Posts in category Gulliver


Business and financeGulliver

Hotels are finding out what amenities guests really want

IT HAS been more than once that Gulliver has found himself putting the incorrect electrical plug into the wrong socket or dock at a hotel—whether it be for a smartphone, laptop or shaver. Since such gadgets have proliferated, the hotel industry too has been confused about what facilities they should offer to service weary travellers. But after much trial and error, hotels finally seem to be figuring out which amenities guests truly value—and which ones are little more than gimmicks.

The latest survey of American hotels from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry group, reveals a plethora of shifts in the hospitality industry, including the rapid disappearance of smoking rooms. But when it comes to gadgets, the trends are particularly interesting, since they are not always in the direction of more technology.

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Business and financeGulliver

Proposed changes to frequent-flyer programmes may be bad news for budget travellers

ALONGSIDE Eurocrats, straight bananas and anyone who opposes Brexit, Britain’s tabloid press has found something new to hate this year: British Airways (BA). Britain’s flag carrier has been criticised for cutting legroom in economy, axeing free food and drink on short-haul flights and—horror of horror—the amuse bouche that used to be served before dinner in first class. To save face, this week BA’s chief executive, Alex Cruz, who has come under sustained criticism for the cuts to service quality, announced that the carrier would be tarting up its offer. This would include more free meals, better wi-fi and 72 new planes. “We’re bringing back the glory days”, Mr Cruz proudly crowed. But not all of the improvements may be as good for frequent flyers as he advertised.

Among the changes planned for 2018, BA is moving to so-called “dynamic award pricing” in Executive Club, its loyalty programme. This means that tickets paid for with points from the programme will be no longer calculated in distance, but the cost BA is…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why Qatar Airways has bought 9.6% of Cathay Pacific

THIS morning’s news that Qatar Airways, a national carrier with global ambitions, has bought nearly 10% of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flag-carrier, came as a shock for financial markets. Shares in Cathay Pacific dropped in value by around 5% in the minutes after trading resumed first thing today. But the idea that Qatar Airways was the market for another acquisition came as no surprise for analysts in the aviation industry. Since 2015 Qatar has acquired 20% of IAG, a European group of airlines that flies 100m passengers a year, 10% of LATAM, Latin America’s biggest carrier, and 49% of Meridiana, an Italian outfit. It has even been invited by the Indian government to start up a new airline there with 100 jets. So why has Akbar al-Baker, Qatar Airways’ outspoken chief executive, gone on a shopping spree worth billions of dollars? 

On the face of…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Southwest Airlines tries to bring music concerts to the skies

LAST week brought some good news for those who are fans of both flying and country music. Warner Music Nashville, a record label, and Southwest Airlines announced that they will be bringing concerts to the skies. The scheme is an expansion of the airline’s existing “Live at 35” series, in which bands surprise passengers by playing a few songs in the plane’s cabin. Devin Dawson (pictured), an artist on the label, marked the occasion with a performance on a flight from Nashville to Philadelphia. He told Billboard, a music publication, that:

Some people don’t really enjoy flying; some people get very nervous and don’t like it. I hope that something like this [performance] is just a cool surprise for some [passengers] that helps them forget about their everyday woes, and I’ll just play a couple of songs to make them smile.

However, Mr Dawson’s enthusiasm was not…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Smoking rooms are disappearing from hotels

TO THE list of endangered travel facilities—which includes pay phones, communal aeroplane screens and concierges—there is one more to add: smoking rooms. Even a few years ago, guests were routinely asked whether they would prefer a smoking room or not. But today fewer hotels are offering smoking rooms and those that do have a vanishingly small supply.

According to the latest report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group, the share of hotel rooms that are non-smoking has steadily risen from 74% to 97% over the last decade. And the proportion of hotels that only offer non-smoking rooms has jumped from 38% in 2008 to 85% last year.

For a business traveller with a tobacco habit, then, there are few options. Those seeking a dash of glamour will struggle, as 97% of luxury hotels do not have smoking rooms. Only among budget-hotel category—the lowest price segment of five listed in the survey—do the majority of…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A black-rights group warns would-be passengers about American Airlines

TRAVEL advisory notices, which alert passengers to the risks of going to certain places, are standard business for frequent flyers. But last week brought an unusual one. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), America’s oldest civil-rights organisation, warned black flyers about the dangers of travelling with American Airlines.

The NAACP says that  “a pattern of disturbing incidents” has been reported by black passengers specifically about American Airlines. Such incidents “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias”. Of the four incidents that the NAACP cite, two involved prominent black activists, PR Lockhart notes at Vox, a news site. Although the NAACP does not mention them by name, one is thought to be Rev William Barber, a former NAACP leader in North Carolina. He was removed from a flight from Washington, DC, after he responded to rude comments…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Military and civil-aviation bosses are stepping up their efforts to recruit new pilots

FOR MANY people, the Hollywood blockbuster “Top Gun” captures the allure of becoming a pilot. In it, fighter-pilot trainees don aviator sunglasses and flight suits, and zipp about the skies to a soaring 1980s soundtrack. But despite such pop-culture appeal, America’s Air Force is struggling to capture the imagination of would-be recruits. This year it will be short of around 900 new airmen.

To counter this, the Air Force is stepping up its efforts to recruit new cadets. This month they introduced a $35,000 signing-on bonus for newly hired military airmen, the first new incentive of its kinds since 1999. Commercial carriers, too, are trying to entice more newcomers with better financial rewards. The average pay for new pilots in that sector has nearly tripled from $20,000 to $59,000 in the past three years.

One of the main barriers for would-be pilots is training. To become a pilot requires an investment of $200,000, often more than student loans will cover. In addition trainees are required by law to fly 1,500 hours…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Public-relations woes may be catching up with Uber

UBER has had a tough year. It has fired staff on the back of sexual-harassment allegations and faced reports of a hostile workplace culture. It has been sued for allegedly stealing self-driving-car technology.  It lost customers when it flouted a New York taxi boycott in protest of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. And, amid all the turmoil, its boss resigned. But despite all this, the company continued to win more and more customers, including business travellers.

Now, however, there are signs that the tide may be turning. Certify, an expense-management software company, has released its latest quarterly report on business-travel spending in America. And for the first time since it started collecting data in 2013, Uber has seen a decline in use among business travellers.

Uber and other ride-hailing apps still dominate the business-travel market for ground transport, accounting for around two-thirds of it. And they are growing at the expense of traditional services. The market share of taxis and rental cars…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Hotels are employing fewer concierges

IF BUSINESS travellers need to reserve a table at a restaurant, they may use OpenTable, a website. If they wish to find a nearby museum, a Google search will probably be their first port of call. And if they want transport into town, they can easily hail an Uber. Given that so many services are just one swipe away, is there a need for a hotel concierge anymore?

Increasingly hoteliers think that there is not. The share of American hotels with concierges has fallen from 27% in 2010 to 20% last year, according to a report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group. Since 2014 the number of luxury hotels that employ a concierge has declined by 20%.

Though concierges are not extinct quite yet, those that remain tend to work in upmarket establishments. In America 82% of luxury hotels employ concierges, as do 76% of “upper upscale” hotels, the second most glamourous category. After that concierges are a much rarer sight. Just 16% of “upscale” hotels have them. For…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Private jets are getting cheaper

ONE of the first corporate jets was owned by Harry Ogg, the president of a washing-machine company. Bought in 1929, the four-passenger plane was named “Smilin’ Thru” and was decked out with a desk, a typewriter and space for washing machines. On sales trips Ogg told the pilot to fly low over a town, with the plane’s siren wailing. The commotion drew residents to the airport, where Ogg demonstrated the benefits of his white goods in a slick sales pitch.

Most aspects of corporate jet setting have changed since Ogg’s day. Planes are more likely to be owned by a hedge-fund manager than a white-goods salesman. They are kitted out with televisions rather than typewriters. Moreover, they tend to be too costly for entrepreneurs to use as clever marketing tools. Yet even though such stunts remain a dream for many, their revival may be edging slightly closer. That is because the price of private jets has tumbled in the last few years, Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Carriers in America are doubling down on budget airfares

GLEN HAUENSTEIN, the president of Delta, is optimistic about the future of basic economy. On a conference call this week, he boasted that the stripped-down airfares actually act as an incentive for passengers to upgrade to the more expensive standard economy tickets. Despite Mr Hauenstein describing it as a product that “people don’t really want”, the airline says it will expand the revenue-boosting basic-fares system in 2018.

Delta was the first carrier to roll out basic economy fares—sometimes called “last class”—in America in 2012. Since then the model has caught on. Both American and United quickly introduced similar services on some domestic routes. By taking away a perk here and adding another there, each airline has created a unique version of the same miserable experience.

The new fare system is not without its critics. Many have Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Airlines are trying to cram ever-more seats onto planes

AIRLINES use all sorts of clever tricks to make more money from passengers. They charge extra for bags, for food and for selecting where you sit. Now they are embracing another strategy: packing more seats onto each plane. Last month American Airlines announced that it will insert 12 more seats, or two rows, into its economy class on its Boeing 737-800 fleet and an extra nine seats into its Airbus A321s. Similarly, JetBlue recently said it will cram 12 additional seats into its A320s.

But flyers do not like being packed ever-more tightly into the sardine tins that planes have become. This summer American Airlines announced that it would reduce the distance between rows—known as seat pitch—from 30 to 29 inches on some of its new planes. The public outcry was so heated that the carrier scrapped its plans, as Gulliver has previously reported. This February a member of Congress Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

All-you-can-fly membership models are slowly catching on

LONDON’s Luton airport is not renowned for its quick boarding. But now it is possible to show up there and in 15 minutes be on a plane bound for Zurich. That is thanks to the recent expansion of Surf Air, a small carrier. Though its name may be unfamiliar, its business model is, in fits and starts, catching on.

Surf Air claims to be the world’s first all-you-can-fly airline. For a monthly fee, members can travel for free on as many flights as they want among the airline’s growing list of destinations. The airline was founded in 2013 in California, where it serves 12 cities. This summer it launched a service in Europe, where it flies from London, Cannes, Ibiza and Zurich. Milan, Munich, and Luxembourg are scheduled to join the roster later this year.

This flexibility comes with a hefty price tag, however. A membership for the airline’s American network starts at $1,950 a month for a limited plan, rising to $2,950 for the highest tier, which allows unlimited flying in the network and includes periodic free hotel…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Flyers rarely complain even when they have cause to

BUSINESS travellers are hardy souls. It goes with the territory. Theirs is a life of jet lag, cramped seating and reheated meals, all washed down with a weak cup of coffee. Small wonder, then, that a recent study by Clarabridge, a technology firm, suggests that few travellers ever actually lodge a complaint about their flights. It surveyed almost 2,500 passengers in Britain and America and found that about two-thirds of respondents have never aired a grievance, even when they had good reason to. This is despite the fact that complaints are on the rise overall, as Gulliver has previously reported.

Why are so many reluctant to complain? One concerning reason is that passengers think airlines will ignore them. This explanation was given by about a third of those who have never complained, according to Clarabridge’s study.

This should worry…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Concerns over charges for checked bags in America miss the point

FEES for checked luggage are working exactly as intended. That is the main thrust of a new report from America’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the recent rise of charges for checking a bag onto a plane when flying. But not everyone is interpreting the study in such a positive light.

Critics are crying foul because these fees cost some passengers more money. Bill Nelson, a Democratic senator who requested the study and sits on the committee that oversees the airline industry, has described the charges as a “last-minute shakedown”. William McGee of Consumer Reports, a non-profit organisation that reviews products, told USA Today that “consumers should be able to shop for airline seats without being nickel-and-dimed.”

Media outlets are also making the same point. When the Associated Press Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Monarch Airlines goes into administration

JUST before dawn on October 2nd, passengers booked to fly on Monarch Airlines began to receive texts informing them that their flights had been cancelled. This was the first news that Britain’s fifth-biggest airline had ceased trading and is now in administration.

It is the country’s biggest airline ever to collapse. Monarch had been in last-ditch talks with the Civil Aviation Authority, a regulator, to renew its licence to sell package holidays, but failed to reach a deal. About 110,000 passengers have been left stranded, although the government has hired over 30 planes, in effect creating another airline, to bring holiday-makers back over the next two weeks. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, is calling it the “biggest ever peacetime repatriation”. A further 860,000 have lost future bookings, and with it weddings, vacations and more, although many should be able to reclaim some of their costs. Monarch also employs about 2,100 people, all now…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Online auctions of Boeing 747s reflect shifts in the air-travel industry

FOR many aeroplane enthusiasts, buying a Boeing 747 is the stuff of dreams. The “Queen of the Skies” is an icon from the golden age of air travel, a period the 1960s and 1970s when the industry was at its most glamorous. And owning one would be like having a little piece of aviation history.

Last week that dream shifted slightly closer to reality, albeit only for well-heeled fans. Three Boeing 747s went up for auction on Taboo, China’s equivalent of eBay. The seller is a state court in Shenzhen, which seized the planes when Jade Cargo International, an airline, went bust in 2012. At first, state officials tried to flog the planes offline at private auctions. But after six failed attempts, they opened the sale up to public bids. Offers currently range from 122m yuan ($18.5m) to 135m yuan.

This is not the first time one of the planes has been auctioned online. Last year Concord Aerospace, a Florida-based firm which buys and sells plane parts,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Sleep pods are becoming increasingly common at airports

IN THEORY, overnight air travel should be wonderfully convenient. Instead of booking a hotel for the night and losing a day, travellers simply sleep while they fly. In reality, sleeping on a plane is hard, and at an airport tougher still. The chairs in terminals, nobody’s idea of comfort to begin with, tend to have armrests that make splaying out unfeasible. Even in business-class lounges, travellers contort themselves into impossible shapes to pretend that workspace desks are actually beds.

But soon there may be less need for such acrobatics. Sleep pods are coming to more and more airports. Last month, Washington Dulles International put out a call for proposals for a company to provide “a quiet and comfortable place within the airport to sleep, relax, or work while waiting to board a flight”. Mexico City’s airport has just added sleep pods with a space-age design for $30 a night. YotelAir, which offers pods in…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The Ryanair cancellations

SOME strategies are too successful. When Ryanair convinced many of its pilots to take less vacation during peak-travel season, it probably thought it was being clever. However, pilots who ferry tourists to holiday destinations need vacations too. Poor planning and a bit of bad luck have left Ryanair with a shortage of working pilots for the autumn. This shortfall has forced the low-cost airline to cancel around 2,100 flights beginning on September 16th and continuing through October. The abrupt cancellation of last weekend’s flights and the short notice provided to customers has left many angry.

Ryanair’s woes were caused in part by a change in the way the airline determines employee leave. Previously, Ryanair staff took their vacations over an operational year from April to March. In 2016, under pressure from the Irish Aviation Authority, Ryanair adopted the calendar year instead. As part of the transition, it needed to allow its employees to take the entirety of their vacation time between April and December of this year. That…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The value of credit-card points

THE value of credit-card points has long been a topic of debate among business travellers. The subject is also picked over online on an impressive number of dedicated blogs and forums. Now it is getting an airing in a different sort of venue: the corruption trial of an American senator.

Robert Menendez, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, is facing charges for allegedly doing favours for Salomon Melgen, a Florida-based eye doctor and friend of the lawmaker. Prosecutors say that Mr Melgen was trying to avoid repaying the government $8.9m that he had allegedly overbilled Medicare, the public health-care programme for seniors. And he wanted Mr Menendez’s help in exchange for lavish kickbacks. These included flights in a private jet, stays in a fancy hotel and more than $750,000 in campaign contributions. 

But at the centre of the third day of the trial last week was the issue of credit-card points. In 2010, Mr Salomon paid for Mr Menendez to stay for three nights at the Park Hyatt Vendome, a five-star hotel in…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

More business travellers are booking their own trips

A friend of Gulliver’s recently received some devastating news, in the form of a change to company policy. No longer would he and his co-workers be able to book their own flights and file for reimbursements. Instead, the firm would buy all employees’ plane tickets from the start.

On the face of it, this is a convenient change. It saves staff time by ensuring that they do not have to fill in tedious expense forms. But many business travellers may not see it that way. A study from Phocuswright, a travel-research firm, finds that more and more employees are booking their own travel and filing for reimbursements. Sometimes doing so allows for a better itinerary: travellers can avoid annoying layovers and airlines for which they reserve particular ire. Sometimes, if they are feeling generous towards their employer, it can save money too. 

But the most-compelling reason is often the credit-card reward points. Say you are booking a flight from London to New York. On United Airlines, the round-trip will earn you close to…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

What effect is Donald Trump really having on American tourism?

WHEN Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, he wasted no time in trying to bar people from certain Muslim-majority countries entering America. He swiftly, too, promised to make good on his pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border. The nation’s travel industry shuddered. It did not feel like the actions of a man keen to woo visitors from abroad.

The predicted “Trump slump” quickly appeared to materialise. Within months, several online travel firms, including Kayak and Hopper, reported that fewer people were searching for flights to America. That seemed plausible. The country was getting terrible press abroad and the firms that sell flights online seemed the best placed to monitor demand for travel in real time. Come July, however, the U.S. Travel Association revealed that everything was rosy. Instead of a Trump slump, the country was in fact enjoying a Trump bump. The organisation’s Travel Trends Index, which tracks flight and hotel bookings, plane boardings and other data, suggested that the number of…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Less lost luggage at the airport

WAITING to see if your checked bag will bump down the carousel and join you at your destination is one of the enduring anxieties of air travel. Though the number of “mishandled” bags—an industry term meaning lost or misplaced—is at an all-time low, six out of every 1,000 passengers can expect to be separated from their luggage for longer than they expected, or possibly even forever. These mishaps cost the airline industry $2.1bn a year and cause untold stress and inconvenience to passengers. 

From June 2018, however, travellers’ frustrations should ease when the International Air Transport Association’s Resolution 753 comes into effect. It will require mandatory tracking at four stages of a checked bag’s journey: when it is first handed to the airline, when it is loaded onto the aircraft, when it is delivered to the transfer area and when it is returned to the passenger. The resolution, which was devised in conjunction with Airlines for America, an industry…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Appalling behaviour on London’s Tube

WITH 1.4bn passengers annually, the London Underground is one of the world’s busiest transport systems. It is also one of the most crowded, sometimes producing an element of friction among commuters over small acts of inconsideration. This week YouGov released the results of a survey of the things that most wind up passengers as they scurry around the Tube. Impatient commuters pushing to get into the carriage without letting riders off first are what drives people mad the most.

The survey also revealed some interesting differences when broken down by gender: “manspreading” (unfurling one’s legs wide enough to take up unnecessary room) and…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Involuntary bumping seems to be a thing of the past

IF AVIATION had an astrological sign, 2017 would surely be the Year of the Bump. Most infamously, it was the year that a United Airlines passenger who refused to leave an overbooked flight in April was dragged violently from the plane. There followed airline policy changes to reduce involuntary bumping, a novel system to make bumping less inconvenient, and even bipartisan action in Congress to render involuntary bumping illegal.

Such headlines suggest that the practice is spiralling out of control. In fact it is at its lowest level since the government began recording data in 1995, according to a Department of Transportation Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Airlines want tighter control of alcohol sales in British airports

TRYING to stop Britons from boozing can be a forlorn task. Drinking has been woven into the nation’s culture for centuries, from the “loose-tongued” pilgrims of Chaucer to the apprentices who ran amok on London’s streets in the 16th century. According to Susie Dent, a lexicographer, English has 3,000 words for being drunk. Some take that list as a challenge. Whether at football matches or funerals, children’s parties or cheese-rolling, Britons turn almost any occasion into an excuse to get ramsquaddled (thanks, Ms Dent).

A visit to a British airport is a crash course in this culture. Regardless of the time of morning, the bars are full and the English breakfasts come accompanied with pints of Guinness. That is an increasing problem for airlines….Continue reading

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