Browsing Tag: Future

The test bag, at Alaska Airlines baggage check counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, ready to start its journey to Phoenix

The test bag, at Alaska Airlines baggage check counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, ready to start its journey to Phoenix

One of my least favorite parts of flying is waiting for my bag in baggage claim. First you wait to see which carousel your bags will come out on. Then you wait for them to change the carousel number. Then you get excited when the lights flash and the conveyor belt starts moving, but normally you are waiting a bit more until bags come out. Sometimes you are lucky and your bags come off the conveyor belt early, but other times, it can take upwards of an hour to get all your luggage (if they show up at all).

Alaska Airlines currently has a promotion that is changing the game. If you do not get your checked bags with-in 25 minutes of your flight reaching the gate, you will get a $25 discount code for a future flight on Alaska Airlines or Horizon Airlines or you can choose to get 2,500 Mileage Plan bonus miles.

I wanted to check-in on how the promo was going and talked to Greg Latimer, who is the  Managing Director of Brand and Product Marketing for Alaska Airlines. He explained that the airline checks about 20,000 bags per day and since the start of this promo on July 7th only a few hundred certificates have been claimed. He admitted that not that long ago, Alaska Airlines wouldn’t have been able to complete the task of getting all checked bags to customers in 25 minutes, but they have been working hard and are  proud of their accomplishment.

It took less than 15:18 for the bag to be ready for pick-up, but it took me that long to get the baggage claim.

It took less than 15:18 for the bag to be ready for pick-up in Phoenix, but it took me that long to get the baggage claim.

The promotion and stats looked great on paper, but I wanted to put this to the test. It was good timing. I was heading from Seattle, WA to Phoenix, AZ this weekend and flying on Alaska. It was only for a few days and normally would have just carried on my bag, but it was worth the $15  to check a bag and find out if Alaska could deliver on this guarantee.  I had no problems checking my bag at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I decided to go with an orange bag (actually a friend’s bag who was traveling with me, but mine was a boring black one) to track its journey.

The flight went great (except there was no Skymall magazine in the seatback…so I couldn’t see the new gadgets) and landed almost on time. Once we pulled up to the gate at Phoenix International Airport, I started the timer. I was flying back in row 26, so it took me a while to get off the plane, but the terminal is small and I went quickly to make sure I got there before the 25 minute mark. By the time I got to baggage claim, there was the orange bag, already out, making the rounds. It was only 15:18 when I saw the bag. I am not going to lie, I was very impressed. So few times have I flown and had my bag waiting for me on the carousel.

This policy just makes sense. With airlines charging to check bags (Alaska Airlines charges $15 for 1st bag and $25 for second), it seems silly passengers should have to wait so long to get their bags. Instead passengers will bring carry-ons causing issues with space and slowing down the security process (took me 35minutes to get through security and I had no carry-ons, but 99% of everyone else did).  Ladimer told me they aren’t sure what Alaska is going to do after this promotion expires on December 31st. I know it might not be sustainable to offer $25 of 2,500 miles for the long term, but I really hope they can keep up the guarantee in some fashion. I am optimistic that other airlines might follow suit and make a better effort in the speed at which they have bags ready for pick-up. I personally know I am much more likely to pay for a checked bag if I know my bag will be there quick.

UPDATE 01/01/10: Alaska tells me they have extended this deal until at least July 31, 2010.

The sign outside of my first Wi-Fi flight back in May.

The sign outside of my first Wi-Fi flight back in May.

Yes! I am coming out and predicting that someday Wi-Fi will be free on at least some airlines. I am not talking first class or business class; I am talking about free Wi-Fi for the entire plane. Let me explain…

Southwest Airlines is the newest airline to announce adding Wi-Fi to their flights. Many other airlines already have some or all of their fleets wireless. It took the industry a long time to start becoming wireless, but now almost all US airlines have at least a few Wi-Fi equipped aircraft. The rapid growth shows capitalism at its best. When one airline has Wi-Fi, it provides an obvious advantage over those that do not. However, when almost all airlines in the United States have Wi-Fi, where does one airline stand out over another?

Think about long-distance on landlines (you remember those, right; where wires connected your phone calls?). It used to be mighty expensive to call based on time of day, then there were flat rates per minute, then you could just pay a monthly fee and call whenever and whomever you wanted. The same phenomenon happened with cell phones. Minutes used to be costly, now companies have plans with unlimited minutes, rollover minutes, etc. As competition grows, so do the benefits for the customer.

With Wi-Fi on the airlines, it is a bit more complicated; airlines don’t run the Wi-Fi, independent companies do. Some airlines like American, Delta, and AirTran are using Aircell’s GoGo tower-based Wi-Fi service, but Southwest is using Row44, which is a satellite-based system. Either way, Wi-Fi companies are competitive businesses that have to charge the airlines, so the airlines would need to absorb the costs to provide free Wi-Fi.

I know, with airlines charging fees for everything today, why would an airline ever be willing to absorb the costs? I think we are in a unique time. I don’t expect all these fees to be around forever (at least I hope not).  All it would take is one airline. One airline to announce they have free Wi-Fi. It might be years from now when this happens, and it might take  a few more years for other airlines to follow. However, this is how things have become cheaper and free in the past.  With so many airlines in the US, it is feasible that one might want to come across as a “high-tech”, “medium frills” airline.

Hopefully I am right in this one, but if I am not, I am still willing to pay $13 to access the internet on a flight!

British Airways Concorde landing at Heathrow in 2003.

British Airways Concorde landing at Heathrow in 2003.

When the TU-144 and Concorde first went into service in the 1970’s , it was a time of aviation excitement. Both  aircraft had the promise to completely revolutionize commercial transportation, providing speeds over twice the speed of sound (around 1100 mph vs 500-600 mph for other commercial airliners). Most thought the supersonic transport (SST) would replace other aircraft, to become the norm in general aviation. It was thought the sonic boom experienced when a jet goes over the sound barrier would become part of daily life, and people would be willing to live with them to have fast transportation.

The Tupolev TU-144 was the first SST to take flight in December 1968, two months before the Concorde. The TU-144 hit a big setback when the first production aircraft crashed during the 1973 Paris Air Show, killing all six crew members aboard and 15 people on the ground. Then in 1978 another TU-144 crashed during a pre-delivery test flight, killing all aboard. The aircraft type flew 55 passenger flights with Aeroflot before it was pulled from service in June of 1978, less than ten years after its first flight.

At the time Boeing was also working on their own SST, the Boeing 2707. The US didn’t want Europe and Russia to have the monopoly on SST technology, so the US government funded a contract for Boeing to study making its own. In 1963 the National Supersonic Transport program subsidized 75% of development costs to help Boeing directly compete with the TU-144 and Concorde. Since the Concorde and TU-144 were almost twins, Boeing wanted to make something different and were aiming to make a 250 passenger SST, which would hold about twice the passengers of the other two. In March 1971, funding for the project was canned by Congress and although private funding was able to raise nearly $1 million, the entire project was shut down in May of 1971. At the time, the Boeing 2707 had 115 orders from 25 airlines and the Concorde only had 74 order from 16 customers.

The Concorde and Tu-144 might have looked similar, but Arospatiale-BAC’s Concorde was superior in its avionics and capabilities. It has its first flight in March of 1969 and entered service in 1976. During that time, the first two prototypes traveled the world to build excitement and there were 70 orders for the plane. However, many orders were canceled after an oil crisis caused financial difficulty for the airlines, the crash of the similar TU-144, and concerns about the sonic-boom not being acceptable in populated areas. In the end, only British Airways and Air France took delivery of the Concorde. The plane was flown until 2003 when Air France flight 4590 crashed in France killing all 109 people aboard and raising questions about the safety of the aircraft. The aircraft was retired on November 26, 2003.

Supersonic Aerospace International's QSST rendering.

Supersonic Aerospace International's QSST rendering.

There was hope in the early 90’s for a resurgence of SST when a wealthy businesswoman, Judith DePaul, worked with Tupolev and NASA to use a TU-144 as a testbed for additional SST research. Over $350 million was spent on retrofitting the mothballed Tu-144 and it made a total of 27 flights through the 90’s, but was canceled in 1999 for “lack of funding.” Today, the aircraft is rusting away in storage with little hope of  being used again.

It has been over 40 years since the first SST flight occurred and almost 6 years since the last SST commercial flight. It has seemed unlikely there will be a revival of the Concorde or TU-144, but there might be hope on the horizon. The biggest hurdle has been the sonic-boom heard when an aircraft passes the sound barrier. The loud and disruptive boom caused previous SST’s to be flown only over water. Scientists are currently working on ways to “shape” the boom, making it sound more like distant thunder, something that the general public could live with to allow flights over land.

Even if the technology becomes available, it is not going to be cheap. A round trip ticket from New York to London on the Concorde before its cancellation ran about $10,000.00 USD. However, history has shown new technology can be expensive at first but as it develops can become more cost effective. The Concorde didn’t have time to become less costly since the technology became stagnant.

It would be a long while before Boeing or Airbus would start seriously considering making a SST line of aircraft. But smaller business jet companies are spending good sums of money researching new technology that is being dubbed Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST). Supersonic Aerospace International is working on creating the next generation of SST starting in the business jet realm. They are hoping to have their first aircraft flying by 2014 with first customer delivery in 2016. Even if they wouldn’t be able to make those optimistic goals, it seems like there would be a big market for business people being able to save time while in-flight around the world.

Who knows where the future will go for SST? Will the start of space travel help in the development in the next SST? I would think there might be some overlap. There are those that already talk about post-SST and moving to hypersonic flight , but that is going to be far out in the future.  It seems it might be most beneficial for the technology to start on a smaller scale. It looks like smaller companies might create SST business jets and allow the wealthy to help pay for the development of the technology. As the technology grows, becomes more accepted and less costly, larger aircraft manufacturers could pick up the production of SST aircraft and usage would spread.

Images:
Concorde (Spencer Wilmot)
QSST (SAI)