By James Cowan - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 0 Comments
The solution to late flights and lengthy waits on the tarmac? More airlines, writes James Cowan
On a snowy morning in early February, around 200 passengers in Toronto boarded Flight 794 to Costa Rica. They were scheduled to leave at 7 a.m.; the plane eventually left at midnight. In the intervening 17 hours, a compounding series of misfortunes—a broken de-icing machine, frozen engines and brakes, a lack of gates at the terminal, a plane that idled so long it had to refuel, a crew that worked so long it needed to be replaced—turned the flight into an almanac of the indignities of modern air travel. The passengers complained they were poorly fed, ill-informed, refused onboard entertainment and trapped in the cabin for one 13-hour stretch. Sunwing, the airline, offered $25 off airport food and a $150 credit—in case passengers wanted to risk a do-over—as compensation.
This isn’t an unusual story. Within a week of the debacle, two Air Canada flights to Mexico imprisoned passengers on their planes for more than eight hours. These are just extreme examples of an endemic problem. Only 58.6% of Air Canada flights were on time in January; the industry average is 78.3%, according to tracking service Flightstats.
There are now efforts afoot to improve airline customer service through regulation. The NDP this month proposed an Air Passengers’ Bill of Rights, which would require airlines to pay customers $100 for each hour trapped on the tarmac up to the cost of the ticket. The notion has populist appeal but is self-defeating. Faced with onerous fines, airlines will either increase ticket prices or reduce spending on other customer perks—it’s not like they can pay the fines using their gas money or employees’ wages. Furthermore, much of the discomfort experienced by airline passengers is caused by government rules. Sunwing couldn’t serve its grounded passengers hot meals because regulations prohibit operating a plane’s ovens until it’s airborne; ditto for the on-board entertainment system. (The concern is that passengers might miss safety announcements if they’re wearing headsets; the concept of a mute button has clearly eluded regulators.) If government agencies want to improve passengers’ lives, they should focus on reducing hassles, not adding to them.
Here’s a place to start cutting—the restrictions on foreign ownership in the Canadian airline sector. Hiking competition is the best way to improve the travelling experience, both in terms of customer service and arriving on schedule. Not only does an airline with a monopoly on a route experience greater delays, but it will also pad its schedule to make customers feel like they arrived promptly even if they could have arrived sooner, according to a Kellogg School of Management study. If nothing else, competition prevents airlines from dawdling.
Opening Canada to unfettered foreign competition is unrealistic. Only one country in the world, Chile, places no restriction on ownership of its air carriers. But Canada, which limits foreign investment to 25%, lags other jurisdictions. The European Union allows outsiders to control 49% of their airlines, as do Australia and New Zealand. A 2008 federal government panel suggested Canada adopt a similar standard, citing lower fares and better service as likely benefits.
The impediment to allowing foreign carriers into Canada is a fear that it would rob the country of jobs and revenue. But New Zealand and Australia found an elegant solution to appeasing such worries. For more than two decades, both have permitted foreign companies to establish a separate air carrier within their borders. The country’s second-largest carrier, Virgin Australia, was founded thanks to this policy change, with roughly two-thirds foreign ownership today. Competition between six domestic airlines means flights were on schedule 80% of the time in 2012. Fares dropped 21% in the first year of the new rules. Flight frequency increased. Carriers saw an uptick in travellers.
If Canada took this approach, it would mean foreign carriers paying taxes, providing jobs and creating competition. Canada’s air industry doesn’t need more rules; it needs more airlines.
James Cowan is deputy editor of Canadian Business.
By The Canadian Press - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 8:42 PM - 0 Comments
Ottawa will create an unlevel playing field if it grants Air Canada’s request for…
Ottawa will create an unlevel playing field if it grants Air Canada’s request for a decade of relief from the $4.2-billion deficit in its defined benefits pension fund, the Air Transport Association of Canada said Tuesday.
The group, which represents small regional carriers and training centres, said Ottawa should provide broad pension assistance to all Canadian companies, instead of giving a competitive advantage to the former Crown corporation.
“Rather than dealing with the problem with Air Canada’s pension funds, deal with Canadian pension funds as a rule because if they (politicians) create this precedent, I can think of all the other industries that are going to line up at the PM’s door and say: ‘Me too,’” association president John McKay said from Ottawa.
In a recent letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, McKay said singling out a company that has already received “immense support” not forthcoming to its competitors would seriously impact the competitiveness of the airline industry.
Any relief should instead be short-term and based on annual approvals using established financial measurement tools, instead of locking in assistance over 10 years.
McKay said it’s hard to predict what financial shape the airline will be in over the next few years, adding that interest rates could rise and the airline’s recent profits could accelerate as it expands its fleet and ramps up its new low-cost carrier.
The country’s largest carrier wants Ottawa to put a $150-million cap on its annual solvency deficit payments for the next decade, starting in 2014. This would mean $700 million a year in relief in each of the first five years. The payments are in addition to its ongoing pension funding contributions that will total $1.5 billion between 2009 and 2013.
Air Canada (TSX:AC.B), which has been supported in its efforts by its unionized employees, declined to comment on the association’s position.
The National Airlines Council of Canada, a group founded in 2008 to address issues affecting large carriers such as WestJet Airlines (TSX:WJA), Air Transat and Jazz, also declined to comment.
However, WestJet executives met with cabinet ministers last fall to oppose its rival’s pension relief request, according the federal Register of Lobbyists.
WestJet said it did not want to specifically comment about the meetings.
“But at a general level, we are concerned about the impact on the state of competition caused by Air Canada repeatedly asking the federal government for financial assistance,” said airline spokesman Robert Palmer in an email.
The Air Transport Association cancelled a news conference Tuesday because it didn’t want to give the impression that it was attacking Air Canada.
“We’re not on the war path here. We’re just letting our position known,” McKay said.
Although its membership includes smaller and newer carriers, including Sunwing and Porter, some face the challenges of funding defined benefit pension plans, albeit at a smaller scale than Air Canada.
“It may not be of the same magnitude but still in this highly competitive world, you don’t come up with a solution that favours one carrier.”
McKay added that he doesn’t know why Ottawa would intervene to help Air Canada when Transport Minister Denis Lebel refused to support insolvent aircraft maintenance company Aveos, claiming the government won’t help private companies.
But Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc., believes the Conservatives will approve the 10-year moratorium request but perhaps not the cap requested by Air Canada. He said the government signalled its willingness to help the airline during its labour disputes last year with unionized employees.
“So based upon that track record, I just, for the life of me, can’t see the government of Canada backing off,” he said.
Kokonis said the Air Transport Association likely doesn’t have enough sway to get the government to back down fully from providing pension relief, but may be able to prompt it to carefully consider the shape and form of such relief.
“I think something needs to happen but unfortunately it can’t be all things to all people.”
Air Canada has said that cost savings from its recent labour agreements, startup of low-cost carrier Rouge and pension relief will help to lead the airline to sustainable profits.
Failing to get pension relief will have some effect on those plans, said Kokonis.
“Will it threaten Air Canada’s viability? No, I don’t’ think so. It will slow down that return to recovery,” he said.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Air Canada’s shares closed down one cent at $2.36 in Tuesday trading.
By The Canadian Press - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 7:31 PM - 0 Comments
HALIFAX – A Canadian tour operator says it’s considering suing a Cape Breton family…
HALIFAX – A Canadian tour operator says it’s considering suing a Cape Breton family for the estimated $40,000 cost of a flight diversion to Bermuda caused by what it claims was unruly behaviour and smoking during the trip.
Daryl McWilliams of the Sunwing Travel Group says the plane was flying from Halifax to the Dominican Republic and was forced to make an emergency landing at L.F. Wade International Airport in Hamilton, Bermuda, on Friday.
McWilliams said the airline had to put up 180 passengers overnight and bring in a mechanic — and it may try to recover those costs in a civil action.
He said from Toronto that the airline decided to land because flight attendants believed the family was smoking. He said he understood it was done openly. However, a charge of smoking on the aircraft was denied by a family member and then dropped.
The plane resumed its journey on Saturday afternoon.
But three members of a four-person family were arrested by the Bermuda police and appeared in Magistrates’ Court in Hamilton, Bermuda, to face charges on Monday.
Prosecutor Carrington Mahoney alleged that David McNeil Sr., 54, Donna McNeil, 52, and David McNeil Jr., 22, disobeyed orders to return to their seats after a dispute with flight attendants about using the lavatories during takeoff.
The court heard that minutes into the flight, the younger David McNeil rose from his seat to use the washroom.
Prosecutors said crew members asked him to return to his seat and told him that he was not allowed to walk around the cabin until the captain had turned off the seatbelt sign.
Prosecutors alleged the father also attempted to access the washroom and was also instructed to return to his seat. The court heard they were then joined by Donna McNeil, who asked that her son be allowed to use the toilet.
When the seatbelt sign was deactivated, the son used the washroom and returned to his seat. Prosecutors said the father then went into the washroom, cursing at a flight attendant while doing so.
Prosecutors also said that two hours later, a crew member noticed David McNeil Jr. leaving a washroom smelling strongly of cigarette smoke.
The court heard that after an unsuccessful search for a cigarette butt in the washroom, the crew made the decision to divert the flight to Bermuda to remove the family.
The father pleaded guilty to behaving in a disorderly manner by using abusive and offensive language, while Donna McNeil pleaded guilty to disobeying a lawful order by a flight attendant.
David McNeil Jr. denied a charge of smoking on the aircraft, while he and his father both denied disobeying a lawful order.
The Crown elected to offer no evidence on the matters which the defendants denied, and the smoking charges were dropped.
While the family members remained silent, lawyer Victoria Pearman said that the trip was a family vacation gone awry and that tensions were high because of delays in the flight’s departure.
She said McNeil Jr. needed to use the restroom “urgently” and the family found the cabin crew’s response “heavy handed”.
“It just seems that this could have all been done another way,” she said. “Even though all offences before this court are serious, given the human element of this, the court may consider that this is a one off and unlikely to happen again.”
Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner fined David McNeil Sr. and Donna McNeil $500 each for their offences, ordering that the fines be paid immediately or they would could face up to 10 days in prison.
By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 3:49 PM - 0 Comments
MONTREAL – Security screeners at Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport have given their union a…
MONTREAL – Security screeners at Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport have given their union a strike mandate after unanimously rejecting the latest contract offer from Securitas Transport Aviation Services.
The United Steelworkers Union says the 600 employees are prepared to launch a strike if mediated talks on Monday fail to reach a deal to address wages that are lower than for those working at airports in Toronto and Quebec City.
Workers also want the company to live up to what they see as a commitment to improve the availability of lunch rooms. Continue…
By Joshua Freed, The Associated Press - Monday, August 27, 2012 at 5:36 PM - 0 Comments
It’s going to be a while before U.S. airline passengers can use iPads and…
It’s going to be a while before U.S. airline passengers can use iPads and other electronic devices during the whole flight.
The Federal Aviation Administration says it’s forming a committee to study the issue. But its plan suggests the committee’s work won’t be done until March at the earliest.
The committee will give a recommendation to the FAA, which will make the final decision about any changes. The FAA says allowing cellphone use during flights isn’t under consideration.
Airlines currently ban electronic devices until the plane reaches 10,000 feet. They have to be put away before landing, too.
In March, the FAA raised hopes that it might loosen rules for electronic devices by saying it would study ways to test them.
By Richard Warnica - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 1:10 PM - 2 Comments
The company is loved, loathed and hugely successful in Europe
It can be hard to know exactly how serious Michael O’Leary is. The CEO of Ireland’s Ryanair has proposed many things over the years—a surcharge on fat passengers, standing-room airplanes—that have never come to be. So when he mused recently about yanking two of three toilets from his airplanes to make room for more seats, you could almost see the eyes rolling from the other side of the Atlantic. O’Leary, pugnacious and confrontational, can come off as a clown. He once dressed as the pope to advertise a new Italian route. Another time, he called the agency that operates British airports a bunch of “overcharging rapists.” But for all his ideas that go nowhere—like pay-per-use toilets—an equal number have spun into business gold.
Over the past dozen years, as other airlines have struggled to cope with high fuel costs, pension obligations and new competition, Ryanair has thrived. The company flew about five million passengers in 1999 and earned $81 million in profit. By fiscal 2011, it had more than quadrupled its customers and doubled its cash, all in a year when it lost 9,400 flights to the Icelandic volcano.
Ryanair’s success rests on two promises: cheap tickets, as low as a few dollars on some routes, and on-time flights. Everything else, well, there’s the rub. Buying a Ryanair ticket is a gamble; it’s a bet between customer and company that the former can get through the flight without being too badly milked for extra fees for things like printing a boarding pass, carrying an extra bag, or a cup of tea.
By Richard Warnica - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 10:50 AM - 11 Comments
An astrophysicist, fed up with lineups at the boarding gate, crunches the numbers
As an astrophysicist at the prestigious Fermilab near Chicago, Jason Steffen probes dark matter and, on a contract for NASA, searches for distant planets. But for years, a less esoteric question has occupied his brain: what’s the fastest way to get passengers onto an airplane? Steffen was on his way to a conference five years ago when he hit a series of delays before he could take his seat. There was a line at the gate, another in the tunnel and a final, awkward, push-past-or-wait period on the plane.
Frustrated, he thought: “There has to be a better way to do this.” The answer, Steffen believes, is a complex system cooked up on his own time in the lab, home to the second-largest particle accelerator in the world. The key for an efficient board is to minimize aisle congestion and maximize passenger speed. To do that, he thinks passengers should line up outside the plane, then board, window seats first, in staggered rows one side at a time from back to the front. Steffen first published his theory in the Journal of Air Transport Management in 2008.
Now he has real-time proof that it works. In June, a TV producer in California rented a sound stage, brought in a fake plane, and tested Steffen’s theory against other methods of loading. Toting carry-on luggage and even some children, 72 volunteers walked on and off the plane, stowing bags and taking assigned seats. Along with Steffen’s approach, the passengers were loaded in four ways: randomly, back to front, in three blocks of seats, and from the window seats in—the so-called window-middle-aisle method, or “Wilma.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 25, 2011 at 11:13 AM - 52 Comments
The crime rate is at its lowest since 1973, but prison spending is set to boom. Jason Kenney is chasing fraudulent immigrants and war criminals. John Baird went to China. And the Prime Minister refused to move out of 24 Sussex.
And in other news, Bob Rae proved himself an adept and experienced master of the modern air travel system and/or totally big-timed Newfoundland novelist Kenneth Harvey out of a seat.
“Name,” called the woman, thrusting out her hand again as though to grasp hold of the drowning.
“Bob Rae,” said the pink-faced hobbit of a man, his glasses and suit looking a touch too big for him. “I’m on the delayed St. John’s flight.”
“No,” snapped the militant attendant. “Too late.” Her eyes caught on yet another lost soul and her fingers wiggled for his boarding pass, “Name.”
The man – identified as one of the blessed who belonged on the flight – was embraced as a comrade.
My eyes returned to Bob Rae to hear him utter: “I am Super Elite.”
By Chris Sorensen - Monday, April 25, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 13 Comments
Can it learn from past mistakes?
The late 1990s were heady days for penny-pinching North American air travellers. Southwest Airlines, Frontier and WestJet were shaking up the industry with rock-bottom airfares and an army of fresh-faced employees in golf shirts prone to making jokes over the cabin public-address system. Suddenly ﬁnding themselves under attack, big, bloated network carriers attempted to respond by rolling out their own discount outﬁts, splashed with spirited names like Ted (United Airlines), Song (Delta Air Lines), MetroJet (U.S. Airways) and Tango and Zip (Air Canada). The idea was to not only mimic their new rivals’ low prices (although not necessarily their low cost structures), but also the look and feel of a fresh upstart—sometimes with amusing results.
“Somebody at United determined that one of the reasons Southwest was so successful was because they wore shorts,” says Marc-David Seidel, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, recalling a visit to the California operations of Shuttle by United, another big carrier discount attempt. “So, you know the classic pseudo-military United uniforms that are made out of polyester? They basically just took those and cut off the legs.” It gets worse. “One day management decided employees were supposed to have more ‘fun,’ so all these poor people were running around San Francisco airport wearing those little beanies with a propeller on top.” Needless to say, the strategy didn’t work, and Shuttle was scuttled in 2001. Most of the other “airline-within-an-airline” efforts met a similar fate.
Now, a full decade later, Air Canada is once again toying with the idea. It’s trying to convince its unionized workers to support the creation of a new discount airline that would fly all-economy-class planes to various vacation destinations. But can Air Canada really make money on the cheap seats this time around? Though it’s far from clear whether the project will come to fruition after a key agreement with the airline’s pilots got bogged down last week, the reality is that Air Canada, which has seen its stock plunge nearly 90 per cent to around $2.40 since its post-restructuring IPO in late 2006, is steadily losing market share to younger, cheaper competitors such as WestJet, Transat and Toronto’s Porter Airlines. All this at a time when fuel prices, typically the second-biggest expense for an airline after labour, threaten to eat into already thin profit margins. It has no choice but to attempt a little shaking up of its own.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 1:26 PM - 3 Comments
Flight arrived to find airport terminal practically shut down
Travelers from Vancouver are demanding answers from Cathay Pacific and New York’s Port Authority after they were prevented from deplaning for more than 12 hours after landing Tuesday morning. Another Cathay Pacific flight from
Vancouver was also stuck on the tarmac in New York for more than seven hours. The first flight had been delayed four hours Monday night, but managed to take off and then land at JFK airport just after 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. That was despite a major snow storm that saw 1,500 inbound flights to New York cancelled Monday. However, when the plane arrived, the crew were told there was no staff available to get luggage off the plane and no gates were available into which passengers could disembark. Cathay Pacific says weather conditions prevented the airline from using busses to get passengers safely from the plane to the terminal. The airline has apologized to passengers and is considering compensation.
By Chris Sorensen and Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 10:10 AM - 62 Comments
The inside story of Canada’s fight with the United Arab Emirates and how it went so wrong
In early October, Canada’s armed forces learned they had just one month to pack up and move a key Mideast military base used to support the war in Afghanistan. Located in the United Arab Emirates, Camp Mirage has been used primarily as a transfer point for Canadian Forces flying to and from Kandahar. For the past eight years, it had provided the Forces with a safe place to land and refuel hulking Hercules transport planes while weary soldiers relaxed at a makeshift camp, complete with a ball-hockey rink.
But the desert oasis, a short drive from Dubai’s beaches and air-conditioned shopping malls, ceased to be part of the military’s operations as of Nov. 3, following a high-level spat between Ottawa and the U.A.E. over commercial airline flights between the two countries.
It was an abrupt end to a long-standing strategic relationship between the countries, and it sent the military scrambling. “It’s a pain in the ass for all these guys who are supposed to be doing other things,” says Douglas Bland, the chair of defence management studies at the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University. “Now they have to stop, pack up and move all of this equipment.” At no small cost: by some estimates $300 million.
By Colin Campbell - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 1 Comment
A California company called JetSuite is offering use of charter jets for one-way, low-cost fares
The discount airline model has transformed the air travel industry. Now can it do the same for the private jet business? A California company called JetSuite is offering use of charter jets for one-way, low-cost (relatively speaking) fares. For instance, for US$999, passengers can travel from Van Nuys, Calif., to Las Vegas. And that doesn’t just buy a seat, it gets you the entire plane.
To keep costs down, JetSuite flies four-seat, fuel-efﬁcient Embraer jets. And it keeps routes short (fares go up based on hours in the air). The airline is one of several moving to offer lower cost private jet services. Lufthansa Private Jet recently offered 30 per cent discounts for Canadian travellers.
During the financial crisis, executives were sharply criticized for their use of private jets, which became symbols of Wall Street excess. Steep discounts may be the surest way to revive, and rehabilitate, the industry.
By Colin Campbell - Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 2:40 PM - 0 Comments
Airlines continue to push Internet check-in and smartphone boarding passes
Air travel at any major airport involves running a gauntlet of security checks and lineups—none more frustrating than the final chaotic scramble at the gate when an attendant announces general boarding. To help ease the bottleneck, Continental Airlines is experimenting with turnstiles at one of its gates at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport where passengers can scan their tickets on their own as they pass through subway-style turnstiles. The big advantage of the system, says the airline, is that it frees attendants to help passengers who need assistance with things like ticket changes or seat upgrades.
Transportation officials say the system isn’t a security concern, since passengers are already screened at checkpoints before they reach the gate. (Similar systems are already used in Europe.) As airlines continue to push Internet check-in and smartphone boarding passes, so-called self-boarding may just be the next inevitable step in the electronic age of flying.
By Bruce Parkinson, Takeoffeh.com - Monday, July 12, 2010 at 9:57 AM - 0 Comments
There’s Gold In Them Islands: Caribbean Tourism Worth $12 Billion and Hotel Industry Recovery: As Rooms Fill
There’s Gold In Them Islands: Caribbean Tourism Worth $12 Billion
There are few places that equal the Caribbean when it comes to sun, sand and sea pleasures. There’s no place that equals the region for dependence on tourism. A recent impact study found that the Caribbean travel and tourism industry will earn $12 billion this year and account for 1.9 million direct and indirect jobs – or one in every nine jobs in the region. Tourism’s contribution to regional GDP is over 4% directly, but tops 12% on a broader impact measure. For some destinations, the impact is even more profound: tourism is responsible for one in four jobs on the island of Jamaica and 27.7% of the island’s GDP. In a statement delivering the study results, UK-based Oxford Economics said “Our research indicates that travel and tourism play a proportionately stronger role in both GDP and employment creation [in the Caribbean] than in any other comparable region,” As history has shown, such a disproportionately high dependence on tourism can be as precarious as it is profitable, as natural disasters and civil unrest can quickly slow the flow of visitors.
Hotel Industry Recovery: As Rooms Fill, Rates Will Rise
Industry analysts and hoteliers agree that 2009 was the worst year in the history of the hotel business. Not surprisingly, they’re only admitting that now as fortunes appear to be on the rise again — it doesn’t do to preach doom when you’re still trying to sell franchises or attract investors. What that means for travellers is that rate increases are just around the corner. As Business Travel News reported this week, a recent investment conference in New York gave lodging leaders a forum to express their recession experiences. “What happened last year was really the perfect storm,” said Best Western CEO David Kong. “Demand went down substantially, almost 6 percent, and at the same time supply grew by 3.2 percent.” “Corporate business just fell off a cliff,” said Monty Bennett, CEO of upscale hotel owner Ashford Hospitality. “When all these companies cut back all corporate travel, they made their profits by cutting expenses. Now that they’re looking to grow profits, they can’t cut expenses anymore.” The turnaround is underway, with hotels reporting higher occupancy through the first few months of 2010. Rates, which plummeted to very consumer-friendly levels during the recession, have yet to bounce back, but hoteliers believe that’s just a matter of time.
Cruising Canucks: Sea-Based Vacations Are Fastest-Growing Segment
More Canadians are walking the gangplank – and paying for the privilege. A new study reveals that cruises make up the fastest growing segment of Canada’s travel market. Industry researcher PhoCusWright Inc. says cruises fit well with the Canadian appetite for all-inclusive package vacations – even though most cruises don’t include things like alcohol in the price. Over the past couple of years cruises have certainly appealed to Canadians’ appetite for bargains. When many Americans stayed home during the worst of the recession, prices plummeted and less-impacted Canadians happily took their place – Canadian cruisers grew by 5% in 2008 and “a stunning 9% in 2009″ during the recession. Another interesting result from the study: 27% of Canadian travellers surveyed said they usually book through traditional travel agencies, compared to just 13%of American travellers. Meanwhile, the cruise industry continues to generate reams of press with product enhancements. Norwegian Cruise Line, which has struggled in recent years, is back in the spotlight with the launch of its largest ship ever, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Epic. Taking the ‘floating resort’ concept to new levels, the ship puts the focus on onboard activities rather than port calls, with a dazzling entertainment line-up and an array of dining opportunities. With behemoths like Epic and Royal Caribbean’s 5,600-passenger Oasis of the Seas, it’s easy to forget you’re on a ship. But that seems to be what a sizable segment of cruisers want. Rather than an opportunity to explore new destinations, many cruisers appear more interested in eating, drinking, tanning by the pool and checking out high-profile entertainment at night. And when it comes to port calls, some of the most popular are the private islands owned by Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Lines, Holland America and NCL. These small Caribbean islands are uninhabited until a few thousands cruisers arrive, unmolested by the hawkers and vendors typical of cruise ports. The cruise lines continue to add private island amenities, from private cabanas to water play areas, exhilarating rides to expanded beaches.
Up In The Air: Flying Is Back
After years of almost nothing but bad news coming from the international aviation industry, there’s finally something upbeat to report. In the month of May, both international passenger and freight traffic moved ahead of pre-recession levels. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported an 11.7% increase in passenger traffic and a 34.3% jump in freight demand compared to May 2009.
With airlines closely watching capacity growth, they are filling close to 80% of available seats, a near record level. Now if they could only get corporations to once again start paying 10 times the price of an economy seat for the big seats up front, everything would
By: Bruce Parkinson
Bruce Parkinson is a travel industry journalist and regular contributor to Takeoffeh.com as well as sister company, OpenJaw.com
Photo Credits: bestwestern.com, visitjamaica.com, disneycruise.com, Sieto
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 1:20 PM - 5 Comments
Just because the city’s financial movers and shakers like travelling with Porter doesn’t necessarily mean they want to own shares in it
Ask anyone on Bay Street who has flown on Toronto’s Porter Airlines and you’re likely to hear rave reviews on everything from the swank airport lounge to the proximity of Porter’s main base of operations, at Toronto’s island airport, to the city’s downtown skyscrapers. But just because the city’s financial movers and shakers like travelling with Porter doesn’t necessarily mean they want to own shares in it.
By Takeoffeh.com - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 4:44 PM - 0 Comments
Reports from the U.S. suggest strict rules on liquids in air travellers’ baggage are no longer being enforced, despite no official change in policy.
Reports from the U.S. suggest strict rules on liquids in air travellers’ baggage are no longer being enforced, despite no official change in policy. But an informal TakeOffeh.com survey of frequent Canadian travellers found that security officials here are still busy confiscating liquid items that don’t meet the rules.
“The Transportation Security Administration’s unpopular restrictions on liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on luggage — better known as the 3-1-1 rule — are history,” wrote MSNBC columnist and travel ombudsman Christopher Elliott recently.
There have been no official pronouncements, but Elliott says extensive feedback from readers indicates the TSA has all but stopped screening carry-on bags for liquids. “(Readers) say transportation security officers no longer ask them to remove lotions, shampoos and even water bottles from their luggage, and overlook all manner of liquids packed in their carry-ons during screening,” Elliott writes.
The TSA initially banned liquids and gels from carry-on bags back in 2006 when British authorities intercepted a plot to blow up planes with liquid explosives. Other jurisdictions, including Canada, quickly followed the U.S. lead. The rules were later revised to allow small quantities of liquids in carry-ons.
Elliott has been a vocal critic of the policy since it was put in place and many air travellers agree that the easily-forgotten restriction is one of the most annoying elements of airport security.
U.S. officials have said that liquid rules will be lifted at the end of this year, when screening machines at security checkpoints will be upgraded with technology designed to detect threatening liquids. European officials say new technology will allow prohibitions on liquids in carry-on bags to be lifted by 2013.
Meanwhile, despite Elliott’s reporting on the experiences of his readers, the TSA says nothing has changed: “The policy continues to be enforced,” a spokesperson told Elliott. “Although it is important to note that we empower our workforce with discretion.”
Several frequent travellers canvassed by TakeOffeh report they have seen little change in the way rules are being enforced here in Canada, although some have also seen incidents when officials displayed ‘discretion.’ “I still abide by packing most of my liquids and just taking small items in a see-through Ziploc with me on the plane,” says Vanessa Lee, publisher of Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine. “However, I did notice a woman going through security ahead of me who had a decent size bottle of sunscreen in her carry on and they looked at, let her keep it and told her next time to pack it.”
Photo Credit: Devonyu
By Takeoffeh.com - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 10:36 AM - 1 Comment
New Airline Systems Call You Back
Airlines have wholeheartedly embraced a self-service culture that now sees customers book their own flights, print out their boarding passes, check-in at electronic kiosks and even in some cases print and attach their luggage tags.
But while passengers have adjusted to these commercial realities, one thing they don’t like – as evidenced in repeated surveys – is the old reality of being kept on hold to speak to an agent at the airline call centres.
As the New York Times reports, technology is now providing a solution to this problem. Dubbed VOH or ‘virtual on-hold,’ the feature allows callers to hang up and have a customer service representative call back when their number reaches the front of the line. It may not make the response any faster, but it beats having a phone stuck to your ear for hours.
Southwest Airlines added the feature to its customer service protocol last year and says it has been a success, both from a customer service perspective and because it reduces telecom costs. Canada’s WestJet also added the feature in 2009. “We implemented the VOH system last year when we were experiencing high call volumes during the Sabre transition,” says WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer. The transition he refers to was a new reservation system last fall that resulted in online problems and drove passengers to the phone. “The VOH system is still in place today and we intend to keep it. It will kick in if the wait time is longer than two minutes,” Palmer says.
For its part, Air Canada told TakeOffeh that it doesn’t use the VOH system but is “monitoring developments” in the industry. As spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick says, the airline is more concerned with giving passengers fewer reasons to use the blower. “We have been focused on online services that let people do things for themselves without calling the call centre. Our online rebooking, for example, lets people whose flights are cancelled rebook themselves on-line. It worked well during the volcano,” Fitzpatrick says.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 10:46 PM - 53 Comments
Late breaking news this evening that the Veteran Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn recently demonstrated an interest in airport security protocol.
Blackburn wanted to bypass a rule that all Canadians must follow: You cannot pack containers filled with more than 100 millilitres of liquid. When security at the Ottawa airport told Blackburn he would have to give up his bottle of tequila, sources say he asked that the bottle be kept for him. When security refused, he demanded that they empty the bottle in his presence. Sources told CTV News the argument became so heated, security almost called the police…
“The minister wasn’t pleased by the fact he had to leave the bottle of alcohol behind. He was upset that they wouldn’t destroy it in front of him,” the official said, on condition of anonymity. “He remained polite. He didn’t pull a Helena apparently.”
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 1 Comment
Snowstorms blasted the U.S. and took a bite out of the economy, too
During the first week of the 2010 Games, Vancouver’s winter weather—or more precisely, lack of it—was a hot topic. In the end, though, the spring-like conditions proved no match for a determined army of snow-shovelling workers. But while Olympic organizers were able to temporarily wrestle Mother Nature into submission, the bright minds charged with running the giant U.S. economy weren’t nearly so lucky.
In the United States, harsh winter storms pounded the densely populated eastern seaboard in February, and are blamed for taking the steam out of the country’s economic recovery. Washington, for example, was buried under more than half a metre of snow during a blizzard dubbed “Snowmageddon,” which disrupted the entire region and was followed by an encore performance less than a week later. The storms disrupted government and air travel and caused many Americans to stay home instead of going to work or to the mall, putting a dent in everything from consumer spending to employment. “This February marked the ﬁrst time in recorded history that each of the 50 states had measurable snowfall in the same day,” according to UBS, a Swiss bank. “It is therefore likely that this unusual weather played at least some role in the recent string of weaker-than-expected [U.S.] economic data”
It has been a different story north of the border—and not just in Vancouver. In Toronto, the country’s financial centre, bankers and lawyers have gone nearly the entire winter with nothing but bare concrete under their leather-soled dress shoes. Meanwhile, GDP numbers shot through the roof in the fourth quarter and talk has suddenly turned to taming the recovery, instead of stoking it. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will likely hike interest rates to cool any overheating, but praying for a few more snowflakes couldn’t hurt.
By Tom Henheffer - Monday, February 22, 2010 at 11:21 AM - 5 Comments
Shipwrecked students survived on rainwater—and Disney songs
“I’m going to cover her in this blanket and I’m going to take her home, and give her a bath and feed her as much as I can possibly feed her.”
Elysha was one of 48 students on the S.V. Concordia, a sailing ship that doubled as a travelling high school and university. A microburst, a sudden massive gust of wind, toppled the three-masted boat off the coast of Brazil late last Thursday evening. It sank in minutes, leaving every soul on board to fight for survival in leaky life rafts for two days and nights.
“We’re just so happy that they’re all okay. It’s a miracle,” says Piller.
After pulling each other from flooded classrooms and cutting the life rafts free, the students and crew were forced to bail constantly to keep shin-deep water from sinking their small boats. As they fought to collect rainwater and survive on rations, many became sick from dehydration, but they managed to keep their spirits high by singing Disney songs.
“There were low points and high points,” says Mark Sinker, the ship’s history and English teacher. “When there was water in the rafts and people were shivering, morale was very low. But overall I think people kept their spirits up.”
Piller, her husband Tony, and three sons, Lucas, Sam and Trevor, stood waiting, wearing their scarves and winter coats, with sleepy grins and hands in their pockets. A few other families were scattered around the airport, holding coffee and sitting at shops with metal gates still drawn shut.
Brent Tripp waited for his brother Jamie, a world traveller who was working as a crewman on the Concordia. Early Friday morning Brent got a call from his mother—at first all he could make out was the word “sink.” He was always afraid something would happen to Jamie, and thought the worst might have finally happened. Eventually his mother told him everything was okay, and his brother called Sunday morning.
“I pick up the phone and there was a quick delay, then ‘hey brother’ came across” says Tripp, his voice quivering slightly. “Both of us had a huge little breakdown.” He added that although he knew his brother was safe physically, it was worrisome to think what psychological toll the accident might have taken. “The next thing we went into was Olympic men’s hockey. So it was kind of nice to know that my brother, the guy that I love so much, he was still there.”
He said he plans to take it easy once they’re reunited.
“I would just like nothing more then to cram in the back seat of our little four door car and just take him to a little restaurant, buy him some lunch and have a beer.”
As the minutes ticked by the concourse started to become a hub of activity. Alumni from previous voyages arrived, holding bristol board signs declaring “Welcome Home Floaties” and “S.V. Concordia Forever.” Dozens of reporters began rushing back and forth. The families were ushered into a secure area, and a mob of camera’s surrounded the door. Cheering could be heard from inside. Emboldened with the spirit their travelling school was meant to instill, the alumni sat in front of reporters, forcing them to back up about 10 steps so they would have room to greet their friends.
In the end, the parents and children decided not to meet with the media, and went out through side gates. But Nigel McCarthy, CEO of the Class Afloat program, did eventually address the crowd.
“Today is a day of celebration,” he said. “There’s been lots of tears and there’s been lots of joy. There have been children jumping up into their parents’ arms. It’s a beautiful day.”
By Stephanie Findlay - Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 1:20 PM - 15 Comments
Allergic to Fluffy? You can re-book—at your expense.
When Air Canada banned pets from aircraft cabins in 2006, pet owners were furious. But many say the airline’s recent decision to reverse that ban was a bigger mistake, as it puts pets ahead of people—and may even put lives at risk.
As of Canada Day, dogs and cats can travel with their owners on executive or economy Air Canada flights, as long as they’re in pet carriers that fit under the airplane seats. The plan, which was recently announced as part of Air Canada’s “renewed commitment to the customer” initiative, allows pet owners to register their pets 24 hours before the flight, as long as they pay a $50 or $100 fee. Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Friday, June 19, 2009 at 3:56 PM - 145 Comments
Air Canada’s new pets on a plane policy is bound to pit passengers against one another
Before leaving his home in Smithers, B.C. for Northern Ontario in 2004, Dr. Darren Jakubec felt nervous about taking his dog on the flight with him, “for reasons I can’t entirely explain.” A family doctor, Jakubec was travelling to Wawa, Ont., with his wife, a nurse, to start a six-month work contract. Leaving their black dog Sila behind wasn’t an option, he says. Sila, a black lab mix, was kenneled and placed in the plane’s cargo hold. After deplaning in Winnipeg for a connecting flight, the couple waited anxiously for their dog. When she was finally taken off the plane, they were devastated by what they saw: “Sila was brought out onto the carousel,” he says, “dead.”
Jakubec paid for an autopsy “that showed carbon monoxide poisoning as the probable cause of death,” he says. After a two-year legal battle, the case was settled out of court. Jakubec and his wife eventually made it to Wawa, where they adopted another stray dog, Beck, also a black lab mix. Though he won’t fly with a pet again, Jakubec says “if you absolutely have to, insist they’re in the cabin with you.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 11:45 AM - 0 Comments
The Mark has taken lately to publishing short essays by MPs who have ideas about things. The latest is Mario Silva on literacy. Previously there was Garry Breitkreuz on the gun registry and Jim Maloway on air travel.
From such noble intentions are a thousand ill-fated private members’ bills born.
By Steve Maich - Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 11:12 AM - 0 Comments
No this is not a post about how my 9:00 pm flight out of…
No this is not a post about how my 9:00 pm flight out of Pearson was canceled last Thursday. Mind you – it’s a pretty good story. (Have you ever had a flight canceled because the plane’s parking brake refused to release? I have. I finally made it to Las Vegas, only 15 hours later than planned.)
It’s not about Jason Kirby’s excellent cover story from last week either.
This is about my friend Derek DeCloet’s column in today’s Globe and Mail. Derek takes a hard look at the unbelievably low market values ascribed to major airlines today. Seems like just about everybody is expecting the industry to tumble right back into the bankruptcy disaster it only emerged from a couple of years ago. My favourite snippet: “Right now, Southwest, Delta, Northwest, American, United, JetBlue and US Airways combined aren’t worth as much as Canadian National Railway.” Amazing.
Derek asks why Air Canada is being priced as a distressed company when it is not (yet) is any real financial danger. He goes on to answer the question, looking at debt, leases, warrants, break-up value etc. (Seriously – you should read it.) But there is one aspect of the flight experience that he doesn’t mention: customers are being asked to pay substantially more, for a service that is getting substantially worse. Nobody knows that better than the business guys who are flying these airlines on a regular basis. We tend to take for granted that we’re all hooked on air travel and that will not change, but price and service have a funny way of messing with our habits. If oil prices stay above $100 a barrel for an extended period, I believe people will fly a lot less than they do now. The stories are already beginning to emerge of people opting not to fly home for holidays, and companies looking for ways to avoid sending people to distant meetings and conventions. People tend to assume that demand for air travel is inelastic and eternal. But then, we used to think the demand for SUVs was pretty inelastic too.
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 1:33 AM - 0 Comments
A recent study by J.D. Power found airline customer satisfaction is at a three…
A recent study by J.D. Power found airline customer satisfaction is at a three year low, and falling like a rock. No wonder. These days passengers must bear the brunt of gasoline surcharges, long line-ups, overbooked aircraft, seemingly arbitrary cancellations and fees for checked bags that invariably wind up on the opposite side of the globe from where they’re supposed to be. And the experts say it’s only going to get worse.
We want to hear your airline horror stories for an upcoming feature in the magazine. Are things getting worse out there on the tarmac? What’s it like flying today’s unfriendly skies? Drop us an e-mail or comment on this post and let us know.