US Global Entry Program Key for International Travellers Looking to Avoid Lines

Cheap Flight Finder reports – Amid staffing furloughs and cut backs resulting from the latest round of budget battles in the US congress, airports around the US are coming under increasing pressure as security and passport control lines grow longer.  Many international travellers, however, are bypassing the lines at passport control with the US Customs and Border Protection Service’s Global Entry Program.

Designed to pre-screen travellers who will be entering the country, the Global Entry Program is the Custom and Border Protection Service’s “trusted traveller” program, and allows pass holders to bypass the typically long passport control lines at some of the larger US airports, and simply speed by a Global Entry kiosk.  A quick swipe of a machine readable passport, and travellers are on their way.

Now in its second year, Global Entry allows travellers through airports two main perks:  quick processing through US Customs and Immigration check points via Global Entry kiosks, thus bypassing the frequently long lines, and, for domestic travellers, access to the Transportation Security Administration’s “Pre-Check” lanes – faster security lanes which allow pre-checked travellers to get through security without having to remove their shoes or remove laptops from bags.

Travellers who apply and are accepted to the Global Entry program receive a card pass.  “The card is a benefit for anyone who travels internationally more than once a year and for frequent fliers traveling out of a large airport like Detroit Metro,” frequent flier Arthur Brandt told the Detroit Free Press in an article on Monday.

Brandt told the paper that the card recently allowed him to pass through Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s frequently packed customs and immigration hall in a matter of minutes, rather than the hour or more it would normally take a traveler without the Global Entry card.  “It’s a lifesaver,” he told the paper.

“Nothing beats the feeling of being able to walk off the plane,” a traveler named Joe told the newspaper, “get into your own lane and be out before everyone else.”

Global Entry cards are available by application for those who meet a certain set of criteria, including a clean criminal record, and no history of immigration violations in the US.  Applications can be made online at www.globalentry.gov, and are followed by an in person interview at any of the enrollment centers throughout the US.  The application costs $100.

“While I hate to let more people in on the secret, it is probably the best $100 I have ever spent,” Brandt told the Detroit Free Press.

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FIVE CABIN TRENDS ON THE RISE

Cheap Flights Finder reports – Hot on the heels of the 2013 edition of the Aircraft Interiors Expo, Future Travel Experience, an airline industry news site dedicated to improving the passenger experience, has compiled a report on what it considers the top five trends for improving the in-cabin experience of flyers.

Included in the list are some not so new ideas like brand partnerships, which are widely in evidence on many airlines today, but which are on the rise and set to expand in the coming twelve months according to the Future Travel Experience report.  Other trends, like improved connectivity for the crew on a flight, are slowly being introduced and are certainly set to expand in the coming months as more and more airlines take advantage of wider Wi-Fi availability.

Here are the top five trends, according to the report:

  1. Increased brand partnerships – Already in evidence on many flights, at least for premium passengers, are high end brand partnerships like the one American, JAL, Air India, and Cathay Pacific airlines have with Bose and its noise cancelling headphones. The report says this trend is on the rise as more and more airlines embrace the idea of creating partnerships with brands their customers will appreciate.
  2. Improved connectivity for the crew – American Airlines, British Airways, and Emirates have recently equipped their flight crews with Wi-Fi enabled tablets to better assist them in connecting to their counterparts on the ground, and to their passengers on the plane.  From tracking bags or connection status at a destination, to connecting with passengers via their entertainment systems for assistance or even food and drink orders, the Future Travel Experience report predicts flight crews across the majority of airlines will become more connected as Wi-Fi becomes more widely available.
  3. Real time customer service via mobile apps like KLM’s is a trend on the rise, according to the report.  Apps like KLM’s allow passengers to lodge complaints, ask for assistance, and provide feedback to the airline – allowing airport staff and cabin crew to track what’s happening and step in to solve problems in real time.
  4. Mementos – craving a pair of souvenir pajamas emblazoned with the Cathay Pacific logo, or a Finnair teapot?  Future Travel Experience predicts these kinds of mementos, as complimentary gifts or available for purchase, is a trend on the rise in 2013.
  5. Pesonalising the cabin – Now that the lay flat bed has become nearly ubiquitous in premium class cabins throughout the industry, airlines are doing their best to set themselves apart from the competition with personalized, or “zoned”, cabins.  With Malaysia Air’s kids-free zone, Air Asia’s quiet zone, and Virgin Atlantic’s snooze zone, all popular choices among premium travelers, expect to see this trend expand to more airlines in the future, says Future Travel Experience.
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MARKETERS LOOK TO CAPITALIZE ON “CAPTIVE AUDIENCE” TRAVELERS

Cheap Flights Finder reports – Flights are one of the few refuges left in which to escape the near constant barrage of today’s omnipresent marketing hype, that could be set to change.

According to a recent report from emarketer, marketers internationally are looking at the wired-in travelling public as a ripe target for new modes of marketing.  The report, entitled “Marketing to Mobile Travelers: Device Usage During Travel Offers New Touchpoints,” zeroes in on the flying public, most of which utilizes some sort of Wi-Fi connected device, as an under targeted demographic.

“Travelers are a more affluent subset of the digital population, and they’re more likely than Internet users in general to own tablets and smartphones,” says the report.  “Now marketers have the opportunity to reach their customers almost constantly during the travel journey.”

The report cites several recent studies to support its theory that the flying public could be a gold mine of untapped marketing possibilities:  Prosper Mobile Insights is cited as finding that in a recent survey, 98% of respondees said they brought their mobile on vacation with them and that they used it all the time while away.  Another cited study, FlightView’s “2012 Flyer Survey”, found that 4 out of 5 respondees in the US said they used a smartphone device while flying.

A recent TripAdvisor poll, also cited, found that 37% of respondees considered their tablet device an “essential” accessory while in the air.  And a cited study by in flight satellite service provider Go Go found that the number of laptops currently connecting to Wi-Fi on today’s flights outnumbers both the number of laptops and smartphones connecting to in flight Wi-Fi services.

That all may be well and good, but ultimately the success of any e-marketers going after a captive flying audience will rely on one thing:  that audience’s access to quality, affordable in flight Wi-Fi services.  The new trend toward “Bring Your Own Device Marketing” (BYOD), could indeed be somewhat hampered, at least when trying to access fliers, by the limitations – in both cost and bandwidth – of today’s available in flight Wi-Fi options.  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, flyers, enjoy the relative peace and quiet.

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Low Cost Carriers Dominate the European Market

Cheap Flights Finder reports: As low cost air carriers grapple for a solid foothold in the North American and Asian markets, it seems the battle for the budget airlines in Europe might be nearing an end.

In a recent study conducted by travel technology go-to Amadeus, figures show a significant up tick in the number of passengers travelling on low cost carriers in 2012 as compared to the same period in 2011.

In the UK alone, of the 93 million passengers embarking on air travel from an airport within the United Kingdom last year, more than 52 percent chose low cost carriers like RyanAir, easyJet, and FlyBe for their travel.  Figures for the same period of 2011 showed 48 percent of air travellers starting their journey at a UK airport chose one of the budget carriers, for an overall increase of 4 percent in 2012.

And, according to easyJet Chief Executive Carolyn McCall in the company’s 2012 annual report, the UK’s largest carrier saw significant growth in 2012, and was “the number one carrier in nine out of eleven UK easyJet bases.”  A domination of not just the low budget market, but the UK market as a whole, and one which the company predicts will continue to grow in 2013.

Amadeus analyses low cost carriers by passenger numbers

The Amadeus analysis also declared Europe the only region of the world where low cost airlines are not only doing extremely well, they are dominating the air travel market.   Of passengers departing on flights from Europe, 38 percent took low cost carriers, a modest but notable increase from the budget carriers’ 36.5 percent share of the market in 2011.

By comparison, low budget airlines like Southwest and JetBlue in North America carry less than a third of the overall air market, with passengers embarking on flights from North America choosing the low cost carriers at a rate of only 30.2 percent.

While Asian low cost carriers take the smallest piece of the air travel pie – less than one fifth of travellers from Asia chose to fly budget in 2012 – that 18.6 percent of the market is set to grow rapidly.  With 787 million passengers flying from Asia in 2012, the largest number of passengers of any region, low cost carriers have a huge market to target and their share is set to grow most quickly, according to Amadeus analysts.

Europe had the second largest number of passengers, 680 million, with North America coming in third at 597 million passengers in 2012.

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IN AIR WI-FI SATELLITES CONTINUE TO INVEST HEAVILY AS PASSENGERS SHOW A RELUCTANCE TO PAY

Cheap Flights Finder reports – As airlines and WiFi satellite operators continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the creation and installation of aviation Internet systems, a recent industry survey has shown that an overwhelming majority of air travellers will forego Wi-Fi service during a flight rather than pay for it.

According to the latest survey from UK based travel site Holiday Extras, an impressive 84% of more than 4000 travellers surveyed said they would skip Wi-Fi service during their flight altogether if a fee were required, and that they are unwilling to pay any amount to access in flight Wi-Fi service when available.

This news comes on the heels of aviation internet provider behemoth GoGo releasing figures showing the cash-strapped venture still operating at a significant loss, and taking on an additional $113 million in debt “to fund its global expansion and for general operating purposes,” according to a press statement from the company.

The additional $113 will almost double the cash strapped venture’s current $135 line of credit with banks JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

“Securing this latest round of financing is an important step in funding our growth and helps strengthen our overall financial position,” said Norm Smagley, Gogo’s executive vice president and CFO said in the statement.  “The new round of funding will help us continue to develop and operationalise our international expansion.”

Gogo has its Air to Ground (ATG) satellite Wi-Fi infrastructure installed on more than 1,850 aircraft of nine airlines, including approximately 160 aircraft installed with its next generation ATG technology – ATG-4.  The company recently announced that it has been selected to outfit more than 400 aircraft with its Ku-band satellite connectivity services for several major airlines.

And all of this expansion won’t come cheap.  The question, however, remains:  How to recoup expenses and bring companies like GoGo into the black.

If the recent Holiday Extras survey is to be believed, asking passengers to pay for it isn’t a likely answer.

”There is undoubtedly an appetite for Internet connectivity on planes but price could be the stumbling block,” said James Lewis, Head of Partnerships for Holiday Extras.

The reasons for customer reluctance to pay were not just limited to cost concerns: 25% felt payment was inappropriate because Internet access is a “human right”, and 28% said that access to email and work would “shatter the holiday atmosphere.”

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Changi International Named the Worlds Best Airport

Cheap Flights Finder reports that for the fourth year in a row, Geneva based airport awards organizations World Air Awards has named Singapore’s Changi International Airport the worlds best airport.

The prestigious designation is awarded based on a survey of more than 12 million passengers’ opinions of 39 products and services at 395 airports across the world.  The survey was conducted over a nine month period by air industry research and consultancy group Skytrax, and included examination of such things as check in, arrivals and transfer facilities, security and immigration handling, as well as quality of shopping.

“In winning this prestigious accolade, Singapore Changi Airport cements its place as one of the world’s favorite airports,” chairman of Skytrax Edward Plaisted said upon the announcement of the winner.

Why Changi is the worlds best airport…?

According to airport figures, Changi International served more than 52 million passengers and handled 1.81 million tons of cargo in 2012.  The Singapore airport is  known among travelers as an airport with a high standard when it comes to the passenger experience, and an abundant and wide array of entertainment on tap including world class shopping, an onsite swimming pool, movie theatres, a nature trail and butterfly garden.

The airport was among the first in the world to offer free Wi-Fi on flights, and even offers free tours of the city for travellers on a layover of more than five hours.

“It’s always heart-warming to know there are people who show appreciation for things we do,” said Tan Lye Teck, Changi’s executive vice president for airport management in a recent interview with CNN program “The Gateway”.

“We will continue essentially what we’ve always been trying to do (which is put the) passenger, the user, the customer … at the center of everything,” he added.

Incheon Airport in South Korea and Schipol Airport in Amsterdam took the second and third place slots in the survey, respectively.  Schipol, notably, is the only non-Asian airport to win the Worlds Best prize, which it took in 1999.

Out of the top ten ranked airports in the Skytrax poll, 5 were based in east Asia, including Hong Kong – and eight time winner of the award – and Beijing Capital International Airport.

Regionally top ranked airports include Schipol in Europe, and Vancouver International Airport in Canada for North America, Cap Town International for Africa, Lima Jorge Chavez International for South America, and Abu Dhabi International for the Middle East.

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United Airlines Unveils Travel APP For Windows 8 Phones

United Airlines unveiled its newest innovation for tech savvy fliers on Friday: A long awaited new app for Windows 8 smartphone users.

The new app will allow Windows 8 smartphone users to now access the same set of handheld conveniences that iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, BlackBerry and Android users have long had at their finger tips.

In addition to being able to easily check flight status, departure gates and check in from their phones, new Windows 8 phone app users will now be able to book, view, email and store flight reservations and itineraries, view seat maps, view and change seats on a reservation or purchase Economy Plus seating, and view upgrade lists for a flight and check their status on the list.

The app also stores boarding passes and flight status alerts, and offers access to a variety of interactive flight features like real-time flights, path maps and weather updates.

United MileagePlus account holders can view their account activity, and passengers interested in the United Club can find club locations through the app, and purchase and store one-time club passes.

“We continue to invest in technology that offers travelers more options and convenience,” said Scott Wilson, United’s vice-president of merchandising and ecommerce, in a statement issued by the company.   “United’s robust website and mobile travel tools enable our customers to get the information they need, buy the products they want and choose services they desire when and where they want.”

For it’s part, Microsoft said in the statement that it welcomed the addition of the Windows 8 phone to United’s growing list of interfaces.  “Apps come to life on the Windows Phone, thanks to features like Live Tiles and lockscreen notifications,” said Todd Brix, general manager of Windows Phone apps for Microsoft. “United Airlines takes advantage of these features and more to enable users to quickly access all of their travel information in one glance.”

United says that the Windows 8 Phone app is not compatible with the operating system of the Windows-based Microsoft Surface tablet.  The United app for Windows 8 Phones is available through the Windows Phone Store.

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New JetBlue Premium Service Seats Confirmed With Wi-Fi Service

Jetblue premium seats announced

New Jetblue premium seats were announced today with Wi-Fi Internet service starting sometime next year.  JetBlue Chief Commercial Officer Robin Hayes announced the new service at a briefing event for investors in New York today, which was also hosted via webcast.

The new Jetblue premium seats and Wi-Fi service will be available on the airline’s longer haul flights starting in 2014, with JetBlue service between John F. Kennedy international airport in New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles international airports in California.

The premium services are so far slated to be available only on the airline’s daytime flights on those routes.  Hayes said more details regarding the new premium seats, whether the service will include new premium cabins and how they would affect seating configuration on JetBlue aircraft, will be announced in the coming months as the airline fully develops the new concept and moves closer to implementation.

New Jetblue premium seats will differ from their current offering

Speaking to investors, Hayes said the move comes in a bid for the airline to become more competitive on transcontinental, long haul flights out of New York, JetBlue’s base of operations.

According to a report today by Mary Jane Credeur at Bloomberg.com, New York is the busiest aviation market in the US, with the most popular routes out of JFK headed to Los Angeles, followed by San Francisco.

No word is available yet as to how the new Jetblue premium seats will affect JetBlue’s current offering of its “Even More Space” and “Even More Speed” services.  “Even More Space”, which came online in JetBlue aircraft in 2011, offers passengers the option to pay an additional fee to upgrade to slightly roomier seating, with more pitch and legroom, and the perk of early boarding.

The service, which costs between $10 and $65 depending on the distance of the route, is currently available on all JetBlue flights.   The “Even More Speed” service allows JetBlue passengers to use premium, expedited security lanes and is currently available at 48 of the airports JetBlue serves.

JetBlue’s announcement of the move to Jetblue premium seating comes just as United begins rolling out a controversial revamp of its premium policies, which now require gold and silver level loyalty members to board after platinum and ticketed premium cabin passengers.

JetBlue’s addition of premium seating service will leave Southwest airlines as the stand-alone carrier, of the US top seven airlines, offering only coach service on its transcontinental flights.

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Boeing 787 Moves Into Testing Phase of New Battery System

Boeing 787 tests batteries

Boeing announced on Friday that the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared plans for the aviation giant to move forward with plans to test its new lithium ion battery system in flight tests on two of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

In the announcement, Boeing Commercial Aircraft CEO and president Ray Connor said the process for solving the battery problems on the Boeing 787 has been a comprehensive one.

“Working with internal and external experts in battery technology, we have proposed a comprehensive set of solutions that provide three layers of improvements in the battery system.  First, we’ve improved design features of the battery to prevent faults from occurring and to isolate any that do. Second, we’ve enhanced production, operating and testing processes to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance of the battery and its components. Third, in the unlikely event of a battery failure, we’ve introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers”, Connors said.

The Boeing 787 hopes to back in the air soon

The flight testing process on the two 787 aircraft will determine that the proposed set of solutions work as intended in both normal and abnormal flight conditions.

All of the Boeing 787s currently in service were grounded in mid-January after two incidents involving the battery system occurred at a US airport and while a 787 was in flight on a domestic route in Japan.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways is Boeings largest customer for the 787, with 17 of the technologically advanced aircraft currently in its fleet.  ANA has so far cancelled all Dreamliner flights through the end of May 2013; 3600 domestic and international flights in all.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Monday, All Nippon chief executive officer Osamu Shinobe said that regardless of FAA approvals, it could be some time before the airline has its fleet of 787 Dreamliners back in the air.

Mr. Shinobe cited the amount of time it would take to have each of its 17 Dreamliners outfitted with the new system and tested, as well as potential public unease with the aircraft, as factors the company is considering in any plans to get the planes back in the air.

“Seventeen of our planes are out of action, so we can’t just tell our customers to fly on the planes as soon as we’re finished fixing them,” Mr. Shinobe said in the interview.

 

 

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Inaugural Low-Cost Flights from London to Moscow Take Off Today

New route from London to Moscow

New low-cost flights from London’s Gatwick Airport to Moscow’s Domededovo Airport take off today, in the latest offering from the UK’s largest carrier, easyJet.  The first low-cost option for travellers flying between London and Moscow, return flights between the two capitals start at less than £100, or €115 ($150 US).  Starting today the flights will operate once daily between Gatwick and Domededovo, and twice daily as of April 15.

The eventual four daily flights will depart London Gatwick at 07:00 and arrive at Moscow Domededovo Airport at 13:50, with return flights departing Moscow Domededovo Airport at 14:30 and arriving into London Gatwick at 15:40.  As of April 15th, a second daily flight will commence, departing London Gatwick at 14:10 arriving into Moscow Domededovo at 21:00, departing for London from Moscow at 21:40 and arriving into Gatwick at 22:50.

Low cost flights from London to Moscow first of its kind

Easyjet was awarded the rights to the London-Moscow route by the British Civil Aviation Authority in October of 2012, beating out rival competition from magnate Richard Branson’s airline, Virgin Atlantic.

Under an Air Services agreement between the governments of Russia and the United Kingdom, only four carriers – two from each country – are permitted to fly the route between the two capitals.  One of those slots opened in early 2012 when British Airways bought BMI, the other British carrier on the route.

EasyJet’s UK director Paul Simmons said in a statement that the airline estimates a quarter of a million passengers will fly easyJet between London Gatwick and Moscow in its first year of operations.  EasyJet has also said it expects its low-cost fares to stir the competition into cutting prices.  Currently British Airways, Aeroflot and Transaero also service the London-Moscow route.

“We’ve proved over the years that when we enter a new market we open it up – bringing in competition and lower fares and enabling more people to travel on the route and we are sure that the new flights will be very popular with leisure and business passengers alike,” Simmons noted.

That prediction seems to be coming true:  As of mid-day March 17, a flight search on cheap flights finder shows return fares for flights departing London to Moscow on March 18 starting at £288.49 on Transaero, with easyJet coming in slightly above at £301.76.  Aeroflot shows a close third at £334.89, with British Airways pricing looming high above at £486.89.

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