Quite a few notable events in the airline industry the past couple of days include:
- American Airlines today took delivery of their first Boeing 777-300ER, N717AN. It’s actually airborne as I type on its way to Dallas where it’ll eventually sport American’s new livery. Passenger service is scheduled to begin January 31 from Dallas to Sao Paulo.
- Delta Air Lines has purchased a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic, launching a joint venture between the two airlines. This will give the two airlines about 25% of the U.S. to UK market, positioning them as #2 behind the American-British Airways stronghold share of 60%. Once the deal is approved (end of 2013), the ability to earn and burn miles between carriers will exist, as well as reciprocal lounge access for elites and full-fare premium cabin passengers. And I’m sure Delta will be championing them to participate fully in SkyTeam. Whether that actually happens given Virgin’s “one-off” alliance-building history remains to be seen.
- Virgin America will launch flights to Newark beginning April 2013. Three daily nonstops are planned from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Hopefully we’ll see some good fare wars between VX and United in those markets.
- Lufthansa on Monday swapped out a 747-400 for the 747-8i on the Los Angeles to Frankfurt route. Flight 456 departs Frankfurt daily at 10:00 a.m. arriving at LAX at 12:40 p.m. The return flight, LH 457, departs LAX at 2:50 p.m. with an arrival back in Frankfurt at 10:45 a.m. the following morning. From my experience, this route is pretty difficult to snag a First Class award seat… but I’ll be trying!
- Service on Cathay Pacific might get a bit more… er… U.S. airline-esque as flight attendants are at odds with the carrier over a pay raise. Instead of striking, they’re reportedly considering customer-focused actions. “We will be selective in providing our services,” union general secretary Tsang Kwok-fung told the AFP. ”This could include not smiling at passengers, not providing certain types of beverages — such as alcohol — or stop serving meals,” he said.
In other airline industry news this week…
- American Airlines CEO Tom Horton issued a letter to employees this week outlining a redesign of the carrier’s management structure that will more than certainly involve layoffs. Several executives left at the end of 2011, and this letter points to additional tough decisions that will be made in the coming months. Separately, the Allied Pilots Association issued a letter to American’s passengers through a print ad in the USA Today (and likely other newspapers). It thanks American’s customers and also speaks to American’s management: “Along with financial reforms, American Airlines’ restructuring must also include a commitment by those who manage our company to cultivate a better corporate culture – a culture that values the crucial competitive edge that a fully engaged workforce provides.” It will be an interesting year to follow the changes and issues at American.
- Alaska Airlines sent an email to passengers this week saying they will discontinue providing “prayer cards” on meal trays. The company started the practice in the 1970s to differentiate the service, but now feel ending it is, “the right thing to do in order to respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of all our customers and employees.” I agree and think religion has no place in airline service or marketing.
- United Airlines broke ground this week on a $1 billion redevelopment project at Houston’s Intercontinental Airport. It’s a three-phase project first beginning with a $160 million redo of Terminal B’s south concourse dedicated to regional jet operations. The project will span seven to 10 years and include the redevelopment of Terminal B’s lobby and baggage claim areas, a new international-capable north concourse and other infrastructure enhancements.
- All Nippon Airlines (ANA) flew its first long-haul service with the Boeing 787 this week from Tokyo Haneda airport to Frankfurt. The cabin features 46 lie-flat business class seats and 112 standard seats in economy. ANA now has five 787s in operation, with the long-haul version currently operating three times weekly HND-FRA. 787 service on that route will become daily from February 1, 2012.
- JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines entered a partnership this week streamlining passenger ticketing when the two carriers are involved on one reservation. They will soon also enter into a codesharing agreement, as well as offer reciprocal benefits in each other’s frequent flyer program. Once Hawaiian begins it’s HNL-JFK service on June 5th this year, it will use JetBlue’s Terminal 5.
- Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinental aircraft will (finally) offer lie-flat seats in business class and feature “warmer colors giving it a living room feel.” The carrier plans to retrofit the rest of its international fleet within the next four years to include lie-flat seats in business and full details will be forthcoming in March. First Class on the 747-8s will be located in the nose of the aircraft vs. upstairs as now seen on their 747-400 fleet.
- It seems there’s at least one airline story each week that features a passenger behaving badly. This week, a Continental Airlines flight was diverted due to some moron lighting up a cigarette in the cabin. The flight was from Houston to Ontario and he must’ve lit up pretty soon after becoming airborne because the flight landed in San Antonio where he was arrested by the FBI. When I smoked, I always used nicotine patches when flying uber long-haul flights to Australia and gum for shorter domestic hops. Hopefully he will in the future now, too.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- Delta Air Lines will be laying off 200 employees, the majority of which from their headquarters in Atlanta. This combined with another 2,000 employees taking voluntary buyouts, the airline claims soft demand, fuel prices and reduced capacity make the workforce reductions necessary.
- Engineers at Qantas have proceeded with one-hour work stoppages causing 17 flights to be delayed or cancelled this past Monday. Brisbane was the first city where the mini-strikes were held, with Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne planned to follow. I didn’t, however, read of any other cancellations or delays for the rest of the week. As they should, the carrier is refusing to pay engineers overtime pay for the planned hour work stoppage. Come on unions… stop being so childish.
- The first Boeing 747-8 in Lufthansa colors rolled out of the Boeing paint shop. She’s a sexy bird in my opinion and I’ll look forward to booking a trip on it as the 747 is still my favorite airplane. Lufty ordered a total of 20 of the now longest passenger jet in the world and will begin taking delivery of them next spring.
- The first Disney property opened in Hawaii last week on the western side of Oahu about 25 miles from resort heavy Waikiki. Obviously catering to families, the price point for the Aulani resort is pretty steep with the lowest rates in October being $549 per night for a single as compared to the nearby JW Marriott Ihilani resort of $269 to $459 per night. The first ever teen-only spa at the property features frozen yogurt, Xbox Kinect fitness activites and even manicures and pedicures.
- While American Airlines and Sabre have extended their content agreement, the carrier filed a new complaint with the courts alleging the GDS “organized an unlawful group boycott against American.” The papers are heavily redacted, so there’s no publicly available detail into exactly what that supposed boycott entailed. No court date has been set for the original complaint that claims Sabre biased fares, blocked direct connect abilities and raised booking fees among other items.
- U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims we’ll eventually be able to leave our shoes on here in America when passing through security. Many news outlets jumped on the story and I’m afraid some of them made it sound like it would be happening very soon. The original plan was to have a shoe scanner system in airports by 2015, but no decision has been made as to whether or not they’ll proceed with that technology.
- The U.S. Transportation Security Adminisration will be continuing full speed ahead with the Federal Air Marshal (FAM) and federal flight deck officer programs (FFDO). While no actual threats have been averted due to the programs, the TSA claims both are “success stories” and part of the “nation’s multi-layered approach to transportation security.” I’m all for the volunteer pilots who carry weapons, but think it should be extended to international flights. Restrictions by foreign countries prohibit the practice.
- US Airways is in talks with Airbus to see if the A321neo (new engine option) could be modified to become the replacement for the carrier’s aging 757 fleet. Currently, the A321 doesn’t have the range, power and fuel capacity for some of the carrier’s longest haul markets such as Phoenix-Honolulu, Charlotte-Dublin and Philadephia-Lisbon.
The Boeing 747SPs flying around for the major U.S. carriers was truly something special in the 1980s. I previously posted the American Airlines 747SP seat map whose routes focused on the high yield traffic to Tokyo, and likewise United’s Special Performance version of the bird flew primarily to London with additional flights to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. United acquired the aircraft & routes as a direct result of their purchase of Pan Am’s network. When I was an intern for United in 1993, I had a chance to walk through a SP at their San Francisco Maintenance Operation Center (SFOMOC), but sadly I didn’t get any pictures.
Here, though, is the seat map from the “mini me” of a 747 featuring 47 seats in First Class, 100 in Business Class and 86 in Coach/Economy. What I found interesting about United’s configuration is their use of the upstairs section as First Class. Today’s standards of seat comfort would never see four rows of the premium cabin upstairs in such a layout, but back then it probably did equate to First Class comfort. In First, you’d definitely find me in the pointy section of the plane, likely in row two or three. In Business I’d be in row 17 or 18, and in coach I’d most definitely be found in an aisle seat near row 31.
Where would you sit?
Since I volunteered my seat on United Airlines this morning and scored another $400 in vouchers, I have a bit of time to recap additional news items from the week.
- Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental. The longest passenger aircraft in the world took its maiden flight this past Sunday. As I previously posted, only Lufthansa and Korean Air have orders in for the passenger version, so opportunities are at a minimum to fly on the fourth-generation ‘Queen of the Skies’. The Airline Reporter provides an excellent summary of the event, and links to additional stories, videos and posts.
- Chase Debit rewards ending at United & Continental. Effective July 12, 2011, holders (including myself) of Chase co-branded debit cards with United Airlines or Continental Airlines will no longer earn miles when using their cards. And beginning April 1st, you lose the “first checked bag free” benefit. Chase & other banks issuing Visa and MasterCard debit cards are a bit upset the fees they collect on the cards will be slashed courtesy of the Durbin Amendment. As a result, we lose the incentive benefits as consumers and will only now be able to earn miles with a mileage-earning credit card vs. one linked to a bank checking account.
- United Airlines mobile check-in. You can now check-in on your mobile device for worldwide United and United Express-operated flights. Don’t get too excited if you’re already overseas and want to check-in. Presently, only the following non-U.S. airports accept mobile boarding documents: Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, London Heathrow, Moscow, Munich, Osaka, and Zurich.
- Continental Airlines adds onboard Wi-Fi. Internet will be coming soon to Continentals’ fleet of domestic Boeing 737s and Boeing 757s that already have the DirecTV service. About 200 planes in total will receive the capability, and United has Wi-Fi available on all of the premium service p.s. aircraft on the JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco routes, as well as one additional 757 in the standard domestic configuration. Jeff Smisek this week acknowledged how far behind United is lagging in this capacity, and mentioned it will be a priority in the future to roll it out fleet-wide.
- Hilton HHonors Grand Nights promotion. Hilton announced their second quarter promotion this week, which earns you 1,000 extra HHonors points for each night stayed between April 1 and June 30, 2011. Registration is required and the offer does not apply on certain categories, including many advance purchase rates.
- Air France & Airbus search for wreckage. A new search is underway for Air France flight 447 which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009. The flight took off from Rio de Janeiro bound for Paris, but was never heard from after a series of automated radio messages were sent notifying the airline of numerous problems and warning indications. Pieces of the downed Airbus A330-200 were recovered from the ocean, but this new operation hopes to recover the flight data recorders and other debris.
Here’s a summary of some hot news items from this week covering airlines, airfares, airplanes and hotels.
- Delta Air Lines: Delta announced that retroactive to January 1, 2011, there is no longer an expiration policy to frequent flyer miles earned in the SkyMiles program. This makes Delta the first major carrier to offer such an olive branch to the infrequent traveler whose miles may sit inactive for extended periods of time. Continental’s OnePass program states that “miles currently have no expiry date,” but your account would be subject to cancellation if no activity occurred in 18 months (same thing in my book). Also announced at Delta is their Gold Medallion level (those who fly 50,000 miles and/or 60 segments annually) will receive SkyTeam Elite Plus status. This brings them in line with other carriers’ mid-level programs, and when flying internationally, provides lounge access, priority baggage handling and oversell protection options.
- Airfares: Ack! I’ve had a busy week and missed a pretty incredible airfare mistake on Delta. Several East Coast to Europe fares were available for between $150 to $250 roundtrip all-in! Insanely cheap pricing and even though I’m not a Delta flyer, how could you not book a trip that cheap? It was quickly discovered and within hours shut down, but many Flyertalkers cashed in. On the domestic side, though, I’ve seen some “decent” deals expanded through May now, and while not in the 3 cpm mileage running range, they’re pretty good deals to most major markets. Think Tuesday & Wednesday travel, though!
Image courtesy The Boeing Company
Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental: Now the longest jetliner in the world, the newest generation of Boeing’s flagship was officially unveiled this week in Everett, Washington. Stretched an additional 18.3 feet from previous 747 models, it features an expanded upper-deck, redesigned wings, larger windows, reconfigured overhead bins, and many more enhancements. Sadly, orders for the passenger version are small, and currently Lufthansa has 20 on order, and Korean Air 5. She’s a sexy bird, in my opinion, and I’ll definitely be booking a ride when Lufthansa has them in service.
- Club Carlson: The Carlson group of hotels (Radisson, Country Inn & Suites, Park Inn, and Park Plaza) is getting a loyalty program overhaul. GoldPoints Plus is changing to Club Carlson beginning March 31, 2011. While the exact program hasn’t been announced publicly, Ric Garrido over at Loyalty Traveler provides a few headlines, namely a new top-tier Concierge level and some earning & redemption point-level changes. I’ve been planning on switching my loyalty to Hilton, and once the full program is announced, will likely make a unique posting and make my final decision then.