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Trip Doctor: Delta's Expiration-Free SkyMiles Now Expire With You

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In 2011, Delta made headlines by axing expiration dates on SkyMiles, the airline’s frequent flier mileage program. Last month, the carrier garnered some less friendly press with a slight addendum to its no-expiration policy: The miles don’t expire…until the mileage holder does.

Prior to the March 20 announcement, SkyMiles could transfer to next of kin, but as NBC reported, such transactions are no longer permitted by Delta. Frequent fliers are unsurprisingly displeased at the policy change, and have even started an online petition against it.

But not all the heat should fall on Delta. JetBlue, Southwest, and United all have similar restrictions. Meanwhile, a slew of other airlines, including Alaska, American Airlines, and US Airways allow miles earned to transfer after death.

Delta spokeswoman Chris Kelly Singley has countered any criticism by noting that SkyMiles reward those who have directly participated in the program and showed loyalty to the airline.

Frequent Flier's Tim Winship explained the main takeaway to NBC: “The lesson there is don’t allow yourself to be in a position where you’re sitting on a huge cache of frequent flier miles because tomorrow the program that you earned those miles in could make some kind of an enormous systemic change that pulls the rug out from under the value of those miles.” How comforting.

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

Tech Thursday: The Solar Plane Heading Across America

Think solar-powered airplanes are the talk of futurists? Not really. Solar Impulse, a company started by two innovative engineers, has been flying by the power of the sun since 2010, when it accomplished an incredible 26-hour flight without an ounce of fuel. Their plane, covered in solar panels across the length of its 208-foot wingspan, is now embarking on a new mission, criss-crossing America to raise awareness for sustainable energy.

The journey begins on May 1, with stops in San Francisco, Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York. But keep an eye out for open houses, where guests will be able to check out the plane in all its high-tech glory at various airports (the first is tentatively slated for next Saturday at Moffett Federal Airfield, in San Francisco).

As for the company’s next goal? A flight around the world, currently scheduled for 2015.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

 

Trip Doctor: Airlines Cautiously Optimistic About Dreamliner's Return to the Skies

Even though Boeing’s beleaguered 787 Dreamliner has yet to get FAA approval for its proposed battery improvements, multiple airlines have included the new plane in updated flight schedules, as USA Today's Ben Mutzabaugh reports.

Qatar Airways, for example, plans to resume Dreamliner service between Doha and London on May 15th, while United Airlines hopes to use the troubled jet for some Houston-Denver flights by May 31, five days earlier than the company had previously announced. Spokespeople are quick to clarify that these schedule changes are tentative, and entirely dependent on the FAA’s clearing the Dreamliner to fly.

Still, the news that airlines are adding Dreamliners back into their schedules at all suggests restored confidence that Boeing’s fix to the lithium batteries will be enacted and approved soon.

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Trip Doctor: Air Turbulence Set To Increase by 2050

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Better sit down and buckle your safety belt for this one: According to a new study cited by Reuters' Nina Chestney, turbulent flights may become the new normal in the coming decades. If you've flown over the Atlantic Ocean, you've probably experienced the occasional bumpy ride caused by atmospheric conditions like jet streams and weather fronts, but joint findings from Reading and East Anglia, two English universities, predict air turbulence will grow in both  strength and frequency as carbon dioxide emissions increase. In other words: More CO2 in the air, the rougher we can expect our flights to be.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, posits that by 2050, chances of encountering significant turbulence in the North Atlantic flight corridor will jump by between 40 and 170 percent. On top of that, the average strength of the turbulence will increase by between 10 and 40 percent.

The aviation industry already spends an estimated $150 million annually to repair damage caused by turbulence. The increased risks will likely lead to route detours, which will in turn bump up fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and airport delays. Can't wait.
 

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by istockphoto

Watch: What Does the New Airline Performance Report Mean?

Travel + Leisure's Mark Orwoll appeared on NBC's TODAY Show this morning to discuss the airline performance report released this week. How will it impact you? Watch the clip (above) and find out.

SFO Moves to Block Car Sharing Services

Here today, gone tomorrow: FlightCar, that quirky car-sharing company we recently told you about, has been shut down by SFO.

And it's not alone: Also on the airport's cease-and-desist list are five other ride sharing companies, from UberX to InstantCab, according to The Huffington Post's Aaron Sankin. Why the sudden crackdown on automotive sharing startups? Apparently the tech-forward companies have been getting an easy break thanks to legal loopholes that don't require them to hold licenses from the California Public Utilities Commission, and taxi drivers—who not only need the licenses but pay fees for each airport ride—aren't too happy about it. But that doesn't mean it's game over for the six companies at stake, as a hearing is scheduled to determine their future later this month.

Our prediction? FlightCar will live on, sans curbside pickup service. As for the companies whose core premise includes a driver? They may not be so lucky.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

No Joke: Tiny Samoan Airline Will Charge Passengers By Weight

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We wouldn't blame your assuming that Samoa Air's recent announcement that it will be weighing customers and charging them based on their weight is a belated April Fools' Day stunt, but apparently, it's real.

Reports have been popping up everywhere since the announcement, and the tiny airline's official website confirms the new policy with a statement that reads: "We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh. You are the master of your Air'fair', you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost. No more exorbitant excess baggage fees, or being charged for baggage you may not carry. Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple."

Is it so simple? Not everyone is pleased with this idea. The Guardian's Ally Fogg wrote that the new policy "panders to a particularly unpleasant trend in modern culture that legitimises and even celebrates fat-shaming and body fascism. At its most crude this is manifest in straightforward cruelty and discrimination."

Chris Langton, head of Samoa Air, defended the idea—and suggested it may be the start of an industry-wide trend—in an Australian radio interview quoted by the BBC: "People generally are bigger, wider and taller than they were 50 years ago… The industry will start looking at this."

Photo by iStockphoto

Trip Doctor: British Airways Extends "Hand Baggage Only" Fares from London Gatwick

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Good news for those of you who travel light: British Airways is extending its "hand baggage only fares" to 32 routes (up from an initial five) out of London’s Gatwick Airport.
 
What does that mean? Travelers flying the carrier from Gatwick to any of the airline’s short haul destinations, including Barcelona, Marrakesh, and Venice, now automatically pay between $14 and $23 less per ticket if they choose to fly with carry-on luggage only.
 
And if you’ve never been one to fly without a massive rolling suitcase, fear not. As Peter Simpson, director of Gatwick for British Airways explains, "those who still want to check in a bag will simply pay the same price they do now."

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by iStockphoto

Surprising Number of Travel Innovations Announced Today

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Strange things are afoot in the travel world today. It seems like our inboxes have been flooded by announcements of weird and wonderful innovations. Here's a selection of the most interesting news of the day (that would be April 1, by the way).

Ever the publicity hound, Richard Branson announced that his engineering team has secretly developed the world's first glass-bottom airplane. (Picture above) The plane's underbelly will be completely see-through, allowing travelers the "opportunity to look down on the beautiful scenery of Great Britain as they fly." But rest assured: Cabin crew will be trained to calm the nerves of vertigo-prone fliers. (Amy Farley)

Read More

Trip Doctor: How the U.S. is Losing Tourists at the Airport

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Do you sometimes need a reminder of how great it can be to travel in the U.S.? Apparently overseas travelers do too. According to a new survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, 43% of foreign travelers will tell their friends to avoid coming to the States. But it’s not cultural, culinary, or political differences that are turning off the international crowds—it’s our customs entry process, which 84% of visitors complain about and believe could be vastly improved. The survey polled 1,200 non-U.S. Resident overseas travelers—of whom 1 in 7 missed a connection because of long customs lines. First impressions really do speak the loudest, it seems.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo by Jeff Greenberg / Alamy

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