Bottoms up? Airports and airlines don’t want you sober

liquor served by airlines and airportsIf you want to grab a beer at 5 AM, go to your nearest airport or board a flight. More airports are letting vendors sell liquor at dawn, or in some cases 24 hours a day. The move isn’t intended to keep you happy, of course, that’s really irrelevant to the aviation industry. Rather, the goal is to pump up revenues by getting you to dig a little deeper into your wallet while you’re traveling. Further, it reflects a bit of “marketing savvy,” USA Today reports, as airports and airlines are figuring out that they can sell just about everything, “from meals to day passes to their premium lounges.”

USA Today continues:

“What’s happening is airlines are becoming better retailers of products,” says Jay Sorensen, a consultant, who says the cocktail push by U.S. airlines began during the last year. “They’re doing things to highlight the fact that, ‘Yes, indeed, we do sell alcohol on the airplane.’ They’re trying to mimic what occurs on the ground in terms of consumer promotions.”

Of course, some corners of the airline industry aren’t happy about the prospect of bringing new revenue into businesses that often struggle to perform well. The concerns are legitimate, with “some union leaders, local officials and frequent fliers fear[ing] that the increased access to alcohol raises the risk of more drunken travelers, particularly at a time when many passengers find a travel experience that involves enhanced screening and crowded planes more stressful than ever,” USA Today reports.The decision to serve liquor around the clock is expected to have tangible results, however, with an extra $500,000 to $1 million in revenues for O’Hare alone, up from the current level of approximately $20 million a year.

There’s good money in liquor, and if you drink enough, maybe the airlines and airports will be able to invest in a little customer service training …

Pregnant passenger badgered into body scanner

At Chicago‘s O’Hare International Airport, a pregnant passenger saw that she’d have to go through the full body scanner and instead asked for a TSA pat-down. Her request fell on deaf ears, she told The Consumerist, and was pushed into the decision to get scanned. According to the logic applied by the TSA folks, the passenger says, “Oh it is less than an ultrasound, and it’s really easy so just go through.”

She continues, on The Consumerist:

They repeated again for me to just go through the scanner and it would be done in 5 seconds. I was literally in tears because I wanted a pat-down instead of going through the machine, and I felt they declined me that option. No matter how much I pushed for a hand pat-down, they pushed harder for the machine.

Since the TSA is obligated to offer an alternative to the body scan, the pregnant passenger‘s request was legitimate. There’s no word on where the TSA staffers came up with the medical advice, but I’m not sure I’d take their word for it.

[photo by mahalie via Flickr]

Chicago (once again) considering premium rail link to O’Hare

If you have ever flown into Chicago’s O’Hare airport, you’ll know that the train ride between the airport and downtown is not a great experience. Sure, it’ll get you where you need to be, but when compared to other major international airports, it could really do with an upgrade.

So, once again, Mayor Daley has dusted off the plans to launch a premium rail link connecting Downtown with the airport. The O’Hare Express may or may not run over existing tracks, which already brings out a major problem – an express train will never be an express train if it has to constantly wait for existing commuter trains.

Other options include creating bypass tracks, but with a proposed $15 or $20 fee for the premium link, the ride duration would really have to come down considerably when compared to the current 45 minute trip. In the previous proposal to create a fast rail link, only 10 or 15 minutes could be shaved off the ride, which would obviously be a very hard sell.

My thoughts? It doesn’t make sense to do this unless they are willing to do it right. The link needs dedicated tracks, new modern rolling stock and modern stations. When you compare the Blue Line with the rapid rail services in Hong Kong or even London, it isn’t hard to see that we have a lot of catching up to do.

[Photo from Flickr/Senor Codo]

Chicago solution to budget problems: get passengers liquored up at O’Hare

Chicago’s Mayor Daley has come up with a creative way to deal with his constant budget issues – introduce alcohol carts at Chicago O’Hare. The plan would allow current liquor license holders to sell booze at spots where there are no nearby restaurants or bars.

Thankfully, the idea isn’t as controversial as plans to sell booze at the baggage claim area, like McCarran in Las Vegas, but in a day and age where planes are quite regularly diverted because of drunk passengers, I’m not sure providing easier access to booze is such a good idea.

Worse yet, chances are that none of the cash generated for the city would go back to the airport – an airport that really needs all the help it can get. Anyone that has passed through O’Hare knows that it isn’t exactly a very welcoming airport. In the Daley plan, you’ll soon have an easier time finding someone selling cocktails than finding a quiet place to sit and relax.

The idea is still in its early stages, but chances are that restaurant operators will soon have even more places at O’Hare selling alcohol to needy passengers.

[Image from Flickr: pfala]

Travel Trends: The effect of Southwest Airlines’ cheap fares on competitor fares

The last time you wanted to book a trip somewhere in the U.S., what airline did you think of first? If you’re like thousands of U.S. air passengers, you checked to see if Southwest Airlines flew in and out of the city you wanted to visit. Since its inception almost forty years ago in 1971, Southwest has been providing passengers all over the country with low-cost travel options.

Southwest uses several strategies to lower its costs so they can, in turn, can offer cheap fares. Among them:

  1. They mostly fly in and out of secondary markets, which are less costly.
  2. They only use one type of plane, the Boeing 737, which keeps maintenance costs down.
  3. They only fly domestically.
  4. Southwest Airlines is a “low frills” airline, dispensing with extras like meals or in-flight movies.

The formula seems to be working. The average Southwest Airlines ticket can often be a fraction of the price of a ticket on another major airline. Further, many passengers will drive out of their way to a secondary market in order to be able to take a Southwest flight. As a result of this success, other airlines have been pressured to lower their prices in order to compete. The average ticket price in markets with Southwest in them has gone down in the last ten years, while many markets without Southwest have gone up.

Because of Southwest’s policy of serving secondary markets, however, it’s difficult to do a simple analysis of the data to see in which markets the price has gone down, and in which markets it has gone up. Take, for example, Chicago Midway Airport, into which Southwest flies. Southwest does not fly into Chicago O’Hare, but prices there are still likely to be affected, since airlines at O’Hare want to compete for passengers who might otherwise go to Midway and use Southwest.

For a simple analysis, we looked at four cities in which Southwest had started service in the last ten years, and then compared ticket prices ten years later.

Buffalo started Southwest service in 2000. By 2009, Buffalo’s average fare had plunged by 19%. Southwest entered the market in both Dulles and Denver in 2006. From 2006 to 2009, the average ticket price at Dulles went down 1%; in Denver, the average ticket price dropped 13%. In 2007, service to San Francisco started; between 2007 and 2009, the average airfare went down 21%. None of these data account for inflation either.

By contrast, we also looked at the airfares from 2000-2009 in markets that did not have Southwest. Although the gains were modest by some means, in a world where most airfares have gone down in the last ten years, they were still significant. Not only does Savannah, Georgia, not have Southwest, but Southwest does not operate anywhere in the entire state of Georgia. Therefore, it was no surprise to see a 6% increase in fares over the last ten years. Alabama and Tennessee are both under served by Southwest, as well, which is reflected by Memphis increasing by 3% and Huntsville increasing by 9%. Finally, Reagan (Washington DC), which competes with Dulles, went up by 2%.

All in all, it’s cheaper overall to fly now than it was in 2000; but for the markets served by Southwest, it is cheaper still. The advent of Southwest and other low-cost airlines such as Air Tran have lowered costs all over the nation. Many people have reported that flying Southwest is a more pleasant experience in other ways as well; the facts bear this out. Southwest has the lowest customer complaints in the industry (as of 2009).

So what are you waiting for? Grab your sun tan lotion and your swimsuit — your next vacation in the California sun just got a lot cheaper.

Data Sources:

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