Transparency in the airline industry

I’m back from a long weekend in Albuquerque for a wedding and the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and slowly getting back into the swing of work.  If you saw the news reports, one balloon got hung up on a fairly high radio tower last Sunday.  I got the following photo of it:

Yeah, that tower is just over 600ft, and normally when people (technicians) climb it they have tons of safety gear.  Over all the passengers in the balloon (three from what I read, two of which were fairly small kids) got lucky the balloon snagged the tower and stayed there.  If the balloon had just torn and not caught, they probably would not have made it.  Standing on the launch field (we had just gotten back form our successful flight which included an aborted landing due to a radio tower) there seems to be a real sense of concern amongst the balloon pilots around us.  Overall, the Balloon Fiesta was one of the best experiences of my life.  If I get a chance I'll post some more photos.

This was the first time in a while I’d been subject to the great experience that has become airline travel.  We flew on Delta from Milwaukee to Albuquerque, connecting via Cincinnati.  I’ve only flown on Delta one other time, and wasn’t too impressed – the plane seemed a lot less comfortable than others.  What I found extremely interesting was the level of transparency that Delta gives its passengers at the gate.  In Cincinnati and in Albuquerque, there are display that cycle through information on the flight, including the waiting list for first class upgrades, the list for standby and the order people are in, and how many seats on the flight have been confirmed (i.e. people have checked in).  The display doesn’t show the full name, just the first three letters of the last name and first initial (therefore I would have shown up as "DYS / D").

The display also explains why your "spot in line" on one of these lists may change by stating that SkyMile members, people bumped off earlier flights, and cost of your ticket are used in the ranking order.  Contrast this to an experience I had on United while connecting through Chicago.  Anyone that live in Madison, WI will tell you United is their last choice when flying because except for one flight daily to Denver, all flights connect through Chicago and return flights from Chicago to Madison are routinely canceled.  I was waiting standby in O’Hare to get back early from somewhere to Madison.  They called one gentlemen’s name to board, and he explained he was traveling with another person and would take the seat if they both could go.  The gate agent said there wasn’t enough seats, so the man passed and they called the next name on the list.  Everyone, including me assumed the flight was now full.  They then proceeded to call another name, and then me.  The original person who gave up his place in the standby line got (understandably) angry and pretty much asked the agent "WTF?"  The agent then explained that since I was a Mileage Plus member, I took precedence over his traveling companion.

The other cool thing was all of the boarding announcements were pre-recorded announcements.  Delta, boards in "zones" instead of by rows, and the prerecorded announcement as well as the large plasma display tells which zones are boarding.  This made for a very consistent experience, as often times the gate agent is difficult to understand (usually due to poor audio performance of the gate area PA system).  I cannot say the airplane was anymore comfortable, my knees were firmly jammed into the seat ahead of me on the 757 I was on (the 737 was better), but from a customer experience standpoint it’s the best I’ve seen in a while.