Delta Airlines: You win our love

We just got back from our holiday trip to visit family in Tennessee and Pennsylvania for Liam’s first Christmas and New Years. Overall the trip was way too long, but fairly uneventful. I wanted to take a moment to write a positive blog post (which seems rare for me lately, sorry about that) to point out a real winner from our trip: Delta Airlines. We had a total of 7 flight legs in 3 trips, a total of 5569 miles in the air: RNO-ATL-BNA, BNA-CVG-SCE, and SCE-CVG-ATL-RNO, and we were traveling with a 10-month old baby (in lap). We didn’t miss any connections, had no significant delays really, and our luggage was not lost despite a double layover and a short connection time at CVG on our return.

That’s not how Delta won our love though—anyone can do that if they try and they care. Delta won our love due to their gate agents’ pro-activeness and caring. They did two tiny things, each of which couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes, that made us smile and made our return trip less painful:

  • Our initial boarding passes for CVG-ATL had us sitting in two middle seats in different parts of the plane. On arrival at CVG, I walked up to the gate agent to find out if they could seat us together anywhere on the plane. To my surprise, he said “that name looks familiar” and grabbed a new set of boarding passes from the counter, that he had already printed before we arrived. They sat us next to each other in an aisle and middle seat. He even apologized for not getting us a window seat.
  • Our initial boarding passes for ATL-RNO (a 4 hour and 15 minute flight) had us sitting together in a window and middle seat, which was basically fine by us. A short time after we arrived at the gate, they called me up to the podium, and the gate agent gave us new seat assignments with an aisle and window seat, and an empty middle seat, so we would have extra space for the baby. We didn’t pay for a seat, but since there were extra seats, she pro-actively ensured that it was given to those that could really use it.

So, a big THANKS to Delta Airlines and their gate agents for flight 305 (CVG-ATL) and flight 1511 (ATL-RNO) on January 7th, 2008. You made our return trip a whole lot better, made us smile, and overall demonstrated that you are human (despite many other airlines‘ efforts to prove themselves otherwise). I will certainly choose Delta for our other flights in the future—keep up the good work.

Airport Security Shuffle

Whenever going through airport security I am somewhat amused and mildly frustrated, as most normal people probably are. Of course abnormal people and those predisposed to stress are always freaking out.

I find the current airport security shuffle to be quite amusing though, imagine if you will, my typical pass through the security checkpoint:

  • Pass by the person helping bewildered people with their liquids and gels. “Does hair gel count?” “What about perfume?” “But I paid $50 for that!”
  • Pass by the TSA staffer waiting at the end of the rope lines for no obvious reason. Try to show her your documents, but she doesn’t care and points you on to the next person. What is she here for? Nobody knows.
  • Show your boarding pass and ID to the TSA staffer who marks it with an easy-to-forge mark, such as initials or a number. Note that this is the only time that an ID is ever checked. I won’t point out the flaws in this system. Staffer tells you to keep your boarding pass out.
  • Note that it’s impossible to strip as required to get through security while actually keeping your boarding pass out as they’ve told you to. Place boarding pass in pocket.
  • Remove cell phone and keys and place them in backpack pocket.
  • Remove shoes and belt and place them in a tray.
  • Remove laptop and place it in a tray.
  • Walk through metal detector.
  • Get dirty looks from staffer after metal detector because the boarding pass was not out, when they told me to keep it out.
  • Fetch backpack from X-ray conveyor.
  • Shock laptop with static electricity while fetching it from X-ray conveyor. Grounding yourself first doesn’t help because it’s the laptop itself that is charged.
  • Fetch belt and shoes from X-ray conveyor.
  • Walk sock-footed and belt-less to my gate, or the nearest gate with open seats to re-apply clothing.
  • Wait for plane.

Pretty much the same everywhere you go. It gets even more exciting if you get “randomly” selected for extra screening. This of course isn’t random at all: buying a one-way ticket gets you extra screening pretty much every time.  If I was feeling frisky and wanted to blow up the plane, couldn’t I just spring for the extra $90 for the round trip ticket? Hmm…

Tent Blogging

In case you needed any more proof of how ubiquitous the internet has become, I’m currently sitting in a tent, many miles up a gravel road1, outside of Reno, Nevada. I’m camping solo, since Adrienne is going to Ohio for a few days.

It’s currently a bit after midnight, and I got the tent set up, got in, and noticed that I have full GSM service (thanks, Cingular!) with EDGE support, even. So I logged on in order to chat and tent blog. :)

1 Note that location, in case I get eaten by a bear…

Overbooking of Flights

Today I’ve been talking to Rob as he’s sitting around in Chicago O’Hare Airport on standby for hours on end. It’s his own fault, he missed his flight this morning. As he’s complaining that every flight he’s been bumped to has been overbooked, I was thinking that I should blog about overbooking of flights. Having travelled quite extensively, hopefully I’m qualified to talk about it. This is one of the nastiest little secrets of the airline industry.

Overbooking (of flights) is the practice of selling more seats on each flight than there actually are on the plane. At first blush, the concept is simple. The airlines claim that since passengers typically don’t notify the airline to cancel their reservation when their plans change, there are many no-shows for a given flight. All major airlines overbook flights, with few exceptions1. An un-used seat is wasted revenue.

A given flight might be overbooked by as little as 10% or as much as 100%. When they estimate wrongly, and too many people show up for the flight, they have to “bump” some passengers to the next flight. You’ll notice this all the time at the airport: They’ll be asking for people to voluntarily give up their seat for some sort of compensation. Often they pay cash, sometimes airline vouchers and other incentives.

I understand the airlines’ plight. I myself have many times booked a flight and not shown up for it, without notifying the airline. This isn’t so simple as blaming the passengers for not notifying the airline though. This is a bigger issue. Most no-shows (mine included) can be attributed to one of two causes:

  • One-way penalties— Most airlines (in the US) charge steep penalties for booking one-way flights, versus round trips. They do this in the hopes of penalizing and extracting more money from business travellers, who are likely to book many one-way trips to visit different customers, without returning home.
  • Non-refundable tickets— Most tickets sold by major airlines in the US are the “non-refundable” type, and have steep fees to change—on the order of $150 or more, plus possible fare differences. This means that the passenger has absolutely no incentive to notify the airline in the case that they change their mind or their plans, especially if they can book a new ticket for less than the change fee.

Airlines have caused this mess themselves, but they continue to try to blame it on the customer. Charge reasonable prices, don’t try to extract money from the business travellers, and be honest, and this problem wouldn’t exist. Airlines that allow easy cancellation, with full or even partial refunds don’t have this problem. Airlines that don’t charge one-way penalties don’t have this problem.

1 JetBlue is one notable exception, here.

Grenoble Hotel Fiasco

I mentioned the snafu with our hotel in Grenoble in my last post, but I thought I’d expand on things. First, for some background:

Yahoo! has a new internal travel system, in order to reduce the volume of people booking with the travel agents at the travel desk. I figured I’d give it a try for this trip. Man, did it suck. It’s outsourced to KDS International, and internally re-branded as “Yahoo! U-Book”. It takes hours to do the simplest of things. I booked a single hotel from my trip with it before giving up and using Expedia, Orbitz, and HRS. I kept my sanity.

The hotel that I booked on U-Book was for Grenoble, France. We arrived into Paris on Saturday, and took the SNCF TGV train to Grenoble on Sunday afternoon. When we arrived at the Grenoble train station, I checked the map, but couldn’t find the address of the hotel on it. I asked the person at the information desk, and after some scratching his head, all he could initially tell me was: “far, very far”. Not good. I asked if I could take the tram or bus there; “No, only taxi, very far” was his response.

The hotel was in Saint Rambert d’Albon, which is really far from Grenoble. He knew that initially from the postal code—the hotel’s postal code is 26140, while central Grenoble is 38000. He was willing to figure out how I could get there, but I told him, no, if it’s really that far, I need a different hotel. He pointed me to the IBIS Grenoble Gare hotel, right down the road. The guy at the front desk of the hotel spoke excellent English and helped me cancel the other hotel without penalty and rebook there.

I got back in the office today, so I checked the U-Book system to make sure that I’m not crazy, and that it really isn’t my fault. I was right. Here’s a screen shot of the U-Book’s map of hotels, with my mouse over where it thinks the hotel I booked is:

You can see Kelkoo on there, which is the Yahoo! office I was headed to. Nice and close, right?

And now, where it really is, courtesy of Mappy. The hotel is on the left, Grenoble on the right, and the driving directions between. Click to get a bigger version. It’s 138km to drive this route:

I reported the problem to KDS today, by phone, so hopefully they’ll fix it.

We made it!

Adrienne and I are currently in Grenoble, France. Overall the trip so far has been good… the flights were pretty uneventful, and we arrived in Paris on Saturday. We saw the Eiffel tower, and got rained on, so we didn’t make it to the top level, only to the 2nd platform. Yesterday, we took the TGV train to Grenoble, which was awesome as usual.

After a bit of a snafu with the hotel booking, we finally got a hotel. I booked the hotel for Grenoble using Yahoo!’s self-booking travel system, and it claimed that the hotel was quite close to the office here, but it turns out it was an hour away, by car. We’re now staying in the IBIS Grenoble Gare hotel downtown.

Grenoble is a really nice city! It’s surrounded by amazing mountains, and the city has a very nice feel to it—I could live here! Adrienne’s out wandering around today, so we’ll see what she finds.