Friday, June 27, 2008

Guilty Unless We Make Mistakes, and We Don't

The incredible travesty that has been the WADA's (World Anti Doping Agency) witch hunt again Tour de France champion Floyd Landis may conclude on Monday when the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) finally makes it's "ruling."

I could write an entire blog about how Floyd has been railroaded, but thankfully, someone else already has, the fine Trust But Verified.

As comprehensive and illuminating this blog is on the subject of Floyd Landis and his persecution by so called anti-doping agencies, I was shocked when it missed this interview in the New York Times.

Although Floyd is not mentioned, the first two questions posed to Dr. Gary Wadler of the World Anti-Doping Agency seem to allude directly to the Landis case.

Here is my favorite exchange: When asked about a new study revealing inaccuracies in testing procedures that result in false positives, "Doctor" Wadler replies:

"There is absolutely no risk of a false positive result"

Wow! There you have it, ABSOLUTELY NO RISK. All human errors have been eliminated, all mechanical failures are now impossible, an the latest drug testing methodologies are now completely infallible.

In late breaking news, all anti-doping scientists have now resigned WADA and other agencies to pursue new careers as the advent perfect testing has made their jobs unnecessary. Dr. Wadler himself is dedicating his life to building a luxury ship that will cross the Atlantic at record speed. Sources say that he believes this vessel to be unsinkable.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A World Without Legacy Airlines

Recent announcements of service cutbacks have made me wonder: What would Atlanta look like without Delta, Denver Without United, or Dallas without American?

There is plenty of precedent for a major airline abandoning a hub, such as Eastern in Atlanta, Continental in Denver, or Delta in Dallas. In each of those cases, there was another major airline to take up the slack. In other cases, a major airline has eliminated a hub, leaving a vacuum. This has happened in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and other smaller cities.

I cannot think of a situation where a major airline has disappeared completely, and turned over a major airport into a hub for low cost carriers.

United has just announced they have eliminated all service to both West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, a large and growing market. In Denver, that means that both Frontier and Southwest will be serving Ft. Lauderdale non-stop, with United not providing any service at all to south Florida, other than Miami. United also suspended non-stop service from Denver to London.

At the same time, Southwest Airlines is increasing service in Denver.

If this trend continues, Frontier and Southwest will be the only major airlines here. The same might be happening in Las Vegas where US Airways in scaling back while Southwest is ramping up.

The thought of loosing a major airline used to be a troubling to resident's of one of their hubs. In the case of Atlanta, Delta disappearing would mean a major loss of connecting international service there. In the case of Denver and Las Vegas, there is not much international service to lose. While competition is generally good for consumers, sometimes it is best for the market when sub-standard products are not offered, and miserable companies are allowed to fail. Frankly, I welcome the day in Denver when United is no longer competing to lower the bar while Southwest continues to lower prices.

Maybe we are getting to the point where the legacy carriers will only be offering international service from coastal gateways, with limited connecting service. If that is their business model, they are in big trouble, as foreign carriers offer a vastly better product.

Colorado Cyclists, One Tough Bunch

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I have been doing a lot of cycling lately in preparation for this year's Triple Bypass. Last week, I was descending fast down a winding road when I crossed just behind a coyote.

With that in mind, I came across this article in this morning's paper. To sum it up:

A Boulder Cyclist, also training for the Triple Bypass, hits a 500 pound bear while going 45 miles an hour.

He breaks his ribs, and bends his bike, so he straightens it out and rides to the hospital.

It all reminds me of this classic illustration.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Your non-refundable ticket, now refundable!

While we are on the subject of looking at the bright side of the airline industry's slow motion suicide, you should keep in mind one benefit of their constantly changing rules; virtually all tickets purchased more than a week or two ago are now refundable.

How is that so? Let's take a look at a typical contract of carriage from Delta:

"In the event that we amend these Conditions of Carriage in away that materially affects the terms and conditions of your ticket purchase after you have purchased your ticket but before your travel begins, and you do not agree to be bound by the rules as amended, you may request a full refund of your ticket price." Rule 1, Section D, Paragraph 1 on Page 2.

Basically, if I buy a ticket today, and Delta changes their contract tomorrow, I am entitled to a full refund. This is very useful as airlines have lately been changing their terms and conditions constantly. It doesn't even matter what change is made, as long as it "materially affects the terms and conditions" and "you do not agree to be bound" by them. It could be changing the fees for a checked bag, charging for drinks, or anything you think is "material."

This clause is included in the contract of carriage with all airlines as the only way they can unilaterally alter the terms of their contract is to offer you a full refund.

It is a good idea to print out the contract of carriage at the time you purchase your ticket. If it changes in any material way, you are then entitled to a refund, and you have the proof to back it up.

This trick has been used by consumers against cell phone companies for years.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Looking at the Bright Side

It is easy to conclude that everything is doom and gloom in the airline and travel industry. Certainly, most airlines in this country are tripping over themselves to disintegrate into an orgy customer hatred and mismanagement.

So this morning, I am going to try to find some good news.

1. Southwest Airlines is doing great by advertising it lack of fees. What was once considered a no frills carrier, is now considered nothing short of a premium service. Two free checked bags, free drinks, and no change fees! Rather than operate a hub and spoke system, they offer a variety of non-stop flights from dozens of cities, kind of like a mesh. I haven't flown them yet, but I hope to do so very soon, now that they have offered massive new service from Denver. Sadly for my Atlanta friends and family, they have yet to serve Dead Mayors International. You would have to drive to Birmingham, Alabama to catch one of their flights.

2. Another good option for both myself and my Atlanta based friends is Airtran. Airtran has gone somewhat light on the fees, and is still succeeding economically. More importantly, I found that they operate newer aircraft, on time, and with decent customer service. These days, that is very hard to find. I also do like that you can pay $20 extra for an exit seat. In my opinion, it is worth it to pay a small fee for a few extra inches of leg room, rather than twice as much for a first class seat. Really, there is only about ten inches from the front of your seat to the back of the next, so adding four more inches feels like having a %40 larger seat, for maybe a %10 greater fare.

3. The Starwood Amex is still a great rewards card. Like most cards you earn a point per dollar, however you can stay at Westins and Sheratons for as little as 3000 points a night. The best part is that the reward availability is guaranteed. That means that if they have a room for sale, then they will allow you to redeem points for a free night. Think about how much value the 25,000 airline miles you earned on your credit card has these days. Perhaps they might be good for a "free" trip to Buffalo (not including fees) if you are willing to travel on odd Tuesdays in February. Most available domestic awards now cost 50,000 points. That same 25,000 earned on the Starwood Amex will easily find you up to 6-8 nights in a Sheraton hotel, even on a busy holiday week. Westins are typically 7-10,000 points. If you do the math, it is usually better to pay for your flight, and stay in a nice hotel for a week for free.

Better yet, you can also use the Starwood Amex points to redeem miles on dozens of airlines at great rates. For example, when you redeem on Delta, you get a 5000 mile bonus when you redeem 20,000 points. It is essentially a 1-1.25 ratio and there are no fees. You can't beat this.

4. The major international airlines in the United States are not worthy of your business, to be kind, however, most foreign carriers are actually quite nice. Lufthansa and British Airways are showing solid profits and treating their customers well. When flying internationally on foreign and a domestic carrier back to back, difference is something like comparing a Motel Six to the Ritz Carlton. Even when the rooms are the same size, it is an entirely different experience.

5. The Future: Perhaps a downturn in air travel will create a glut of hotel rooms and drive prices down. Maybe the dollar will rebound a bit and take pressure off of oil prices. Hopefully United or US Airways will go out of business forever and Southwest will expand more rapidly.

Friday, June 13, 2008

United Airlines, Worst Airline Ever

It seems that my thoughts on United Airlines, have been seconded.

As a Denver based flier and former United Premier, I can do just fine taking Southwest, Frontier, JetBlue, and Airtran anywhere I need to go in this country, as I have vowed never to set foot on United again.

For International travel, virtually any foreign carrier is better than any domestic international one. I love America, but our Airline business is somewhere where our automotive industry was in the 70’s, an unmitigated disaster that they only have themselves to blame for.