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Spirit Air: Money Talks, and Talking Costs Money

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In its latest salvo against the traveling public, Spirit Airlines said it is considering a new surcharge—a fee to speak with Spirit airport employees. Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza told ABC News that it is considering such a fee in light of its airport kiosks that allow customers to buy tickets, check-in, and select or change seats without any human interaction. Baldanza told ABC News that flyers won’t see this new surcharge “any time soon.” What customers are seeing this week, however, is Spirit’s newest surcharge—a fee of up to $45 for carry-on bags placed in an overhead bin. That new fee began on Sunday, August 1.

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Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is also the international editor at Travel + Leisure.

House Passes Aviation Safety Bill

MSNBC / Associated Press — The House voted Wednesday to toughen regulations on pilot training, qualifications and work schedules, a response to a fatal crash in upstate New York in February and other accidents involving regional airlines.

The bill, which was approved 409-11, would require all pilots that fly for a passenger-carrying airline to have an Air Transport Pilot certificate, effectively raising the number of flying hours an entry-level airline pilot must have from the current 250 hours to 1,500 hours.

The bill allows the FAA to credit course work at specific flight training schools toward the requirements for receiving an Air Transport certificate. The schools had expressed concern that would-be pilots would skip the schooling to concentrate on accumulating flying time.

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Domestic Airfares on the Rise

USA Today / Associated Press |  If you think airfares have been rising, it's not your imagination.

Figures just released from the government, while a bit dated, show that airline prices in the first three months of this year rose nearly 5% from a year earlier. And that doesn't include baggage fees and other extras that airlines charge.

But if you take a step back, air travel still looks like a bargain. Average fares are 25% lower than they were in 1999 after adjusting them for inflation, the government says.

The numbers were contained in a report issued Wednesday by the Transportation Department. The average domestic fare in the first quarter of 2010 rose to $328. Since 2001, the average price for the first quarter was higher only once — in 2008, when it hit $333.

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Continental Tests 'Self-Boarding' at Houston Airport

USA Today |  Boarding a plane without an agent to inspect or take your pass has arrived in the USA.

Continental Airlines has confirmed it's testing the procedure at a gate at its hub in Houston Intercontinental. It's the first experiment at what's called "self-boarding" in the U.S.

In self-boarding, passengers — much like customers of the New York City subway—swipe their boarding passes at a kiosk reader at the gate. That opens a turnstile or door to the jet-bridge. Although an agent isn't there to take the pass, one is typically present to handle problems and other customer service tasks.

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Annoyances Mount Over the Body Scanner

New York Times |  You may think of this as the summer of the heat wave. I prefer to think of it as the summer of the body scanner.

Transportation Security Administration buys these machines and installs them at more and more airport checkpoints, a lot of travelers are having their initial encounters with them. And while I hear from large numbers of readers who hate the idea, it’s becoming increasingly clear that body scanners will soon be a standard part of the air travel experience.

Today, 142 body scanners are in use at 41 airports, and the security administration says it will have more than 450 installed by the end of the year.

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BeeGee v. Gaga: Airfares Since 1978

vintage braniff ad

Back in 1978, Congress enacted legislation that removed government regulation of airfares (and routes and timetables) while maintaining its control over airline safety.   While this change stunk for labor unions and certain airlines that wobbled and collapsed in the competitive market (Alas, poor Braniff!), it’s generally paid off well for the rest of us. 

The Air Transport Association, a trade association, has released a table that compares real prices of common consumer goods and services in 1978 and 2009 (not adjusted for inflation*), and reports that domestic airfare has only increased 42% and international airfare 52%.

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Airline Fees Can Make Fare Jump 50%

CNN |  That airfare you booked because it looked like a great deal can actually end up costing you 50 percent more because of extra airline fees, a watchdog group has found.

The Consumer Travel Alliance analyzed the base fares and extra charges for nine major airlines on four popular domestic routes.

It found that a traveler requesting extra legroom and checking two bags would have to pay an average of 54 percent more than the base price of the ticket shown on a popular online travel site at time of purchase.

For a family trying to book a trip, the fees can mean hundreds of dollars in unanticipated expenses, said Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.

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Airline Complaints? The D.O.T. Wants to Hear from You

The Washington Post |  Tell the government what you think of its proposed new passenger rights rules. You can do it right now, thanks to a new project called Regulation Room.

There's a lot to comment about. The rules cover everything from tarmac delays to peanuts. If adopted, they could change the way Americans fly more than any single regulation since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978.

Administrative rulemaking, for those of you who snoozed through your civics class, is the process by which agencies adopt regulations that have the force of law. In this case, it's the Department of Transportation making the rules. The agency is at a critical step during which the traveling public vets these important regulations.

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Ryanair: A Stand-Up Airline—Run by A Bunch of Fruitcakes

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The British media are all atwitter about the supposed plans by Ryanair to install vertical seats—that is, standing-room-only seats—in the last 10 rows of its Boeing 737-800s. Price of airfare in one of those seats? Just 4 pounds sterling (about U.S.$6). And how, you ask, can they afford to do this? Why, by charging you to use the toilet.

Wait a minute… Didn’t they already float (and later flush) the idea of a loo fee only to be publicly remonstrated, humiliated, and pilloried? Yeah, kinda—except that Ryanair doesn’t know the meaning of the word humiliation. On the other hand, it seems not to know the meaning of a lot of words, like “safety,” “concern for our passengers,” and “common sense.”

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Solar Plane Completes Historic 24-Hour Flight

MSNBC (AP) |  PAYERNE, Switzerland — An experimental solar-powered plane landed safely Thursday after completing its first 24-hour test flight, proving that the aircraft can collect enough energy from the sun during the day to stay aloft all night.

Pilot Andre Borschberg eased the Solar Impulse onto the runway at Payerne airfield about 30 miles southwest of the Swiss capital Bern at exactly 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EDT) Thursday.

Helpers rushed to stabilize the pioneering plane as it touched down, ensuring that its massive 207-foot wingspan didn't scrape the ground and topple the craft.

The record feat completes seven years of planning and brings the Swiss-led project one step closer to its goal of circling the globe using only energy from the sun.


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