NEW YORK » Packed planes. Less legroom. Fewer frequent flier miles.
Is that all summer travelers can look forward to?
Thankfully, no. Amid the unpleasantness, there are a few bright spots where airlines inject a bit of humanity back into our journey. And with a record 222 million passengers expected to fly on U.S. airlines this summer, we could use any little bit of sympathy.
Here are five things to actually like about flying today:
— Baggage guarantees. The $25 fee to check bags is a fact of life on most airlines. But until recently, only Alaska Airlines thought the extra money should guarantee passengers something in return. Since 2010, the airline has promised that suitcases will be on the carousel within 20 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate. If not, passengers get a $25 voucher for a future flight or 2,500 bonus frequent flier miles. Delta Air Lines copied that policy this year, offering 2,500 bonus miles to existing members of its frequent flier program — but no voucher. Act quickly: Alaska requires you to reach out within two hours of arrival; Delta within three days. And ultimately it’s your stopwatch against the airlines’ — they are the final arbiter of tardiness.
— Suitcase delivery. Speaking of luggage, you can skip the baggage carousel and have your bags delivered straight to your home, office, hotel or any other location within 40 miles of the airport. Yes, the airlines do charge an extra $30 for one bag, $40 for two or $50 for up to eight suitcases. But for some travelers it is worth that extra price. And the bags are supposed to show up within four to six hours. Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United offer this service through an outside vendor, Bags VIP.
— Streaming video. Airlines are providing more ways for passengers to be entertained — or at least distracted from the cramped space. The latest innovation: the ability to stream movies and TV shows directly to our tablets and smartphones. Yes, some content does cost money, but there are plenty of free offerings. Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United all offer such a service on some — but not all — of their planes. Your best bet to be entertained is on Delta, which offers the service on all but its 50-seat domestic regional jets and on more than half of its international fleet, and on Southwest, which has it on 80 percent of its jets — basically the newest ones. American only offers streaming on jets without individual TVs; United has the service on just 30 percent of its flights. Passengers may also encounter a lack of electrical plugs to charge all these extra devices. Airlines are working to get each passenger their own plug or USB port but they aren’t moving fast enough.
— Food and drinks on demand. Airlines have traditionally controlled when we can eat or drink. Passengers sit waiting for flight attendants to roll the cart down the aisle and then order a beverage or buy a snack knowing that they are unlikely to see the cart for the duration of the trip. Virgin America has a different system. Throughout the flight, passengers can order cookies, chicken sandwiches, margaritas and more on touchscreens in front of them. The airline sells more items and passengers don’t have to wait long for a refill. Perfect for today’s impatient traveler.
— Coat check. So this isn’t going to help with summer vacations but gets points for creativity. JetBlue now offers a coat check at New York’s JFK. Yes, leave your jackets in chilly New York while you jet off to Florida or the Caribbean. The only catch: you need to fly back into JFK, it has to be a domestic flight and it costs $2 a day. Still, this service keeps the overhead bins less crowded and prevents passengers from forgetting jackets in their tropical hotel room closets.