Weather Events Send Aircraft, Cruise Ships Running

weather events

When weather events cause travel disruptions, most people planning a vacation or business trip to an affected area have to change their plans. Airports and roads close, flights are diverted and destinations may be damaged or destroyed. Suddenly, the best travel plan has gaping holes in it that need instant attention. The good news is that many travel service providers stand by to help.

Right now, a massive superstorm, caused by the rendezvous of hurricane Sandy and two other big winter storms, is aimed at locations 800 miles inland up and down the U.S. East Coast and experts are worried.

“We’re looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people,” said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an Associated Press report.

Those with travel plans on either side of the storm are scrambling to reschedule. Airlines are waiving change fees for travelers who want to change their flights in and out of the growing area to be affected by the storm. It’s not something they have to do, but as travel service providers, airlines want to minimize the inconvenience to their customers.

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines and others are allowing air travelers to rebook flights starting Sunday for travel to and from a variety of Eastern U.S. airports.

Airlines are urging booked passengers to check the status of their flight frequently. Another good idea is to have a backup plan in place. If travelers have those potentially affected flights entered in smartphone app TripIt, for example, alternate flights are readily available. Signing up for email and/or text alerts from your airline provides additional information.

Similar in formation to 1991’s perfect storm when hurricane Grace joined a nor’easter and a cold front, this one looks to be far more powerful. That 1991 storm never came ashore. This one will.

Now, travel via cruise ship suddenly has a bit more allure. Unlike land-based travel destinations, cruise ships can, do and have moved out of harms way. Those booked on a cruise vacation will have less disruption than, say, those planning a trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey where casinos are closed and mandatory evacuations are happening.

Most of the time.

This storm is so big that in addition to normal itinerary modifications, ports are closing and entire sailings of a few ships have been cancelled. Carnival Cruise Line has canceled the October 28 sailing of Carnival Glory, not because of the storm, but due to a situation at the Norfolk Cruise Terminal. Positioned behind a major flood gate, which will will be closed to protect the city, there will be no access to the cruise terminal.

Regardless of the method of travel, this is where having a good travel agent in our back pocket comes in handy. Frankly, providing assistance to travelers in a time of emergency is probably one of the least common tasks that agents do. But in a situation like this, when surfing the Internet to make alternate plans can burn up valuable time that might have snagged a seat on the next flight out, travel agents shine.

Armed with information on all flights, hotels, cruise lines and other travel service providers at their fingertips, a good full-service travel agent can be the most efficient way to save the day.



[Photo Credit: Flickr user by ph_zainabe]

Airline fees never going away, $1.2 billion in first half

In the first six months of 2010, U.S. airlines raked in $1.2 billion – and that’s just from change and cancellation fees. The industry is on track to see $2 billion in revenue just on ticket-related fees this year.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, here’s where the money’s going:

  1. Delta had the most at $347.1 million in the first half of 2010
  2. American Airlines was a distant second at $235.3 million in ticket related change fees
  3. United Airlines pulled in $158.3 million
  4. US Airways generated $128.3 million from ticket fees
  5. Continental Airlines picked up $120 million

JetBlue didn’t hit the top five (finishing sixth), but it did lead the low-cost category in change and cancellation fees, with $55.7 million.

[photo by cliff1066 via Flickr]

Airline cancellation fees worse than baggage fees

Airlines rely on you to have minor and major personal crises. Everything from changed meeting dates to family emergencies generate around $2 billion in change and cancellation fees a year, according to the Department of Transportation. That’s pretty much twice the amount the airlines pull in from extra bag fees – a measure that’s already been lauded by the Wall Street set for its impact on the airlines’ finances. For American Airlines parent AMR, for example, change and cancellation penalties came to $116 million for the first quarter of the year, while baggage fees amounted to $108 million.

These penalties, lamented almost universally by passengers, upped airline passenger revenue by 3.2 percent in the United States. As usual, business travelers get screwed most (probably because they travel most. They paid the bulk of $527.6 million in first quarter change fees.

Even with fewer people climbing onto planes this year, increases in penalty amounts have led to a net gain in revenue for airlines from this type of fee. A number of the larger airlines upped their change fees from $100 to $150. JetBlue moved it from $40 to $100 – and saw first quarter fees surge 29 percent, from $25 million to $32.2 million, relative to the first quarter of 2008.

These change fees are actually pretty important. With the money they bring in, airlines can offer discounts elsewhere, financed by the extra income. And, they make it more attractive for passengers to buy full-fare tickets, that way they have a bit more flexibility. The more expensive tickets benefit the passenger … and of course, the airline.