Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Spirit Airlines DFW-LAX Review - NK869/04NOV2017

I booked a trip from DFW to LAX with 7 days notice on Spirit Airlines (NK).  I booked a one way ticket for $158.00, which included air fare, “Big Front Seat,” and a three day car rental with Dollar.  

NK869 DFW to LAX, operated as an Airbus A-321
NK is located at Terminal E, at DFW International and operates as many as 28 daily flights during the summer season.  In fact, NK has quietly become the number 2 domestic carrier at the airport (when all AA/American Eagle traffic is combined - carriers report separately).  The departure was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, at 412P.  When I got to the airport, I was literally the only one going through security, and breezed through.  Terminal E was the first to be renovated at DFW.  The airport did a job keeping the convenience of the original airport, and the aesthetics of the newest terminal, Terminal D.  Job well done!  The terminal is passenger friendly, with plenty of food choices, and the restaurants stay open late to cater to NK’s several late departures, an anomaly at a mid-continent hub airport.
Spirit is located at Terminal E at DFW Airport and has up to 28
daily flights

Boarding NK flights generally starts 30 minutes prior to departure, as was the case for my flight.  I was seated in seat 2F, and boarded with Group 2.  Once everyone was boarded, and at the click of 412P, the flight pushed back on time.  NK’s “Big Front Seats” (BFS) are essentially first class size seats, with a little less legroom.  In fact, it is somewhat difficult to get to the window seat.  But, BFS is not first class, just a bigger seat.  If you want a drink or snack, you must buy.  Every time I fly NK, I pay so little, I don’t mind paying for a drink and snack (you can always bring something on board by purchasing before you board). 

All snacks and drinks must be purchased on NK.
NKs cabin service is always one of the strong points.  Flight attendants are friendly and serve everyone with a smile.  Compared to the legacies and many other LCCs, I would say NKs cabin service is among the best in the industry.

It was cloudy most of the flight, however, over Western New Mexico, the skies were clear, and for the last hour of the flight, there were beautiful views of Northern Arizona, including the Meteor Crater.  As we made our final approach into LAX, we were greeted by a stunning view of Downtown LA surrounded by the San Gabriel Mountains.

Meteor Crater, outside of Winslow, AZ
Once we touchdown on Runway 25L (Left), maximum reverse thrust and braking is applied now that NK is located in Terminal 5.  This is done since Terminal 5 is located adjacent to the middle of the runway, and the pilot is hoping to avoid a long taxi.  Task accomplished.  We turned off the runway and taxied directly to Gate 54, arriving at 538P, only 5 minutes later than scheduled.  The terminal is new to NK, and previously housed Delta Airlines.  This terminal is perhaps the nicest terminal at LAX.

I frequently fly on Spirit Airlines.  I don’t check a bag, and I don’t pay for a roller bag.  I take a “personal item” which cannot exceed 18inX14inX8in.  My ‘duffel’ shoulder bag is bigger than those dimensions; however, it fits in the sizer. NK is pretty liberal if you are carrying a shoulder duffel bag, as long as it fits (literally squeezes) in the sizer.  I find I can actually get more in shoulder bag than a roller bag. 

I enjoy flying Spirit Airlines.  They have enabled me to take trips I never thought I could afford.  Please be aware, you will pay for everything, from seat assignments, to a soft drink on board.  However, if you are creative, Spirit is a great way to fly. 

Since Spirit does not operate an afternoon departure LAX to DFW on Tuesday, I flew AA's 787 on my return.  Look for my review of that flight coming soon!

Downtown LA from NK869 on final to LAX

Monday, October 30, 2017

Lack of ticket counter space puts ground handler in precarious position!

Counter space is not available inside LGB's art deco terminal

Airserv-LGB, a small business, has provided ground support for airlines, at Long Beach Airport (LGB), since 1972.  When Airserv started operations, airline service at LGB was very limited, and plenty of ticket counter space was available.  Flash forward to the 1980s and deregulation, 41 flights now operated from LGB, plus 10-15 commuter slots.  Alaska, America West, American, Continental, Delta, TWA, United, and USAir all served LGB, and ticket counter space was at a premium.

During the mid to late 1980s, Airserv provided some sort of service to six of the airlines and 26 of the 41 flights.  Any ‘ad-hoc’ charter flights that operated, requiring ticket counter space for check in was available through one of the six airlines they did business with.

The 1990s had a dramatic impact on the third-party contract companies that were hired by the airlines.  In 1996, a fatal accident in Miami, caused by improper handling of oxygen canisters, completely changed the industry.  The airlines increased the liability insurance requirement by third-party contractors, so much, that many of the ‘small business’ handlers (such as Airserv), either sold out, or went out of business.  However, there was enough ‘ad-hoc’ business and business from smaller airlines without the hefty liability insurance requirement. However, Airserv now was left without an airline relationship to provide check in.

Today, Airserv is forced to coordinate with a couple of airlines and their charter carriers to sequence schedules.  However, there have been times sequencing the schedules did not work, and the charter carrier (Elite Air) was forced to check in passengers outside, on the curb (see photo).

With no counter space available, curbside check in for Laughlin charter

This does not reflect well on an airport that is a multiple Top 10 Conde Nast Domestic Airport.  The airport needs to provide ticket counter space for all flights serving the airport, and not discriminate based on size of aircraft, or whether the flight is scheduled or charter.  The curbside check in of Elite Airways was a charter flight to Laughlin.  The Harrah’s/Cesar's Laughlin charters have been operating out of Long Beach for over 30 years - that’s longer than any one airline has served LGB.  Airserv, which has serviced these flights from the beginning, could be at risk of losing this contract because they are unable to provide ticketing/check in due to a lack of counter space.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Passenger Traffic on Record Pace at Long Beach

The art deco main terminal at Long Beach, built in 1941

Located on the 405 Freeway, Long Beach Airport (LGB) sits in the middle of two major airports, John Wayne/Orange County (SNA) and Los Angeles International (LAX).  For the people near LGB, either SNA or LAX are a 30 minute drive away.  Because of that, the airport has struggled with airline service over the years.  However, its low fares and convenience have led to recent success and popularity.

The airport prospered in the 1980s after deregulation.  Most of the major airlines of the time served LGB; Alaska, America West, American, Continental, Delta, TWA, United, and US Air.  However, after industry consolidation, the debt-ridden airlines began to eliminate service and LGB was causality.  Through much of the 90s, America West was the only major airline serving LGB.
An American MD80 with 737-300s from Delta and United.   

A Continental 737-300 and Alaska MD80 at the terminal.

The 2000s became a transition period.  A start up East Coast airline, ‘low cost carrier,’ JetBlue, came to Long Beach with big plans creating a West Coast hub/focus city.  However, even during this time, the airport struggled.  American (which returned in 1997) challenged the City’s slot (the right to operate a flight - arrival/departure) allocation process to Jet Blue and was able to gain 8 slots and added 3 daily JFK flights.  Unfortunately, AA (the only major carrier not to file Chapter 11 after 9/11) was financially struggling and conceded most markets to Jet Blue, including LGB.  American discontinued LGB service in 2005 (Note - American is serving LGB again through the AA/US Airways merger).  Alaska, which returned to LGB in the early 2000s, decided to discontinue LGB service in 2013.  Jet Blue for several years, never used all their allocated slots, at times leaving up to eight slots vacant.  Despite a new award-winning concourse, passenger traffic declined over three consecutive years.

Everything changed in December of 2015, when then LGB Airport Director, Bryant Francis added nine slots to the 41 allocated, making way for 50 daily flights.    There is no doubt the City of Long Beach had been working with Southwest Airlines, however, when the Dallas based carrier applied for all nine LGB slots, many were caught off guard.  After reviewing all the requests, the city allocated the additional slots:  Southwest - four, Jet Blue - 3, Delta - two. 

Southwest began service in June 2016 with four daily flights to Oakland.  Under a provision in the City’s Ordinance, Southwest realized they could apply and use any unused slots, even if they were allocated to another carrier.  In September 2016, Southwest used three of JetBlue’s slots to add service to Las Vegas.  With the additional service, they offered seven daily flights.  With Southwest’s plan to use any vacant slots, that forced JetBlue’s hand to use their full slot allocation for the first time in several years.  They currently operate 35 daily flights.

The success of LGB is low fares.  With two major airports being within a 30 minutes drive, passengers tend to gravitate to the lowest fares.  The recent popularity of LGB is because of Jet Blue.  Instead of ‘hub connections’ like the carriers of the 80s, the establishment of a ‘focus city’ at LGB, has opened the door for low fares to 13 destinations in the West and around the country.  With the additional of Southwest, the original low cost carrier, the future of LGB should be solidified.

With 2017 being the first full year of operation of 50 flights, city officials project a record of 3.5 million passengers.  Through August 2017, roughly 2.5 million passengers have traveled through the airport.  Projecting a 15% increase of passengers, based on higher load factors and increased capacity, the number of passengers could be even higher at 3.7 million.  The previous high water mark was in 2012 at 3.2 million passengers.

The increase in traffic benefits everyone from airport vendors, such as restaurants, gift shops, taxis/shuttles, car rentals and others.  The hotel occupancy in Long Beach was reported at 81%, in June, 20% over the national average.  There is no question; there is a direct correlation between the increased flights and high occupancy rates at Long Beach hotels.

Though it is unlikely any more slots will be allocated in the near future, the growth may stagnate.  However, there is a silver lining.  There are 25 “commuter slots” available.  Commuter slots are defined as aircraft operating under 75,000 lbs maximum take-off weight.  This includes regional jets up to the CRJ-700.  Adding up to 25 commuter slots could bring the total passenger count up to 4.2 million.  

With Jet Blue’s low cost service, their loyal customer base, and the addition of the original low cost carrier, Southwest, complimented by two of the three major legacy carriers, American and Delta, Long Beach Airport’s future looks bright.  With the airport’s new concourse, the Long Beach Airport has combined the 1941 art deco main terminal, and resort style indoor/outdoor concourse lined with palm trees to rave reviews.