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5 Ways to Survive a Flight in Basic Economy

How to Survive a Flight in Basic Economy

Late this year, JetBlue was the latest airline to join the basic economy game. In 2017, United and American joined Delta to offer an unprecedented fare option called “basic economy” to compete with no-frills, low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier. As with all things, you get what you pay for, and in the case of basic economy, that’s truly just the essentials. Each airline has its own definition of what essentials are included, but the easiest way to scale expectations is to know that the only thing you’re getting is a seat—and an unassigned seat at that.

What Is Basic Economy? The Pros

[st_content_ad]There’s only one real benefit to basic economy: the price. And that it gives customers some buying power with the a la carte model—pay only for what you want, whether it be a pre-assigned seat or access to the overhead bin.

So, if you travel frequently, especially on shorter flights, this could be a good-value option, as long as you don’t mind just getting the basics. And let’s be honest, anything beats Spirit and Frontier, so you’re upgrading your overall experience, and at least Delta, United, and American typically have TVs and snack and beverage service.

Jeff Klee of CheapAir.com makes a case that basic economy fares give people looking for low fares some more flight options, which is a pro for cheaper air travel overall. Low-cost carriers typically only offer one or two flights daily in each market, and now there are tons more options. He also notes that basic economy fares let customers earn rewards points on these three major airlines, at a lower price.

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What Is Basic Economy? The Cons

Basic economy fares set a problematic precedent though, proving to airlines that there’s a market for miserable, but cheaper travel. And the introduction of basic economy also reduces the number of traditional economy fares available.

There’s a negative trickle-down effect, too: Even if an airline decides to stick with the standard main cabin and business or first class cabin, it might still look to cut back on certain things like legroom, since now the industry bare minimum as a point of comparison has been lowered.

Other cons of basic economy fares include surcharges on basic amenities. If you’re not careful, you could end up spending even more than a standard fare by paying for things you actually want or need, like seat selection, upgrades, or stranded since you can’t change your flight.

You also lose flexibility and refund or change options with a basic economy fare.

Know What’s Included in Your Basic Economy Fare

basic economy

With basic economy, it’s important to read the fine print. Here’s what you get on some of the current major airlines offering basic economy fares.

On JetBlue, which introduced it’s Basic Blue Fares in late 2019, you get a seat in the main cabin, free snacks and soft drinks, in-flight entertainment, free Wi-FI, and access to the overhead bins. With the basic economy fare, you do not get to select your seat until check-in (unless you want to pay a fee), board in the last group, and have limited options for changes. You do not have the option to change your flight and you forfeit the fare if you need to cancel. Same-day changes are not allowed and you do not earn as many TrueBlue points. You can, however, purchase the “Even More Speed” amenity if you would like or an “Even More Space” seat (and then board in Group A) for the additional fee. Also worth noting, you cannot purchase this type of fare with points.

On American, you get a seat in the main cabin, free snacks and soft drinks, in-flight entertainment, and as of November 2019, you can now bring along a carry-on bag. There are the following restrictions: your seats are assigned at check-in or you pay a fee to choose a specific seat, there are no flight changes or refunds (except if you have AAdvantage Elite Status member or eligible AAdvantage credit card members), you’re not eligible for upgrades or priority privileges, and you board in the last group.

On Delta, you get a seat in the main cabin, complimentary snacks and beverages, access to overhead bin space, as well as in-flight entertainment; however, you’ll have the following restrictions: no seat assignment until after check-in at the gate, you won’t be eligible for same-day changes or ticket refunds after the Risk Free Cancellation Period, you must board in the last zone, and you’re not eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades or preferred seats.

On United, you get a seat in the main cabin, food and beverage selection, access to United Wi-Fi, and in-flight entertainment. There is no seat selection or upgrade option, no group and family seating, no access to overhead bins unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member, MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member; no ticket changes (even same-day changes), you also must board in the last boarding group (unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier/credit card member or Star Alliance Gold member), no refunds (except if in the United 24-hour flexible window), and they specify that you can only carry on one personal item.

Kayak offers a handy tool that shows you when a basic economy fare is available. Look for the two small drop-down menus, one labeled “Basic Economy” and the other “Main Cabin” when searching on basic economy fare airlines or routes. When you click this drop-down, you’ll also see what’s included in each fare type.

Editor’s Note: All details and restrictions are not included here and are subject to change. Check each airline’s website for specific details and fees regarding basic economy fares.

Pack Light

Legs of young woman close-up and blue baggage in airport

It’s no secret that being restricted to just a personal item is probably the worst part of basic economy (and low-cost carriers). To avoid hefty surcharges and checked bag fees, make sure you fit the baggage and weight requirements for basic economy fares. This often means packing light. To maximize your space, take a look at these 10 bags that will fit under the seat in front of you. To truly maximize your savings, you’re going to want to comply with this restriction.

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Check in Early

smiling african american airport worker taking passport and air ticket from tourist with backpack

Since your seat is assigned at check-in, you may have a greater chance of getting a window or aisle seat if you check in before others. Or you can try and be friendly with the gate agent and see if you can pick from what’s available.

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BYO – Entertainment and Snacks

While the three airlines offering basic economy fares provide you with entertainment, snacks and beverages, it’s still worth preparing to not have these amenities since many of the shorter flights on these airlines—which might be the only bearable way to fly in basic economy—limit them.

Board with items like a Kindle or Fire Tablet, water bottle, and snack packs; they may well come in handy for air travel on low-cost carriers or in basic economy.

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Splurge on Other Perks

If you’re going bare bones for your flight, maybe it’s worth splurging on a lounge day pass or massage at the airport with the money you’ll be saving. Many airport lounges offer perks or amenities like coffee, headphones, or snacks that you can take with you on the flight.

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9 Tips for Surviving the Middle Seat

On a typical commercial flight within the United States, about 50 unfortunate souls will be relegated to the dreaded middle seat. What can you do if one of those tortured passengers is you? Here are nine tips to make it to your destination with your sanity—and your comfort—fully intact.

Take a Tray-Table Nap

airplane-tray-table

Aside from occasionally holding a drink or a meal, the tray table doesn’t have much to do during a typical flight. Make use of it by taking an in-flight nap. No need to invest in an embarrassing Ostrich Pillow, however. Roll your jacket into a makeshift pillow, fold forward at the waistline, and snooze away. Whatever you do, though, don’t place your face directly on that petri dish of bacteria (a.k.a. the tray table), or at least disinfect it first.

Sleep Upright

sleeping-airport-travel-pillow

If a tray-table nap isn’t your speed, sleeping upright is also a possibility—even in the middle seat. It starts by picking the perfect travel pillow for your body, whether that’s a standard neck pillow, a shoulder-wrapping Travelrest Pillow, or even a candy cane travel pillow. Though they may not be as cuddly as their foam-filled counterparts, consider blow-up travel pillows for their space-saving qualities.

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Invest In Noise-Canceling Headphones

For just a few hours, a pair of good headphones can be a middle-seat passenger’s best friend. The right set tuned to a good movie or music can take your mind off the otherwise muscle-contorting rigors of the middle seat.

Claim Your Territory

front of plane

Even if you’re sandwiched between fellow passengers, your personal space needn’t be too limited. Board quickly at your first opportunity so as to make it to your seat before your seatmates, and then mark the armrests as your own. Don’t feel too guilty: It’s widely accepted that the middle passenger gets both armrests. But it’s important to claim them early, lest you find yourself next to a passenger who doesn’t buy into common courtesy.

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Make the Most of Your Knee Space

man sitting on airplane headphones and phone

Speaking of claiming space, do so for your knees as well. In such close quarters, every little inch counts. Consider politely asking your neighbor to refrain from leaning back if it really causes you discomfort. You’ll be surprised how considerate people can be when asked politely.

Keep Busy

Ever notice how time seems to fly by when you’re busy? Watch a movie, read, or play a game. Whatever your time-kill, just keep yourself entertained and before you know it the “fasten seatbelt” sign will go off and the pilot will announce your arrival.

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Bring an In-Flight ‘Survival Kit’

woman using traveling pillow and sleeping mask in plane

Regardless of which seat you occupy—but especially if it’s the middle seat—keep the following items handy for in-flight sanity (or make up your own in-flight packing list): an eye mask, electronics (a tablet, laptop, or handheld game console), headphones, non-electronic reading material or a puzzle book, a sweater or jacket, and snacks.

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Ask to Be Reseated

Just because you were assigned a middle seat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be stuck with it. Inquire with the gate staff about any remaining, available window or aisle seats. They may seat you in a more preferable location if one is open.

If you missed your opportunity at the gate, you have yet another shot at a better seat location by asking the flight attendant. Once everyone’s boarded and the plane’s cruising at a high altitude (but before the drink trolley comes out), politely ask the flight attendant if a window or aisle seat is open. Chances are, the empty seat will move you to the rear of the plane, but at least you won’t be the meat section in a seat sandwich.

Do Better Next Time

suitcases with plane in background

The best way to survive the middle seat, of course, is to avoid it altogether. Book early and, if you can, select your seat during the booking process. For airlines that don’t allow advanced seat selection (like Southwest), check in for your flight as soon as you can (in Southwest’s case, as early as 24 hours in advance). Because Southwest assigns boarding groups based on when you check in for the flight, the earlier you check in, the more likely you are to score your favorite seat.

What to Wear While Traveling this Season

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Senior Editor Patricia Magaña Figueroa writes about travel. Follow her @PatiTravels.

This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Booking Strategy Passenger Rights

WOW Air Ceases Operations, Cancels All Flights

WOW Air ceased operations overnight and has canceled all flights, effective immediately. WOW broke the news in a very brief statement, with no details about the future of the airline or much direction for travelers affected by the cancellation.

As recently as this week, it appeared the situation at WOW had stabilized somewhat, as bondholders took action aimed at giving the airline time to find desperately needed investment. That apparently has not worked out. According to Iceland Review, “between 2,700 and 4,000 passengers are stranded in total.”

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“We have run out of time and have unfortunately not been able to secure funding for the company,” Chairman Skuli Mogensen said in a letter to employees, per Bloomberg. “I will never be able to forgive myself for not taking action sooner.”

What Travelers Can Do

The cancellation of flights leaves WOW customers stranded around the world, and WOW isn’t offering (or simply can’t offer) much in the way of assistance. WOW says “Passengers are advised to check available flights with other airlines,” and that “some airlines may offer flights at a reduced rate, so-called rescue fares, in light of the circumstances.”

WOW’s main competing carrier Icelandair announced it will provide rescue fares (read: discounted economy tickets) “[only] for passengers who have already embarked on their journey, and have a return ticket with WOW Air between 28 March and 11 April 2019. The fares are subject to availability.” Hopper also announced that it will refund all of its customers who booked a future WOW Air flight.

Per WOW’s statement, “Passengers whose ticket was paid with a credit card are advised to contact their credit card company to check whether a refund of the ticket cost will be issued.”

If you purchased travel insurance that covers bankruptcy, contact your provider immediately. Also keep in mind that insuring your airfare won’t cover additional losses, such as hotels, car rentals, or tours, so contact those providers as well if you will no longer be able to take your trip or need to reschedule.

WOW also says “passengers may be entitled to compensation from WOW Air, including in accordance with European regulation on Air Passenger Rights. In case of a bankruptcy, claims should be filed to the administrator / liquidator.”

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The Saga of WOW

The once ascendant low-cost carrier that boldly offered $99 transatlantic fares to Iceland and Europe has slowly unraveled over the past year. The first signs of trouble showed up when the carrier began cancelling US routes following an aggressive expansion. While the internal picture wasn’t clear, the move suggested financial trouble at the airline, which proved to be true.

The airline thought it had a buyer last November when its rival and fellow Icelandic carrier Icelandair agreed to purchase WOW and operate it independently. That deal collapsed, however, mere weeks after WOW announced it. This led WOW to shed nine of its 20 aircraft in late 2018, selling some for cash while generally trying to reduce costs and stay afloat.

Another investor appeared early this year and seemed ready to rescue the carrier through an acquisition. Unfortunately, that deal fell apart last week, plunging the carrier into uncertainty and leading to this week’s rash of cancelled flights.

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This week, WOW’s bondholders gave the airline a bit of breathing room by converting their bonds to an equity stake in the airline. This reprieve appeared to give WOW time to find an investor or buyer, which it needed if it hoped to continue operations. But as we learned overnight, that final push fell short.

Readers, did you ever fly with WOW? What was your impression?

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Allegiant Air Retires Outdated Planes That Caused Safety Concerns

The last of Allegiant Air’s aging fleet of  MD-80 planes took its final flight this week, hopefully putting an end to years of safety and reliability concerns swirling around the carrier’s use of an outdated aircraft. Early MD-80 models debuted about 40 years ago, and have been since retired by most other airlines.

CBS News reports that the final MD-80 aircraft in Allegiant Air’s fleet, a 26 year-old MD-83, completed its final flight in Las Vegas by landing a half-hour late. The airline’s fleet is now fully comprised of modern Airbus aircraft.

Safety problems at Allegiant Air surfaced in 2016, when a stunning report from the Tampa Bay Times found that the carrier’s planes were “four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines.” These failures ranged from electronic and sensor issues to failing engines and overheating tail compartments, and in many cases reappeared even after inspections and repairs.

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Most blame rested on the airline’s fleet of old MD-80s, almost all of which Allegiant Air purchased second-hand from foreign airlines, according to CBS News. A 60 Minutes report followed up earlier this year and found little improvement to the situation: The program reported “disturbing questions about the performance of their fleet,” and said that “between January 1st, 2016 and [October 2017], we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs.”

Is the Allegiant Air Problem Solved?

Fair or not, it will take time for Allegiant to fully shake its reputation for using outdated planes. As of that 60 Minutes report, Allegiant said “safety is at the forefront of our minds and the core of our operations.” The airline promised to retire the last of its MD-80s by year’s end, which is now officially a promise kept.

Still, questions about the airline’s safety record linger, and will likely to do so until Allegiant demonstrates an extended period of problem-free operation. Earlier this summer, on the heels of the 60 Minutes report, one of the airline’s newer Airbus planes made an emergency landing due to reported smoke in the cabin. Aside from that incident, the airline has stayed out of the news for several months, a positive trend we can hope continues.

Readers, have you flown Allegiant lately? Have you noticed a difference between its new planes and the old ones? Or have you avoided the airline after learning of its sketchy safety record?

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Southwest Is Raising Fares: Will Other Airlines Follow Suit?

Southwest is quietly raising fares for thousands of flights to combat what it calls “cost pressures” it expects will impact its business into 2019. And while these increases are indeed minor—said to be only $2 to $5 one-way—the move by the low-cost line could signal the possibility that airfares will rise across the board.

In Southwest’s case, costs are increasing at a higher rate than anticipated as the airline invests in technology upgrades, new planes and expanded airport facilities, according to Bloomberg. That will result in a 3 percent increase in costs, rather than the previously projected 1 percent, even excluding fuel. Southwest also indicated these circumstances could continue into 2020, which in turn suggests fares could continue to creep upward.

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Will Others Follow Suit?

Southwest’s situation seems fairly specific to its own business, but that isn’t to say other airlines wouldn’t match the discount carrier’s new fares.

That said, demand for travel remains strong, and Bloomberg points out that makes it easy for airlines to raise fares. “The revenue outlook for 2019 is very good,” CEO Gary Kelly told the publication. In airline terms, this means planes are full and airlines should be able to charge healthy fares on flights. Good news for them and the airlines in general, but an ominous signal to travelers.

One things travelers can count on is a continued uptick in ancillary fares, especially as airline continue digging in on a la carte offerings in the spirit of Basic Economy. A new study estimates that U.S. airlines will rake in over $92 billion (yes, billion) from ancillary fees this year, up from $82 last year and a paltry $22 back in 2010, when such fees were just taking hold. Worldwide, airlines will rake in $871 billion from fees this year alone.

That estimate works out to roughly $21 per passenger globally, which serves as an important reminder that fares are not the only factor increasing the cost of travel these days.

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2 Low-Cost Airlines Cancel Several Transatlantic Routes

Two fast-growing budget carriers that serve the U.S. from Europe, Norwegian and WOW Air, both recently announced cancellations of several transatlantic routes.

First, Norwegian: The airline announced it will discontinue seasonal service to Edinburgh and Belfast from Providence, RI and Newburgh, NY. The move comes about 18 months after those routes were announced along with others that the airline still serves. Norwegian announced similar routes from Hartford, CT, at the same time, but canceled those routes after just nine months.

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WOW is also canceling newer routes. The airline will discontinue service from St. Louis as of January 7, 2018, and will not offer its seasonal service from Cleveland and Cincinnati next summer. Those route cancellations come only five months after service began; although WOW also launched flights from Detroit at the same time, which are safe for now.

The Route of the Problem?

So, what’s going on here? There are a few themes you might have noticed. Most obvious is the fact that these cities and routes were all new additions to both airlines’ transatlantic routes. In each case, it appears the airline took a five to six month trial period of the routes’ performances to decide there wasn’t enough demand.

And in each case, this was an attempt by either airline to move into an underserved markets and try to gin up untapped demand. For example, St. Louis has not had any nonstop service to Europe since 2003, despite being a fairly large metropolitan area without any other large cities near it. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Providence, and certainly Newburgh are not considered “major” destinations, and so don’t have many, if any, nonstop options to Europe either.

Basically, the airlines saw potential in these transatlantic routes, decided to give them a shot, and didn’t get the kind of response they wanted. Back when WOW announced the new routes, WOW founder Skuli Mogensen told USA TODAY “We like the region. We think there’s opportunity there. We think it’s under-served.” He predicted his airline’s low prices would “stimulate the market significantly.”

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As for Norwegian, it’s worth noting the airline isn’t pulling out of Providence and Newburgh entirely. The airline is maintaining year-round service from Providence to Dublin, Ireland, as well as seasonal Providence-Ireland service to Cork and Shannon. The airline will also fly from Newburgh to Dublin and Shannon, and to Bergen, Norway.

In fact, Norwegian blames the cancellation of its Edinburgh on Scottish airport taxes as much as anything else. The Scottish government was expected to reduce taxes at Edinburgh airport but ultimately chose not to, and that decision made the routes unsustainable for the carrier.

Still, this all points to the difficulty of operating consistent nonstop service from secondary U.S. cities to destinations in Europe. And these cancellations emerged around the same time Primera Air abruptly shuttered and filed for bankruptcy.

No matter how enticing the opportunity looks to the airlines, it seems there’s a thin line between success and stalling out. And of course, travelers are caught, not quite in the lurch, but certainly in the middle.

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Southwest Is Raising EarlyBird Check-In Fees

Southwest has announced it will increase its EarlyBird Check-In fees for select flights starting August 29.

The fees, which used to be $15 across the board, will now be $15, $20, or $25 per flight, depending on availability and route.

In a statement to USA Today, the airline said, “We’re making this change so we can continue offering a product our customers love. Of course, an increase in the price of a product is rarely welcome news, but as EarlyBird increases in popularity, we want to protect the value it offers our customers.”

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That’s a strange way of justifying hiking fees, isn’t it? Saying you’re “making a change so we can continue offering it” and to “protect the value it offers to customers” is quite a feat of mental gymnastics. Most customers would likely feel the so-called value of the service diminishes as the price goes up, especially because the benefits of EarlyBird Check-In are both confusing and somewhat unsubstantial.

What’s the Value of Southwest EarlyBird Check-In?

EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t actually guarantee early booking. Southwest says so on its website, stating that “while EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding position, it improves your seat selection options to help you get your favorite seat.”

Instead, EarlyBird Check-In does exactly what it describes, and only that. The service will “automatically check you in and assign your boarding position within 36 hours of your flight’s departure—that’s 12 hours before general boarding positions become available.”

But given Southwest’s unorthodox boarding process, checking in early doesn’t always result in an advantage. USA Today notes that “travelers who buy the airline’s priciest Business Select fares or have status in the frequent-flier program are automatically ahead of [EarlyBird Check-In purchasers] in line. The only way to guarantee an A boarding pass outside those groups is to pay the Upgraded Boarding fee at the gate,” which can be as much as $50.

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EarlyBird Check-In was only $10 when it launched in 2009, a reasonable fee for the convenience and increased chance of a good boarding position. Paying up to $25, however, seems a stretch for a service with no guaranteed benefits. One wonders if too many people are buying the service in an attempt to cheat Southwest’s boarding system, and watering down the value of EarlyBird Check-In the process. Maybe that’s what Southwest means when it says it wants to “protect the value” of the service.

Readers, have you purchased EarlyBird Check-In? Do you feel it’s a valuable service?

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Southwest Will No Longer Serve Peanuts on Flights

Southwest will stop serving peanuts on flights beginning in August, according to USA Today.

“Peanuts forever will be part of Southwest’s history and DNA,” Southwest said in a statement. “However, to ensure the best on-board experience for everyone, especially for customers with peanut-related allergies, we’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue serving peanuts on all flights beginning August 1.”

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The move itself is not hugely controversial. Many airlines have stopped serving peanuts on flights as concerns over severe food allergies have increased. The FDA lists peanuts as one of eight “major” food allergen (along with milk, fish, wheat, and others) which together are responsible for 90 percent of all food allergic reactions.

Historically Nuts About Nuts

What makes this move noteworthy, as long-time fans and observer of Southwest know, is that peanuts have long been an integral part of Southwest’s identity. Peanuts, of course, have long been associated with airline travel, but those little bags of nuts were a symbolic token of Southwest’s upbeat, no frills personality. The company’s blog used to be called Nuts About Southwest, for crying out loud, and offered “peanut” fares.

If anything, one wonders what took Southwest so long. Peanuts on flights have been a growing allergy concern for years, and many airlines phased them out already. United, American, JetBlue, notably, do not serve them.

Still, no airline can guarantee a completely nut-free cabin. Passengers can bring peanuts on flights, and some meals or snacks may contain trace amount of peanuts or peanut oil, not to mention other nuts and allergens. Most airline will try to accommodate allergic customers, so it’s always a good idea to call your carrier before traveling or speak to a flight attendant upon boarding.

Readers, will you miss the peanuts onboard Southwest flights? Or are you just as happy with pretzels and other snacks?

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Allegiant Air Safety Issues Have Persisted for Years, Investigation Finds

Have you questioned flying Southwest since its deadly engine failure made headlines this spring? The incident might have overshadowed a watershed safety moment for another low-cost airline—one that’s long faced questions about its safety: Allegiant Air.

A recent 60 Minutes special rekindled questions around Allegiant’s incident record, following a 2016 report that found Allegiant’s aircraft were four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines. 60 Minutes did a deep dive on the airline’s safety record since then, and found little has changed.

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Is Allegiant Air Safe?

The crux of 60 Minutes’ findings is this:

For the past seven months, we have been scrutinizing ‘service difficulty reports’ filed by Allegiant with the FAA. They are official, self-reported records of problems experienced by their aircraft. What we found raised some disturbing questions about the performance of their fleet. Between January 1st, 2016 and the end of last October, we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs.

The airline has had “persistent problems since at least the summer of 2015,” the report adds, “when it experienced a rash of mid-air breakdowns, including five on a single day.”

A Pattern of Problems

What makes the Allegiant situation more notable, however, is that we aren’t talking about a short period of time. As 60 Minutes notes, the carrier has had persistent, consistent safety and maintenance difficulties for years.

All airlines experience occasional, isolated mechanical issues.  Sometimes even a spate of problems in a row—Southwest, for example, had a rough stretch this spring with multiple, newsworthy incidents over a short period of time. The Tampa Bay Times’ bombshell reporting on Allegiant’s maintenance record, though, came out in November 2016, and we’re still talking about what appear to be systemic problems.

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Just this week, an Allegiant Air flight made an emergency landing due to smoke in the cabin. This followed another emergency landing in May due to an “electrical smell.” And that followed another in April due to a faulty sensor. And there was yet another in April.

In a statement to 60 Minutes, Allegiant’s Vice President of Operations, Captain Eric Gust, said: “All of us at Allegiant are proud of our strong safety record, as noted in the most current, comprehensive FAA audit. We not only comply with all mandatory safety regulations and guidelines, but also participate in numerous voluntary safety programs. Simply stated, safety is at the forefront of our minds and the core of our operations.”

It’s worth noting that this response differs from Allegiant’s in 2016, when Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. said the company would be “focused on running a better operation.”

Out with the Old

60 Minutes suggests these problems are the result of the way Allegiant runs its business: “The business strategy which has produced 60 straight quarters of profits, occasionally with margins approaching 30 percent, requires the airline to keep costs down and ‘push the metal’—keep the planes flying as often as possible,” the report says. “But Allegiant’s aged fleet of MD-80s, which it is phasing out and is responsible for most of its problems, require a lot of maintenance and reliable parts are hard to come by.”

How old can an airline fleet be, really? MD-80s are rarely flown in the U.S. these days, and most airlines have retired them in favor of newer, modern aircraft. Allegiant is finally doing the same. The airline is transitioning to an all-Airbus fleet, and is steadily introducing those aircraft to its active roster. Its MD-80s should be fully retired by year’s end. That said, the most recent emergency landing, due to smoke in the cabin, involved … one of its new Airbus planes.

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Where’s the Oversight?

60 Minutes also points fingers at the FAA. “Over the last three years, the FAA has switched its priorities from actively enforcing safety rules with fines, warning letters and sanctions—which become part of the public record—to working quietly with the airlines behind the scenes to fix the problems,” the report says.

However, in a letter to CBS shared with Skift.com, the FAA pushed back on suggestions of lax oversight, saying Allegiant received more attention than other carriers, and that the FAA accelerated a review of the airline’s procedures.

“This review did not find any systematic safety or regulatory problems, but did identify a number of less serious issues, which Allegiant addressed,” according to the letter. The agency says it has found no “significant or systematic problem” in evaluations following that review.

Unsafe, or Just Unreliable?

Amidst all this back and forth, one simple, common truth emerges: At best, Allegiant is simply far less reliable than other airlines. “Perhaps the piece was sensational,” Brian Sumers wrote for Skift, “but it did tell the public what insiders have long known—Allegiant is less reliable than U.S. major carriers.”

There’s a subtle but crucial distinction to be made here between “unreliable” and “unsafe.” For all the incidents Allegiant has encountered, it seems to take the issue seriously and is moving to modernize its fleet with more reliable aircraft. And so far, thankfully, those incidents have been relatively minor—at least in outcome, if not experience for the passengers onboard.

But a new aircraft fleet and all those statements of good intent won’t matter at all if these issues continue, or get worse.

Readers, do you fly Allegiant? Have you ever encountered a problem onboard? Comment below.

[st_newsletter]

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Airport Booking Strategy Passenger Rights Security

Avoiding Southwest After Its Fatal Accident? You’re Not Alone

Bookings at Southwest are way down following a fatal accident this past April. The airline announced Monday that it expects revenue per available seat mile (RASM) to fall about three percent in the current quarter. Basically, RASM goes down when more seats are empty. The airline previously estimated that this number would go down by between one and three percent—suggesting April’s incident is on travelers’ minds.

[st_related]This Is the Safest Part of the Plane[/st_related]

[st_content_ad]But in a filing with the SEC, Southwest blames reduced advertising for the change, saying the decrease is “primarily driven by lower bookings largely due to reduced marketing efforts following the Flight 1380 accident.”

In that incident, a engine fan blade broke off and shattered a window, killing the woman onboard. It is customary for airlines to cut back on advertising following an accident.

[st_related] American or Southwest: Which Is the No-Frills Airline? [/st_related]

But while the April 17 incident and subsequent marketing freeze undoubtedly played major roles in this decline, it’s not as if they are the only factors possibly at play. Southwest experienced two additional, publicized safety issues this spring: Another cracked window that required an unplanned landing, and a pressurization event that also required an abrupt landing.

Long story short, it was a spring of struggles for Southwest, and it seems passengers are hesitant to get back onboard. It’s difficult to see this trend lasting because, well, this is Southwest we’re talking about—one of America’s most trusted airlines. That’s what makes this series of events interesting.

Southwest has a fairly clean safety record, and the April fatality was the first in the airline’s history. But trust is a fickle thing, and should be when it comes to air travel. It’s understandable if some passengers are taking time to be sure these incidents are just a blip on the proverbial radar.

Readers, what about you? Southwest has always been popular with the SmarterTravel community: Has this recent spate of safety issues caused you to hold off booking with Southwest?

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Airport Booking Strategy

Southwest Reveals Airports for New Hawaii Service

Could Southwest Hawaii service make way for the ‘Southwest Effect’—increased competition and lower fares for travel to the islands? We’re closer to finding out.

Southwest just revealed new details of its hotly anticipated (since 2010), forthcoming Hawaii service. The airline announced which airports it will serve in Hawaii, along with the mainland airports from which it will operate those flights.

[st_related]Southwest Will Fly to Hawaii[/st_related]

Southwest Hawaii Service Airports

In Hawaii, the airline will serve:

  • Honolulu, Oahu
  • Kahului, Maui
  • Lihue, Kauai
  • Keahole (Kona), Big Island of Hawaii

Flights from the U.S. will depart from four cities in California:

  • Sacramento
  • Oakland
  • San Jose
  • San Diego

Southwest will fly to each major island in Hawaii and four of the five primary airports in the state, and will do so from some of the most conveniently located mainland cities it serves.

[st_related] Southwest Will Fly to Hawaii in 2018 [/st_related]

If you’re looking for specific routes, prices, or even a schedule for when those will be made public … you’ll have to keep waiting. In a recent quarterly financial update, CEO Gary Kelly said “We continue to expect to begin selling tickets in 2018 for service to Hawaii,” which importantly is not the same as saying the airline will begin operating flights in 2018. So flights may not begin until 2019. 

Interestingly, in announcing the U.S. gateways for its Hawaii service, the airline said it intends to “eventually offer some inter island flights.” This means travelers could potentially book multi-island trips on Southwest: something for travelers to monitor as the airline announces more details in the coming months.

Readers, are you excited for Southwest’s forthcoming service to Hawaii?

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer Holiday Travel Money Travel Trends

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

These Are America’s 10 Most Sinful States

A new study purports to rank the 50 U.S. states by their sinfulness. See if you agree with the findings.

Airbnb’s 10-Year Plan to Rock the Travel World

Airbnb wants your lodging dollar. The hotels will have something to say about that.

Wallet Watch: Southwest Raising Drink Prices

Remember when all Southwest alcoholic beverages were $5? No more.

That NRA Travel Discount? Check, It Might Be Gone

A slew of travel suppliers have discontinued their discounts for NRA members.

Coming to Caesars Palace: Daily Room Checks

When does “Do Not Disturb” not mean do not disturb? At a growing number of hotels, it turns out.

United Is Now Selling Wi-Fi Subscriptions – Deal or No Deal?

United is now selling monthly inflight Wi-Fi subscriptions. Should you buy?

The 10 Worst Airports for Spring Travel

Here are the top-10 airports to avoid for seamless spring travel.

Wallet Watch: Price Hikes at Disney Parks

A visit to the happiest place on earth just got more expensive—by as much as 9 percent.

Here’s How You Can Win a 19-Night Trip to Antigua and St. Lucia

Prize includes a 19-night trip for 2 to St. Lucia and Antigua, worth $100,000.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

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Budget Travel Food & Drink In-Flight Experience Money

Wallet Watch: Southwest Raising Drink Prices

For years, Southwest has bragged about its simple, low price for all onboard alcoholic beverages: “$5 happy hour, every hour.” In fact, Southwest has held to that $5 drink price since 2009.

On March 1, Southwest’s drink prices got a bit more complicated, and a bit more expensive:

  • Beer: $6 (Miller Lite, Dos Equis); $7 (Fat Tire, Lagunitas, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
  • Wine: $6
  • Liquor: $7

[st_related]That NRA Travel Discount? Check, It Might Be Gone[/st_related]

The good news is that Southwest’s drink prices are still $1 or so below most other airlines’.

[st_content_ad]In other good news, the new pricing won’t affect Southwest’s popular drink coupons, doled out to members of the airline’s Rapid Rewards program and to Business Select passengers.

A modest price rise after all this time is no cause for concern. But combined with Southwest’s recent increase in priority-boarding fees, it’s an sure sign that Southwest is looking closely at such so-called ancillary fees to nudge up its top and bottom lines.

Reader Reality Check

Worrisome trend?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel In-Flight Experience

Wallet Watch: Southwest Raises Fees for Priority Boarding

Southwest has made a point of promoting itself as the airline that doesn’t nickel and dime its customers with the long lists of nuisance fees other carriers charge. While it’s true that Southwest doesn’t charge for the first two checked bags, and for flight changes, it can’t call itself a fee-free airline.

Among the airline’s fees are its Upgraded Boarding fees. These are the surcharges to snag a place at the front of the boarding queue, an option available at the gate on the day of departure only. And they’ve just effectively gone up.

[st_related]Coming to Caesars Palace: Daily Room Checks[/st_related]

Until this month, the boarding fees were either $30 or $40, depending on the length of the trip. Beginning this month, a $50 fee category was added, presumably for the airline’s longest, most lucrative flights. (There’s no published list of fees by route; passengers will be advised when they check in what the boarding fee is for their flights.)

So, $30, $40, or $50 to jump the boarding line. And that’s each way, so those fees will double for a roundtrip flight. Worth it?

It depends, of course. On the length of your flight. On your tolerance for claustrophobia. And on your finances.

We can infer from the addition to the new higher Upgraded Boarding fee that there has been no lack of demand for the service. Which says something about what flyers want and need. It also says something about Southwest: For all its benign public countenance, the airline is looking for ways to squeeze more cash from its customers.

No surprise there. Southwest’s management is answerable to its stockholders, as are the managements at American, Delta, and United.

Reader Reality Check

Would you pay $50 extra for a better boarding position?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Airport Booking Strategy Travel Etiquette

Etiquette Alert: To Save Seats or Not to Save Seats on the Plane?

Most travelers adhere to a list unspoken rules and courtesies aboard commercial aircraft. Don’t kick the seat in front of you. Don’t bring a tuna fish sandwich aboard. Don’t elbow your seat mate off the armrest.

Seat Saving: Fair Play or a Travel Faux Pas?

[st_content_ad]But the unique flying experience aboard Southwest requires a few additions to that list, notably the practice of saving seats. Seasoned Southwest travelers have likely encountered or even participated in the practice. For the uninitiated, a recent article in the Arizona Republic sets the scene:

Southwest, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, gets plenty of love … But it attracts plenty of disdain, too, for its one-of-a-kind boarding process. Passengers are assigned a boarding group and sit in any open seat when it’s their turn to board. 

The open-seating system spawns seat saving, in which people who board first save seats for spouses, kids, friends and co-workers farther back in line, leaving fewer choices for other passengers. It’s the airline version of saving seats at the movies or hotel pool.

[st_related] Southwest Bumps Overbooking[/st_related]

Not surprisingly, seat saving is a highly contentious issue. On one hand, Southwest’s boarding process is loosely organized by design. There’s no rule against seat saving, and therefore no concrete reason for passengers to shun the practice. And since traveling partners may be split into different boarding groups … why not? It’s a free-for-all once you’re onboard. Save that seat.

On the other hand, Southwest sells Early Bird Check-in and upgraded boarding precisely so travelers can, for a fee, have first dibs on the best seats. But whether you pay for the privilege or simply land in Group A, seat-saving unfairly diminishes the choices available to you. If the first dozen or so passengers are each saving seats for other passengers, what’s the point?

Southwest’s Stance on Seat Saving

Southwest’s position on the topic seems to be a big shrug. The airline leaves it to passengers and flight crew to work out any difficulties in the aisles.

Seat Saving with Courtesy

So, fellow travelers, what would you do? Personally I think seat-saving is acceptable … to a degree. Saving one seat for your partner? Sure. But saving a whole row really isn’t fair to your fellow travelers.

Context matters as well. If you’re in Group A and your partner is several groups behind you, maybe saving a seat isn’t realistic. Lots of people will be looking for seats and, after all, the seats are technically unassigned. Same goes for a sold out flight. But if your partner needs an aisle seat, perhaps for some kind of health issue, then by all means fight for that seat. And remember, you can always politely ask to change seats once the plane fills up.

Ultimately, everyone is going to get where they’re going. And while most of us would prefer to sit with our friends or family while doing so, most of us also read, watch a movie, or fall asleep while up in the air. Does it really matter who’s sitting next to you?

Readers, fess up: Have you saved a seat aboard Southwest? Do you think it’s a fair practice? Let us know in the comments below.

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