Passports will soon be needed again to fly to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean

By the end of the month, air travelers will again need passports when flying between the USA and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean (including Bermuda). Faced with an overwhelming backlog of passport applications, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a temporary ruling in June that allowed air travelers to fly as long as they carried proof that their passports were pending, according to Travel Weekly (free registration).

But with that temporary reprieve about to expire, the DHS sent out a press release yesterday “reminding air carriers and the traveling public that the temporary Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) accommodation allowing U.S. citizens to travel by air within the Western Hemisphere using a Department of State (DOS) official proof of passport application receipt will end as scheduled at midnight on Sept. 30.” Next year, the law will be extended to include land border crossings, according to Travel Weekly.

Travel with Extra Oxygen

Did you know that you can also travel with extra oxygen? I am sure majority would say a big “No”. Till last midnight, I was also on the same page. But, now I can say it is indeed possible. I came across a website “Oxygen Freedom“. They deal in portable oxygen concentrators.

The use of oxygen concentrators began in July 2005 when FAA approved portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) for use during flight.

What is Portable Oxygen Concentrator?

A Portable Oxygen Concentrator is a lightweight unit that can run on AC, DC and battery power. This allows users to remain away from home for indefinite periods of time while using a portable oxygen concentrator. The development of the portable oxygen concentrator has opened endless possibilities for oxygen dependent people. Oxygen patients are free to travel like never before.

Currently, the following airlines allow the use of the portable oxygen concentrators onboard their aircraft:

  • Air France
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • Aloha Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • America West
  • ATA Airlines
  • Avianca Airlines
  • Continental Airlines
  • Delta
  • Frontier
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Mango
  • Mesa Airlines
  • Midwest Airlines
  • Northwest Airlines
  • Qantas
  • SAS Airlines
  • Sky West
  • South African Airways
  • Southwest
  • Sun Country
  • US Airways
  • WestJet Airlines

Carry-on liquid ban will stay for foreseeable future

You are out of luck if you’re hoping for a change to Transportation Security Administration’s ban taking liquids and gels past security in your carry-on luggage. Those restrictions are “here for the foreseeable future,” Kathy Kraninger, director of the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Office of Screening Coordination, says to Travel Weekly (free registration). The TSA first put the liquid and gel restrictions on carry-on luggage in August after a British authorities uncovered a terrorist plot to use liquid explosives on trans-Atlantic aircraft.

Those rules were somewhat relaxed in September when fliers got the OK to carry liquids and gels such as toothpaste and contact solution past security in containers of three ounces or less. Even then, liquids were still required to be placed in a single quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top bags to clear security. Despite the relaxation, the ban has remained unpopular with many fliers. Travel Weekly says Kraninger made her comments in “responding to a delegate’s question following her speech to the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ conference [in Miami.] Kraninger said the DHS has not identified technology up to the task of identifying liquid explosive materials.”

This Summer can ruin the party for air travellers

According to the Devner Post, “if thunderstorms hit this summer, airline travel could be a string of hassles and delays” all over again. Many airlines are leaner and operating fuller flights, while some carriers’ pilots and other employees are butting heads with management over executive compensation and labor contracts. Meanwhile, federal officials are trying to work with an aging air-traffic-control system,” the paper writes.

“We’re very concerned about this summer’s airline schedule,” John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, says to the Post. “I believe it’s going to be as bad as the summer of 2000.” Prater points out that many airlines have replaced bigger planes with more-frequent flights on smaller aircraft. That, he says, makes problems more likely. “You’ve got more business jets in the air, and you’ve got an air-traffic-control system that has not been modernized. There’s not any more runways. … That combination is not good for our industry,” he says.

Airlines, on the other hand, say they’re staffed to handle the always-busy summer travel season. At United, which set its record in March by filling 85% of its seats for the month, spokeswoman Jean Medina tells the Post that the carrier is “staffed to meet the travel needs of our customers.” Linda Rawlings, owner of Denver travel agency Travel Advocate, isn’t so sure. She’s going as far as to recommend customers pad itineraries with several extra days to guard against the possibility of flight disruptions. “There really isn’t any give in the system,” Rawlings tells the Post. “If a flight cancels out, you used to be able to say, ‘Oh, well, it’s no problem. We’ll just move you to the next one.’ Well, the next one is full. And none of the carriers want to move you to a different airline.”

Hawaiian, JetBlue top latest airline quality rankings

You probably don’t need an objective study to tell you that the quality of airline service is getting worse. But, for those in search of hard evidence, USA TODAY writes that “the overall performance of U.S. airlines worsened in 2006, its third consecutive year of decline, according to the 17th annual Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) released … Monday. Its performance fell in three of the four categories measured by the study: on-time arrival, involuntary bumping and mishandled luggage. The customer complaint rate was flat.”

The report also looked at individual airlines. Who was the top-rated carrier? That would be Hawaiian Airlines, which knocked JetBlue out of the top spot for the first time in four years. The study included 18 airlines, though this is the first time it considered Hawaiian big enough to be included. However, AQR co-author Brent Bowen of the University of Nebraska-Omaha tells USA TODAY that Hawaiian has “distinct advantages” over larger competitors. He notes Hawaiian operates a relatively small number of flights to mostly fair weather destinations. “It is somewhat of an anomaly to compare it to other carriers,” he tells the paper.

So, who rounded out the rest of the airline’s rankings? JetBlue finished second, followed by AirTran, Frontier and Northwest. Southwest and Continental –- two airlines that routinely win awards for being the best airlines of their types -– finished sixth and seventh, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, the five worst-rated airlines were Delta-affiliate Atlantic Southeast (No. 18), American affiliate American Eagle (No. 17), Delta affiliate Comair (No. 16), regional giant Mesa (No. 15) and regional carrier SkyWest (No. 14).

USA TODAY notes that “of the 18 rated airlines, only Northwest and US Airways improved from 2005. Northwest spent much of 2006 restructuring its operations to emerge from bankruptcy and the efforts may have paid off, [co-author Dean Headley of Wichita State University] says. It was the only airline that had improved in all four categories.” But, Headley adds: “They’ve been trying to get their act together. Maybe they did. The question is ‘will it continue next year?”

As for US Airways, USA TODAY writes that its “improvement may have been influenced by its merger with America West, which has been one of the top performers in the past, Bowen says. But US Airways, which has been consistently ranked among the worst network carriers in the past years, also moved up partly because it couldn’t fall much further, he says. Ranked 13th, it was still the worst performing network carrier in 2006.” One interesting finding in the study: Independence Air was the only of last year’s top airlines to fall out of the rankings. Rated No. 3 in the 2006 AQR ratings, Independence Air ceased operations early last year after running out of money.

For the year 2006, the here are the Top Ten U.S. airlines ranked for overall quality:

1. Hawaiian Airlines

2. Jet Blue

3. AirTran

4. Frontier

5. Northwest

6. Southwest

7. Continental

8. United

9. Alaska

10. American

EU Approves Open Skies Agreement

European Union ministers approved the Open Skies agreement yesterday in Brussels. As a result, airlines flying between Europe and the U.S. have fewer restrictions about where they must depart and land. For example, only certain U.S. airlines are allowed to land at London Heathrow International Airport at present. The new agreement would open gates up to airlines that have traditionally lacked access to this busy airport. And European airlines will be allowed to fly to U.S. cities from locations outside their home nations. The way things stand right now, European airlines, say Air France for example, can only fly to the U.S. from an airport in their own country – in Air France’s case, from France.

What does this mean for travelers? A greater variety of flight options between the U.S. and Europe, as well as lower fares on popular routes. But don’t expect to see any changes right away. Originally slated to take effect in October, the date has been pushed back to March 30, 2008.

Airbus 380 Makes Historic Landings

Airbus 380
Yesterday was the historic day in aviation industry. The world’s largest passenger airplane, the double-decker Airbus 380, landed in the United States for the first time. There were two landings, one at JFK that was operated by Lufthansa and another operated by Qantas landed in Los Angeles. The video on this historic landing can be found in Popular Mechanics. Each Airbus 380, which can hold approximately 550 passengers, costs a reported $300 million.