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A BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 13 TO 27, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli
· Four Airlines Swap New York, Washington Slots
· Republic Wins the Bidding for Bankrupt Frontier
· JetBlue and Virgin America Go After SFO-FLL
· TSA's Secure Flight Starts Saturday (Sort of...)
· China Executes the Boss of Beijing's New Airport
· DOT Says Stimulus Funds Wasted at Some Airports
· Amex Points Can Transfer to BA's Executive Club
I Hear That Airlines Trade Baseball Cards Now, Too
Covering the airlines is always an adventure. This week, for example, it's like covering a sport at the trading deadline. Thanks to a remarkable series of slot swaps, several airlines are remaking the East Coast route map. In the big deal, Delta Air Lines and US Airways are trading slots at New York/LaGuardia and Washington/National Airport. US Airways is giving Delta 125 pairs of slots and 11 gates at LaGuardia in exchange for 42 pairs of slots at National and the rights to fly to Tokyo and Sao Paulo. Additionally, US Airways' Air Shuttle will move to LaGuardia's Marine Air Terminal while Delta's Air Shuttle moves to the airport's central terminals. Delta says that it will turn LaGuardia into a hub and build a $40 million connector between the terminal that houses its existing LGA gates and the ones it is picking up from US Airways. The slots that US Air gives up at LGA will essentially end all of its commuter flights in New York. At DCA, US Airways says that it will launch new flights to 15 cities. Meanwhile, Continental Airlines and AirTran Airways have traded slots, too. AirTran is bailing on its Newark service and handing 10 slots over to Continental, already the largest player at Newark. In exchange, Continental will give AirTran six slots at LaGuardia and four at National. AirTran says that it will use the new slots to add LGA-Indianapolis nonstops and bulk up its Orlando flights from both LaGuardia and National. I'm not sure, but I think Continental also traded a Mickey Mantle rookie card to Delta for a Hank Aaron rookie card. And someone got a 1927 Rogers Hornsby card. (Okay, I made the last part up )
Meanwhile, Out West, More Service From the Other Guys
While some airlines were swapping real estate in the East, several alternate carriers were bulking up out West. Virgin America said on Tuesday (August 11) that it would launch flights to Fort Lauderdale from both Los Angeles and San Francisco beginning on November 18. A day later, JetBlue Airways announced that it would launch San Francisco-Fort Lauderdale flights beginning on November 19. That immediately touched off a fare ware and SFO-FLL flights are now selling for as little as $89 each way. And Alaska Airlines says that it will begin flights from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago/O'Hare on November 16.
Surprise! Republic Beats Southwest to Buy Frontier Airlines
Bankrupt Frontier Airlines was sold at auction today (August 13) to Republic Airways, a holding company that owns a group of commuter carriers and recently purchased Midwest Airlines. The surprise loser: Southwest Airlines. Southwest was a late entrant into the Frontier bidding--see the Tactical Traveler for July 30--but last week upped its offer to $170 million, topping Republic's bid of $108.75 million. However, Southwest's interest was contingent on its pilots union coming to an agreement in advance with Frontier's pilots union and the two labor groups couldn't come to a deal after several intense negotiating sessions this week. Republic also upped its offer by waiving any payout on a $150 million unsecured claim against Frontier's estate. The biggest winner, however, could be United Airlines. Now it won't have to defend its Denver hub against a Southwest Airlines bulked up with Frontier's 21 percent share of the Mile High market.
Secure Flight Begins This Weekend, But the TSA Won't Say Where
After months of secrecy, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says that its Secure Flight program will officially kick in on Saturday (August 15). That means a traveler will be required to give airlines their date of birth and gender and the name on their ticket must exactly match the name on their government-issued ID. Or not. Not all airline computers--not to mention travel-agent reservation systems--are equipped to take all of the data or handle all the potential punctuation marks in names, so the program's actual implementation won't be universal. Not all airlines in all places will be doing the Secure Flight shuffle. And, in typical TSA fashion, the agency won't tell us which carriers are ready and which aren't and where you may be held to the exact Secure Flight standards. Apparently the only way to know is if your carrier alerts you to the new data requirements when you attempt to make a reservation. We're sure that will confuse terrorists because it sure as hell confuses us regular flyers. And in case you've forgotten, Secure Flight is supposed to make us safer because it will supposedly allow the TSA to better match names to government watch lists of potential terrorists. A totally unhelpful post on the TSA blog gives more, er, details.
Stimulus Dollars May Be Wasted at Airports
The Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (DOT) says he isn't thrilled with how stimulus money was allocated at the nation's airports. Calvin Scovel said at least 50 funded projects didn't meet grant criteria and the Obama Administration approved projects at four more airports with a history of mismanaging federal funds. One of the notable bad ideas: $14 million to replace the airfield in Akiachak, Alaska. The village has about 600 residents and one seaplane and it is just 14 nautical miles from Bethel, which has seven commercial carriers. And four airports received stim funds even though they don't have commercial service. The grants to airports with a dodgy history with federal funds? They are located in Guam; Owensboro, Kentucky; Pitkin County, Colorado; and Puerto Rico. China has executed the former chairman and general manager of the authority that built and controls the new airport in Beijing and 30 other airports. Li Peiying was convicted of bribery and embezzlement charges involving about $15 million. Priority Pass, the global network of airport clubs, has new locations at Concourse C in Calgary; the domestic terminal of Winnipeg; Terminal 1 in Biarritz, France; Terminal 1 in Tuzla, Bosnia; and the international terminal of the airport in Lagos, Nigeria.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Express Membership Rewards users take note: By the end of the year, Membership Rewards points will be transferable to British Airways' Executive Club program. It looks as if Continental Airlines hopes to be fully integrated into the Star Alliance by October 27. It leaves SkyTeam on October 24. More signs that the business-travel depression is whacking high-end restaurants: The Ruth's Chris Steak House locations in Las Vegas and Denver have closed. And another sign of the death of international first-class service: Japan Airlines will drop the cabin this fall on flights from Tokyo to New Delhi, Singapore and Bangkok.
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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.