Low-Cost Carrier JetBlue Is Going Luxury With Sleeper-Seat Cabins

John Murphy, Flickr

Remember back when JetBlue launched and everyone got excited about a low-cost carrier which would still provide a personal television screen for all of its passengers? Well, those days are officially over. Next year, JetBlue will be introducing premium seats on some of its planes, a major shift for an airline that has branded itself as a low-cost carrier.

But while running a low-cost carrier is good for marketing — travelers do love a good deal after all — JetBlue’s most recent move proves that when you’re running a big airline company, you can’t miss out on a profitable part of the market: people willing to pay extra for first class amenities. JetBlue’s new seating arrangement will attempt to do just that, offering premium paying passengers the opportunity to travel in lie-flat seats, which not only recline into 6’8″ beds, but also have a massage feature.

The premium seating is expected to debut in the spring of 2014, on its two most popular nonstop U.S. routes: New York to Los Angeles and New York to San Francisco. Not only will the premium seat allow passengers to lie down on their transcontinental flight, but they will also get a bigger television screen, coming it at a whopping 15″. Passengers lucky enough to be in rows 2 and 4 will also get their own private suite.

What will that do to prices? That remains to be seen, but in the mean time, maybe you should start saving for a good night’s sleep for next spring.

France Launches New Low Cost, High-Speed Train Service



Low cost
isn’t just for the skies anymore. This week, French rail service SNCF launched its new low cost service Ouigo, a no-frills option for the traveler that wants a more moderately priced ticket but wants to take advantage of the high-speed service that France is known for. The new train service will link Paris and Lyon to Marseille and Montpellier on the southern coast of France.

Service will commence April 2, 2013, but in an attempt to woo travelers, SNCF is offering up tickets for as low as 10 euros. Eventually tickets prices will go up to 85 euros. Regular TGV tickets can often be booked for much less if you happen to score a good promotion, but French travelers will tell you that often that means booking far in advance. Have a low cost option for last minute travel is always a good thing.

As is common with low cost airlines, room for baggage aboard the new Ouigo trains is limited, so if you’re planning on taking advantage, pack light, because after your first bag, your luggage will cost you.

Sound too good to be true? As with any low cost carrier, there are some catches:

  • You will have to catch the train in Marne-la-Vallée, where Euro Disney is located, just east of Paris.
  • You can only book on the Internet.
  • There is no bar. But don’t worry; you’re in France. You’re sure to find a bottle of red wine and a corkscrew at a local market.

[Photo Credit: Train Chartering and Private Rail Cars]

Airlines have best quarter ever … thanks baggage fees!

Airlines have best quarter thanks to baggage feesEvery time you pay to check an extra bag you’re making someone’s life better. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation reveals that the third quarter of 2010 was the most profitable for the U.S. airline industry since the department began keeping score in 2002. The industry’s operating profit margin hit 10.5 percent in aggregate. Low-cost carriers, as a class, had an operating profit margin of 11 percent, its best performance since hitting 11.2 percent in the third quarter of 2006.

How did the airline industry pull this off? Recovering economic conditions helped, of course, but so did the stuff that passengers have gotten comfortable complaining about. More than $900 million in third-quarter revenue came from baggage fees, with another $590 million from reservation change fees. Then, there was another $646 million in ancillary fees. It all adds up to more than $2 billion for a single quarter.

So, while we’re all complaining about these extra fees, it looks like many of us are paying them, too.Spirit picks up the highest percentage of its revenue from ancillary fees at 26.9 percent, up from 24.2 percent in the second quarter of 2010 and 20.6 percent in the third quarter of 2009. Allegiant was next at 9.7 percent. Delta and US Airways derived 7.7 percent of their revenues from ancillary fees, with Southwest at 6.7 percent.

Of course, the money isn’t just going into the pockets of airline employees and executives. The six network airlines spent 25 percent of their operating expenses in the third quarter on fuel. United Airlines spent the most on fuel among network carriers – 25.7 percent of total revenue – with Allegiant leading low-cost carriers at 44.1 percent.

Before you feel too sorry for airlines when it comes to fuel costs, remember those profits. Four network airlines had double-digit operating margins, along with four low-cost carriers.

[photo by Tracy O via Flickr]

Inside Virgin America’s mid-continent arrival

Virgin America DFW

I don’t think I actually understood the implications of Virgin America’s launch into “fortress-hub” Dallas/Fort Worth until we touched down on the tarmac.

As we taxied to our gate, I could see nothing but a endless row of silver fuselages; all adorned with the iconic blue & red “AA” logo. It felt almost as if we were silently making our way through the front gates of a modern-day Troy.

The only difference, of course, was that this Trojan horse was bright red, equipped with mood lighting, and ready to be received by a cheering crowd of residents, city officials, and the rebel billionaire himself, Sir Richard Branson. To top it off, the tarmac was host to a pen of live bulls, tent with cocktail service, and full fledged Texan barbecue – the type of spectacle I’ve come to know, love, and anticipate when Virgin wants to catch people’s attention.

And it certainly seems as if American has already taken notice. In the weeks leading up to the launch, the legacy carrier lowered fares by 20% and offered double frequent flyer miles aboard Dallas-San Francisco and Dallas-Los Angeles routes.

DFW Public Affairs Manager, David Magaña, also mentioned that American hasn’t been able to stop talking about Virgin’s arrival preceding the event, as it signifies the first of several low-cost carriers that will be entering the Dallas market in 2011. While this loosens American’s 85% share of flights from the hub, it spurs competition and ultimately lower fares for passengers.Virgin America’s first mid-continent destination comes at a good moment in the airline’s young story. They posted their first quarterly net profit (as opposed to operating profit) in Q3 of 2010 and were rated top domestic airline for the third year running in the 2010 Zagat Global Airline Survey. At this year’s Farnborough Air Show, they announced plans to more than double their fleet with a purchase of 40 new Airbus A320’s. Now, with their entrance into Dallas consummated, they’ve shown that they’re ready to make their presence tangible and (thankfully) shake thing up a bit.


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However, to make a significant impact, they’ll have to add more flights. At the moment, Virgin America will offer two daily nonstop flights between DFW and Los Angeles, and two to San Francisco. Although it plans to add a third on each route, it would require significantly more options to directly compete with the hundreds of flights per day that American and American Eagle offer.

“It signifies a second stage for the company. We knew eventually that we’d be going into the middle of the country but now seemed the right time since we’ve blanketed most of the coasts. So this is the second stage of our network development.” Virgin America CEO David Cush said in an interview on the flight.

He also emphasized the company’s dedication with hiring “creative, smart, risk-tolerant people who are willing to go out and push the envelope.” as they grow, and that they’re “not sitting back”, but pursuing the development of a “new in-flight experience” that could be ready as soon as 2012.

The night proceeded to unfold in Dallas’s emerging and surprisingly modern downtown arts district with an intimate performance by activist & music icon, Willie Nelson. Following Nelson’s recent arrest for possession of marijuana, Branson donned a shirt that read “Free Willie” and cheekily quipped that the 77-year old musician looked good after “losing six ounces”.

Virgin America DFW

In partnership with nonprofit foundation Stand Up To Cancer, Virgin transformed the Winspear Opera House into a glowing red hub of its own; filled with Dallas’s elite and hundreds of donors that had gathered friends for Stand Up To Cancer’s cause.

It was an impressive occasion that only an airline leveraging Branson’s magic could pull together, and one that sent a clear signal to the rest of Dallas. Virgin America has entered the mid-continent rodeo, and is ready to take the legacy bulls by their horns.

For more information, check out Virgin America’s introductory fares and schedules right here.

If easyJet goes under, you’re not screwed

If easyJet were to go insolvent before you could take a package you’ve booked online with the company, fear not: you’re insured. Since the beginning of the month, the European low-cost carrier has arranged with credit protection company International Passenger Protection to make sure customers don’t lose out if the airline as a whole takes a nose dive.

According to Paul Phillips, group treasurer of easyJet:

“We pride ourselves at being one of the leading and most innovative airlines in the UK and, despite our strong financial standing, we recognise that we have important legal obligations to adhere to under the UK Package Travel Regulations. We acknowledge our continued duty to give passengers financial peace of mind when buying travel packages online from us.”

Paul Mclean, director at IPP, said:

“The travel industry and travelling public have suffered a surge of financial collapses in the last two years and headlines of passengers losing their holidays are becoming commonplace. We are delighted to be working with easyjet to ensure its continued compliance with the relevant consumer protection legislation in place.”

So, if nothing else, you have one less worry when booking our next trip!

[photo by WexDub via Flickr]