Airport security screening seems to take forever. Especially on those days when you’re running a few minutes late. Save time, sign up for TSA Pre-Check. Currently available in many airports across the country (depending upon the airline you’re flying) you no longer need to remove your laptop or liquids from your carry on or take off your shoes, belt or jacket. TSA Pre-Check has a separate screening line at participating airports, so until more people discover the advantage, these lines are usually extremely short. Flying United, we breezed through the TSA Pre-Check line in Denver in less than 2 minutes, while there was a 8-12 minute wait in the premium security lane. Pre Check is even faster than Clear, which pre-screens passengers at Denver as well. Not everyone qualifies for the program. If you’re a member of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI programs or are a certain eligible airline frequent traveler, you may qualify. You can find out more at the TSA site here or check with your major US airline carrier.
On our trip last week to Marrakech, we flew through London’s Heathrow airport. We’ve been through Heathrow numerous times to catch connecting flights. We’ve noticed over the past couple of years that the UK customs & immigration lines at Heathrow continue to get longer and longer each time we pass through. On our way through this time, the line was over two hours long. To make matters worse, there were only 6-7 border control officers working and at least 500 people in line. If this is what it’s like now, what will it be like when the Olympics are in London this summer?
There’s been a lot of press lately about the long lines at Heathrow, including a crackdown by the UKBA (UK Border Authority) on frustrated passengers taking photos of the long lines. Immigration lines are the longest for non-EU/non-UK passport holders. According to news reports and our own observations, the delays aren’t just happening at Heathrow Terminal 5, the main home of British Airways. They’re happening at other terminals as well.
We flew in to Heathrow from Newark on United into Heathrow Terminal 4. That’s where we saw over 500 people in line waiting to clear UK Customs. We arrived around 10AM on a Sunday morning. While there was a light rain, it didn’t appear that UK customs lines were due to late arriving aircraft or “bunched” arrivals. Luckily, we had upgraded to Business on the flight into LHR. United passes out coupons to it’s Business customers, so they can use the Fast Track immigration lanes at Heathrow. This allows you to bypass the regular UK customs line and go to an expedited lane. While others were waiting hours to clear customs, we waited less than 5 minutes. It was definitely one of those times we were glad we upgraded.
If you’re connecting through Heathrow during future travel, make sure you leave enough time for connecting flights if you’re traveling on a different airline in a different alliance. Since most terminals are disconnected at Heathrow, if you’re flying another airline onward, you’ll have to clear UK Customs for your transfer. Let’s hope that the UKBA get their act together, so all of us passing through can get where we need to go.
According to the Denver Business Journal, United Airlines is expected to announce today service from Denver to Tokyo Narita, starting early in 2013. United would be the first carrier to offer direct service to Asia from Denver. Rumors are spinning that one of the new 787 Dreamliners that United is acquiring starting in September this year, may be used on the long distance route. Assuming that United will keep the airfare reasonable (they probably won’t), this will save at least a 2-3 hours or more off a trip to Asia from Denver, eliminating the need to connect at LAX, SFO or SEA.
US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) brought Denver online to the Global Entry Program on March 19. Now anyone registered with US Global Entry that arrives at DIA (Denver International Airport) from a foreign country can use the Global Entry Kiosks instead of waiting in line to speak with a US customs officer. We’ve been Global Entry members for over 3 years and it’s a huge timesaver, especially when you have a closely timed domestic flight. It also saves the hassle of having to fill out the US Customs Entry form on your flight before you arrive. Registration for the Global Entry Program is easy. Simply start online here. Once you pay the fee of $100 (Good for five years) and pass the first round of security checks, you’ll be asked to come to a Global Entry airport for an in-person interview. Interviews can be scheduled in Denver starting April 2. Also, if you’re a Platinum or 1K member of United’s Mileage Plus program, you can get the fee waived. See United’s website for more details.
The TSA Pre Check program allows for a faster screening process when going through pre-flight security at designated airports in the US. Today enrollment is limited to members of specific airlines frequent flyer programs or members of the US Customs & Border Patrol Global Entry Program (GOES). Currently, there are only five US airports and two airlines participating, however that’s due to expand starting in March. By the end of this year, the program expands to 28 additional airports and add two more airlines (US Air & United).
How does the TSA Pre Check program work? The TSA determines if a passenger is eligible for expedited screening. Once enrolled with your airline, the information is embedded in the barcode of your boarding pass. TSA reads the barcode at the security screen airport and may be sent to an expedited screening lane. There you may not have to remove the following items:
- 3-1-1 compliant bag from carry-on
- Laptop from bag
- Light outerwear/jacket
United recently announced that for it’s new Premier 1K and Premier Platinum members they will be assisting with the fee to participate in the GOES program.
The first 30+ days of the year see airline changes across the globe. On January 27, Spanair, HQ’d in Barcelona, abruptly shutdown leaving many passengers stranded. This past weekend, Malev, the Hungarian state airline shuttered operations as well. Air India, is also having trouble paying it’s fuel bills which is causing some flights to be delayed or cancelled. American Airlines files for bankruptcy shows airline problems are not limited to just the US. Plus, a slate of mergers in early 2012 are on the horizon as well. BMI, is being sold by Lufthansa to British Airways with the sale set to close at the end of March. TAM in Brazil and LAN in Chile, hope to tie up their merger in the same timeframe, now that both Chile and Brazil have approved the marriage.
Beyond the airlines, the major airline alliances are caught in the ripple effect. Oneworld, loses Malev. Star Alliance loses Spanair and more than likely loses BMI when there merger with Oneworld’s, BA is complete. Everyone is waiting to see who the alliance winner will be when TAM (currently Star Alliance) and LAN (currently Oneworld) officially merge. Both airlines have stated a decision had not yet been made as to which alliance they’ll join.
2012 will continue to be a difficult year for airlines. With the travel season ahead, there are a couple of things to do to protect yourself from this unsettled airline market. Purchase your ticket with a credit card. You’ll at least have a chance on getting your money back from the credit card company. Purchase travel insurance that includes coverage for tour operators and airlines going out of business. Remember, it’s only February. What will happen during the rest of the year?
Construction is underway for DIA’s new south terminal project, with revised designs. With a budget cut from $650 million to $500 million, original Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava pulled out of the project. However, his general design lives on albeit with some scaled-back revisions. The two largest features will be a new hotel as well as an RTD light rail platform. The terminal is due to be completed in 2015. Denver International is the 5th largest airport in the US and 10th largest in the world in passenger traffic. See the slide show of the previous and new designs here.
Earlier this morning, Icelandair announced they’ll add service from Keflavik International to Denver four times a week starting May 11, 2012. Icelandair will use Boeing 757′s and flight time between the two airports is estimated to be just over six hours. Icelandair also serves Seattle, Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Washington DC and Orlando in the US. Denver is the 5th largest airport in the US and 10th largest airport in the world. Denver has two other international flights to Europe, Frankfurt served by Lufthansa and London, served by British Airways. Denver has also been working for years to secure a Denver – Tokyo route, however, no significant progress has been made.
Long haul flights with multiple connections are torture. Even if you’re not a fanatical multi-cup a day coffee drinker, sometimes you just want some coffee with your “breakfast” on a plane. Now we do realize that “breakfast” on a plane could be anywhere from a cookie to a full on plate of food if your in First or Business. But, coffee on planes isn’t the best. Starbucks Via to the rescue. The tiny packets mean they’ll fit in just about any pocket. Now, we prefer a latte to just a plain old cup of joe. All you need from the flight attendant is a cup with a small shot of hot water (about an ounce or so), a stir stick and another cup about 3/4 full of milk. In less than a minute, instant latte. And, no matter what you think of Starbucks coffee, it’s almost certainly better than the sludge coming from the airlines coffee pot. For ourselves, we prefer the Starbucks Via Mocha flavor. Two packets, an ounce or two of hot water, a cup of milk and some ice and voila, your own iced latte, at 30,000 feet.
Since we’re pretty much bolted to United at the hip for our air travel, living in one of their busiest hub cities, we always take an interest whenever they do a little something to make travel easier. United just announced $550 million in continued upgrades to their fleet of planes. Now, part of that is bringing some of their existing Continental aircraft up to speed with the United aircraft (i.e. adding flat bed seats in Business/First to 767s and adding Economy Plus seating). But, what was at least some good news was that United will be adding Wi-Fi to over 200 aircraft, increasing overhead space by over 50% in it’s A319/320 aircraft and the big news, adding Wi-Fi streaming of entertainment content in its fleet (albeit small) of 747s. Now, knowing United, these improvements will not come fast. They have a reputation for dribbling out improvements and, should air travel take a dip, they’ll shelve spending on those upgrades faster than a plane falling out of the sky. But, at least there are plans and we hope that they’ll stick to and maybe even accelerate the schedule. Also, Boeing started building United’s first 787 last week, the first of 50 to come.