The travel adviser: Fake news

The travel industry has been beset with "fake news" stories that lack in veracity yet tend to resonate with the gullible public.

File photo of an EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
File photo of an EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Fake news, not coined by some leader of the free world, is indeed a term that has been used incessantly in the last year. As well as being a favorite phrase of Donald Trump, it was also named 2017’s word of the year, raising tensions between nations and leading to regulation of social media. Yet nobody can agree on what it is, how much of a problem it is, and what to do about it.
Pope Francis sees the origin of fake news in the snake’s lies in the Garden of Eden. Francis pinned responsibility for the start of disinformation on the crafty serpent, who created the first fake news. By persuading Eve there was nothing wrong with eating an apple from the tree of knowledge, despite the stern warning from God not to do so, the snake, with fake news, “began the tragic history of human sin,” Francis opined.
The travel industry, too, has been beset with similar stories that lack in veracity yet tend to resonate with the gullible public. United Airlines, no stranger to bad publicity after forcibly removing a doctor from a plane, was victim of a disturbing website that concocted a bogus story that said a member of the flight crew abused an infant.
“United Airlines Flight Attendant Slaps Crying Baby during Flight,’’ read the headline in what is now known to be a fake news site. The post said the flight attendant on a flight from New York to Chicago had asked the parents of a seven-month-old boy several times to “quiet that annoying... baby down.” After four attempts, the attendant reportedly grabbed the child from its mother’s arms and slapped him in the face. The crew member had to be restrained and the plane made an emergency landing in Missouri. In fact, Facebook users flagged the story as being possibly false, as part of the social media site’s efforts to curb fake news.
True or false needs to be queried from this headline from an Israeli site: “Haredim Desert El Al Flight over Concerns of Shabbat Desecration.” The reality is a bit more complex. El Al, for all its faults, strives to never fly on a Shabbat or Jewish holy day. Will they land a few minutes before candle lighting? Yes. Will they schedule a departure one hour after the chag ends? Indubitably. But their perverse sense of honor never to desecrate the Shabbat means El Al strives mightily to honor their commitment.
In these winter months when the east coast of the US has severe inclement weather, El Al’s schedule can be affected. This vague headline concerned an El Al plane from Newark scheduled to land at 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Due to the snow accumulation at Newark airport, the flight could only depart at 10 p.m., which would result in landing in Israel very close to the start of Shabbat. Religious passengers grew concerned. One uneducated flier even went so far to complain that the crew only cleaned the snow off the plane’s wings after all the passengers were seated. Did he believe that if they had cleaned the snow hours prior to going airborne that the snow would cease falling?
Approximately 30 haredim disembarked, not willing to land so close to the arrival of Shabbat. They also grumbled that their luggage was not removed. Severe weather conditions caused the flight delay. El Al helped all who asked to disembark to remain in a hotel and fly after Shabbat. So the headline stating that haredim deserted El Al is disingenuous at best.
Paying passengers to fly? That hasn’t happened, as far as I am aware, but the Icelandic airline, Wow Air, recently claimed “We are offering flights from London to New York for less than the cost of taxes – essentially paying for our guests to fly.”
The carrier went on to assert that it will fly passengers from London’s Stansted Airport to New York for £99. This was part of their PR release touting they were launching a new route from London to JFK offering some seriously cheap tickets.
To be equitable, since taking to the air in 2014, WOW Air has become an increasingly disruptive force in ultra-low-cost long-haul international air travel. The Icelandic carrier and its bright purple planes have made waves with stunningly low prices.
In 2017, WOW launched a sale for $69 one-way tickets from the US to Europe. These sales have helped bring awareness to the airline, which is expected to double in size over the next two years. However, the question must be asked. How low can they go?
“I can see a day when we pay you to fly,” WOW Air founder and CEO Skúli Mogensen is quoted saying.
For years now, airlines have worked to diversify their revenue streams and to reduce their reliance on ticket sales for income. Fees for things such as seat selection, early boarding, and in-flight meals have become the norm. In addition, they have developed lucrative partnerships with hotels, restaurants, rental car agencies, and other travel industry players to ensure their ability to derive revenue from all facets of a passenger’s travel needs.
WOW has certainly capitalized on ancillary income to lower ticket prices since unbundled, a la carte service options allow passengers to pay for only what they need. Their goal, and they’re working hard towards it, is for our ancillary revenue to actually surpass our passenger revenue. Whatever airline becomes the first to achieve this will be a game changer.
In theory, by lowering an airline’s dependency on passenger revenue, the amount it charges per ticket becomes less important. In the most extreme case, the fact a passenger is on the flight will be more crucial for the airline’s bottom line than how much it charged for airfare. That’s because most of the money the airline will make from its passengers come after they purchase their ticket. Thus, WOW could technically pay you to be on the plane and still make money from the trip.
As a piece of fake news, it is a classic. To start with, Wow Air isn’t launching a new route from Stansted to JFK. It will fly you from Essex to Keflavik airport in Iceland, where you must change planes to reach New York. And there are no £99 one-way fares. It’s not that they have all sold out; they were never there in the first place. When Wow Air launches services to New York JFK next summer, the lowest one-way fare I can find is £170. On the airline’s website, you can read: “Stansted to JFK from £99.” But tantalizingly, when you click further it becomes clear that the “£99” deal is available only as part of a round-trip; that coming back will cost you substantially more; and that an unexpected “booking fee” is added to the transaction.
And that line about Wow Air flights costing less than the taxes, “essentially paying for our guests to fly”? Government fees from London to New York via Iceland total £105, which is certainly more than £99. As, regrettably, is the airfare.
Not surprisingly, the Open Sky Policy in Israel has led to a plethora of ultra-low cost carriers with prices ridiculously low. Few have the audacity though to advertise only their fares without mentioning the taxes that must also be paid.
Labeling in the airline industry, while not fake, rivals the antics of a mad scientist brewing up a cocktail of chemicals. Basic economy to Premium Economy, Comfort class to World Traveler plus and Hospitality Class to Tempo are all describing what most people consider steerage class or what I describe as coach.
 Hard to believe this is not fake news, because American Airlines just announced a stunning decision changing everything you knew about traveling in coach. You could say it’s all about free booze – and whether flight attendants have to act like traffic cops. American is bucking the trend.
Coach class used to be the great equalizer. But now on American Airlines, there’s coach – and then there’s “original coach.” There are the premium coach passengers up front, who enjoy basic perks that once upon a time, were available to everyone on board. Then, there are the unwashed masses in “original coach,” looking with envy toward the folks ahead of them in “premium.” Recently, American Airlines made an announcement that made the division between the two coaches even more stark. It turns out they also made a decision that sort of upends the whole model.
First, the new perks, and then the upending.
Passengers in the premium economy section that American calls Main Cabin Extra will be entitled to free alcoholic drinks, plus dedicated overhead bin space. The bin space is part of an honor system.
Meantime, the upending also has to do with the honor system.
Because American says that when passengers from “original coach” spot empty seats in Main Cabin Extra and rush to grab them, they won’t be stopped. Instead, they’ll be allowed to settle into the roomier seats, and enjoy the free booze and the baggage space, even though they didn’t pay for any of it.
This isn’t really a matter of turning a blind eye, either. In fact, American specifically says passengers are allowed to improve their station in flight by moving up to Main Cabin Extra (aka, “MCE”) – at least according to a copy of the guidance it issued to its flight crews.
Outside of complimentary beer, wine and spirits, what does MCE include?
In addition to the complimentary beer, wine and spirits, MCE seats will receive preferential boarding, additional legroom, and reserved overhead bin space.
Can customers move into open MCE seats once boarding is complete?
Yes. Once the door is closed, customers are allowed to move to any available seat within their ticketed cabin, which is no change to current procedure.
Other airlines put their flight attendants in the position of having to act like traffic cops when “original coach” passengers try to promote themselves to the class of travel formerly known as coach. In fact, El Al flight attendants are often caused to act as they stand idly by while religious passengers try to reseat entire sections of their planes. Lawsuits have been filed against El Al for permitting such behavior.
Last year, for example, United Airlines kicked a couple who were traveling to their wedding off a plane for trying to move from basic economy to premium. Things did not end well; it’s disputed whether the airline called the cops.
So, one might guess that American’s flight attendants are happy with the new policy, assuming they would rather not have to play police at 30,000 feet. But is the decision a good thing for passengers?
Certainly it’s a benefit for the folks in “original coach” – except that they’ll now be participants in an airborne Hunger Games, where people jockey and race from the back of the plane to the “free booze and more legroom section” in the front, as soon as the doors close.
And woe to the passengers who actually paid for Main Cabin Extra seats, who will now find that they could possibly have had the extra perks for free if they’d bought cheaper, “original coach” tickets, and then just sprinted to the front of the plane. They’ll also be robbed of one of life’s sublime pleasures, which when you book a flight and find upon boarding that the seat next to you is empty.
But that also means some lucky “ORIGINAL coach” passengers will wind up with two seats on flights that aren’t full – since their would-be seat mates will now be enjoying free drinks and more legroom in MCE.
Where do you come down on the issue? Pro-premium, or in the corner of “original coach” passengers? Or is this simply a fake news item?
Delta Air Lines just announced a stricter policy to combat fake service animals. Their new policy requires people with service animals to provide proper documentation, proving that their animals are both healthy and trained, enabling them to fly. This must be provided 48 hours before the scheduled flight’s departure.
Delta has said that two-thirds of the alleged service animals on their flights are designated as emotional support dogs – over 160,000 emotional support dogs a year flying with their owners. Last June, a large 30-kilo dog was reported to have bitten another passenger in the face. They have recently had a significant surge in complaints ranging from attacks to dogs urinating or defecating in the cabin – a clear indicator that many of these dogs have not been trained to any kind of standard required for service animals, including legitimate emotional support dog standards.
As the “service dog” loophole has become more popular, Delta has noted an 84% rise of incidents with dogs in 2016, which is exactly what led to this change in policy.
This is yet another example of why unnecessary service animals threaten to severely damage the service dog industry as a whole. While many of these people innocently just want their dogs around them, or want the ease of travel without having to coordinate a dog sitter or another form of transportation, many are not aware of the damage their actions have on say, guide dogs for blind people or support dogs for people with crippling PTSD.
So whether you fly because you’re looking for a little tale, be aware that Fake News is like barking up the wrong tree.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments email him at