Saturday, December 21, 2013

The long haul: Flights that ferry us the farthest

THIS is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard Economist flight DEC20 to London. Today's in-flight entertainment is an infographic of the longest commercial flights—“ultra long-haul” routes that last more than 12 hours. We regret to announce that the lengthiest—Singapore Airlines’ flight from the city-state to Newark Airport near New York, at 15,263km—was discontinued last month. That now makes Qantas’ Sydney to Dallas flight the longest, at 13,790km. For those travelling during the holidays, spare a thought for passengers strapped into their seats for around 16 hours, the journey time for these flights. That’s double the duration it took Concorde to complete a similar distance (going round trip between London and Barbados). In the chart below, scroll down to see how these ultra long-haul flights compare. And thank you for choosing The Economist. We appreciate that there are other chart providers and we hope to serve you again for all your infographic interests.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Some 96 British Airways employees serve every passenger flying from Baku to London

To coincide with its latest 'To Fly. To Serve' campaign, British Airways has calculated the essential people involved in the customer journey in order to fly from Baku to London. It includes 96 different roles, across 18 different departments, using over 11 external suppliers in the process. The figures rise to 107 roles for premium customers - which can include the additional benefits of fast track boarding, lounge access and personal meet and greets, the company said today.
And following the findings that it takes 96 people to get each customer in the air, British Airways is launching special fares to the UK, Europe, USA and Canada across all cabins, until 26 November for travel until 31 July 2014. Seats are available to London from EUR 476* in World Traveller, and EUR 1767* in Club World.
Paolo De Renzis, British Airways commercial director, Middle East and Central Asia, said: "Customer experience is at the centre of everything we do, although when you take a step back and calculate how many different people are involved in making a journey possible, the figure is quite astounding. Our research shows just how much work goes on behind the scenes in order for us to fly more than 100,000 passengers each day."
Abigail Comber, British Airways head of marketing, said: "The research gave us a real appreciation for every single person that makes flying a seamless process. From the tug driver to the ramp agent, from NATS air traffic control to our chefs - there's more people than you realise, that get you from A to Z."
Before flying there are 23 crucial roles behind the scenes working to ensure everything is in place for your flight. On the day you fly, there are 38 people that contribute directly to getting you in the air.
On board there's an average flight team of 16 people, including cabin crew, Captains and Senior First Officers, and upon landing there's 19 people that ensure your safe arrival.
On board a typical long-haul Boeing 747 flight, there will be 1,263 items of metal cutlery, 735 glasses, 233 toothpicks, 337 copies of High Life magazine, 2,000 ice cubes, 99 full bottles and 326 quarter bottles of wine, 58 toilet rolls, 337 donation envelopes to 'Flying Start' charity, and 40 skyflyer packs for children.
A full timetable of British Airways' flights to London and beyond is available online at - where customers can book, pay and check-in online for their flights.
*Terms and conditions apply. Visit for full offer details.
About British Airways:
• British Airways has a worldwide route network that covers more than 175 destinations in 75 countries.
• The airline is one of the world's largest international airlines carrying approximately 36 million passengers around the world every year.
• The airline offers a choice of four cabins on the majority of its long-haul services.
• The airline is investing in new aircraft, new cabins, new technology and new routes.
• British Airways operates the majority of flights from Terminal 5, its home at London Heathrow. This terminal is capable of handling 30 million customers a year and is the size of 50 football pitches.
• British Airways is two years into a more than £5bn investment in new aircraft, smarter cabins, elegant lounges and new technologies to make life more comfortable in the air and on the ground.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

British Airways Billboard Ads Interact With Planes

One of the big selling points of digital billboards is interactivity -- and the definition grew wider this week thanks to British Airways, which unveiled new outdoor ads that interact with planes overhead.

The BA campaign, running on Clear Channel’s new “Storm” digital out-of-home network in London, uses surveillance technology and flight schedules to determine when there is a BA plane overhead. When a plane is detected, it triggers an image of a child pointing up at the aircraft, along with a message containing the flight number and departure city -- e.g., “Look, it’s flight BA430 Amsterdam.”

That’s followed or accompanied (in installations with more than one sign) by a second message, e.g. “Amsterdam, one of 34 city break destinations.” Other complementary messages highlight things like low fares or the current temperature at the destination.

The ads are running on Storm displays in Piccadilly, in Central London, and the West London neighborhood of Chiswick, whose positions allow juxtaposition with BA planes landing at London’s busy Heathrow Airport. The campaign was created by Ogilvy’s 12th Floor agency.

Richard Tams, the head of BA sales for the UK and Ireland, stated: “We've all had conversations with friends and family wondering where the planes are going and dream of an amazing holiday or warm destination, and this clever technology taps in to that and reminds people how accessible the world can be.”

The Storm network, unveiled by Clear Channel UK in October, consists of high-profile digital billboards along motorways around London; among other features, they allow “bespoke” ad placements, with creative formats and schedules ranging from a single, two-hour display during a Friday rush hour to a year-long takeover. The billboards are complemented with customizable lighting and digital nameplates for advertising clients.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Amazon has a Kindle sale to hail new in-flight device rules

Consumers are not the only ones happy about the FAA’s recent decision to let passengers use electronic devices during nearly all phases of the flights. Amazon is marking the occasion with a one-day marketing ploy to offer consumers a discount on various e-reader devices.

In a Monday morning release, Amazon said “thank you” and offered a 15 percent discount on various versions of the Kindle Fire, as well as knocking $10 off its $69 basic Kindle.

“We’ve been fighting for our customers on this issue for years, and we are thrilled by the FAA’s recent decision,” said an Amazon executive in a statement.

The decision, announced on Friday, means an end to seemingly arbitrary rules that required passengers to power down their devices during take-off and landing, despite any evidence that devices like Kindles or iPads have any effect on planes’ navigations systems.

As my colleague Kevin Tofel explains, the new rules mean passengers can pretty much use their devices as they like (except for voice calls), but that the new policies will go into effect on an airline-by-airline basis.


Friday, November 1, 2013

FAA to Allow Airlines to Expand Use of Personal Electronics

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced that the FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with implementation guidance.
Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.
The FAA based its decision on input from a group of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants, and the mobile technology industry.
Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions. Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll. Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled – i.e., no signal bars displayed—and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones.    If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services.  You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.
“We believe today’s decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumer’s increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These guidelines reflect input from passengers, pilots, manufacturers, and flight attendants, and I look forward to seeing airlines implement these much anticipated guidelines in the near future.”  
“I commend the dedication and excellent work of all the experts who spent the past year working together to give us a solid report so we can now move forward with a safety-based decision on when passengers can use PEDs on airplanes,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
The PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) concluded most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from PEDs. In a recent report, they recommended that the FAA provide airlines with new procedures to assess if their airplanes can tolerate radio interference from PEDs. Once an airline verifies the tolerance of its fleet, it can allow passengers to use handheld, lightweight electronic devices – such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones—at all altitudes. In rare instances of low-visibility, the crew will instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landing. The group also recommended that heavier devices should be safely stowed under seats or in overhead bins during takeoff and landing.
The FAA is streamlining the approval of expanded PED use by giving airlines updated, clear guidance. This FAA tool will help airlines assess the risks of potential PED-induced avionics problems for their airplanes and specific operations. Airlines will evaluate avionics as well as changes to stowage rules and passenger announcements. Each airline will also need to revise manuals, checklists for crewmember training materials, carry-on baggage programs and passenger briefings before expanding use of PEDs. Each airline will determine how and when they will allow passengers broader use of PEDs.
The FAA did not consider changing the regulations regarding the use of cell phones for voice communications during flight because the issue is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  The ARC did recommend that the FAA consult with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to review its current rules. Cell phones differ from most PEDs in that they are designed to send out signals strong enough to be received at great distances
Top Things Passengers Should Know about Expanded Use of PEDs on Airplanes:
1. Make safety your first priority.
2.  Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.
3.  Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.
4. Cell phones may not be used for voice communications.
5.  Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled. You may use the WiFi connection on your device if the plane has an installed WiFi system and the airline allows its use.  You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.
6. Properly stow heavier devices under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing. These items could impede evacuation of an aircraft or may injure you or someone else in the event of turbulence or an accident.  
7. During the safety briefing, put down electronic devices, books and newspapers and listen to the crewmember’s instructions.
8.  It only takes a few minutes to secure items according to the crew’s instructions during takeoff and landing.
9.  In some instances of low visibility – about one percent of flights – some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
10. Always follow crew instructions and immediately turn off your device if asked.
Current FAA regulations require an aircraft operator to determine that radio frequency interference from PEDs is not a flight safety risk before the operator authorizes them for use during certain phases of flight. Even PEDs that do not intentionally transmit signals can emit unintentional radio energy. This energy may affect aircraft safety because the signals can occur at the same frequencies used by the plane’s highly sensitive communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment. An airline must show it can prevent potential interference that could pose a safety hazard. The PED ARC report helps the FAA to guide airlines through determining that they can safely allow widespread use of PEDs.
The PED ARC began work in January, at the request of Administrator Huerta, to determine if it is safe to allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today’s aircraft.  The group also reviewed the public’s comments in response to an August 2012 FAA notice on current policy, guidance, and procedures that aircraft operators use when determining if passengers can use PEDs. The group did not consider the use of electronic devices for voice communications. A fact sheet on the report is now available.
The FAA is immediately giving airlines a clear path to safely expand PED use by passengers, and the Administrator will evaluate the rest of the ARC’s longer-term recommendations and respond at a later date.
A Portable Electronic Device is any piece of lightweight, electrically-powered equipment. These devices are typically consumer electronic devices capable of communications, data processing and/or utility.  Examples range from handheld, lightweight electronic devices such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones to small devices such as MP3 players and electronic toys.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

6 Reasons Why Google Is Fine With its Irrelevant Flight Search

Google’s Nikesh Arora, chief business officer, recently told analysts the company is happy with its Google Flight Search product and ITA Software, acquired for $700 million in 2011.

There probably isn’t a hotter segment of the travel business these days than metasearch, or price comparison, with Kayak, Skyscanner, Trivago, and TripAdvisor all involved in high-profile mergers, funding transactions, or product launches this year.

But by all accounts, the flight comparison product Google Flight Search has hardly made a dent in the market since its much-feared debut more than two years ago.

Companies such as Priceline and Expedia have repeatedly said they haven’t felt an impact from Google Flight Search. Henry Harteveldt, Hudson Crossing’stravel industry analyst, recalls a recent conversation with an airline executive who, referring to Google’s flight metasearch product, said that sometimes the airline forgets that it even exists.

There are lots of theories about why Google Flight Search’s impact has been so small.

1. Google Doesn’t Want To Mess With Its Online Travel Agency Advertising Base

In travel it’s the online travel agencies, with their sometimes-large digital marketing budgets, that dominate Google AdWords. Google likely isn’t devoting more resources to Google Flight Search because it doesn’t want to threaten all that Google Adwords revenue with its own airline-dominated flight metasearch product.

BrandVerity, which studies paid search and monitors trademark abuse, monitored 100 keyword strings, namely “flights to” and “tickets to” the 50 most populated U.S. cities, on Google from October 26 to 28, and told Skift it found that paid ads from online travel agencies (68%) outnumbered airline paid ads (21%) by a factor of three to one.

The actual numbers were 21,584 OTA ads to 6,639 ads from airlines, and 3,422 ads from other kinds of companies in Google search.

“I don’t think Google wants to bite the hand that feeds it and antagonize any of its advertising clients,” Harteveldt says.

Given the importance of OTA advertising to Google AdWords, it sometimes appears that Google Flight Search is laboring away with one hand tied behind its back.

2. Travelers Aren’t Used to Google as a Destination Site in Itself

Some argue that the OTA advertising theory as the reason behind Google Flight Search’s lack of traction is overblown. Instead consumer expectations about Google may be a root cause, it is argued.

Travelers are used to searching Google for links to other sites, and aren’t necessarily accustomed to using Google Flight Search as more of a travel site in its own right, the theory goes.

3. Google Hasn’t Done Much to Promote the Product

Google has integrated Google Flight Search into the main Google search results pages, as well as the Maps product, but apart from that it has not done much to promote Google Flight Search.

While Kayak has run TV advertising campaigns and TripAdvisor is in the midst of one, it is hard to imagine Google running a big offline advertising campaign to create awareness for a product like Google Flight Search that it is not central to its business.

After all, Google Flight Search is not Chrome, YouTube, or Nexus 7.

4. The Airline-Heavy Business Model Isn’t Attractive to Travelers

Google Flight Search shows OTA results here and there, but predominantly displays schedule and fare results directly from airline sites.

Harteveldt argues that although there aren’t great fare differences, travel consumers may perceive Google Flight Search’s basically airline-only model as portraying a lack of comprehensiveness and choice.

5. Perhaps Google Doesn’t Need For Google Flight Search to Be a Commercial Success

Google obviously doesn’t need Google Flight Search to be a commercial success and perhaps it is content to learn from the experience and apply technology and consumer-facing lessons from it to other Google initiatives, Harteveldt says.

Given the importance of mobile and the immediacy of hotel bookings when travelers are already present in a destination, perhaps Google intends to make a bigger push with Google Hotel Finder than Google Flight Search, although the hotel product hasn’t trounced competitors either, Harteveldt says.

6. Google Is in No Hurry and Google Flight Search Isn’t Ready for Prime Time

There is a contrarian theory that Google is merely content to bide its time with Google Flight Search, realizes there are holes in it, and that the product isn’t ready for prime time.

Why promote Google Flight Search before it is a mature product capable of going head to head against its competitors?

Google declined comment on the subject so we won’t hear anything publicly about its latest thinking about Google Flight Search for now other than Arora’s comment that Google is satisfied with how things are going.

What we do know is that unlike its competitors, Google has the luxury of not feeling the pressure to be in a hurry with Google Flight Search, and can just toy with it at its own pace.

Monday, October 14, 2013

United Airlines Site Glitch Results in Nearly Free Flights — Again

You could call it the sale of the century, but it's becoming a monthly occurrence. United Airlines, due to a website glitch, is selling plane tickets for nearly no cost.

One of our readers, who asked to remain anonymous, called the situation to our attention Monday afternoon, and gave us explicit instructions on how to exploit the glitch.

We successfully tested the steps, but stopped one click short of purchasing the tickets — a roundtrip flight from Newark, N.J., to Dublin for $49.40, just the cost of taxes and fees.

Exploiting the glitch involved setting up a "MileagePlus" account and essentially tricking the site into thinking you had enough frequent flier miles to cover the cost of a flight by setting up the purchase in two different tabs. The entire process took less than 10 minutes and, at time of writing, was still functioning. United, however, declined to comment on how many people have tried to take advantage of the loophole.

United had a similar problem in September, though NBC News reported that the issue was due to "human error" on the airline company's part. United ultimately decided to honor the reduced-price tickets it sold because of that glitch.

That's not the case this time around, though.

"We’ve identified an issue where customers are intentionally manipulating our website," United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson told Mashable in an email. "We will not honor these reservations." United further clarified that the reason why it honored the reduced-price tickets mistakenly sold last month is because human error was the reason for that situation.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Evolution of Yield vs Efficiency for US Airlines from 1996 to 2011

Efficiency is measured by the ratio of travel miles provided (Available Seat Miles ASM) divided by operating expenses.
Yield is measured by the ratio of the revenue per mile provided (Revenue Passenger Miles RPM) relative to total revenue.
A line captures most airlines except one outlier: Southwest. Southwest has been able to achieve a higher level of productivity compared to the legacy carriers and thereby has been able to shift the frontier.
You can also notice that Hawaiian has been able to achieve a similar level of productivity, largely because of their small network, but has not been able to command high prices relative to Southwest.

You notice that the frontier has changed dramatically. Southwest, that had been known for charging the lowest prices is now charging the highest prices in the industry. Yet they had to sacrifice on the productivity side and have been overtaken on that side by companies like jetBlue and Virgin America.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Common Sense Solution to Slow Airplane Boarding

Boarding airplanes has slowed down in recent years, and lately there’s been a lot of chatter about whether airlines can find ingenious, creative, and algorithmic ways to speed up this anxiety-producing process.

The problem is, none of them really work.

Boarding every other window seat first, then middle, then aisle; or the back of the plane first; or from the front and rear at the same time. These solutions are lipstick on a pig. But lipstick doesn’t make a pig fly.

Why? Because speeding up the slow boarding process isn’t about tinkering with the order in which you let people on the plane. It’s about the amount of time passengers spend in the aisle, hefting their bags into the overhead compartments, and stowing them under the seats. The more and bigger bags people bring on, the slower the line moves.

It doesn't help that many carriers now charge $25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights, and more for a second. That amounts to inviting people to carry on luggage instead of paying to check it. So, more passengers bring on bags, and overhead space fills up faster. When the bin space fills up, the crew begins to ask passengers to check luggage at the gate. As air travelers, we know that gate checking neither speeds things up nor calms us down.

Clever algorithms may shave off a minute or two – if they don’t completely confuse passengers first. But if the industry really wants to speed up boarding, it’ll have to stop charging for checked bags. Is that at all likely? With airlines profits under pressure, don’t expect it any time soon.

Baggage fees are what LinkedIn Influencer Fred Reicheld calls “bad profits.” These are earnings that come at the expense of customer relationships. Whenever customers feel mistreated or abused, the profits from that customer are “bad” ones. Naturally, neither accountants nor Wall Street distinguish between good and bad profits. Every dollar of revenue looks the same. But customers remember. As Reicheld points out, average firms book “bad profits” from nearly 1 in 3 customers. In the airline industry, it may be closer to 50% of customers who feel coerced, misled and ill-treated.

At JetBlue we’ve tried to stay clear of the bag charging derby. We do charge $40 for the second checked bag, but since most fliers only need to check one, we think ours is a reasonable approach. Analysts like to remind us that we leave over $100 million on the table every year for that policy. But we’re not asking for a pat on the back: We don't do it as a gift to the traveling public. We do it because we feel that having satisfied, unhurried customers, happier crews, and faster turnarounds for our aircraft will mean better profits in the long run. Plus, our customers don't have to deal with all the nickel-and-diming.

If you remove bad profits from the boarding equation, you remove some of the anxiety of air travel, too. People pay fewer fees, lug around fewer bags, and get on and off planes faster. It’s one less concern to carry on board.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

People Angrily Tweet At United Airlines Parody Account Thinking It’s Real, Parody Account Hilariously Responds

The @UnitedAirlanes parody account was created in May 2012 and tweeted for a month before going silent.

On Wednesday, more than a year later, the creator of the account realized something glorious.
On Wednesday, more than a year later, the creator of the account realized something glorious.
This @unitedairlanes flight crew is incompetent can't load the; plane horrible service
@nffc65 You should see our crews load a t-shirt bazooka though - Ralfio can in seconds. He can even hit business class from the cockpit!
@unitedairlanes is the true meaning of cattle class. Delays with no explanation. Food you should feed to the dog and staff that don't care!
@sarahlouisedob Oh shit, did you eat the food? You're not supposed to actually eat the food.
For those following I am stuck still at #Buffalo @unitedairlanes thanks for trying to fight the weather. You are doing well!
@sonchyADV Here at United Airlanes, we strive to not let a little thing like the fury of God prevent us from delivering tolerable service.
it amazes me that after all the advancements in planes these days @unitedairlanesstill has the worst entertainment system known to man!!!
@alexglaser101 It's a missile made of gun metal traveling at fast through space there are few amenities available inside a giant bullet
@unitedairlanes then why have all of the other airlines managed to do it?
@alexglaser101 They strike deals with purveyors of black magic. We strive to fly 100% curse-free, and pass the savings on to you!
@unitedairlanes ur full of shit, and a fucking piece of shit airline, that's it, end of story.
@alexglaser101 Next time you fly United Airlanes, whisper "GRASSY KNOLL" to your attendant to be taken to the in-flight shooting range.
@GodJamit_0216 In our defense, it's really comfortable. If a bit small.
Shout out to @unitedairlanes for stranding my wife at YWG for nearly 12 hour for a short flight to Chicago. Excellent service.
@ConorWhately After the first six hours, she technically belonged to us. You're just lucky we met our monthly quota.
@unitedairlanes is that supposed to be funny? @JetBlue for one takes tweets regarding their company serious. Might want to take some tips...
@BruPayne @JetBlue No, it's a very serious warning. We accidentally hired bounty hunters to run that desk and now we can't stop them.
@unitedairlanes how is it that you are the most expensive airline and yet don't have TVs on planes. Get with the program! #notv #longflight
@DROOOPYD TV? On a plane? We allow you to exchange worthless paper for the opportunity to ride a missile across the world. How dare you.