A BRIEFING FOR MAY 29 TO JUNE 12, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli
· Paper Tickets Gone, Boarding Passes Are Next
· Introducing the Ex Files: All the Cuts Fit to Print
· American Adds a Fee for All AAdvantage Awards
· BA Finalizes Schedule for Its Heathrow T5 Move
· The Fees and Fare Increases Keep on Coming
· The TSA's No-Solution Bag Solution for Laptops
· New Airport Hotels Open in Singapore and Accra
Paper Tickets Are Gone. Paper Boarding Passes Are Next.
It's more symbolic than real, but the airlines' worldwide trade group, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), says that Sunday, June 1, is the day that paper tickets are officially retired. That's when E-tickets are supposed to become the worldwide standard, although not all carriers in the developing world are IATA members. The end of paper tickets--which used to cost airlines about $10 a passenger to "reconcile" and process--will also mark the moment when most of us start paying attention to the next paperless frontier: boarding passes. At least two U.S. carriers, Continental and Northwest, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are testing electronic boarding passes. The boarding authority is sent by the airline to your cellphone or smartphone/PDA and the TSA scans the bar code from the device's screen. Air Canada is testing paperless boarding passes, too. And at least three major international carriers, Lufthansa, All Nippon and bmi, are also testing paperless boarding passes. In fact, Lufthansa says that it will introduce electronic boarding passes on most German domestic routes by mid-summer.
All the Cuts That Are Fit to Print
Beginning with this edition of The Tactical Traveler, The Ex Files will try to track all of the major service and perks cutbacks initiated by the airlines. (And, when required, hotels and car-rental firms, too.) I suspect it won't be long before our Annals of Bankruptcy section will be returning. American Airlines, which has been shrinking for years, is picking up the pace on its cutbacks. It promises to be about 10 percent smaller by the end of the year. What's going? So far, the airline has announced it will drop two long-haul routes from its Chicago hub (Buenos Aires on September 1 and Honolulu on January 5), a point-to-point nonstop (Boston-San Diego on September 3) and a route it was using to harass other carriers (New York/Kennedy-London/Stansted on July 2). Also going: a huge, but as yet undefined, chunk of its Caribbean hub at San Juan. Horizon Air, the commuter carrier of Alaska Airlines, is dropping two routes (Butte-Seattle and Billings-Portland), reducing frequencies on eight more and combining its Boise nonstops to San Jose and Sacramento into a Boise-Sacramento-San Jose service. US Airways will eliminate free snacks on domestic coach flights beginning on Sunday (June 1). Qantas and its Jetstar subsidiary will slash about 5 percent of their combined capacity. Intra-Australia route cuts have been announced, but no international changes yet.
American Adds a Fee for Almost All AAdvantage Awards
Effective June 21, the "free" award ticket is essentially dead at American Airlines. That's when the carrier imposes a $5 "processing" fee for claiming an AAdvantage award ticket online. Only Executive Platinum members are exempt. (If you claim a ticket by phone, the cost is $20.) The airline claims that the online fee is being imposed to offset the cost of technology upgrades. Meanwhile, American is also bumping up the cost of many award seats. Most increases are modest, in the 5,000-10,000-mile range, although a few premium international awards as up as much as 20,000 miles. The mileage changes are effective on October 1.
BA Finalizes the Schedule for Its Heathrow T5 Move
British Airways is still recovering from the disastrous opening of Terminal 5 at London/Heathrow in late March and faces its next test when flights from New York and Phoenix move on June 5. According to a new schedule posted by the airline on its Web site, most of the rest of its Heathrow service will switch to T5 by the end of the year. Washington/Dulles, Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth and Toronto flights, for example, move to the new facility on September 17. Two new airport hotels of note: a 320-room Crowne Plaza has opened at Changi Airport in Singapore. The property is connected to Terminal 3 by covered walkways. And a 168-room Holiday Inn has opened at Accra Airport in Ghana. The 7-story property is newly built.
The Fees and Fare Increases Keep on Coming
The Big Six pushed through a $10-$60 roundtrip fare increase over the Memorial Day weekend. This one was spearheaded by United Airlines. Beginning June 10, Frontier Airlines will charge $25 for a second checked bag. And beginning June 16, Midwest Airlines will charge $20 for a second checked bag. American Airlines says it will bump up the cost of in-flight liquor and sandwiches by $1 on Sunday (June 1). Each will now cost $6. Exact change will be appreciated, of course, and I guess flight attendants now will have to carry wads of singles around. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that no carrier has yet matched American's $15 fee for a first checked bag. Nor has American incorporated notice of the charge into its contract of carriage. The fee is scheduled to take effect with tickets purchased on or after June 15.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
This is a solution only the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) could think up. It wants to permit travelers to leave laptop computers in carry-on bags at security checkpoints, but only if the bag is a new TSA-approved bag that won't be large enough to carry accoutrements such as cables and connectors. Speaking of security, Clear lanes have opened at Salt Lake City. Want to know who'd win if a Delta-Northwest merger is approved? The bankers. Three "advisors" to the airlines would clear a total of $80 million in fees. That's more than 2 percent of the carriers' combined market capitalization of about $3.5 billion. In the midst of the cutbacks at Alaska/Horizon, there is an interesting new route to report: a daily nonstop between Billings, Montana's largest city, and Helena, the state capital. A New York lawyer is suing Delta Air Lines for a vacation to Argentina gone bad over Christmas. His suit is asking for upwards of $1 million. The case generated massive media attention this week, but the filing has a lot of holes. Worse, most of the lawyer's complaints are covered by the airline's contract of carriage. You're not likely to hear about this one again. You know what they say about a lawyer who represents himself (A Friday, May 30, update: Silverjet, the all-business-class carrier that flew between Newark and London/Luton, has folded.)
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 ฉ 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright ฉ 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.