Interesting article on “direct” flights

The Washington Times recently started a weekly travel column that seems to be stuff I’d write about.  I’m actually a bit jealous that the guy gets paid to do it, but I guess that comes with him having the initiative to actually sell the column to an editor there while I’m busy trying to plan my next trip. 

Anyways, this week’s column is a bit of a rant on “direct” flights.  Direct flights make sense in some situations, like adding an extra city at the end of a long-haul run.  But airlines soon realized that in the reservations systems that travel agents use the direct flights would show up just under non-stop flights.  And if there were no non-stop flights the direct flights would be first, giving the airline operating the direct flight a theoretical benefit in attracting bookings.  That’s great, but the airlines also seem to have decided to skip over the concept that the direct flight uses a single airplane to make the “direct” part of the effort work.  Instead they have two different planes operating using a central point to have passengers move from one to the other.  That is also known as a connection to most of the traveling world, but some airlines (Continental seems to be the biggest offender) continue to call these flights “direct.”

Why does it matter?  For starters, you only collect points based on the end points of the trip rather than the actual flights you fly.  That may not seem like a big deal – and it usually isn’t all that significant – but every little bit helps.  A direct flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv (one route that Continental operates) will net 7574 points while a connection in Newark, where the passenger is going to connect anyways, will see a passenger collect 8146 points.  San Antonio to Guam actually has a difference of over 15% in terms of distance when flown via Houston and Tokyo.

More important than the miles, however, is the very real chance that your plane will leave without you while you’re on your flight.  So even though you are booked on flights number 90 from LA to Tel Aviv and are somewhere over Pennsylvania trying to get a landing slot at Newark, flight number 90 from Newark to Tel Aviv can depart without you.  And it happens with some frequency thanks to the miserable delays that airlines experience these days.

JetBlue announced a new direct route this morning with a twist.  They are now offering same-plane through service from New York to Bogota, scheduled to start at the end of January ‘09.  I’m not sure if they have the same flight number or not, and the miles don’t really matter as JetBlue credits points based on the start and end points rather than intermediate segments for all their trips.  The interesting part of this flight to me is the layover time at the connection point in Orlando.  The flight is scheduled to stop for 1:45 on the southbound routing, which is a long time to wait in the Orlando airport.  Even worse, however, is the 90 minute stop on the north-bound flight where passengers will have to pass through immigration, customs and TSA screenings while in Orlando.  Passengers arriving in the USA from Colombia and connecting on to NYC have a pretty good chance of spending their 90 minutes in various lines and then spending some additional time in Orlando while they try to find seats on the next available flight to NYC.  I wish them luck.  They’re going to need it.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.

Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.