United’s virtual agent, Continental’s E+, American Eagle fined, bloated TSA, Hawaiian at JFK, bustling Boeing, Google Flight Search, Travelocity Q&A and ACE Rent-A-Car

In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…

  • United Airlines has signed with Next IT to create a virtual assistant on United.com, similar to Continental’s “Ask Alex.” “Next IT will provide a natural, or every-day, language solution to create an exceptional customer experience for travelers using the website.” If you’re unfamiliar with “Ask Alex,” it’s basically an interactive help tool where you ask a question and receive an audible and text answer back.
  • Today, the first Continental Airlines aircraft equipped with Economy Plus is flying. The Boeing 767-400 also features the new flatbed BusinessFirst seats, on-demand touchscreen seat-back monitors in coach and United’s popular Channel 9 featuring live air traffic control communications.
  • American Eagle Airlines was fined $900,000 by the Department of Transportation this week for exceeding the three-hour tarmac rule. 15 flights were impacted at Chicago O’Hare on May 29th with a total of 608 passengers. The carrier has 30 days to pay $650,000 and the remaining $250,000 will be credited to those customers affected in the form of refunds, vouchers and frequent flyer bonus miles. If there’s money leftover, it will be used for future tarmac delays exceeding three hours.
  • A Congressional report blasted the TSA this week calling the agency “bloated” and “plagued by significant problems.” Today marks the 10th anniversary of its creation and I like to call it the Thousands Standing Around agency. Among the report’s findings: too many employees, 25,000 security breaches and expensive & inadequate technology.
  • Hawaiian Airlines is pushing further East here in the contiguous 48-States and will begin daily service between Honolulu and New York’s Kennedy airport on June 4, 2012. CEO Mark Dunkerley said, “New York is an important part of our growth strategy. Adding service to the largest market in the Eastern U.S., Hawaii’s second largest tourism market, was a logical step.”
  • Boeing received the largest-ever commercial airplane order from Indonesian carrier Lion Air for 230 aircraft. This tops the manufacturer’s previous record from just a week ago at the Dubai Airshow when Emirates placed an order for 50 Boeing 777 jets.
  • Google is reported to soon bring international destinations to its underwhelming Flight Search tool. I haven’t been back to play around with the tool since my review of it, nor do I really have any desire to return until I hear reports of “something amazing.”
  • Online Travel Agency Travelocity has changed the game of hotel reviews with a new Q&A-type function. Specific, heavily moderated questions appear, such as, “Is there a parking charge?” A previous guest replied, “No.” From the article, “Travelocity hopes the new question and answer formal will help hotel bookers in their trip-planning activities and improve the user experience.”
  • A recent J.D. Power and Associates car rental study heralds ACE Rent-A-Car as taking the top spot for customer service. I’ve never heard of them, but they beat out the common ones down the list in order of Enterprise, National, Hertz, Alamo, Budget, Dollar and Avis. ACE has about 200 rental facilities worldwide, all independently owned and operated.


  1. I love renting from ace, great value, always great customer service. I just wish they had an elite status program. If you are ever at ord and need a car and don’t have status with another agency use ace . Great company to do business with.

    • Good to know. I don’t have any status with a car rental company, so might as well check them out the next time I need a car… thanks for the tip.

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