A BRIEFING FOR APRIL 3-APRIL 17, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli
· You May Want to Rethink That Hawaiian Holiday
· Good News and (Mostly) Bad News at Heathrow
· Another Sleazy Money Grab By an Airline CEO
· Fees Keep Piling Up, But a Fare Rise Flounders
· United Adds Free Wi-Fi at Red Carpet Clubs
· Air Canada's Cynical New 'Service' Program
· Still More on Driver's Licenses as Airport ID
You May Want to Rethink That Hawaiian Holiday
The abrupt shutdown of Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines within 48 hours of each other earlier this week has caused a catastrophic drop in the number of available seats and flights between Hawaii and the mainland. Although its schedule fluctuated since it began serving the mainland in 2001, Aloha had flown to all of Hawaii's major islands from a half-dozen West Coast cities. ATA operated to the major Hawaiian airports from Oakland, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It also flew to Hilo, which hadn't had a mainland nonstop for decades before ATA launched service in 2006. Prices to the islands are likely to rise sharply and frequent flyer award availability may be all but nonexistent this summer. Worse, there is little chance that any of the Big Six carriers or Hawaiian Airlines will add significant amounts of new capacity. For starters, the transpacific flights are gas guzzlers, no advantage with oil at $100 a barrel. Worse, the most efficient planes on the Hawaiian routes--two-engine jets with so-called ETOPs approval--aren't easy to find or certify for overwater operation. Worst of all, Hawaii routes have traditionally been only marginally profitable. That's because there are few high-yield frequent flyers on the routes and many vacation travelers try to use frequent flyer awards on the trips. There is a bit of good news, though: Hawaiian Airlines announced late today that it would launch a daily Oakland-Honolulu nonstop on May 1 using Boeing 767s configured with 18 first-class and 242 coach seats. Both ATA and Aloha had operated on the route.
Good News and (Mostly) Bad News at Heathrow
A week after the disastrous opening of London/Heathrow's new Terminal 5, the lone tenant, British Airways, continues to cancel as much as 10 percent of its schedule. The ongoing problems--as many as 20,000 checked bags also have been separated from flyers--have also raised questions about BA's plans to move the bulk of its U.S. service schedule into T5 on April 30. As of now, only flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco operate from T5. Other bad news: BA has upped the minimum connecting time on flight transfers at Heathrow to two hours. And still more bad news: The opening of Terminal 5 has made travel on the costly, but once efficient, Heathrow Express, much more time-consuming. The train formerly linked Heathrow Terminal 4, Heathrow Central (the stop for Terminals 1, 2 and 3) and Paddington Station in London. Now, however, the train goes from T5 to Heathrow Central to Paddington. Travelers who use Terminal 4 must switch at Heathrow Central for a separate train and that adds as much as 15 minutes to the journey. Heathrow Express officials never publicized the change in routing and the connection is poorly marked. You can examine the new schedule and the required connections here. I did say there was some good news: According to several JoeSentMe members who've already used Terminal 5, it is bright, airy and, when there aren't masses of displaced travelers, calm and serene. However, members also say some of the walks are long and that there aren't enough maps and signs to guide passengers to the terminal's retail and dining facilities.
Meet the Sleazy New Boss. Same As the Sleazy Old Airline Boss.
Late last June, when Northwest Airlines was canceling hundreds of flights and inconveniencing tens of thousands of travelers due to management incompetence and staffing errors, chief executive Doug Steenland was closeted in his office writing himself some new stock options. The options are currently "under water" and thus worthless. Still, the act of callousness led me to dub him Worst Airline Executive Ever. Well, let me reintroduce you to Dougie Boy, 2008 edition. As you surely know, the Delta-Northwest merger stalled because Dougie's old boss, Delta chief executive Richard Anderson, didn't want to move without the active support of the carriers' respective pilots unions. But last week, Steenland urged Anderson to ignore the pilots and revive the deal, despite the horrendous experiences US Airways and America West flyers have endured since that merger went aground with the airlines' major unions. Now we know why Dougie would urge such an obviously destructive course. Steenland has a one-month window this June to cash out of Northwest with a special payout of $7.8 million. If he leaves at any other time, however, he gets just $600,000. But Steenland's nearly $8 million payout window stays open--if he departs after a merger with Delta or another carrier. In other words, Steenland again says damn the passengers and employees so long as he gets his. Like I said, Worst Airline Executive Ever.
The Fees Just Keep Piling Up, But One Fare Rise Flounders
Northwest Airlines is the latest carrier to add a $25 fee to your fare if you deign to check a second bag. The airline is also increasing the fees it will charge for overweight bags and the third or additional bags checked. Elite WorldPerks members and full-fare (Y or B) or first-class flyers are exempt from the second-bag fee. First-class travelers will continue to have the right to check a third bag free of charge. Northwest has also hiked the fuel shurcharge on its transpacific and transatlantic flights. … Delta Air Lines has invented some new fees, too. Most notable: a $25 "handling charge" for claiming a SkyMiles award by telephone that includes a segment on a partner airline. That fee is atop the existing charge for booking travel on the phone and the existing phone fee is simultaneously rising to $25 from its current $20. Delta is also increasing the cost of carrying a pet in the cabin (to $100), the cost of flying an unaccompanied minor (to $100 for any flight) and the fee for oversized bags (to $150 from $100). … By the way, Delta says the new fees are caused by the fact that its last two attempts to raise the domestic fuel surcharge by $10 roundtrip, including an effort last weekend, have failed.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines now offers Red Carpet Club members free Wi-Fi access. The service at 27 clubs and five International First Class lounges is provided by T-Mobile. But Priority Pass holders take note: You'll still be required to pay if you use the Wi-Fi at a United club. … New Hampshire and Montana travelers take note: The Department of Homeland Security has backed off and said that your driver's licenses will continue to be accepted as ID at the airport. But licenses issued by Maine and South Carolina may still be barred in May unless Homeland Security changes its bureaucratic mind. … San Diego flyers take note: Beginning on Tuesday (April 8), valet parking will be available at Terminals 1 and 2. The charge is $30 a day. … Noted: American Airlines returns to the Wausau-Chicago/O'Hare route on June 1. There will be three daily commuter flights using 44-seat ERJ-140 regional jets. … And don't miss this one: Air Canada wants you to pay for the privilege of getting decent service during a flight disruption. Click here to read the terms of one of the worst--and most cynical--airline ploys ever.
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 © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.