Monday, October 19, 2015

Alaska Airlines Testing New Boarding Procedure

Airlines are on a never-ending quest to come up with the perfect, most efficient process to board passengers, and it seems like Alaska Airlines is trying something out.

Passing through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) this weekend, I noticed that a few of the gates in the "N" terminal had new signage and ropes which marked multiple boarding lanes. United and Delta use a similar system to try to sort out the boarding masses.
The new, experimental signs at SeaTac's Gate N3.
There were three lanes indicated:

  • A "Priority Lane";
  • Rows 20-33; and
  • Rows 6-19.

The Priority Lane sign had a further note, "Join us here when we call your group." With this last bit, Alaska had decided to lump all the priority boarding passengers into one late, which really isn't unlike the "First Class/MVP" lane right now; this new system simply pre-organized the economy passengers into two groups.

As for the actual execution of our full flight, things seemed to work in sorting the economy passengers, but there was a bit of confusion for the Priority lane.

Our flight to Los Angeles was delayed by 15 minutes; by the time boarding was announced, about 75 passengers were already in queue, mostly in one of the two economy boarding lines extending down the concourse.

There were about 15 passengers milling around in the Priority lane. The overhead gate monitor displayed the boarding groups and when they were boarding.

First class was called, and folks sorted themselves out, some shuffled up to the gate, while others stayed where they were.

About five seconds later, boarding was called for top- and mid-tier elites. This was my cue to take a small step forward, and it seemed that I was already behind some fellow elites.

Then five seconds later everyone else (lower-tier elites, Preferred Seat passengers) was asked to join the line.

I'm not sure if this quick succession of boarding calls was part of the new process, or the gate agent trying to expedite boarding because of the short delay, or some other reason, but it caused everyone in the Priority lane to "freeze" in place and basically board in the order they had originally lined up. No body walked backwards to the end of the line.
The current boarding area signs.

From my vantage point in Row 6, it seems like the goal of getting the rear of the plane seated first was accomplished. However, the entire boarding process itself didn't seem to be any shorter, and in fact seemed a bit longer than usual.

Our flight ultimately landed 30 minutes late, which I can't attribute to the new boarding process. I did appreciate that folks were lined up instead of as one big bottlenecked crowd, but I'm hoping that Priority boarding isn't what I actually experienced.

I'm glad Alaska is experimenting in hopes of creating a better system, I'm just not sure if what I saw was particularly innovative nor goal-accomplishing.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Alaska Flight from Newark Diverts Due to Smoking Credit Card Reader

An Alaska Airlines 737 parked at John Wayne Airport
On Monday, an Alaska Airlines flight from Newark bound for Seattle had to divert to Buffalo for an emergency landing because of smoke reported in the passenger cabin.

According to a statement from the airline, a malfunctioning credit card reader on board Flight 17, operated by a Boeing 737-900ER, started producing the smoke. A flight attendant took it to the back galley, placed the the device into a trash bin to contain it, and used a fire extinguisher to suppress any possible fire, while the flight crew declared an emergency and prepared to divert. There were no flames from the device, and the plane landed without incident at 8:15am ET with 181 passengers and six crew members on board.

No injuries or fire damage to the aircraft were reported, though fire and emergency vehicles met the aircraft on the runway as a precaution, due to landing overweight from to a full cabin and fuel tanks for the transcontinental flight.

A passenger on board the flight posted details of the diversion as it was happening on Flyertalk, an online forum for the frequent flyer community. User "autumnmist" reported that the "[f]light attendants and pilot handled it well" and also lamented, "[s]o much for getting a solid nap in before landing in Seattle!"

We reached out to autumnmist, who asked to be identified as "J.", for more information. J. stated that the passengers were calm, mostly dozing because of the early hour and some not realizing that anything had happened until the descent started. The cabin crew announced that all passengers should be seated and prepare for landing. The captain came onto the PA system to announced that there was a small incident and that they would be landing at Buffalo out of an abundance of caution, touching down in about 17-18 minutes.

After landing, the plane was met by firefighters who inspected the galley and deemed the plane cleared to continue under its own power to the gate with passengers on board. However, the plane had to wait for approximately one hour for a gate to open up, as this was an unscheduled arrival.

At the gate, passengers were unloaded five rows at a time, to minimize the risk that the plane would tip under extra weight of fuel. Once in the terminal, the passengers were told to give the crew an hour to inspect the aircraft and determine a solution.

Because the original aircraft no longer had the required minimum number of extinguishers on board and required an inspection due to the overweight landing, a replacement plane was dispatched from Seattle to pick up any remaining passengers who chose to wait for the rescue flight back to Seattle. The replacement plane was supposed to have arrived around 4:30pm ET.

Alaska doesn't typically serve Buffalo, so some passengers were being rebooked onto other airlines to their final destinations. J. praised the efforts of the agents, given their limited resources at Buffalo, saying that the only real issue was lack of free Wifi at the airport.

J. chose to wait for the rescue flight inside the American Airlines lounge at the Buffalo airport. Others waited in the gate area; pizza was brought in to help feed the passengers while the rescue plane was en route. Around mid-afternoon, he reported that he received an email from Alaska, apologizing for the delay and telling the passengers to expect a follow-up email with a $500 credit for future Alaska Airlines travel.

"Prompt and pretty great compensation too since to me, the incident was handled as well as could be expected." J. wrote. "Last time I was on a severely delayed flight ([Delta from Chicago to New York] around Christmas time a few years ago), we were delayed from 9am to like 4pm hours and got nothing, not even food and no money either."

Alaska indicated that the devices were recently introduced, and were being immediately removed from service off all aircraft for inspection.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lounging in a Mall, courtesy of Alaska Airlines Visa

As a frequent flyer and stereotype-fitting male who doesn't find any particular pleasure in spending countless hours roaming retail malls, I (and I dare say many others as well) have often daydreamed about how great it would be to have someplace tranquil to escape to from the crowds, constant din of activity, and general chaos... something similar to the Alaska Board Room or other airline lounge.
South Coast Plaza on Black Friday. Photo: Coast Magazine
I must have forgotten to wear my foil hat on one day, because somebody at South Coast Plaza seemingly read my transient thoughts and established the very thing I yearned for...

A lounge!  More accurately, an exclusive VIP hospitality suite operated by SCP itself.  Simply called Access, it's located next to Sak's Fifth Avenue with a nondescript, opaque storefront that I've passed by dozens of times without realizing the oasis that hid beyond its double doors.

Want ACCESS for yourself? Details on how to enter the drawing below!
Entrance to SCP's Access lounge. Photo: VNAFlyer
I stumbled upon this amenity in a most accidental and serendipitous way, just by idly scanning through the offers on the Visa Signature website while waiting for my wife outside some store at SCP, and seeing the "Luxury Shopping" offer pop up:
"Be a shopping VIP at South Coast Plaza! Show your Visa® card and a copy of this offer to receive a South Coast Plaza Welcome Bag with a VIP Savings Passport, Complimentary Valet Parking, and entrance to the VIP ACCESS Suite."
Sure, discounts and little gift bags are fun, but the suite access (seemingly added as an afterthought), really caught my eye.  Curious, I found the nearest mall conceirge, flashed my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card, got my gift bag, and headed over to see what was actually being offered... was it just a stark empty, but quiet room, or was it a full-blown, proper lounge space.

This is what I found...
Reception and seating in the common area. Photo: VNAFlyer
The conference room, available for rent and also used as an overflow area.
Photo: VNAFlyer
The TV room, perfect for catching sports or other TV shows.
Photo: VNAFlyer
A private room designed for those with young children in tow.
Photo: VNAFlyer
Another private room, this one with a computer workstation.
Photo: VNAFlyer
Lattes and BBQ kettle chips to enjoy while taking a break.
Photo: VNAFlyer
SCP must have done its research, because this would be a bona fide lounge in most domestic airports, notwithstanding its comparatively small size (but big enough for serving shoppers vs. travelers).  The space is very smartly appointed in calming hues, while still evoking the high-class feeling that SCP strives for.

High on my list of amenities: two spacious and very clean lavatories... er, I mean restrooms. There are a few private sitting rooms if you and your party wanted your own space; otherwise, there are sofas and chairs in the common room.  Also available is a prayer room, designed specifically for Muslim guests but available for anyone needing a moment to themselves.

Should you need to hold a meeting in a different venue, the small conference room, which seats 8 at the table, is available to rent for $50/hour.

There are always 1-2 attendants on hand to check visitors in as well as serving refreshments and snacks. Champagne, imported beer, and wine are included if you choose to partake. I'm particularly fond of their latte, served with a small biscotti. Kettle-cooked potato chips also reign supreme.

These same attendants can also store your purchases at the lounge so that you are free to shop some more... and some more...

So, how does one get access to this lounge?  Visa Signature cards, including the Alaska Airlines card issued by Bank of America, gets you the gift bag that includes a lounge pass (valid for all members of your party that day). You just have to show an SCP conceirge desk the offer and your card; they take down your name, hand you a gift bag, and off you go. Each cardholder is allowed one gift bag per day.
Unpacking the gift bag. Yes, it includes the luggage tag. No, it doesn't
include the computer. Photo: VNAFlyer
American Express Platinum cardholders are also eligible to receive the gift bag, and there are several hotels that include a lounge pass as part of shop-and-stay packages.  Finally, the stores of SCP themselves provide lounge access to their top spenders.

Photo: Westin/South Coast Plaza
I even have gift bags to give away to two lucky readers.  Just leave a comment below by 11pm (Pacific Time) on September 10, and tell me what you think of having lounge access inside a mall.*

I personally think all malls should offer a lounge!

* Winner will be selected on September 11, 2015 from the comments of those who leave an email address. A random number generator will be used to select the winners, and the winner will be contacted via email. A US mailing address must be provided within 48 hours.  Unclaimed prizes will be awarded to another randomly-drawn commenter. All decisions regarding the award of the prize shall be mine and mine alone. No purchase necessary, must be 18 and over to qualify.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cathay Pacific to Limit Award Seats to Partner Redemptions; Why This is a Bad Idea

Photo: VNAFlyer
Cathay Pacific, an airline partner to Alaska Airlines, is reportedly going to increase the number of award seats to members of its own frequent flyer program by limiting availability for partner redemptions.

Cathay cites the fact that it's currently easier and cheaper for members of partner frequent flyer programs, notably from American Airlines, to earn the miles required to redeem for awards, thereby putting Cathay's own Marco Polo Club (MPC) and AsiaMiles members at a disadvantage.

The thinking behind the move seems to be limiting "external" redemptions on flights that could be filled with revenue passengers.

There are some problems with this logic:

  • There's no doubt that Cathay has been busy, but unless they can fill up 100% of their seats 100% of the time, then they will have empty seats that could have been used to create the loyalty that frequent flyer schemes are designed for (including their own program);
  • Part of the point of a global airline alliance is to broaden the network and reach of a single airline, and MPC members can earn points, travel with benefits, and redeem partner awards on those partner airlines;
  • Cathay doesn't provide an indication that their partner airlines would respond in kind, and restrict award redemptions to Cathay frequent flyers, which would devalue MPC/AsiaMiles membership, which I'm sure is the opposite intended effect.
While this move would appease Cathay's loyal flyers on their own planes, there are many more places that Cathay does NOT fly to, and those flyers could very well lose access if airline partners like Alaska and American decide to restrict award availability to MPC/AsiaMiles redemptions.

And of course, this doesn't bode will for those partner airline flyers who have been saving up their points and miles to redeem on Cathay.

How do you feel about this change? Will you be positively/negatively affected?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Breaking: Emergency Landing at LAX Closes Runway; No Injuries Reported, Some Flights May Be Affected

An aerial photo showing the SkyWest CRJ-200 after landing
at LAX without its left main landing gear. Image: KTLA
A SkyWest CRJ-200 (CR2), operated on behalf of United Express, made an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) this morning after pilots reported issues with its landing gear.

The plane landed without its left main gear extended on Runway 24L, and emergency vehicles immediately surrounded the stricken aircraft, which ended up with its left wing on the runway.

The plane was operating as United Flight 5316 from Monterey, CA (MRY).  No injuries were reported, and the 43 people onboard were able to disembark and board buses to the terminal area.  CR2s typically have a crew of 2 pilots and one flight attendant.

The runway is currently closed, and LAX's official Twitter (@flyLAXairport) tweeted for passengers to check with their airline for up-to-date information about their flights.

Update 10:18am: The aircraft involved is N932SW (h/t: FortFun/Flyertalk)

Update 10:34am: According to ABC7 News, there were 40 passengers and 3 crew members on board = 43 total souls.

Update 2:52pm: According to the LAX Twitter feed, the aircraft is currently being towed off the runway, which will be inspected before reopening.

Update 4:10pm:  According to the LAX Twitter feed, Runway 24L is open and fully operational.  Little to no delays seen on the FAA's airport status page.

Update 5/12, 1:43pm:  CBS SF Bay Area reports that 4 flights were delayed, one diverted, and one canceled.  Also, 31 of the passengers still made it to their connecting flights.

This post will be updated with information throughout the day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Free 1,000 Miles from American: AA trolls Delta in the Process

I'll admit it... I like it when big companies interact with each other through social media and promotions. I love it when they end up trolling one another, intentionally or not.

Bonus points for when both companies are Alaska Airlines (AS) partners.

Photo: VNAFlyer/ASFlyer
Gary Leff, author of the blog View from the Wing, shared his insight from a panel discussion at loyalty conference today regarding communication with members and engagement.  He spoke of  "Worldperks University" where frequent flyers of now-defunct Northwest Airlines (NW, which merged with Delta Airlines [DL]) could earn 100 miles by reading about an aspect of the program and answering a simple question about it.

Apparently a panelist from DL stated that they were not going to bring back Worldperks U.

And today, American Airlines (AA) just happened to introduce a new engagement campaign named "AAdvantage University" where AAdvantage members could earn up to 1,000 miles by going through 6 videos about the program and answering a simple multiple-choice question after each one.

Image: American Airlines/
There is also a drawing available for 2 first class tickets to anywhere in the world AA flies.

For those who are already familiar with the AAdvantage program, you will be able to answer all the questions easily. Even if you select the wrong answer, you'll still be given the full miles.  There's a progress counter showing how many miles you've earned towards your dream trip (kudos to AA for throwing in some Psych 101).

As I have Million Miler status with AA, I like to think that I'm pretty familiar with the program, so I just skipped to the end of the videos (which are powered by YouTube and you can just click on the progress bar to skip to the end) to get to the questions.  My one "wrong answer" was from when I fat-fingered my mousepad and accientally selected the wrong answer.

I went through AAdvantage U. in pretty short order. After inputting my "dream destination" and taking all 6 quizzes, I was asked for my name, email address, and AAdvantage number, and the confirmation page stated that 1,000 miles would post 6-8 weeks after the promotion ended.

Why should you go through this?
  • It's a quick, easy, free 1,000 miles.  Do it right, and you could be done in less than 3 minutes.  Or, you just let the videos play while doing some other errands.
  • If you have expiring miles, this is a good way to reset the clock (as long as your expiration date isn't in the next few months, since these miles won't post until at least that long).
  • I personally like AAdvantage miles. While they've tightened up the rules a bit, AAdvantage is still one of the better (and easier) programs to redeem for award travel.

And remember to tell your family and friends that they can do it too!

Did you go through AAdvantage U. to get your 1,000 miles? Share your experience in the comments below!

(H/T: Gary Leff/View from the Wing)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Alaska Airlines to join Oneworld Alliance

An Alaska Airlines 737-800 in a special Oneworld livery.
Photo: Alaska Airlines
In a press conference today at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Alaska Airlines announced that it will be joining the Oneworld Alliance in mid-2016.

Oneworld extended an invitation to Alaska, based on a nomination from American Airlines, to start the process of joining the airline alliance.

"Today is a great day for the employees and customers of Alaska Air Group," said Alaska CEO Brad Tilden. "With our membership into Oneworld, we can enhance our great service and offerings, expand our ability to compete in the Northwest, and seamlessly connect our passengers to the rest of the world."

"On behalf of American and the rest of the Oneworld Alliance, I welcome Alaska Airlines with open arms." declared American CEO Doug Parker. "Alaska's network out of Pacific Northwest and State of Alaska will strengthen Oneworld's presence in North America."

Representatives from all the member airlines were on hand for the press conference, which included a special flyover of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 painted in a combination of a special Oneworld livery and Alaska's updated livery scheme.

Alaska already has partnership agreements in place with current Oneworld members American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, LAN, and Qantas.

However, because of the entry into Oneworld, Alaska will have to end its partnerships with airlines from the competing Skyteam alliance, including Delta Air Lines, AeroMexico, Air France, KLM, and Korean Air.

The target date for completing the process of joining is May 30, 2016. Before then, Alaska will have to coordinate with new alliance partners on integrating reservation and frequent flyer systems, among others.

Regional subsidiary Horizon Air will also be joining Oneworld as an affiliate member.

Alaska Air Group serves 104 destinations with 880 daily departures in the United States, Mexico and Canada.  Forty-three of these destinations are not yet served by any Oneworld airline.

Together with Alaska, Oneworld will have 16 member airlines and serve 1,053 destinations in 155 countries with 15,176 daily departures.