Sunday, March 21, 2010

Amtrak launches Wi-Fi on Acela routes and in some stations

Like most things about Amtrak, the advent of what is being called "AmtrakConnect" is late in coming. But after more than a year of passengers wondering why buses could provide wireless Internet access while Amtrak lagged behind, America's national rail carrier has finally entered the twenty-first century.

"Free of charge during the introductory period," AmtrakConnect is probably intended to eventually become a pay-per-use service. But Acela is priced so much higher than Northeast Regional service that only business travelers regularly take it, and business travelers often have cellular cards for which they already pay monthly fees.

With BoltBus, MegaBus, and now even many northeast Greyhound routes offering complimentary Internet service en route, it seems unlikely that Amtrak is going to grab a lot of revenue by selling Wi-Fi to its customers.

Whatever the long-term outlook for AmtrakConnect, it's here for now. Check it out on any Acela train (whether First or Business Class) or in any of these stations along the Northeast:
  • Washington, D.C. Union
  • Baltimore Penn
  • Philadelphia 30th Street
  • New York Penn
  • Providence
  • Boston-Route 128 (not South Station)
You'll also find AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi service in all four of the ClubAcela facilities, including the club in Boston's South Station.

Monday, March 15, 2010

End of an Era: No more free meals in Coach on Continental flights

For several years now, Continental has been the only airline to still serve complimentary meals to Coach-class passengers on domestic flights.

Today, Continental announced an end to free domestic Coach-class meal service. I applaud their decision.

I've loved the generosity, but over the course of more than 300,000 miles travelled, I've also become frustrated by how little other passengers cared about those meals. Free meals aren't really free; they come out of profit margins. When other airlines got rid of free meals, they eliminated those costs. When those airlines then added buy-onboard meal options, they created new streams of income.

Continental held the line in memory of a golden age, expecting that people looking to travel would opt for Continental tickets over those on competing airlines in order to get things like the free meals.

They didn't.

Americans love to complain about cuts in service when they write blog posts or letters to the editor. But the numbers don't lie: Continental is ranked #1 among U.S. carriers in its class year after year, yet when it comes to ticket sales, it doesn't do appreciably better than any other airline.

That's the fact: we don't value free meals. So they're going away, allowing Continental--always the best-run of the airlines, with a dedication to its employees unmatched among its peers--to recover profitability during difficult times.

It's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Exit row? Sure, but it'll cost ya.

Continental today announced that it's following the lead of rivals in adding a special charge for exit row seating.

Prices will vary based on the popularity of the route and length of the flight, but the company cited as an example $59 for a one-way flight from Houston to Newark. That pricing model puts it in sync with United, its new Star Alliance partner and whispered likely match in a future merger.

Elite members of Continental's OnePass program are exempt from the charge, and presumably that exemption will grow to include elite members of United's Mileage Plus as well when reciprocity takes effect in mid-2010.