Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scott McMurren: Santa dishes on traveler's wishes

By Scott McMurren
December 18, 2014

It wasn’t quite the night before Christmas when I bumped into Santa Claus.

Up in Fairbanks, Santa was doing a little work to make sure his fancy sleigh was up to specs for his busy night on Christmas Eve. I caught up with him in the pilots' lounge, warming up some hot chocolate in the microwave.

“Santa!” I exclaimed. “It’s great to see you, especially since I have a long list of Christmas wishes.”

“That’s nice,” he said. “But aren’t you a little old for this? Why don’t you just write me a letter like the rest of the children?”

Santa was distracted by a detached fastener on one of his skis. I pressed on, undeterred.

“The first thing on my list is this: I want to avoid the long queues at the TSA checkpoints next year. Can you help me with that?”

Santa rolled his eyes and whistled at his reindeer, who had started to wander out onto the runway.

“Many of the free TSA pre-check promotions are over. So if you want to get in the short line, you have two options. First, you can do what I do,” he said, pointing to his sleigh. “I fly a private aircraft. There are no TSA hassles here. Or sign up for Global Entry. It costs $100 for five years and offers you a quick path through customs and immigration when you’re returning to the U.S. A side benefit is that you qualify for TSA pre-check.”

“I have some more things on my wish list,” I said. “Can we just go through them one by one?”

“You seem awfully familiar,” mused Santa. “I remember the last letter you sent me. You asked for a BB gun, didn’t you?”

“That was a long time ago, Santa. And I never got it, either. These days, I like bringing my own iPad onto the plane, but cannot access Netflix when I’m in the air. Can you fix that so we can stay entertained on those long flights?”

“Next year, United, American, Delta and Alaska Airlines are rolling out enhanced in-flight entertainment, specifically for those travelers who bring their own mobile devices onboard. On Alaska Airlines, the program is called Alaska Beyond in conjunction with Gogo and includes movies and TV shows. Delta’s Studio program also uses Gogo to stream movies and TV shows to your tablet, phone or laptop. You have to download the Gogo player onto your device before your flight.”

I helped Santa hook his sleigh up to a hoist in the hangar while he made a small adjustment on his autopilot. It seemed like the right time to make a request for a little in-flight comfort.

“Santa, many travelers are wishing for just a little more room in the coach cabin. Is it too much to ask for just a little more legroom? Or maybe a knee defender in my stocking?”

The Big Elf came out from the undercarriage of his sleigh and positively scowled at me.

“You Anchorage travelers are a spoiled lot,” he said. “Most of the time you get the big jets with real overhead bins and nonstop flights to Hawaii, to Europe and lots of cities in the Lower 48. Consider for a moment the plight of travelers in rural Alaska. Most of the air transport is on Cessna 207s or similar single-engine aircraft. Honestly, big fellows like me don’t get in those planes. We put them on. Even the bigger twin-engine aircraft are tiny in comparison to the 737s.

“By the way, you probably should be asking for a gym membership for Christmas. Go ahead and have a few more slices of fruitcake. Then you can ask the nice flight attendant for an extender so you can buckle up.”

Of course, Santa didn’t really answer the question about legroom in coach. The fact is that most carriers are adding seats and trimming space for those travelers who opt for the cheapest ticket. It’s a strategy to upsell travelers to preferred seats flight by flight. Delta sells "Economy Comfort." United calls it "Economy Plus". These are the terms the carriers use for selling seats to those travelers willing to pay more for some extra legroom. American charges more for window and aisle seats, still more for exit row seats. First class? That’s reserved for the elite frequent flyers or the super-rich. 

“What about some good bargains, Santa? Can you offer us some great deals on flights during the year? Many of us have been very, very good all year long!”

Santa was losing patience.

“You don’t know how good you’ve got it, do you? Especially in Anchorage, many airfares are at historic lows. Sure, you’ll have a tough time flying south during the Christmas break, but there are a lot of deals that are popping up, especially during the summer. 

“See, I’m not the one who controls the weather. Nor can I say ho-ho-ho for the airfares to drop. But look at all the competition in Alaska, particularly between Alaska Airlines and Delta. Just those two airlines will bring super-low fares from Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and Anchorage to Seattle this summer. Add in JetBlue's summertime flights and that will seal the deal for good deals from Anchorage to Seattle and the LA area all summer long.” 

“Santa, you know your way around the airspace way up north. Do you think I could ride along on Christmas Eve, maybe to get a lift to Europe over the top?”

“Why don’t you grab that shovel over by the barrel and help me clean up after my reindeer?” said Santa. “You can’t fly with me, since I’m primarily a cargo carrier. Let’s just say there’s only room for one big fella in the sleigh. Check in with Condor and Icelandair for over-the-top flights this summer,” he said. 

“I know you want to make sure more boys and girls have a great trip for Christmas,” said Santa, looking me right in the eye. “So stop wishing for all of these things for yourself. Give a little bit for a change,” he admonished. “For example, Make-a-Wish has travel trees at SteamDot coffee shops in Anchorage. Go and pick a tag off the tree and go shop for a few things that will make the ‘Wish Kid’ have a wonderful trip,” he said. 

With that, Santa shooed me off, hooked up his sleigh and continued with his check-run for Christmas. 

“Oh, one more thing,” he shouted as he climbed into the cockpit. “You never did get that BB gun. Heck -- you’d put your eye out.” 

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty-destination sectors, among others. 

- Original article can be found at:

No comments:

Post a Comment