All posts in Airlines

Air Travel Fairness aims for greater airline fare/fee transparency to ensure true consumer cost comparison

In light of the DOT’s recent decision not to pursue regulations that would result in greater airline pricing transparency for consumers, ExpertFlyer went One-on-One with Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of the Air Travel Fairness Coalition, to learn what his organization is doing to protect consumer travelers.

“Airlines are making record profits and we don’t begrudge that. In fact, we’re happy they are successful, but let’s get it all out in the open (fares and fees) so everybody knows what they’re getting into.”

WATCH our interview with Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director, Air Travel Fairness Coalition

ExpertFlyer: What is the Air Travel Fairness Coalition?

Kurt Ebenhoch: Air Travel Fairness is a coalition of consumer and business advocacy groups that are working together to protect the rights of consumers to easily compare airfares and schedules among airlines. Currently, we’re seeing an increasing effort by the airlines to block consumers from seeing the full set of varying fares and schedules, and flights, available to them from some of their favorite resources, including travel apps and websites. As a result, we’re working to try and protect that right because comparison shopping is the way that we all assess whether or not we’re getting a good deal.

EF: The Department of Transportation recently decided not to pursue some regulation that would have meant greater pricing transparency across the airline industry. What does this mean for consumers? 

KE: There are two issues here. One is how early in the transaction the consumer has the complete picture of what the cost of their trip will be. Over time, the airlines have added new fees, new charges for different things, and trying to figure out that bottom line of what one’s total cost is has gotten a lot tougher. So this was something that was going to require a summary of the total cost earlier in the process. And it had been studied over many, many years. There was lots of consumer input.

Then the second provision was one where the carriers would have to report to the government how much money they’re making on all these different ancillary fees and charges. And what really concerns us is, we’re seeing a pattern here from the DOT, where it feels to us like, airline profits are their most important objective and we think that consumers should really be their most important priority. They need to put consumers pocketbooks ahead of airline profits.

These different things that they’re doing, whether it’s what I mentioned before with making it hard for consumers to compare fares and schedules, or with what’s happened with the DOT, are all examples of behind the scenes price increases or deception that make it more difficult for consumers to find out the bottom line cost of their trip. And they’re doing it for no other reason than to extract more money from the consumer.

Our point of view is if the airlines want to charge a certain fare, this is a free market economy, they should charge that fare, but let’s get it all out in the open so everybody knows what they’re getting into. Rather than deception, and hide and seek with these varied charges and fees.

EF: So what’s the next step for your coalition?

KE: Well, right now we’re very much trying to get what’s called a Request for Information reinstated. Sometimes when it comes to policy making, one of the early steps is for a government agency, such as the Department of Transportation, which is charged with protecting American consumers, to initiate a request for information where they get different facts and data from different parties in the travel environment. From that information, they’re able to make a more informed choice about the impact these practices are having on consumers.

The Air Fairness Coalition had a Request for Information in place. It generated more than 58,000 comments, including 50,000 from individual travelers who just wrote to the DOT expressing their concern related to this. It initially had a deadline of December 31 of 2016. That deadline was extended by the Obama administration to March 31, 2017, at the request of the airlines and then on March 10th, inexplicably, the Trump administration suspended the RFI altogether. We have been working with members of Congress and with the DOT to get that RFI reinstated. What’s curious to us is that the airline industry is working very, very hard to try and stop the reinstatement of that. And we’re not talking about legislation or a new rule, we’re just talking about getting the facts out on the table and letting things go from there.

But even in that case, they’re working aggressively to stop that from happening. We think it’s important for everyone involved, all the decision makers, the policymakers, to really see what’s going on and what impact these practices are having. Consumers should be able to decide which website they go to, which app they use, which travel resource they use. It’s not for the airlines to decide that. And now that the top four carriers have more than 80% of the market, we’re starting to see some oligopolistic practices.

 

Could pilotless air travel be the way of the future?

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

pilotless air travel

Tech news outlet, TNW, ponders the advancement of pilotless flight in a recent post, but many questions concerning the practicality, safety and travelers’ trepidations may keep pilots snugly in their cockpit.

Perhaps we should see how the evolution of driverless cars develops as a potential bellwether for air travel. The Atlantic reports on another new monetization layer to this innovation that features free transportation — with a catch. According to the post, passengers may summon a car and travel for nothing—that is, so long as they are willing to make a stop or two en route at sponsoring locations.

“Autonomous cars will be part of an ecosystem of intelligent agents and personal-data vendors. The information they are able to base your route on—and how they present an itinerary to you—will not be limited to where you say you want to go, but on all the data they have about you. Note that companies with immense personal-data collections, including AmazonBaiduGoogle, and Uber, are in the race to develop autonomous cars.”

According to a report by Business Insider, a study conducted by UBS found that 54% of the 8,000 people surveyed by the firm said they would be unlikely to take a pilotless flight. According to UBS, the four groups least likely to board a pilotless plane were students and unemployed people, nervous flyers or those concerned with aviation safety, those who book travel over the phone, and women.

 

Did you know…5 unexpected ways to earn bonus points?

frugal travel guy logoFrugal Travel Guy blogger, Anya Kartashova, recounts five unexpected methods she used to earn air and hotel travel bonus points in 2017.  Here are a few of her bonus building gems:

  • Enroll your American Express card in their Pay Over Time feature and earn an easy 10,000 Membership Rewards points.
  • Look for award point opportunities with Chase. This fall, they ran a promo for Sapphire-branded credit cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred, where you could earn an extra point for every transaction paid via a digital-wallet app, such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, Chase Pay and Samsung Pay.
  • Marriott Rewards NFL Promo — Marriott Rewards has partnered with the National Football League and asks football fans trivia questions on Twitter almost every Sunday during the NFL season. Questions range from “How wide is an NFL football field?” to “How many players can each NFL team have on the field?” Every correct answer equals to 1,000 Marriott Rewards points!

    Read more at: 5 Unexpected Ways I’ve Earned Bonus Points This Year | Frugal Travel Guy

 

 

 

Taking consumer air travel back to Mach 2

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Taking consumer air travel back to the supersonic era and speed of the Concorde — and beyond — is what Boom has in store for business class flyers over the next five years.  Not only that, in an interview with Boom founder and CEO, Blake Scholl, the company expects that carriers will be able to offer prices competitive with today’s subsonic business-class tickets—about $5,000 for a round-trip transatlantic flight.

Blake Scholl, president, Boom

Blake Scholl, founder and CEO, Boom

Tell us about Boom and how you are planning to bring back supersonic flight to consumer air travelers?

In the first few decades of commercial flight, long-distance travel became steadily faster and more accessible. Ocean liners gave way to piston-powered flying boats, which were then replaced by jet aircraft. But today, commercial airplanes aren’t flying any faster than they were in 1958—the Concorde era has come and gone. With its Mach-2.2 airliner, Boom is putting society back on the path of rapid technological progress that brought us great improvements in the speed and convenience of travel.

For carriers, Boom’s 55-passenger, all-business-class product is an attractive alternative to the status quo. Our supersonic airliner will take you across the world in half the time at fares similar to a subsonic business-class ticket. Not only do you save time, but you’re able to make trips that would have been prohibitively long on a subsonic jet.

When will consumers be able to avail of your services?

Our XB-1 supersonic demonstrator is slated to fly in 2018, and Boom’s airliner is expected to begin serving passengers in 2023.
What will your initial routing look like and what will fares range from?

There are over 500 routes worldwide capable of supporting supersonic service, and transoceanic travel will become much more convenient on Boom’s airliner. At Mach 2.2, a trip from San Francisco to Tokyo shrinks from 11 hours to 5.5. Getting from LA to Sydney, currently, an arduous 15-hour journey will be flown in under 7.

Fare setting will be up to the airlines, but we expect that carriers will be able to offer prices competitive with today’s subsonic business-class tickets—about $5,000 for a round-trip transatlantic flight.

Talk about the short-term and long-term future of consumer air travel from a technology aviation standpoint?

Today’s airlines only compete with each other in a few dimensions—ticket price, quality of service, and comfort. Because all existing jet aircraft take people from point A to point B in roughly the same amount of time, there is little differentiability apart from offering more leg room, better food, or cheaper seats. An airline with access to a substantially faster model of aircraft would be able to radically differentiate itself from the rest of the industry. We aim to jumpstart a renaissance in travel where affordable supersonic flight is the norm.

We believe the long-term future of air travel will be one where anyone can get anywhere on Earth in only a few hours for dirt cheap prices. Affordable ultra-fast travel will change everything. The whole planet will become like one big city. There will be no more long-distance relationships or loved ones you only see once a year. We will simply all be here on Earth together.

Will supersonic flight be a mainstream expectation in the not too distant future?

Currently, we’re building a Mach-2.2 commercial airplane that can operate profitably at a ticket price similar to subsonic business-class fares, but our work doesn’t end when Boom’s first airliner flies. In the future, we’re going to leverage our success to make commercial supersonic travel even more affordable and accessible. Ultimately, we want the fastest ticket to be the cheapest ticket.

Did you know…Air Travel Fairness urges US DOT to halt approval of airline antitrust immunity without new consumer protection?

air travel fairnessAir Travel Fairness, one of the largest traveler advocacy organizations in the U.S., called on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to reject any applications from airlines for either new or expanded antitrust immunity (ATI) agreements between carriers without first instituting new protections from the harm these schemes are causing consumers.

Airlines with antitrust immunity are able to freely cooperate between each other on fares, schedules, fleets, marketing programs and operations.  Essentially, these mega-joint ventures operate as if they are a single, giant airline.

For example, once approved for antitrust immunity, two airlines that previously competed against each other for travelers’ business, perhaps offering the only nonstop flights on a given route, behave as if they are one company. The two airlines can share costs and revenues on flights, set prices including minimum fares offered on each of their flights, reduce capacity if too many low-priced seats are offered, or do away with the type of bonus and discount programs offered to frequent flyer program members when two or more airlines are vigorously competing for travelers’ business in a truly competitive market. The airlines might call this efficiencies of scale, but consumers are the big losers.

The consumer impact is the same as when a market with two competitors changes to only having one. Two airlines, in this case, essentially merge into one, but there is no change in ownership. Continue reading →