In other airline, hotel & travel industry news last week…
- An airline analyst predicts American Airlines could file bankruptcy in 2012. He points to the fact that American is “on track to lose $1.2 – $1.4 billion in 2011 and $1 – $1.3 billion in 2012.” The carrier’s cash position is also less than ideal and while I had a fantastic experience flying with them this year, I will not continue flying AA in part because of their financial situation and otherwise because I’m so close to million-miler status with United Airlines.
- Delta Air Lines is accelerating their addition of coach seats with extra pitch and revealed this week they will install their “Economy Comfort” seats on more than 800 aircraft by the summer of 2012. As is common in the industry today, those seats will be available for purchase to non-elite passengers for an additional fee between $19 and $99 depending on the flight distance.
- United Airlines has elected a new Air Line Pilots Association chairman as the carrier’s union representative. Jay Heppner will replace Wendy Morse in the position in January and he has been with United for 26 years & currently captains Boeing 777s. He states, “This election is not about our new contract (United & Continental).” He continues, “There are assuredly other issues that need to be resolved in parallel, but none so critical” as a joint contract.
- I previously reviewed Google’s Hotel Finder tool and they have now expanded it to include European cities. It’s a unique feature and allows you to search for hotels with the power of Google’s map capabilities. It still refers you to Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) to complete a hotel purchase with the option to visit the hotel’s own website. I’ll be monitoring how Google proceeds with this tool and their currently underwhelming Flight Search feature.
- Orbitz, another OTA, has been fined $60,000 for “failing to adequately disclose taxes and fees in certain airfare advertisements in early 2011.” The fine comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation who claims Orbitz had ads on their homepage that would only reveal full tax & fee information after clicking into an alternate page. Orbitz claims they have rectified the error and are currently in compliance.
- Looking for a job in the travel industry? Priceline is reportedly adding more than 500 call center positions in the U.S over the next five years. The new hires will work in the OTA’s call center in Michigan and primarily focus on Priceline’s Booking.com branch. Priceline currently employs 750 people in the U.S. and 2,650 overseas.
- Finally, there’s a bunch of articles from the past week about Lufthansa and Frankfurt Airport. Lufthansa will adopt the full-fare advertising requirement here in the U.S. on November 1st, earlier than the required January 24, 2012 date. The carrier also claims the recent court ruling disallowing night flights at FRAport will cost the carrier “double digit million of euros.” The new rule bans flights at the airport from 11:00pm to 5:00am. On a more positive note for FRA, they’ve opened a new $1.05 billion fourth runway last Friday. Before Friday, the airport had two parallel main runways that couldn’t be used simultaneously given their proximity, so the new runway will ease congestion and delays.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek claims he doesn’t see any signs of an “imminent recession” when looking at advance bookings. A combination of capacity discipline and fare increases has kept the carrier in the black. Smisek remarked, “We’re not seeing it in our bookings [or] in our business travel,” as he told reporters after a speech at the Executives’ Club of Chicago. At the same conference he told reporters, “It’s easy to talk culture; it’s hard to walk it,” referring to the turbulence in challenges of merging two carriers and their respective unions. Captain Wendy Morse, chairwoman of the United Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) claims, “We will not stand by silently while United CEO Jeffrey Smisek inaccurately proclaims that the United-Continental merger is going along smoothly.”
- American Airlines, on the other hand, fears a double-dip downturn in the economy. They’ve further cut capacity this year and will retire 11 Boeing 757s. Eight times the normal amount of pilot retirements also occurred in August and September this year contributing to some of the capacity cuts. It’s rumored pilots are bailing early to ensure they receive advantageous pension plans, and one post also claims it’s due to the raise in mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65.
- Want to know more about mileage runners? Check out this amazing article that appeared this week on Fox News. BoardingArea’s founder Randy Petersen was interviewed for the article as would be expected since I consider him the “God” of frequent flyer programs. Here’s a teaser – “Would you ever fly around the world in 48-hours, or fly through Detroit eight times in a single trip just to get air miles?” We’re a unique bunch, but very passionate about why we do it.
- A woman has sued United-Continental (and regional airlines Colgan Air and Pinnacle Airlines) claiming post-traumatic stress disorder from a flight she was on that experienced ‘extreme turbulence.’ The flight from College Station, Texas to Houston was operated by Colgan Air, which does business as Continental Connection. File this under ridiculous and the far too often litigiousness some people have thinking an opportunity has opened up. Shame on the lawyers for taking such a ridiculous case. Money, money, money rules, though.
- Hotels in the United States posted impressive financials this summer. It has been reported, “U.S. hotel demand during the summer was higher than STR forecasted. Demand for the three months ended August 31 increased 4.2% from a year earlier, while revenue was up 8.1% to $31.2 billion.” Overall occupancy at hotels rose 3.5% and the average daily room rate similarly increased by 3.7%. No economic downturn signals this summer from the hotels.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation is looking to ensure passengers with disabilities have equal access to booking and checking-in with airlines. “Currently, the nation’s air carriers fail to use updated, accessible technology on the internet and at the airport, openly discriminating against the blind.” As such, the DOT is proposing regulations that will amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include provisions that will allow sight-impaired people to access web-only sale airfars, as well as include Braille instructions on check-in kiosks. I have a feeling the proposals will pass… it’s about time.
- More woes for travelers in Australia this week with Qantas cancelling or delaying flights due to labor unrest, Jetstar check-in agents taking “industrial action” by self-waiving excess baggage fees for 24-hours and Customs and Border Protection staff taking similar “industrial action,” by striking this past Thursday. The Australian Prime Minister is close to stepping in requiring Qantas and their unions to re-open discussions. It’s pretty unstable in Oz right now, in some cases benefiting passengers and in some cases not.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- All Nippon Airways (ANA) took delivery of its first Boeing 787 this week and it flew to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Wednesday. Regularly scheduled service doesn’t begin until November 1st, but the carrier plans to fly a charter flight from Narita to Hong Kong on October 26th. The Dreamliner will be seen initially flying regionally with long-haul service from Tokyo to Frankfurt beginning in January 2012.
- Lufthansa has ordered two additional Airbus A380s and 10 other aircraft in a deal that carries a list price of about $1.3 billion. The carrier says the increased capacity is necessary for “short-term requirements.” The other additions are one A330-300, four A320s for regional intra-Europe flying and five Embraer 195 regional jets. Once delivered, Lufty will have a fleet of 17 A380s.
- The Air Line Pilots Association at United Airlines sued the carrier claiming pilots weren’t given enough time to learn, train and implement a new procedure when a jet is caught in a strong wind gust. The procedure in question is currently used at Continental Airlines and requires pilots to let the autopilot make the necessary adjustments vs. pilots taking control in those instances. Courts ruled with the airline allowing the changes to go ahead. Something tells me, though, that pilots against the change might disobey procedure and take over control of the airplane. Just a hunch as it’s something I might do.
- Courts also sided with US Airways this week forcing pilots to quit engaging in work slowdowns that have caused delays and cancellations impacting the carrier’s ability to handle reaccommodation of passengers. When the suit was filed, the US Airline Pilots Association claimed the carrier’s allegations were “categorically false” and instead said they were performing a “safety campaign.” The judge disagreed after reviewing the evidence and issued an injunction against the union.
- Many hotels require you to cancel a reservation by 6pm the day of arrival, or some even 24- to 48-hours out. It’s nothing new, but one hotel in Packwood, WA has a vague policy stating, “If Manager is able to re-sell Guest’s dates at net rates of at least equal to those charged to Guest, Manager will refund Guest’s Use Fee less a Re-Booking fee as specified by Manager.” Chris Elliott thinks hotels might adopt airline-like rebooking fees on some rates in addition to the already existing non-refundable ones. It’s an interesting concept where hotels could create a new revenue stream, but I don’t think it will catch on.
- Hilton HHonors revealed its fourth quarter promotion offering either double points or a free night certificate after four qualifying stays or 10 nights. Registration is required for stays between October 1st and December 31st this year. The list of non-qualifying properties is lengthy and includes two I have bookings at in October. As such, I signed up for the double miles since it wouldn’t pay off to do a couple of mattress runs just to get a free night.
- Even with the current economic downturn, it’s being reported business travelers are returning to booking premium cabins on airlines. Corporate travel managers saw a five percent increase this year in North American companies that allow premium-class travel. 56% of companies here have such a policy, with 46% of European firms, up from 34% last year. I always feel fortunate to get a complimentary upgrade on United’s A319 fleet with only 8 seats in First Class, but my luck might change should these figures continue to rise.
- Finally, Virgin Atlantic was fined $25,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation for violating the rules for advertising taxes and fees clearly. They found the carrier, “displayed internet ads that did not provide direct access to information on taxes and fees that were in addition to the base fare.” If you clicked on the ad, the fees were there, but fairly well hidden in the fine print. This will all change come January next year, though, as all advertised prices will be required to include the fees.