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 industry news this week…
- Air New Zealand was named Airline of the Year by Air Transport World Magazine as part of its 38th Airline Industry Achievement Awards. ATW bestowed the honor to NZ due to “industry-leading innovation and motivation of its staff which resulted in exceptional performance across market position, customer service, financial performance, fiscal management and operational safety.” The only U.S. carrier to receive an award was Alaska Airlines – the Joseph S. Murphy Industry Service Award – for service benefitting the airline industry and being involved in numerous environmental and corporate-giving initiatives.
- United Airlines, read Continental Airlines, received a lot of heat this week for their numerous amount of flights from Europe to the East coast that have recently required fuel stops due to unusually strong headwinds. The Wall Street Journal reports that United confirmed 43 flights operated with Boeing 757 aircraft had to stop for fuel last month due to the winds and limited range of the aircraft, up sharply from 12 the year earlier. That caused delays and misconnections for thousands of passengers and brought using the limited range jet into question. To the airline’s credit, though, the headwinds are the most extreme they’ve seen in the past 10 years.
- American Airlines will cut their Chicago-New Delhi nonstop March 1st and totally withdraw from Burbank effective February 9th, as well as lay off 150 employees citing “operational and business changes” resulting from its bankruptcy filing. The carrier is also hoping to delay their lawsuit against Sabre, a GDS, by three months while it focuses on reorganization. The still separate regional entity American Eagle, meanwhile, has hired Bain & Co. – to the tune of $525,000 per month – to assist in labor-cost assessment and negotiations.
- Tony Webber, a former Qantas executive, has boldly come out and proclaimed, “People weighing more than average should pay more for their airfares than slimmer passengers.” Ouch. He claims the extra fuel needed comes out to about $472 per plane and is affecting the airlines’ profits. As it stands, the airlines have an average weight they predict per passenger and while I don’t remember the figure from my days in Flight Dispatch with United Airlines, I do recall it being awfully low. Instead of an airfare increase, airlines need to up their average passenger weights and adjust their loads accordingly. Would you step on a scale at an airport?
- Horrible airplane etiquette continues in 2012 with a 65-year old man having been arrested for allegedly assaulting a Delta Air Lines flight attendant on a Tokyo to Honolulu flight. He was forced to surrender his passport and stay on Oahu to appear at a hearing on January 20th. His bad behavior was apparently due to over imbibing on multiple glasses of wine.
- Southwest Airlines will launch a daily flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles beginning June 10th. This is in addition to AirTran’s existing three daily flights already in the market. Southwest officially launches service February 12th with 15 daily nonstops to five cities: Baltimore, Chicago (MDW), Denver, Houston (HOU) and Austin. Las Vegas and Phoenix service from Atlanta commences March 10th.
- Finally, Hawaiian Airlines set a new company record for the most passengers carried in a single year – 8,666,319 in 2011 – a 17% increase from 2010. I imagine 2012 will be another record year as the airline continues to expand on the mainland with new service to JFK beginning in June.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- This is old news now, but if you’ve stayed away from media of all types this week you should know American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Long-time CEO Gerard Arpey also resigned as CEO and now Thomas Horton is taking the lead position. There will be few, if any, customer-side impacts with the main goal of the reorganization being reduction of costs, mainly labor. American also has asked the court to shed leases on 24 aircraft currently unutilized and in storage. My thoughts are with non-management staff as I’m sure you’ll be experiencing pay cuts (flight attendants, I know, took a 33% hit in 2003).
- The Federal Aviation Administration issued United Airlines – Continental Airlines a single operating certificate as was expected. All Continental flights will now be using “United” as their call sign when communicating with air traffic control. I believe this also now opens the door for the merged carrier cross-utilize pilots and flight attendants on either UA or CO aircraft, assuming they have the necessary qualifications of course.
- The Air Transport Association (ATA) has changed its name to Airlines for America (A4A). The trade association works closely with the airlines in being a unified voice with technical, legal and political organizations. Their purpose is to “foster a business environment that drives our nation’s economy and global competitiveness.” A4A member airlines and their affiliates account for more than 90 percent of all U.S. airline passenger and cargo traffic. It was created by 14 airlines in 1936 and has played a major role in everything aviation-related in our country from the creation of the Civil Aeronautics Board to deregulation in 1978 to dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
- The amount of personal data shared among countries about airline passengers flying between the European Union and the United States will be increasing. Some data has been shared since 2007, but additional passenger name record (PNR) items, info on crimes punishable by at least three years in prison and enhanced watch list information will come into play soon. After six months, personal ID and contact information will be masked, but stored for 10 years for suspects of serious crimes and 15 years for known terrorists.
- Air France fired an outsourced maintenance vendor in China after discovering one of their Airbus A340s was missing 30 screws from one of its wings. That jet flew for five days before it was noticed, but I’d also be keen to put some of the blame on Air France. Is there not a maintenance look over once an airplane comes back from service? The carrier claims safety was never compromised. I disagree.
- Finally, check out this rather Glee-like commercial from Indian carrier IndiGo Airlines. It’s pretty darn entertaining.