Get flight info and airport reviews with RouteHappy

flight infoWhen it comes to booking hotels, travelers have plenty of options for finding information, recommendations, and tips with TripAdvisor, booking engine reviews, and other user-generated sites, in addition to guidebooks and other traditional media. But as air travel gets more restrictive and less comfortable, how can you choose the easiest flights, or at least be prepared for the inconveniences? RouteHappy is a new user-generated social network for flight info, reviews and tips for airlines, airports, and routes. The site is populated with comprehensive global flight schedules, Wi-Fi availability by route, and on-time history. Users can enter their tips and experiences from getting to the airport, check-in, airport amenities, and boarding to in-flight comfort, arrival immigration and transportation options.

From searching on RouteHappy, I decided it was worth the extra money for JetBlue’s Even More amenity program for a shorter security line (plus more legroom and other perks), and discovered a much easier connection from Frankfurt to Austin through Denver instead of the much busier (and often delayed) Chicago. I’ve also left tips on the site for navigating airports in Istanbul, London, and Budapest with a baby. You can follow “Route Experts” for hidden gems and “flyer bewares” on frequently-flown routes, and learn about which airport shops are worth a stop, which airlines make your coach experience feel like an upgrade, or where you should be prepared for long immigration lines.
flight infoRouteHappy gets better with every review added, so be sure to add your advice while searching for info. You can also link to your TripIt/LinkedIn account to automatically remind you to review flights and pre-populate flight info. Currently in invite-only “alpha” mode, the site has over 1,000 members in 45 countries and counting with more than 7,500 comments and tips.

Gadling readers can try out the site before it goes into public beta mode soon by using the code GadlingFliesBetter. The RouteHappy team is incredibly responsive to users and active on social media, so be sure to follow along as they share their best tips on Facebook, tweet travel news on Twitter, or just send them a message at tellus@routehappy.com.

Airline law ends long Tarmac delays, fine threat improves performance

The world didn’t end. No logistical disasters emerged. In fact, everything got a hell of a lot better.

Several months ago, the prospect of a maximum three-hour tarmac delay had the airline industry proclaiming the arrival of the four horsemen. They claimed that it would severely disrupt the industry to have to give passengers the option of getting off the plane would lead to chaos. People would be furious by a lone passenger wanting to bring the plane back to the gate, and crews would be forced to operate within the constraints of customer demands (you know … like other businesses).

Well, the airline industry doesn’t appear to be any worse off than it was. In fact, it looks like the new three-hour rule is having a positive effect. Three-hour tarmac delays have effectively disappeared, and on-time arrivals have improved overall. Everything seems to be running better than it was before the airlines faced fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.

How big a different did it make?Well, only four planes sat on the tarmac for more than three hours in April. In March, 25 hit that mark, and April 2009 had an astounding 81 planes on the tarmac for that long.

So, you’re probably wondering if the airlines stacked the deck, canceling flights to protect their stats and mitigate the risk of having to yank planes back to the gate or shell out big bucks fines. Year over year, the DOT reports that cancelations fell approximately 50 percent, with only 3,637 of 529,330 flights getting chopped.

Overall, on-time performance for the 18 airlines that report to the U.S. Department of Transportation climbed to 85.3 percent in April – up from 79.1 percent in April 2009 (and better than March’s 80 percent. Most of the late arrivals were caused by aviation system delays (e.g., bad weather or heavy traffic).

Efficient use of New York airspace and generally calm weather contributed to the improvement. LaGuardia‘s on-time rate surged to 87.4 percent from 67.4 percent. JFK showed a similar improvement – from 67.3 percent to 83.5 percent.

U.S. Airways led the pack in on-time performance among major airlines and followed Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines in the total market. American Airlines was the bottom of the barrel for the large carriers, with its sister carrier, American Eagle, sucking most among all airlines.

Let’s do the math on this. Holding airlines accountable and offering up the threat of hefty fines for mistreating passengers didn’t jeopardize their ability to operate. If anything, it led to improved results. For once, it seems, the government got it right. If that sounds weird, think of an airline that takes off and lands on time. Weird, right?

Virgin America: Financials prove service makes a difference

We’ve all gotten used to bailing out airlines that can’t figure out how to take care of their paying customers, operate profitably or otherwise get their respective acts together. And, there really isn’t much hope of this situation changing. To be an airline, in general, is to be dysfunctional … until you look at the new entrant, Virgin America. The privately held carrier announced on Friday that its revenue surged 38.3 percent from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009.

The airline has amassed a collection of awards to back up its commitment to customer service, including “Best Domestic Airline” in Travel + Leisure‘s 2009 World’s Best Awards and “Best Business/First Class” among domestic airlines in Condé Nast Traveler‘s 2009 Business Travel Poll. And, the fact that the 1,500-person company is adding jobs in this market — beating both the recession and its worsened form in the travel business — suggests that it is possible for an airline to not just survive but actually succeed.

David Cush, Virgin America’s President and CEO, says, “Despite an uncertain economic climate since our 2007 launch, we’re pleased to report steady and strong financial performance and our first quarterly operating profit.” He adds, “At a time when flyers are more discerning than ever, it is clear that our low fares, award-winning guest service and innovative amenities continue to convert a growing network of loyal travelers. We look forward to bringing our unique value proposition to more travelers as we grow in 2010 and beyond. ”

%Gallery-78557%

But, enough of the soft stuff — let’s turn to the numbers. That’s where you’ll find the truth in these matters. Cost containment and operational efficiency helped Virgin America post a record load factor of 86.6 percent, an increase of 5.2 percentage points year-over-year. Costs per available seat mile were pushed down 33.9 percent (24.4 percent ex-fuel), and operating income swung from a $54 million loss in the third quarter of 2008 to a $5.1 million gain this year. Along the way, Virgin America realized a mishandled baggage rate of 1.18 per thousand — three times better than the industry average. And, it attained an on-time rate of 87.2 percent.

Sorry to go “quant” and dwell on the numbers a bit, but they speak to a common theme here at Gadling: whether the airlines are doomed to fail … and be propped up by the government taxpayers and fail again … and so on. Virgin America’s proved that an airline can amass 1.1 million loyalty program members and fly 5.8 million passengers in just over two years and still find a way to get into the black. There is probably market share gain in this airline’s future, but it is making a big mistake: by not screwing up, it’s taking a pass on all the free money the feds are more than willing to give to an industry that refuses to help itself.

Airline on-time performance improves, more than 1 out of 5 late

Continued route and seat cutbacks have led to yet another month of improved airline performance this year. For July, the 19 largest airlines in the United States reported an on-time arrival rate of 77.6 percent. This is higher than July 2008’s 75.7 percent and June 2009’s 76.1 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation‘s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But, it still means that more than 20 percent of flights did not arrive on time. That’s more than one out of five.

The decline in traffic has led to improved performance. In July this year, only 580,000 flights were scheduled – down 8 percent from last year’s 628,000. Close to 40 percent of delays were caused by weather.

You have the best odds of an on-time arrival with Alaska Airlines, which turned in an on-time rate of 87.2 percent. AirTran was at the bottom, with 69.7 percent.

Almost 7,000 flights were canceled in July (1.2 percent of the total), with 164 flights stuck on the tarmac for three hours or more (29 for four hours or more). Thirty-four US Airways flights spent more than three hours on the tarmac, making it the leading transgressor, followed by Delta with 26 and JetBlue with 24.

March a good month for on-time arrivals

We all love to hate the airlines, and on-time arrivals are among our largest gripes. There’s nothing worse (well, within reason) than seeing the toe-tapping that comes with the disgruntled looks of people waiting to pick you up … it’s not like they had to spend endless hours on the runway or circling LaGuardia. Well, in March, they weren’t as bad.

The 19 largest airlines in the country reported an improved rate of on-time flights compared to March 2008, according to some data from the Feds. Well, the bar wasn’t set very high. On-time results for March 2008 were 71.6 percent, according to the Department of Transportation‘s Bureau of Transportation Statistics and reached 78.4 percent this year. Before you get too excited, it’s down from 82.6 percent in February.

So, what does all this mean? Airlines were late almost a quarter of the time, and that includes the padding applied to routes. Aviation analyst Michael Boyd says that a flight from Binghamton, NY to New York City is scheduled for an hour and 15 minutes – not the 45 minutes it takes.

Aviation system delays were responsible for 7.3 percent of delays, with late arrivals from other planes kicking in another 6.5 percent. Factors within airlines’ control were responsible for almost 5 percent delays.

Extreme weather? A mere 0.62 percent.