Nigeria no longer needs to rely on Europeans to operate its trans-Atlantic airline flights to the United States.
Amid all the mystery and tragedy of Malaysia MH370, a little good news from the airline world…and it comes from West Africa.
Last week, an Airbus A330-200, flying the colors of Arik Air, touched down at New York’s JFK International Airport after about an eight-hour flight from Lagos, Nigeria.
It wasn’t the Arik Air flight ever to land in the United States; the airline has been making that run since 2009. But it was the first time in 20 years that a commercial aircraft registered to Nigeria had made the trip.
Before that, Arik Air’s other US flight had been operated by a Portuguese company. Now, Nigeria is reaching across the Atlantic on its own, with its own jumbo jets.
Not bad for an airline only seven years old.
It took more than a smile and a nod from President Barack Obama to make this happen. The airline to jump through three years’ worth of hoops from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation before receiving the official go-ahead.
Of the 18 major airlines currently based in Africa, Arik Air, which calls itself “the Wings of Nigeria,” is one of only six allowed to fly to the US. The other five are:
Cape Verde Airlines
South African Airways
Two US airlines, Delta and United, offer direct flights between the US and African destinations. Others connect to the Mother Continent via codeshare flights with European airlines like British Airways, Air France and Germany’s Lufthansa.
Having US government clearance to operate its own planes to US airport should enable Arik Air to add flights to more East Coast destinations, making it easier for American travelers to visit Africa.
And as new-generation airliners with longer range come into service like Boeing’s Dreamliner and the new Airbus A350, perhaps one day, I’ll see jumbo jets rocking the colors of African airlines at LAX.
Am I dreaming? Sure. But small dreams are a waste of sleep.
Even more intriguing is word that Eastern’s new owners have been chatting up the Chinese aircraft maker Comac about possibly acquiring their new narrow-body C919 airliners for use in the United States.
Comac, aka the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, is working in tandem with Canada’s Bombardier Inc., on long-term plans to build airliners — and break the grip of Boeing and Airbus on the world’s airlines.
Media reports describe the main mover in this deal as Edward Wegel, an airline industry veteran who worked with Eastern back in the 1980s.
A lot of this country’s aviation history is tied to Eastern. Over the decades, it was owned by a carmaker, bought by a flying ace and run by an astronaut.
Along with American, United and Delta, it was one of the “Big Four,” going toe-to-toe with them in New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
Based in Miami, it pretty much owned Florida, so much so that when Disneyworld opened in Orlando in 1971, it became Disney’s official airline.
Eastern Air Lines first took off in 1934, but it didn’t really seem to take off in the public’s imagination until its owner, General Motors, sold it to World War 1 fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker, for $3.5 million.
By the time Rickenbacker left with the dawn of the Jet Age, Eastern seemed invincible east of the Mississippi. It could take you north to Canada, west to California or south to the Caribbean getaway of your choice. It was the unofficial airline of the American snowbird.
It was the first to fly the iconic three-engined Boeing 727, the Boeing 757 and was the first US airline to fly the Airbus A300, the world’s first twin-engined jumbo jet.
So what went wrong?
It was slow to embrace change. It staked the company’s fortunes on a jumbo jet that proved to be a dog, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.
For a little while, things got better when former astronaut Frank Borman took over as president after leaving NASA, but it couldn’t last.
Airline deregulation threw Eastern against low-cost, low-fare competitors that it couldn’t match. Trying to save cash by forcing wage cuts started an ugly war between labor and management — at exactly the moment when each side needed to have the other’s back.
Bleeding money from multiple wounds, Eastern folded in 1991.
Now, if Wegel and his cohorts get their way, Eastern may soon be taxiing for a fresh takeoff into the 21st century. Can they pull it off? We’ll see.
VANISHED WINGS When Eastern Air Lines closed up shop in 1991, it joined a long list of US airlines that, in the words of a popular New Orleans Christmas song, “Ain’t Dere No More:”
And believe me, this is only a small fraction of the actual total.
Airline fare sales are a lot like playing the lottery. You have a chance to win big — just not a good chance. You’re better off tracking down airfare bargains on your own.
When I started publishing IBIT almost five years ago, one of the easiest ways to get my heart racing was to find out that Airlines A, B and C were staging a “fare war.”
Airline A would announce these eye-popping airfare reductions “for a limited time only.” Within a day, sometimes hours or even minutes, Airlines B,C — and sometimes through Z — would follow suit. And I’d breathlessly jump on here to spread the word.
Regular IBIT readers will tell you they don’t see such posts here nearly as often anymore. Here’s the reason: Over time, I’ve learned that these “fare wars” too often are far more style than substance when it comes to saving you money.
For most consumers, scoring a major bargain in a fare war is a bit like winning the lottery. Can you hit it big? Theoretically, yes. Are the odds in your favor? Definitely not.
By the time you’ve waded through all the exceptions, exemptions and restrictions, there’s virtually nothing left for you to consider buying. It’s enough to make you wonder why the airlines bothered in the first place.
What am I talking about? Consider:
Usually short to extremely short, the better to try to stampede consumers into making hasty spending decisions likely to cause them to spend more than they planned.
That gorgeous-looking fare to your preferred destination either will be based on the purchase of a round-trip ticket or requires you to pay a higher fare for the return leg. You have to spend a minimum number of days or nights, or stay over on a Saturday. In the case of major cities with more than one airport, the fare may apply only to the one that farther from the city center, which means more expense in ground transportation for you. And on and on and on.
The discounts don’t apply to the airline’s entire route system, only to certain carefully chosen destinations — none of which remotely interest you. Your travel must be started by a certain date and completed by a certain date. And there are blackout dates when you won’t be allowed to fly in either direction on that discounted fare.
And those are the catches the airlines tell you about. What they don’t tell you is that there may not be that many seats per flight available at those bargain-basement prices.
Another hidden catch: If the airline thinks its fare-war sale has grown too popular with the public, it can cut it off at any time, without warning.
By the time you’ve waded through all those airline “clauses,” too often you find there’s no bargain left to be had.
When it comes to fare wars, I no longer believe the hype.
When it comes to finding an airfare at the right time to the right place for the right price, you’re better off tracking it yourself. The Web has lots of ways you can do that.
Many of the more popular travel booking sites — including one or more you may be using already — have airfare alerts you can use. Other sites are dedicated strictly to tracking airfares. Both work in basically the same way.
Just enter your departure point, destination and the amount you want to pay. The site will take care of the rest, sending you email or smartphone text messages to “pull your coat” when the fare has dropped to the level you’re looking for.
(NOTE: When setting your alert price, be realistic. I’d love to fly from LAX to Paris for $100 round-trip, too, but the odds of the fare ever dropping that low are slim to none.)
While some booking sites will let you know when fares drop to your chosen destination, there are other sites designed exclusively to keep tabs on airfares that might prove more useful.
Some even track the rise and fall of specific fares over the course of a year or more, allowing you to follow airfare patterns and time your trip to get the best possible fare.
You can find some of the best sites for both airfare booking and fare tracking right here on IBIT:
Go to the AIR-LAND-SEA pull-down menu at the top of this page.
Roll your cursor over the linked marked AIR.
Roll your cursor over the link marked AIRFARES and click.
Look them all over. See which ones work best for you. Then start stalking those bargain fares on your own.
Just as the cruise lines periodically have to move their vessels around, so do the airlines. But when it comes to offering bargains on repositioning flights, the airlines aren’t nearly as accommodating.
Once you’ve seen what kinds of deals you can get on repositioning cruises, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if airlines do the same thing.
Well, they do…and they don’t.
Actually, the airlines reposition aircraft all the time. Unlike the cruise lines, however, they don’t make a point of trying to sell seats on them.
An airliner due for maintenance may be flown from its last commercial stop to the city that hosts the airline’s maintenance base. Likewise, a plane that was used to fly, say, the Dallas Mavericks to to New York for a game against the Knicks may return to DFW.
These are known in the airline industry as “ferry flights” and the planes fly empty.
An airlines may list an extra flight when repositioning one of its aircraft and sell seats on it. They call these extra flights “sections.” They are publicly listed and you can find them online.
The trick is finding them because — again, unlike the cruise lines — the airlines usually won’t even tell you when one of their commercial flights is a repositioning flight.
But there is a way to spot one of those “sections” for yourself. According to Airfarewatchdog, the terrific airfare monitoring site led by George Hobica, the key is the flight number.
Regular flights have three digits in their flight number. The repositioning “section” flight has four, often starting with an “8” or a “9.”
It’s a good clue, and also the only one the airlines are likely to give you.
I’ve never tried calling up a reservations clerk and just asking him or her to point me to a repositioning flight. I might try that one of these days, just to see what happens.
Perhaps the most important divergence between the cruise lines and the airlines on repositioning is in pricing. The cruise lines sell cabins at loss-leader prices on repositioning cruises. The airlines, if they sell seats on a repositioning flight at all, will sell it at their standard rates.
There was a time, several years ago, when an airline might cut you a deal every now and again on a “repo” flight, but it was infrequent even when they did it.
Like their airline cousins, charter air services also reposition their aircraft, especially when they need to fly them back after delivering their VIP clients to their destinations on their small private planes.
They call these “empty legs” and are more than willing to sell you a seat on them at discounted rates, perhaps as much as $75 percent off their normal airfares.
With rates for private planes being so much higher than regular commercial airfares, even a 75 percent discount might not be that much of a bargain. But if you can put together a group large enough to fill an empty leg, you just might be able to score a major deal — and an unforgettable flying experience — at the same time.
United has started cracking down on the size of bags allowed on board as carry-ons. Expect other airlines to follow this lead. One more reason to pack lighter.
Sooner or later, the airlines were going to start enforcing the regulations governing the size of carry-on bags. If you’ve ever seen the chaos that ensues when passengers start muscling their bale-sized bags into the overhead bins, you knew it was inevitable.
The only question was which airline was going to do it first.
United answered that question this week when the airline announced that it was tightening up on the rules on what would and would not be allowed as a carry-on.
You know, those rules that almost everyone who flies have been routinely and blithely ignoring for years?
The same way we’ve all been pretending not to see those bag sizing racks in the airport that let you instantly check the size of your bag to see if it meets the regulations.
Don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
“Maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.”
“Maximum dimensions for your personal item, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm)”
If it doesn’t fit in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you, it gets checked.
These dimensions are standard throughout the airline industry and United isn’t changing them. It’s just getting serious about making us all adhere to them.
It would be easy to presume that this is just a ploy by an airline to squeeze more checked bag fees out of passengers, but United insists it’s acting in response to passenger complaints.
Actually, I can believe that.
After years of watching passengers hog the overhead bins with oversized, overweight bags while trying to evade baggage fees, I think United may be tapping into a vein of genuine discontent.
Cramming too-large bags into the overheads slows down the whole boarding process, unfairly deprives other passengers from using the bins and poses a very real safety hazard when the bin hatches pop open in flight — which they can when airliners hit turbulence.
TIP If you routinely fly one airline more than the rest, check the terms of the credit card that airline offers. Some airlines waive the cost of your first checked bag if you buy your tickets with their card. Combined with the frequent-flier miles or points your get with each purchase, that just might make that card worth having.
On flights with lots of empty seats, this is a non-issue. But with the airlines making a point of reducing the total of flights on their route systems, the words “this is a full flight” are now heard on a regular basis.
We’ve talked about all this before here on IBIT. If United is to be believed, a fair number of its passengers have been talking to them about it, as well.
Don’t be surprised if cabin crews and their union representatives also have been complaining, and for good reason. Dozens are injured every year when one of these oversized bags comes flying out of an overhead bin.
So United has legitimate reasons for cracking down on carry-ons.
Meanwhile, if the crackdown results in more passengers spending more money on baggage fees, I doubt you’ll see much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the United brass.
You also can bet your locked and upright tray table that United’s competitors will be monitoring this very closely, and if it looks as if enforcing the carry-on rules results in smoother boarding, safer flights and a fatter bottom line, expect them to follow suit.
The days of the car-sized carry-on may shortly be coming to an end. And this traveler couldn’t be happier.
Don’t get it twisted. I don’t like paying to check bags any more than the next traveler.
But I like getting nailed in the head by a 40-pound suitcase even less.
Authorities say they have lost contact with Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 from Malaysia Airlines inbound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew.
The plane departed Kuala Lumpur (KUL) at 12:41am local time for the 2,745-mile flight to Beijing (PEK). Air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight almost exactly two hours later.
It was due to arrive in Beijing at 6:30am local time.
Four of the passengers on board, including one infant, are Americans. The aircraft is overdue and by now would be out of fuel, according to the airline. A search is in progress.
Meanwhile, the airline is trying to verify a report that the aircraft has landed safely in Nanming, China.
There are two different Chinese cities named Nanming, one in Guizhou province and the other in Fujian province. Both cities are just over 1,000 miles short of the flight’s destination, but the Nanming in Guizhou is in line with the jet’s planned course to Beijing.
The Boeing 777 has been a long-range jumbo jet workhorse for the world’s airlines for 20 years. The 777-200 was the initial version of the plane. Sixty airlines currently fly the “Triple Seven” worldwide, according to Boeing.
Its safety record had been flawless until last year’s Asiana crash in in which a 777 crashed during landing at San Francisco. More information as it becomes available.
The Associated Press cites a Vietnamese website quoting a Vietnamese search and rescue official that a signal from MH370 was picked up 120 miles southwest of Ca Mau province, the southernmost tip of Vietnam.
Official Chinese media report authorities there have joined the search for the missing jumbo jet. China’s foreign minister describes his government as “very worried.” More than half the passengers on board — 152 — are Chinese citizens.
Vietnam media reporting that Flight MH370 crashed into the Gulf of Thailand. “According to Navy Admiral Ngo Van Phat, Commander of the Region 5, military radar recorded that the plane crashed into the sea at a location 15S miles south of Phu Quoc island.”
(NOTE: Until search teams report finding some physical evidence of a crash, this report should NOT be considered confirmed.)
Malaysian government still considers the flight missing, refusing to acknowledge Vietnam report of a crash. Still no physical evidence yet to confirm a crash. Darkness is rapidly approaching the waters where the aircraft abruptly went off radar, so it may be several hours before we know anything definitive.
(NOTE: While we still don’t know for certain exactly what happened to MH370, two facts raise the possibility of foul play:
The flight disappeared from radar almost exactly two hours into the flight.
There was no contact whatsoever from the flight after the plane dropped off radar.
Aircraft of this size and design do not simply drop out of the sky and vanish. If the Boeing 777-200 has gone down, this one may not have been an accident.)
Media outlets are reporting that oil slicks have been spotted in the search area which Vietnamese officials suspect was made by the crash of MH370. Still no hard evidence that the plane has gone down there. It is just after 1am in the search area, so there will be no daylight in the search area for roughly another five hours.
The Washington Post is reporting that two passengers aboard MH370 were traveling on stolen EU passports, one from Italy, the other from Austria. Both documents had been reported stolen in Thailand within the last two years.
Delta is the latest airline to award miles based on money spent instead of miles flown. It points to the airline pushing the bargain-seeking leisure traveler out of the picture.
If you’ve had the feeling for the last several years that the airline industry would love to get you out of the frequent-flier game, Delta may have just confirmed your suspicions.
The Atlanta-based airline announced Wednesday that it will no longer award miles toward free flights based on the number of miles its customers fly. Instead, it will award those miles based on how much money passengers spend on tickets.
The mainstream media are treating this as a major shakeup in the airline loyalty program game, but in fact, Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America already were doing pretty much the same thing when Delta made its big announcement last Wednesday.
Of course, none of those airlines are the size of Delta, so in that sense, it is a big deal. And you can bet that the other big boys on the tarmac, especially American and United, are thinking hard about doing exactly the same.
This comes after Delta and United had already made it substantially more costly for travelers to earn elite status, which carries lots of perks, everything from free seat upgrades to the waiving of fees, including those onerous checked baggage fees.
To reach elite status via purchases made with airline credit cards, you now have to spend a minimum of $2,500 per year and fly at least 25,000 miles. And that only gets you to the lowest rung on the elite status ladder.
If you fly only once or twice a year for vacation, seek out the lowest possible fare on every flight and never fly in Business or First Class, all these changes are aimed straight at you — and not for your benefit.
The idea here is to encourage more flights by well-heeled business travelers armed with generous corporate expense accounts, the kind of travelers who can afford to sit in the front of the airplane whenever they wish.
The rest of you: Tough takeoffs.
What all this amounts to is the airline industry trying to slay a dragon of its own design.
When the airlines first launched frequent-flier programs back in the late 1970s, it was done mainly with the business traveler in mind. But once the banks got into the act, enabling consumers to amass miles just by using their credit cards, it caught on with bargain-seeking consumers.
Let’s face it, who among us doesn’t love the idea of free flights?
It didn’t take long for the airlines to realize they had created a monster. Individuals were piling up hundreds of thousands — and in some cases, millions — of frequent-flier miles, which the airlines were obligated to honor. Multiplied by tens of thousands of consumers, the numbers were eye-watering.
Especially to airline beancounters and CEOs.
The airlines countered with a carrot-and-stick approach, creating elite status programs aimed at their business clientele on the other hand, and slapping expiration dates on those outstanding miles on the other. Apparently, however, it wasn’t enough. Hence the latest move to convert the airline loyalty programs from miles to money.
The airline industry is reshaping the frequent-flier concept to lure the people for whom it created those programs in the first place. And if you’re not that aforementioned well-heeled business traveler, it definitely wasn’t you.
What remains to be seen is how the folks who fill the rest of the airplane respond while the perks go increasingly, if not quite exclusively, to the ones up front.
The king of super-cheap European airlines says it can offer trans-Atlantic flight for $10 or 10 euros, as soon as it gets the right airplanes. Bombshell, bait-and-switch or BS publicity stunt? Color me skeptical.
Among your traveling friends, you may hear some buzz about this:
When that happens, Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary is telling people the airline could offer fares between the United States and Europe for what the British would call “a tenner.”
New York City to London: $10. London to New York: 10 euro.
Are you packing yet?
The attraction is obvious. Let’s face it, we Americans are addicted to all things cheap. If Walmart had wings, we’d probably fly it.
But before you start booking five-star hotels off Piccadilly Circus or the Champs Elysee with all the money you save on your $10 airfare, slow your roll for a moment.
This is one of those guaranteed conversation starters from an airline that specializes in generating buzz about itself. Reality says this is not going to happen in a matter of weeks or months, if it happens at all.
And if it does, you may want to think twice about going, anyway.
Because while we may love cheap, we don’t love suffering — and nowadays, to fly is to suffer.
Even on airlines that don’t make you pay extra for seats that recline…which Ryanair does.
Indeed, when it comes to Ryanair, you need to look long and hard at what you get — and don’t get — for the money.
Remember the old folk tale about “stone soup?” That’s pretty much the Ryanair approach to airfares. If anything, they pioneered that approach.
By the time you finish paying extra fees for using a credit card to book your flight, making a reservation over the phone, actually choosing your seat, checking a bag or buying a seat comfortable enough to sit in for seven hours, that $10 trans-Atlantic airfare of yours may have ballooned by 30 or 40 times.
Should you opt for a Premium Economy or Business Class seat, you’ll probably wind up paying the same fare as you would have on most other airlines, anyway.
Furthermore, that initial $10 fare is likely to be one-way only. Good luck trying to get a return flight for that price, or anything close to it.
The cattle car approach to air travel might be bearable for an hour or two. How about seven? That’s roughly how long it takes to cross the Atlantic by air.
And this is the airline that actually floated the idea of installing pay toilets on its airplanes and airliners flown by a single pilot.
Still, if the Irish airline could pull that off and sustain it, it would turn a large part of the air travel world upside down.
Mr. O’Leary is in the habit of floating radical ideas publicly, either to gauge public reaction or just to keep the Ryanair name — and his own — in the news. As such, it’s hard to tell when he’s serious about one of these off-the-wall proposals and when he’s just pulling our seatbelts.
The flying public seems to be equally ambiguous when it comes to Ryanair. On the one hand, they’re among the largest air carriers in Europe, obviously they’re doing some things right.
Still, when the London-based newspaper The Telegraph asked its readers in an online survey “Would you fly to the States with Ryanair?,” about 65 percent said “No.”
Maybe we Americans aren’t the only ones addicted to cheap.
There’s new help for your frequent-flyer miles on the AIRFARES page.
Are you one of those folks who has just enough frequent-flyer miles, hotel or credit card loyalty points to make you think about travel, but not enough to actually take you anywhere?
Help is not coming. It’s already here, and you’ll find it whenever you need it, right here on IBIT. Just put your cursor on the AR-LAND-SEA pull-down menu at the top of this page and then click on the link marked AIRFARES.
On that page, you’ll find a section marked “FREQUENT FLYER MILES.” There, you’ll find Web sites with tips, advice, calculators, everything you need to get more miles and credit card points, help you keep them organized, figure out how many you need to get the trips you want, let you know when it’s better to spend the cash than the miles.
You’ll even find sites to help you sell or donate your unused miles if you’d rather do that.
That’s just one of the features you’ll find on the AIRFARES page, part of the AIR-LAND-SEA resource on IBIT. Created by a traveler, for travelers, and those who want to be.
Preparations are underway for the Soul Train Cruse 2014 next month out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. You’ll find contact information in the IBIT Travel Calendar over in the left sidebar.
If you missed the fall STC 2013 out of San Diego, you won’t want to miss this one. People from as far away as London flew to the West Coast to spend a week aboard the Holland AmericaWesterdam for a week of sun, good times and seemingly non-stop music.
It just might be the best party held at sea.
You’ll find contact information in the IBIT Travel Calendar over in the left sidebar.
For today only, Southwest Airlines drops one-way fares to $100 for Christmas holiday travel.
Up to now, I’ve avoided the Black Friday-Cyber Monday-Shop Til You Tase Somebody madness. But for this Cyber Monday sale, I couldn’t help but make an exception.
Southwest Airlines is holding a one-day fare sale for travel on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. No sale flight will cost more than $100 each way, or $200 max round-trip.
If you have a travel agency or organization with trips in the works, you want to get the word out about your trips — and we’re here to help.
The IBIT TRAVEL CALENDAR is a listing in the sidebar by month and year of upcoming major trips and travel events, with special emphasis on black-oriented travel. Just drop us an email with information, or send a link to your site.
Be sure to put “CALENDAR” in the Subject line.
This service is being provided free while I work out the design kinks. Eventually, that will change, but there will be plenty of advance notice before that happens. In the meantime, why not take advantage of a free service created to get more interested eyes on your events?