Here’s a little something to keep you entertained while you navigate the holiday airport lines. We talk about digital security on the road — what’s the right balance between hassle and hack? We also dig into JD Power’s latest airport satisfaction survey. They report a tick up in traveler experience and, for the most part, I think they have it right. We also cover Spirit Airlines’ growth and the planned expansion of US immigration pre-clearance. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
Here are the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #119:
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL, cranking out one last episode to keep you occupied while you navigate the holiday security lines while trying to get to — or away from family. Myself, I’m settling for the Christmas break after doing a day trip yesterday to Philadelphia. I’m taking a break from O’Hare until January.
- No really remarkable travel since the last episode, just trips to Cleveland, Vegas, and Boston. When I was flying out of Vegas last week, I hit the Amex Centurion Lounge for a couple of conference calls before boarding. It’s free entry with a Platinum Card, and so far and beyond any Admirals Club or Sky Club or United Club. It’s not quite as hip/a bit more button-down than Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Lounge in Heathrow, but the comfort, the free buffet and open bar just are just as good. Highly recommended. I just wish there were more of them.
- When I’m flying into Boston, I’m actually heading out 45 minutes west, close to Worcester. Now that’s a 45 minute drive out I-90 when I land at 9 or 10 in the morning. When I land at 5 in the evening, it’s a whole different story. I touch down at Logan, flip out of airplane mode and immediately open Waze. How bad is the traffic? How about an hour and 45 minute drive? Not looking forward to that parking lot, so I threaded my way over to Chelsea. Found a great little microbrewery complete with real live Boston Irish patrons and sample 1, 2, 4 of their beers. Then I walked up a couple of blocks to a Central American joint underneath a highway overpass. Had a great plate of food for less than $10. I’ve spent a few dinner times wandering around nearby neighborhoods — Charlestown, the Seaport District as well as Chelsea — waiting for Waze to tell me when I-90’s traffic tantrum had subsided.
- Probably the biggest travel event this week wasn’t mine but my daughter’s. It’s her first solo flight — returning from her first semester at Univ of St Andrews, flying Aer Lingus from Edinburgh to Chicago by way of Dublin. It’s a big adjustment in a couple of ways. First, of course, she has to figure out a new airport by herself. She’s never been through Dublin before, but I thought a smaller airport would be a better first solo than trying to navigate the start of holiday traffic at Heathrow. But she does now have to pay attention to what’s going on rather than just following in my slipstream. The second adjustment is a bit more of a First World problem — flying as as plain old passenger, a villager, rather than tagging along with me through the Gold or Platinum baggage check lines and pre-boarding. It’s a tough come-down, but I did soften the blow a little bit. I paid her Global Entry fee as a going away gift.
- Bridge Music — Dive Deep (Loveshadow remix) by spinningmerkaba (c) 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/50488 Ft: Loveshadow
- Not really any commentary on the last episode, though Ian Morgan swung by the Facebook page with adding to the support about British Airways’ stricter carry-on policy
- “Just listened to your October episode! Picked up your post about BA hand luggage. They have just changed their policy on this to clamp down. I agree it is frustrating especially on lightly loaded widebody aircraft. However, as a regular BA traveller I have lost count of the number of times BA flights have been delayed whilst cabin crew offload hand luggage, especially since BA introduced “hand baggage only” fares. Before the change, I never saw BA using the size gauges – these days they use them much more frequently. It’s part of the steady decline of BA from a full service airline to a low cost carriers. Just be grateful that you got a 767 instead of an A321 with new ‘spacesaver’ seats with a 29″ seat pitch!!
- Ian, I think you’ve nailed it — the descent of full-service carriers into the low-cost, low-service ring of travel hell created by Ryan Air and Spirit Airlines. I’ve talked about this before — a frequent traveler can’t fathom why someone would subject themselves to the hassles that Ryan and Spirit travelers endure. A recent Crain’s Chicago article about Spirit said just over half — 58 % — of their flights into ORD arrived on time in the first 9 months of this year. I fly at least 3 weeks out of 4. American Airlines’ 79% on-time percentage into ORD is only just acceptable; I’d go postal at 58%. But yet Spirit is now the 3rd largest airline at ORD after United and American. Working out of just two shared gates, it’s bigger than Delta. But then I remembered some comments made by the president of American Airlines during an analysts call right around the time American was doing the final merger of res systems with US Air. He said that half of American’s revenue last year came from the 87% of its customers that only flew them once. 50% of American’s revenue came from passengers that see air travel as a commodity and are looking for the lowest cost carriage between two points. And so for 50% of their revenue, American isn’t competing against United or Delta, they’re competing with Spirit. It explains Delta’s Spirit-like Basic Economy offering, and the expectation that American and United will follow in 2016. And, I assume BA’s “hand baggage” fees that Ian mentions. The challenge, though, is how do you compete for the 87% of your passengers buying a commodity while also serving the remaining 13% of your passengers, who contribute the other 50% of your revenue, and value the little things like a seat that reclines a bit and a flight that arrives on time — all in the same plane? Spirit doesn’t have that problem because they’ll never get that 13%. American, BA, Delta have the tougher problem.
- Connecting through Dublin airport, my daughter cleared US immigration and customs in there in Ireland and then just popped out at the one domestic baggage claim in ORD’s Terminal 5 — the International Terminal. Kinda similar to what they’ve been doing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport since forever — or at least the 90’s when I was flying through there weekly. But there, American’s YYZ-ORD flight would land in Terminal 3, just like a flight from, say, Buffalo, and you’d make your connection or just walk out to the cab line. Handy for the regular traveler, but if you’ve dropped the $100 Global Entry fee, immigration lines at, say, ORD, aren’t any worse than they are in Toronto or Dublin. Indeed, my daughter was bummed that she went through US Preclearance so soon, because food and shopping choices on the US side of Preclearance were a lot thinner than on the Irish side. And I think that’ll be the problem if the TSA follows through on their announced expansion of Preclearance — from what is mostly Canadian, Irish, and Caribbean airports to 10 much larger airports, including Tokyo, Amsterdam, Madrid, London Heathrow. If you’re flying US carriers out of European airports, you’re already being put into a de facto American ghetto — typically flying out of the most remote gates, with the longest walks from security and airport lounges, and the fewest food and shopping amenities. Walling it off to create the secured facilities to support Preclearance just formalizes it. The DHS secretary calls it a “win-win” for travelers. I think it’s just squeezing the balloon — making wait time go down in the US, but go up in places like Narita and Heathrow. It’s one thing to miss a connection in ORD due to immigration delays. Odds are there’s another flight you can catch within a couple of hours. It’s a whole other thing if you miss that once a day flight home from, say, Amsterdam.
- Thanks to El Niño, it’s been a warm start to the winter — at least in North America. But soon enough, the temps will drop and the winter coats will start competing with carry-ons for overhead bin space. Last winter, while de-planing (what a weird verb construction!), someone handed me my black overcoat — it was wedged in front of their suitcase. I threw it over my arm as I stepped out into the aisle, grabbed my carry-on, and hoofed it out of the plane, power-walking toward the cab line. It wasn’t until I stepped outside that I stopped to put my coat on and… it wasn’t my coat. I should’ve checked when it was handed to me, but I didn’t want to be that guy who stops in the aisle to put his jacket on. I went to Lost & Found. The clerk called the gate, where the guy with my coat was standing, trying to find his coat. We got lucky. It took us about 10 minutes to sort everything out. He came down to Lost & Found to swap coats. If it had been warmer out, like this week, I might not have put my coat on at all and gotten home for noticing the switch. Black bags, black coats. Love that black hides a lot of sins — scuffs, dirt, extra pounds. Don’t love its ubiquity on an airplane. Keep your eyes on your stuff in these holiday crowds. Don’t want “Lost” to be the new black.
- And if you have any thoughts, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is email@example.com — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge Music — Absolutely Clear (ft Jeris & Goldfish) by SackJo22 (c) 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://ccmixter.org/files/SackJo22/45578 Ft: Jeris, Goldfish
Digital Security On The Road
- Digital security, cyber security. I don’t know about you, but I’ve kinda hit security breach fatigue. On Thursday, yet another company announced a credit card breach. This time it’s Landry’s who runs Bubba Gumps and Morton’s Steakhouse and another 15 or so restaurant brands. I don’t frequent Landry’s brands that much, so I’m hoping that this breach doesn’t mean I have to replace one of my credit cards and again have to go through the goat rodeo of changing account numbers for all my autobills. But it still does reinforce that feeling the cyber security is not a matter of “if” but “when”
- But even if it’s a matter of “when”, I’d still like to postpone the “when” as long as possible. And traveling — certainly during the holidays — there’s a lot of opportunity to bring on the “when” if you’re not just a bit thoughtful. There’s also a balance between inconvenience — the cost of being more digitally secure — and the probability of being “breached” (can I say that without having to flag this as “explicit” in iTunes?).
- You could always go “old school” — like 10 years ago when there was damn little public WiFi, no iPhones — nothing to keep us entertained as we shuffled through the TSA lines other than trading snarky remarks with other line sufferers. Or you could go the “burner” route — using disposable phones and a temporary PC, which is what many business travelers to China still do — doing a complete wipe of their phones and PCs before and after each visit because they just expect to get hacked no matter what anti-virus and other safety precautions they take. But if all you’re doing is going from, say, San Francisco to Boston to see your family, these seem a bit “overkill” — definitely not balancing the cost-benefit trade-off. I’m fairly lazy about this stuff, but there are a few precautions I do take.
- First, I never do any financial stuff over public WiFi — no checking my bank account or credit card activity over an airport or Starbucks WiFi, or a hotel network at all — whether WiFi or jacked into an Ethernet port. Even if the URL is showing https — a encrypted web connection — there’s just too many ways those networks or web sites can be misconfigured. Some folks will tell you to use a VPN. I used one in China, but it seems a bit too much in the US. If I have to do some banking, I’ll use my iPhone over the mobile carrier network — AT&T in the US, Orange when I was in Spain, …. I know it’s not perfect, but, as the cyber security guys like to say, it “reduces the attack surface” at what is considered one of the most vulnerable points.
- I rarely use hotel PCs — the ones set up in lobbies or the concierge lounges. I mean, if I have a smartphone, a tablet, and a PC, why do I need to use a public PC that’s open to anyone loading up a key-logger that’ll capture anything you type — including logins and passwords. If I do, for some odd reason, need to use one, I never log into anything. Maybe just search for a restaurant, but that’s about it.
- I always make sure that I’ve configured my phone and PC e-mail clients to use encrypted communications between servers — using IMAP and SMTP over SSL (>now we’re talking security because we used more acronyms than words in that last sentence) for my own mail servers; GMail does it automatically for you. But I don’t encrypt the message itself — no PGP or signed MIME. There’s nothing in my e-mails that is that confidential to go through that hassle.
- I have recently, though, turned on two-factor authentication for every service that offers it — GMail, some of my financial accounts, Dropbox, …. I resisted it for a long time — again, thought it was more hassle than it was worth. But then I started getting some odd password reset e-mail requests — that I didn’t request.
- I go back and forth on using smartphone or printed boarding passes. Smartphone boarding passes are quicker — you can get it while in the cab to the airport rather than queueing up for a kiosk — but I’ve had more than a few times when my boarding pass disappeared from the app during an extended flight delay. Printed boarding passes are easier to scan at the gate — especially when juggling a backpack, a hot coffee, and a winter coat — but there’s recently been a bit of a stir about the amount of personal information someone could pull out of the bar codes. Maybe I’m not paranoid enough, but that one feels a bit of a stretch. I do whatever’s the most convenient — usually the smartphone route. But when I do print out a boarding pass, I keep it in my jacket pocket — just to be sure.
- Bridge Music — Drops of H2O ( The Filtered Water Treatment ) by J.Lang (c) 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://ccmixter.org/files/djlang59/37792 Ft: Airtone
US Airports Getting Better?
- While I poked at London Heathrow a couple of episodes back, it’s an article of faith among international travelers that North American airports pale in comparison to airports in Asia/Pac — anyone flying from Beijing or Singapore to LAX needs a light sedative to cushion the shock — and pretty much trail behind most European airports too. But JD Power, in their airport satisfaction survey released last week, said that things are getting better. Not hugely better — a 5-8% increase in their satisfaction score, but any improvement is good news.
- Power rated large- and medium-sized North American airports — 60 US airports and Toronto Pearson, Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver. They surveyed travelers around 6 attributes of their airport experience. In order of importance, they are: the state of the airport facilities themselves, how easy it is to get to the airport, security, baggage claim, the check-in experience, and available food and shopping. A frequent traveler might re-shuffle the order — maybe drop baggage claim and the check-in experience to the bottom because we rarely check a bag — but I think it’s a good list.
- And I think some of Power’s conclusions line up with things I’m seeing on the road. Like improvements in terminal facilities. In the last episode, I gave United a shout-out for the upgrade of their gate space in Boston Logan. I also think San Francisco’s complete rebuild of Terminal 2 is excellent and stands up to any airport in Asia or Europe.
- Power found what is a pretty logical connection between satisfaction and the time you spend in lines. As I said earlier, I rarely deal with check-in lines, but I think the TSA’s rollout of Precheck has provided a quantum level improvement in the security experience — though at times, it feels like its popularity is on the verge of overwhelming it and sliding back. But even for those in the regular lines, I’ve seen TSA folks working hard to re-balance lines — especially at ORD.
- Power split their ratings between large and medium airports. Their winning large airport is Portland, Oregon. I’ve done a bit of flying into PDX and while I wouldn’t have, unprompted, chosen it as the top large airport, I don’t argue with their conclusion. It’s a nice facility; easy mass transit (a TravelCommons’ fixation) via the MAX light rail; I disagree with its top marks for security check, but in how many other airports can I buy a growler of craft beer to go? The bottom four — those I could’ve ticked off with missing a beat — LaGuardia, Newark, LAX, and O’Hare. Old terminals, awkward layouts, leaking roofs, lousy food. Interesting they’re also the major airports for the US’s largest cities.
- The medium airport winner was a tie between Dallas’ downtown Love Field and Fort Myers’ Southwest Florida. This one, I dunno. I’ve used both of these airports a lot. Love has gone through a good sized facelift and I haven’t been through it since they finished, so I may be working off out-of-date impressions, but even though it’s close to downtown, it’s a pain to get to. Now Fort Myers is easy to get to — and I love the short walk to the rental car facility — but security screening can back way up and the food choice isn’t great. From my personal experience, I’d give top marks to Nashville. I mean, how can you go wrong with live music — good live music — as you’re walking down the terminal.
- Power’s most obvious finding is that dissatisfied customers are very vocal. Those who rate overall satisfaction 1 (on a 10-point scale) make an average of 13 negative comments about their experience. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows how true that is.
- Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #119
- I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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