Skip to Content

Click on a label to read posts from that part of the world.

Map of the world

Exclusive: Memo Details New United Airlines 'Super Elite' Level

I'm incredibly lucky. On my first day as editor-in-chief of Gadling, a highly reliable source sent us this memo. Too good to be true? Absolutely. As a hopelessly loyal frequent flier, I'm definitely gonna be lining up for this new program. If only I could get a blog on BoardingArea, my life would be complete. (OK, I'd settle for a blog on Upgrd, too!)

EMPLOYEE BULLETIN: INTRODUCTION OF GLOBAL SERVICES PLUS ELITE FREQUENT FLIER LEVEL

Confidential

In an effort to recognize and reward our most valuable customers, we are introducing a new elite level, Global Services Plus. Selected MileagePlus® Global Services members will be upgraded to Global Services Plus membership before the new elite level launches June 1. Please be advised of special protocols for MileagePlus® Global Services Plus members.

Nondisclosure of Program

The invitation-only Global Services Plus program and its benefits are highly confidential. The names of program members may not be shared with anyone except any third party with which United has a marketing relationship. Media speculation about who may or may not be a Global Services Plus member will likely increase in coming weeks. Please do not confirm or deny the existence of the program or anyone's program participation, even when it seems obvious.

Identifying Global Services Plus Members

All Global Services Plus members will be identified in your reliable SHARES reservation system with the code ENTLD. They may also be recognized at the airport, where they crowd around a gate agent, demanding to be upgraded. They are known to frequently use the phrase, "Do you know who I am?" (Please note: Sometimes they know who they are.)

Bing Travel: "We save the average couple $50 per trip"

Hugh Crean is the general manager of Bing Travel, Microsoft's new travel search engine. Microsoft is trying to chip away at Google's search engine dominance, and Bing Travel is part of a multi-pronged effort that also includes shopping and health-related microsites. Crean's company, Farecast, was acquired by Microsoft last year and folded into MSN Travel. I asked Crean about what Bing means to travelers.

Q: Farecast. MSN Travel. Now Bing Travel. My head is spinning! Couldn't you just leave well enough alone?

Crean: It's true that we're giving the guy who changes our name on the front door some good business this year, but we're excited that as part of the overall Bing search strategy, Bing Travel is a solution that a lot of travelers will discover and learn about in the coming weeks, months and years. Frankly, we're simplifying things. With Bing Travel, Microsoft now has a single online destination for travelers.

Q: How is Bing Travel different from MSN Travel?

Crean: For starters, we incorporated all the great Farecast features - price predictor, hotel rate indicator, deals, planning tools, fare alerts, and more. Plus, we added the travel editorial travelers have used and read for years at MSN Travel. Beyond those core features, we have a really deep integration with Bing.com that makes Bing a great search site for travelers. Try a general Web search on Bing.com for 'flights from LAX to SFO.' Right at the top of the results you'll see our prediction on whether to buy now or wait, deals out of LAX, a link to our flexible travel tools and more.

Costello: "The traveling public cannot be ignored any longer"

Jerry Costello is the co-sponsor of the FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2009, which contains several important new rules designed to help air travelers. I asked the Illinois congressman, who is also the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, about passenger rights and the prospects that new rules would be adopted by the Senate and signed into law.

Q: The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index gives the domestic airline industry an average score of 64 our of 100 -- essentially, a failing grade. What do you think needs to be done to fix the industry?

Costello: Ultimately, service will be as good as an individual airline wants it to be. The economic pressures of running an airline - which hit rock bottom after 9/11, through the boom period of the middle of the decade, to another lull currently - will always be there. It is a cyclical business. The key is to be able to focus on the customer experience at all times, and Congress can help emphasize these issues.

Q: The FAA Reauthorization Act contains a number of provisions that could potentially help passengers. If they become law, which of the new rules do you think will improve air travel the most?

Costello: Short-term, I believe the emergency contingency plans for airlines and airports to better prepare for long tarmac delays can have an impact on the worst of these situations. We won't eliminate all of these situations, but I am hopeful the horror stories will be dramatically reduced. Long-term, empowering the Joint Planning and Development Office to really drive the NextGen process, and providing the funding to do it, will improve the system for everyone.

Q: In a statement following the passage of the Act, you called the new law "long overdue." Can you elaborate on that? When it comes to passenger rights, how long overdue are these new laws? Why do you think it's taken so long to get here?


American Airlines' Mitchell: We want to give passengers "what they value most"

Mark Mitchell, American Airlines' managing director of customer experience, is the point man for customer service at the airline. With the summer travel season now underway, I asked him how air travelers could have the best possible experience, and what airlines like American are doing to make it better.

Q: What can air travelers do to get the best possible customer experience from an airline like American?

Mitchell: Our goal is to provide travelers the best possible experience, and it begins long before someone steps inside an American Airlines plane. We strive to ensure that our tools, processes and interactions make it easy for someone to choose American -- whether it's booking online at aa.com or redeeming AAdvantage miles with our new flexible awards booking tool or making a call into our reservations system. And once in our care, the American Airlines team is committed to doing everything within its power to offer travelers the best customer service.

We take this very seriously. More than 200 employee-led teams across our network over the past two years have been working to identify issues and develop solutions within six key issues customers care about: delays and delay management, gate interactions and the boarding experience, on-board interaction, cabin interior condition, baggage handling and baggage resolution.

Q: Is it possible to run a profitable airline and have happy customers? Or does an airline have to choose one over the other?

Talking Travel with with Karen Schaler, author of "Travel Therapy: Where Do You Need to Go?

Karen Schaler is the author of Travel Therapy: Where Do You Need to Go? A former embedded war correspondent in Afghanistan, she's experienced the highs and lows of travel. I asked her how to get the most out of your next vacation.

Schaler: It's all about changing your attitude by changing your environment. By using travel therapy, visiting different destinations can help you deal with what you're going through in life. Whether you're going through a breakup, lost your job, stressed out, looking for a way to add some sizzle to your relationship or re-invent yourself you can use travel therapy to make sure you're picking the trip that's best for you based on what you need and want.

Q: Where did the idea come from?

I personally have been using travel as my therapy for years to not only help me get through the tough times but to also celebrate special occasions. I got the idea after I returned from working as an embedded war television correspondent in Afghanistan. I was going to the gym when I was grumbling about something insignificant and said out loud, "I need to get on a plane, I need some travel therapy." It was like -- bam.

I had been using the concept for years but had never put it into words. I knew I had to write about it so I could share the idea and hopefully help others pick vacations and special trips matching their emotions. So I finished the documentary I was working on about Afghanistan and quit my television career of more than 15 years. I knew there was more I could do and contribute so I cashed in my 401K and starting traveling and doing the research for the book.

Q: At a time like this, when travel -- especially air travel in the United States -- is awful, shouldn't people be staying home when they want any kind of therapy?

Schaler: It all depends on your personality and where your head and heart is.

Wall Street Journal's McCartney: Airlines have gotten "carried away" with fees

Scott McCartney writes The Wall Street Journal's "Middle Seat" column and is the author of the new book "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel: How to Arrive with Your Dignity, Sanity, and Wallet Intact." With the travel season about to take off, I asked him for his thoughts on flying in the summer of 2009.

Q: What should air travelers expect this summer?

McCartney: I think this will actually be a very good summer to travel, if you can afford it. The recession has lowered ticket prices considerably, left hotel rooms far more available at lower prices and reduced congestion at airports and in the skies so flights are running more on time.

The dollar has rebounded some, and so it's a good year to venture overseas. Crowds should be smaller and merchants should be more anxious for your business. We may well look back on this year and say there was a window of opportunity when the airline system and major tourist destinations didn't bog down as much under the weight of summer crowds and travelers actually had the upper hand.

I'm taking my family to Europe -- tickets were about half the price of what I probably would have paid last year. Hotel rooms seem to have good availability using points or reasonable rates in dollars. I just think that if you are able to do it financially, it's a great time to go.

Q: I really like the subtitle to your book, "How to Arrive with Your Dignity, Sanity, and Wallet Intact." What do you think is more important to travelers -- dignity, sanity or intact wallet?

Will you flip for the Flip Ultra?

Like so many things in life, the latest Flip Ultra is two steps forward and one step back. At $199, this compact HD video camera is less expensive than the sleek Flip Mino. But it's also bulkier than its little brother, both literally (it's big enough to accommodate two AA batteries, as opposed to the internal battery the Mino runs off) and figuratively, since it can hold up to two hours of high-resolution (720p) video, twice as much as the Mino.

What I liked: In the tradition of previous Flip cameras, the Ultra is super-easy to use. The stereo mic is a huge upgrade from the tinny-sounding mono mic on the Mino. The camera felt solid in my hand, and even though it didn't have any discernible image-stabilization technology, I experienced less shake when shooting. The USB port makes a better connection with some PCs -- no need to unplug all the peripherals when I'm downloading video. Editing the images on my almost-obsolete version of Final Cut Pro ... well, that's another story.

What I didn't like: If you're used to the Mino, you may not appreciate the heaviness of its successor. The buttons take some getting used to; I turned the camera off when I was trying to zoom in on a subject, because I was used to the Mino configuration. A lot of my shots were unacceptably jerky. Flip should consider flipping the switch on image-stabilization when it develops its next generation of cameras. And batteries. Don't even get me started on batteries. It takes seven hours to charge the internal batteries the first time around. Whoa.

US Airways customer service director: À la carte fees are the only way forward

John Romantic is the director of customer relations and central baggage resolution at US Airways. But he'd prefer that you simply think of him as your advocate at the airline. For the last nine months, he's had the unenviable job of improving the carrier's checkered reputation for customer service. I asked him how he's doing it.

Q: I've been hearing a lot of buzz about some of the changes within US Airways, when it comes to handling customer service questions. And I've seen a marked decrease in reader complaints. What are you doing?

Romantic: We are doing a lot, and we're glad there is a buzz starting.

My goal when taking my position nine months ago was to transform customer relations from a complaint resolution center into a customer advocacy center. Better said, while we handle customer inquiries, we also need to globally understand customer sentiment and use all of that data to look at our product, policies, and processes. Our focus is to find ways to be easier to do business with.

Q: How?

Romantic: We code 100 percent of the customer responses we receive, and have created better reporting from this data. We have established an executive steering committee which meets regularly with the primary focus of understanding our customers' feedback, and finding ways to improve our customers' experience resulting in reduced complaints. The work of this team has lead to several recent changes – with some still in progress.

We realize we have a little more ground to make up on customer complaint rankings, but our actions are starting to close the gap with our competitors.

Rosetta Stone's Adams: World travelers should learn Spanish, Chinese

International travelers know what a formidable barrier a foreign language can be. From time to time, language spills over into the headlines - as it did last week when Fidel Castro insisted his brother's comments about political reform in Cuba were "misunderstood." Tom Adams knows about language barriers and how to overcome them. He's the chief executive of Rosetta Stone. Yeah, the company with the ads featuring a hardworking farm boy and an Italian supermodel. I spoke with him recently.

Q: Can you get along with just English when you travel internationally?

Adams: You can if you're traveling to major cities and don't plan to really engage. However if you're trying to go into the field and really discover a culture and a country, then yes, you do need another language. I think that anyone who has successfully learned another language knows that the benefits are tremendous. Those that experience success communicating in a new language often describe it as life-changing.

Q: Let me confess, I'm one of the people who makes fun the tourists who try to learn a language before they visit another country, or worse, they tote around a phrase book and read from it. Convince me of the error of my ways.

Gadling Features


Most Popular

Categories

Become our Fan on Facebook!

Featured Galleries (view all)

Berlin's Abandoned Tempelhof Airport
The Junk Cars of Cleveland, New Mexico
United Airlines 787 Inaugural Flight
Ghosts of War: France
New Mexico's International Symposium Of Electronic Arts
Valley of Roses, Morocco
The Southern Road
United Dreamliner Interior
United Dreamliner Exterior

Find Your Hotel

City name or airport
POWERED BY
City name or airport
City name or airport
POWERED BY
City name or airport
City name or airport
POWERED BY
City name or airport code
If different
POWERED BY
POWERED BY

Budget Travel

DailyFinance

FOXNews Travel

Frommer's

Engadget

Eurocheapo

Lonely Planet

New York Times Travel

Joystiq