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Airlines try to woo high-end passengers with freebies

Competition for business- and first-class fliers appears to be heating up, as carriers such as American and Alaska offer free pajamas, wireless Internet service and other amenities. Also, the hotel bedbug problem keeps spreading and Spirit Airlines calls its carry-on bag fee a success.

September 05, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Virgin America upgraded its entertainment offerings by adding free broadcasts of professional sports on the entertainment gadgets installed in seatbacks.
Virgin America upgraded its entertainment offerings by adding free broadcasts… (BOB CHAMBERLIN / Los Angeles…)

In a move to attract new passengers and improve customer loyalty, several airlines have announced new in-flight amenities for travelers, including free pajamas, wireless Internet service and live baseball broadcasts.

The latest incentives offered by such carriers as American and Alaska airlines suggest that competition is heating up as travel demand continues to rise. In particular, airlines are battling for prized business- and first-class travelers, who pay the highest airfares.

"That sort of stuff is an enticement to try to get people to swing over," said Tom Parsons, chief executive of the travel website Bestfares.com. "When it comes to the business- and first-class passengers, it's been a war."

American Airlines last week began offering pajamas, slippers, quilted bed toppers, duvets, pillows and travel kits to passengers in first-class cabins on Boeing 777 flights from the U.S. to London. Business-class passengers on those and certain other flights to London will get some of the amenities. The airline plans to expand the offerings to first- and business-class cabins on other international flights Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines is offering free wireless Internet service during August and September to passengers with smartphones and iPod Touches, and those who rent the airline's in-flight entertainment system.

California-based Virgin America upgraded its entertainment offerings last month by adding free broadcasts of professional baseball, hockey and football games on the entertainment gadgets installed in seatbacks.

Hotel bedbug problem spreads across U.S.

The next time you check into a hotel, you might want to keep an eye out for tiny, oval-shaped parasites.

Bedbug infestations continue to grow and have now spread across the country, according to a new survey by the University of Kentucky and the National Pest Management Assn., a trade group for the pest control industry.

Media reports of hotel bedbug problems first surfaced on the East Coast several years ago, but such stories have since become common in other parts of the country. Experts have offered a range of theories for the growing problem, including the pests' increased resistance to pesticides and the growth in foreign travel.

"This pest shows no signs of retreating," said Missy Henriksen, a spokeswoman for the trade group. "In many cases, professionals who have reported treating certain types of businesses and commercial facilities have seen double-digit growth."

That is particularly true with hotels. This year, 80% of pest control companies surveyed said they treated hotels for bedbugs. That's up from 67% last year, according to the survey.

Reports of bedbug problems are also on the rise in college dorms, nursing homes, schools, day-care centers and in taxis, buses and trains.

Movie theaters also have become a favorite habitat. The survey found that 17% of pest control companies responded to bedbug problems at movie theaters this year, up from 5% last year.

Spirit Airlines calls carry-on bag fee a success

It has been a year since Spirit Airlines became the first U.S. airline to charge passengers a fee for carry-on bags, and the Florida carrier recently proclaimed the decision a resounding success.

Since August 2010, the airline has charged $45 for carry-on bags that won't fit under seats. The airline offers exemptions for medical devices, diapers, reading material and a few other carry-on items.

With fewer passengers trying to cram carry-on bags into overhead bins, Spirit Airlines said boarding and deplaning times have dropped by an average of six minutes per flight, for a total savings of 6,000 hours over the last year.

The carrier acknowledged that it had to endure a lot of criticism from passengers and the media over its decision to charge the fees. But airline President Ben Baldanza called the change a "bold move to address a real and costly" boarding concern.

The baggage fee has been a bonanza for Spirit, helping it collect an additional $81 million in revenue in 2010, according to federal statistics.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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