American Cutting Legroom in Economy on New 737s

As reported by CNN Money, American Airlines announced that it will go from 160 to more than 170 seats in its new Boeing 737-MAX 8 fleet. In order to fit all of these new seats they will be cutting down the pitch (distance between the backs of each seat) on its new fleet by as much as two inches. Three rows will be knocked down from 31 inches to 29 inches while the remaining rows will go down from 31 inches to 30 inches. In addition, they’re somehow going to find a way to shrink the size of the lavatory, too.

This move puts American economy much closer to the low cost carriers in terms of legroom offered. Both Spirit and Frontier have about 28 inches of pitch so those three rows on American’s new 737s will be very close to what you’d experience on a Spirit flight. The move to 30 inches moves below the domestic standard of many airlines which is about 31 inches and well below what some other airlines like JetBlue offer (34 and 33 inches).

This (oversimplified) graphic from CNN can give you an idea on the different pitches found in economy on major US airlines.

It’s interesting to me that Southwest is going the opposite direction with their new 737-MAX fleet. They’re actually increasing the width of their seats on the new aircraft by .7 inches and the pitch will be at 32 inches. That’s definitely enough to keep me comfortable for a short-haul flight.

According to CNN, American will have 40 737 MAX aircrafts by the end of 2019 and they have 100 on order. All of these aircrafts will still have 36 “Main Cabin Extra” premium economy seats and 16 first class/business seats.


I don’t think the drop from 31″ to 30″ is a catastrophic change but it is more evidence of the legacy carriers’ “race to the bottom” where airlines are on a constant hunt to see how much less they can offer to passengers while still maximizing their profits.

It’s good to see that some airlines like Southwest and JetBlue aren’t headed in that direction. And even though I despise Delta’s award program, they are still offering 31″ to 32″ of pitch in economy.

These changes are also coming at the same time we’re seeing American, Delta, and United roll out Basic Economy fares. These are fares which cost less than economy fares but force you to pay extra for things like seat selections (even family seating together) and carry-ons.

Many aren’t happy about these Basic Economy fares because in many instances we’ve seen that their prices are exactly what you would’ve paid for the previous lowest economy fare. In other words, you’re still paying the same price you would’ve paid for the cheapest economy seat but now you’re losing the basic benefits like being able to select your seat and bring a carry-on (Delta allows you to being on a carry-on on free of charge).

So we’re seeing a drop in benefits but not in prices (at least no across the board) and now we’re seeing a reduction in pitch and a much more cramped passenger experience being offered by American (even when visiting the lavatory). And what’s worse is that it’s rumored that United will be next to follow with these less roomy economy sections on the 737-MAX.

Let’s just hope that these reductions stay, for the most part, at 30″ and don’t venture closer to the industry minimum at 28″ like we see with the low cost carriers. In the meantime, I’ll happily be sticking with Southwest for non-first class domestic travel.

Cover photo by ERIC SALARD via Flickr

Get up to 40% Back on Hotel Stays with This New OTA

There’s a new rewards-focused OTA that’s out that you should definitely know about. It’s called, and I’ve tried them out twice now and earned 40% and 30% back on two bookings, which is rock solid. I’ve had the chance to get with the creators and learn more about the program (no affiliate links here), and I’ve come away thoroughly impressed.

What is BonWi?

BonWi is a new OTA similar to,, etc. where you can book hotels and car rentals. They source out tons of wholesalers to provide you with the lowest price (or guarantee it within 24 hours of booking). While getting a low price from an OTA isn’t exactly revolutionary, BonWi’s award system is unlike any other.

The BonWi award system

When you search for hotels, the default search settings will sort the hotels in order based on the highest number of points earned (note this is not the same as best return %).

LA search results showing returns of 32%, 19%, and 36%.

Each BonWi point is worth 1 cent per point, and the value of of Bonwi points earned can be substantial in some cases.

For example, I recently stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas and earned 35,476 BonWi points. The base rate was $876 for a 40% return (or $354 back).

On another stay at the Marriott Renaissance in Phoenix, I earned 10,017 points on a $319 base rate for a 31% return (or $100 back).

These returns are exceptional even when compared to what I’d earn with even top tier elite status with Hyatt and Marriott.

For example, here’s what I’d earn with Hyatt and Marriott below:

Hyatt Globalist at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas

  • 876 x 5 = 4,380
  • 1,314 elite bonus points
  • = 5,694 points at 1.5 cents per point = $85.41
  • $85.41/$876 = 9.75% back.

That’s $85 back versus $354 back. A difference of $269!

40% back at the Hyatt Regency Dallas.

Marriott Platinum at the Marriott Renaissance in Phoenix

  • 319 x 10 = 3,190
  • 1,595 elite bonus points
  • = 4,785 points at .8 cents per point = $38.28
  • $38.28/$319 = 12% back.

So here it’s $38 versus $100 back.

And Marriott like Hyatt will often honor your elite status benefits, so on this stay I not only received a free breakfast, lounge access, and free internet, but I also received an upgrade to a suite with my Marriott Platinum status.

So this was an all-around win for me using BonWi and it’s why I consider it one of the top OTAs.

Marriott Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel
Upgraded to a suite at the Marriott Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel.
Marriott Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel
Elevate Lounge at the Marriott Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel.

*It’s important to note that other hotel loyalty programs like Hilton and IHG are known to deny elite benefits when booking through an OTA (IHG even does this sometimes when you make an award booking).

How to redeem points

As stated, all BonWi points can be redeemed at 1 cents per point.

You can use these points for hotels, flights, or even gift cards (Visa gift cards should soon be an option). You’ll need at least 50% of the points needed in order to do a cash + points booking.

One great thing about the airline portal is that you can book Southwest flights, which is a rarity. Thus, if applied my Companion Pass to the 35,476 points I earned on the Hyatt Regency stay (which I plan to to) it was like effectively netting $708 worth of Southwest airfare for a $876 stay (plus the Rapid Rewards I’ll earn for the flight).

The minimum threshold for gift card redemptions is $100 so it’s on the high side but the rapid point earning potential + the $15 credit just for signing up, often makes reaching this point threshold much more attainable.

It codes as travel

I earned 3X on my Chase Sapphire Reserve when making bookings on I assume this would be the case for many other cards (cards like the Altitude Reserve excluded).

Is it worth it?

When choosing to book through OTAs you always have to weigh your other options. For example it’s possible to earn alternative savings with:

  • Discounted hotel gift cards (sometimes even purchased with 5X)
  • Seasonal hotel promotions (e.g., double the base points)
  • Online cash back portals (BonWi is entertaining adding this option)
  • Amex Offers

And of course you have to consider the oppurtunity cost of not earning points and stay credits with your loyalty program.

With all of those factors considered, I think is still definitely worth it many cases. At the very least, it’s worth checking out when you’re planning a trip because your hotel of choice might be netting a 30% to 40% return. Even if the returns are closer to 15-20% which would be more common, that’s still more than you earn as a top elite member at just about every major hotel program, barring special promotions.

Overall, you’ll find some properties offer amazing returns while others don’t offer exceptional value, so it’s important to shop around.

I think the fact that you can earn a substantial amount of points on one booking and redeem points at 1 cent per point is big for this program. Many people don’t travel enough to earn enough points on bookings to be able to actually do something with them. Instead, those points just rot away in their account.

With BonWi, you might be able to net a couple of hundred dollars worth of travel or gift cards with just one or two stays, especially since they start you out with $15 worth of points just for signing up. Thus, BonWi can be very practical for those who seldom travel.

Will I be using it?

I’ll definitely be searching BonWi in the future for my bookings and booking when the price is right. I venture to the Caribbean a lot where sometimes it’s hard to find major hotel chains so OTAs have always come in handy there. I’ve also relied on OTAs for bookings in other random places like Portugal. But I also will consider booking my future Marriott stays through BonWi since Marriott has been more than happy to honor my elite benefits.

Are there any cons?

Aside from losing out on elite credit and occasionally on elite perks, the only cons I’d point out are technical in nature. You’ll notice that the search feature is a bit sluggish (think Aeroplan), but that’s because they’re scanning so many different wholesalers to find prices where they can offer such lucrative rewards. The site is also still a bit new so it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that some other OTAs might have. Still, all of my bookings have been smooth.

There’s a chat feature for customer service that I haven’t had to use yet so I can’t comment on the customer service, which I know is often big concern when booking though OTAs.

Final word

The opportunity to earn up to 40% back on hotel stays is exceptional. The fact that I can get the awesome return rates of Bonwi and also still utilize my elite benefits at Marriott properties for free internet, breakfasts, and upgrades is very attractive to me. Add in the 3X on my Sapphire Reserve and ability to redeem points at one cent per point on Southwest, and I think Bonwi is a very competitive product that should be on your radar.

My Take on the American Airlines Situation

United’s feeling a little bit less heat today as news broke about an altercation between an American Airlines crew member and a passenger who allegedly had her stroller wrestled from her, almost hitting her baby. The situation is not as appalling as the United situation we recently witnessed but it does raise some of the same concerns about how airlines should treat their customers in the event of confrontation.

We don’t have the full story

The first thing to consider is that we don’t have the full story here. In fact, unlike the United fiasco, we actually only have video footage of the aftermath here. So there’s probably only a dozen people (if that) who actually witnessed what happened.

According to a report by CNN affiliate KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, Olivia Morgan was waiting to board when the incident happened and stated that “the flight attendant wrestled the stroller away from the woman, who was sobbing, holding one baby with the second baby in a car seat on the ground next to her.”

Also, one of the passengers who posted the now viral video to Facebook stated:

They just in-voluntarily escorted the mother and her kids off the flight and let the flight attendant back on, who tried to fight a passenger

So eye witness reports seem to confirm that the flight attendant acted unreasonably although I haven’t heard much about the conduct of the passenger leading up to the event.

Who is to blame in this situation?

Based on what I’ve seen and read so far, here’s my take on the situation.

The passenger

We don’t know the full facts here but it looks like the passenger/victim was trying to board the plane with her stroller and was probably told that she couldn’t bring it on as a carry on. My guess is that she initially refused to comply with the crew members and they decided to take matters into their own hands and remove the stroller. (Why else would they have to resort to “wrestling” it away?)

So potentially… the entire situation could’ve been avoided by simply complying. But even so that wouldn’t excuse the crew member’s actions, which seem to have been reckless and at the least negligent.

The flight attendant

I think the flight attendant has two potential shortcomings here.

Interaction with the woman 

Let me start by saying that if he really did violently rip the stroller from the mother nearly hitting the baby(ies), that’s completely unacceptable. If that’s the case, he was rightly suspended, even if the passenger was in the wrong initially by not complying.

In his defense, at some point the stroller was going to have to leave the plane. So if he didn’t take it, who would? Again, it’s not an excuse for what happened, but at least they didn’t call security on the woman here.

Since we still don’t know exactly happened, I’m going to hold off on my judgment here.

Interaction with the second passenger 

It looks like the flight attendant should’ve done a much better job at remaining calm when confronted by the angry passenger. I figured that a flight attendant would have experience with remaining calm and dealing with tense situations on an aircraft and that he should’ve handled this better.

I understand that he was “called out,” but this wasn’t taking place in the middle of a neighborhood pub — it was on an aircraft getting ready for departure and there are limits to how you should react as a flight attendant while on duty. Seeing the crew member wagging his finger and spout out “bring it on” really showed a lack of professionalism and looked like scene straight out of junior high.

The second passenger

I don’t fault the passenger for trying to get the flight attendant’s name to file a potential complaint or whatever he had planned. It’s truly nice to see other passengers concerned about the treatment of others.

However, I do take issue with him getting up a second time with his “hey, Bud, hey Bud” antics and threatening a crew member. It looks like the flight attendant was in the midst of explaining the situation to the captain and this guy just jumps up begging for a confrontation… and a physical one at that — “you do that to me and I’ll knock you flat.”

It just didn’t seem necessary to confront the flight attendant in that manner at that point and almost makes me question what his motive might have been (i.e, overeager to be the “hero,” having a viral moment, etc.).

The captain

I’m not that versed in what powers the captain possesses, but he seems to be noticeably absent in dealing with this altercation, despite the fact that it’s happening directly in front of him. I’m surprised that he let the flight attendant fly on that plane and even kind of surprised he didn’t kick off the passenger who challenged the crew member to a duel.

American’s response

American Airlines wasted no time in responding to this situation and taking responsibility for the act. They suspended the flight attendant involved in grabbing the stroller and issued the following statement:

We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. We are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care. After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.

The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.

American’s response is a far cry from how United dealt with their situation. American immediately apologized to the victim and even bumped her to first class for an international trip. I kind of wonder if their response would have been the same if the United situation never happened, but nonetheless it’s a good indication that an airline is not acting indifferent to this passenger.

Final word

Overall, I want to know more about this situation before I arrive at a final judgment. But for now this is what I see:

  • A passenger likely should have complied to take her stroller off the aircraft but refused to do so
  • A flight attendant acted unreasonably and maybe even recklessly by forcefully removing the stroller. In addition, he failed to exhibit professional/calm behavior when the second passenger called him out
  • A second passenger originally rightfully requested the name of the flight attendant to file a claim but later overreacted by confronting/threatening the flight attendant
  • A captain seemed to lack any desire to react and deal with the situation
  • American responded well to the situation, probably learning the lesson from United
  • We need more training on how to diffuse situations on airplanes

More Details Emerging for the New Singapore Suites

It’s getting more exciting by the minute for fans of the Singapore Suites. I previously wrote about details on the new Singapore Suites that will be on the A380. That article showed and confirmed that the Suites would likely be moved from the bottom deck of the A380 to the second deck. This was suspected because the window arrangement on the second deck had obviously changed to conform with that was on the first deck before (as seen below).

Well now more details have emerged via Australian Business Traveler. It appears that the new seat map for the A380 has been leaked and it’s showing six suites on board. This is a pretty drastic cut from the 12 Suites that you currently find on Singapore A380s.

You can see the leaked seat map below.

By the looks of the seat map, it look like Singapore Airlines is going in the same direction of Etihad and offering single aisle access with this arrangement. I personally love the single aisle look and here’s a look at what it looks like on board the Etihad Apartment.

Etihad First Class Apartment

But what about the beds?

The big question here relates to the arrangement for beds.

Singapore Suites was a major game changer with its double bed that it introduced in 2008, allowing passengers in the interior cabins to put down a partition and share a double bed in the sky. To me knowledge, only China Eastern offers this oppurtunity out of all of the other major commercial airlines.

Singapore Suites First Class A380
Singapore Suites double bed.

Now, you’ve got to wonder how will the new Suite arrangement alter the double bed make-up? I offered some conjecture before that Singapore Airlines might be, once again, revolutionizing the way that first class passengers catch some shut eye in the sky. I wouldn’t put it past them to offer each Suite its own gigantic bed that rivals the size of a double bed. With only six Suites, that could definitely be possible.

Another option might be for two of the Suites on either side of the aisle to share a partition that allows the bed to combine into a double bed. This would be very similar to what Etihad already offers (although it only offers “half” of a double bed since there’s a partition running down the middle.)

Etihad First Class Apartment
Etihad’s version of the double bed.

Personally, I think that the option for the double bed is what makes Singapore Suites so special. The “solo” Suites currently found on the A380s are still great and I spent some time checking them out on my last flight with Singapore Suites. But to me, the real draw of flying first with Singapore Airlines on the A380 is the fact that you can share this enormous bed with someone special (or have it to yourself if you don’t happen to have a suite mate).

Thus, I will be very sad to see it go.

The other major question is whether or not we’re going to see a bar on board the A380. I don’t see any indication that a bar will be on the A380 based on the seat map. If that’s the case, it’s a bit of a shame since Singapore is one of the only top first class experiences without a bar and I think that they would be able to nail that concept given their tremendous level of service and beautiful cabin interiors. I’m sure the Suites will still be able to stand on their own without a bar, but I’d just love to see one from them.

When will the new Singapore Suites be here?

Singapore is rumored to have these in the sky in October of this year and we have been expecting an official announcement on them by the end of quarter 2. It’s also rumored that initial routes will run to Sydney, which would require 75,000 miles from SIN, according to their award chart.

Final word

Overall, I think it’s very exciting to think about the possibilities for these new Suites. I’m really hoping that Singapore does something truly innovative with them and that they don’t do away with the double bed. Now that there’s only going to be six Suites, it’s eventually going to be more difficult to find award seats and with the higher award prices, I’m really hoping that the product level for Singapore Suites doesn’t disappoint.

Partner Flights to Europe with Delta SkyMiles Are Even More Expensive Than I Thought

The other day I wrote about the latest Delta devaluation that increased partner awards to different regions (and came with no notice). One of the silver linings to the recent devaluation was that if you booked a Delta flight as part of the award itinerary, it dropped the mileage requirement to the lowest tier price and thus the price remained the same as it was before the devaluation. Thus, there was a workaround for the devaluation, but I don’t think that’s the case for awards to Europe.

The new redemption rates to Europe

The prior redemption rate for a one way partner award to Europe using Delta miles was 70,000 miles, and the new devaluation increased those mileage requirements to 95,000 for partners.

It’s still pretty easy to find awards for 70,000 on Delta flights.

And for single partner awards you’ll find the redemption rate at 85,000.

However, the issues start popping up when you book a Delta flight along with a partner flight. You do not receive a lower rate.

You actually won’t even be able to see a lot of the availability when you try to put your own Delta + partner awards together. Notice the three Virgin Atlantic flights showing availability from JFK to LHR above. Well, when I switch departure locations those flights either disappear or show no availability.

Here’s another example:

You can see open awards for VS 4.

However, when routing from Las Vegas, there’s no availability showing for VS 4.

And nothing showing for any flights from DFW with VS 4.

And nothing showing from SEA:

I didn’t think too much about this though because it’s common in my experience for search results to spit out different award options when you change the departure location, and I’m sure in Delta’s case its the result of some hyper-complicated inventory process that I don’t care to spend time trying to comprehend.

But I thought I’d at least be able to piece together the flights manually by calling in, since I knew that Virgin Atlantic Flight 26 had open business class seats. However, the phone representatives couldn’t do that for me and told me that the itinerary has to be automatically populated by Delta.

So I don’t think there’s a way to get around the higher mileage requirements by adding a partner by calling in. I thought that was a bummer but I figured I’d just search extra hard online and find eventually find flights with partners + Delta.

Well, that I did, but the results were even more surprising and disappointing.

Partner + Delta awards have increased to Europe

Not only did partner awards increase for a single partner itineraries, but it looks like they actually go up even further when you add a Delta flight. The amount of the increase varies due to Delta’s annoying dynamic pricing, and I saw prices ranging from 117,500 to 140,000 (that’s one way, of course).

Here are some examples of what I saw:

It’s pretty upsetting to see that Delta’s made such a drastic increase in awards to Europe with no notice. Now if you wanted to connect from a place like Las Vegas, you could be asked to pay 140,000 for a  one-way partner award to Europe! I could almost get two roundtrips to Europe with Korean Air miles for that amount. That is utterly ridiculous.

Even the lower rates of 117,500 are terrible, since I could even get a round trip for 110,000 miles with Aeroplan.

This is incredibly confusing because some routes with partners actually went down like flying Korean Air from ATL to ICN. So some partner redemption prices went down and some went up and then some bookings with partners + Delta stayed the same, while others went up (and up again). Add in the fact that these increases are dynamic and that you can’t put together your own segments and SkyMiles quickly becomes a huge (and expensive) PIA to deal with.

After doing what I could to avoid Delta for nearly two years, I finally came around and decided to give them a try for a booking in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic I’ve had in the works for a few months now. That ticket has just gone up to at least 85,000 and if I want to add a connecting flight, I’m going to have to shell out something like 30,000 additional miles or more. I can’t believe these prices and I can’t wait to get rid of these SkyPesos SkyMiles and stick to other loyalty programs that aren’t an absolute nightmare like Delta SkyMiles.

More Thoughts on United’s Latest Fiasco

Now that I’ve had a little bit more time to hear more facts, see more (disturbing) video angles, scan dozens of comment sections, and think things through a bit, here are my thoughts on the United fiasco that took place Sunday evening.

Let’s start with the fact that the doctor shares some blame here.

First, I think it’s important to recognize that United likely had the right to deny boarding to this passenger based on the Code of Federal Regulations. United sought volunteers to give up their seats, it didn’t happen, so United moved to its own provisions in its contract of carriage which allows them boot certain passengers based on things like based a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, frequent flyer status, program membership, check-in time, etc.

And very significantly, once the passenger refused to comply, he was interfering with the duties of the crew members.

The FAA § 91.11 states that:

No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crew member in the performance of the crew member’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated. 

Thus, by defying demands to deplane, the doctor was in violation of federal law and was just asking for trouble. There’s no denying that. So there was a very poor judgment call made by the doctor (who in my honest opinion should know better) to defy crew member authority on airplane.

With that said, it really doesn’t make United’s situation any less appalling.

The reason I say that is that it seems that United has shown a high level of indifference for its passengers in this case, both while the events took place and in their statements that followed.

As I wrote yesterday, United absolutely dropped the ball by allowing passengers to board the plane and then trying to sort out their mess of a situation while passengers were already in their seats, probably strapped in with their seat belts. One can only wonder how United didn’t realize they needed four seats for their employees until after passengers had taken their seats. Given that fact, I think it’s clear that there were some unexpected logistical failures occurring at the time.

At that point, United should have made it a priority to use an extra level of due care to handle the situation. It’s one thing to be involuntarily denied boarding while waiting at the gate and quite another to be plucked out of your seat all because United couldn’t get their own s**t together.

So there was a real technical failure by United that launched this whole fiasco into motion.

The next issue is that United showed that it doesn’t know how to treat its customers appropriately, at least not in my opinion. United made offerings of $400 and $800 (and according to their CEO $1,000) to the passengers to volunteer to take a flight the next day but nobody felt those prices were high enough. In other words, the market spoke and told United that’s not quite good enough.

Customers are forced to pay market rate to the airlines for last minute seats so why doesn’t it work the other way?

At that point, United should’ve employed a policy or procedure to remedy that market imbalance so that it never got to the point of having to forcibly remove a passenger. Whether this was offering more money, more perks, or just having a skilled negotiator/problem solver on staff, I believe that the appropriate response should have been to offer equitable consideration that paying customers felt was a worthy bargain. (Again, we’re talking about passengers already seated on the plane.)

Instead, United deemed that it would resort to using a computer to randomly select passengers who would have to deplane and that would be the end of it. If passengers felt this was unjustified or that they weren’t being fairly compensated, it wouldn’t matter because United could call the police and have them forcefully removed if they wanted to.

I could maybe understand United involving the police if they had offered exorbitant sums of cash that nobody was jumping on, but United was barely even scratching the surface of the statutory maximum allowed for compensation ($1,350). 

The focus then shifts to the act of the police. I’m very pro-police and think they have one of the hardest jobs in the world, but I think it’s well apparent that we’ve got a problem in our country with officers using excessive force.

In this case, this older man is manhandled, face smashed into an armrest, and then drug like a rag doll through the aisle of the plane. While I understand that some level of force will almost always be necessary to remove someone from a plane, this was just excessive. It seemed like this level of force is more suited for a belligerent or threatening passenger, which does not seem to be the case here.

So United then goes offer and send out a few statements:

 “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.

From their CEO, Oscar Munoz:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”

Then came the publication of a letter from the CEO to United employees. It reads in part:

Dear Team,

Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clear picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.

As you will read, the situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed stablished procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go and above and beyond to ensure we fly right.

I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.


His recap states the following events:

  • On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agent were approached by crew members that were told they needed to board the flight.

  • We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.

  • He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.

  • Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.

  • Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist – running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials

All of these statements show a lack of understanding by United that they played a role in the injuries sustained by the doctor that was highly disturbing to the public. There’s no owning up to United’s failures to properly handle the overbooking situation and only what feels like a superficial apology about the fact that the overbooking process took place. It doesn’t seem like they’re ready to accept that they have a large problem on their hands of showing disregard and indifference to their customers and that something will be be done to address it.

As an attorney, I understand a corporation needs to avoid admissions of guilt. But there are still ways to let the public know that you are acknowledging that a customer was treated in a very troubling manner and that you’re actively working to remedy the situation, especially when such a disturbing level of force was used. That hasn’t happened here.

So while I think multiple parties share the blame here, United’s failings are amplified by its attempts to downplay the situation and failure to address its own shortcomings along with those of the law enforcement officers involved (that they called in in the first place).

Cover photo by Anna Zvereva.

United Drags Doctor off Plane for Refusing to Give up Seat

United’s now facing yet another PR disaster but “leggings gate” can’t hold a candle to this one. Here are the facts as I understand them to be as of this morning and here’s a video (a bit disturbing) of the situation and another angle as well.

Yesterday, United “overbooked” Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville and needed seats to transport four Untied employees so that they could be in Kentucky in time for their flights the next day. The overbooking was not announced until passengers had been seated on the plane, as far as I know.

According to a passenger on the plane, United offered passengers $400 and a free night in a hotel to take a flight the next day at 3 p.m. but nobody bit. United then offered to pay passengers $800 but apparently not enough passengers went for this offer either.

So then United resorted to using a computer to randomly select passengers to de-plane. According to one report, a couple was first selected and they stepped off the plane. Then, an older man, who also happens to be a physician, was asked to give up his seat (along with his wife). He refused to leave the plane (definitely a mistake) and reportedly reiterated that he had patients to see at his hospital in the morning. After his refusal, three security personnel were brought in, two were uniformed airport law enforcement officers and one looks like he was maybe an air marshal.

They then moved in to forcibly remove the doctor. You can hear screams and horror in not only the doctor’s voice but also in the passengers as they watch this disaster unfold. It looks like the doctor may have even been knocked unconscious as the authorities yank him out of his seat and send him face first into an arm rest, busting his lip. The doctor, who again is an older man, is then drug, yes literally drug down the aisle out of the plane in humiliating fashion, as other passengers are appalled by the disturbing sight.

It looks like the doctor may have been let back on the plane as other video shows him staggering through the aisle obviously dazed by the trauma he just experienced. Reports state that he was allowed to re-board flight 3411 but it’s unclear if he was physically able to take the flight due to his injured state.

United gave an official response to the situation stating:

“Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.”

This scene is absolutely reprehensible.

First, United dropped the ball by not properly handling its overbooking. I’ve been involved in overbooking situations in multiple instances but these are typically resolved prior to boarding in my experience. Even so, United should have made it a priority to offer a proper incentive to get people to volunteer off the plane. I’m not sure how attractive $800 is to a physician who needs to get back home to treat patients in the morning….

And how about handling these things on a case-by-case basis. Sure the computer can designate a potential passenger to be singled out but then why not try to negotiate one-on-one with the passenger and get a feel for how vital it is for them to board this flight? They only needed to boot a couple of passengers, so this wouldn’t have taken that long.

Also, I want to know what policy/protocol was being followed here. I’ll admit, if I was asked to get off the plane due to overbooking, I’d be pissed off but I would comply, since I don’t think an airplane is the place to defy authority. But even considering the fact that this passenger was being defiant (and thus asking for trouble), I can’t see why the use of force, or more accurately that level of force, would be necessary in this situation.

I understand you’ve got to get people off the plane in some way but throwing someone out of their seat face first into a metal arm rest?

It’s not like the guy was being kicked off the plane for being belligerent. He was just a doctor trying to make sure he’d be able to meet his patients’ needs in the morning. It’s like someone at United just flipped a switch and these officers/security personnel went into “Hulk smash” mode to apply force regardless of whether or not it was warranted.

In any event, this looks like it’s going to be 10X the media sh*t storm that leggings gate was. And United will likely pass the blame on to the officers involved but I think someone at United was in the position to avoid this situation, I’m just not sure how far up the chain of command they were. I’ll wait to arrive at judgment on the culpability of United versus the law officers involved here, but this is a very ugly situation for all involved.

Delta Devalues Partner Awards with No Notice

Via OMAAT, Delta just implemented changes to its partner redemption rates with no advanced notice and even without any formal announcement when the changes took place. It appears that now if you book a flight exclusively on a Delta partner, you’ll be subjected to higher mileage requirements for many routes.

Delta has been one of the last loyalty programs I’ve pursued. My biggest complaint with them is that they they eliminated their award chart in 2015 in favor of dynamic pricing, which means award prices fluctuate and that you’re often left guessing and hoping for a certain redemption rate (that’s probably on the higher side).

For award flights on partners this dynamic pricing wasn’t a huge headache since partner awards are subject to the lowest tier of the dynamic pricing, so all you had to know is what the lowest redemption rate is for a route and that would tell you the mileage requirement for a partner award.

But now Delta is continuously rolling out devaluations at a rate faster than other carriers and without any notice at all. For example, in 2016, Delta increased awards to both Europe, Australia, and Tel Aviv, some of these overnight with no notice. And now, they’ve just rolled out more devaluations without any notice– this time for partner awards.

It look like some redemption rates are left intact but for routes involving US destinations, there’s been an increase.

For example, JFK to LHR via Virgin Atlantic increased from 70,000 to 85,000 miles one way. As you can see below, the route with Virgin Atlantic is showing the higher redemption rate. (Economy is also up 5,000 miles for this route.)

That’s now 170,000 miles for a roundtrip. For some perspective, you could use 88,000 ANA miles for a roundtrip ticket to Europe (with a stopover) and pay very little in fees if you book with the right partner, as seen below.

ANA miles on Air Canada to Europe in business class is one of the top sweet spot redemptions.

Routes from Australia on partner Virgin Australia have gone up 20,000 miles from 95,000 miles to 115,000 miles.

Other routes to destinations such as Asia and South America are also reflecting higher prices, too.

Dynamic pricing for partners now? 

It seems some routes are reflecting dynamic pricing which means that the award requirements are higher for flights closer to the departure date, so it looks like there’s going to be even more ambiguity for the SkyMiles program.

Both of these devaluations are punches in the gut to me as I had plans (many months in the making) to book both Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic using Delta SkyMiles within the next month. I even took note of the recent devaluations to both of these routes that took place in 2016 and assumed I’d be okay for the time being since they surely wouldn’t introduce another devaluation so soon.

To make matters worse, I’d avoided earning Delta miles for nearly two years because I didn’t trust the award program with its nonexistent transparency. I slowly decided to give Delta a chance and then this happens….

Including a flight on Delta metal

All might not be lost here, however. It seems that when you book an itinerary that includes a Delta flight, that redemption is subject to the old rates. Since I don’t live near a Delta hub, it shouldn’t be an issue to fit in a connecting Delta flight to the routes above and hopefully only have to pay the lower rates. But that’s assuming that this will be the official policy. Delta’s award pricing has been subject to glitches in the past and I wonder if this lower redemption rate is the official policy and even if it is, I wonder how long it will last.

No notice, no shame

It’s a shame that airlines feel that it’s okay to change redemption rates overnight with no notice. Remember, these are loyalty programs we are talking about there. Loyalty is a concept that works both ways. And I don’t see why Delta thinks it’s okay to repeatedly makes these changes with zero notice, even if it’s allowed per the terms and conditions.

When American announced its latest devaluation that took effect in March 2016, it gave notice in November of 2015, giving members plenty of time to make bookings. When United made massive changes to its award chart in early 2014, it gave its members three months to get their bookings taken care of. And there are plenty of other examples of airlines giving their loyal customers at least a couple of months notice before implementing major changes.

I don’t have a lot of ground to stand on in terms of being an outraged Delta loyalty member, as I’ve actively avoided earning and burning Delta SkyMiles for almost two years now. However, I firmly believe that it is poor practice for an airline to changes prices to its loyalty program with no notice, as it goes against everything that a loyalty program is about. I hope true Delta loyalists will consider taking action and entertain other programs so that at some point airlines like Delta will receive the message that these practices are unacceptable.

Singapore Airlines Moves Suites to Upper Deck, Reveals Photo of New A380

Via Australian Business Traveler, new images of Singapore Airlines’ new A380 aircraft captured from its ferry flight from Toulouse to Hamburg’s Finkenwerder Airport have surfaced and they might shed some light on the new layout of the new and improved Singapore Suites to be announced later this year.

The first major difference that you’ll notice is that the suites are being moved to the upper deck of the A380. In the current models, the first class cabin, consisting of 12 suites, is in the front of the plane on the first cabin level and the entire upper deck consists of business class seats on some aircraft, while some also include an economy section.

Singapore Suites First Class A380
Singapore Suites First Class on the A380.

In the new A380 you can tell that this will likely no longer be the case based on the photos shown by FlightMaestro. In the photo below on the left you can see the current A380. As pointed out by FlightMaestro, notice the windows are in four groups (2-3-2-2) which correspond to where the four suites are located on either side of the plane (there are also four suites located in the middle of the cabin).

But now take a look at the upper deck of the A380 on the right and you can see where three groups of two windows are located (and presumably the suites, too).

This might show that there will be three suites on either side for a total of six first class suites if they all offer single aisle access. If they keep the option of the double bed, I’m wondering if they’ll move to a layout closer to Etihad’s design with beds perpendicular to the windows/fuselage (where only two cabins get this benefit on either side).

Or maybe if these suites are big enough and there are actually only six of them, each suite will have its own bed rivaling the size of a double bed. Who knows?

Etihad First Class Apartment
Etihad First Class Apartment.

We already know some stuff about the new first class suites. Australian Business Traveler already confirmed that there would be fewer than 12 suites on the new Singapore Airlines first class product on the A380. While additional details seem hard to come by about this new product (we should receive something by the summer), Singapore Airlines also already confirmed that there would be no shower but that there would be larger suites. Also, the new A380s are set to go into service October 2017

Hopefully, we’ll see the addition of a bar, as Singapore Airlines is one of the only top first class products on the A380 without a bar and given their level of service and cabin design, I think they would offer an exceptional bar area.

Ultimately, fewer seats means less likely of a chance to score award seats but it’s always exciting to see what an airline like Singapore will cook up for its next first class product.

Almost Half of TSA Pre-Check Travelers Think Lines Are Too Long

TSA Pre-Check is a program launched by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) back in 2011 to enhance the pre-boarding security screening process. It offers expedited screening by providing you with a shorter line and fewer restrictions when making your way through security. But it doesn’t look like everyone’s satisfied with the current Pre-Check status quo. The LA Times reports that a recent survey conducted by OAG shows that many TSA Pre-Check customers aren’t too happy with what they signed up for.

It reports:

But a survey of nearly 2,500 North American travelers found that 45% of fliers who enrolled in TSA PreCheck still think the lines are too long and the $85 cost for a five-year membership may not be worth it.

The survey taken by OAG, a company that compiles and provides data to airlines, airports and others, found that the percentage of travelers who feel the TSA PreCheck lines are too long was even higher amongbusiness travelers, at 57%.


TSA has highlighted its own positive stats on its website where it claims that in February 2017, 97% of TSA Pre-Check passengers waited less than 5 minutes and that Pre-Check has  over 4 million members currently with a presence at 180+ airports and 30 airlines. 

It’s a little surprising that so many Pre-Check customers would be dissatisfied with waiting 5 minutes or less, but I think many Pre-Check travelers feel like anything short of a breeze through security with no line is a loss.

This is especially true when it feels like the standard screening line (with an average waiting time of 10 minutes) is moving more quickly. Sometimes waiting in a 5 minute virtual stand-still line is more frustrating than waiting in a 7 to 10 minute line that is steadily moving. I attribute those type of scenarios to understaffing or lack of training and that’s probably what’s got a lot of Pre-Check people unhappy.

That, and another complaint with TSA Pre-Check is that many terminals aren’t outfitted with TSA Pre-Check. I’ve been to terminals in MIA and LGA that operate the “dumbed down” version of Pre-Check where you don’t have to take your shoes off but still have to remove your laptops, liquids, and often are subjected to other restrictions. The biggest downside is that you still have to wait in the standard screening line.

I think that TSA should advertise TSA’s presence with an asterisk for certain airports that don’t operate a TSA Pre-Check line at all terminals, so you at least have some level of notice that you might not receive Pre-Check benefits. Sometimes you may want to consider going through security twice in order to experience a lounge but if you won’t be able to go through Pre-Check each time, you may not feel like it’s worth it.

On the other hand, it has been exciting to see Pre-Check expand to so many different airlines. Some of the major airlines that they currently serve are:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Cape Air
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airlines
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic

Overall, I’ve been mostly happy with TSA Pre-Check, but I’ve had a bad experience here and there. Hopefully, TSA will continue to increase its staffing so that both lines, standard security and TSA Pre-Check will continue to become more effecient and we’ll see more airlines and airport (terminals) participating in the program. If you want to know more about TSA Pre-Check read my guide here.

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