Bet you never thought an airline would think their frequent flyers ever fly too much. Well, American Airlines did, and it’s trying to stop that.
In 1981, American needed to raise some cash, so it offered something called an AAirpass for $250,000 that allowed the buyer a lifetime of flying free in first class on American. For another $150K, you could buy a pass for a companion.
Folks including Willie Mays and Michael Dell of Dell Computers took advantage of the deal. Over the years, American raised the price–$600,000 in 1990, just over $1 million in 1993. A year later, American ended stopped selling AAirpasses.
But there are still folks using theirs, and a few years ago the airline realized it was losing money on the deal. So it began to investigate some of the more frequent users hoping to find someone violating the rules so the airline could rescind their pass. It took away one man’s pass, saying he charged people to fly with him on his companion pass. The airline charged another with booking too many flights and only using some of the reservations. Now, at least two cases are on hold in courts as American tries to work its way out of bankruptcy.
I’ll follow the details, as I’m really curious about how this story will end.
As I said in Wednesday’s “Travel Minute,” there’s no sure way of telling what airline flight will take off and land safely. But here are a couple of ways to measure flying safety.
First, the Federal Aviation Administration—or FAA—here in the US ranks the safety standards of civil aviation authorities whose airlines operate in the US. The FAA doesn’t rate airlines, but a Category 1 ranking means the aviation authorities in a particular country meet international standards. A Category 2 rating doesn’t, and you’d be surprised at some of the countries on that list—like Israel, Indonesia and Belize.
I’ll post the complete list under today’s “Travel Minute” at rudymaxa.com.
Then there’s the European Union’s list of airlines banned from flying into and out of EU countries. The EU admits it can only inspect airlines that fly into EU airports, and those inspections are random, so if an airline shows up on its list of banned carriers, that doesn’t mean it necessarily meets applicable safety standards.
You can find this very long list here.
And according to the FAA, civil aviation authorities in the following countries do not meet international standards:
Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Cote d’Ivoire, Curacao, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Kiribati, Montenegro, Nauru, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, Serbia, Saint Martin, Swaziland, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Zimbabwe
But I would caution against drawing any negative conclusions. Israel’s El Al, has a terrific safety record. And its airports are very modern. But the FAA has a checklist, and if a foreign country doesn’t conform to that checklist, it will “not meet international standards.” Yet hundreds of thousands of passengers fly safely in and out of almost all those countries on the list.
Regular airline passengers know that airlines are making a lot of money these days by charging for things such as checked baggage, more legroom in coach, snacks, and Wi-Fi. But maybe you haven’t noticed the other ways—other than flying—that airlines are making money.
Stating last summer, Delta Air Lines began selling commercials that played on in-flight TV screens before takeoff. Advertisers have included Fairfield Inn and Suites, Lincoln automobiles, and the on-line car insurance firm, Esurance.
Now the airline is beginning to introduce premium meals in coach on its trans-continental flights between California and New York that you can reserve up to 48 hours before departure for $18. And then there’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, artisan beer, and tequila drinks.
All for extra, of course.
I don’t expect any of the major carriers will get to where Spirit Airlines is—charging $45 for a carry-on bag at the gate for the right to put it in an overhead bin. (And get this—Spirit plans to raise that price to $100.)
But Delta soon hopes to earn $1 billion a year on all those extras. Watch for more fees we can’t yet imagine.
That terrible crash three weeks ago of a Nigerian airline called Dana Airlines once again raises the question of how safe are airlines you’ve never heard of but might someday need to fly?
There’s no sure way, of course, of determining if any particular flight by any airline will take off and land safely. But we do know that, generally speaking, major US carriers are among the safest. Commuter airlines here have a less stellar record, but still a very good one. European and Asian carriers enjoy great reputations, too. The news isn’t so good in Africa. In Nigeria alone, there have been 41 crashes in 43 years, for example.
But Nigeria is not on the list of countries whose civil aviation operations—says our FAA—fail to meet international standards. Who are some of those countries?
In our neighborhood, Barbados, Belize, Haiti, and Saint Martin. In Africa, it’s Zimbabwe, Ghana, Gambia, and Congo. But when the FAA compiles that list, it doesn’t look at individual airlines, just how well a country’s civil aviation authority oversees its aviation community. It does not take into account problems with tainted fuel or repairs done on aircraft with faulty parts, both of which contribute to problems with some smaller African airlines.
In Friday’s “Travel Minute,” I’ll get a bit more specific about countries and airlines.
If there’s one benefit for travelers when it comes to airlines charging baggage fees, it’s that we’ve become a nation of smarter packers. How do I know that? Because the numbers tell me so.
The amount of money airlines earned charging passengers for checked bags dropped slightly for the first time in 2011, down from $3.4 billion in 2010 to $3.36 billion last year. Not a big drop, but it’s a definite trend because airlines carried more passengers last year than in 2010.
(Delta, however, made more money than it ever had on baggage fees last year—a whopping $863+ million in baggage fees.)
Generally speaking, though, I take the drop in baggage fees collected by all airlines to mean we’re finally learning to pack less—something we’ve been told to do most of our lives.
Now, with Spirit charging for using the luggage bins overhead, we might be downsizing even more. Thousands of travelers are finding that it is possible to pack enough stuff for a two-night or even three-night trip into a bag small enough to fit under the seat in front of you—even on a crowded Spirit flight.
So save yourself at least $50 on a round-trip flight and pack a carry-on bag.