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THE BRIEFING FOR MAY 17 - MAY 31, 2007
By Joe Brancatelli

· AirTran Gains in the Midwest Take-Over War
· Being Delta Means Never Being Committed
· Southwest Sets the Date in San Francisco
· Another Baby Step in Kennedy's Revitalization
· The Business Class That Isn't at US Airways
· Lots More Security on Some Transatlantic Runs
· A New Way to Strand Passengers From United


AirTran Gains the Upper Hand in the Midwest Take-Over War
It looks like AirTran Airways may get its hands on Midwest Airlines after all. AirTran announced today (May 17) that stockholders owning almost 57 percent of Milwaukee-based Midwest are willing to sell to AirTran for its $15-a-share tender offer. As a result, AirTran has now extended the tender offer until June 8. A week later, at Midwest's annual meeting, AirTran will propose a slate of three new directors for Midwest's 9-person board. The existing management of Midwest has been trying to hold off AirTran's public and private advances since last summer and today insisted again that AirTran's $389 million offer was inadequate. Midwest's management could still activate a "poison pill" defense and flood the market with new shares. But with a majority of existing Midwest shareholders now on board the AirTran bandwagon, Midwest will be under tremendous pressure to negotiate a sale rather than continue to resist.

Being Delta Means Never Having to Be Committed
If you are confused by the never-ending upheaval in Delta Air Lines' route network since it declared bankruptcy in September, 2005, and left Chapter 11 protection early this month, rest assured that you aren't alone. Everyone is perplexed by some of the more obscure international destinations Delta has chosen. ("Lots of luck filling the Kiev flights in February," cracked one competitor last week.) Equally perplexing: Delta's buildup, fueled by inefficient regional jets (RJs), at overcrowded airports like Los Angeles and New York/Kennedy. The JFK experiment--which has been plagued by on-time percentages in the low 40s--is already coming apart. Mesa, whose subsidiaries fly a lot of the Delta-coded flights at JFK, is pulling a dozen 37-seat aircraft on August 21. Most of the destinations serviced by those planes will not be replaced when Mesa leaves. On the other hand (and the other coast), Delta is ramping up again in Los Angeles. Effective July 1, it'll add another 20 regional-jet flights, including new service to Boise, Idaho; Denver; Phoenix; San Jose; Spokane; and Vancouver. It already added flights (again, mostly with RJs) to 34 destinations from Los Angeles during the last year.

Southwest Sets the Date in San Francisco
Southwest Airlines says it will return to San Francisco International Airport on August 26 with a slate of 18 daily nonstops. There will be three daily flights to Chicago/Midway; eight daily flights to San Diego; and seven daily flights to Las Vegas. All of the flights will operate from two gates in Terminal 1. Introductory fares are as low as $39 one-way. Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines is calling it quits in the California Corridor. It will dump its flights between Los Angeles and SFO on July 10, about a year after it tried to fly into the market. Also gone: SFO-Las Vegas flights, where the aforementioned Southwest arrives six weeks later. This was Denver-based Frontier's second attempt to build in Los Angeles. A short-lived effort to make LAX a "focus city" in 2004 and 2005 also ended in failure.

Another Baby Step--and a Long Walk--in Kennedy's Revitalization
The seemingly endless process to restore New York's Kennedy Airport to its former glory got another bump forward this week: American Airlines moved its international flights into Concourse B/Terminal 9 of its $1.3 billion JFK complex. A new Customs and Immigration facility has also opened there. The American Admirals Club and most shopping and dining outlets have not yet opened, however. Passengers are also reporting extremely long walks between gates at American's complex, which encompasses both Terminals 8 and 9. The amazing, shrinking airline at Pittsburgh, US Airways, continues to disappear. The carrier will drop flights to five more destinations from Pittsburgh, which was once its largest hub. Gone in July will be nonstops to Baltimore; San Diego; Seattle; Buffalo, New York; and Altoona, Pennsylvania. Service to ten other cities from Pittsburgh will also be slashed. After the cuts, US Airways will be down to 127 daily flights compared to 415 daily flights in 2001.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
An attempted Big Six fare increase, this one $5 each way, was partially successful over the weekend. Led by Delta Air Lines, the fare increase took hold only on routes where Big Six carriers don't compete with Southwest Airlines. Skybus, the unbundled-fare carrier based in Columbus, Ohio, is due to launch on Tuesday, May 22. US Airways business-class passengers take note: Despite all the hot air emanating from the airline, not all of its transatlantic flights from Philadelphia have been retrofitted with its Envoy Class service. You may have booked--and paid for--an Envoy Class seat only to find that you will be stuck with an inferior domestic first-class cabin. The entire US Airways transatlantic fleet won't be reconfigured until the end of June. Surprise, surprise: The registered-travel program at the airport in Reno, Nevada, has missed another self-imposed launch date. The sponsors of the RTGo plan there have been promising the service since the end of last year. But its latest deadline, May 15, has come and gone without progress. The next target date: May 30. Speaking of security, ABC News reports that flights to the United States from Frankfurt, London and Manchester are now carrying as many as a half-dozen U.S. air marshals. ABC says law-enforcement officials are worried about a terrorist attack.

Fog Can't Obscure the Obscenity of How Airlines Act
We're getting used to tales of airlines holding passengers hostage on flights, but United Airlines is now specializing in particularly heinous strains of the outrage. During the Christmas rush, United flights headed to snowbound Denver were diverted elsewhere, the passengers dumped off the aircraft and the planes flown away empty. And earlier this week United invented a new wrinkle. Two United flights, one from San Francisco and one from Los Angeles, were diverted to Brisbane when their original destination, Sydney, was fogged in. The crews then departed the aircraft because they had reached their maximum duty time. But the passengers weren't so lucky: They were locked in and denied the right to leave the plane because, United claims, the customs and immigrations officials in Brisbane could not clear them. Passengers on the LAX-Sydney flight eventually reached Sydney about 22 hours after departure. Passengers on the flight from San Francisco endured a 27-hour odyssey before finally reaching Sydney.

ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.