Thursday, December 27, 2012

Southwest, losing customers one at a time.

I was under the impression that Southwest and Airtran, both owned by Southwest were going to match status for their frequent flyer programs. I did receive a Southwest A-List membership which apparently expires at the end of this year.

Yesterday I was informed that was not the case and that passengers in order to continue that status passengers would need to qualify for the two programs separately.

I fly Airtran when it goes where I need to go and I fly Southwest when it goes where I need to go.

Southwest's attitude toward some of it's best future passengers is puzzling and discouraging.  As a loyal Airtran customers I am already saddened that Airtran's innovative and passenger friendly policies are going to be replaced by Southwest's much different and less convenient policies. Southwest is doing virtually nothing to ease this transition.

It would seem a minor concession to continue the practice of including Airtran A+ Rewards Elite members on Southwest's A list. The cost is small and the goodwill substantial.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Has Southwest Airlines Lost it's Way?

I wonder if Southwest Airlines has lost it's way. I am a frequent traveler on Airtran and since Airtran was purchased by Southwest I've been watching for the changes Suthwest is implementing.

I like Airtran, they have a range of programs designed to attract different groups of travelers. They have a business class and use upgrades to reward frequent fliers. They have a standby program for poor college students with more time than money called airtran U. They have a A2B a corporate program that caters to business travelers with relatively low entry requirements and offers a number of perks that enhance flexibility like free name changes and free same day standby (space available) and a free bag. Airtran has a simple Frequent Flyer (8 flights = 1 free flight). Their Elite designation adds a number of free perks including free upgrades (space available) and free bags.

Southwest on the other hand has recently revamped their Frequent flier program ( Rapid Rewards) to be more like a legacy airline mileage program geared to how much a passenger paid for their ticket. The new program offers miles that do no expire ( for now). It is also difficult to transfer "points" that do expire from the old program to the new one.

Southwest has also been aggressively raising fares to the extent that in many cases they are not the least expensive airline. She recently has a need to travel from New Orleans to Austin, both in Southwests "home country". Continental was far less expensive, given two months notice, even including the bag fees that Continental will charge. That was a stunning epiphany.

Formerly I was a Southwest evangelist, they were nice to us. Then they turned on us.

Once A long time ago I was on a one day trip to Dallas. I took Southwest and on the way back I had elected to take a later flight that went through Houston. When we were waiting to take off the airport was closed due to weather. The Captain ordered drinks all around. After a while we moved out but for some reason pulled off to the side. It turned out the Houston Airport was now closed by the same storm front. Shortly after that a truck pulled up beside our plane and couple of guys who could have been Chippendales marched down the aisle with case of beer on their shoulder to applause all around.

Southwest was also famous for handing out free drink coupons. A while ago they voided all of those drink coupons that they had given out. I had 12 or 16 that are now useless. Non of them had an expiration date. There are law suits pending.

Back to Southwest of the present from what I read in the Business Press Southwest wants to attract more Business Travelers. I am at a loss to determine what programs Southwest has in place to accomplish this. Big Corporations seem more than willing to pay big bucks to keep their employees happy while they also have the clout to get better deals from the Legacy Airlines. The business opportunity that Airtran identified and Southwest seems to be ignoring, is the small businesses who actually can direct the travel of their employees but cannot get a good deal from the legacy airlines.

Let me point out what, according to Southwest, we will no longer have:
  • Business Class.
  • As a result of legacy program changes
    • As an Elite Member - I will likely get a place in the front of the line and a 25% increase in points.
      • Although as I understand it the qualification to remain on the A List will double over A+ Elite .
    • The ironically named A List Preferred apparently requires nearly double the qualifications of the A list and four times the qualification to renew Airtran's Elite status.
      • Other than enhanced "brownie points" (100% vs 25%)" and free wifi, there seems no additional benefit over the "A List".
    • Neither offer substantial benefits beyond a "dedicated phone number" and "priority boarding", which we already enjoy.
      • We have also noted that the Southwest "Rapid Rewards" which was similar to Airtran's A+ Rewards has been downgraded making it less attractive than it was previously, although the new "points don't expire" feature favors occasional travelers over frequent travelers.
  • No more A2B at our level. We have only used two of the A2B benefits to any effect.
    • One of the most substantial business benefits to use is the ability to change the name on a reservation.
    • Our other most used benefit is the ability to go standby on a space available basis on any flight on the same day at no cost.
    • Southwest Corporate Travel program is only available to Fortune 2000 Businesses.
    • The SWABIZ program offers no benefits to travelers and the benefits to a business are nominal.
  • Although Baggage charges make a point for leisure travelers many (maybe most) Business Travelers do not check baggage, or even carry any. I know I seldom do except for long leisure trips.
    • When traveling Airtran on business I seldom check a bag or even carry one. I usually do when on vacation.
    • As an Airtran A2B passenger I get one bag free (an effective $15 discount (if I were to check a bag, which I almost never do)).
      • Many Passengers carry on their bags, which they might check if there were no bag fees.
      • I am old enough to remember when it was "cool" not to check bags and the "stewardess" would stow bags for you.
      • Today the large overhead bins accommodate "standard" rolling bags and many people are afraid to check bags.
    • As an Airtran A+ Elite I do not pay baggage fees on the first two bags, I effectively get a $35 discount on most tickets (If I were to check two bags, which I seldom do).
    • In essence Southwest is giving away a "cosmetic benefit" which costs little and benefits Business Travelers little.

While I will probably continue to fly the new Airtran/Southwest I also expect fares to increase, except for occasional, less frequent sale fares. I will always fondly remember Airtran and the fact that their business model seemed to be working. If a new Airtran comes along I will likely jump ship.

I presently expect that our fare's will increase approximately 40% by 2013, as a result of Southwest's model replacing Airtran's. I also expect to lose the few useful benefits we enjoyed as A2B partners.

I hope I'm wrong.

I don't think I am, recently I found that Delta had lower fares than Airtran/Southwest for a trp from MSY 2 ATL.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I don't get it.

Everyone or at least a lot of people seem to think Tim Tebow, a professional football player for the Denver Broncos, is some kind of messiah.

I don't get it.

Before he was a professional football player he was a college football player and I didn't get it then.

I was in Jacksonville Florida near the epicenter of Tebowism two years ago during the height of his collegiate beatification. I had the temerity to express in a convention shuttle bus that "I didn't get it". I was subsequently verbal assault by the BUS DRIVER.

The expiration of his college carer was apparently enough to move his college coach to retire.

I still don't get it.

In his still nascent professional career he has played one game and most of that was pretty awful, but the press seems to be willing to anoint him as he next coming.

I'm perfectly willing to accord him his accomplishments on the football field, even grant him a measure of greatness. I simply don't get the near religious adoration accorded him as an athlete.

Perhaps it's his posture resembling a great work of art
Perhaps some of his disciples should reflect on his actual meaning.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm Getting Old

I recently had a birthday and She took me on a plantation excursion. We spent the night at Nottoway and at Houmas House. Each of those places has evolved into a tourist destination of sorts, with numerous attractions. Both host a lot of weddings and other events, both have fine dining restaurants. Nottoway has overnight accommodations for about 100 people including rooms in the house and cottages.

This is something we have been talking about for a long time. We even did it once, spending the night at Madewood a few years ago, before I started this blog.

This was a sort of surprise. I knew something was happening but I didn't know exactly what.

Friday afternoon we took off work early and headed up the river and over the Sunshine Bridge. We arrived a Notoway
and checked into our new cottage, it had been open only a year or two.

The room was very nicely furnished.

Since it was late in the afternoon we unpacked, walked around the grounds and eventually got ready for dinner at the Mansion Restaurant, located in the lower level of the house.

Our table was the one of the far right. The food was very good and the service pretty good. I recommend it. The only drawback is like a lot of restaurants it is noisy, although that may have had more to do with the party at the next table.

Saturday morning we had breakfast in the restaurant. Two eggs any style with choice of bacon or ham, grits and biscuit ($7.00). They didn't run out of grits.

Finally the tour of the property. It was interesting. The most interesting part was how the plantation survived the Civil War. It seems the owner took his slaves to Texas where he hired them out to make cash. When the war was over he had the cash to purchase a pardon and keep the plantation. The second most interesting part was the opinion of our guide, a retired school teacher, on the state of education in Louisiana.

Heading back across the Sunshine bridge to Houmas House.

Houmas House doesn't have any overnight accommodations except their Honeymoon Cottage.

It is an old cottage with two rooms, a bed room and a bridal room. It also has a large bathroom with a giant tub. There is no TV in the cottage nor as far as I could find anywhere on the plantation.

There is however a bar on the premises

It is fairly small and serves as the bar for the restaurant and the various events. I got the opportunity to teach two bar tenders how to make a daiquiri.

We had dinner at Latil's Landing Restaurant, located in the old trading post building behind the main house. The Food was excellent and the service very good. I recommend it also.

There are several small dining rooms, this is the one we ate in.

Sunday morning we had a bit of a problem, the water went out early in the morning and didn't come back on until after 10. We were wondering whether the rest of our day would be in jeopardy, you see we wanted to take a tour and have brunch before departing.

Nothing seemed to go awry. Tours were announced by the ringing of a bell and they went on more or less as scheduled. We took the 11:00 AM tour, led by a very dramatic young lady named Katie. Whenever I take these kinds of tours I'm never sure how much of the spiel is accurate but in South Louisiana we have never been anxious about letting a few facts get in the way of a good story.

Again Houmas House survived the Civil War as a viable working plantation. The story of how that happened is also interesting. Apparently the Owner freed his slaves several months before the war started and hired them back as employees. He also kept his money in Northern banks, was an Irishman and therefore a British Subject and had a letter for Abraham Lincoln.

The most interesting thing on the tour was a large map of Louisiana from the 1840's. It showed the extent of major plantations and listed the population of each parish. It listed population in three columns White, Free Colored and Slaves. I can't recall the exact numbers but I was surprised to see that Orleans parish was listed with somewhat over 100,000 residents. Somewhat over 50,000 were white and there were almost equal numbers of slaves and free colored residents (each in the 20,000's).

After the tour we had Sunday Brunch in the Pavillion Ballroom, one of the venues on site. It was pretty good as well.

After brunch we drove back to New Orleans in time to watch the saints game on TV, but that is another story.

Thank You TOM

I was anxiously awaiting the new improved Superdome this year. I was unable to attend either of the pre-season games so my first look at the new seating was for the home season opener against Chicago.

The first challenge is the new more extensive screening procedure. They are now patting people down much more thoroughly, unfortunately they have not increased the number of screeners, not the arrangements for screening. The only solution it seem they can come up with is for everyone to get there sooner and stand in line longer.

The new concourse and concession areas a substantial improvement, there is more space less congestion.

The new plaza level seating is a big disappointment. The seats don't seem as comfortable, the sight lines don't seem as good. In order to add more seat is seems the "rake" of the seating has been decreased. the opposite of what I expected.

Our seats are on the sideline at the edge of the sideline, across the aisle is the end zone seating at a much lower price. Unfortunately although we have the same seat numbers our seats are now as last year we are about 15 yards farther down the sideline.

However the biggest annoyance is the increased cost of beer. It's now $8.50 a piece. I have long been annoyed by the stupid beer guy games where in an obvious and petty effort to increase tip. They count out change slow motion, stopping after each dollar with a questioning, sometimes sad puppy, sometime aggressive look, hoping you'll get bored and give them a bigger tip. This year there is a new aggravation, then never have "change" tacking on an automatic $ 0.50 surcharge announced after they have my money. I understand these people deserve a tip for their service. I think I'm a pretty good tipper, but I'm also old fashioned. I like to think the tip is my idea adn I gave it freely.

In our section there used to be one really good beertender. He worked the section, came to the regulars at the right times. He knew what kind of beer we liked. He always had correct change and was cheerful about making it. I know he got more in tips from me and some of the other people than the current group does. I would often give him an extra tip at the end of the third quarter, for taking care of us during the game. I now often go out in the concourse rather than deal with the vendors.