This week: Airlines add new flights to Asia; a new mileage-exchange site is a flop; our weekly look at America's alternate airlines; carriers add new flights to Europe even though traffic is falling; the new Athens airport is in crisis; there's some progress at Kennedy in New York; and much more.
COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Everyone's Flying to Asia Again
Almost four years after the Asian Contagion wrecked havoc on airline schedules to the Pacific Rim, carriers are hurrying back to Asia with a flock of new flights. No fewer than five new nonstop routes to Asia were launched this past Sunday. Delta, for example, began two new Japanese routes: New York/Kennedy to Tokyo and Los Angeles to Nagoya. Delta's two-class service uses MD-11 aircraft. Meanwhile, United launched two new nonstop Chinese routes: Kennedy to Hong Kong and Chicago/O'Hare to Beijing. United operates three classes on the flights, using a Boeing 747-400 on the 7,339-mile nonstop to Hong Kong and a Boeing 777 on the Beijing service. Meanwhile, American launched nonstop service between San Jose and Taipei, Taiwan. American uses three-class Boeing 777s on the route.
CYBERTRAVELER: There's Just No Point to Points.com
A Canadian site called Points.com went live Monday with an intriguing concept: Permit business travelers to convert miles from one frequent-flyer plan into miles from a competing program. Great concept aside, however, there just doesn't seem to be any point to Points.com. It's fatally flawed in every category. Only five carriers are part of Point.com's initial rollout (American, Air Canada, America West, Alaska and Midwest Express) and exchanging points between programs is unbelievably costly. Two examples: 5,000 America West miles are worth only 628 American Airlines miles and 5,000 American miles only convert to 523 Midwest Express miles. These conversion ratios--upwards of 10 to 1--are dreadful enough. But you also pay Points.com a $14.95 annual fee for the privilege of playing the exchange game. Unless you're desperate to dump miles into or out of one of these programs, give Points.com a pass.
ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Our Weekly Look at the Nation's Other Carriers
Southwest Airlines is offering seven-day advance-purchase fares from $39-$99 one way in select markets around the nation. Tickets must be purchased by April 12 for travel until August 4. … Effective May 1, Midway Airlines will begin service to Birmingham, Alabama, from its Raleigh/Durham hub. Introductory fares for the three daily nonstops are as low as $49 each way. Tickets require a seven-day advance purchase and a Saturday stay; the price is valid for travel until June 30. … Fast-growing Frontier Airlines adds flights to Houston/Intercontinental from its Denver hub beginning May 16. Introductory fares for the three daily flights begin at $99 one-way.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Whistling Past the Graveyard En Route to Europe
Passenger traffic to Europe is plummeting and business- and first-class traffic is falling the fastest of all. But that hasn't stopped several airlines from plunging ahead with planned European expansions from secondary U.S. gateways. At least three carriers added more flights just last week. British Airlines launched nonstop flights to London/Heathrow from San Diego, replacing its former one-stop service. Lufthansa added nonstop service to its Frankfurt hub from both Denver and Phoenix. And American Airlines began flights to Paris from San Jose. Why add service when traffic is falling? "We're whistling past the graveyard," one executive told me. "We committed to do it before the numbers started going south. Who knows how long we'll be able to sustain this stuff. If traffic doesn't pick up fast, we're in for a very ugly summer."
AIRPORT REPORT: Chaos in Greece, Progress in New York
The new international airport in suburban Athens has been plagued by delays and cancellations since it opened last week. Especially hard hit: passengers flying Olympic Airways, the financially challenged Greek national carrier. As many as 10 percent of Olympic's scheduled flights at Eleftherios Venizelos airport have been abruptly canceled and a series of scuffles broke out as angry passengers endured long delays and unannounced gate changes. … The situation was calmer in Seoul, where Incheon International won raves for its simple, bright design and ease of use. Service was slowed by a balky baggage system, however. … There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel at Kennedy Airport in New York. After years of pain and inconvenience, the first portion of Terminal Four, the airport's primary international facility, is due to open next month. The 1.5-million square foot terminal houses two concourses, 16 gates, 144 check-in facilities, seven baggage carousels and a large shopping area.
THE WEEKLY WONDER: Qantas Puts the System on Sale
The Australian summer has ended, so Qantas (800-227-4500) is rolling out its annual Red Tail sale. Fares to Sydney from Los Angeles or San Francisco range from $799 to $999. Fares from New York are $1,099 to $1,299. Prices from Honolulu range from $669 to $869. Travelers can fly to Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns or Townsville for just $100 more. The fares are valid for travel until August 31, but tickets must be purchased by April 30. A seven-day advance purchase and seven-day minimum stay is required.