Saturday, October 12, 2013

United's New Look

Just after the merger of sCO and sUA's Passenger Reservation System, Jeff Smisek said, "Functionality first, design second."  He was referring to Continental's outdated website.  I believe that the change is just around the corner.  A few weeks ago while I was checking in in Portland, I saw something exciting.  United was testing out a new look for their check in Kiosks.  Have a look:
The start screen has a much more direct approach, asking customers to get started from the first page.

This is the flight view, show flights, equipment, seats, and times. 

The final screen, showing boarding time and gate information.  The system also alerts you if you are precheck.
 I was super excited, and then I realized that this design matched one of the designs in a #flyerfriendly ad:

This #flyerfriendly ad shows a new website, that seems to work beautiful on the iPad.  

So a few days later I asked United if they were going to update their iOS app for iOS7, and they said, "Stay Tuned."  As a guess, I believe they are about to release all new apps, launch the new website, and roll out the new kiosks very quickly.  

All I can hope at this point is that they let me have a sneak peak at the new site!

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Friendly Skies Are Back!

It's not that often that a truly great ad campaign is created, but in 1965 Leo Burnett created one of the greatest:

Burnett said, "I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one."  When United let go of the ad in 1996, the new agency was smart to keep their hands off of the friendly skies.

BUT, today marks the historic return of this amazing campaign.   Flyer Friendly.  Info Friendly.  New and Improved Friendly. 

Read more about United's new campaign on the United Hub.

This new twist on an exceptional classic brings the greatness of the United Subsidiary and the Continental Subsidiary under one statement; friendly.  If you read my blog, you know that I have been a long supporter of United, and when the merger happened, I welcomed the New United into my life.

I believe that had the merger never happened, there would be no New and Improved Friendly.  Each of the United Subsidiaries have something special to bring to the plate.  Continental brought its great mobile app.  United brought its fantastic hubs.  And together, under Jeff's lead, they have created a service focused airline.

For a long time I've dreamed of going back to the golden years of flight, and though things will never be the way they were in Catch Me If You Can, United has done an amazing job of creating a truly great experience.

United has actually become Flyer Friendly.

I will have more to say as I continue to fly with United and see what else they have out.  But I believe that this is the start of something great.  Oh, and Leo, I think that a greater genius figured out how to take your great ad and make it even better.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Earn More Rewards With United

As you all know, I'm Premier Platinum member (Not far from 1K, after a lot of work) in United's Mileage Plus loyalty program.  But did you also know I'm earning even more rewards using United's PerksPlus?  I work with several people and all of us travel.  Since all but one of my team flies United (the other person flies Don't Ever Leave The Airport), it became advantageous to see if there was any way my company could be earning valuable miles.  The answer: United PerksPlus.

United's PerksPlus is a revenue based system where points are accrued based on the revenue to either a hub (1 point per dollar) or a non-hub (2 points per dollar).  What can those points get me?  Free flights, free status (up to Premier Gold), United Club passes, and more!

Now I'm not only earning miles for my flights, but I'm also earning points from my entire team's travel. But is that it?  Of course not!  I am also a member of the Club.

The Club has a $25 per year membership fee.  For each flight I fly that I booked on, United gives me $5 in my Travel Bank.  If I book 100 flights on and fly all of those trips, I'm going to earn $500 in my Travel Bank!

So, with some simple steps, I'm earning miles, points, and dollars!  Not to mention I use MileagePlus shopping, MileagePlus Dining, and more!  Make sure you look into these options so that you continue to earn the most miles and points that can be used for reward travel on United and Star Alliance Partners.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?  (I know I'm flying to Hawaii for free thanks to the above steps!)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Renting A Car Should Be Easier

The Budget counter at OKC.
We've all seen the commercials that make renting a car look like a glorious event.  And for those of us who are road warriors, we know that the car rental is the weak link in the chain.

I've rented at least once from all of the majors rental companies.  I've settled with Budget.  "Why?", you ask.  Why not?  I don't believe that it really matters.

My big issues stem from the lack of a customer focus.  Budget rewards me with 50 to 100 United Mileage Plus miles (at select locations), and the Budget Business Program, which earns me a few dollars with each rental.  However, I have no real reason to stay with Budget, they just got lucky to get me.

There's not an amazing system out there for any Car Rental company either.  Budget and Avis both have an app.  Do you know what "Hello World" is?  Is commonly the first app that any programmer builds.  All it does is say "Hello World" on the screen.  That's about how much the Budget and Avis apps do.  And within their websites you have to know your confirmation numbers, the system doesn't present those for you.

Airport arrival is also annoying with many car rental companies because it's so very different at each airport.  I'm not talking about the location of the car rental facilities, but the process.  At some airports I need to go to the counter, at some I go to the Fast Break counter outside, and at others I just go get a car.

Where does this problem stem from?  The business model of a car rental company stems from its profit centers.  All car rental companies make money when they purchase their cars, not when they rent them.

The Life Cycle of your Rental Car
Rental cars are often bought in bulk by a local/regional manager, not on a national basis.  The goal is to buy enough of one car to get a strong discount.  As you know, cars depreciate (very quickly I might add), so the goal is to purchase a car with a strong enough discount that you can sell it 40,000 to 60,000 miles later for about the same price, or even make a profit.  Once the car is purchased, they need to get it on the street, making money, as soon as possible.

So, you rent the car... You ABUSE that car.  There's a lot of rough travel that happens during that time. Come on, you know you rent the Impala and drive it off road.

When the car hits a certain threshold (which really varies by location), the car is retired and sent for Recon (industry term: recon is a term used to describe reconditioning of the car which includes and cleaning or repairs needed before sale).

Once the cars are ready they are sold.  It used to be that most of the cars were sold wholesale at the auction, but more and more the car rentals companies are selling retail to buyers -- this practice results in  a higher sale price, which means more profit in their pockets.

So, here's the truth about car rental companies, they don't care about the people who rent their cars.  They care about the buying, selling, and depreciation of the cars.

Renting a Car Should Be Easier
Whats my point?  If rental car companies focused more on making the rental experience better, there's a chance they could increase their ancillary revenue.  Yes, I am calling the rental portion of their business ancillary because it is.  That's not where the money is made.

Take it from me, it's never going to happen.  Until some rich hotshot gets in the business, no one is ever going to make a great car rental company.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why should you sit in on the #unitedplanechat about Bags?

United invites you to participate
in their #unitedplanechat
on Twitter.
I've been a big fan of #unitedplanechat since its inception.  One of my early posts was all about the chat.  But why would I take the time to highlight a chat all about bags?

People complain about their lost or missing bags all the time.  United handles huge numbers of bags every day.  With that many bags any company might lose one or two.  How does United recover your bags?  What types of special services are there with bags?  How do the bag tags tell United employees where your bag is going?

During the #unitedplanechat on June 3rd at 1:30 pm Central Time, you can ask all of these questions and more!

Oh, and you might want to be on the lookout for the #unitedgiveaway hashtag on Twitter.  You might just get a chance to win 8 passes for BagsVIP, a great new service from United.  Learn about BagsVIP Here!

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Living a Dream and a Living Nightmare

I remember the day I first saw N20904.  I was at the Delivery Ceremony for ANA's first 787 (which you can read about here).  I gazed upon 904 from a viewing deck high above the factory floor.  She was perfect.

The Date was September 26th, 2011.

On August 31st, 2012, I booked my first flight.  There was a lot of Twitter discussion that night about who was booking to Chicago and who was headed to Newark, or LA.  I picked the Newark flight.  My reason was simple, I wanted to go on the longest flight I could.  I booked a variety of seats to get the best views.  But just a few short days before my flight... it was cancelled due to delays.

My heart was broken.  (This isn't the nightmare, so keep reading).

Then, the unthinkable.  The Dreamliner was grounded due to battery problems.  My shot to fly on a 787 was getting further and further away.

Life changed for me while the Dreamliner was down -- I became a dad.  Which changed my desires to travel.  But, when the first United 787 return to service flights were announced, I booked.  I first booked the IAH-DEN flight on May 31st, 2013.  And only a few days later United updated their system with the May 20th flight UA1 to Chicago. I had to book it as well.

Last Monday, I lived the Dream.

Sunday, May 19th, 2013 was a crazy day in Oklahoma.  We had our first real tornadoes of the year.  And I got sick.  When my alarm went off at 4:00am Monday morning I was feeling even worse.  I almost thought that I shouldn't take this trip.  But I forged on.

My flight to Houston was uneventful, and filled with anticipation.

On March 21st, 2012, I took this picture:

So, when I first saw Jeff Smisek at IAH, I took this one:

I'll spare you the details of the hoo rah before the show, and get to the flight.
As we pushed from the gate I played with the windows (which are pretty amazing).  I gazed at the wing and the Giant GEnx engine.

And, right on time, each engine forced its sixty-some-thousand pounds of thrust to send us flying into the sky.  We started our right turn and headed north towards Chicago.

It would be so easy to tell you that I just took a flight on a plane and it was no big deal.  But it was a big deal.  The cabin was roomier, the air was fresher, the windows were more tintier, and flight was much, much more amazinger.

There are three things that you need to know about the Dreamliner.

1. It's quiet.  Even though people told me that it would be quiet, I didn't really believe them.  But the truth is, I couldn't really tell a noise difference between climb and cruise.  I have this bad habit of humming through an entire flight, but I felt that I couldn't do it on UA1, because my seat mate might hear it.

2. It's smooth.  I'm not sure if you knew what the weather was doing on the morning of May 20th, 2013, but over Oklahoma it was very unstable.  As we leveled off at 41,000 feet, I knew what we were up against in the skies, but it never really bothered me.  The Dreamliner really does adapt, and it really does make for a much smoother ride.  And the landing?  WOW!  I only knew we landed because I heard it.  And I never could tell when the nose gear hit the ground.  (In fact, I thought we were still nose up until we turned on to the taxi way.)

3. It's fresh.  With new technology, and a lower pressure altitude, the air inside the Dreamliner is so much more like a fresh spring day, than the normal airplane air.  Boeing did an amazing job making this plane to feel like you're not flying.

United took a great plane and made an amazing and triumphant return to service!  The flight attendants were great, but I'll get to that later.

When we landed in Chicago, I was in heaven, but my dream would quickly end, and my worst nightmare would soon begin.

A Living Nightmare.
About ten minutes before we boarded I checked the weather (remember the unstable air in Oklahoma?).  I quickly called my wife and agreed with what she had just heard from my mom... get out of our house.  As we boarded I was talking on the phone and watching KWTV 9 on my iPad.  As one of the worst tornadoes in history was building, I was realizing it was on a direct path towards my home... my wife... and my 10 week-old daughter.

I've always thought about how I would handle my emotions if I was on a trip and my wife was hit by a tornado, and I kept coming to the conclusion that it would never happen to me.  I frantically asked the flight attendant, Krista, if I needed to get off the plane, could I?  She was very sympathetic and told me that I could do what ever I needed to.  But I wouldn't be getting off the 787, because I couldn't find a direct flight to OKC from ORD that afternoon.

My wife had left town and was with my parents, she and my daughter were out of harm's way.  But as I had to turn off my iPad, the tornado was just passing where my house would be.

The above image from FlightAware shows the flight
path and the weather at the time we landed.
For 2 hours and 12 minutes, Krista and some of United's best took care of me.  I fought with the fear of more tornadoes breaking out.  Was my family okay?  Was my house still there?

I had to come to some sort of resolve that no matter what, if my family was okay, I was okay.

My phone was on during final approach -- I was hoping to get a text from my wife, but I didn't.  And as soon as we landed, I called.  They were okay, but we didn't know about the house.

I took some deep breaths and tried to remember that it was just stuff.  I waited for the cabin to deplane and went to thank the United crew who took such good care of me.

Crew members wished me the best and told me they would pray for me -- and I knew they would.

As I was leaving I asked if I could stick my head in the cockpit, and they said sure.  And in the middle of my own storm, I had an amazing calm.  As I entered the massive flight deck of the 787, Neils (our captain) offered for me to sit in the left seat.  And it was AMAZING...

It was still a long trip home, and as we were on final to 17L, I could see a huge darkened area that was Moore, with millions of flashing emergency lights.  There was a lot of question, and I knew I wouldn't know for several days.  But now, four days later, I am in my house, with very little damage, sitting only two blocks away from total destruction.   I don't normally bring religion up on the interwebs, but I serve a God who protected me, my wife, my child, and useless, meaningless stuff I have.  And I am so thankful for it.

I would be amiss if I didn't take the time to ask you to help those in Oklahoma.  Living so close, I can really tell you how bad the devastation is.  I know many of the people who were greatly affected, and I am closely connected to some of the 24 that died.  Please take some time to help those in need, Donate Here to the Red Cross.  If you know me and want to donate on a much more personal level, I know families who could use some help.  Please contact me.

But you're here about the Dreamliner.
Okay.  Let's face it, you're tired of hearing about the tornado and you came here to hear about a flight, so I'll let my interview with CNBC say the rest...

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Friday, April 12, 2013


My large collection of Loyalty Cards (there's more...)
See more of my square photos on instagram
Everyone knows I'm a huge United fan. But what would I do if Delta offered me a "better loyalty program"? How I would respond is the difference between Loyalty and LoyalMe. CEOs, it's time to pay attention.

Loyalty.  How much money does your company dump into your loyalty program?  Look at your analytics... the money your dumping in, is it paying off?  Often you would say, "yes."  But the truth is that you're only buying more time until another company offers something better.

I remember listening to a top level executive of a major hotel chain (who I won't name for their sake) say, "The reality of Loyalty is that I'm always looking for what's best for me and my interests."  Recently I was reading through Marriott Insiders about Platinum for Life (something I'm very close to, and very actively trying to reach), I noticed a lot of people saying, "Marriott should bend the rules for me because I have the points, but not the nights."

Many loyalty programs offer huge bonus drives like Marriott's MegaBonus (or MegaMiles).  These bonus programs only work so well.  They drive people to use your brand until they see a better option.

Loyalty Runs Dry.  I have a number of friends who were high up on the Hilton Honors program.  Through Marriott's Platinum Challenge I was able switch them over to Marriott.  Out of the five that I switched (at that time), one of them compared Marriott to Hilton for about three months.  Then it was silent; Hilton had died.  But I promise you, those same people will switch back as soon as they get a better offer.

LoyalMe.  Will I ever give up on Boeing, United, Marriott, or Taco Bueno?  No.  In fact, two of those four companies don't even have Loyalty Programs.  So, what's the difference between Loyalty and LoyalMe?

I am sold out.  Through consistency, and constant affirmation and appreciation (not some bonus program) from these brands, I have found that I do not want to turn my back on them, because they have not turned their backs on me.

These brands keep a constant dialog with me, and take part of the exciting things going on in my life.  I'm not a number to any of them.... I am a person.

How do you get LoyalMe Customers?  They find you.  Look for customers who make an investment and spread the word about your company or product.  They may seem crazy (and most of us are), but we're crazy in a good way.  Grab those customers and protect them.  (If you find a true crazy person, maybe not so much.)  Encourage them to try new parts of your product or service.  Invite them to visit you (seriously, nothing was more exciting than visiting Taco Bueno's Headquarters).

The more you invest in people (and not their silly desires), the more they will be willing to die for your brand.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Continental Pilot Embraces the New United Brand

Every time I bring up United, I hear comments about Legacy Continental and Legacy United.  Crews, Frequent Flyers, and everyone else has an opinion of who is better.

The conversation on the left came about on a picture I posted on instagram to celebrate the one year anniversary of the New United.  "But the attitude of some of the legacy sCO crews and staff really ruins the experience a lot of the time..."  This is a phrase I've heard all too often.

Don't get me wrong.  If I had my entire life changed by a decision I couldn't control, I would be upset too.  All too often I've heard pilots saying things like "proudly a Continental crew."  But maybe change is in the air...

Last night I flew from ORD to MCO on a United B737-800W. Without a doubt, it's a former Continental ship with an ex-con crew.  We were delayed out of the gate due to a late incoming pilot team, and people were a little restless.  But, just before push, the pilot came on and apologized for the delay.

With that, we were on our way.  Somewhere around 26,000 feet, the pilot (for the sake of not having his permission to use his name, we will just call him Rob) came on to tell us about the flight.  This is when I knew things were different.

"I want to thank you for joining us on this UNITED flight!  You've got four great UNITED flight attendants in the back to help bring you the best UNITED service!"

A United 767 Tail Stands Proud at ORD.
View more of my photos on Instagram
Rob was not afraid to be proud of being part of the new United.  And to be honest, the flight was amazing, and the service was beyond what even I expect from United.  At the end of the flight I waited to meet Rob.  I was invited into the cockpit (which, I must say, was AMAZING (yep, first time in a 737 cockpit)).

I told Rob that what he did really meant something to me.  I thanked him for embracing the new brand, and not being afraid to be a part of it.  Of course, I then got his information and submitted him to the Outperform Program (which, to be blunt, United would be crazy if they don't recognize him for this).  I shook Rob's hand and was on my way.

As American and US face a merger, I would have to say that they could learn something from my pal Jeff Smisek.  He understood that Culture was the most important thing, and he's been working hard at it.  We've seen it before in the Traveling Scarves and Ties program, but this was the clearest it has ever been made me from ex-con crew that they were excited about the change.

I hope that United seeks Rob out to thank him, and encourages him to spread his love of the new company with other team members.  I hope that Jeff and the leadership of United realize what a little action this is, but how big of an impact he made to the people on that plane.   The fact is, there is only one United now, and a year after the combination to a single passenger system, I believe it still is the greatest airline ever!

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

When Regional Becomes Mainline

I often hear stories of CEOs wanting to centralize and outsource.  In fact, I'm currently working on a project where centralization may be the best option -- But outsourcing?  It is easy to hand someone your shirt, your logo, and your livery and say, "You're now us."  But they never are.

Many people don't realize the difference
between United and United Express,
but as always, there's a number of differences.
View more of my photos on Instagram
I fly United all of the time -- which many of you #avgeeks will say is a lie.  The truth is that in 2012 I flew SkyWest more than any other airline (and in second place was Trans States Airlines).

For the frequent fliers you all know the issues that come with flying "Regional" Airlines.  The worst being that the onboard product is different.  Sure, the planes share the same livery (most of the time), and the pilots say, "thanks for flying with United," but do they really care about United's brand?  The answer is no.

I know, I know, I'm just sitting here complaining, but what am I really getting at?  United has 13 or 14 Regional Carriers.  Each with their own set of SOPs, Policies, and procedures.  American just inked a new deal with SkyWest.  Delta and US also use Regional Service.  What's the big deal?

SkyWest and Republic.  SkyWest currently serves 166 Destinations across North America, and Republic services close to the same (across all of their subsidiaries). These two airlines have the force to leave behind "Regional" service and provide their own-branded service.

Image from Wikipedia
Fine, you want to bring up ExpressJet (now owned by SkyWest).  I'm sitting at gate 11 at Oklahoma City, ExpressJet used to offer service from Gate 12, which I'm looking at.  They had the great idea to move from Regional to Mainline -- But if failed.  Why?  They didn't have a strong enough brand.

How many times when you fly with SkyWest have you noticed that they push their SkyWest brand as much as they push the United, American, US, or Delta brands?  It's pretty often.  SkyWest is slowly working on making all of their passengers aware of who is really running the airline.

SkyWest and Republic both have a huge advantage with having a history in running their own Passenger Systems (for SkyWest it comes from ExpressJet, and for Republic it comes from Frontier/Midwest).  They have the airplanes, and they have the know-how to run a full system.  What's stopping them?  (yeah, duh, a non-compete of sorts in a contract.)  But how long will that last?

Major carriers are handing their brands and their customers over to these small, but powerful, airlines. Maybe it's time for Large carriers to look to Southwest... one mainline fleet with no regional carriers so that you can maintain complete control of your brand.

And, not to mention, how is flying half way across the country "regional"?  That's just a personal pet peeve of mine.  But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?