Thursday, May 28, 2009

Greenopia lists "greenest" airlines

Want to fly, but concerned about the environment?

It's true that airplanes create a lot of pollution, in terms of greenhouse gases (air traffic may account for up to 11% of total emissions) but also just when it comes to plain old waste. With that in mind, Greenopia looked across the industry to figure out which carriers were the "greenest."

Virgin America tops the list, hard to beat given an average fleet age of just three years. But it's more than just fleet age; Continental comes in second despite an average age three times that of fourth-ranked JetBlue.

Southwest, Delta, United, U.S. Airways, Horizon Air (part of Alaska Airlines), and American also made the top ten.

Greenopia looked at airlines using a variety of measures, including:
  • Fleet age;
  • Fuel consumption practices;
  • Carbon offsets;
  • Green building design;
  • Recycling programs; and
  • Organic, local and sustainable food items available onboard.

One thing that they didn't do, unfortunately, is look outside of the United States. Proud American that I am, I have long observed that U.S. carriers tend to rank behind their international counterparts in any measured area. I'd like to see if it held true in this regard as well.

It's also not clear whether the airlines were measured in terms of domestic-only air traffic or if their international segments were included. Since some of the listed carriers (Virgin America, Southwest) are only domestic, and one (Horizon) is basically regional, that makes a difference.

And keep in mind, there are "only" about fifteen airlines in the U.S.--yes, that is a big number in absolute terms, but I think we can agree that it skews what it means to be in the top ten. (Then again, think of what it means to be excluded from the top ten; AirTran, Spirit, and Frontier are among those conspicuously absent.)

Even so, thanks to Greenopia for putting out this list. Imperfect it may be, but at least it gives us something.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Copa follows Continental

For years, Copa Airlines has enjoyed an affiliation with Continental Airlines and also been an affiliate member of the Skyteam alliance. When Continental leaves Skyteam on October 24, 2009, however, Copa will also depart the alliance.

The move is no surprise; these are airlines that work in very close cooperation, providing combined service throughout the Americas and unified frequent flyer credit (along with Aero Rep├║blica) under the shared OnePass program.

Besides, have you looked at the Copa logo? You could hardly be blamed for confusing them in a hurried rush through an airport terminal.

There have been no announcements from Copa or Aero Rep├║blica of plans to join the Star Alliance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Marmalade is a gel. (Or a liquid.)

Coming through security a few minutes ago, I discovered two things:
  1. I didn't transfer the marmalade that I bought this morning at Glasgow Airport into our checked bag when we briefly retrieved it to clear U.S. customs; and
  2. Marmalade is considered either a gel or a liquid by the TSA.
To those who follow my writings, it won't be a surprise to learn that I dislike the TSA. I know their protocols well, and the annoyance of having to remove shoes and such has long since dissipated for me over the course of the hundreds of flights that I've taken.

In other words, what I dislike about the TSA is not simply that their screening slows me down. I'd accept that to achieve real security. What bothers me is that the TSA standards do not provide security.

Take the prohibition on gels and liquids, for instance. Everyone is allowed one quart-size bag containing gels and liquids in individual bottles of not more than 3 oz. each (250 mL for those outside of the U.S. Standard system of weights and measures, which today is basically everyone). Within this bag, apparently, and segregated into individual containers, whatever substances one might be bringing onto a plane are innocuous.

That'd be fine, except the bag of liquids will remain in my possession during the trip. So, what is the functional difference between my having a bag with four 3 oz. bottles of liquid and an empty 12 oz. bottle into which I combine them after screening, or a single 12 oz. bottle that I bring through? Nothing.

Situations like my marmalade add insult to injury. I bought that marmalade inside a secure area at Glasgow. If I didn't have to clear customs and enter the general population for re-screening before boarding my connection--in other words, if after customs there were a pathway for transfer passengers that just kept them inside the secure area--I would neither need to be rescreened nor could I possibly have obtained any dangerous substance in the U.S. upon my arrival.

This model would be cheaper (fewer screenings without duplication), and it would be safer (because I already went on a flight after getting through the foreign screening, so if I had bad intentions, why would I wait?). But TSA doesn't enforce such a model.

And so, after paying £3.50 (abut $6.00 USD) for my marmalade, I lost it. The world is not safer, but I am without my marmalade. And that is why I dislike the TSA.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rangers win!

In Scotland, the Rangers-Celtics rivalry is comparable to what America would recognize between the Yankees and Red Sox. It was therefore quite a big event today when the Rangers won a key game, defeating their rivals. Throughout Glasgow, blue-clad fans celebrated.

We had a busy day. Gwen commented that Glasgow isn't as much a tourist draw as Edinburgh. She's right, I think; on the other hand, Edinburgh is particularly appealing to tourists. To me, Glasgow is as much as destination as most places, definitely worth the trip.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Update from Edinburgh

Gwen and I are having an afternoon snack--perhaps we should call it "tea," but I'm reluctant to use the word to describe a Mediterranean shared plate with Stella Artois lager--in the Old City area of Edinburgh. We found a backpackers-style pub called Villagers, which has (as you might guess) free wireless Internet access, so I figured a quick update was in order.

It's been a busy day. We've toured Edinburgh Castle, walked the Royal Mile, and hiked up the crags overlooking Holyroodhouse Palace (though the Palace itself was closed for an event, and I wonder if the Queen might be in residence?). We climbed Calton Hill to see the City Observatory and the memorial to Scottish casualties in the Napoleonic Wars, a monument long-unfinished and known as "Scotland's Shame." We have, of course, heard ample bagpiping, and seen many a lad sporting a kilt.

One fascinating development was finding the tartan and family history for the Moffats, the line of Gwen's grandfather. We bought a scarf. ;-) I also found a shot glass (YAY!) and we picked up a stack of postcards to write tonight on the train.

Our train to Glasgow leaves tonight at 9:30 p.m. and gets us in about an hour later, and we'll be there until Monday. I'll see about writing something tomorrow from there.

Monday, May 18, 2009

$1 Billion for Excess Baggage

Remember last summer, when United Airlines introduced fees for checked baggage? Remember how every other airline except Southwest soon followed suit, saying that the money was needed to offset brutal losses from fuel costs?

I told you at the time that these fees would not go away. No fee ever goes away, no cut service ever comes back, once it's adopted by the bulk of the industry. The only cases of rollbacks in recent memory--restoration of 500-mile minimums for elite flyers, or U.S. Airways dumping its charge for onboard beverages--came because they weren't copied.

Today, we found out that all of those fees generate upwards of $1 billion for the airline industry. And have you noticed that oil is below $60 per barrel? That jet fuel has dropped by more than 50%?

The only question is, will Southwest join the rest of the pack and slap them on passengers? Or will they become the "Continental of baggage," holding the line on baggage the way that CAL does on meals?

Time will tell. Either way, it's pretty clear: baggage fees are here to stay.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Summer of Driving..?

Last summer, gas prices in cities across America hovered around $4.00 per gallon. This summer, recession has driven those prices way down, and while prices are ticking up, they remain only slightly more than half as high as we saw in 2008.

That's going to leave a lot of people wondering: is this, finally, the summer for that big road trip of American legend?

The answer, as always, is "It depends."

Without a doubt, there are bargains to be had. Beyond gas prices, hotel prices have also been slashed, even in popular tourist spots like Las Vegas (though one place you won't find a break is at Disney World; their appeal is basically recession-proof).

Before you jump in the car and go, though, here are a few points to consider.
  1. Mileage costs money. Gas isn't the only expense of driving. Wear and tear adds to maintenance bills and shortens the life of your car. What's more, driving a long distance in a short time is quite a bit worse than short trips over months.

    If you want to drive, it's often a good bargain to rent a car instead. The recession has driven daily rates even lower than usual, and a rental car is meant to be driven hard and then quickly replaced.

    Just be sure that your contract covers unlimited mileage--and that if you plan to leave the United States, you have special approval. Otherwise, driving into Canada or Mexico may get you into trouble, and at the very least will void your insurance coverage.
  2. Driving is exhausting. It's fun for the first few hundred miles, but as the odometer keeps turning, you're going to get tired. Change drivers often, at least every few hours. Bringing snacks is a good way to save money, but take time to stretch your legs.

  3. Plan your route. Part of the fun of a road trip is that you can detour to see things along the way, but aimlessly driving around wastes time and costs money. Whether you have a GPS system or a paper road atlas, you want to know where you are and where you're going.
There's a lot to be said against driving. It's slow. On a per-mile basis, it's more expensive for long trips than flying or taking the train, and way more expensive than taking a bus. But for better or worse, the road trip is part of the American psyche. If it's an experience you want to have, this summer may be your chance. The recession will eventually end, and $4.00-per-gallon gasoline may be back before long.

Happy driving.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Alaska: Pillows no more!

Effective immediately, Alaska Airlines no longer has pillows or blankets on its planes.

This unexpected move has been billed as a response to the (for some reason) dreaded "swine flu," a headline-grabbing variation of the ordinary flu that thus far has killed so few people that it shouldn't even be in the news but instead has driven Americans in particular to near-panic.

I don't doubt, per se, that Alaska Airlines has the best interests of its passengers in mind. Really. Alaska Airlines is a good airline, its flight attendants are friendly, and in general, you can expect good service.

But history suggests that a benefit, once removed, is gone for good. So I wonder: now that Alaska has pounced on this opportunity for health reasons, will the pillows and blankets stay off of its planes to help the company's bottom line?