Southwest Airlines and Rapid Rewards

The Low Down for Carry on Bags

Airlines are cracking down on carry on bags.

This may sound inconvenient, but it could actually be good news if you can travel light. Fewer travelers with overstuffed bags translates into faster, easier boarding.

Packing Carry on luggage

Carry on Bag Dimensions

Although enforcement varies, the current restriction for carryon bag dimensions is 22x14x9 for American, Delta, United and US Airways. AirTran, JetBlue and Southwest are slightly more generous with dimensions set at 24x16x10. Of course, you can also bring a purse, laptop or small personal item, but it must fit under the seat in front of you. Check the policies from the major airlines.

While most major U.S. airlines don’t charge a fee for one carry-on, budget carriers may. Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit Airlines charge anywhere from $25 to $100 per carry-on bag.

You may be surprised to find that your relatively small, wheeled luggage is now too big for the overhead bin. In fact, if it doesn’t fit in the size-wise metal frame at the gate, you may have to go back to check-in, where you’ll likely encounter a fee to check your luggage.

Nearly all the airlines (except Southwest) are charging fees for checked luggage, starting around $15 and running up to $30 apiece for the first bag or two. After that, fees skyrocket: extra, overweight or over sized luggage can cost up to $200 per bag.

Dimension restrictions vary on foreign carriers, so make sure you check out their policies before leaving for an international trip. In addition, while most U.S. airlines don’t have carry-on baggage weight limits, some foreign carriers do (and the weight fees can be hefty, up to and over $150 per overweight bag).

Packing Tips

  • Balance the need for wheels – Wheels and a frame can lighten your load, but they also take up quite a bit of space. To make the most of your carry-on space, consider a soft tote that can expand but still manages to meet size requirements.
  • Use and lose – Disposable items, like shavers and old clothes, are a great way to lighten the load on your return, especially if you have to bring back paperwork or business tchotchkes.
  • Go monotone – Pack one color theme (black or brown) to cut down on the need for more shoes and other accessories.
  • Downsize – Travel-sized toiletries can save a lot of space… and don’t forget that most business hotels have good health and beauty products.

Rethink what you need to bring; Be more discriminating when packing. Make decisions before you put everything in your luggage, as we tend to want to throw in a few extras after a bag is packed. And remember, you can always buy as you go.

Airlines News, Passenger load, Priority boarding, Electronic Devices

Delta Airlines

Airlines Are Fullest They´ve Been Since 1945

U.S. airlines had an average load factor of 82.8% last year, their highest since 1945, according to the latest figures from the Department of Transportation.

Load factors were even higher for domestic flights, averaging 83.4%. In addition, U.S. airlines carried 0.8 % more total system passengers in 2012, 736.6 million, than in 2011.

And the biggest carrier, when measured by number of passengers carried, was Delta Air Lines, carrying more system passengers than any other. It was the third year in a row that Delta hit this metric. Southwest Airlines carried more domestic passengers than any other airline for the ninth year in a row. United Airlines, its merger with Continental now complete, carried the most international passengers. (Source: DOT press release).

AA Tests Giving Priority Boarding to Passengers Who Check Bags

American Airlines is giving passengers who check their bags prioritized boarding in a test in four markets, letting them board between groups one and two.

Higher load factors and passengers’ desire to save on baggage fees and to skip the wait at the baggage carousel have made dealing with carry-on bags more time-consuming for airlines.

Flight attendants often urge passengers to quickly stow their bags in order to have an on time departure. In addition, flight attendant unions are reporting increased injuries among flight attendants and passengers from hoisting heavy bags into overhead bins or from improperly stowed bags falling out. American is testing the priority boarding in Austin, Washington Dulles Baltimore and Fort Lauderdale. (Source: American Airlines, industry interviews).

FAA Continues to Examine Changing Policies on Inflight Reading Devices

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman would not comment on press reports that the Federal Aviation Administration might allow passengers to read their Kindles or Nooks during take-off. However, the spokesman did confirm that the FAA’s Portable and (PED) Advisory and Rulemaking Committee is continuing to examine policies for using cell phones, electronic readers and tablets on planes and will end deliberations in July.

The FAA actually allows airlines to decide what can and can’t be used right now on planes, but the FAA provides guidance on those policies. The current guidance requires passengers to turn everything off below 10,000 feet. The committee is not looking at cell phone use, which is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. The committee has more than two dozen members, who include representatives of the FAA, Amazon, airlines, pilot and flight attendant unions, aircraft manufacturers, the FCC, the consumer electronics association and others. (Source: FAA interview).

IATA Forecasts Bigger Profits for Airlines in 2013

The latest financial forecast from the International Air Transport Association projects larger industry profits in 2013 for most airlines around the globe than it had estimated in December.

Tony Tyler, IATA´s director general and CEO, credited the improvement to optimism for the global economy. “Passenger demand has been strong and cargo markets are starting to grow again,” he said. IATA said that it expects North American airlines to make a $3.6 billion profit, which is slightly ahead of the $3.4 billion IATA originally projected for the year and well above the $2.3 billion profit reported in 2012.

Other regions were reporting smaller profits–$800 million in Europe, $1.4 billion in the Middle East, $600 million in South America and $100 million in Africa. IATA said that the recovery could be derailed by factors such as the continuing Eurozone crisis, specifically naming what it called the draconian bailout proposal for Cypriot financial institutions.
Tyler pointed out that travel demand has been supported by robust growth in emerging markets, reflecting a longer-term shift in the center of gravity in the industry. (Source: IATA press release).

WIFI Upgrades, Airline Fees, Electronics, In Flight Study

Delta flatbed in business class.

Upgrading Inflight wifi

Inflight wifi junkies know that when a lot of their fellow passengers are online, service speed plummets. Some research indicates just having 10% of passengers online can hurt internet speeds. But airlines are moving from air-to-ground to satellite technology to improve the inflight experience.

Southwest Airlines has quietly installed satellite-based wifi on more than 400 of its aircraft—about 75% of its fleet—and is adding movies and on-demand TV shows. Jet Blue Airways has begun the installation and certification process for its satellite wifi this month. And United Airlines has started offering satellite-based wifi on some of its international wide-body aircraft.

It is also offering it on two aircraft flying domestic routes and is charging more for the satellite service. United offers wifi on about 20 of its aircraft now and expects most of its fleet to have satellite wifi by 2015.
(Source: press releases and industry interviews)

Southwest Introduces Early Boarding Option

Southwest Airlines has introduced a fourth way for passengers to improve their boarding position with its new $40 early boarding option.

Southwest does not assign seats but boards its passengers by groups—A, B and C. However, Business Select passengers always have the coveted A1-15 boarding slots. Now, when those are available, ticket agents can sell them for $40 to other travelers, 45 minutes before the flight departs.

Southwest passengers have other ways of getting a better chance at getting the seat they want. For $10, they can buy EarlyBird boarding, which automatically checks passengers in 36 hours before departure, 12 hours before general boarding becomes available. The earlier you check in, the better your boarding position, so travelers can also move up in the boarding line by checking 23 hours and 59 minutes before their departure.
(Source: interviews)

Changing Airline Fees

Having trouble keeping up with all the different fees airlines charge? Well, it’s not surprising, given the fact that airlines changed those fees more than 50 times last year, according to Travel Nerd, which developed an airline fee comparison and shopping tool.

More than half of the fee changes were for baggage, but a significant number of fee changes were for services such as selecting seats, priority boarding or changing tickets. It found that ultra-low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air accounted for 18 of the fee changes.
(Source: Travel Nerd)

FAA Studies Use of Portable Electronics In Flight

The Federal Aviation Administration is studying the use of portable electronics in flight, considering whether or not to let passengers keep their devices on during takeoff and landing.

The question is whether or not electromagnetic interference from devices poses a safety threat to aircraft navigation or communication systems. There are other concerns—such as whether handhelds could become projectiles during an aborted landing.

The group is not looking at cell phone use because that falls under the authority of the Federal Communications Commission.
(Source: FAA press release)

Third Quarter Domestic Airfares Up 1.8%

Third quarter domestic airfares were up 1.8% over a year earlier according to the Department of Transportation’s latest figures. Not adjusted for inflation, the $367 third-quarter fare is the fifth highest since the DOT started tracking fares in 1995.

However, third-quarter 2012 fares were $243 in 1995 dollars, down 18.1% from the average fare of $297 in 2000, the inflation-adjusted high for any third quarter.
(Source: DOT)

Airline Industry News: Delta baggage policy & Southwest Fees

Delta baggage policy

Skipping to the Front of the Line

JetBlue Airways is testing a new ancillary service a $10 fee to use expedited security lanes at select airports. For $10, passengers can buy an Even More Speed option that lets them use expedited security lanes usually reserved for elite frequent flyer club members and first and business class ticket holders.

Even More Speed was originally part of Even More Space for seats with extra legroom, but JetBlue has now made the service a stand-alone option. There are other expedited security programs, including the Transportation Security Administration´s Pre Check program, a trusted traveler program whose members are pre-vetted and can not only go through an expedited security line but also go through an expedited security process. (Source: industry interviews.)

Southwest Institutes No Show Fee

Southwest Airlines, which does not charge a penalty to change a flight, will introduce a no-show fee on its least expensive tickets at some point this year. Passengers who book the cheapest fare and fail to show up for the flight will be charged a fee.

To avoid the fee, passengers just have to notify Southwest that they will not be on the flight. The fee applies only to Southwest´s cheapest fares; passengers buying more expensive tickets don´t have to tell the airline they won’t be on the flight.

Southwest is unique in that its travelers can book a flight, pay for it, not use the ticket and have a year to apply what they paid for that ticket to another purchase, with having to pay a penalty. The new fee is essentially saying "Give us the courtesy of letting us know," said a Southwest spokesman. (Source: interviews).

Airlines Still Profitable in Q3 2012

Major airlines still showed a profit for the third quarter of 2012 according to the latest Department of Transportation figures.

The largest scheduled passenger carriers showed a 6.4% profit margin, down from 6.8% from the same quarter a year earlier. The DOT said that the largest 10 airlines have achieved an operating profit margin as a group in each of the last six quarters. The DOT also reported that all U.S. passenger airlines collected $924 million in baggage fees and $652 million from reservation change fees in the third quarter.

Airlines do not break out the fees they collect for other ancillary fees, such as revenue from sating assignments and sales of food, beverages and entertainment, for the DOT. (Source: DOT press release).

American and US Airways Lay Groundwork for Pilot Deal

American Airlines and US Airways said that they have completed discussions with the unions representing American and US Airways pilots. The talks were to create a framework for employment of pilots as well as prepare for the possibility of integrating the pilots working for the two airlines, should American and US Airways merge.

The two pilot unions created a memorandum of understanding designed to help determine whether or not the two carriers should merge. (Source: American, US Airways’ press release).

Delta Baggage Policy

Delta Air Lines, which had planned on implementing a new baggage policy on single or conjuncted tickets, checking bags only between the origin and destination points indicated on that ticket, is delaying the new policy.

This is for instances in which travelers have separate tickets for a trip. Previously, Delta baggage policy and most other carriers in this circumstance would check through the bags to the final destination, but Delta´s new policy would end that convenience and require customers to claim and the recheck the bag after flying the first leg. (Source: Global Business Travel Association press release.)

Airline news: Oil cost, wifi & Tarmac delays down

Delta Airlines

U.S. Airline Revenues Are Up—But Oil Costs Hurt
Passenger revenues for U.S. carriers were up 13% in February, the latest figures available from the Air Transport Association, marking the 14th consecutive month of revenue growth for a core group of U.S. airlines.

Miles flown by paying passengers were up 2.1%, while the average price to fly one mile rose 10.8%. International markets remained especially strong, with passenger revenue growing 17%, led by a 27% increase in Pacific revenue. Domestic revenue grew 11.5%, fueled in large part by a 10.5% increase in yield. Figures are based on data from seven major U.S. carriers and 20 regional carriers. (Source: ATA press release).

Air Traffic is Up, But Still Below Pre-Recession Levels
Air traffic was up 2.9% in December 2010 over December 2009 according to the latest figures from the Department of Transportation.

The December 2010 passenger total was 2.1% above that of two years ago in December 2008 but still remained 3.6% below the pre-recession level of 60.8 million in December 2007. The number of scheduled domestic and international passengers on U.S. airlines increased 2.4% in 2010 over 2009 to 720.4 million. The number of passengers declined 3% from the full year 2008 to the full year 2010. U.S. airlines carried 2% more domestic passengers and 5.9% more international passengers in the full year 2010 than in 2009.

In December, Southwest Airlines carried more total system and domestic passengers than any other U.S. airline. (Source: Department of Transportation).

Triple Digit Oil Prices Could Crimp Business Travel Growth—But Not Stop It
Short-term oil price spikes might slow business travel growth but shouldn’t stop it, according to a study by the Global Business Travel Foundation. It found that because business travel pays off, companies will continue to invest in it even if rising fuel costs make travel more expensive.

Even if oil hits $200 per barrel, business travel and the number of trips taken would continue—although high oil prices would hurt the rate of projected business travel growth over time. (Source: GBTA press release).

No Tarmac Delays of Longer Than Three Hours In February
No airline passengers sat on the tarmac for more than three hours in February, down from 60 flights in February 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

February was the tenth full month of data since a new rule prohibiting carriers from keeping planes on the tarmac for more than three hours went into effect. Large parts of the country saw severe weather during February, and airlines canceled 4.9 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, compared to 5.4 percent in February 2010 and 3.9 percent in January 2011.

The number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours increased only slightly, from 289 between May 2009 and February 2010 to 331 between May 2010 and February 2011. There were 19 canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours in February 2011, down from 21 in February 2010. (Source: DOT).

United Continental Expands Wi-Fi Service to More Than 200 Aircraft
United Continental Holdings, Inc., is adding Wi-Fi service to more than 200 domestic Boeing 737 and 757. It’s using LiveTV’s Ka-band technology, which offers offer higher transmission speeds for more extensive onboard connection capabilities, including browsing content-rich websites, sending and receiving e-mails and downloading files. The airline will start offering the new service next year. Right now, United offers in-flight Wi-Fi on 14 aircraft. (Source: United Continental Holdings press release).

Fuel prices Traffic growth International wifi

Business travel

Southwest’s Kelly Calls Fuel Prices Aviation’s Greatest Threat
Gary C. Kelly, chairman, president and CEO of Southwest Airlines, said that the greatest and most serious challenge facing aviation is the cost of fuel. Speaking at the Wings Club in New York last month, he said that a look over the past decade shows the havoc soaring fuel prices wreak on aviation.

Kelly, who was just named vice chair of the Air Transport Association board, said that the ATA has three major goals: make a serious effort to develop alternative fuels, modernize air traffic control and develop the latest next generation aerospace technology. “Otherwise we see a continuing diminunization of air transport domestically,” he said. (Source: Kelly´s speech).

Air Traffic Growth Slows But Outlook Remains Positive
Air traffic growth slowed slightly in November, growing 8.2 percent year over year as opposed to the 10 percent increase reported in October, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Even with that decline, however, passenger and freight traffic are growing at an annualized rate of between five and six percent, which is in line with industry´s historical growth trends.

The level of air travel is now four percent above the pre-recession peak of 2008. North American carriers´ November passenger levels equal the pre-recession levels of early 2008. Giovanni Bisignani, IATA´s director general and CEO, said that a strong end to 2010 has boosted the year’s profit forecast to $15.1 billion. (Source: IATA press release).

U.S. Carriers See Continued Growth; Global Air Capacity is Up
U.S. airline revenue grew 14.5% in November, according to the Air Transport Association, which tracks a core group of carriers, including major network carriers, low-cost carriers and regional airlines.

It was the 11th consecutive month of revenue growth. The miles flown by paying passengers rose 6.5 percent, while the average price to fly a mile rose 7.5 percent. Passenger revenue improved 11 percent domestically and 23% in international markets.

Separately, OAG, which tracks air traffic, said that global air capacity grew 6% in December. Over the last ten years, the number of available seats worldwide has increased 40 percent, while the number of flights has increased 24%.

Capacity in the Americas and Europe are growing at a modest rate while Africa, Asia Pacific and the Middle East are increasing at much higher rates. The improving global economy is having a positive impact on passenger demand. (Source: OAG, ATA press releases).

Inflight WiFi Goes International
Lufthansa passengers traveling on long-haul flights can use inflight WiFi on intercontinental routes. The service, which initially will be provided on select North Atlantic routes, will be available on nearly the entire Lufthansa intercontinental network by the end of 2011. The service will be free this month. (Source: Lufthansa press release).

Delta Reinstates Codesharing With Aeromexico After FAA Upgrades Mexico to Category 1
The Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to upgrade Mexico´s federal civil aviation authority to Category 1 means that Delta Air Lines has been able to reinstate code sharing with AeroMexico, Delta´s SkyTeam partner. A Category 1 rating is required to allow U.S. carriers to code-share with an international airline. (Source: Delta press release).

Delta Air Lines
Delta is expanding the First Class cabin on more than 60% of its mainline domestic fleet, approximately 350 aircraft, as it responds to business customers´ requests for more premium cabin seating. The addition of First Class cabins to all Delta Connection regional jets with more than 60 seats, does not impact Delta´s previously announced capacity guidance.

Delta expanded its Asia Pacific network with new nonstop flights between Japan and Honolulu & the Pacific island of Palau. The new service to Palau brings the number of Asia-Pacific destinations offered by Delta to 17. The Nagoya-Honolulu route is a new competitive option for customers traveling between the two cities. Delta´s new service between its Tokyo-Narita hub and Palau operates 4 times weekly and is the only service that connects the two airports.

Airlines Travel News Updates

Airplane at take off.
International Travel Keeps Dropping
Demand for international travel fell 5.6 percent year over year in January, a full percentage point more than the 4.6 percent drop in December and the fifth consecutive month that traffic fell, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Demand continues to fall faster than airlines can cut capacity; capacity cuts were two percent. The decline was biggest in Asia, 8.4 percent; North America was second with 6.2 percent.

The Middle East was the only region to see traffic grow, 3.1 percent. There was one bit of good news: the fact that fuel prices remain well below last year’s levels. But IATA projects that airline revenues will drop $35 billion to $500 billion this year. (Source: IATA press release).

Southwest Offers Free Wi-Fi on Four Planes
Southwest Airlines expects to have four aircraft with in-flight Wi-Fi this month –you’ll be able to tell if you’re aboard one from the placards you see upon boarding and onboard instruction sheets.

Southwest is offering the service for free during the test period. Passengers will be able to log on using Wi-Fi enabled devices such as laptops, iPhones and smart phones. Southwest is also offering an in-flight homepage with the service. It includes an in-flight homepage with a flight tracker and local news and information.

Passengers can follow the plane’s flight path and view points of interest they’re flying over. Cellular technology will not work. (Source: Southwest press release).

More Airlines Go Cash-Free
United Airlines and American Airlines are phasing out cash in flight and will only accept major credit cards and debit cards after a transition period. United is introducing EasyPurchase March 23.

After a brief transition, it will only accept credit and debit cards on flights within the United States, including Hawaii, and on flights to and from Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It will continue to accept cash on flights to and from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. On United Express, it will continue to accept cash.

American will begin its transition to credit and debit cards only this summer on flights within the United States and to and from Canada. (Source: United, American press releases).

Delta Enables Mileage Transfers Between Sky Miles, Worldperks
Delta Air Lines said that Delta SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks members now can link frequent flyer accounts and transfer miles between both accounts at no charge. Members who link their accounts before March 15, 2009 will earn 500 bonus miles.

This means members who have SkyMiles and WorldPerks accounts can visit to link their accounts and transfer any amount of miles into either account on an unlimited basis. Both accounts will remain open and functioning until late 2009 when Delta plans to merge the two programs. (Source: Delta press release).

More Accidents But Fewer Fatalities in 2008
On the bright side, aviation safety performance improved, with the total number of aviation fatalities dropping from 692 in 2007 to 502 in 2008, a 56 percent improvement in the fatality rate, according to IATA.

There were more accidents in 2008—109 compared to 100—and the number of fatal accidents increased from 20 in 2007 to 23 in 2008. There were regional differences. North Asia had zero losses.

North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific performed better than the global average; Africa’s accident rate was 2.6 times worse than the world average, but that was a vast improvement over 2005, when it was the worst in the world. Separately, the U.S. Department of Transportation said that the U.S. has seen a 65 percent reduction in the aviation fatal accident rate between 1997 and 2006.

Before the fatal crash in Buffalo last month, the DOT said that there had been no fatal commercial accidents for more than two years. (Source: IATA, DOT press releases).