Posts in category Gulliver


Business and financeGulliver

Hotels are employing fewer concierges

IF BUSINESS travellers need to reserve a table at a restaurant, they may use OpenTable, a website. If they wish to find a nearby museum, a Google search will probably be their first port of call. And if they want transport into town, they can easily hail an Uber. Given that so many services are just one swipe away, is there a need for a hotel concierge anymore?

Increasingly hoteliers think that there is not. The share of American hotels with concierges has fallen from 27% in 2010 to 20% last year, according to a report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group. Since 2014 the number of luxury hotels that employ a concierge has declined by 20%.

Though concierges are not extinct quite yet, those that remain tend to work in upmarket establishments. In America 82% of luxury hotels employ concierges, as do 76% of “upper upscale” hotels, the second most glamourous category. After that concierges are a much rarer sight. Just 16% of “upscale” hotels have them. For…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Private jets are getting cheaper

ONE of the first corporate jets was owned by Harry Ogg, the president of a washing-machine company. Bought in 1929, the four-passenger plane was named “Smilin’ Thru” and was decked out with a desk, a typewriter and space for washing machines. On sales trips Ogg told the pilot to fly low over a town, with the plane’s siren wailing. The commotion drew residents to the airport, where Ogg demonstrated the benefits of his white goods in a slick sales pitch.

Most aspects of corporate jet setting have changed since Ogg’s day. Planes are more likely to be owned by a hedge-fund manager than a white-goods salesman. They are kitted out with televisions rather than typewriters. Moreover, they tend to be too costly for entrepreneurs to use as clever marketing tools. Yet even though such stunts remain a dream for many, their revival may be edging slightly closer. That is because the price of private jets has tumbled in the last few years, Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Carriers in America are doubling down on budget airfares

GLEN HAUENSTEIN, the president of Delta, is optimistic about the future of basic economy. On a conference call this week, he boasted that the stripped-down airfares actually act as an incentive for passengers to upgrade to the more expensive standard economy tickets. Despite Mr Hauenstein describing it as a product that “people don’t really want”, the airline says it will expand the revenue-boosting basic-fares system in 2018.

Delta was the first carrier to roll out basic economy fares—sometimes called “last class”—in America in 2012. Since then the model has caught on. Both American and United quickly introduced similar services on some domestic routes. By taking away a perk here and adding another there, each airline has created a unique version of the same miserable experience.

The new fare system is not without its critics. Many have Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Airlines are trying to cram ever-more seats onto planes

AIRLINES use all sorts of clever tricks to make more money from passengers. They charge extra for bags, for food and for selecting where you sit. Now they are embracing another strategy: packing more seats onto each plane. Last month American Airlines announced that it will insert 12 more seats, or two rows, into its economy class on its Boeing 737-800 fleet and an extra nine seats into its Airbus A321s. Similarly, JetBlue recently said it will cram 12 additional seats into its A320s.

But flyers do not like being packed ever-more tightly into the sardine tins that planes have become. This summer American Airlines announced that it would reduce the distance between rows—known as seat pitch—from 30 to 29 inches on some of its new planes. The public outcry was so heated that the carrier scrapped its plans, as Gulliver has previously reported. This February a member of Congress Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

All-you-can-fly membership models are slowly catching on

LONDON’s Luton airport is not renowned for its quick boarding. But now it is possible to show up there and in 15 minutes be on a plane bound for Zurich. That is thanks to the recent expansion of Surf Air, a small carrier. Though its name may be unfamiliar, its business model is, in fits and starts, catching on.

Surf Air claims to be the world’s first all-you-can-fly airline. For a monthly fee, members can travel for free on as many flights as they want among the airline’s growing list of destinations. The airline was founded in 2013 in California, where it serves 12 cities. This summer it launched a service in Europe, where it flies from London, Cannes, Ibiza and Zurich. Milan, Munich, and Luxembourg are scheduled to join the roster later this year.

This flexibility comes with a hefty price tag, however. A membership for the airline’s American network starts at $1,950 a month for a limited plan, rising to $2,950 for the highest tier, which allows unlimited flying in the network and includes periodic free hotel…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Flyers rarely complain even when they have cause to

BUSINESS travellers are hardy souls. It goes with the territory. Theirs is a life of jet lag, cramped seating and reheated meals, all washed down with a weak cup of coffee. Small wonder, then, that a recent study by Clarabridge, a technology firm, suggests that few travellers ever actually lodge a complaint about their flights. It surveyed almost 2,500 passengers in Britain and America and found that about two-thirds of respondents have never aired a grievance, even when they had good reason to. This is despite the fact that complaints are on the rise overall, as Gulliver has previously reported.

Why are so many reluctant to complain? One concerning reason is that passengers think airlines will ignore them. This explanation was given by about a third of those who have never complained, according to Clarabridge’s study.

This should worry…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Concerns over charges for checked bags in America miss the point

FEES for checked luggage are working exactly as intended. That is the main thrust of a new report from America’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the recent rise of charges for checking a bag onto a plane when flying. But not everyone is interpreting the study in such a positive light.

Critics are crying foul because these fees cost some passengers more money. Bill Nelson, a Democratic senator who requested the study and sits on the committee that oversees the airline industry, has described the charges as a “last-minute shakedown”. William McGee of Consumer Reports, a non-profit organisation that reviews products, told USA Today that “consumers should be able to shop for airline seats without being nickel-and-dimed.”

Media outlets are also making the same point. When the Associated Press Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Monarch Airlines goes into administration

JUST before dawn on October 2nd, passengers booked to fly on Monarch Airlines began to receive texts informing them that their flights had been cancelled. This was the first news that Britain’s fifth-biggest airline had ceased trading and is now in administration.

It is the country’s biggest airline ever to collapse. Monarch had been in last-ditch talks with the Civil Aviation Authority, a regulator, to renew its licence to sell package holidays, but failed to reach a deal. About 110,000 passengers have been left stranded, although the government has hired over 30 planes, in effect creating another airline, to bring holiday-makers back over the next two weeks. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, is calling it the “biggest ever peacetime repatriation”. A further 860,000 have lost future bookings, and with it weddings, vacations and more, although many should be able to reclaim some of their costs. Monarch also employs about 2,100 people, all now…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Online auctions of Boeing 747s reflect shifts in the air-travel industry

FOR many aeroplane enthusiasts, buying a Boeing 747 is the stuff of dreams. The “Queen of the Skies” is an icon from the golden age of air travel, a period the 1960s and 1970s when the industry was at its most glamorous. And owning one would be like having a little piece of aviation history.

Last week that dream shifted slightly closer to reality, albeit only for well-heeled fans. Three Boeing 747s went up for auction on Taboo, China’s equivalent of eBay. The seller is a state court in Shenzhen, which seized the planes when Jade Cargo International, an airline, went bust in 2012. At first, state officials tried to flog the planes offline at private auctions. But after six failed attempts, they opened the sale up to public bids. Offers currently range from 122m yuan ($18.5m) to 135m yuan.

This is not the first time one of the planes has been auctioned online. Last year Concord Aerospace, a Florida-based firm which buys and sells plane parts,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Sleep pods are becoming increasingly common at airports

IN THEORY, overnight air travel should be wonderfully convenient. Instead of booking a hotel for the night and losing a day, travellers simply sleep while they fly. In reality, sleeping on a plane is hard, and at an airport tougher still. The chairs in terminals, nobody’s idea of comfort to begin with, tend to have armrests that make splaying out unfeasible. Even in business-class lounges, travellers contort themselves into impossible shapes to pretend that workspace desks are actually beds.

But soon there may be less need for such acrobatics. Sleep pods are coming to more and more airports. Last month, Washington Dulles International put out a call for proposals for a company to provide “a quiet and comfortable place within the airport to sleep, relax, or work while waiting to board a flight”. Mexico City’s airport has just added sleep pods with a space-age design for $30 a night. YotelAir, which offers pods in…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The Ryanair cancellations

SOME strategies are too successful. When Ryanair convinced many of its pilots to take less vacation during peak-travel season, it probably thought it was being clever. However, pilots who ferry tourists to holiday destinations need vacations too. Poor planning and a bit of bad luck have left Ryanair with a shortage of working pilots for the autumn. This shortfall has forced the low-cost airline to cancel around 2,100 flights beginning on September 16th and continuing through October. The abrupt cancellation of last weekend’s flights and the short notice provided to customers has left many angry.

Ryanair’s woes were caused in part by a change in the way the airline determines employee leave. Previously, Ryanair staff took their vacations over an operational year from April to March. In 2016, under pressure from the Irish Aviation Authority, Ryanair adopted the calendar year instead. As part of the transition, it needed to allow its employees to take the entirety of their vacation time between April and December of this year. That…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The value of credit-card points

THE value of credit-card points has long been a topic of debate among business travellers. The subject is also picked over online on an impressive number of dedicated blogs and forums. Now it is getting an airing in a different sort of venue: the corruption trial of an American senator.

Robert Menendez, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, is facing charges for allegedly doing favours for Salomon Melgen, a Florida-based eye doctor and friend of the lawmaker. Prosecutors say that Mr Melgen was trying to avoid repaying the government $8.9m that he had allegedly overbilled Medicare, the public health-care programme for seniors. And he wanted Mr Menendez’s help in exchange for lavish kickbacks. These included flights in a private jet, stays in a fancy hotel and more than $750,000 in campaign contributions. 

But at the centre of the third day of the trial last week was the issue of credit-card points. In 2010, Mr Salomon paid for Mr Menendez to stay for three nights at the Park Hyatt Vendome, a five-star hotel in…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

More business travellers are booking their own trips

A friend of Gulliver’s recently received some devastating news, in the form of a change to company policy. No longer would he and his co-workers be able to book their own flights and file for reimbursements. Instead, the firm would buy all employees’ plane tickets from the start.

On the face of it, this is a convenient change. It saves staff time by ensuring that they do not have to fill in tedious expense forms. But many business travellers may not see it that way. A study from Phocuswright, a travel-research firm, finds that more and more employees are booking their own travel and filing for reimbursements. Sometimes doing so allows for a better itinerary: travellers can avoid annoying layovers and airlines for which they reserve particular ire. Sometimes, if they are feeling generous towards their employer, it can save money too. 

But the most-compelling reason is often the credit-card reward points. Say you are booking a flight from London to New York. On United Airlines, the round-trip will earn you close to…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

What effect is Donald Trump really having on American tourism?

WHEN Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, he wasted no time in trying to bar people from certain Muslim-majority countries entering America. He swiftly, too, promised to make good on his pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border. The nation’s travel industry shuddered. It did not feel like the actions of a man keen to woo visitors from abroad.

The predicted “Trump slump” quickly appeared to materialise. Within months, several online travel firms, including Kayak and Hopper, reported that fewer people were searching for flights to America. That seemed plausible. The country was getting terrible press abroad and the firms that sell flights online seemed the best placed to monitor demand for travel in real time. Come July, however, the U.S. Travel Association revealed that everything was rosy. Instead of a Trump slump, the country was in fact enjoying a Trump bump. The organisation’s Travel Trends Index, which tracks flight and hotel bookings, plane boardings and other data, suggested that the number of…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Less lost luggage at the airport

WAITING to see if your checked bag will bump down the carousel and join you at your destination is one of the enduring anxieties of air travel. Though the number of “mishandled” bags—an industry term meaning lost or misplaced—is at an all-time low, six out of every 1,000 passengers can expect to be separated from their luggage for longer than they expected, or possibly even forever. These mishaps cost the airline industry $2.1bn a year and cause untold stress and inconvenience to passengers. 

From June 2018, however, travellers’ frustrations should ease when the International Air Transport Association’s Resolution 753 comes into effect. It will require mandatory tracking at four stages of a checked bag’s journey: when it is first handed to the airline, when it is loaded onto the aircraft, when it is delivered to the transfer area and when it is returned to the passenger. The resolution, which was devised in conjunction with Airlines for America, an industry…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Appalling behaviour on London’s Tube

WITH 1.4bn passengers annually, the London Underground is one of the world’s busiest transport systems. It is also one of the most crowded, sometimes producing an element of friction among commuters over small acts of inconsideration. This week YouGov released the results of a survey of the things that most wind up passengers as they scurry around the Tube. Impatient commuters pushing to get into the carriage without letting riders off first are what drives people mad the most.

The survey also revealed some interesting differences when broken down by gender: “manspreading” (unfurling one’s legs wide enough to take up unnecessary room) and…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Involuntary bumping seems to be a thing of the past

IF AVIATION had an astrological sign, 2017 would surely be the Year of the Bump. Most infamously, it was the year that a United Airlines passenger who refused to leave an overbooked flight in April was dragged violently from the plane. There followed airline policy changes to reduce involuntary bumping, a novel system to make bumping less inconvenient, and even bipartisan action in Congress to render involuntary bumping illegal.

Such headlines suggest that the practice is spiralling out of control. In fact it is at its lowest level since the government began recording data in 1995, according to a Department of Transportation Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Airlines want tighter control of alcohol sales in British airports

TRYING to stop Britons from boozing can be a forlorn task. Drinking has been woven into the nation’s culture for centuries, from the “loose-tongued” pilgrims of Chaucer to the apprentices who ran amok on London’s streets in the 16th century. According to Susie Dent, a lexicographer, English has 3,000 words for being drunk. Some take that list as a challenge. Whether at football matches or funerals, children’s parties or cheese-rolling, Britons turn almost any occasion into an excuse to get ramsquaddled (thanks, Ms Dent).

A visit to a British airport is a crash course in this culture. Regardless of the time of morning, the bars are full and the English breakfasts come accompanied with pints of Guinness. That is an increasing problem for airlines….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The problem of contaminated air on planes

AT 30,000 feet the skies may be clear, but the oxygen certainly is not. Anyone who has wheezed his way through a long plane journey will know that cabin air is hardly pristine. Nearly all aircraft draw in air by way of the plane’s engine compressor. It is common for a small amount of oil to leak over the engine, which then contaminates the stuff that passengers and crew members breathe. Most of the 3.5bn passengers who traveled by plane in 2015 were probably exposed to at least a low level of contamination. But frequent exposure can come with debilitating symptoms, including memory impairment, dizziness and vision problems.

A recent study from the University of Stirling and the University of Ulster reveals the scale of the problem. Researchers examined hundreds of aeroplane crew members and discovered a direct link between air contamination and respiratory, cognitive and even neurological health…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why an eight-hour bus ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco might beat a flight

THERE is a new way to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco. At $230 for a round trip, it may not be cheaper than flying, but at least it is slower.

Cabin is an interesting experiment; an attempt to compete with airlines by promising a better night’s sleep. Flying between the two cities may take less than an hour and a half. But getting to the airport, shuffling through the security queue, waiting at the gate, picking up your bag upon arrival, and getting from the airport to your actual destination can nearly quadruple the total travel time. That means a trip can eat up most of the day. Or if you want to travel at night, you have about an hour to sleep, between several hours of hassle and tedium.

Rather than go through that rigmarole, Cabin is betting that some passengers will instead choose an overnight bus, on which they crawl into sleeping pods, stacked like bunk beds but ensconced behind curtains and soundproof walls, and wake up eight hours later at their destination. On offer: water, coffee, melatonin and a…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Two Chinese tourists are arrested for making a Hitler salute in Germany

IGNORANCE of the law is no excuse for breaking it. Over the weekend two Chinese tourists were arrested in Germany for photographing themselves making Hitler salutes outside the Reichstag building in Berlin. The country has strict anti-hate laws, which prohibits pro-Nazi symbols and speech. The Chinese pair were released on €500 ($590) bail; police said they could face as much as three years in prison. However, the men were told they were free to leave the country, and that if a fine was handed down at trial, the bail money could be used to cover it.

Gulliver does not intend to get into the rights and wrongs of Germany’s anti-hate laws. (For what it’s worth, he would think the Hitler salute crass, insensitive and insulting while not considering that a high enough bar to curb freedom of expression.) But the incident provides an opportunity to think about the extent to which foreigners should make themselves aware of local laws and sensitivities.

We do not know for certain the Chinese travellers’ motivation for their…Continue reading

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A judge rules on the case of the "incredible shrinking airline seat"

THE airlines are not doing it. Congress could not either. Nor could a petition with tens of thousands of signatures. The Federal Aviation Administration declined to do it, too. But now, a federal judge may finally do what the others failed to, or would not: stop seat rows on aeroplanes inching closer and closer together.

“This is the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat,” began Judge Patricia Millett of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in her strongly worded ruling, handed down on July 28th. The case began nearly two years ago, when FlyersRights.org, a non-profit passenger advocacy group, circulated a petition demanding regulation of the distance between rows of plane seats, known as seat pitch. Average seat pitch in America, the petition noted, had declined from 35 to 31 inches in the past few decades. (American Airlines planned earlier this year to space some rows just 29 inches apart on new planes, before agreeing under pressure to add an extra inch.)…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Many business travellers prefer not to interact with others when on trips

AS ANYONE who flies regularly for work can attest, business travellers are not constantly being doted upon. Flights are not all booked by a travel manager, nor are never-ending drinks being poured by dutiful attendants. Indeed, corporate travel might be becoming a more independent affair.

According to a recent survey, a growing number of business travellers would prefer to avoid interaction with people when on the road, at least until something goes wrong. The research by Egencia, Expedia’s business-travel arm, questioned nearly 5,000 business travellers in Europe, America and Australia. Half of them said they want to avoid human contact while travelling.

That is not because business travellers find their time on the road repugnant and want to bury themselves in their smartphones….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A high-speed rail connection between Hong Kong and the mainland is proving controversial

ON JULY 1st Hong Kong marked 20 years of mainland rule with a rare visit from Xi Jinping, the Chinese premier. Mr Xi arrived on an Air China flight from Beijing. The next visit by a Chinese president is unlikely to take place until 2022, when Hong Kong will be half way through its 50-year transition period between British and Chinese rule. Then, perhaps, he will travel by high-speed rail, and arrive at a smart terminal being built in West Kowloon.

Hong Kong is in the midst of an infrastructure-building boom. Work on a third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport began last year. Just outside, the finishing touches are being made to a 40-kilometre (25-mile) bridge-and-tunnel road linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai. And by next year a new rail line will connect Hong Kong to Guangdong and the rest of China’s high-speed network.

Trains on the “XRL” can travel up to 350km/h (although it is estimated that it will take 14 minutes to travel the 26km between Kowloon and Futian, making the actual speed more like 110km/h at first)….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Has Ryanair become too nice?

THREE years ago, Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, made the sudden decision to be nicer to its customers. Before that, brusqueness had been part of its strategy. Fares were low, but check-in staff were famously ruthless. One family was charged €600 ($701) to print their forgotten boarding passes (“idiots” according to Michael O’Leary, the airline’s boss, when they complained). Gatekeepers would obsessively check carry-on bags, demanding huge fees for those a smidgen over the limit. That culture started at the top. Mr O’Leary liked to berate his passengers, the second their expectations rose. “You’re not getting a refund so fuck off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”, he once told them.

It was a highly successful, perhaps even clever, strategy. The airline went from being an insignificant Irish operator to Europe’s second largest carrier after Lufthansa, regularly reporting juicy profits. Every time Mr O’Leary mooted the idea of installing…Continue reading

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