By Ed Perkins

Not all airline ideas are bad -- every once in a while, a big line comes up with something that actually helps consumers. On the other hand, the bad ones keep coming, as well, and, as I've noted before about the airline business, nothing gets copied faster then a bad idea.

One good idea comes from Virgin Atlantic: taxi-sharing from airport to downtown. The line is partnering with Taxi2, a startup company that actually operates the service. It's already up and running, in beta, and expects to expand rapidly.

The idea is simple: Before you start your trip, you log onto the site, indicate your arrival airport and time, download and print an identifying Taxi2 sign. If possible, the site matches you with another traveler -- preferably on the same flight; if not, someone arriving within 15 minutes or so of your flight -- and you can arrange meeting details. Then, on arrival, you display the sign and look for another person showing the sign. You can also use the system "blind," with no prearranged meeting, and see if you can find someone else with the sign. Either way, you meet, compare downtown destinations, agree on how to handle payment, get into a taxi, and go. If neither your match nor any other Taxi2 user shows up within 15 minutes or so, figure "kismet" and find some other way to town. There's no serious risk: Taxi2 doesn't charge anything, and if you can't find a match, you're no worse off than if you hadn't tried.

The system is ideal for single travelers, for whom airport taxi rides can be quite expensive. At London/Heathrow, for example, the current black taxi fare to a central area is at least 50 pounds (about $83). Fares to town from Washington/Dulles, Los Angeles, and Newark are also usually $50 or more.

Currently, Taxi2 is focusing on New York and London, but there are no inherent geographical limitations. And there's no inherent reason it couldn't be used for trips to an airport, too. Taxi2 also expects to add connectivity to mobile devices soon. To try it, log onto (no .com). FYI, the Website currently calculates taxi fares between any two points in 22 cities around the world, with more to come.

Another good idea, this time from Qantas: "Boarding pass and baggage check for life" frequent flyer chip-enabled ID cards and baggage tags. To check in, just pass your card near a kiosk and put your baggage with chip-enabled check cards on the conveyor; the electronics do the rest. The system keeps track of where you and your baggage are at all times. Except for security, you don't have to stop at any desk on your way to your flight. The trial will start next year, but Qantas hopes to roll it out to all major airports quickly. So far, there is no indication about whether, when, and how such a system could include security ID, but that's certainly a longer-term hope.

And now for the worst idea. Ryanair, Europe's ultra-low-fare, ultra-bad-service, and ultra-extra-fee airline charges a fat 40 euros (about $60) to issue a boarding pass at the airport, and the CEO has threatened to increase that charge to 100 euros. In this case, however, Ryanair isn't grubbing for more revenue as much as it's forcing people to get boarding documents online before they arrive at the airport, with the long-term objective of eliminating check-in desks and personnel entirely. In fact, Ryanair doesn't even call the charge a "fee," but instead refers to it as a "fine" for not doing what the airline wants you to do. Ryanair, you might remember, is the line that recently gleaned publicity for threatening to add fees for use of the lavatories on its flights. I mention Ryanair's new "fine" not because many of you will fly that line, but because so many of Ryanair's more onerous "squeeze the traveler" initiatives have been copied by lots of other lines, including some in the United States. Be warned.


© Ed Perkins On Travel

Travel | New Airline Ideas, Good and Bad