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Travel Editor Gets A Refund—And A Comeuppance

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Sometimes an airline does things right. Not often, true, but every once in a great while. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I rarely have anything good to say about the airline industry. New regulations announced this month by the Department of Transportation are just the latest evidence that the airlines aren't able to offer good customer service on their own, and have to rely on the government to step in and force them to be good corporate citizens. But here's a quick little story that shows maybe, just maybe, things are improving and that at least one airline is doing things better.

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DOT Enacts Sweeping New Air-Passenger Protections

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It has been 12 years since the air-passenger rights movement first got off the ground, but now it's positively soaring, thanks to a new set of consumer protections announced today by the Department of Transportation. Among other things, provisions in the new rule would close a loophole that exempted international flights from the tarmac delay limits enacted last year; require airlines to prominently list all fees a passenger might face on a flight; increase maximum compensation paid to involuntarily bumped passengers from a range of $400-$800 to $650-$1,300; allow passengers to cancel or change a reservation within 24 hours with no penalty (if the reservation is made at least a week before departure); and force airlines to refund baggage fees when they lose a customer's luggage. Most of the provisions will go into effect 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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Grand (Re-)Opening: SFO's Terminal 2!

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SFO's long-awaited Terminal 2 opened last week after a $383 million upgrade and renovation. Designed by global architecture powerhouse Gensler, the new terminal is home to American Airlines and Virgin America and is remarkable for its strong public art program and commitment to sustainability (it's anticipated to achieve LEED Gold Certification). It's also the first airport dining program in the country to have a 'slow food' food court: they recruited and prioritized vendors, like the Plant Cafe Organic, Pinkberry, and Lark Creek Grill, that offer healthy food from local, organic sources. Find more info here.

Jaime Gross is Travel + Leisure's San Francisco correspondent.

Image courtesy of Gensler. Photographer: Bruce Damonte

Doing the Safety Dance with Richard Simmons on Air NZ

We don't know if this new in-flight safety video from Air New Zealand featuring eccentric  weightloss personality Richard Simmons is brilliant. Or brilliantly bad. But it is entertaining.

Follow the high-kicking spandex-clad crew as they do The Pony and The Duck while stowing carry-ons and reaching for oxygen masks. It's not quite Sweatin' to the Oldies, but it does earn beaucoup points on our '80s kitsch-o-meter.

Grab Your Delta Boarding Pass...on Facebook!

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Last year Delta introduced the option for folks to purchase tickets through an app built into their Facebook page. This year, it's taking it a step further, and letting users access its boarding passes without ever leaving Facebook. (The same 24 hours pre-flight time limit that's used on the official Delta site still applies.)

What else can you do?

- Check flight status.
- View trip details.
- View what in-flight amenities will be available for your specific flight.
- Share your flight information with your Facebook contacts.

Pretty cool stuff. (And further proof that Facebook is soon destined to be your one stop spot for, well, everything.)

2010-hs-josh-pramisjpgJoshua Pramis is an online associate editor and resident tech guru at Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuapramis

Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Matthews.

High-Flying Design: KLM Teams with Marcel Wanders

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KLM is bringing a little style to the skies—and its World Business Class passengers. The Dutch airline is teaming up with celebrated artist Marcel Wanders, who's also recently collaborated with Baccarat crystal and Target, in addition to designing the interior of the Mondrian South Beach. His eco-friendly tableware debuts this March.

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Sole Mates, Seat Mates: Virgin Atlantic Offers Made-to-Order Shoes

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Put down that SkyMall, Bertram. Male passengers traveling Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic flights can indulge in something a little fancier than bed-side pet ramps or peephole spy cameras: The airline is offering custom shoe fittings from haute Finnish shoemaker the Left Shoe Company. Devote 20 minutes pre- or post-flight to having your foot scanned by a 3D digital scanner in the Clubhouse-the Virgin Atlantic lounge-at Heathrow and choose a style. Four weeks later, a courier will deliver your bespoke kicks. The soles are inscribed with your name, and if you choose, your Virgin Atlantic flight number and destination. The available shoe styles start at €225 ($310 at today's exchange rate), and roundtrip Upper Class fare on Virgin Atlantic runs around $10,000.

Won't taking your shoes off at the security line feel slightly less humbling when they're custom-fitted and inscribed with your name?

Ann Shields is Online Senior Editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo: Courtesy of the Left Shoe Company.

DOT: Drop in Flight Delays, Rise in Canceled Flights

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New Jersey Star Ledger |  By all accounts, the Federal Aviation Administration’s "tarmac rule" has dramatically reduced the number of passengers who are stuck inside an aircraft on the ground for three hours or more.

Violations of the rule, which went into effect last April, can cost airlines $27,500 per passenger, or $2.75 million for a planeload of 100 people going nowhere fast. In fact, there were just three cases nationwide of three-hour tarmac delays in December—compared with 34 the previous December, according to the federal Department of Transportation, the FAA’s parent agency.

But critics say an unintended consequence of the rule is becoming apparent and spoiling travel plans for a far greater number of would-be fliers.

A Star-Ledger analysis of federal DOT figures reveals airlines are simply canceling more flights, presumably to avoid idling on the tarmac and exposing themselves to the whopping fines. In fact, the cancellation rate at the nation’s major airports surged 24 percent during the eight months after the rule went into effect.

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Airline with Club Atmosphere to Serve Las Vegas

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CNN | Mood lighting, club music and pre-flight safety briefings from virtual celebrities: Gamblers may soon have a swanky new way to arrive in Las Vegas, Nevada.

LV Air, a new airline that hopes to start service this fall with four daily nonstop flights between the gaming capital and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, promises to bring a bit of Sin City fun and luxury on board.

"When you enter the aircraft, it will seem as if you're entering a club. ... It'll be a very festive atmosphere," said Sean Smith, LV Air's chief marketing officer, describing dark blue and purple lighting in coach class, and club music pulsating from the speakers of the chartered Boeing 767s.

Photo Courtesy of LV Air.


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Delta: SkyMiles Are Forever

CNN |  SkyMiles no longer expire, Delta Air Lines announced Tuesday.

The frequent flier perk system, which enables users to earn free plane tickets or in-flight upgrades, is the first among major U.S. airlines to preserve points indefinitely.

Before January 1, 2011, SkyMiles became invalid if no qualifying mileage activity, such as acquiring or redeeming miles, occurred for more than 24 months.

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