Posts Tagged ‘airlines’

Budget airline determined to give passengers their money’s worth

Monday, June 18th, 2012

As more and more airlines struggle with fluctuating fuel costs, labor disputes and competition that puts downward pressure on fares, they cut wherever they can, and for passengers the clearest sign of this trend is the loss of services once considered standard. It started with charging for drinks and meals on shorter flights, then charging for a second checked bag or even the first. Ireland’s premier budget carrier Ryanair has taken these cost-cutting measures to almost laughable extremes.

Skymark home page

Japanese carriers have always had the highest reputation for service, which is one of the reasons Japanese fliers remained faithful for so long and paid extra for those services. The JAL bankruptcy proved that this was no longer the case, and in recent years Japanese airlines have had to genuinely compete with others for customers, even Japanese customers. Now budget Japanese carriers have softened service, and some think that one of the pioneers, Skymark, has gone too far.

Earlier this month the media covered the airline’s “service concept,” which, in practical terms, doesn’t really make a huge difference in a passenger’s in-flight experience. However, the way it was presented seemed geared to offend. According to the Asahi Shimbun’s reports, the “instructions,” printed on B5-size pieces of paper and inserted in seat pockets on aircraft starting May 18, state that flight attendants are not obligated to “help passengers stow luggage on board the aircraft,” meaning that passengers are totally responsible for their own bags. More to the point, the instructions also state that attendants and other staff do not have to “use the polite language that airlines conventionally use.” And except for the company-issued polo shirts and windbreakers, staff can dress or make up any way they want.

After the media made a big deal of the service concept, Skymark announced that it did not constitute any sort of change but was a “clarification” of policies already in effect. The transportation ministry was mainly concerned with the “tone” of the clarification, which seemed to be a “challenge to” rather than a “violation of” existing regulations. In particular, the ministry was concerned that Skymark’s refusal to “accept complaints” from passengers on matters that “don’t directly affect customers” might cause problems.

Continue reading about budget airlines in Japan →

Annals of cheap: Skymark Airlines

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Last spring, budget carrier Skymark Airlines announced new service from Narita airport to Hokkaido, Okinawa and Kyushu starting this fall, and as a special promotional incentive would offer one-way fares at only ¥980 for the first three months on each new route. The deal is limited to only 20 seats on each flight. These seats can only be booked through Skymark’s website and have to be reserved at least 28 days in advance. Service to Asahikawa (one round trip a day) and Shin Chitose (Sapporo, two round trips) in Hokkaido commenced Oct. 30. Flights to Naha in Okinawa will begin Dec. 8 (two round trips), and supposedly the Fukuoka route opens on Feb. 1 of next year, though it hasn’t been announced on the website yet. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the ¥980 seats tend to be snatched up minutes after they’re made available.

Skymark Airlines website

Skymark, which opened for business in 1996, has established these routes to compete with ANA’s new special low-cost carrier Peach Airlines, which has begun service, but for the moment only flies out of Kansai International Airport in Osaka. The regular one-way fares for the new routes on Skymark are ¥12,800 for Shin Chitose, ¥13,800 for Asahikawa and Fukuoka and ¥16,800 for Naha, though there is also another limited deal for one-way flights as low as ¥3,800 for bookings made at least 21 days in advance. Regular one-way flights to all these destinations on JAL or ANA from Narita start at about ¥30,000. Basically, Skymark is be the first budget carrier to open a hub at Narita.

A Mainichi reporter took a flight to Shin Chitose the first day the ¥980 seats were available. He had been made aware that the flight offered “no service,” though it’s the same no matter which fare you pay. Consequently, he spent ¥120 for a bottle of tea in the airport and then discovered that Skymark only charged ¥100 for the same amount of tea on board. Having been conditioned to expect higher charges he was surprised (though not as surprised as we were that security allowed him to carry a liquid onto the plane). He also said the seats were not as cramped as he thought they’d be, comparing them to “non-reserved seats on the Shinkansen” in terms of roominess. He met a 31-year-old man on the flight who was going home to Sapporo “for the first time in 3 years” and felt it strange that the train from Shin Chitose Airport to the city proper was more (¥1,040) than the air fare from Tokyo.

The one demerit about the ¥980 flight is that Skymark has no arrangement with other airlines at Narita for backup flights to Hokkaido. That means if a Skymark flight is cancelled for any reason, the passenger either has to wait until the next available Skymark flight with empty seats, which might not be until the next day, or cancel the Skymark flight and buy a new ticket on another airline. The problem here is that most airlines that fly from Tokyo to Hokkaido — or anywhere in Japan — do so out of Haneda, including an increasing number of international carriers.

The road to nowhere leads to Ibaraki Airport

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Ibaraki Airport parking lot: You can even ride your bicycle there!

Ibaraki Airport parking lot: You can even ride your bicycle there!

The media has been buzzing about Ibaraki Airport, which opened for business last Thursday with one-count-’em-one flight from Seoul; that is, if you don’t count the “commemorative flight” from Ibaraki to Haneda, which we assume didn’t reach cruising altitude. A second daily flight will start next month between Ibaraki and Kobe on Skymark, which has already offered a nice deal to drum up business at the airport. If you take that flight and transfer to a Skymark flight to Naha, the entire trip will only cost you only ¥13,600.

Cheap! But one thing you always have to factor in when you fly anywhere, and especially in Japan, is the cost of getting to the airport. Despite the fact that the Ibaraki airport authorities are trying to sell their baby as the third airport in the Tokyo metropolitan area, it’s highly doubtful that anyone except Ibarakians (Ibarakiites?) will use it, and even that’s in doubt. Before it opened, the airport is projected to be ¥20 million in the red for the first year of operation. When it was being planned some 20 years ago it was estimated that 810,000 people a year would use it. Media have since reduced that number to 220,000, and the prefecture now only predicts 167,000.

If Ibaraki wants a peek at its future, it doesn’t have to look farther than 100 km away to Fukushima Airport, which for reasons nobody has ever explained satisfactorily, was also touted as a Tokyo metropolitan airport when it opened in 1993. The number of passengers has since dropped steadily and now it only offers three flights a day, and all to Seoul.

Continue reading about Ibaraki Airport →

Got JAL miles?

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Spend ’em while you can.

If new transport minister Seiji Maehara has anything to say about it, Japan Airlines will not go bankrupt, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the country’s flaship carrier is out of the woods or won’t someday merge with some other airline. Because of all the panicky speculation, no one had brought up the touchy subject of all those frequent flyer miles that JAL customers have socked away.

Is it possible they could be rendered useless? There are precedents. When it was liquidated in 2002 Australia’s Ansett Airlines suspended its frequent flyer program and since no other airline came in to pick them up, all points that were accumulated completely lost their value.

In a recent article, Shukan Post offered some advice for JAL Mileage Bank members. For one thing, if you’re planning an overseas trip any time in the near or even distant future, book it now and use your miles, since you’re more likely to get the best value for them. You’re allowed to book up to 330 days in advance for an international flight, and though you can change the date up to a day before you leave, you can’t change the route.

Continue reading about JAL miles →


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