This week: Kansas City is becoming a bastion of airline competition; JetBlue starts daylight transcontinental flights; a restaurant where you can wait out the inevitable flight delays at LaGuardia; Air Canada gets some meaningful competition; Korean Air launches a long-haul nonstop from Seoul to Washington; several more airlines raise their ticket-change fees; and much more.
COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Last, Best Place for Competition
Sick of fortress hubs dominated by one major carrier and depressed by those pending mergers that threaten to destroy competition in America's skies? Head for Kansas City, the country's last, best hope for honest-to-goodness airline competition. Midwest Express, which offers the nation's best in-flight experience, is expanding its Kansas City base on March 5 when it adds three daily weekday nonstops to Atlanta. Midwest already offers its unique brand of luxurious coach travel at standard fares to eight other cities from Kansas City. Meanwhile, low-fare, no-frills Vanguard will expand its Kansas City hub on April 1 by adding nonstop flights to both Las Vegas and San Francisco. Vanguard already serves about a dozen other destinations from its Missouri hometown. But be warned: Kansas City has been an airline graveyard since the 1978 deregulation of airlines. At least four other carriers--Eastern, TWA and two separate incarnations of Braniff--tried and failed to establish hubs in Missouri's second city.
ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Our Weekly Look at the Nation's Other Carriers
JetBlue, the all-coach carrier based at New York/Kennedy, is adding morning nonstops to both Oakland and Ontario, California. The new service supplements the carrier's night flights on the routes. Prices range from an advance-purchase fare of $129 one-way to a walk-up fare of $249 one-way. … ProAir may live again. The carrier, based at Detroit/City airport, has been grounded since September, but is preparing to resume service as early as March 1. … Speaking of March 1, that's the day AirTran expects to add more flights from Pittsburgh. The airline will add a fourth daily roundtrip to both Atlanta and New York/LaGuardia.
CYBERTRAVELER: Flying to Abruzzo Via LaGuardia
You don't need me to tell you that New York's LaGuardia Airport has the incredibly dubious distinction of being the nation's most-delayed airport. But every problem is an opportunity. So the next time you fly from LaGuardia, point your browser to Trattoria L'incontro (www.trattorialincontro.com). It's the website of a sweet little restaurant in Astoria, Queens, which is just a short cab ride from the airport we now all love to hate. The homey, casual place specializes in Roman and Abruzzi cuisine and brick-oven pizzas. That's something to keep in mind the next time your airline says your LaGuardia departure has been delayed for two or three hours. You'll have plenty of time to grab a cab, pop into Trattoria L'incontro for a meal and still be back at LaGuardia before they delay your flight's scheduled departure again.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Gnats Start Biting at Air Canada
Air Canada transformed itself into a big, fat, sloppy monopoly when it gobbled up Canadian International, but now Mapleflot is getting bitten around the ankles by the gnats. For example: WestJet, Canada's fast-growing discount carrier, says it expects to launch Calgary-Toronto service in July. WestJet has been flying all its Toronto-area service from suburban Hamilton, Ontario, but now it thinks it can carve a niche from Air Canada's hide at Pearson Airport. And, suddenly, Canada actually may have a viable second force again as a result of Monday's announcement that Canada 3000 will acquire Royal Aviation. The C$84 million deal will give Canada 3000 about $1 billion in sales, three dozen planes, service on 30 intra-Canada routes and an extensive network of international flights. Finally, Roots Air, a company partially owned by the Roots clothing firm, is expected to launch domestic Canadian service as early as March. Transborder flights to the United States are expected to begin in June.
FARE WATCH: Change Your Mind? You'll Pay the Price
To the surprise of absolutely no one, at least two other major airlines have lined up behind Continental to gouge travelers with higher ticket-change fees. Continental last week boosted its fee for voluntary changes to non-refundable tickets to $100 from $75. American Airlines promptly responded by boosting its fee to $90. Now Delta and United have joined the feeding frenzy, matching Continental's $100 fee for changes to domestic tickets.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Comings and Goings Around the World
Here's another long-haul service for you: Korean Air will launch nonstop service between Washington/Dulles and Seoul today. There will be two flights a week during the winter, three during the spring and four weekly nonstops during the peak summer months. Flying time from Dulles is about 14.5 hours; the return from Seoul is about 13.5 hours. … Don't be surprised if your next Lufthansa flight between Frankfurt and Stuttgart never gets off the ground. Lufthansa will be code-sharing with the German state railroad on rail service between its main hub and Stuttgart beginning next month. German trains cover the 110-mile "flight" between the rail station at Frankfurt airport and Stuttgart's downtown rail station in 73 minutes. … Bad news for travelers accustomed to stopping in Europe en route to South Africa. In recent weeks, three airlines--Austrian, Alitalia and Sabena--have dropped flights to Johannesburg from their respective hubs.