Friday, June 13, 2008

Where Will the Madness Stop?

Today it's USAir announcing that they're going to charge for all beverages and water ( I am going to go to my doctor's on Monday and get a note saying that if I go more than one hour on an airplane without fluids, I am risking my physical health. That ought to establish sufficient grounds for a lawsuit. And the bacteria count in the water in the washrooms? In the spirit of helping USAir out of our misery, here's a list of other things they should charge for. (As an you know their customer service motto? "We're not happy 'til you're not happy." They ought to be very happy today.)
  • You know how they ask us for our window/aisle preference. Whichever it is, it will cost $10 extra. I'm going to change my profile to say I want a middle seat. First, that means I'll get a window or aisle free. Second, they're so screwed up, they'd never assign me a middle seat. (By the way, I still don't think they've merged my USAir and AmericaWest accounts. Probably Piedmont and PSA for that matter...)
  • Seat bottom cushions that actually float: $10.
  • A per transaction charge for the seat belt: Every time you click and unclick, it's a dollar.
  • Much as data communications companies want to charge data plans by the megabyte, USAir will charge by the word for conversations with flight attendants, gate agents, customer support agents, lost baggage agents and the like. And there will be surcharges for effective outcomes: if they actually resolve your problem, there's a 20% premium. The good news: they'll never charge the premium.
  • Here's one I think they'll really use: taking a cue from London (congestion pricing) and Houston (parallel roads, one free and one toll), security lines will have various length and price. Short lines, high price, getting higher as the lower priced line gets longer. Wall Street will enter this game since pricing will vary even as you wait in line so you can hedge your price.
  • In flight entertainment: since there's very little to pay for right now, the Barney theme song and "It's a Small World" will be played over the PA system until the passengers have contibuted in aggregate $5,000. Bose headphones will be banned from use until such time as the, fee...has been met.
  • In the unlikely event of a water landing, egress from the plane will be on a first paid, first exited basis. Fees will be based on the size of your estate which must be verified before you exit the plane. For an additional fee, you can be pre-verified before departure, ensuring immediate exit from the plane. (No refunds in case of death.)
  • Bereavement discounts will be replaced with bereavement surcharges. It works for funeral homes and after all, the travel experience is more like death every day.

What am I missing?

New York-Boston

The numbers look compelling: Acela from New York to Boston takes about 3:40. One of the airline shuttles takes 1:05. Clearly, therefore, if you're in a hurry, take the shuttle. Not so fast...

Let's look at door-to-door, assuming downtown to downtown:

(I apologize for the formatting; somewhere I'll figure out how to get this in tabular form. Even with entering spaces, it compresses them for some reason. No, I meant to type those spaces! Sorry.)

Acela Shuttle
Time to terminal 0:15 0:45
Time before departure 0:15 1:00
Time en route 3:40 1:24
Time to destination 0:10 0:45

Total time 4:20 3:54

In a best-case scenario for each, the shuttle is only about 20% faster. If you have to check your bags, you're now talking about virtual parity.

Then let's starting adding in subjective factors:

Hassle factor Very low Have you flown lately?
Likelihood of delay Low LaGuardia...5 p.m....weekday...
Impact of weather Low Hotel room
Leg space Spacious Specious
Food It's not Lutece It's not at all
Fare (5 p.m. same day) $150.00 $339.50
(And for $68 more, you can get first class Acela that includes meal and unlimited cocktails)
Work ability The whole ride 23 minutes
Noise Quiet car Why you paid $300 for Bose

Tell me again why you're taking the shuttle? See you on the train...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


There are a lot of "social" travel sites emerging. Dopplr is one popular one but my favorite, for one simple reason, is TripIt ( That one reason: they've solved the data input problem. Most travel sites require that you enter full details of your trip (flights, hotels, reservation numbers, etc.). TripIt however has you send your confirmation email to and it automatically parses the email to figure out the relevant travel items in the email.

The social features on all of these sites are still evolving and TripIt's not the best of the breed but if only because it solves the data entry problem, TripIt is my first choice. Dopplr seems to have a lead, at least among my travel network, but I'm trying to move them all over to TripIt. At the very least, given the lack of data entry, it's reasonable to use it as your second travel site. There's minimal incremental effort and some added value.

Acela Tips

The last row of many Acela cars is a single seat, with tons of room in front of you. There's not a bad seat on Acela but this one is a cut above. As you might imagine, it's usually the first seat to go. The best way to get the seat: have a bellcap carry your bags to the train. In Boston and New York, they'll take you to the train before general boarding begins. You tip them $2-5 and voila, the best seat on the train. I sometimes get funny looks from fellow passengers who think "what's such a healthy looking guy doing have the bellcap carry his bags for him." Then they see me sitting in this seat and think "pretty smart (or obnoxious) guy."

This one qualifies as the greatest bargain in travel. $15 for your first bag on American or $2 for the best seat on Acela. Not much competition.