Updated SeatGuru Brings New Features, Recommendations

SeatGuru has been providing unbiased seat information to air travelers, removing some of the mystery when selecting an airline seat, for over ten years. Tapping a rich library of flier reviews and tips, SeatGuru has hundreds of airline seat maps covering nearly 100 airlines, enabling travelers to find the best seats before they fly. Now, SeatGuru has a new look, better layout and more content in addition to a new Guru Factor rating system.

The new easier-to-use site builds on that content and was designed with features to elevate the user experience including live flight shopping via TripAdvisor’s flight comparison engine, user provided photos.

Unique to SeatGuru, the new “Guru Factor” promises detailed seat comfort and onboard amenity information along with an overall recommendation of either “Love it,” “Like it,” or “Live with it” for your selected flight itinerary.

The Guru Factor considers the type of seat, seat pitch, width and recline, in-flight entertainment options, onboard amenities and TripAdvisor customer satisfaction ratings for airlines.”The new SeatGuru will give millions of flyers even more useful insight to help them plan and have the best flight experience possible,” said Bryan Saltzburg, general manager of TripAdvisor Flights and SeatGuru. “Access to our comprehensive seat and airline amenity information, new flight shopping functionality, purchase options, and trustworthy advice from fellow travelers will be infinitely valuable for those planning their next flight.”

SeatGuru’s re-launched site is up right now. Coming up, SeatGuru’s iPhone app will have the new seat map design, improved navigation and travelers can create a profile then submit comments and photos of their seat in real time.

[Photo credit- Flickr user ATIS547]

Aircraft Boarding Challenges Bring Innovative Designs

Boarding commercial aircraft, from a traveler’s point of view, is all about getting to our seats, stowing gear and getting underway. We hope to have overhead bin space available, a reasonably comfortable seat and an on-time departure. Airlines are right there with us on the getting to our seats part and getting underway; they could not agree more. It’s a major issue so aircraft designers devote a lot of time and resources to making the whole process efficient.

Airlines want the boarding process to go as fast as it can for a couple big reasons. They want to stay on time, sure. But the less time they spend boarding passengers, the more flights they can fit in a day. As airlines cut back on the number of flights, choosing to insure full, profitable planes, they are constantly looking for ways to increase that efficiency.

One way might be slider seats that promise quicker boarding.Using the new Molon Labe Designs approach during boarding, the aisle seat slides on top of the middle seat, creating a 43-inch wide aisle. That gives boarding passengers much more room to navigate, stow gear and be seated. When boarding on each row is completed, the aisle seat then slides back into position.

The manufacturer promises they can cut loading time in half, adding up to 120 minutes flying time every day. Good news for airlines that could fly the same number of passengers with up to 15 percent fewer aircraft. But what about passengers?

“I’m not going to tell you it’s a comfortable seat,” Hank Scott, founder of the company said in a LA Times article. “It’s a quick, turn-around seat.” A prototype is due in November and the company has presented the idea to Boeing and Airbus.

Like it or not, aircraft seating is a huge topic to designers. The amount of time it takes to board passengers is on the table for discussion. To those with mobility issues, its also about the indignity and discrimination they face boarding aircraft.

Air Access is a concept designed by Priestmangoode that speeds up the boarding process for passengers with reduced mobility by enabling an easier transition from gate to aircraft. Air Access is a detachable wheelchair the passenger gets in at the departure gate or on the jet way. After seating, the passenger is wheeled onto the plane where the chair slides sideways and locks into the fixed-frame aisle seat without the passenger needing to get up.

On arrival, ground staff unlocks the seat, slide it out into the aisle and wheel the passenger to the jet way or arrival gate as we see in this video:

[Flickr photo by Slices of Life]

Airline Fees: You Get What You Pay For Or Weapons In Travel Class Warfare?

Last month, the media was abuzz over increased airline fees for pre-assigned seating, with many concerned that it would especially affect families who want to sit together for no additional cost. Even New York Senator Chuck Schumer got involved, asking airlines to waive fees for families traveling with children. Rather than look for victims or call airlines “anti-family,” however, look at the bigger picture. Airline seat fees are nothing new, but they are increasingly being used as another weapon in the arsenal against the airlines’ least desirable customer: the infrequent flier. If travelers will choose airfares based on a difference of nickels and dimes, does this force the airlines to nickel and dime the traveler?

The real divide in travel now isn’t between business and leisure travelers, families and singles, or even first class and coach; it’s between frequent fliers with airline loyalty, and price-conscious consumers who won’t hesitate to switch carriers for a cheaper fare. Savvy travelers who fly more than a few times per year understand that it pays to be loyal to one airline. In addition to earning miles for future trips, frequent fliers can jump to the top of upgrade lists, skip long check-in and security lines, and even waive many of the fees not included in the base fare. Travelers who fly only a year or less are more likely to book the cheapest ticket they find, even if the difference between carriers is just a few dollars, assuming the service will be similar (or worse, the same as they remember the last time they flew). What’s the incentive for airlines to give such passengers anything for free if they might never fly them again? “The customers that are more loyal, who fly more often, we want to make sure they have the best travel experience,” said American Airlines to Associated Press.

People are quick to call airlines greedy, and while they are looking to make money, running an airline is hardly a lucrative business these days. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a nifty graphic breaking down the cost of an average flight, showing that on a 100-person flight, the airline is making a profit off only a single seat. Between the rising costs of fuel, staff, security, insurance, and maintenance, most airlines are struggling to avoid bankruptcy or just stay in business. While you shouldn’t feel sorry for the airlines, understand that the alternative to fees is increased base fares, where you may be stuck paying for amenities you don’t need or want.As I’ve lived abroad for two years, I’ve become loyal to Turkish Airlines. They not only have the most flights from my current home airport in Istanbul, but I know I’ll always get a meal even on short flights, never have to pay fees outside of excess baggage, and even be able to use a dedicated check-in desk for travelers with children at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. I’ve often paid more to fly on Turkish Airlines than other carriers on the same route to guarantee the same standards of service. This makes me a valuable customer, and the more money I spend with them, the more perks I receive.

Earlier this year, I was looking for tickets from New York to Austin for a friend’s wedding. It was slightly cheaper to fly on American Airlines (my preferred carrier when I lived in New York) than Jet Blue, but as a solo traveler with a baby, I knew I’d be checking a bag and wanting to take my stroller up to the gate. Jet Blue would offer these services for free (American wouldn’t let me gate-check the stroller, but I could check it at the counter for free), and the overall cost would be about the same, plus I’d get free snacks and entertainment. In the end, I chose Jet Blue and was even given a priority seat without charge because the flight was relatively empty. If I were still based in New York and flying frequently, it would be more worthwhile to me to fly American to build my frequent flier status and miles for places I’d like to go.

As a parent who travels frequently with my child, I understand the potential nightmare separate seating could cause, but I also understand that airlines can’t make exceptions without making some passengers unhappy. If airlines were to waive a seating charge for families, travelers would complain about special treatment. Fliers with elderly parents would ask for exemptions to sit together, people with a fear of flying would want their travel partner close with no fee, and single travelers would feel they were being forced to subsidize everyone else.

Over at Huffington Post, my colleague (and fellow baby travel expert) Corinne McDermott contacted all of the major airlines regarding pre-assigned seating fees. Only Spirit Airlines explicitly said families should pay fees to be guaranteed adjacent seats. In fact, much of the hype about families being separated might really just be that: hype. Most airlines will try to accommodate people traveling together, just reserving preferred aisle and window seats to reward frequent fliers, or sell for an additional fee. It makes sense for an airline to offer a premium like preferred seating for free to a loyal customer, and instead try to make as much money as possible for a customer they may never have again.

Instead of spending time writing angry comments online, spend that time educating yourself about the full cost of an airline ticket and decide where your priorities lie: do you want to pay the absolute lowest fare and expect nothing more than a seat, or do you want to pay for service instead surprise fees? The old axiom “you get what you pay for” is the new reality in airline travel.

Spirit Airlines to abolish reclining seats

It looks like the “recline or don’t recline” issue can finally be put to bed. Spirit Airlines, the budget carrier famous for charging for overhead bin space, racy ad campaigns and general disdain for all passenger comforts has just started rolling out aircraft bereft of reclining seats.

Citing extra space and lower weight, the airline claims that this will help passengers save money by keeping prices low. But in reality, it’s just another stunt to cram as many passengers as possible into the already crowded, fee-riddled aircraft. The Sun Sentinel has more details on the upcoming plan below.

150,000 airline seats involved in another Japanese recall

More bad news for Japanese companies today, as Yokohama based Koito Industries admitted to falsifying test results from its line of airplane seats.

According to the Japanese transportation ministry, the entire testing department at Koito was involved in the scandal, and it may have been going on since the mid 90’s.

During the investigation, officials discovered that Koito skipped entire tests, and used data from past tests instead. In addition to this, they manipulated computer screens so they would show false figures during tests observed by the government.

The false information can have potentially catastrophic results – results of fire resistance and strength were falsified on as many as 150,000 seats installed on planes from 32 airlines.

According to the Koito site, they sold seats to airlines like Continental, JAL, ANA, KLM, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic and SAS. Whether those airlines actually received seats involved in this recall is unknown.

Of course, the timing of this recall is terrible for the Japanese – as they are in the middle of their embarrassing admission of how Toyota handled their safety issues. Make no mistake – 150,000 airline seats in need of potential improvements could turn into a major problem for those airlines involved, especially if the recall means seats need to be replaced.

As of right now, there is apparently “no cause for concern” – the Japanese transportation ministry has approved the continued use of the seats after consulting the Federal Aviation Administration.

Update: Initially, this article had listed Air Canada as a current user of Koito seats (based off information from the Koito site). The airline contacted us to let us know that they removed all Koito seats in 2008. None of the seats in the Air Canada fleet are currently from the troubled Japanese company. Thanks to Air Canada for that correction.