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Random Aviation Photo

14 Jun

Back in June 2008, I attended an airports conference in New Orleans.  It was my first trip back to the Big Easy since Hurricane Katrina.  I had some time to kill at the gate, so I took some random shots. Mexico’s Aladia was a low-cost charter carrier that went out of business in October 2008. Below is an Aladia Boeing 757.

Will $1 Million Help Improve Air Service Prospects At Delta’s Memphis Hub?

12 Jun

A Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 lands at Memphis International Airport. Photo courtesy of Scott Sherrin via Flickr.

At the beginning of my career, I wrote for a newsletter that covered economic development among other things.  I wrote regularly about the efforts of states, counties, regions and cities to bring new companies, which, in turn, bring in more jobs.

On some of those stories, airlines were included in presentations to show how well a new business could get to the places they needed to be as part of the business.  But it was inevitable that they’d want a piece of the action, either to expand existing flights or add new ones.

So I say all this to comment about an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal about the efforts of that city’s airport to keep the service they have and expand to more cities.  You may remember that Memphis was one of three hubs for Northwest Airlines (No Town, Snow Town (Minneapolis) and Motown (Detroit)).

But after the Minneapolis-based carrier merged with Delta Air Lines, it was no surprise when the carrier started balancing its combined route network, which included cutting one-third of its service out of Memphis.  The airport has also seen average fares rise to the point where locals are complaining – vociferously.

So the airport authority decided to hire DC-based INTERVistas, a firm that specializes in travel and tourism, to help it bring in new service and lower air fares.  In a report presented last month, the firm recommended creating a $1 million fund to offer incentives to airlines for new domestic and international service including free landing fees and terminal rent, along with cooperative advertising aid.

The Commercial Appeal article included quotes from airline consultant Mike Boyd of The Boyd Group that really hit a note with me.  He noted that while the incentives might speed up efforts by Southwest Airlines to expand or maybe JetBlue to start service out of Memphis, it wasn’t likely the city would get enough service to replace what Delta has cut.

According to the Commercial Appeal, the new incentives were called “the right response at the right time,” by airport president and CEO Larry Cox and “bold” by Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane.  But what else would they say? Their backs are up against the wall with locals getting angry about the service cuts, as outlined in this article.

I don’t entirely disagree with these new incentives.  I think targeted correctly, Memphis could see some new service — but it will never be at the levels it had when it was a Northwest hub. My recommendation is that they let go of the past and look at what other dehubbed airports — like Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham and San Jose — have done to survive when their major carriers — US Airways and American Airlines, respectively — have made cuts.

Why Delta’s ‘ Basic Economy’ Fare Is All Your Fault

5 Jun

A Delta jet at the gate in Atlanta. Photo by Benét J. Wilson

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Delta Air Lines has begun testing rock-bottom “basic economy” fares on selected routes — and you, the traveler, have no one but yourselves to blame.

Why is it your fault? Because you refuse to pay the higher fares that Delta and other airlines want you to. And since you refuse, they are going to get the money out of you other ways, by hook or by crook. Take a look at what fees have been introduced in the past 10 years: checked bags, food, drinks, change fees, phone booking fees and fuel surcharges, to name some.

So Delta for the past two months has been testing fares that are remarkably similar to those offered by Spirit Airlines, on some of the routes that the ultra-low-fare carrier flies, including Detroit to Orlando, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. With basic economy, travelers can’t make any changes to their itinerary, nor can they choose seats in advance.

You may hate what Spirit does (see why in this guest blog post), but you can see how other airlines have followed some of the things they do.  And someone does like the airline, because they have full flights and regularly make a profit. 

So if Delta is successful with this test, look for it to expand the basic economy fares into other markers.  And don’t be surprised if other airlines follow.

Early Boarding For Children Dropped By United Airlines

24 May

I am the mother of a six-year-old. I’ve been traveling with my daughter since she was 10 days old.  So when I read in USA Today that United Airlines recently decided to drop pre-boarding for children, my first thought was “good for them.”

I regularly fly on Southwest Airlines, which stopped pre-boarding for children under age 5 back in 2007.  I would set my clock 24 hours in advance to get an A pass for my flight.  But since Southwest started the $10 Early Bird fee, I just buy that, ensuring that I get the time I need to get my daughter settled (she wears a CARES harness).

When pre-boarding was still available on Southwest Airlines, I saw travelers abusing the system regularly, with children much older that 5 boarding, or entire families with older children taking advantage of pre-boarding.

With a little advanced planning, I believe that parents can make the adjustment accordingly. So what do you think? Did United make the right call here, or should they continue allowing pre-boarding for children?

Random Aviation Photo

17 May

One of my last duties before leaving Delta Air Lines was working on the events surrounding the retirement of The Spirit of Delta, a Boeing 767 bough by the airline’s employees, retirees, family and friends in 1982.  I left before the plane was brought to its final home at the Delta Heritage Museum at the carrier’s headquarters campus in 2006.  So I was so excited to see it in the museum during a visit to Atlanta in April 2011.  Enjoy!

Phones On Planes – Even VoIP – Are Another Circle of Hell

15 May

Regular readers of my blog know my strong feelings about cell phones on planes: I am against it for many reasons (you can ready why here).  So this headline in The Next Web – Delta calls cops on Viber founder for using VoIP app on plane – really caught my eye.

Talmon Marco is the founder of social VoIP and free texting app Viber. On a recent Delta Air Lines flight, Marco was told by a flight attendant that he couldn’t use the voice part of Viber, citing FAA regulations.  In fact, FAA says it doesn’t have any regulation specifically covering VoIP, adding it’s more an issue with airlines.  The flight attendant then told Marco he was violating the terms of service of Gogo, the carrier’s inflight Wi-Fi vendor.

Marco took to Twitter complaining about a regulation that doesn’t exist, and was told by the airline that they had called the police, who would be there when he landed.  They were, but let him go when they realized that he hadn’t broken any laws.

I won’t go off on a tangent about how flight attendants like to throw around the phrase “FAA regulations” when they want passengers to do — or not do — something.  Technically, Marco  wasn’t breaking any rules.  But if I’m flying in a metal tube sitting next to or near him, I do NOT want to hear him gabbing away via VoIP.

Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of … Air Service?

14 May

Back on May 2, in my Rolling Aviation Thoughts post, one of the items was about how Toledo Express Airport is still looking for an airline to provide service.  The airport received a $750,000 Small Community Air Service grant seven months ago with the goal of bringing in a carrier, with no luck.  The problem is the city’s close proximity to Detroit Metro Airport, where folks can — and do — just drive from Toledo for lower fares.

In that article, air service consultant Mike Boyd was quoted saying that “it’s time for air-service hospice” at Express.  And I agreed with him 100%.  But in a letter to the editor of the Toledo Blade, Jerry Chabler, Chairman Airport Committee Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, took exception with Boyd’s blunt assessment about air service out of the airport.

“That kind of talk is reckless. Read by representatives of airlines with whom we are in talks, or by passengers flying into and out of Express, those words will not be helpful.” Chabler wrote.  He also took exception with Boyd’s comment that “the local airport is a lost cause.”

I can understand how Mr. Chabler feels.  It’s his job to try to get air service into Toledo Express.  But I also don’t think he’s being realistic about that facility’s chances of getting air service anytime soon. Even Toledo’s mayor — theoretically the facility’s biggest booster — was caught driving to Detroit.

Chabler needs to take a look at his airport’s own numbers.  The airport reached its peak traffic in 1997, when AirTran was offering direct service to Orlando.

Since then, it’s been a revolving door of airlines at Toledo Express, including Delta Connection, Continental Express, American Eagle, Northwest Airlink and Direct Air, which abruptly ended service in March.  Airlines have been cutting service to marginal and low-performing markets since 2001, and they have become very picky about where they put their resources.

The fact that despite receiving $1.3 million in federal Small Community Air Service grants in the past five years (giving back $750,000), the airport still can’t attract an airline.

When I worked at Mesa air back in 2001-2002, one of my jobs was to do presentations to communities for their Essential Air Service contracts (read about my thoughts on that program here). It was always interesting to meet with city officials, because they would make these outrageous service demands, knowing full well they could barely justify the service they had only because of the largess of the federal government.  They felt like it was their right to have air service in a post-deregulation world.

And Mr. Chabler seems to feel the same way about Toledo Express despite the reality of a new airline world order where smaller cities will continue to fight just to keep what little service they still have.  Travelers in the region have voted — they prefer to drive to Detroit and make their own connections to the global air transportation system.

Another letter to the editor applauded Boyd’s frank assessment and suggested that the Port Authority focus on providing a shuttle service to Detroit instead of chasing after airlines.  I agree, and a good model of how well it works is operating in my own back yard.

I was talking with John Presburg, an old friend from my regional airline days. He retired from US Airways Express carrier Piedmont Airlines and created a BayRunner Shuttle, a van service to Washington National, Washington Dulles and BWI Airport from Maryland cities, including several that no longer have air service.  I hope Toledo Express looks at doing something similar instead of chasing after something that will probably not be coming back.

Frontier Airlines To Denver: Show Me The Money!

8 May

Back at the beginning of my journalism career in the late 1980s, I wrote for the Employment and Training Reporter, a newsletter that covered federal job training programs.  Under that broad umbrella fell welfare reform, education and economic development.

My favorite thing to write about was economic development, because back then, the country was recovering from the Reagan recession and states were throwing around money like drunken sailors to lure new companies to bring in jobs and taxes.  Two of the biggest battles I got to watch was the fight for German luxury automaker BMW’s first U.S. plant (it went to South Carolina) and two United Airlines maintenance bases (Oakland and Indianapolis won, but eventually lost as both plants were closed).  Looking at a more recent example, we recently learned that bankrupt aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft turned down $500 million in incentives from Louisiana to leave Wichita, Kan., reports the Wichita Business Journal.

States, counties and cities worked hand in hand to offer everything from tax breaks to infrastructure changes to subsidies to bring in companies and jobs.  Some states were so desperate they made deals they knew they could never see a return on their investment.

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

So it was with great interest that I read this story in the Denver PostFrontier Airlines wants tax incentives to bring jobs to Colorado — with great interest.  The airline was created in 1994 by executives of the original Frontier, which was bought by Texas Air in 1986 and folded into Continental Airlines.  The idea was to fill the gap left when Continental Airlines decided to shut down its Denver hub.

The carrier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2008, and was bought by Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings in August 2009.  After that purchase, the company moved some of Frontier’s operations to Indianapolis.

Now Frontier executives are asking the city and state to come up with incentives in order for them to stay put.  The company wants to bring back approximately 430 call center, mechanical, dispatcher and headquarters jobs to the state. In exchange, it wants breaks on state and local taxes on jet fuel, parts and software, according to the Post, adding that they wanted “appropriate” incentives to bring in the jobs.

But the state and city, probably seeing what has happened across the country when others have opened the incentives spigot, are in no rush to open its pocketbook to Frontier, not wanting to upset hub carrier United and Southwest Airlines.  Plus they want to ensure that Frontier will stay in the state long enough to see a return on their incentives investment.
So I’ll be watching to see what happens, but what do you think — should the city and state give Frontier what it wants, or is Frontier being greedy and unreasonable?

Right Or Wrong? Southwest Sued Over Obese Passenger Policy

7 May

This headline on ABC News – ‘Too Fat To Fly’ Passenger Sues Southwest Airlines For ‘Discriminatory Actions’ - caught my eye, since I’ve blogged several times (here and here).  For my newer readers, I am a woman of size – rubenesque, as it were — but I can still fit in one seat. So I understand the sensibilities on both sides.

I happen to agree with — and appreciate — Southwest Airlines’ policy of how it deals with passengers of size.  But I also see the point of Kenlie Tiggeman, the overweight passenger who was originally judged too fat to fly, who filed the lawsuit.

The problem with the Southwest policy, as Tiggeman (and I) sees it, is the inconsistency in how it is administered.  I’m all for having a row of seats at the end of a ticket counter placed behind a screen if an agent feels someone might not fit into their seat. The issue is that as humans, we all have our own views and prejudices.  I’m betting that if you put Tiggeman in front of 10 different gate agents or even 10 different travelers and asked if she was “too fat to fly,” you’d get myriad different answers.

A few years ago, my daughter and I were flying Southwest home from San Antonio on a full flight.  She was still using her SkyMall stroller/car seat. She was at the window (she can’t block a passenger in) and I was in the middle seat.  A man “of size” came to sit in the aisle seat. I knew it was going to be a tight fit — and it was.

Several flight attendants came by and looked at him, but didn’t say a word. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be rude. I should have. That was the longest 3.5 hour flight of my life.  A passenger who has paid for a seat should not be forced to have a passenger of size taking up their space.

So my wish is that before this goes to court, Tiggeman and Southwest Airlines come up with  a plan that balances the needs of passengers of size to have a consistent second-seat policy with the rights of “normal” sized passengers who deserve to have their own whole seat.

So, what do you think? Is Tiggeman right to sue Southwest Airlines? Do you think Southwest Airlines’ Customer of Size policy?  Tell me!!

Random Aviation Photo

3 May

My hometown airport is Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.  You can click on my BWI tag to see my past posts on why I I love my airport.  Every time I depart from the airport, I take a nice pile of pictures.  In the shot below, I saw Southwest Airlines’ Shamu Boeing 737; in the background is a McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Enjoy!

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