Now that the federally-mandated three-hour tarmac delay rule is in place, and hasn't brought down the airline industry, maybe Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood needs to have his Department of Transportation address a far more common aviation crisis: the growing number of people who are too fat to fit into tiny airplane seats and the discomfort they cause their seat mates.
Without a doubt, Marsha St. Clair, a Los Angeles-based retiree, would agree. St. Clair flew recently with her husband and sat next to a woman who was so obese that she "spilled over" into a third of St. Clair's middle seat on a Boeing 757, forcing her to remain in full body contact for the duration of the five-hour flight. "I paid for an entire seat, but only got less than two thirds of it," she says. "Please tell me that there is an FAA regulation regarding this situation."
Well, Marsha, there isn't. But there should be.
Although some airlines have rules addressing such situations, including Southwest, which requires "passengers of size" to purchase a second seat, there's no standardized regulation.
But with figures from the National Center for Health Statistics stating that more than one-third of adults are obese, and that another third are merely "overweight," something needs to be done.
Now I realize that some people will say that obesity is a genetic condition or a handicap, and it may well be, although the fact that the ranks of the obese in the U.S. grow year after year suggests that it's not (DNA doesn't mutate quite that quickly).
But let's for the sake of argument say that obesity is a handicap, something beyond the individual's control.
In that case, it should be treated just like any other physical challenge. What can be done? Well, one solution would be for the D.O.T. and other nations' transportation authorities to mandate that all airlines install extra wide "obesity" seats in their economy class sections. Each plane could have, say, one or two rows with two by two seating instead of the usual three by three configuration. Obese passengers could be pre-assigned these seats, either for the usual economy fare, or perhaps by paying a small premium. These seats wouldn't enjoy any other special services or extra legroom, just extra width.
If no obese passengers are flying on a particular flight, normally sized passengers could upgrade at the last minute to these more comfortable seats, by paying a premium, or get them by luck of the draw if there are no takers. Airlines such as jetBlue already charge more for extra leg room, but I'll bet what a lot of passengers really want is more room for their posteriors.
Barring that solution, or in addition to it, the D.O.T. should require all airlines to publish clear policies stating how they will protect squished and uncomfortable passengers such as St. Clair, who find themselves getting less than what they paid for. It's only fair.
Travelers, how do you think airlines and regulators should account for obese passengers? Leave your comment below, and please keep it civil.
Tired of shuffling through the fine print of frequent flyer programs when spending your miles? Instead of falling for the airline’s trap of spending double miles to redeem on prime flights, opt for these little known opportunities to cash in miles with the best return on investment.
It is commonly recognized that one mile is worth one penny. Spending 25,000 miles on a sub-$250 is not worth it given the additional taxes and fees. These bargain deals help to max out the value of one cent per mile.
1. American and United offer one-way Flex awards as low as 12,500 miles. One-way tickets are often more expensive than a roundtrip. Remember that American awards booked under 21 days in advance incur a $50 surcharge while those less than a week incur $100. Elite tier members of AAdvantage are spared the fees. United, however, no longer has a last-minute booking surcharge. For example, a one-way ticket on Oct. 29 between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Des Moines costs $380 nonstop on American. Booking a one-way award for 12,500 miles plus the $50 fee highlights the mega savings of this offer. http://www.aa.com/i18n/urls/flexawards.jsp
2. Until recently, US Airways recognized Russia to be in Asia rather than Europe allowing travel between Moscow to Shanghai (for example) in Business Class for only 30,000 miles. First Class, only 40,000 miles. This loophole has been adjusted, but new anomalies in their country designations have emerged. For example, US Airways considers Thailand to be in North Asia while other airlines consider it South Asia making it available for cheaper redemptions. US Airways also charges the least to the South Pacific. A Business Class ticket is only 110,000 miles where as United and Delta charge 150,000 miles. For example, a Business Class ticket between New York and Sydney in mid-November goes for between $7,000 and $18,000. US Airways’ 110,000 mile price is an amazing deal. (See how you can buy miles on USAir and get one free for each one purchased, through Nov 15, 2010).
3. Bopping around the South Pacific? US Airways offers roundtrip awards within this region for only 25,000 miles in Economy Class. Not enticing enough? Consider that a trip between Perth or Melbourne and Fiji or the Cook Islands can cost almost $1,000 in the back of the bus. For Business Class, US Airways charges only 30,000 miles to redeem on partner Air New Zealand. American has a similar roundtrip deal with domestic travel on oneworld partner Qantas for 10,000 miles in Economy and 17,500 miles in Business Class. Air New Zealand charges $3,000 for a mid-November Business Class seat between Perth and Auckland. Qantas charges $3,500 for the same route.
4. Intra-Hawaiian island hopping is easy thanks to 10,000 mile roundtrip flights redeemed through United or US Airways. These are on partner Hawaiian Airlines and can spell huge value when sale fares are not on offer. A mid-November reservation between Hilo and Kahului, Maui can cost between $200-300. United does not charge a last-minute award booking fee adding to the value of this offer.
5. African cities are often expensive to travel between and the reliable airline choices can be limited. Continental offers a 25,000 mile Economy Class redemption award between any African city via Star Alliance partner South African Airways’ Johannesburg hub. Frequent African continent travelers will immediately recognize the savings potential as a Nairobi-Luanda ticket in mid-November costs between $800 and $1,500 in Economy Class. Open jaw awards are permitted and recommended to boost the value!
By George Hobica, Airfarewatchdog.com How much are your frequent flyer miles really worth? Should you even bother collecting them? The answer depends in large part on the kind of flyer you are, and how you earn and spend your miles.
We've seen frequent flyer gurus estimate that miles are "worth" anywhere between one-half to six cents per miles, when one calculates how much in "fare value" miles will buy. To test that, we looked at five route and fare class scenarios to compare how much each would cost if we were to buy the flight using our hard earned cash versus using miles.
As the accompanying chart shows, and this will come as no surprise to more experienced travelers, miles are worth next to nothing (as little as one-half cent per mile) when spent on relatively inexpensive economy class travel within the U.S. But if spent on more expensive business or first class travel, they can indeed be worth over 5 cents per mile.
For example, one of the worst ways to "spend" miles is to buy an economy class ticket on a flight between New York and Los Angeles, which typically costs around $259 round-trip in tax, and sometimes goes as low as $219. Although the standard mileage award for a domestic economy ticket on most airlines requires 25,000 miles, making each mile's value a paltry 1 cent, airlines sometimes require up to 60,000 miles roundtrip for the same trip, reducing the value to less than one-half cent.
Compare that with buying an economy class ticket on the same route on United for, say, $600 and upgrading it using 30,000 miles round-trip to business class, which usually costs $2700 round-trip (for the sake of argument, we're hypothesizing that $600 is the cheapest upgradeable fare, but sometimes you can upgrade for an even cheaper fare, making the economy to business upgrade one of the better ways to spend miles, even when factoring in co-pays). In that scenario, your miles would be worth over six cents each.
In calculating the value of miles, we also included the increasing number of co-pays as well as taxes and fees associated with using miles to obtain "free" tickets.
And as we've argued previously, if you only use miles to obtain relatively cheap domestic economy fares and you earn most of those miles with a credit card affiliated with your airline, then you might be better off with a cash back credit card, paying up to a 5% rebate, instead.
By George Hobica, Airfarewatchdog.com Keep this ground transportation guide handy if you ever think you'll be flying into or out of Seattle's airport.
As every savvy traveler knows, a low airfare is only the beginning. The real work? That starts when you touch down in your destination, where costs can easily run away from you. And it starts right at the airport. If you're not careful, you can easily spend as much getting into town as you did on the flight that brought you there. (Been to New York lately, where JetBlue and others offer $39 fares and your taxi ride to/from JFK will cost you around $65 with tip and tolls?)
That's why we're taking a break from telling you about low fares to talk to you about…ta da… ground transportation. (We can tell – you're totally excited right now.) Seriously, though, you will be, when we show you how cheaply you can get things done. This week, we're analyzing the situation in Seattle, so grab an umbrella and let's get to it.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION A dark era of not-so-splendid isolation for Sea-Tac finally came to an end last winter, when Sound Transit finally completed the first line of Seattle's new Link light rail system. This means that you can hop off your flight and on a sleek little train; within a half hour or so, you'll be strolling into your downtown hotel. Total cost? A mere $2.50; buy your tickets from the machine before your board (cash, Visa or MasterCard cheerfully accepted). Downtown, the light rail shares its subterranean stations with many of the city's bus lines, operated by Metro Transit. If your destination is not central, you can often transfer without having to set foot outside, making things super easy. (Speaking of easy, if you didn't already know, bus service within downtown is free between 6am and 7pm.)
SHUTTLES This is a big cruise port, so there's frequent express bus service downtown from the airport, operated by Gray Line of Seattle. All of its downtown stops are at popular hotels; the cost is $15 one-way, or $25 round-trip; you can book online in advance. You do not need to be a guest of one of the hotels listed to utilize this service, you just need to know which stop is closest to your destination. To catch the bus, which operates twice-hourly all day long, head to the third level of the terminal-adjacent parking garage. For more scheduled shuttle bus service throughout the region, look here.
TAXI The county regulates taxi access to the airport as well as fares, guaranteeing few surprises when you choose to go this route into town, except for maybe the total cost, which will be around $40. Service is provided by STITA Taxi; for trips back to the airport, you can reserve in advance both online or over the phone at (206) 246-9999.
CAR RENTAL If you're renting a car, it's worth considering whether or not you've got somewhere cheap – or free, better yet – to park it in your destination. Valet parking, often mandatory at downtown hotels, can run you upwards of $30 per night. Beyond downtown, Seattle's not known for its spaciousness, though it is known for its undying devotion to the enforcement of local parking regulations. That said, there are plenty of places in the region where a car is a necessity; at Sea-Tac you have both convenience (major agencies have both their counters and their cars right onsite) and affordability (with a short shuttle ride, you can often save money on your rental.) To find the lowest car rental rates in Seattle, visit our buddies over at Autoslash.
BROWSER (AND FRIENDS) SAY: We love Seattle; what we don't love is the traffic and the parking hassles. That's why you'll find us riding the light rail into town. From the downtown stops, you can easily walk to hotels that fit any budget. Once situated, you might be surprised to discover just how much of the city you can cover on foot, from Pike Place Market on over to cool, less-touristed areas like First Hill and Belltown. To go further afield, we're big fans of Zipcar (http://www.zipcar.com/). Being satisfied members back home in New York, we already know that Seattle-ites are big on car sharing, and that there are cars located all over the downtown area. With rates starting at just $6.30 an hour, including gas, tolls and tax, we've got mobility, but without the cost. Care to argue that? Didn't think so.