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When we set out to document the Top 10 Airline Incidents of 2011, we had no idea some of the biggest newsmakers were still to come.
Obviously, the snafu with the highest exposure and level of absurdity has been Alec Baldwin’s removal from an American Airlines flight last week for refusing to turn off his phone once the cabin door was closed and subsequently slamming a lavatory door. (Hey, Words With Friends is important!) In the aftermath of the incident, Baldwin went on SNL to issue himself an apology (while portraying an AA pilot on the Weekend Update segment). Now American is trying to find a way to cancel “30 Rock” from its in-flight programming line-up. Next up: Airlines ban celebrities altogether!
Swirling rumors of American Airlines pending bankruptcy proved true this morning, when the parent of the carrier, the AMR Corporation, filed for bankruptcy protection. The airline – the last major legacy airline in the country to file for Chapter 11 – has pledged that the filing will allow it to emerge as a stronger company, by affording it the opportunity to reduce labor costs and emerge from debt. Speculations are being made that this latest bankruptcy filing might give birth to another round of airline consolidation, considering that the bankruptcy declarations by Delta led to their teaming up with Northwest, while United’s led to a merger with Continental. So what does this all mean for you, the traveler? Well, by all accounts, not too much – it’s really the airline’s employees and stockholders that will bear the brunt of the envisioned restructuring. Read on for some Q & A on what to expect if you already have tickets or are still interested in booking a flight with AA:
On November 17, JetBlue threw two parties. The first was at JFK’s Terminal 5, just before 9am, with cupcakes, coffee, smoothies, and a three-man steel band. The second was six hours later in Liberia, Costa Rica, marking the airline’s inaugural flight to the capital of the Guanacaste province, JetBlue’s second Costa Rican destination and 68th overall. That party was co-hosted by the Costa Rican minister of tourism, and started with water cannons over the A320’s fuselage, followed by three men on a marimba, a woman feistily playing a donkey jaw, and six youthful dancers in national dress, featuring lots of flouncy skirts and sashes. To promote the new four-times-weekly flight, the only non-stop to Costa Rica from JFK, one-way fares through February 15 are $119 for tickets bought by November 30, and surfboard surcharges are waived through December 17. (Catching wind of JetBlue’s plans, Continental launched its own daily directs from Newark one week before, but without the donkey-jaw, dancing, or promotions.)
Sorry, underage drinkers: Air travelers will have to leave their fake IDs at home starting early next year, as the TSA plans to introduce 30 document-scanning systems that will make it easier for screeners to spot fraudulent documents.
TSA employees at select U.S. airport checkpoints will use the machines to verify boarding passes and passenger IDs, such as driver’s licenses. TSA Administrator John Pistole said that the move was all about “facilitating risk-based security, while making the process more effective,” according to Bloomberg.
The announcement comes after an incident in June in which a Nigerian man passed through a checkpoint at JFK Airport in New York and took a Virgin America flight to Los Angeles using another passenger’s boarding pass.
Another win for in-flight entertainment: American Airlines is adding streaming video to an additional 400 planes by the end of 2012, and more than 90 of those machines will already have that capability by the end of this year.
The nifty technology lets passengers stream movies and TV shows to their own laptops during the flight via WiFi (no additional charge for Internet, but you do have to pony up for each TV show and movie downloaded) and is currently only available on 15 767-200 aircraft, which primarily connect JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It’s deals season in the Caribbean, and with good reason: Hurricanes and tropical storms swirl through the region this time of year, squashing many bargain-hunting beach-goers’ plans. This week, Hurricane Irene is causing trouble in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and seems to have her sights set on southern Florida. To compensate, some airlines are issuing ticket-change waivers for those areas on select travel dates; here’s what you need to know:
Here’s a sliver of good news for Japan tourism: United announced today that it will resume twice-weekly flights to Sendai, Japan – the city closest to the March 11 earthquake’s epicenter – beginning October 2; it’s the first foreign airline to touch down regularly at the airport since it reopened April 13.
Visitor numbers fell by 73 percent immediately after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake devastated the country, fueled a tsunami, and set off a nuclear crisis, according to the Japan Times, but United’s restart of Sendai flights is one of a handful of signs that travelers are warming up to the idea of returning to the country.
The sleek gadgets operate on an Android platform, and come with all the accoutrements you’d expect: A shiny touch screen, USB plug-ins (for keyboards and joysticks), and apps for watching movies and catching up on YouTube videos.
Earlier this month, American Airlines debuted non-stop service from JFK to Budapest, currently the only year-round flights to the Hungarian capital from the U.S. (Delta has seasonal non-stop flights). Budapest often flies under the radar for Americans planning a European vacation, yet offers a thrilling mix of history, beautiful architecture, and eclectic restaurants and nightlife. It’s also much cheaper than other European capitals – the city was one of our Top 10 Value Destinations for 2010, and remains a relative bargain for U.S. travelers.
Fly by June 30 and AA will sweeten the deal with bonus AAdvantage miles: Earn 15,000 extra miles for round-trip business class tickets, 10,000 miles for full-fare economy, and 5,000 miles for discounted economy. Use the code NYBUD at www.aa.com/offers.
If you can, the splurge to business class is definitely worth it. At about 8 hours, the NYC-Budapest flight is a bit longer than a jaunt to London or Paris, and the extra room and near-flat seats make a huge difference. Plus, the JFK Admiral’s Club is serving a selection of Hungarian wines to promote the new flights, for a taste of Budapest before you even get on the plane.
For general trip-planning information, see our Budapest Travel Guide.
Cheers! The American Airlines “5@5 Happy Hour” – the same in-flight drink deal it offered in December – returns for May, this time as a thank you to customers for flying on the airline. Beginning May 1, domestic travelers and passengers heading to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada can knock $1 off all beers and $2 off wine and liquor (including Cinco de Mayo margaritas on the holiday) if their flight departs between 5pm and 5:59pm – making the price just a Lincoln for each adult beverage. Even better: Unlike your local watering hole, happy hour prices are valid for the duration of the flight, not just until the strike of six.
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