Friday, July 31, 2009

British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa Struggle With Business Travel Drop; B.A.: No Fare Increases in '09

Bad news for airlines; good news (at least in the short term) for travelers, and especially those looking for bargains in international business-class travel.

Discussing his airline's latest quarterly loss (of $174.7 million), B.A. chief Willie Walsh said that the strategy for the rest of the year is to try to drive up passenger volume, which can't be done with any increase in fares this year, given the climate.

That means that big discounts on business-class fares will continue through the fall and at least into early winter as British Airways and its competitors on the long-haul international routes struggle to achieve a balance between supply and demand.

But even if that balance is achieved with further capacity reductions, the market has spoken on sky-high international premium fares that routinely sold at $10,000 and up in recent years: Nuh-uh. No way. Ain't happening. Those days are gone, even after the economy rebounds.

As a result, all major carriers that depend on high-volume premium long-haul traffic (and I see you back there trying to keep your heads down, Delta, American, Continental, Virgin Atlantic, United and the rest of yez) are going to need to take costs out of the service (cutting back on not only staff but in-flight amenities) and significantly reduce capacity to accommodate the new reality of long-haul premium fares. It is a buyers' market.

(By the way, in the link to the Virgin Atlantic story in the Guardian in the paragraph above, ignore the goofy out-of-date financial numbers, which inexplicably are given for the year ended in March for British Airways. British Airways' most recent results, announced today, show a loss of $174.7 million for its first fiscal quarter which ended June 30).

Largely reflecting the plunge in premium traffic, B.A.'s revenues were off 12 percent in the quarter ended in June. It was even worse at Air France-KLM, where revenues dropped 20.5 percent, and at Lufthansa, down 19.5 percent.

B.A.'s Willie Walsh said in a statement today that there are "no visible signs of improvement" in revenues, but "some signs of improvement" in passenger demand. Walsh -- who has been commendably up-front in calling things by their right names -- didn't say so, but any improvement in demand reflects fare sales.

And in what I predict will be a more common strategy among airlines in years to come, Walsh said that British Airways is increasing its efforts to offer package deals --- flights combined with hotels, car rentals and other travel services. This initiative "has led to bookings of ancillary products and packages more than doubling compared to last year," he said.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Southwest Bids to Buy Frontier (Cheap)

Southwest Airlines confirmed today that it was preparing a $113.6 million bid to buy Denver-based Frontier Airlines, which is operating under bankruptcy court protection and will be sold at auction next month.

If Southwest prevails with the acquisition, it would operate Frontier separately at first until it could merge the airline into its operations.

It isn't clear to what extent Southwest wants to acquire Frontier to eliminate competition on overlapping routes, or how much it sees an acquisition also as a way to expand.

Frontier has a fleet of Airbus aircraft -- 38 A319s, 10 A318s and three A320s. Southwest famously flies Boeing 737s, and has about 535 of them.

Frontier entered bankruptcy protection in April 2008.

Here's a list of Frontier's route network.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Delta Fare Sale

The fall sales continue as airlines desperately try to gin up sagging demand and raise cash as the usual Fall slowdown in travel approaches. From Delta this morning:

"Delta Air Lines announced today it has introduced leisure sale fares in most domestic and some international markets. The reductions offer significant savings on 21-day advance-purchase domestic fares to many popular destinations.

A few sample domestic sale fares, effective immediately, include:

Each-way fare* (based on
From To round-trip purchase)
Atlanta Orlando $59
Atlanta Portland $194
Cincinnati Ft. Lauderdale $119
Memphis San Diego $164
New York-Kennedy Ft. Lauderdale $79
Salt Lake City San Francisco $89
Salt Lake City Tampa $99

*Additional taxes/fees/restrictions/baggage charges may apply. See below for details.

Sample international sale fares, effective immediately, include:

Each-way fare* (based on
From To round-trip purchase)
Atlanta Nassau, Bahamas $159
Atlanta Santiago, Chile $429
Detroit Frankfurt, Germany $269
Los Angeles Sydney, Australia $329
Los Angeles Tokyo, Japan $399
New York-Kennedy London-Heathrow, United Kingdom $189
Pittsburgh Paris-Charles de Gaulle, France $289
Portland Tokyo, Japan $429

*Additional taxes/fees/restrictions/baggage charges may apply. See below for details.

Availability is limited and tickets must be purchased by Aug. 3, 2009 for international destinations and Aug. 14, 2009 for domestic itineraries at, or via Delta reservations or ticket counter at a slightly higher fare."


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Virgin America Fare Sale: NY-LA, $238

Virgin America just announced a fare sale with some very low prices, like New York-Los Angeles or San Diego-Boston, $238 round-trip. For travel Aug. 18-Sept. 18. Read the fine print, of course.


Delta Adds New Elite-Status Top Level; Elite Miles Rollover from Year to Year

Delta Air Lines is slapping a new status level, Diamond, onto its SkyMiles elite-status program.

Does that improve the program or dilute it further for platinum-level members who will be lower in priority for upgrades, but even for the lowest-level members who will drop one place in the pecking order?

Hmmm. You decide. Seems to me this is a definite bonanza for the dwindling number of heavy-duty fliers who remain loyal to a particular airline for whatever reason and who are out there slogging away at 125,000-plus miles a year. And the rollover feature seems to be good for everyone, though it also seems to me that it will help dilute the program simply by making its membership bigger.

Also, under the current system, where elite-qualifying miles vanish at year’s end, at least the herd was culled a bit, year to year.

“We’re keeping the benefits that mean the most to our Medallion members and adding others that surpass what any other airline offers,” said Jeff Robertson, Delta’s vice president of loyalty programs. “Features introduced in 2010 will provide SkyMiles Medallion members meaningful, unmatched benefits on flights to nearly 400 destinations across six continents.”

Yeah, yeah. So what’s the deal?

—Diamond Medallion Status: A fourth Medallion level for flyers who get 125,000 elite-qualifying miles, which Delta calls MQMs, or who fly 140 segments per calendar year will offer free Sky Club membership, 125 percent mileage bonus for purchases, award booking and baggage fee waivers and other exclusive rewards.

—Rollover MQMs: Delta is the first airline to allow customers to retain any MQMs earned above a Medallion threshold at the end of the year, supplementing the ability to earn status the next year. For example, if you accrue 40,000 MQMs in one calendar year, the 15,000 MQMs that exceed the 25,000 MQM Silver Medallion threshold will be rolled over to the following year. There is no limit to the number of miles rolled over, and the benefit and takes effect immediately.

—Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members will have ticketing fees waived for all bookings, whether completed by phone, online or in person.


Monday, July 27, 2009

JetBlue Fare Sale for Fall Travel

The fall-travel fare sales are starting to arrive.

JetBlue has one today (for 10 days) with one-way fares of $149 for New York-Seattle. Other examples: Boston-New York, $49; Long Beach-Boston, $139; Fort Lauderdale-New York, $79. Here's the full list, for travel between Sept. 8 and Dec. 16, with advance purchase requirements of up to 14 days and other restrictions.


Friday, July 24, 2009

For Most Airlines, Revenues Are in Free-fall

Despite all that dough many carriers are raking in on checked-bag fees (see previous post), most airlines are in financial trouble because overall passenger revenue is off so sharply. The reasons for that revenue sinkhole: persisting low fares coupled with a sharp fall-off in demand that began really digging in at end end of last year -- and shows no sign yet of turning around.

Here is a summary of airline financial results for the second quarter ended June 30, as helpfully compiled by SpeedNews. Look all those double-digit revenue declines:



This week, several US airlines reported their financials for 2Q 09; some lost and some profited, but all -- except for Allegiant Air -- saw declining revenues:

DELTA AIR LINES lost $257m in 2Q 09 (vs $83m profit in 2Q 08) on 23% lower revenues;

UAL CORPORATION (United) reported net loss of $323m (vs $2.7b loss in 2Q 08) on 25% lower revenues;

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES had $213m net loss in 2Q 09 (vs $5m loss in 2Q 08) on 22.7% lower revenues;

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES has $54m net profit in 2Q 09 (vs $321m in 2Q 08) on 9% lower revenues.

US AIRWAYS GROUP had $58m net income in 2Q 09 (vs $568m loss in 2Q 08) on 18.4% lower revenues;

JETBLUE had $20m net income in 2Q09 (vs $9m net loss in 2Q 08) on 6% lower revenues;

ALASKA AIR GROUP had $29.1m net income in 2Q 09 (vs $63.1m in 2Q 08) on 9.3% lower revenues;

AIRTRAN HOLDINGS had $$78.4m net income in 2Q 09 (vs $14.8m loss in 2Q 08) on 13% lower revenues;

ALLEGIANT TRAVEL (Allegiant Air) had $23.9m net income in 2Q 09 (vs $2.6m in 2Q 08) on 12.5% higher revenues;

AIR FRANCE-KLM reports revenues for first quarter ended June 30 dropped 20.5% from a year ago to €5.19b; it plans to announce its [full] results at the end of the month."

Adding to the above list: American Airlines reported a $390 million second-quarter loss (vs $298 million in the 2008 2Q), on 22.3 percent lower revenues.


American Follows Continental, Jacks Up Checked-Bag Fee by $5

American Airlines is adding $5 to the fees it charges coach passengers to check a bag on domestic flights, effective with tickets bought on Aug. 14.

Checking the first bag will cost $20, rather than $15, and the second bag will be $30, rather than $25.

Last year, U.S. airlines pocketed over $1.5 billion in checked-bag fees. In the first quarter of this year alone, the take was $550 million.


Another Plane Disaster in Iran: At Least 17 Dead

[Photo: An Ilyushin Il62 passenger aircraft]

There's been another fatal plane disaster in Iran. An Aria Air flight with 160 on board skidded off the runway during an emergency landing and crashed into barricades in the city of Mashhad. At least 17 were killed as the plane caught fire.

The plane was a Russian-built long-range Ilyushin Il62. Here's a link to the specs on that aircraft. It was operated by Aria Air, an Iranian airline.

Less than two weeks ago, another Russian-built airliner, a Tupolev Tu154 operated by Iran's Caspian Airlines, crashed in a fireball after takeoff, killing 168.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

US Airways Latest to Opt for In-Flight Wi-Fi

US Airways is finally climbing onto the Wi-Fi bandwagon. The airline said today it had chosen Aircell, the leading supplier of in-flight broadband connectivity, to install the service, starting early next year.

That leaves Continental alone among the legacy carriers in not signaling its intentions, at least, regarding Wi-Fi.

Aircell has already installed its Gogo-branded service on about 675 aircraft. AirTran and Virgin America now have it on their entire fleets. Delta, Aircell's biggest customer, has been busily installing Gogo and expects to have its mainline domestic fleet completed by the end of September. Not far behind is American, with United saying it also plans to install Gogo.

US Airways said that Aircell's Gogo -- which costs about $100,000 per plane to install -- will initially be installed on its A321 aircraft on "select routes." A map showing those routes is on the airline's Web site. [Good luck with that. I couldn't find it readily and life is too short to waste any more of a fine summer morning in the desert fiddling with the US Air Web site!]

Later next year, customers will be able to see if Wi-Fi is available on a specific flight by looking for the Wi-Fi icon while booking a flight on, the airline said.

Pricing hasn't been set yet. Aircell’s standard pricing ranges ranges from $5.95 to $12.95, depending on the length of flight and type of Wi-Fi-enabled device used.

Wi-Fi is the only major customer-service initiative the airlines seem to be going for these days. Now that Aircell has bagged another major airline, the big question is, what does Southwest do?

Southwest has been testing a different system in partnership with a company called Row44, which is Aircell's only serious competitor. Southwest is testing the service on four aircraft. Alaska Air has also tested Row44 on a single aircraft.

Southwest hasn't yet announced whether it will install Row44's Wi-Fi system on its entire fleet of about 535 Boeing 737s. Testing will continue through the summer.

If you're flying Southwest, there's no way to know at booking if your plane is one of the four with the service. But 24 hours before departure, Southwest notifies you by e-mail if it is.

There's a big difference between Aircell and Row44 technology. Aircell uses land-based cell towers, which means that Gogo is not able to provide service over oceans. Row44 is a satellite-based system, fully capable of transoceanic service.

It would seem odd that Southwest, which doesn't fly transoceanic, would partner with a satellite Wi-Fi company, but Row44 says that satellite delivery provides a faster and more consistent-quality connection than land-based delivery in which connections are shifted from one point to another on the ground.

Row44 won't say how much it costs to install its systems on an airplane, except to say that the cost is considerably higher than Aircell's installation cost.

Expect an announcement by Southwest on its intentions regarding a fleet-wide rollout sometime in the early fall, if not sooner.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Scorpions on Southwest, But With a $20 Fee to Remove Them

Nah, just kidding about the $20 fee, though not about the scorpion.

Some poor guy got stung by a scorpion that dropped down from the overhead bin on a Southwest flight out of Phoenix. Man killed scorpion with his shoe. TSA investigating shoes as weapons potentially to be banned. Nah, just kidding about the TSA, though not the guy killing the scorpion with his shoe. In fact, that's the recommended method.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Airline Revenues Off Sharply in June. Again.

Domestic airline passenger revenue fell 26 percent in June 2009 versus the June 2998, marking the eighth consecutive month in which passenger revenue has fallen from the prior year, the Air Transport Association said today.

The number of passengers boarding U.S. airlines in June fell 6.5 percent, while the average price to fly one mile fell 20.7 percent, a sharp decline surpassing even those that occurred during the 2001 recession and the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Revenue declines extended beyond the mainland U.S. to trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific and Latin markets flown by U.S. carriers.

The decline occurred "despite extreme price-discounting," said the trade group's CEO, James C. May.

That is, the airlines' frantic attempts to bring customers, and cash, in the door through fare sales have not worked.

Next step, in my opinion: Airlines will announce further capacity cuts in a desperate attempt to bring supply down below the sunken level of demand.

Somebody's gonna get hurt before this all shakes out.


JetAmerica Bites the Dust Before Takeoff

To the surprise of no one except people who bet money on this doomed venture (or bought tickets), the startup airline JetAmerica has folded before takeoff.

I could never quite figure this one out. It was hyped by credulous airline reporters when the "airline" first announced a start-up with $9 come-on fares in May, with a hodgepodge of planned routes including Toledo, South Bend, Ind., Melbourne, Fla., Minneapolis and ... Newark. Something about charter flights.

At the time, I noted that a local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, was doing what newspapers should be doing, digging out the facts and putting the story into context. Here's a link to the Columbus Dispatch story on JetAmerica and its genealogy.

And here's a link to JetAmerica's jive announcement trying to hold off the inevitable last week.

[UPDATE: Here's Mike Boyd's amusing take today on this "doomed-from-the-start airline," which as he notes had some airports among its gullible believers. Says Mike: "Ray Charles could have seen the danger signs" here.]


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Concern Growing Over United Airlines Plan to Shift Credit-Card Processing Fees to Travel Agents

Starting Monday,United Airlines plans to require some travel agencies to eat the costs of credit-card processing fees on tickets (2-3 percent of the purchase price) sold by the airline to the agencies, which of course will pass the extra charges on to travelers.

The move -- in which agents will be required to pay United cash for the tickets themselves, even though their customers charge them on a credit card -- is being called a huge fare increase by air-travel consumer advocates, who think that other airlines hope to follow United and reduce their own costs of ticket-distribution through third parties.

It isn't clear which agencies are affected, though speculation is that United chose smaller travel agencies at first to see if the scheme will fly. United, which is considered to be the most financially weak of the network airlines, is desperately trying to cut costs amid an industry-wide plunge in passenger revenues, as air-travel demand continues to languish.

It also appears that United is hoping to reduce its exposure and potential liability to credit card companies, which typically hold back substantial sums of payments on advance ticket purchases.

Kevin Mitchell, the chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, which represents corporate travel buyers, called the move "wholly unacceptable."

It is "not just a price increase, it appears to be a potential price increase targeted at those travelers that use the services of travel agents and travel management companies -- with corporate travel programs at the front of that line," Mitchell said.

Travelers booking directly on the United web site would not be affected, of course.

Mitchell said, "The most troubling aspect of this scheme is that this attempt to shift airline sales costs to travel agents and on to their customers would only work if the airlines act in concert with United Airlines to affect such a radical change; something in which the U.S. Department of Justice should take great interest. The way UAL pre-announced its cost-shifting scheme to an unspecified number of travel agents, with an effective date 30 or so days out, leaves it the ability to run this back down the flag pole if its competitors do not agree to match.

Thus, this scheme looks like the previous signaling behavior on airfares by airlines using the Airline Tariff Publishing Co. (ATPCO). That action caused DOJ to sue eight airlines and ATPCO in 1992 alleging that airlines used the ATPCO electronic fare submission and dissemination system to fix prices, which the Division concluded had cost consumers up to $2 billion.

If UAL’s sales cost-transfer scheme were to be matched by other airlines, the
potential impact to consumers and corporate travel programs would likewise be in the billions of dollars," Mitchell said.

United said that the move will affect only a small portion of travel agencies, but has not discussed whether there are plans to expand the requirement for travel agencies to pay United cash for tickets.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Southwest Joins Some Competitors in Matching New Delta Fare Hike

The third across-the-board domestic fare increase in six weeks may be falling into place as the weekend arrives. Some competitors, including Southwest, are matching a $10 round-trip increase put into effect last night by Delta Air Lines, says Rick Seaney of

According to Seaney:

---Delta, Southwest, Alaska, Midwest, Frontier have increased fares $10 round-trip, $5 one-way over "the bulk of their route systems

---US Airways is doing "selective matching" on various routes.

---United Airlines is "dabbling in some limited matching."

---American and Continental remain "on the sidelines so far."

Seaney said, "The Southwest increase of $5 one-way was on mid/long haul routes and $2 one-way on short-haul routes (outside of sale fares)."

He added, "It is very difficult to get an exact read on this hike as there was some late week off-peak travel discounting that is mixed in with the increase activity.
Typically we will know if the hike attempt sticks by Monday afternoon.

"It appears at this point that the hike has a very good chance of surviving – I have never seen an airfare hike in 4 years fail when Southwest Airlines was in the mix."


Another Terrorist Attack on Luxury Business Hotels: At Least 6 Dead in Bombings at Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott in Jakarta

There was another terrorist attack on hotels that cater to foreign visitors, as at least 6 people died in bombings this morning at the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia. Both are five-star hotels.

[UPDATE: Here's an update via CNN].

This is the second time the Jarakta JW Marriott has been bombed. The first was in the summer 2003, when a suicide bomber killed 12 and injured more than 150 there.

Here are the Web sites for the Jakarta Ritz-Carlton and the Jakarta JW Marriott. Both hotels are properties of Marriott International.


Delta Initiates a New Round of $10 Fare Hikes. Will The Rest Follow?

This is starting to sound like a souk. While tossing up weak fare sales here and there, airlines are also trying to hike prices. Come on, there gotta be some buyers out there!

Last night Delta Air Lines (including Northwest) initiated a domestic airfare hike of $10 roundtrip ($5 each way) across the bulk of its U.S. route system, according to Rick Seaney of

"This domestic airfare hike marks the third attempt in the past six weeks, with the past two tries successfully sticking," said Seaney, who noted that on yesterday's second-quarter earnings call American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey said he did some quick calculations on the back of an envelope and figured the airline "needed about $17 more per one-way customer in the quarter to break even."

Seaney added, "If this domestic airfare increase sticks it would mean an increase of $20 to $25 each way domestically for the legacy airlines in the past 6 weeks. However, this increase does not include international tickets nor the widely matched off-peak late summer/fall airfare domestic sale initiated by Southwest earlier this week.

"Starting this past November through late May ... airfare prices had been in a free fall. In June, domestic airlines popped their chutes with a couple of airfare hikes -- the big question is whether or not there is a hole in the canopy as demand in tough economic times is impossible to predict."


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Updated Airline Outlook: More Gloom, Maybe Some Doom. Ever-Fainter Fare Sales

Anybody remember when the airline business used to be fun?

AMR, the American Airlines parent company, reported a loss of $390 million in the second quarter of this year, despite a 44.9 percent decline in fuel prices. "Revenues are down sharply from a year ago," said Gerard Arpey, the CEO. Revenues were down 22.3 percent over last year's second quarter, in fact.

The other airlines are about to report second quarter earnings, and the expectation is for more gloom and, perhaps, some doom, with some analysts suggesting that one of the network carriers might not make it through the winter.

Meanwhile, as I've been saying, stand by for another round of capacity cuts as airlines desperately try to reduce supply below sinking demand. So far they have not been able to do that, meaning that fares remain low on most routes -- except some routes where there is scant competition and enough demand.

Overall, that probably means a few more rounds of fainter fare sales as airlines try to raise cash and hold onto market share. But we are arriving at a day of reckoning in air travel.

"There is no longer any need for qualification. This is the biggest crisis the aviation industry has ever known, and it continues," Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, said yesterday at the company's annual meeting in London.

The International Air Transport Association has been right on top of this deteriorating situation, issuing regular updates and forecast revisions. And the latest IATA report is glum for the industry.

"Efforts to resize capacity to better match demand and cut costs have helped, but have trailed behind the fall in traffic," according to the IATA Airlines Business Confidence Index for July. Regarding industry fortunes, "there is renewed pessimism about the outlook ahead."


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Miles Award Sale on United for Travel Aug. 18-Nov. 18

United Airlines just announced a mileage-award promotion for economy round-trip travel Aug. 18 through Nov. 18.

For travel in North America, award seats are 20,000 miles vs. the usual 25,000 (assuming availability, natch). Hawaii, it's 30,000 instead of the usual 40,000. Europe, 44,000 vs. 55,000. Asia, 50,000 vs. 65,000.

Here's the link to the United announcement.


Iranian Airline Crash Kills 168, Raises More Safety Questions About Some Small Foreign Carriers

A Russian-made Tu-154 jet crashed this morning in northwest Iran, killing all 168 on board. The plane was bound from Tehran to the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

Caspian Airlines was started in Iran in 1992. It has a fleet of six Tu-154s and has 50 scheduled routes, some between cities in Iran and others to destinations in Hungary, the UAE, Syria, Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus and Turkey.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on the Tu-154 airliner.

Iran has a lot of plane crashes, most of which stay off the international radar.

The Iran crash comes a little two weeks after 150 were killed when a Yemenia Airlines A310 crashed in the Indian Ocean.

The recent crashes, coming during peak summer travel season, highlight an issue that not enough travelers are aware of: The potential perils of flying on little known airlines with safety records that might be questionable at best.

Many of these airlines turn up online on searches for "cheap flights." International travelers on a budget need to be aware that safety and maintenance standards are not universal.

Here is a link to airlines banned from European and U.S. airspace because of safety concerns. It's from the European Commission on Transport. (Caspian Airlines is not on the list).

As far as I know, the FAA does not publish a similar list, though FAA bans are noted within the EU list. The EU list is straightforward, naming individual airlines. The FAA list, reflecting the FAA's reflexive coziness with airlines, merely names countries that have Category 2 carriers (meaning: death trap). Thanks to Walt Baranger for the tip on the list, which is not widely known.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Senate FAA Bill Sets 3-Hour Limit on Tarmac Delays

Tucked deep in the FAA reauthorization bill introduced in the Senate today is a provision that, if it stands, is guaranteed to give the screaming-meemies to the airline industry.

Under the topic "Option of deplaning," it requires airlines to allow passengers at their option to get off a plane that has sat on the tarmac for three hours after leaving the gate, or after landing without pulling into a gate.

The provision is radioactive to the airline industry, which has battled the evolving of the so-called passengers-rights movement led by California activist Kate Hanni, who was stranded on a parked plane for eight hours along with thousands of other passengers in late 2006.

So-called stranding incidents occurred with disturbing frequency throughout 2007 and 2008. Typically, passengers sat on parked planes as conditions deteriorated, without food, sometimes with toilets overflowing or not working, for up to 12 hours.

Hanni pushed relentlessly for the three-hour provision. The airline industry is pushing relentlessly to keep it from becoming law.

The stranding incidents have become infrequent in the last six months, as air travel demand has lessened and as some airlines have put better practices into place to head off the horrible publicity these situations brought (largely as a result of the indefatigable Hanni and the grassroots group she formed, the Coalition for an Airliner Passengers Bill of Rights.)

I've known Kate since she first started working on her lonely quest, trudging the halls of Congress in the winter of 2007. Consistently, I have told her that, while her efforts were clearly having results in focusing public and industry attention on the problem, there was no way she was ever going to get a federal law passed that requires airlines to bring a plane back to a gate under these circumstances. I now wonder if I have been dead wrong on that.

Here's a joint press release today from Sens. Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe, who were responsible for the passengers bill of rights provisions, including the three-hour rule, in the current FAA bill. Hanni worked closely with both senators on this.

The Senate bill now has to be reconciled with the House bill. Lobbying will intensify and the airline industry will call in chits to try to dislodge the passengers-rights provisions.

The airline industry, which was freed from most federal regulation in a landmark 1978 law, swore that the three-hour provision would never happen and mounted a huge lobbying effort against it.

It's the airlines' position that they themselves can fix the problems, and that well-established federal law prevents interference in their operations, other than for such matters as air-traffic control and safety. The airlines say that allowing a passenger to turn a plane back to a gate after three or more hours can cause chaos in flight schedules -- for example by causing planes to lose their place in takeoff queues during bad weather.

But there it is in the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization bill (which still has not become law). Three hours on the tarmac and sorry, back to the gate if a passenger demands it.

The exceptions are if a pilot "reasonably determines" that the plane will in fact take off within 30 minutes after the three-hour tarmac delay, or if the pilot cites a safety concern. Pilots themselves have expressed no organized opposition to the three-hour provision except to insist, quite correctly, that they are responsible for safety.

James May, the president of the Air Transport Association, testified against the three-hour rule and other proposed passengers-rights legislation during hearings on the FAA reauthorization bill. He said legislation was not necessary.

May said that the industry trade group had consistently maintained that airlines "would learn from the unusual and extreme events of December 2006 and February 2007" [when the most heavily publicized airline strandings incidents occurred]. Airlines, he said, would and did learn "how to better handle lengthy delay situations and improve the process to cancel flights."

We'll be hearing more from the airline industry on this, oh, I'd say any minute now.


New Round of Fare Sales

The network airlines may be ready to lunge for one more round of fare sales today, says Rick Seaney at

Right now, airlines are trying to calculate how many more seats they need to cut from overall capacity by late fall. They've had a bit of a respite from rising oil prices in recent weeks -- and a chance to soberly assess what the future might look like. There is no sign that business travel is rebounding -- as I have often said, business travelers are now behaving more than ever like leisure travelers, making it very difficult to even identify them in the market demographics.

Here's Rick Seaney's note from this morning, which starts with a round of fare sales announced last night by Southwest and AirTran:


"Last night both Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways initiated another round of airfare sales on the heels last week’s short lived and well received 2 and 3 day sales (respectively).

The Southwest sale this time includes late August and Labor Day travel but does not include Thanksgiving holiday departures (18-Aug thru 18-Nov).

These sales look more like typical historical late summer/fall discounting as they apply to travel on the slowest off-peak travel days Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and also have a much longer purchase window extending to the end of July.

Legacy airlines will most likely match by early afternoon giving procrastinating consumers another bite at the apple at summer travel in the sub $100 one-way price point.

The past month has shown some signs of a turning point for domestic airlines who have watched oil prices slide back down the past few weeks, seen heavy demand for last week’s fall sales, put through a couple of airfare hikes and continue to reduce seat capacity.

On the downside it appears that airlines continue to fill their planes with a bigger mixture of leisure travelers as businesses continue to struggle with the economy - keeping their air travel budgets trimmed to the bone and high paying business travelers on the bench."


Monday, July 13, 2009

So You Think You're a Runner ...

Well, lookit this footrace, one of the most grueling in the world: the Badwater Ultramarathon, which started this morning in Death Valley, Calif., covers the blazing desert, and proceeds nonstop 135 miles to Mt. Whitney, where it ends at nearly the 5,000-foot level.

By the way, the weather forecast is for a high of 121 degrees today in Death Valley. Standard weather there for July. In some years, the race has been run at 130 degrees.

[UPDATE 2 PM PDT: From the Badwater Web site, a Twitter update says: "# Ashley Fantz of CNN is embedded with the race. She ran the 1st 17 miles & wanted to go further, but needs to write her story & prep video. 22 minutes ago."

My comment: Yeah, sure, the old "I'm on deadline" excuse. On the other hand, Ashley did run for 17 miles in blazing desert heat. Me, I'm also on deadline today -- and the only place I've run is downstairs to the refrigerator.]


What Does Huge Response to Last Week's Southwest Fare Sale Tell Us?

Not much, actually, except that there is a certain amount of pent-up air-travel demand that can be primed with really, really cheap fares.

That snap two-day Southwest fare sale last week -- with one-way fares from $30 to $90 to all Southwest destinations -- generated so much response that Southwest's Web site went down for hours, aggravating a lot of potential customers.

Overall, though, airlines continue struggling to generate cash and fill seats as demand refuses to rise. Airlines say they think the demand-revenue crisis has "bottomed out," though with no sign yet that improvement is at hand. As I keep saying, "bottomed out" also describes the condition of the Titanic.

In his weekly post today, Mike Boyd thinks that the analysts predicting that one major airline could go bust by winter (United is the usual suspect they mention) are missing a point: The uncommon agility airlines have in cutting capacity and parking planes -- an agility Boyd thinks they'll exercise more aggressively by November, now that it's clear demand isn't moving through the summer and well into the fall. Without a doubt, sharper capacity cuts lay ahead.

As I also keep saying, plan ahead for a smaller air-travel system with even fewer choices and options. And that condition may prevail for a very long time.

PS -- Re the lag in my posting for the last few days. I was in a Latin American rain forest, this time voluntarily. (Costa Rica, a delightful place. More on that later).


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Airline Breaks Guitar, Singer Goes Viral

United Airlines baggage handlers busted the $3,500 Taylor guitar that the airline made country-western singer Dave Carroll gate check last year in Chicago. Passengers looking our the window at the tarmac actually watched the bag guys mangle the guitar in its case, Carroll says.

So after nearly a year of frustration trying to get the airline to reimburse him for the guitar, Carroll went viral with this video on YouTube, a part of the chorus of which is: "United, you broke my guitar ... I should've flown on someone else or gone by car 'cause United (beat) breaks guitars."

The chorus of three of Carroll's bandmates in sombreros is a nice touch.


Hotel Industry: Bad News Gets Worse, Prices Falling Further

Mark Lommano, the president of Smith Travel Research, calls the deteriorating situation in the U.S. hotel industry "disappointing, surprising and a little bit sad."

Smith Travel today issued what it called a "drastic downgrade" in its projections for domestic hotels, predicting a 17.1 percent decrease in the key revenue-per-available-room measure and saying that a recovery, earlier forecast for later this year, won't be seen till 2010.

Here's the gloomy report. Slammed by the economy and a travel slump, hotels are "unable to hold pricing" even after months of discounts and promotions -- and this is hitting the higher-level hotels hardest.

For us travelers, it's a great time to get a hotel deal. At high-end hotels that were built with residence and condo components, it's a terrific time to get an upgrade to the best accommodations.

On the other hand, I like the hotel industry and I like hotel people. I agree that, boon to travelers aside, this is a little sad.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Major 2-Day Southwest Fare Sale for Fall

After a lull while airlines tried to get some footing, the fare-sale fandango seems to be resuming. In the dead of night, Southwest announced a two-day fare sale for fall travel on almost all of its city pairs. Very unusual.

Here's the update from Rick Seaney at


From Rick Seaney, 2 a.m. July 7:

"Moments ago Southwest launched one of the most unusual system-wide airfare sales we have tracked in past 5 years.

The 2 day sale starts today and touches nearly all the combinations of their 68 city route map for travel departing this fall (9-Sep thru 18-Nov).

The sale pricing scheme is “back to the future,” pure simplicity -- based on one-way distance in miles at three different price levels:

---$30 one-way for all routes up to 400 miles (e.g. Seattle to Boise 398 miles)

---$60 one-way for all routes between 400 and 750 miles (e.g. Philadelphia to Jacksonville 742 miles)

---$90 one-way for all routes more than 750 miles (e.g. Las Vegas to Providence 2357 miles)

A review of the airfare filing shows the following number of routes (city pairs) at the different price levels:

---166 routes (city pairs) at $30 one-way

---481 routes (city pairs) at $60 one-way

---1,385 routes (city pairs) at $90 one-way

In the past several weeks we have seen system-wide domestic airfare sales almost completely dry up, after almost 6 months of continuous discounting by all the domestic U.S. airlines. That dry spell ends today as, along with Southwest, low-cost airlines AirTran and Frontier both filed summer/fall sales.

Later today we should see significant airfare matching activity (even for the modest 2-day purchase period on the Southwest sale) as legacy airlines will not want to be undercut.

Summer domestic prices, which are not included in the Southwest sale are tracking well below last summer’s highs when oil crested at over $145 a barrel.

This sale kicks off the historically slow fall air travel season a bit earlier than usual – even after recent announcements of more seat cutbacks by several airlines and is one indication that while airline ticket prices have stabilized recently from their free fall, airlines are by no means out of the woods as oil prices remain volatile and demand precarious."


Monday, July 06, 2009

This Will Not Stand

Ryanair is the Al Sharpton of airlines. Any possible chance to get publicity, Ryanair is on the scene.

Today there's another breathless story from Ryanair, in a British newspaper, the Mail. It quotes Ryanair's founder Michael O'Leary, a master of PR who recently got tons of publicity saying he was considering putting pay toilets onto the low-cost European carrier's fleet, as now saying Ryanair is thinking about having standing-room-only passengers.

Trust me, this idea ain't flying. Ever. It's a stunt.

Reminds me that some years ago, a gullible reporter in the U.S. managed to stir up a squall of publicity with his exclusive report -- which remains exclusive to this day -- that Airbus was planning to have a "standing-room-only" section on its (still undelivered at the time) A380 superjumbo jets. Turns out the reporter-with-the-scoop had based his half-baked reporting on pie-in-the-sky schematics Airbus engineers had played with and quickly abandoned, and which someone slipped him. The rest of us, including Boeing engineers, had quite a belly-laugh with that.


OpenSkies Sale, NY-Paris or Amsterdam

The air-fare sales for summer travel to Europe in business class are unprecedented, reflecting the drop-off in demand.

OpenSkies, the new British Airways business-class start-up, announced a sale this morning. Seats are $628 one way between New York and Paris ($565 NY-Amsterdam) in the "Biz Seat" section, where the seats have 52 inches of legroom and recline 140 degrees.

In the "BizBed" section, where the seats are fully lie-flat, fares are $1,139 one-way New York-Paris and $1,039 one-way New York-Amsterdam.

The BizSeat fares are available for travel any time; the BizBed seats fares are available for travel through Sept. 11.

I don't post fare sales unless they're extraordinary. This one, coming at the peak of the summer travel season, meets that criterion. But read the fine print for fees and other restrictions.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Time to Get Down again With the Crazy-Dancing, Ray-Charles-Loving Parrot

Dunno, I am totally weirded out by this Michael Jackson stuff. Not to mention this loon in South Carolina, I mean Sanford, not the loon senator who says the coup in Honduras was a win-win -- and really not the other South Carolina senator who hates gays but seems to be, well, just a little gay, as they would have said on my old block.

Anyway, you want the real King of Pop? Here's the Crazy-Dancing, Ray-Charles-Loving cockatoo who pays tribute to the real King of Pop. Back by popular demand.


Air France 447: The French Interim Report

Here's a pdf link to the interim report on the crash of Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris that killed 228 when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1.

From day one, because of personal history, I have had serious questions about why that airplane was "missing" for so long after it last had contact with Brazilian air traffic control -- shortly before the time we now know that it crashed. In fact, the plane was "missing" for almost seven hours after its last communication with Brazilian air traffic control.

Whatever catastrophic equipment failures, combined with severe weather, caused that crash, the loss of contact with that airplane is one of the key ancillary questions -- and by all indications the French are determined to dig out the facts on this.

What was the precise role of air traffic control in both Brazil and Senegal, which was the next center to have control? Who knew what and when? Why did it take so long? Where were mistakes made, and who made them? Why was the flight plan not transferred from Brazil to Senegal -- or was it transferred and not received? Did a rescue and recovery operation get underway hours later than it should have because of those mistakes?

In that context, I refer anyone who is very interested in these questions to the following pages in the interim report by the French Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (BEA), that nation's equivalent of our National Transportation Safety Board. The BEA stresses that this is an initial report.

--Page 45: " ATC Messages"

--Page 56-57: " Preparation of Flight AF447 on 31 May 2009"

--Page 61: " Letters of agreement between the DAKAR [Senegal] and ATLANTICO [Brazil] control centers.

--Page 68: "2: Initiial Findings" ... "The flight was not transferred between the Brazilian and Senegalese control centers."

Something about a miscommunication over the flight plan.

I wonder where I have heard that before.

Anyway, here's a key passage from the Wall Street Journal update on this report today:

"BEA officials said they were also looking into why the plane was only reported missing almost seven hours after its last radio contact. Another five hours passed before Brazilian authorities launched a search and rescue mission.

Mr. Bouillard [Alain Bouillard, the BEA official leading the investigation] said that when the plane passed from a Brazilian air-traffic control region to a Senegalese zone at 2:20 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, controllers in Dakar, Senegal, should have contacted Brazil's Atlantic center to confirm the hand-off. But the Dakar center never received the plane's flight path [reference is to the flight plan], as it should have, and never confirmed it was tracking the jetliner. The Brazilian center didn't contact Dakar to check why controllers hadn't been in contact, Mr. Bouillard said -- a lapse that the BEA plans to investigate further."


Air France Flight 447: The 5 W's ...

After a month of speculation and kibitzing by the civil authorities and the media, we still have very few answers on why Air France Flight 447 crashed in the ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, not longer after leaving Brazilian air space.

Here's an update based on new information from the French air-accident report agency.

From that update via Reuters, here is a section that caught my attention:

"'The plane was not destroyed while it was in flight. It seems to have hit the surface of the water in the direction of flight and with a strong vertical acceleration,'" said Alain Bouillard, who is leading the investigation on behalf of France's BEA air accident board.

"Bouillard said control of the flight was supposed to have passed from air traffic controllers in Brazil to their counterparts in Senegal, but that never happened.

He said the pilots of flight AF 447 had tried three times to connect to a data system in the Senegalese capital Dakar, but had failed, apparently because Dakar had never received the flight plan.

"This is not normal," he said, adding that investigators were also trying to find out why it took six hours after the plane disappeared before an emergency was declared.

[UPDATE: Meanwhile, from the story now running on the New York Times Web site:

"Mr. Brouillard said there had been a “dysfunction” in communication between air traffic controllers in Brazil and Senegal in coordinating the handling of the flight. The report released Thursday makes clear that controllers were slow to realize the plane had been lost. Two hours and 45 minutes after Flight 447 sent its last automated message describing problems on board, controllers were still asking the crew of a different Air France flight to try and contact Flight 447 on their radios."]

Again, I ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why?


United Departures Snarled at O'Hare by Computer Problem

Just as the July 4 holiday travel weekend looms, United Airlines passengers are jammed up at Chicago O'Hare by a computer glitch, source unknown.

[UPDATE: Here's a way better story from the Chicago Tribune Web site.]

The problem is affecting departing United mainline and regional-partner flights. By mid-morning, United mainline flights were departing a mere 15 percent on time, and United Express regional carrier partners were dragging along at about the same rate, according to data from, which will update throughout the day.

Let's hope this isn't a sign of months to come for air travelers.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Aviation Buff

Hey, psychotics and other crazy people read the papers and get on airplanes too.

So do you think this loon might have read this story?

Just askin'.


Middle-Seat Misery

The first strategies a young business traveler learns are the ones for avoiding that dread middle seat, at least to the extent possible. There are those of us who have flown an unnecessary several thousand miles or so at the end of the year just to ensure that we re-qualfy for the elite status that gives us the best shot at priority seat choice -- that is, avoiding the middle seat.

So here's an interesting survey today from 3M Privacy Filters, which makes among other things products to protect your laptop-screen privacy from prying eyes in the next seat. (Which of course adds up to two next seats if you're stuck in the middle).

"... according to a survey commissioned in April 2009 by 3M Privacy Filters, only 1 percent of those polled actually prefer to sit in the middle seat and 80 percent say they go out of their way to avoid it on a full flight. But, what is it about the middle seat that bothers people the most? Is it the cramped quarters? Lack of privacy? Rude seatmates? These survey findings reveal travelers' true feelings and some insights about the middle seat "experience."


---A majority of Americans would rather get stuck in traffic (56 percent), go on a blind date (56 percent) or go to the dentist (54 percent) than sit in the middle seat on a full flight.

---People dislike the middle seat so much they go to great lengths to avoid it altogether. Fifty percent of people said they would be likely to take an aisle seat being offered on the next available flight, while one in five Americans (20 percent) say they would actually stay overnight at an airport hotel for an aisle seat on the first flight the next morning!

---Nine percent of Americans report that they would refuse to sit in the middle seat on a full flight if it was more than 1-2 hours.

Top Five Middle Seat Annoyances

1. Having a nosy seatmate peering over your shoulder (84 percent)

2. Crawling over someone to get to the bathroom (83 percent)

3. Not being able to stretch out (83 percent)

4. Having an overweight seatmate on either side of you (80 percent)

5. Not having a place to rest your head (71 percent)

* Despite all the annoyances that come with sitting in the middle seat, nearly nine in 10 Americans are concerned with being a "good" middle seat occupant. After all, who wants to be rude?

Middle Seat Etiquette

---When sitting in the middle seat, you are subject to bad etiquette from neighbors on both sides. With in-flight wi-fi available on many flights, 65 percent of people are concerned about nosy neighbors snooping on personal or work emails and with good reason, since 49 percent of people admit to glancing at strangers' computer screens.

---However, there seem to be some discrepancies about proper etiquette. While 6 percent of people believe both armrests belong to the person sitting in the middle seat, the rest either had no idea of the proper etiquette (51 percent), believe one armrest belongs to the person in the middle (22 percent) or believe half of each armrest belongs to the person in the middle (21 percent).

---Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) agree that there is absolutely nothing good about sitting in the middle seat on a full airplane flight. However, some travelers do try to see the silver lining. An optimistic 17 percent say sitting in the middle seat means you do not get hit by the drink cart and 15 percent suggest that sitting in the middle gives you a chance to meet and talk to interesting people."


Myself, I'll take being whacked by the drink cart any day over being wedged in a middle seat.