A BRIEFING FOR JUNE 18 TO JULY 2, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli
· Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes...Good and Bad
· Where Have All the Cincinnati Flyers Gone?
· Extended Stay Hotels Goes Bust, Big Time
· Aer Lingus Will End Three U.S. Routes
· American Kills the San Jose-Austin 'Nerd Bird'
· International Premium-Class Traffic Keeps Falling
· United Delays Co-Pays for Mileage Plus Upgrades
Good News and Bad News on the Fare-and-Flight-Change Front
As airlines scramble to lower fares to fill up their otherwise empty planes, some travelers who had previously booked flights are finding it pays to double-check prevailing price points. One JoeSentMe member recently found a pair of tickets on his flight to South America for $1,000 less than he had booked. After paying the $200-a-ticket change fee, he still saved $600. Another JoeSentMe member recently was quoted an astonishing $2,800 to change one leg of a complicated international itinerary. A couple of days later, however, fares had fallen and she was able to book the change for just $200. On the other hand, light loads are also leading airlines to cancel more flights than ever. When the airline "protects" you on other flights, however, you often lose your seat assignments or get ridiculous alternate travel times. Even worse, if you're self-connecting to another carrier, a blown first leg won't buy you any sympathy on the second airline that is operating its flight as scheduled. If this happens domestically, your compensation options are extremely limited or nonexistent. But if you're on a flight to, through or from Europe, you do have more protection thanks to the EC's stringent rules on cancellations and long delays. According to EC Regulation 261/2004, long delays or cancellations entitle you to compensation of as much as 600 euros. Read the regulation carefully and hold the airline to it. In fact, simply informing the carrier that you are aware of your rights sometimes yields a more acceptable flight adjustment.
Where Have All the Cincinnati Flyers Gone? To Dayton, Even Akron
Delta Air Lines has been pulling down its once-sizable hub in Cincinnati for years. It has slashed schedules and busted 80 percent of the remaining flights down to regional jets. Business travelers complain--and data supports the contention--that Cincinnati historically has some of the highest fares in the nation. As a result, traffic at CVG has plummeted by about 50 percent since more than 21 million passengers used the facility in 2005. Even a recent Delta fare initiative, which lowered some advance-purchase prices, apparently hasn't helped. The question: Where are Cincinnati flyers going? Dayton, for starters. Located only 50 miles away, Dayton is one of the nation's 10 fastest growing airports. Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, each less than 100 miles from Cincinnati Airport (which is actually across the Ohio River in Kentucky), also get refugees from the Queen City. Even Akron-Canton, another of the nation's 10 fastest-growing airports, gets some traffic despite its distance (about 200 miles) from downtown Cincinnati. AirTran Airways has moved to Concourse A of Memphis International.
International Premium-Class Traffic Keeps Falling
It's becoming the statistical shorthand for the rapid deceleration of the airline industry. Premium-class international travel fell another 22 percent in April, a further fall from the calamitous 19 percent decline in the first quarter of the year. From the United States, up front flying to Europe fell 18.4 percent. It dropped 25.7 percent across the Pacific. Porter Airlines, the regional carrier that flies from close-in Toronto/City Airport, is expanding to Boston. Service to Logan begins on September 14. Airlines continue to shuffle their gates at London's Heathrow Airport. Five Star Alliance airlines--Austrian, Croatia, Lufthansa, Swiss and TAP--have moved to Terminal 1, which is supposedly the "under one roof" home of Star. But Air Canada, ANA, Thai and Singapore, all key Star Alliance partners, are all still located in Terminal 3 and will remain there for four more years. Speaking of Air Canada, the carrier will begin allowing cats and small dogs to travel in the passenger cabin. Beginning July 1, the service is available for a $50 fee each way on transborder and domestic flights and $100 each way internationally.
We're Gonna See More Hotel Operators Go the Way of Extended Stay
The 680-property Extended Stay Hotels chain has declared Chapter 11 less than two years after it was purchased by a group of investors for more than $8 billion. The current value of the chain is estimated at about $3.5 billion, making it one of the largest real-estate bankruptcies of the current slump. Desires Hotel has opened a 72-room boutique hotel in Manhattan. The Mave is located at Madison Avenue and East 27th Street. Courtyard by Marriott has opened its first hotel in Istanbul. The 260-room property is 25 minutes from the sprawling city center of Istanbul and five kilometers from Ataturk International Airport. Marriott has also opened a 73-room Fairfield Inn in Milledgeville, Georgia. In case you don't know Milledgeville, it's the hometown of Miss Vivian, the prostitute played by Julia Roberts in 1990's Pretty Woman.
Aer Lingus Cuts Transatlantic Capacity By 25 Percent
Aer Lingus, which is suffering from the collapsed economy in Ireland as well as the recession in the United States, is chopping about 25 percent of its transatlantic capacity. It will kill its Chicago-Shannon flights on September 1, then drop its San Francisco-Dublin and Washington/Dulles-Dublin flights on October 25. The latter two routes may be reinstated in the summer of 2010, the carrier says. Say goodbye to another "nerd bird" route. American Airlines will drop nonstops between San Jose, California, and Austin, Texas, on August 25. It has flown between Silicon Valley and the Texas capital, which is also the home of Dell computers, since 1992.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
It was a bad week to be Continental Airlines. It put two unaccompanied minors on the wrong planes. And today (June 18), one of its pilots died while piloting a flight from Brussels to its Newark hub. The first officer and a relief pilot landed the plane without incident. The 60-year-old captain, who had more than three decades of service at Continental, apparently died of a heart attack. Here's something we can really hate: Some Wisconsin legislators want to help close the state's budget gap with an $18 fee on car rentals. Delta Air Lines has partnered with Sun Trust Bank of Atlanta to launch a check card that earns SkyMiles. It's Delta's first checking-related product. Speaking of frequent flyer programs, United Airlines has delayed the imposition of a co-pay on Mileage Plus upgrade awards. The fee was due to go into effect last month, but the plan has now been delayed until January. For more details, click here.
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 © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.