- Travel Essential
- Startup helps travelers fly through airports
Startup helps travelers fly through airports
Plus: Adios 2022! | Is the travel boom fading? | HBO's ‘White Lotus’ sparks Sicily bookings surge
Washington Reagan National (DCA)'s decked out for the holidays -- Barb DeLollis
Happy almost holidays!
It’s hard to believe we’re about to wrap up 2022, and our first year of publishing. Thanks for joining us, sharing your feedback and stories and helping us grow by sharing our link to subscribe.
And, wow, what a difference a year makes! From the unexpectedly smooth Thanksgiving air travel season to the elimination of most Covid-era rules, travel truly is starting to feel normal again.
Jeri just got back from France, where she never once had to show proof of a Covid test or vaccination, even at International Luxury Travel Market, attended by 3,600 people last week in Cannes. In fact, the only Covid-related form she had to fill out was a simple contact tracing form on check-in to fly home. What a turnaround from the hoops she had to jump through to go to ILTM last year as Omicron was emerging.
And masks? Most of us have ditched them, though we are still seeing plenty of travelers (and flight attendants) wearing them. Increasingly, health officials are recommending we put those masks back on this winter both for travel and holiday parties as the “triple-demic” of flu, RSV and Covid is filling hospitals again. Jeri wishes she had heeded the advice after coming down with some bug (not Covid) on her latest travels.
Looking ahead, one thing we’re going to be doing more of here at TE next year is looking at interesting travel startups that have potential to make travel easier, greener, safer or simply more fun. Two weeks ago we told you about Sherpa, a new, tech-driven visa service for international travelers. This week, Barb talks to the founders of a new concierge service that helps rookie travelers, nervous travelers, solo parents, families and anyone else looking to make their trip less stressful.
We’re taking the rest of the year off, and hope you, too, take some time to relax and unplug. And if you have a travel story or question for Jeri and Barb, email us at [email protected].
Happy holidays! See you in 2023.
In this week's headlines:
– Remember what we said about skyrocketing airfares? In last week’s edition, we mentioned that maybe the stock market knows something we don’t about this year's travel boom finally slowing down. And, sure enough, that narrative gained momentum on Tuesday, when JetBlue officials told Wall Street analysts that demand for December is pacing below expectations. According to CNBC, hotel and airline prices are starting to decline (even though they’re still higher than a year ago) amid waning demand. Hotel rates fell by about 5%, while airfares fell by less than 1%, CNBC reported. On the flip side, United Airlines says it sees no real signs of recession, and Delta Air Lines says it expects to double its earnings per share next year. So is JetBlue a canary in the coal mine? Or given its smaller, Northeast-focused foot print, less of a bellwether?
– ‘White Lotus’ fuels interest in Sicily travel. We here at TE are obsessed with the HBO series about rich travelers acting badly at fictional White Lotus resorts. Apparently we are far from alone. Christina Jelski at Travel Weekly reports the series is driving a surge in interest for Sicily, where season two was filmed at the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace. "Since the first episode aired (at the end of October), we have noticed a big spike in web traffic from the U.S.," the hotel’s GM, Lorenzo Maraviglia, told TW. "The effect on bookings is also noticeable." And Google Trends data shows U.S. searches for Sicily roughly doubled between late October and early December.
– Delta to return to Cuba. The CEO of America's third-largest carrier, Ed Bastian, said this week said that he hopes to restore Delta's flight network to 98% of its 2019 levels next year. And that includes resumption of service to the Pearl of the Antilles. After a three-year Covid hiatus on flights to Havana, the airline said it will resume two daily non-stops in April to and from Miami, citing high-demand for the return. But don’t forget, restrictions remain on travel to the communist republic. Individual leisure travel is still prohibited by the U.S. State Department, though group tours this year were given the go-ahead to resume. See this story from Michelle Baran at AFAR.com for more details on what type of travel is allowed and what tour operators are offering trips.
– Airbnb addresses complaints over hidden fees, discrimination. A few weeks ago we told you about the backlash against Airbnb over a lack of transparency of cleaning and service fees, which were often hidden until check out. The company is responding, saying it will make total price before taxes the default view for everyone starting at some point next year, according to trade publication Skift. The company is also responding to reports of discrimination against Black travelers by some of its hosts. In a just-released internal assessment, Airbnb acknowledged the issues and provided the first public data on the steps it has taken to reduce racial disparities, including removing some human factors from the booking process, according to The New York Times.
Travel startup SkySquad helps travelers fly through airports
By Barbara DeLollis
Ever flown alone with two toddlers, car seats, sippy cups and luggage? Tried to navigate a new airport under a massive deadline and couldn’t deal with the stress? Or dropped your parents off at the curb, only to learn that they missed their flight?
Intrepid traveler and entrepreneur Julie Melnick has, and that’s why she founded a personalized concierge service called SkySquad to help passengers eliminate risk, hassles and heartache from the airport experience. It now operates in eight airports, including Austin, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.
For under $100 in most cases, SkySquad offers the service that helps travelers get from their cars to their gates. Generally, customers fall into four categories: People who want to receive personalized support, save time, enhance safety and security or better guarantee a positive experience.
“I initially started the company because of my own needs. I wanted someone to help me because I often traveled alone with my son,” Melnick told Travel Essential.
SkySquad Founder and CEO Julie Melnick -- Courtesy: SkySquad
And Melnick learned that her market is far bigger than expected. SkySquad’s Instagram account includes a photo of actor and comedian Martin Lawrence, for instance. “We really appeal to so many different groups – moms, dads and people who want to feel a little bit special.”
Cost: About the same as ticket tax
To use SkySquad’s service, expect to pay between $49 for an individual to $99 for someone traveling internationally with children. For the price, the SkySquad staff person will meet the traveler or travelers at the curb, fetch their belongings from their vehicle, get them checked in and expedite them through the security checkpoint to their gate.
Of all of SkySquad’s airports, Las Vegas is where they’re seeing the fastest growth. And Sin City customers represent all walks of life. “They want to get rid of stress and just enjoy their trip,” Melnick said.
The company’s busiest location is Fort Lauderdale, the only airport where SkySquad serves just one airline, Spirit. Most of SkySquad's customers there are leisure travelers, and the service is quite popular with adult children of aging parents who are flying to and from Florida. “They know our team will text their family when the parent reaches the gate,” Melnick said. (SkySquad does not provide wheelchairs.)
Airports need the help
As startups go, SkySquad is growing nicely despite the complex environment it operates in. After all, the company must cater to two different customers – airline passengers and airport operators.
“Customers need more help and attention,” Melnick said. “SkySquad offers the airport a chance to improve the quality of service without having to pay for additional staff or programming. It’s a win-win.”
Still, the business model has its challenges. Operating in an airport environment means that SkySquad needs to have employees undergo strict background checks – and the company is hiring talent at a time when airports continue to have a hard time attracting workers at pre-Covid pay scales. The background check process alone takes two to four weeks, excluding training, she said. But that’s not stopping the startup from growing.
SkySquad is currently working on launching service at a ninth airport.
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WINDY CITY -- Chicago, Chicago, That toddlin town
EUROPE -- Sailing the Rhine River
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BIKER CHIC -- Riding -- and dining -- with Harley-Davidson!