If you're planning on traveling overseas this summer, get ready for some news. Like that old Clint Eastwood movie, it's a tale of the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good news is that Condor German Airlines is the newest member in the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. That means travelers on Condor's nonstop flights to Frankfurt, Germany from Anchorage, Fairbanks and Whitehorse now can earn Alaska miles. Further, they can redeem their Alaska miles for Condor flights to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
If you've already purchased your tickets on Condor for this summer, you can call the airline to add your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan number (the phone number is 866-960-7915). Even if you're just going to Frankfurt on Condor — that's still a lot of miles (4,660 miles to be exact). If you're flying in coach, you'll probably earn between 50 and 75 percent of the actual miles flown. But, those miles will count as elite qualifying miles toward your MVP status.
Flying in business class? You'll receive 300 percent of the actual miles flown. Two hundred percent of miles flown will be credited as elite qualifying miles. Condor's first nonstop flight of the season is on May 16, with coach seats selling for $380 each way. A business class seat on that date costs $990 one-way. Condor's prices vary from flight to flight. The last nonstop flight from Frankfurt to Anchorage is Sept. 19.
All of the information on earning miles is up to date on the Alaska Airlines website. Right now, you can't redeem Alaska Airlines miles for Condor flights —but they're working on getting it set up. For coach tickets to Europe, it will cost between 25,000 and 40,000 miles each way, based on the season (low, medium or high). For premium economy, it's 45,000 miles each way year-round. For business class, it's 55,000 miles each way, year-round. Since Condor only flies nonstop during the summer, you'll probably need to redeem miles at the high-season rate in coach. But Alaska and Condor offer code-share flights via Seattle and Portland, so it may be possible to fly via the Lower 48 in the winter. Condor's European destinations don't include London or Paris, but they do include many destinations in Italy, Greece, Croatia and Turkey.
If you want to connect to another Condor flight in Frankfurt, there are some interesting destinations in North Africa and the Middle East, including Egypt, the Seychelle Islands, the Maldive Islands and Morocco. It costs between 35,000-50,000 miles each way in coach, or 65,000 miles each way in business. Tickets to South Africa (Zanzibar, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia) cost 40,000-55,000 miles each way in coach or 70,000 miles each way in business.
Condor's addition to the Alaska Air mileage club is especially welcome because it coincides with the big split with Delta (effective April 30). Now, Alaska travelers have two choices to fly over-the-top to Europe while earning or burning miles: Icelandair or Condor.
Now for the bad news: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, has banned laptops and large electronic devices from carry-on bags for flights departing for the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East: Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait; Casablanca; Doha, Qatar; Dubai; and Abu Dhabi.
This ban applies only to flights departing from these airports. For example: if you're flying on one of Emirates' twice-daily Seattle-Dubai flights, you can bring the items in your carry-on for your outbound flight. But, according to this new policy, you must check your camera, your laptop, your iPad, your Kindle or anything larger than a smartphone.
David Lapan, a spokesperson for DHS, said in a phone interview that there is a bit of discretion for the airlines to determine whether a communications device is a tablet or a smartphone. "If your phone fits comfortably in the palm of your hand, it's probably OK," he said.
Lapan also said DHS is working with the FAA on safety issues regarding lithium batteries in the cargo hold of airplanes. Right now spare lithium batteries are prohibited in checked luggage due to fire dangers.
Lapan declined to comment on whether laptops or other devices would be less-dangerous in the cargo hold instead of in the cabin. Further, he declined to articulate why cellphones or smartphones are exempt. He did acknowledge that the new phones have as much computing power as many laptops.
Here's the ugly part: Lapan specifically denied that this electronics ban was a move to punish Mideast airlines. In particular, three of the big Mideast carriers (Qatar, Emirates and Etihad) have been battling with U.S. carriers Delta, United and American over unfair competition.
While many parts of this new ban are veiled because of "national security" concerns, there are some stark conclusions:
1. This new electronics ban is harmful to airlines that operate from these airports, including hubs for the big Mideast carriers or "ME3": Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi. The ban is particularly harmful for front-of-the-bus travelers who pay big premiums in order to work on their laptops during the 10- to 15-hour flights.
2. No U.S. carriers are affected by this new ban, since none of them operate nonstop flights to these destinations.
3. A corresponding electronics ban established by the U.K. did not include the ME3, although there were other airlines included which were not mentioned in the DHS order.
4. This electronics ban specifically targets airlines and airports in Muslim-majority nations. Taken in conjunction with the Trump administration's two well-publicized executive orders banning travelers from the region, people are getting the message. And it's not a message of "Welcome to the USA."
Lapan of DHS said "We recognize the economic impact of this order, but it's for security."
I'm not convinced DHS appreciates the impact of orders like this. Earlier this month at the world's largest travel trade fair in Berlin, Emirates president Tim Clark said his airline saw a 35 percent drop in bookings after President Trump's first travel ban was announced in late January.
According to the U.S. International Trade Association, travel and tourism accounts for 7.6 million U.S. jobs. International travel also is a big economic driver in Alaska. This winter, for example, charter flights from Asia brought thousands of travelers to Alaska to see the northern lights.
Airport and airline security is important. But the giant travel and hospitality industry thrives when we extend a genuine welcome to our international visitors. It naturally contracts when we ban travelers or make it difficult or inconvenient to visit. That is what's happening now. Many Alaskan companies were represented at that giant travel show in Berlin. They flew there to attract international visitors—who stay longer and spend more money in the state.
Now, in addition to competing with other destinations around the world for visitors, Alaskans must wrestle with our own government's messages to travelers. And that's not just bad. It's downright ugly.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.