Azores Airlines: You’ll get there, but it might take a few days

In the United States, Spirit Airlines has developed a reputation of being the most “bare bones” carrier in the skies. Fees for carry-on bags, snacks and drinks (even water!), and extensive delays have deterred a large number of passengers, myself included. Yet there is another, lesser-known European carrier with a presence (albeit a small one) in the U.S. whose service (or lack thereof) has also become notable: Azores Airlines — formerly known as SATA Internacional — the flagship carrier of the Azores islands.

The Azores

Located off the coast of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores are becoming a popular destination for tourists. The incredibly blue water, mild temperatures, and picturesque mountains rising out of the ocean is really quite phenomenal — and those observations are coming from someone who’s never been.

While the (occasionally cheap) fares may attract some to travel on Azores in order to get to this archipelago, there are reasons to be leery — mainly that Azores has a well-documented reputation of shoddy service.

The Incident

Back in June, passengers were unable to fly for days after a ground vehicle struck an Azores plane at Boston Logan, resulting in cancellation of that day’s flight to Ponta Delgada. While it doesn’t appear that Azores was responsible for the collision, one woman described of waiting “three, maybe four” days in the airport. Since Azores didn’t have its contingency plan in place enabling passengers to utilize local hotels, Massport was forced to provide cots for passengers to sleep on in the airport — hardly the safest accommodations, not to mention uncomfortable.

Another passenger said he was continuously told “come back tomorrow,” with scarce information on the flight itself. To add insult to injury, he was forced to pay for transportation to and from his hotel. His view on the incident reveals a galling disconnect and lack of communication from the carrier:

“All these people that are lined up, it is just pure frustration,” Cabral said. “You can’t go to the bathroom; you have to wait in line. No one comes out and manages anything. We don’t believe anything that is being said at this point and time. It is disappointing. We have lost hotels, we have lost appointments, we have lost connecting flights, and we have no idea what we are going to get in return. We don’t know what is going to happen when we get to the front of the line. This is an exercise in futility. It’s an embarrassment, and I really think that something should be done.”

Azores’ Response

For its part, Azores did issue a public statement about the incident after the fact:

“A series of technical issues took out two [aircraft in our] long-range fleet, causing difficulty from Boston to Portugal. Our team has tried to get local airport officials to inform impacted passengers [of the situation].”

A statement is better than saying nothing, in this case, but it was insufficient in my opinion. Particularly, I had to laugh at the use of the word “difficulty.” It seemed to be almost as tone-deaf of a statement as United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz initially using the word “re-accommodate” to describe what happened to Dr. David Dao in April of this year in a memo to his employees.

More importantly, it speaks to the disconnect that occurred between Azores and Massport; evidently, Azores thought Massport would handle communication about the situation, when that is — as the carrier — firmly Azores’ responsibility. Moreover, it’s Azores’ responsibility — not Massport’s — to ensure passengers have appropriate accommodations. Evidently that didn’t happen.

There’s an interesting review of Azores’ “premium” offering from One Mile at a Time. Though this review is merely a subjective take on an Azores flight — and the author is admittedly fascinated by the prospect of flying on an Airbus A310 — an aircraft type that has, these days, mostly been relegated to performing cargo operations — he did express his disappointment in the level of service throughout the review.

Alternatives

For those who are interested in exploring the Azores, there are other travel options. Air Transat, a low-cost carrier based in Canada, operates flights from a number of Canadian cities to Ponta Delgada. Additionally, passengers can fly to Lisbon on airlines like TAP Portugal and then take a connecting flight (albeit going to mainland Europe only to travel back over the ocean seems a bit redundant). And recently, Delta Air Lines announced it would begin service between New York JFK and Ponta Delgada in 2018, giving Americans a new link to these islands.

Of course, there are people who have enjoyed their experience on Azores, according to this list of carrier reviews on SKYTRAX. Moreover, even the “good” carriers are subject to having dissatisfied customers. And ultimately, I haven’t flown Azores, so your experience may well have been different than my perception if you’ve tried the carrier out. However, as a SKYTRAX two-star carrier, Azores is rated the same as Spirit, and you might know how I feel about Spirit if you’ve read my aforementioned blog post. Come next year, there will be a new non stop option for those looking to get from the United States to the Azores (and back, of course).

Hump Day Fare Hacks: December 28, 2016

Norwegian Index for December 28, 2016: 246.2

The past few years have seen – anecdotally speaking – a massive influx of low-cost transatlantic flights into various air travel markets. With that in mind, I decided that it might be interesting to see what an “average” price for these particular transatlantic flight deals might be. That’s how the Norwegian Index was born.

If you’ve followed Hump Day Fare Hacks, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen the Norwegian Index trend downward throughout the year. It’s fitting, then, that the Index set a new record low in its final iteration of 2016. I’ll leave you to look at the fares, as they speak for themselves.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

 

BOSTON

 

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • April 4, 2017 (return April 13, 2017)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $266

Thoughts: This may be just a single date in 2017, but the price is good enough that it may be worth taking advantage of.

 

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 23, 25, 29, 30

  • February (2017) 6, 8, 13

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $260

Thoughts: By far the lowest that this has been.

 

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15-20, 22-27, 29-31

  • February (2017) 1-3, 6-10, 12-15, 20-24, 26-28

  • March (2017) 1-3, 5-9, 13-17, 19-23

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $473

Thoughts: The SkyTeam members are offering identical, sub-$500 fares.

 

Boston – Oslo

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 3, 10 (return April 11, 18)

  • May (2017) 1, 8 (return May 9, 16)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $254

Thoughts: Not the lowest it’s ever been, but certainly “up there” (or, perhaps, down there).

 

Boston – Paris

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15-20, 22-24, 26, 27, 29-31

  • February (2017) 2, 3, 5-7, 9-10, 12-14, 20, 21, 23, 25, 26-28

  • March (2017) 1, 2, 5-8, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19-24, 26-31

  • April (2017) 2-7, 9-11, 19-21, 23-28, 30

  • May (2017) 1-5, 7, 8

Carriers: Air France, Delta Air Lines
Price: $425

Thoughts: As a route that usually goes for well north of $500, this one came out of left field.

 

NEW YORK

 

New York JFK – Barcelona

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 26-29, 31

  • February (2017) 2-5, 7, 9, 14

Carrier: American Airlines
Price: $376

Thoughts: Cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap.

 

New York JFK – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15-31

  • February (2017) 1, 2, 4-15, 19-28

  • March (2017) 1-23

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $473

Thoughts: Same prices as DL and VS are offering on BOS-LHR.

 

New York JFK – Milan

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 17, 18, 24, 25, 31

  • February (2017) 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28

  • March (2017) 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29

  • April (2017) 4, 11, 12, 19, 25, 26

  • May (2017) 2, 3, 10

Carriers: Alitalia, Delta Air Lines, Emirates
Price: $496

Thoughts: Sub-$500 Emirates flights don’t come along every day! (Oh, and Alitalia and Delta operate this route, too.)

 

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • March (2017) 3, 23

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $203

Thoughts: Giving the JFK-ARN all-time low a run for its money, no pun intended.

 

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28, 30

  • February (2017) 1, 3, 4, 27

  • March (2017) 1, 24

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $248

Thoughts: The fact that a $248 fare on JFK-ARN isn’t considered unusual says a lot.

Delta Announces Boston to Dublin Flights: What’s the incentive?

Last week, Delta Air Lines broke the news that it’s slated to begin service between Boston Logan and Dublin. These seasonal flights will be operated by the carrier’s Boeing 757-200 aircraft.

This addition is the latest in a long line of intercontinental coups that Logan has bagged in recent years. Prior to 2012, the airport was primarily known as simply being an access point to other continents, as it only possessed nine destinations in Europe*. Since then, however, Boston has transformed into a true international gateway in the last four years with a number of new European and Asian routes. Here’s a brief recap of the destinations added, along with the airlines that serve those destinations:

2012

  • Tokyo – Japan Airlines

2014

  • Beijing – Hainan Airlines
  • Dubai – Emirates
  • Istanbul – Turkish Airlines

2015

  • Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific
  • Shanghai – Hainan Airlines
  • Tel Aviv – El Al

2016

  • Copenhagen – Norwegian Air Shuttle, Scandinavian Airlines
  • Doha – Qatar Airways
  • Dusseldorf – airberlin
  • Lisbon – TAP Portugal
  • London Gatwick – Norwegian Air Shuttle
  • Manchester, UK – Thomas Cook Airlines
  • Oslo – Norwegian Air Shuttle

That’s 13 new intercontinental destinations, a figure which is even more staggering considering Logan had nine European destinations prior to 2012 – so a 250% increase in destinations.* It should be noted that the five largest European markets – London, Paris, Dublin, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam – all had non stop flights before 2012, so it wasn’t like Logan had a dearth of intercontinental options. However, it is impressive that Massport has been able to bring in so many new carries and establish an AsiaPac presence that – cameos from Korean and El Al aside – didn’t exist.

If you read the various aviation forums, you’ll know that most people don’t really consider Boston to be a Delta “hub.” Their skepticism isn’t off-base, either, as Delta isn’t even the major carrier at the airport (that honor belongs to jetBlue). Moreover, as a major U.S. airline, Delta has an interest in acquiring traffic between Boston and its major transatlantic O+D markets: London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Dublin. And while it has a significant presence in the first three cities listed, BOS-DUB is dominated by Aer Lingus, which has two daily flights between the U.S. and Ireland.

Is this a power move by Delta? Yes and no.

It certainly helps the carrier augment its position as a hub in Boston, and it also solidifies its position as the dominant U.S.-based carrier between Boston and Europe. And while such a designation isn’t really under threat, as the only other U.S. airline to fly between Boston and Europe is American and its seasonal 757 to Paris, Delta will now serve four European destinations from Boston.

That said, even with Delta entering this market, Aer Lingus will still have the majority of market share, both due to brand loyalty and capacity as Aer Lingus operates the Airbus A330, which is significantly larger than the Boeing 757s that Delta will fly on the route. Additionally, BOS-DUB doesn’t have the same number of passengers as BOS-LHR or BOS-CDG. Yet by establishing seasonal service on a smaller aircraft than the Boeing 767s it flies to London and Paris or the Airbus A330 it flies to Amsterdam**, Delta has a low-risk “in” to a market that has traditionally posted very good load factors. So why not give it a shot?

Of course, there are a number of elements that factor into an airline’s decision to launch a route. Even so, this one seems like a no-brainer.

* Including countries in continental Europe, as well as the British Isles. This does not include remote European locations such as Iceland and Portugal’s Azores.

** Yes, the featured image is a Delta Airbus A330, but that was the only free stock image I could find.