies of their own. You don’t see a lot of people who aren’t prepared for a lack of entertainment.”
© 2009, The Dallas Morning News, Inc
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.