Airlines Help TSA Do Its Job

As lines have gotten longer and longer at many of the nations airports, we quickly learned that the TSA has been the problem in most if not all of these cases. The TSA has been severely understaffed and making little to no effort to speed up lines as wait times grow longer and longer this summer.

This has left airlines in an odd position. Every airline is heavily reliant on the TSA doing its job quickly, for when the TSA causes delays, it costs airlines a whole lot of money. Backups at security that have in some cases been as long as 3 hours, cause many passengers to miss their flights. When that happens, passengers need to be re-booked on different flights, sometimes planes are delayed waiting on passengers and all of this adds up to lost profits from extra fuel consumption to accommodating passengers on other planes.

Airlines have begun to step up to the plate where TSA has failed. Many airlines, including American Airlines started by supplying workers at non-critical places TSA agents work. Since these tend to be positions around security points that merely require people to direct foot traffic or other similar tasks, these can be done by people other than TSA agents. This frees up agents for the more critical tasks like baggage screening and security related positions. 

Lines have been so bad lately though, that both Delta and American have begun to look at ways to cut out the TSA altogether and start using more automated methods of screening. Delta for instance designed a new security baggage handling system that increases areas for people to place their baggage on belts. The system increases the flow through and give more space for passengers to take liquids and laptops out for screening. The automated system takes it from there. Pilot programs have seen significant speed increases through security checkpoints.

American Airlines has also begun to make stride in using automated scanning technology to better detect security threats and also to speed up the baggage screening process. These new technologies have moved to CT scanners over traditional x-ray machines. Promising developments in automating this area predicts up to a 30% increase in speed for processing passengers at security points. American Airlines hopes to start rolling these out in the near future at their hubs.

While it is sad that airlines have had to start to do the job TSA is no longer capable of completing, it is nice to see some innovations coming to this area of passenger air travel. This is an area that has been fairly stagnant for a while, so any progress is great. While TSA shouldn't have let this become a problem, the outcome of advancements in moving things faster is welcome... though the fastest way would be to eliminate the screening part altogether, I hold no illusions that this will happen anytime soon. 

Keep in eye out for these new technologies in your future travels around the US. 

Hubs or Local - Where to Board?

All of my stuff has been packed, it's loaded and on it's way to my new home. Being on the brink of living in a new place, questions are now in my mind on how to handle flights from here on out. While I'm well placed to take advantage of both Delta and American hubs, it also isn't exactly next door. Charlotte is a good 1.5 hours away by car and Atlanta is around 2 hours away, so is it worth it to drive to a hub every time and likely pay more for parking as well as gas to get to those hubs, or is the local airport a better option?

This is a question I have not yet been able to completely answer in my mind. On one hand the drive at either end is never something I look forward to. Nothing like a long flight home from overseas, then another 2 hours in the car before I can truly be back in my own house. Hubs tend to come with quite a few benefits though, more direct flights, lower fares, more flights to choose from and better services. On the down sides is the busier nature of the airport and surrounding area, with longer lines to deal with and security that is more likely to take forever.

On the other hand the local airport is quieter, closer by and likely cheaper to park at. Local airports mean less tired driving after a long flight, and I know the area better with little chance of major rush hour traffic around a major city like Atlanta. On the flip side comes higher prices for fares in most cases, rare exceptions do happen, but the question is if the higher fare offsets the other expenses of parking, tolls, gas and time.

This is likely not a question that I'll easily answer as a catch all. Best plan here is probably a case by case review. Short duration trips may be better on parking costs, and the layover in Atlanta would need to be considered. If I need to sit around Atlanta for 3 hours waiting for a connection to my local airport, then it is probably a good idea to just drive since it'll only take 2 hours to drive home.

Either way, I'm excited to try new flights from a new location on a new carrier. Do any of you deal with local airports more? I've dealt with Philadelphia as a hub for so long that my regional experiences have been fairly rare. What are your thoughts?


Considering The Free Agent Approach

The past few weeks have consisted heavily of talk on a switch from American to Delta, despite my misgivings about Delta. Elite perks seem to now slightly favor Delta, but there is an option that I have no yet discussed in regards to loyalty programs, and that is the free agent approach.

While I'm not exactly a sports fan, free agents are a big term most well known in the sports world. So how exactly does this apply to airline loyalty? Becoming a free agent is pretty much what it sounds like, that is to quickly switch loyalties back and forth, keeping open a relationship with two or more different airlines. In this case with the place I live allows me to play both American and Delta in a combined effort to keep both elite status levels up and running.

There are some advantages to that, mostly that I can choose which ever airline works best in each situation. I'm not favoring one over the other even in cases where the competitor would give me a better price. This is kind of a limited case since most prices these days are fairly competitive and rarely is there a huge price disparity, but sometimes sales happen and being able to take advantage of those on two different airlines would be great.

Their is a huge negative to running status this way and that is the fact that it would be virtually impossible for me to hit maximum status on either airline. This requires that on American I would lay down 100,000 miles and Delta, 125,000 miles. Give or take for paid first class, but that is a lot of miles to clear a year. Not that I can't clear them, but it leaves little chance to take advantage of the miles you're earning to fly something fun and more interesting like Emirates or Etihad.

Now I could always take a lesser status level for each airline, but really, max status is where the perks become their best. If you can then get a minimum status with another airline after that, the perks are worth it there too, but max status is really the place to be.

An Opportunity to Swap to Delta, Is It Worth It?

Right now, I'm dealing with an upcoming move to a new city, a new state, and a new part of the country. With all this comes a lull in travel as we prepare for the move. I have one more trip planned to that area in search of a new home, but past that nothing is booked until October. Not something I like, but something that is needed as things transition.

The unique thing about where I'm moving is that it places me almost equally distanced between and American Airlines hub and a Delta hub. In this case, I'm placed in the position of being able to choose how I want to continue forward with my status. 

On one hand, American is where I currently have my status and for what it's worth they are currently still operating on a mileage program based on flown miles instead of revenue based model... but that's about to change as American follows behind Delta and copies their exact miles earning model. 

The new proximity to Delta does give me a good chance to try out a new program if I want... but I'm sticking with American, an here's why. American Airlines has a better strategy for earning elite qualifying miles. Premium class paid flights earn more EQM's on American than the same seat earn on Delta. This is a theme that carries through Delta, as good as their customer service on board has become, their miles program is awful. Delta Skymiles are so well known for repeatedly being devalued by the airline, they've been nicknamed Skypesos. 

American Airlines still publishes an award chart, Delta does not and don't be fooled, Delta does this for a reason. Delta is hiding how much their standard award redemption charts because they don't want you to know how much things cost. Delta prices award on a case by case basis and claimed sales here and there. Right now they have some good deals, supposedly, but it's hard to know if it's a good deal since there is no chart to say what it's supposed to be.

Delta is a high revenue company, and they seem to feel that loyalty doesn't factor into that equation. Year after year Delta snubs their loyal customers and I am not interested in becoming a part of that. Delta angered me long ago with poor bag handling every time I flew with them. That isn't what keep me from them now, a poor rewards program keeps me away these days.

Unless I see something remotely interesting out of Delta, or American screws with their program, I'm staying with American for now.

Booking New Flights

As always happens, I seem to add travel plans on to my schedule with little or no notice due to work obligations, a weird random desire, or because there is a cheap fare to take advantage of in order to meet Executive Platinum status. So what are the new and existing trips planned, unplanned, and pie int eh sky over the next few months.

First is a quick work trip to Boston. My day job is an R&D job in Princeton, NJ. We collaborate on a regular basis with different programs, and universities around the country. The project I am running is in collaboration with MIT in Cambridge, MA. In order to keep up with our research at MIT, I am making a quick trip to Boston. Booking a trip like this has become something of an art for me. Websites like ExpertFlyer allow frequent flyers to check upgrade availability, award tickets and open seats even in classes I'm not booked into.

Flying to Boston is a short flight, under 500 miles so American Airlines will upgrade any elite to an open first class seat if it is available. As I discussed earlier, buying first class on these short flight isn't really worth it if they are close to or under 250 miles since the bonus does exceed the normal 500 mile minimum. So if you can get yourself upgraded for free, that's the way to go about it, get the first class seat, and get the best bang for your buck... also I can't book first class for work.

Using ExpertFlyer, I was able to search all of the available flights from Philadelphia to Boston on American Airlines, and there are quite a few. Searching through these flights allows me to pick out not only a time that works best, but also a flight that at the time had one of the most open first class sections, more seats equals better chance at upgrading. Once these flights were identified, book them and wait until a few days before flight when elites get bumped up to first class. It isn't a definite, but it increases your chances.

Aside from Boston, a few weeks later I will be heading to South Carolina where me and my fiance will be searching for a new home, we are moving to South Carolina for her job. Another short and quick trip, but one that is important and should be fairly enjoyable.

There are some great business class fare right now that I'd love to take advantage of, but with an impeding move, I am hesitant to take advantage of them until we are secure in the new location and I know the exact moving date and home much it will cost. The move comes with lots of changes and while I'm having a really hard time resisting, I need to wait until things are more locked down to hit up these awesome fares. Look forward to more flying.

Lastly are some planned but undetermined dates on work trips to Indiana. Again, some short flights, but I'll try to increase my chances of upgrades and make use of my 500 miles upgrades that have been earned with my status and seem to be piling up. Might as well grab some upgrades on flights I can't otherwise make sure I'll be in first class.

So thats the next few months of travel, while no big long international travel is coming, there is no shortage of flights coming up.