The Travel Adviser: Top 10 travel stories of 2011

What better time than the first day of 2012 to present you with my list of the top 10 airline stories of 2011.

Bibi netanyahu (photo credit: JPost Staff)
Bibi netanyahu
(photo credit: JPost Staff)
People love to make lists – what to do, what to buy, where to go. So what better time than the first day of 2012 to present you with my list of the top 10 airline stories of 2011. Odds are high I’ve missed something; just let me know.
Number One: American Airlines files for bankruptcy
Goes to American Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy on November 29.
Fondly known as AA throughout the travel industry, she has been around for 82 years originating as a conglomerate of 82 dinky carriers. AA grew to be one of the largest airlines in the world, swallowed up TWA when it went belly up, and survived the post 9/11 shakeup of so many other US airlines.
Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, AA’s business acumen and aggressive marketing programs kept it on the straight and narrow, but commitments to an antiquated pension system forced it to file under Chapter 11 on November 29.
AA management is correct in calling it “reorganization” and assures fliers and creditors that they are conducting business as usual.
Many airlines in the past have entered this nether zone of Chapter 11 to refinance their debt, and the vast majority have also exited. Some, like TWA & Pan Am, are simply memories in the minds of seasoned travelers.
Often during this process, predators go after the airline and market conditions may indeed create a merger. Both US Airways & Southwest have been mentioned as suitable partners who may end up linking with AA.
Number Two: Bag fees
If you’re planning on flying this year, then kindly add at least $70 to your budget if you’re planning on checking in more than one bag when flying to North America. Almost every airline has cancelled the privilege of checking in, for free, two bags. Smart airlines exempted their frequent flyers from this dramatic change, and even smarter airlines, like El Al, permit one to use 140 points to pay for the second bag. When asked by your humble columnist, other airlines were aghast at the concept of using air miles to pay for an extra suitcase. It’s the lucre they desire, and if charging you for an extra bag will fill their coffer, then so be it.
Number three: Dreamliner finally takes flight
Boeing decided back in 1957 that all their aircraft would carry 7X7 designations, starting with the 707 and continuing to their 787 airframe which entered service only three years later. The last plane in this number game will be the 797, a model only Boeing engineers can dream about.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is designed to fly long-range routes, using two engines. Seating configuration is between 210-290 passengers, although I’d wager that if El Al ever gets one, it’ll push the seating to 300 passengers. Built with composite materials, mainly carbon fiber, for the airline the savings on fuel are significant. For the passenger, the much bigger windows and roomier overhead bins are proving to be a big hit. There’s a good chance that we’ll see Dreamliners landing at Ben-Gurion airport by the end of this year.
Number Four: Airfare hikes
I tell this story purely for educational purposes. I have been told that when one cooks a lobster, it’s put in a pot covered by a tight lid, as the lummox will thrash around. As the water gets hotter, however, the lobster simply adapts, figuring it’s not that hot and he can cope. The water gets hotter, and the lobster keeps on “adapting” until finally he’s cooked.
So it was with airfare hikes; rather than dramatic raises of hundreds of dollars, airlines successfully raised prices in $10 and $20 increments, with most clients adapting to the higher prices. Fares kept climbing, and most airfares increased over 15 percent last year. Expect this pattern of small increases to continue.
One piquant point – United/Continental tried seven times to raise fares inside the US – they only succeeded once! When no other airline matched their price increases, they rolled them back. Most successful airline in raising fares – Southwest! Just goes to show that you can charge more if you permit two checked bags, which Southwest still does.
Number Five: Anniversary of September 11 terror attacks
Ten years have passed since that fateful day. Several airlines went bankrupt; breezing through the airport became a thing of the past. Flying is no longer the unadulterated fun it used to be. Thanks to all that security, it can be at times be a heavy burden. We shake it off, accept all invasions of our privacy and board those planes. The terrorists did not win.
Number Six: Travel & Leisure World’s Best Awards
Global Traveler Magazine in its Readers’ Choice survey awards lists the best in airlines, hotels and more. Here’s the list:
Best North American Airline: Air Canada
Best North American Domestic Airlines: Virgin America
Best International Airline: Singapore Airlines
World’s Best City: Bangkok
World’s Best Island: Santorini, Greece
Number Seven: World’s Safest Carriers The list, compiled by the Air Transport Rating Agency, found that the safest carriers in the world were mainly those based in Europe and the US. While European and American airlines rarely feature in the top 10 rankings for best customer service, airlines from these regions have dominated the new list of the world’s safest carriers.
Air France-KLM, British Airways and Lufthansa are the safest airlines in Europe.
The safest US-based airlines are AA, United/ Continental, Delta, Southwest & US Airways, while the safest from Asia is Japan.
The safest airline based in the Middle East, no surprise, is El Al.
The agency based their classifications on 15 criteria, ranging from the age of the aircraft to the homogeneity of the fleet. The agency explained that to understand airline safety, one need not only look at accident figures but also technical, human, organizational and external elements.
Number Eight: Top 10 airlines based on passengers carried
Delta Airlines: over 160 million passengers
American Airlines
Lufthansa Group (includes Swiss/Austrian & BMI)
China Southern Airlines
Air France-KLM
China Eastern Airlines
Number Nine: Latin America’s largest airline, LATAM, is approved
The merger of two major Latin American airlines has been approved, creating the largest carrier in the region. TAM and LAN together will fly to 115 destinations in 23 countries and serve over 45 million passengers. Unfortunately Israel isn’t on their list, and as El Al no longer flies to South America, flying from Israel will be a lengthy trip.
Number Ten: Why it’s a Bad Idea to pee off a cliff
The World’s Unluckiest Traveler contest is sponsored by Travel Guard, a company that insures travelers while abroad. The recent winner was Dr. Gary Feldman (no relation) from California. Gary was touring Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and went to the edge of a cliff to take a picture. Feeling “nature’s call,” he moved a little closer to the edge.
The edge of the cliff gave way and he fell 30 feet, breaking his leg. It took several guys to put him on a board and drag him out. Fortunately he had taken out a travel insurance policy, which covered his medical expenses and transportation home. When he received the reimbursement, included was a flyer about the contest, which he entered. Gary ended up winning and received a $10,000 travel voucher.
May 2012 be a year of no lost luggage, no airline delays, no overbooking, no airport strikes, no volcanic ash and no bumped passengers.
And if it happens I’ll give each of you a free ticket.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions & comments, e-mail him at [email protected]