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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 8 TO 22, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli
· What's Still Not Working Right at United? Plenty
· Turkish Airlines Goes Daily on LAX-Istanbul Flights
· Extremely Humbling Week for American Airlines · JetBlue Will Fly From Fort Lauderdale to Bogota
· Labor Minister Stops Air Canada Strike, Lockout
· Delta WiFi Offers Free In-Flight Access to Amazon
· Spirit Sued For Unintended Consequences Fee
What's Still Not Working at United? How Much Time You Got?
Credit where credit is due: After a weekend of lousy operations at legacy United hubs, the "new" United Airlines running on legacy Continental's software has cleaned up its on-time operation. But as the business week wore on, serious cracks in United's computer cutover became apparent. What's gone wrong:
Whenever something can't be accomplished on United's increasingly balky Web site, travelers are spending hours trying to call United. Hold times continue to be as long as six hours--and that's if United's system doesn't hang up on you. The phone chaos extends to elite flyers using the 1K and GS service lines.
Upgrades, seat assignments, service classes, passenger-reservation numbers and other salient travel details have been lost or changed. But you can't fix the problems on the Web site, so it's off to the clogged phones.
Untold numbers of elite United flyers have not received their 2012 MileagePlus credentials and can't use the Web site because it hasn't updated or won't accept the newly assigned account numbers. Need a current MileagePlus card to access a Star Alliance lounge? Tough luck if yours hasn't arrived because the Web site won't let you print out a substitute.
Travelers hoping to use their elite status to secure Economy Plus seats--or who have paid for E+ status--aren't able to get what they deserve. Unless they pay again, no Economy Plus for them.
Throughout the week, various key functions of United.com have failed. That includes completing reservations, ticket purchases and a raft of frequent flyer program activities. The glitches come and go, United's tech department has no answers and, of course, lots of luck calling for assistance.
A series of security breaches has led unsuspecting United travelers using United.com and United's mobile Web site to land smack in the middle of other flyers' business. An unknown number of MileagePlus accounts have been compromised and United hasn't publicly acknowledged the problem, let alone close the back doors that have been discovered.
Turkish Airlines Goes Daily on Its Los Angeles-Istanbul Route
Without fanfare or public awareness, Turkish Airlines has become one of the most admired carriers on the planet. Its lounges at Istanbul airport win raves, business-class service on its long-haul Boeing 777s is well-regarded, its new premium economy class is superlative and the carrier is expanding rapidly. Effective March 26, for example, Turkish is bumping up its Los Angeles-Istanbul flights to daily operations. The route, started last year with four weekly flights, joins Turkish's nonstops to Istanbul from New York/Kennedy, Chicago/O'Hare and Washington/Dulles. About 30 percent of Turkish's U.S. business comes via Star Alliance membership, according to Fatma Yuceler, the airline's general manager of the Western United States. But the LAX route is also fueled by "a huge Turkish population in Los Angeles," she says. Turkish has also crafted a terrific reputation with travelers headed to the Middle East and Africa thanks to the felicitous geographic position of Istanbul and the efficiency of Ataturk airport. Among Turkish's best markets beyond Istanbul? Beirut and Tehran, cities U.S. carriers don't serve. Also strong are Nairobi and Addis Ababa, two other cities where U.S. carriers are absent. And this week Turkish Airlines even launched flights from Istanbul to Mogadishu, making it the first non-African carrier to fly into Somalia in more than 20 years.
An Extraordinarily Humbling Week for American Airlines
If last year's bankruptcy filing wasn't enough to convince American Airlines executives that American is no longer the big bully of the skies, this week's developments on two fronts should finally convince them. Remember the war that American started late in 2010 with online travel agencies and the global distribution systems (GDS)? (Here's my contemporaneous reporting on the matter.) After a string of courtroom setbacks and market failures, American has now surrendered without a single substantive victory. This week, it extended the contract of Travelport (which controls a large GDS and Orbitz.com) and moved into mediated talks with both Travelport and Sabre, the GDS American itself created. Separately, American knuckled under to pressure from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) and will not dump its employee pension plans on the agency. American says that it will now freeze its pension programs instead, which means the airline's $10 billion liability won't be pushed onto the PBGC and, by extension, American taxpayers.
Canada's Labor Minister Foils Strikes and Lockouts at Air Canada
Flyers using airports in Canada were bracing for chaos on Monday, March 12, thanks to a strike announced by Air Canada's mechanics and baggage handlers and a lockout of pilots planned by Air Canada management. The Canadian labor minister, Lisa Raitt, has scuttled both stoppages, however, by referring the matters to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. That'll stop any strikes or lockouts until the board determines whether they would imperil the health and safety of average Canadians. If that sounds like a dodge, you are right. For now, however, Air Canada flies on. ... United Airlines says that it'll launch Boeing 737-800 flights from Chicago/O'Hare to Sarasota on November 4. Adjust your MileagePlus award plans appropriately. ... JetBlue Airways says that it'll start flights between Fort Lauderdale and Bogota, Colombia on May 7.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Back in February, the wise guys who run Spirit Airlines thought they were clever by creating an add-on $2 each way fee for "unintended consequences of DOT regulations." Well, guess what? Phony airline fees have unintended consequences. An Illinois woman is suing Spirit claiming that the fee is a "profit-generating device" that violates state laws against fraudulently representing corporate charges as government-mandated costs. ... Delta Air Lines travelers now have free access to Amazon.com when they fly on Delta flights equipped with WiFi service. ... An Internet video showing how to beat the Transportation Security Administration full-body scanners drew a non-denial denial from the TSA's ubiquitous "Blogger Bob." I refer you to David Rowell's excellent coverage of the affair.
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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 © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.