If you only get on a plane once-in-a-blue-moon -- say for Thanksgiving -- you'll notice there have been some changes this year, and it all boils down to airline survival.
Changes like "all-you-can-eat" deals, gizmos and gadgets, and pet power -- things the airlines, mostly, are doing to make ends meet. But is it working for travelers?
I'm going to take a look at six air travel "innovations" we've seen over the past year -- and one "passenger pushback" response -- and grade them from one to five cranberries, five being best of course.
Cranberries are the perfect symbol for this time of year, plus while they can be sweet, they are always tart.
1. "All You Can Eat" Promotions -- 4 Cranberries
Earlier this year, JetBlue launched a clever "All You Can Fly" publicity gambit that had fingers flying in Twitter-world and quickly sold out. It was a win-win for frequent fliers, road warriors and especially the airline.
JetBlue enjoyed a marketing triumph plus it gave them a chance to fill up some otherwise empty seats. Pity this stunt was only good for a single month's worth of flights.
Not to be outdone, United soon came up with its own "all you can eat" innovation: pay $249, and you get two free bags on every flight for a year (along with up to eight people flying with you on the same confirmation number). A family of five checking one bag apiece would save with just two trips a year.
2. 'Pet Power' -- 5 Cranberries
When Pet Airways began taking reservations last spring, we'd just come off a year of airlines gone bust including ATA, Aloha, Skybus and others. Who'd have thought an airline devoted to yapping passengers would make it? Wait, yapping passengers – that sounds like some of my "human" flights.
That's not the end of it, though: JFK and other airports now feature grassy pet "comfort stations" (complete with hydrant-shaped, uh, well I guess you'd call them toilets) plus, longtime holdout Southwest began taking on dogs and cats in the cabin this year. Good for you, Sparky.
3. Travel Tech -- 4 Cranberries
This was the year of WiFi: wired up planes that let you work or play in the air. Virgin America was first to have fleet-wide WiFi, quickly followed by AirTran and now most airlines offer some flights with this amenity. During the holidays, Virgin is giving it away and several airlines have coupons and discounts, so you should be able find a deal.
And for iPhone fans, there are "apps" galore to make your flight fabulous; I recently watched a live Monday Night Football game in-flight thanks to a new app and I was not alone (it was fun watching seatmates trying to Velcro their phones to the backs of their tray tables, in an attempt to create a poor man's "JetBlue TV screen" experience).
Bright spot: earlier this year, the Mexican government and the European Union okayed cell phone use on planes. So far, the U.S. says "no".
4. Going Green -- 3 Cranberries
Airlines are going green, or at least trying and that's a good thing: Southwest recently unveiled a "green plane" featuring such innovations as synthetic leather so each seat will weigh five pounds less than previously -- which, when/if it goes fleet-wide, could save as much as $10 million a year in fuel costs.