Laura's bi-weekly NYCU columns
Most major U.S. carriers are now levying a surcharge for customers paying for checked bags at the airport instead of online.
Continental recently announced it will charge $5 extra per bag for airport payment. The fee goes into effect August 19. Customers already pay $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second.
US Airways was the first domestic carrier to charge for in-airport baggage payment, initiating its policy in April. United started charging its customers in June and Delta's $5 fee came into effect in July.
Although American Airlines doesn't offer an online check-in option, it is effectively charging the extra fee as well. The airline announced on July 24 that it is raising the cost of all first bags checked by $5 to $20. A second bag will cost $30, up from $25. The hikes apply to tickets bought on August 14 or after for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, worldwide tourism is suffering a larger-than-expected slump. International visitor numbers are down eight percent year-on-year. The expectation is that year-end numbers will see 2009 down six percent from 2008. The economy, unemployment, and the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu virus are key factors in the declining numbers.
UNWTO is somewhat optimistic about a worldwide tourism rebound in upcoming years, as events such as the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver may be a catalyst for international travel.
Twenty percent of Americans polled in a survey commissioned by the Wyndham Rewards loyalty program say they would be unable to take a vacation without cashing in rewards points. According to the survey, 64 percent say rewards points are either "very important" or "extremely important" given the state of the economy. Rabin Research conducted the survey of 1,040 Americans in June.
The survey also found that 31 percent of Americans belong to one or more travel industry rewards program, and 47 percent of those plan to redeem points for their next vacation.
In an effort to help summer travelers stretch their vacation dollars, Wyndham Rewards has launched a "Save Summer" promotion, featuring 15 to 50 percent off at participating brands. There's also the opportunity to win up to 750 free hotel nights and the possibility of scoring one million Wyndham Rewards points.
Consumers may download a widget to their Facebook, MySpace or other social networking profiles allowing them to register for the promotion and to share it with online friends. Every time a friend enters the promotion, the originating consumer gets another chance to win. Details are available at www.wyndhamrewards.com.
Blame ancillary fees, perceptions of customer service, or lack of free amenities, but airline passengers in North America aren't happy. According to J.D. Power and Associates, customer satisfaction has fallen to its lowest level in four years. The study found that overall customer satisfaction with airlines in 2009 has declined for a third consecutive year. J.D. Power conducted the survey of almost 13,000 passengers from April, 2008 to May, 2009.
Overall, Alaska Airlines beat Continental Airlines by two points in the "traditional network carrier" category (defined as airlines that operate multi-cabin aircraft and have multiple airport hubs). United came in second to last in the category, and US Airways was on the bottom of the pack.
Perceptions of low-cost carriers, defined by J.D. Power as "airlines that operate single-cabin aircraft with typically low fares," were higher then those of the network carriers. For the fourth year in a row, JetBlue came in first among low-cast carriers and was, in 2009, tops among all North American carriers, according to the survey. Southwest and Canada's WestJet tied for second among low-cost carriers. Even Frontier and AirTran, the other low-cost carriers in the survey, scored higher than the top network carrier.
It's getting harder and harder to fly from the U.S. into London Gatwick. US Airways looks to be dropping its flights to the airport from Philadelphia come September. However, the airline will continue to fly from Philadelphia into Heathrow. Delta recently announced its flights from Cincinnati to Gatwick would end August 30, while British Airways is ending its New York to Gatwick flights in October.
Continental Airlines has installed DirecTV on 15 planes in its domestic fleet. The system has 77 channels and costs six dollars in coach. It's free to passengers in first class. At some point, Continental will expand DirecTV to 200 of its planes.
The Wyndham Hotels and Resorts brand has opened its first property in China. The 588-room Wyndham Xiamen features five food and beverage outlets, 37,000 square feet of meeting space, and a variety of fitness facilities. The top five floors comprise the Wyndham Club, with 90 executive suites, a library, a meeting room, and a split-level lounge.
The lobby of the luxury hotel makes an instant impression. Features include a 66-foot-tall waterfall and a 23-foot-tall chandelier (featuring 882 large crystal drops). The centerpiece of the meetings area is a pillarless grand ballroom that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests.
Located along the southeast coast of China, Xiamen is a key gateway city and a favored destination for foreign investment. The city has commercial links with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Xiamen's primary economic activities include fishing, shipbuilding, food processing, textiles, and financial and telecommunication services.
Wyndham Hotel Group is the world's largest U.S.-based hotel company in China. It currently franchises 175 hotels and five brands throughout the country.
A SeatGuru.com survey reports that a full on-board meal is the amenity travelers value the most. Of course, food isn't served on many flights. But when it is, SeatGuru readers say American, United and US Airways have the worst food, while Continental has the best in the U.S. On a worldwide basis, Singapore Airlines and British Airways were rated tops in the cuisine department. They were also #1 and #2 in terms of having the most courteous flight attendants. Southwest's flight attendants ranked third most courteous among survey respondents.
Southwest has just announced it will start flying into Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport on November 1. There will be 12 daily nonstop flights. Nonstop destinations include Las Vegas, Baltimore/Washington, Kansas City, Orlando, Phoenix and Tampa Bay. Introductory rates ranging from $49 to $99 one-way will be on sale starting this week.
England and Europe Edition
Given an exchange rate boost of 25% over last year, many of you may be heading to England this summer. If so, a few words of advice...
If you are flying into Heathrow, there are several inexpensive and traffic-free options for getting into London. The Heathrow Express train takes about 20 minutes door to door (the other door being at Paddington Station). Tickets start at 16.5 pounds one way (free with many rail passes). London Underground's Piccadilly Line also runs into London from Heathrow. The tube ride takes about an hour into central London. Prices start at four pounds. You can select any Piccadilly Line station to enter and exit the system. If you are flying into Gatwick, Gatwick Express trains take 30 minutes to Victoria Station. One way tickets start at 16.9 pounds.
Here's the rub. If you are traveling with heavy luggage, public transportation can be tricky. For example, The Heathrow Express is fine if you are starting at the airport and ending at Paddington. But if you plan to get on the tube at Paddington, be aware that there are steps, many steps...and no elevators (remember, the London Underground is more than 140 years old). Similarly, some of the stops along the Piccadilly Line are elevator-free. When pondering what stops to use, look at the tube map and note which stations are accessible. Those stations will come equipped with escalators and elevators. Otherwise, if you are winding your way through a steps-only station, you may have to rely on the kindness of strangers (which certainly exists in London) for help with the heavy lifting.
Speaking of the tube, there are several money-saving options for fares. Travelcards are valid for one, three or seven days. An Oyster card, which is an electronic smart card, can be purchased for time periods of one week or more. Both Travelcard and Oyster cards are good for the Underground and the London bus system. However, the Oyster card is the cheapest way to get around. For more information, go to www.visitlondon.com/travel.
Open Skies, a new all-business-class carrier operated by British Airways, is offering special deals on its New York to Paris and New York to Amsterdam routes. If you book by the end of June, you can fly round trip to Amsterdam in business for $950 (plus taxes and fees) or to Paris for $1100. The Special Birthday Fare (Open Skies is one year old) can be found at www.flyopenskies.com.
For more proof that the traveler is on the upside of the supply-demand equation, several major online travel agencies have waived booking fees on most flights. Expedia started the trend at the beginning of the month and Orbitz, CheapTickets and Travelocity quickly followed suit. The latter three companies will continue to charge fees on multi-carrier itineraries and flights originating outside of North America and the Caribbean. Priceline eliminated its airline booking fees in 2007 and its hotel booking fees in 2008.
While online reservations will now be free, Expedia has reintroduced fees for flight reservations made over the telephone. That fee is $20. However, Expedia is no longer charging its own penalty for changes or cancellations in airline, hotel or cruise reservations. Those ranged from $25 to $50. However, Expedia customers are still subject to change and cancellation fees levied by travel suppliers.
Among the new airline routes debuting in June are:
Baltimore-Washington International to New York LaGuardia Southwest 6/28
Boston to Nashville Delta Currently in Service
Denver to Ottawa (Canada) United Currently in Service
Los Angeles (LAX) to Tulsa United Currently in Service
New York LaGuardia to Chicago Midway 6/28
New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) JetBlue 6/17
Salt Lake City to Indianapolis Delta Currently in Service
United Airlines is joining US Airways in charging an extra $5 charge for passengers who wait to pay their baggage fees at the airport instead of online. The new United fee takes effect June 10, while the US Airways fee kicks into gear in July.
The Air Transport Association of America expects seven percent fewer passengers will be flying in U.S. skies this summer. That translates to 150,000 fewer flyers per day, or 14 million less than summer 2008. And last summer wasn't exactly a banner year for the airlines. The ATA points out that traffic last summer was off 3.6 percent from the record-setting year of 2007.
Even though fewer people will be flying, that doesn't mean planes will be less crowded. During the past year, airlines have cut back flights or traded down to smaller planes in order to better match the reduced number of passengers.
American Airlines has just introduced "One-Way Flex Awards." For the first time, the airline is allowing the use of AAdvantage miles on a one-way basis at half the round-trip mileage requirement. American is the first major domestic airline to offer this type of program. The airline is also offering AAdvantage members who travel round trip the ability to combine different types of one-way awards on a single ticket. Customers may now combine MileSAAver® awards with AAnytime® awards, or economy class awards with First or Business Class awards, to customize award travel to meet their needs.
The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that the U.S. airline industry made $1.15 billion from newly-initiated baggage fees in 2008. Considering that baggage fees were only in effect for part of the year (major airlines started charging for a second checked bag in May, while American led the first bag fee charge in June), and that the figure does not include money earned from other ancillary fees, the airlines may be in store for a multi-billion dollar fee windfall in 2009.
American Airlines made the most in baggage fees during 2008, according to the DOT. AA made $278 million in baggage fees. US Airways picked up $187 million and Delta raked in $177 million. United made $133 million, while Northwest bagged $121 million.
US Airways will begin charging an extra five dollars a bag for passengers who don't check-in and prepay to check luggage on-line. That will be in addition to the $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second that US Airways already charges. The extra per bag fee will be assessed to passengers who pay to check their bags at the airport beginning July 9.
Meanwhile, Delta is adding a 50 dollar fee for international travelers who check in a second bag. The fee will start being assessed on July 1. Only elite frequent fliers and active military will be exempt from paying the new fee The first checked bag on international flight will still be free....for now. Delta's the first U.S. carrier to make the move, which is estimated to bring in more than 100 million dollars a year of new revenue.
First, LaGuardia. Now, Logan. Southwest Airlines continues its expansion in the Northeast by adding service out of Boston's Logan International Airport. Starting on August 16, there will be five daily flights each way to Baltimore/Washington International and Chicago Midway. Currently, the closest cities to Boston with Southwest service are Providence, Rhode Island and Manchester, New Hampshire.
Last week, President Obama stressed the need for a rapid move into high-speed rail. In his announcement, he noted that a system of high-speed rail travel will relieve congestion, reduce pollution, and save energy. The president has allocated $8 billion of the $787 billion economic stimulus spending package to establish high-speed rail corridors nationwide. The plan identifies 10 potential high-speed intercity corridors for federal funding. They are located in California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and New England.
United Airlines is now charging overweight passengers for two seats if they can't fit into one. However, the policy only comes into play when a flight is full. If extra seats are available on a flight, the passenger would be moved next to an empty seat. If the flight is full, though, the passenger has to leave, change his ticket to the next available flight, and buy an extra seat. While the news has created a barrage of complaints against United, the fact is several other airlines, including Continental, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest, include similar policies in their contracts of carriage.
Below is part of the new United seating policy:
For the comfort and well-being of all customers aboard United flights, we have aligned with other major airlines' seating policies relating to passengers who:
- are unable to fit into a single seat in the ticketed cabin;
- are unable to properly buckle the seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender; and/or
- are unable to put the seat's armrests down when seated.
If unused seats are available on the ticketed United or United Express flight, then a customer meeting any of the above criteria will be re-accommodated next to an empty seat.
If no unused seats are available on the ticketed flight, then the customer must either purchase an upgrade to a cabin with available seats that address the above-listed scenarios, or change his or her ticket to the next available flight and purchase a second seat in addition to the one already purchased.
Start racking up the frequent flyer miles. Through June 15, American, United and Continental are offering double miles for those who have attained elite levels in their frequent flyer programs. Last week, American was the first to up the ante, with United and Continental quickly following suit. American is also offering 50,000 bonus miles for first and business class travel between the U.S. and England through June 30.
Meantime, many U.S. carriers are announcing declining revenues for the first quarter of 2009. United says its total passenger revenue will drop by up to 12 percent in the current quarter. American expects its quarterly revenue drop to be 11 percent.
The International Air Transport Association reported that first and business class travel fell by nearly 17 percent in January. That follows a 13.3 percent decline in December. According to a new IATA report, "The fact that average premium fares are falling faster than discounted economy fares in some markets--e.g., within Europe--is a measure of how severe the downturn in business travel has become."
American Airlines has announced that the bulk of its domestic passengers will soon be flying with Wi-Fi. The world's second largest airline (in terms of passengers) will be equipping 300 planes with high-speed Wi-Fi by 2010. American is starting off by adding Internet capabilities to 150 of its MD-80 airplanes this year. In fact, the first MD-80s with Wi-Fi are entering service this week. Wi-Fi access will cost $12.95 on flights longer than three hours, and $9.95 on shorter jaunts. Travelers using handheld devices including smart phones and PDAs will pay a flat $7.95, regardless of the length of the flight. Delta previously had announced that it will be offering Wi-Fi on more than 330 planes by this summer, and Virgin America expects to have its 28 planes equipped with Wi-Fi by the end of June.
New passport rules for U.S. citizens visiting their North American neighbors by car or ship will be going into effect June 1. Americans re-entering the U.S. by land or sea from Mexico or Canada will be required to present a passport, a government border-crossing card showing name and proof of citizenship, or a military ID. Citizens of Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington can use enhanced driver's licenses, which have advanced security features. But otherwise, travelers will no longer be able to use ordinary driver's licenses, nor birth certificates, to get back into the country.
Wyndham wins again. Lodging Hospitality bestowed the company with its Chain Leadership Award, which honors the best in innovation, creativity and business-building in the U.S. hotel industry. The magazine singled out Wyndham Hotels and Resorts as the leader in the category of Environmental Action. The company has many innovative green initiatives under the Wyndham Green program, devoted to environmental matters. The company is among the first to use eco-friendly fabric for some of its staff uniforms. The material, manufactured using polyester fibers spun from post-consumer products, has the added environmental plus of not requiring professional laundering. As a result, the use of chemicals during cleaning is minimized. Other Wyndham green initiatives include the installation of compact fluorescent lighting, low-flow water practices, a linen re-use program, and numerous recycling efforts.
If you plan on renting a car during your next business trip, there are certain cities where going off-airport will save you big bucks. According to the National Business Travel Association, the places where airport taxes add the most to your car rental bill are Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix. Cleveland's total taxes at the airport add 27.08% to the bill. In Dallas, the number is 24.77% and in Phoenix, it's 24.42%. Chicago, at 23.59%, and Charlotte, at 21.17%, round out the top five. In terms of airports where tax rates are the lowest, St. Louis comes out on top at 7.83%. Detroit is second lowest at 8%, while Honolulu is third at 8.08%. Both Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers in Florida come in fourth, at 9.17%. Instead of getting cars at those airports, take a shuttle or public transportation to your hotel and then head to a downtown rental office.
Starting on March 23, United passengers will be able to use credit and debit cards for onboard purchases. In fact, after a brief transition period during spring break season, United will phase out cash and only accept plastic on flights within the United States (including Hawaii) and on flights to and from Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Major credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and Diners Club will be accepted, as will debit cards bearing Visa or MasterCard logos.
United will continue to accept cash, in addition to plastic, on flights to and from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. Meanwhile, on domestic United Express flights, cash will continue to be the accepted form of payment.
Is RyanAir serious? Or is the low-low-cost-carrier's announcement about the possibility of passengers paying a pound to use the WC a publicity stunt? After all, they say that any publicity is good publicity, right? But it will be interesting to see if RyanAir actually puts its money where the lav is. After all, the European carrier has been an industry trendsetter in terms of charging fees for things like baggage check-in and seat selection. If RyanAir starts charging for bathroom usage, are other airlines likely to follow suit? Stay tuned.
In a forecast released on February 3, Boyd Group International says the U.S. airline industry will carry 41 million fewer passengers in 2009, and the decline will continue through 2010. For 2009, Boyd is predicting that U.S. airlines will handle 578 million passengers, down from 619 million in 2008. The aviation-research firm says U.S. passenger levels may not reach 2008 numbers again until after 2014.
The frequent flyer programs of Delta and Northwest Airlines are now united. Members of Delta's SkyMiles and Northwest's WorldPerks programs will be able to link their frequent flyer accounts and transfer miles between them. Frequent flyers can access their accounts at either www.delta.com or www.nwa.com after they've been linked. Delta will fully merge the two frequent flyer programs next year. In the meantime, members of either program can get 500 bonus miles if they link their accounts before March 15.
Virgin America and Southwest will be duking it out at John Wayne Orange County (CA) Airport this spring. Virgin America just announced it will start its new five-times-a-day service between Orange County and San Francisco on April 30. Southwest, which will also be offering five daily flights, starts flying the route on May 9.
Overseas, Lufthansa Italia began operations this week out of Milan's Malpensa Airport. The airline is currently running flights between Italy and Barcelona and Paris. Starting in March, service will expand to include Brussels, Budapest, Bucharest, Madrid, London and Lisbon.
Despite flight cutbacks and falling fuel prices, U.S. airlines are still bleeding money. During the past week, many airlines reported large fourth quarter 2008 losses. Even normally-profitable Southwest lost money during the quarter (although it did make money on the year).
As for the first quarter of this year, American's parent AMR reports advance bookings are down 4.5 % from last year. Even worse, booking are off about 8% in the international markets where U.S. carriers make their biggest bucks.
In the meantime, United is hoping to return to profitability by continuing its downsizing campaign. Job cuts, which began last year, will ultimately add up to more than 9,000. United officials are trying to hit that number through attrition, but layoffs are likely to occur.
Add United to the list of carriers offering in-flight Internet service to domestic customers (see Jane Air column from last week). United will offer Aircell's Gogo on flights between New York and California starting in the second half of this year. It will be available to customers traveling in all classes of service for a flat fee of $12.95.
USA Today's Kitty Yancy just wrote a nice piece on hotels for budget-minded travelers in Friday's USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/travel/
While the story covered several economy hotels, Wyndham Worldwide brands were front and center. A large portion of the story covers Microtel, a chain that's been at the top of J.D. Power and Associates North America Guest Satisfaction Survey for economy/budget hotels for seven straight years. The story also mentions Days Inn and Super 8. Read it.
We aren't sure if the New York Times list of 44 places to go in 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/ is in order of "hotness" or likelihood of travel. After all, Beirut, Lebanon sits in first place on the list. Washington, DC (#2 on the list), Las Vegas (#5 and deemed the "frugal" domestic destination) and Berlin (#3 and celebrating the 20th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall) are probably better bets. The list is quite eclectic, with options ranging from the Galapagos Islands (#3) to Kazakstan (#36) to Buffalo (#37).
Nearly 80% of business travelers are being asked to cut costs. That statistic comes courtesy of a December update of a Business Travel Magazine/Orbitz for Business survey. The survey also found that 45% of the business travelers questioned expected to travel less in 2009.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is predicting the world's airlines will lose $2.5 billion in 2009. That's down from $5 billion in 2008. Passenger traffic is expected to drop three percent, after a two percent increase in 2008.
If you still have money left to spend after the holidays, head to Europe. January is sale time in London and Paris and the savings are huge, especially given the strengthening dollar. The Paris sales start January 7, while London's are already underway. Some of the best deals (up to 70% off) can be found at Parisian department stores like Printemps and Galeries Lafayette and British institutions like Harrods and Selfridges. The later into the month you go, the bigger the discounts will be, although the selection may be sparser. Spend enough money and you can get a refund on the rather significant value-added tax.
The restaurant at New York's storied Rainbow Room is closing on January 12. The restaurant's management blames the recession for the move. The Rainbow Room remains open for dancing and drinking.
Southwest Airlines is hitting the Big Apple. The low cost carrier won approval from a bankruptcy judge to pay $7.5 million for the assets of ATA Airlines. The key to the deal, according to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, were ATA's 14 landing slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport. Kelly says Southwest is not interested in other ATA remnants.
Southwest can now operate with seven take-offs and seven landings per day at LaGuardia, bringing it much closer to the city. Up until now, Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip was the closest Southwest got to Manhattan. However, most business travelers avoid that airport because it is 50 miles from New York City. The good news for consumers is that a Southwest entry into a new market usually brings down prices. That said, with so few slots, only a handful of markets will be affected. As for Southwest, the usually prompt airline may find it challenging to maintain its stellar on-time performance statistics. New York's three major airports -- Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy -- routinely have the worst on-time performance in the nation. Last year, LaGuardia's on-time statistics were the worst in the New York corridor, with only 58.5% of flights arriving on time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Overseas, British Airways is exploring a merger with Australia's Qantas, and its discussions with Spain's Iberia are continuing. The busy British carrier is also awaiting antitrust approval for a planned alliance with American Airlines. American, Qantas, BA and Iberia are all part of the OneWorld alliance. Meanwhile, RyanAir, Europe's biggest budget carrier, is offering to purchase Aer Lingus outright. RyanAir currently owns 30% of the Irish carrier. The deal is contingent both on the approval of Aer Lingus shareholders and EU regulatory bodies.
American Airlines has joined United, US Airways and Continental in eliminating its minimum award of 500 frequent flyer miles per flight. Passengers will now receive only the point equivalent of miles actually flown.
About a year from now, airline passengers may once again be able to carry large bottles of liquids on board planes. According to the Transportation Security Administration, it is likely that by next fall, restrictions limiting passengers to three ounce bottles of liquids, gels and aerosols in airplane cabins will be eliminated. However, passengers would still have to remove liquids from carry-on bags at security checkpoints and put them through X-ray machines separately.
Icelandic-owned Sterling Airways has declared bankruptcy, and has cancelled all of its flights. The low-cost carrier, known for jetting around Scandinavia, blames the bankruptcy filing on Iceland's financial meltdown. Passengers stranded in other countries are responsible for finding (and paying for) their own flights home.
Just in time for the holiday travel season, when people are likely to be bringing more baggage, United Airlines is doubling its fee for checking a second bag. The $50 one-way fee kicks in starting November 10. The fee applies to coach passengers traveling within the U.S. or to Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you purchased your ticket before September 15, you may be exempt.
Still, there is some good news for United customers. The airline has backed off of its much-criticized plan to stop serving free meals for transatlantic coach passengers. But United continues to tinker with its onboard menu. Starting October 1, business class customers flying on the airline's 16 domestic routes with three-cabin service will not be getting hot meals. Business class customers will get a free box lunch. But upgrading to a hot meal, even for a price, will no longer be an option. As for those in the back of the bus, cold box lunches are only available for those willing to pay cold cash.
Continental is dropping its flights from the U.S. to London Gatwick for the winter season as of October 25. Flights from Houston and Newark will be re-routed through London Heathrow. Continental will continue to operate two flights a day to England from Houston, while adding a third daily flight from Newark.
Finally, expect fewer flights in and out of most of the nation's top 20 airports. Official Airline Guide (OAG) reports that among the top 20, Orlando is losing the most fourth quarter capacity. The Florida city will have 15.1% fewer flights as compared to the same period last year. Las Vegas is losing 14.2% of its flights, while Los Angeles, Chicago, and Phoenix round out the top five. The only top 20 airports seeing increases in the fourth quarter are Atlanta, Philadelphia and Charlotte. In fact, Charlotte is the biggest winner in the Top 20 Airports fourth quarter, with a traffic increase of 2.3% over the same period in 2007.
Thanks in large part to high fuel prices, highway congestion, and all of those airline surcharges, Americans are finally getting on board train travel. Amtrak is expecting record ridership of 27 million in 2008. That's up from last year's record of 25.8 million passengers. In July 2008, Amtrak carried 2,750,278 passengers, making it the biggest single month for ridership in Amtrak's existence.
The most interesting success stories have been on trains that tend to carry business travelers. The Acela Express, which whizzes between Washington, DC and New York, and New York and Boston, saw a 5.5 percent increase over July 2007. (Meanwhile, ridership on the less expensive Northeast Regional trains, which cover the same territory and are more frequently used by leisure travelers, rose 8.8 percent).
Even more amazing are the July numbers coming out of less-publicized routes. The Downeaster, operating between Portland, Maine and Boston, carried 33.6 percent more passengers than during July last year. The Piedmont, running between Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, increased ridership by 43 percent in July, and ticket revenue by 48 percent. The Heartland Flyer that travels between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth increased ridership by 40.2 percent and revenue by 70.2 percent last month. If people are giving up their cars in Oil Country, what does that portend? Can it be that train travel in the U.S. is finally getting on track?
While it's still free to check a first bag on Delta, the Atlanta-based airline has upped its fee for additional bags. Checked bag #2 will cost up $50 (up from $25). A third suitcase will cost $125 and a fourth will cost $200. First-class and other favored Delta passengers can continue to check up to three bags for free. The new fees take effect starting August 5 or later, depending upon when tickets were purchased.
In the meantime, frequent travelers won't be surprised to learn that airfares have risen more this summer than in any other period in recent history. Studies conducted by Travelocity, FareCompare.com and Harrell Associates for USA TODAY show that domestic fares this summer are up, on average, 12% to 15%. On some routes, the increases are a whopping 200%.
Another survey shows that sky-high fares are impacting business travelers in a big way. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives recently conducted a survey of 55 corporate travel managers. More than half report the cost of air travel has caused their companies to cut back on business trips.
With all of the news about airline surcharges, scant attention has been paid to ground transportation for hire. But the fact is, taxicab customers are increasingly paying more. Between rate increases and fuel surcharges, taxicab fares are trending upward.
According to the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, the need for fuel surcharges is resulting from cab drivers spending 42% more on gasoline than two years ago. As a result, in recent months, more than 30 urban areas have allowed taxicab companies to add or increase fuel surcharges. Many of the surcharges are temporary, and some are dependent upon the price of fuel. For example, in Miami-Dade County, if the average price per gallon is less than $4, the surcharge is $1.00. If gas goes above $4, the surcharge goes to $1.50.
Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia are among the cities that have added surcharges recently. Philadelphia increased its meter rates as well. In July, Las Vegas meter rates went up 20 cents per mile and a temporary fuel surcharge is adding another 25 cents per mile.
Meanwhile, what about the city where taxicabs never sleep? New York City does not have a fuel surcharge. Even though the city's cabdrivers are hankering for one, a spokesperson for the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission says there are no plans in the works to add any surcharges.
In what can hardly be called surprising news, United Airlines and US Airways are following American's lead in charging for a first checked bag. United will start charging $15 each way for the first bag starting August 18, while US Airways' luggage charge will go into effect next month. United is also increasing its fees for checking overweight bags and three or more bags. Meanwhile, US Airways will start charging $2 a pop for soda and other nonalcoholic beverages, and will increase the fee for alcoholic drinks by $2. Drink up now--the new beverage fees start August 1. As the fee bombardment continues, let's turn to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for some answers. According to IATA, the industry's total fuel bill in 2008 is expected to be $176 billion, accounting for 34% of operating costs. This is $40 billion more than the 2007 bill, which added up to 29% of operating costs. Back in 2002, the airline industry fuel bill was a mere $40 billion, equal to less than 15 percent of operating costs. Complain about fees now, but be warned. There will be more of them, and ticket prices are likely to go sky-high after Labor Day. That's when high-demand, non-discretionary business travel makes a comeback, and when the airlines start paring their fleets. As any student of Economics knows, when supply and demand are going in opposite directions, something's got to give. And that something is low airline ticket prices.