Jim’s Notebook – October 3, 2012

Who’s Watching My Luggage … Spending Millions to Upgrade Planes … More Airline Fess on The Way … 7 Booking Errors That Are Costly … Is Airline WiFi A Bust? … Improving Inflight Entertainment … Hotel Fees Increasing … LatAm Hotel Prices Rising … Hands-Free Robotic Suitcases

I’ve been traveling for a couple of weeks in Ireland, which made it exceptionally difficult to publish Notebook. Thanks for bearing up under the onslaught of “encore” presentations, necessitated by being on the move every day with no time to write. I’ve returned with a lot of good info on what’s happening in the Emerald Isle, which I’ll be sharing in the weeks and months ahead.

The first bit of news comes from Dublin Airport where I encountered two things ­– one annoying, the other amazing. The annoying one was Aer Lingus making me check my carryon since they said it was too heavy, which it was, although they didn’t ask me to check it when I flew into Ireland. I guess there are worse things in life…

The second thing – the one that amazed me – happened in security. Flying back from Ireland you go through U.S. immigration in Dublin, not in the U.S., and they also set up an additional security screening, which is a lot more rigorous than the standard European one. I’m a Global Entry participant and when I scanned my passport the U.S. Customs officer asked for my boarding pass, which he then scanned.

Up on a TV screen popped a photo of my bag on a conveyor belt. “Is that you’re bag?” he asked. When I answered that it was, he said “Okay, then we’ll put it on the plane.” Things seem to be happening at TSA.

They’re also happening in the sky as airlines are taking delivery of new airplanes with well-thought-out cabin amenities and are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the interiors of planes. In an industry that’s been screaming it’s impoverished for years now, those hundreds of millions have to come from somewhere. And it’s not hard to guess where that’s going to be. According to a new report from the Department of Transportation’s inspector general airline passengers can expect more baggage and other fees as well as fewer carriers and fewer flights to smaller cities next year.

Airlines have already increased their fares four times this year so it pays to shop around when booking a flight. If you want to keep your costs down you may be interested in reading about 7 booking errors that will cost you money which was passed along to me Pat Richards, a reader and friend.

Passengers are sick and tired of paying all these fees, a fact that’s underscored by a report that shows not many people are paying for the inflight WiFi systems touted by many carriers. Based on a S&E Commission filing by Gogo, the leading provider of onboard Wi-Fi systems, only 5.4% of the passengers aboard the 1,565 commercial aircraft it had equipped took advantage of the Internet service in the first half of this year. It makes you wonder if it even paid for the cost of installing the systems.

And speaking of inflight WiFi, the airlines have now reached a crossroads in their efforts to improve in-flight entertainment. Do they continue to add pricey hardware needed to show movies in a seat back or do they face the fact that a fast-growing number of travelers come with their own viewing screens – in the form of iPhone, iPads and laptops – and work to improve the Wi-Fi that will stream entertainment to those devices? Now there’s a revenue stream that’s certain to get Gogo’s attention.

In the world of travel you don’t hear a lot about hotels charging ancillary fees because their fees are less than one tenth of those charged by airlines. But hotels are also on a roll with their fees and collectively charged $1.95 billion in fees and surcharges in 2012. That’s an all-time high, and comes on the heels of a record high hit just last year. And hotel prices are starting to go up in Latin America. According to The New York Times the average hotel rate in Mexico City rose 30% in local currency last year, outpacing the rate of increase in 50 international cities including Dubai and New York.

And finally, with Christmas just around the corner (this is October, after all) here’s a gift for the frequent (or lazy) traveler on your list: a robotic suitcase. This hands-free robotic suitcase will walk itself through the airport, its makers say, by linking up with Bluetooth technology to follow its owner wherever he or she ventures.

Someone had better alert TSA.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Manz October 3, 2012 at 11:17 am

Jim, I love reading your “Notebook” …. even the “encore’ presentations! There’s always something new to learn … leaving for Amsterdam for a long weekend and, hopefully, I can narrate my adventures riding a bike there —- if I can remain upright on the bike, that is! Now that I’ve read Notebook, I’m going to read all the other stories, particularly the one on walking the Thames. No matter how many times I visit London, I find something “new” on each trip.

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Jim Ferri October 3, 2012 at 11:36 am

Have a great time in Amsterdam — and don’t forget your bike helmet!

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