Americans leave an average of 11 vacation days on the table each year

jetblueWe’ve spent the past two weekends trying to plan a last-minute pre-holiday getaway and keep coming to the same conclusion … it’s just too busy at the office to take time off right now. Turns out, we’re not alone – a recent Harris Interactive study conducted on behalf of JetBlue Airways found that 57% of working Americans will have unused vacation time at the end of the year, and most of them will leave an average of 11 days on the table – or nearly 70% of their allotted time off.

The survey also showed that while more than 60% of those with vacation days believe they deserve to take their time off, 39% report having reservations about asking their boss for a vacation.

It’s difficult, as numerous studies show that employees who don’t use vacation time have lower levels of productivity and satisfaction with their job, as well as higher rates of health problems.

To assist, JetBlue launched a “Getaways Granter,” a new custom Facebook application that serenades bosses with a custom video request for vacation approval.

“We were surprised to learn that almost a third of American workers feel guilty, nervous or stressed when asking for a day off of work,” said Grant McCarthy, director of JetBlue Getaways. “Whether outdoor wrangling, island hopping, or romantic retreating, JetBlue Getaways wants to help people make the most out of their unused vacation days. We believe people deserve their vacations, so much so that we will go out and ask their boss for them.”

With the new Getaways Granter, JetBlue will take the edge off of requesting vacation days by allowing fans to plug in their desired number of days off before choosing from four destination themes to suit their getaway needs. They can even upload a photo of their supervisor to be featured in the video, crooning bosses everywhere into letting employees take their much-needed getaway.

Hmm. We’re pretty sure that our boss would prefer a politely-worded email. The program, while creative and an interesting way to use social media to get the world out about Jet Blue, seems like a gimmicky promotion that won’t go over well in the workplace. Still, we hope you remember to take advantage of your vacation time.

FAA stops collecting airfare taxes — and the airlines cash in

Recent budget woes in the legislative branch of our US government have been creating a cascade of disruptions, and the most recent hiccup involves the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Without proper agreement on a fiscal plan moving forward, the government has been forced to shut down a portion of the agency, most notably the section that collects taxes on our domestic airplane tickets.

Those taxes account for a modest percentage of each flight, roughly between 5 and 10%, and when travelers caught wind that the taxes would be discounted, they saw the silver lining of the shutdown as being a temporary sale on domestic tickets.

As planned, the FAA shutdown took place at midnight this morning, but the savings have barely matured. What happened?

Turns out, some of the airlines also realized the gap in price difference and decided to make that up by increasing their fares. So rather than passing the tax savings along to customers, they’re greedily taking the margin for themselves.

Not all airlines have reached into our wallets, however, apparently Virgin America has not only refused to increase fares but they’ve turned the event into a bit of public promotion. Last night the airline had a countdown to tax-free bookings on their sites and as promised, the fares have stayed low. Similarly, United appears to be keeping its fares in place.

On the flip side of the coin? US Airways, American and JetBlue seem to be the leaders in ripping off their consumers. AP has a bit more info if you want to become even more disappointed.

[Flickr image via Fly for Fun]

Airline industry best and worst of April 2011

airline industryThe most recent U.S. Department of Transportation data is out, and it’s time for the airlines to brace themselves. The good, the bad and the ugly can be discerned from the data, and numbers are notoriously poor at showing excuses (I mean, “underlying reasons”).

So, let’s start with what looks good. Hawaiian Airlines is most likely to get you to your destination on time, leading U.S. carriers with a 94.1 percent arrival rate. It’s followed by Alaska Airlines at 89.5 percent and AirTran Airways at 82 percent.

At the bottom of the barrel, for on-time arrivals, are ExpressJet Airlines (68 percent), JetBlue (68.4 percent) and Atlantic Southeast Airlines (68.5 percent). Think about it, a third of the time, these airlines won’t arrive on time.

Overall, the airline industry posted an average on-time arrival rate of 75.5 percent. This means that a quarter of the time, they miss the mark. It’s almost as easy as being a weather man!The dubious distinction of having the longest tarmac delay was United Airlines flight 19 from JFK to San Francisco. On April 24, 2011, it sat on the tarmac for a whopping 202 minutes. It was tied by Delta flight 1076 from Atlanta to Salt Lake City only three days later. On the same day that flight 1076′s passengers grew restless, Delta flight 1714 (Atlanta to Ontario, CA), sat on the tarmac for 200 minutes. Twins!

Delta owned three of the four longest tarmac delays of the month – and only four flights had delays of longer than three hours. The remaining flight was Delta flight 823 from Atlanta to Ft Lauderdale, also on April 27. It sat on the tarmac for 185 minutes.

According to Google Maps, it takes 10 hours to drive from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale. Just sayin’.

If you flew American Eagle, your flight was most likely to get canceled: it posted a cancelation rate of 5.1 percent. Following were ExpressJet (3.8 percent) and Atlantic Southeast (3.7 percent). You were better off flying Hawaiian Airlines, which posted a tiny cancelation rate of 0.1 percent. Frontier (0.2 percent) and Continental (0.5 percent) also posted solid stats on this metric.

[photo by Brett L. via Flickr]

Alaska’s ports of entry undergo major facelifts

Visitors returning to Alaska will notice some major changes at several airports across the state. Terminals in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks have undergone some dramatic changes recently that should make traveling through the major ports of entry go more smoothly.

The Juneau International Airport in the state capital has a newly renovated terminal with higher ceilings, more windows, better lights, a larger baggage terminal and more exit options. A light refracting awning was also installed to improve energy efficiency, and other weatherproofing measures such as new siding and the installation of heating coils in pedestrian walkways are now finished. The booth for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau was also relocated to be more accessible to travelers.

In Anchorage, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport finished up the final touches on more than a decade of work last month. Recent renovations include adding more space for dining options (including local restaurants) and some other aesthetic touches. The airport also just welcomed service between Long Beach and Anchorage on JetBlue, the first new domestic passenger carrier to Anchorage in six years.

The Fairbanks International Airport (pictured above) also recently opened a brand new terminal. Improvements include new boarding gates, higher ceilings, more windows, a larger baggage terminal and curbside improvements. The old terminal was demolished to make way for the new one, which follows modern security standards and has six jet-bridges (up from the former five).

If you could nominate any airport in the U.S. for an upgrade, which one would it be? My personal choice would be Newark Liberty International Aiport, but I’m sure there are some airports in need of attention that I haven’t touched down at yet.

[Photo courtesy the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau]

2011 Airline Quality Ratings – AirTran at number one

airline qualityThe 2011 Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) were just released, and AirTran topped the list at number one. The Atlanta based air line got top marks in the study that accounts for on time arrivals, mishandled baggage, complaints, and other metrics. The study only includes airlines in the United States and provides interesting statistics about the overall quality of domestic air travel.

The main form of complaint involved flight problems, followed by baggage. While overall complaints went up about 30% from 2009 to 2010, overall quality rating also went up marginally. This could be due to the communication channel widening to include new forms of customer feedback. AirTran handled baggage the best with only 1.63 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. American Eagle was at the other end of the spectrum with 7.15 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. Of all the airlines listed, Hawaiian Airlines topped the list in on time arrival. Over 92% of their flights landed on time. The full report can be viewed here.

AQR Rankings – Domestic Airlines
16. American Eagle
15. Atlantic Southeast
14. Comair
13. Mesa Air
12. United
11. American Airlines
10. Skywest9. Frontier
8. Continental
7. Delta
6. U.S. Airways
5. Southwest
4. Alaska
3. Jet Blue
2. Hawaiian
1. AirTran

flickr image via Bob B. Brown