Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reinventing a Legend: Transcontinental with American Airlines

Few air routes in the world have a pedigree like the US Transcontinental flights from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.  From the time the flights began in the 1920's until about 1978, the only airlines flying them were American, TWA, and United Air Lines.  Deregulation changed all of that.  The transcons almost became just another air route, a glorified bus in the sky.  Niche carriers like MGM Grand Air came and went offering pure First Class or Business Class only flights, with no success.  The Boeing 767-200 became the workhorse on the routes between United, American and to a smaller extent, TWA.  Continental entered the fray from their hub in Newark, Tower Air came in with decrepit and aging 747-100's, seats flooding the market.  In hindsight, I think it is safe to say American and United were banking on their massive corporate contracts on both coasts to keep their Premium cabins and fare levels booked.

In 2003, though, United took a somewhat bold move and replaced the 767-200's (retiring the type completely) with the smaller 757-200 and a somewhat radically changed layout with more of an emphasis on the premium passenger and the transcon VIP.  A few changes have been made to the p.s. (Premium Service) cabin on United since their merger with Continental Airlines in 2009, but nothing worth writing home about.

Seeking to replace its own aging fleet of 767-200 workhorses, American struck a deal with Airbus for 17 radically configured A321's (as part of a larger order including standard A321's and A319's) to target the transcon corporate market.  The result is an amazing airplane perfectly suited top bolster American back to the top of the market, and keep it there, despite new offerings from jetBlue, and a badly needed refurbishing of Delta's premium offerings (although I will admit, their new Terminal 4 at JFK is an amazing oasis to depart from, and the new Delta One Transcon service looks promising).

The flight I picked was the legendary Flight 1, departing New York/JFK at 9:00AM, as it has since the 1930's.  Departure was out of Gate 42, and on time.  Due to the unique nature of the A321T, boarding went by in a cinch, as First and Business Class were completely full before ANYONE in Group 1 in Coach got to board.  After getting to our seats I was pleasantly surprised by how much perceived room there is, and how comfortable the seats were.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don't much care for in-flight entertainment and keep the in-seat TV locked on the AirMap channel, but my daughter was with me, and she says this IFE system made it hard for her to get bored during the 6 1/2 hour long flight to Los Angeles.

Takeoff out of JFK at this time of morning is usually a pain, but after push back we hurried on out of JFK and over Rockaway Beach, then turning to the West for the duration.  I have to admit, this crew was definitely one of the happiest bunch I've had the pleasure of flying with in a long while on American, and they made the trip even more enjoyable.  Meals on this flight, at least in Economy, were for purchase only, and because we had already eaten in the terminal, we didn't bother buying anything.  Our cruising altitude for the majority of the flight was 28,000 feet due to rough air above, which made for some great views out the window heading West of Denver, Colorado. I do love the intimate size of the Economy section on the A321T, though, it does not feel like a flying transit bus as other aircraft have the tendency to do, with 36 standard economy seats, and 36 Main cabin Extra seats, while Business Class is at a phenomenally laid out 20 seats and 10 first class seats ahead of that, American definitely knows where its bread is buttered.

Landing was smooth for an Airbus, but in my opinion, the 767-200 had the best landings after a long transcon flight.  Still, you can't beat the experience of the A321T, and later on this year I'll be able to better compare it to offerings by jetBlue, Delta, and Virgin America, and in different classes of service, but for now, the A321T is definitely the new kid on the block, ready to rock, and ready to beat the pants off of all comers.

The professional opinion of this Travel Agent is:  If you are going transcon, pick the A321T by American Airlines.  They have really brought back the glamour the transcon was known for before the 1980's, and it will be the yardstick by which all other offerings are measured by.  Even Doug Parker, AA's new CEO, and legendary cost cutter at America West and US Airways, swears by the product, and has been suitably impressed with how the new product has increased revenue and return passengers keep raving about, and returning to fly on the A321T time and time again.

Photos courtesy of American Airlines and the author.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Modern Luxury, Urban Sophistication: Langham Place 5th Avenue

We've all heard hotels claim to go above and beyond the call of duty for ALL of their guests.  But how many of us who aren't part of their Elite membership levels have really seen it or experienced it from check-in to check-out?  In my travels, I know I sure have not...until now.

It all started two months prior to check-in.  I get to my email and lo and behold there is a welcome email from the Langham Place's Personal Assistant Team.  What is the role of the hotel's Personal Assistant Team you ask?  Well, according to them, it is a combination of the traditional hotel concierge with the more personalized experience of a personal assistant.  In a Global Metropolis such as New York City, this experience is essential.

I had booked this trip to New York as a trip for my daughter's 13th birthday.  I let the Personal Assistants know this, and replied back in kind.  A few days later, I find at my doorstep a FedEx package from the hotel, with a personal note from our Personal Assistant, Derek, to my daughter wishing her a very happy birthday and enclosed please find passes to the Empire State Building observatory, and a few other things to get her psyched up for the trip.  My jaw dropped and I was awestruck.  I've noted special occasions on hotel reservations before, but never...NEVER...have I ever had a reply such as this!  Anyways, moving on!

The day of travel finally came around.  Because of our weird multiple leg flight itinerary on both Frontier Airlines (my daughter made me promise to book her on Frontier for her birthday) and US Airways, we didn't get into New York's iconic John F. Kennedy Airport until 11PM or so, but our driver was there waiting for us, and once baggage was collected, off we went back in that (shameless Ace Frehley plug) New York Groove.

Arrival and check-in at the Langham Place was a breeze and welcoming.  We couldn't have been the only late arrivals, but, the front desk staff recognized me and welcomed me by name, and not with those fake and cheesy smiles you'll get from other accommodations, but a genuine warm greeting from someone who is genuinely happy your at his establishment.  With that same warm smile, the bellman took our luggage up and gave us a tour of the room.

Because we had booked a package deal, and wanted a slightly larger room since there was supposed to be three of us originally.  The 900 square foot room was amazingly spacious and well laid out.  The two Duxiana Queen beds were spaced well enough apart and the room overlooked 5th Avenue down below.  The Walk-in closet was pretty massive and spacious for all our belongings, with nothing left out in the open.  The bathroom was drop dead gorgeous.  From the deep soak tub and Italian marble throughout, to the deep, glass-enclosed rainfall shower, we felt truly at home here.  My daughter's favorite feature in the bathroom was the Magic Mirror, with the TV built inside.  Also at our disposal was the minibar with complimentary drinks, a very cool Nespresso machine with a fine selection of Nescafe and Teavana coffee/tea packs, our own personal use of the house car (a Maserati Quattroporte, on a first come, first serve basis), and free pressing of up to 5 items upon arrival.

Since it was my daughter's birthday present, and she's into art and music, I had booked the Little Collectors package for the trip, which includes an 8x10 limited edition framed print by David Levinthal, a signed copy of his book "Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty", a Lego model of the Empire State Building, and several other nice additions, including passes, entry and private escorted tours through some of the greatest art museums in Chelsea.  As with any package, there are blackout dates, and you must stay a minimum of 2 nights.

The next day we had a pleasant surprise waiting for us after we got back from lunch.  The Personal Assistants desk called our room and asked if we'd like a tour of the hotel.  Absolutely!  We beat feet down to the lobby and met up with Tina, one of the Personal Assistants, and Matt, from the Front Desk, who wound up taking us on the tour.  We started off by visiting the 20th floor, and into one of the hotel's Signature Langham Suites.  At 1,040 square feet, the Langham Suite has a LOT of space and room to move around!  The suites come equipped with private laundry facilities (located in the closet, right next to the bathroom entry from the bedroom side), and a separate living room and a small kitchen area.  The bathroom is the same size as the Family Place bathroom (which in itself is massive), and the nightly rate for the Langham Suite is not that much more than any of the Empire State View rooms.  Heck, with the Langham Suite, you have your pick of either a 5th Avenue view, or the Manhattan Skyline view.

Next we were taken up to the 22nd floor and into the Empire Suite.  Slightly smaller than the Langham Suites, the Empire Suites are still pretty spacious at 935 square feet.  The main difference in the Empire Suite is the view, floor to ceiling windows allow guests to view the iconic Empire State Building in all its glory (or as far as your neck will allow you to crane).  Another difference is the price, and the addition of a half-bath at the entry of the separate living area.  If falling asleep with the Empire States majesty is your thing, this is THE room for you!

Suitably impressed with the Suites, Matt took us downstairs to the 3rd floor, and the meeting spaces, business center, and current fitness center.  In a town where meetings are an hourly occurrence, the Langham Place 5th Avenue is all set up and capitalizes on its amazing location as THE place to hold any sort of function, be it business or personal.  Down the hall from the meeting rooms are two closed in alcoves with computer and printer access, and the 3,100 square foot Gym just around the corner from there.  The Gym will be moved to the 4th floor, adjacent to the Chuan Spa when the hotel goes in for a major renovation in 2015, which makes more sense, and adds more value to the Spa's guests.  All in all, not a bad size gym, and had I brought my workout stuff with me on this trip, I'd take advantage of this awesome facility, and maybe even try out the famed Chuan Spa.

Off we went, downstairs to the 2nd floor, and into the Michelin starred Ai Fiori Restaurant.  Aside from winning their first Michelin star and well on their way to a 2nd, Ai Fiori has just recently been awarded recognition from Relais and Chateaux, the ultra luxe and strict organization of exclusive hoteliers and restaurateurs.  While we were there, we were awarded with reservations for that Saturday night, our last night in the city, even thought the restaurant has had no seating for the last week or so for that particular night (Thank you Matt!).

Last, but not least, was the trek down to the main floor, and into Measure, the hotel's superb lounge, where the bartenders hold court and make some amazing drinks with showmanship and flair. Measure has to be the best place on 5th Avenue to unwind and sip a drink while waiting for dinner upstairs or just to chill out before or after a shopping binge.  A fantastic tour nonetheless, and Matt proved his knowledge and experience beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The same can be said for the Personal Assistants I met.  Derek, Tina, and Lillyann helped us out tremendously during our stay.  Their roles alone are well worth the nightly rate at the Langham Place, not to mention the unmatched room amenities and levels of comfort.  The absolute attention to detail and knowledge and experience of not only the surrounding area, but of New York in general, and of the rest of the Langham portfolio of properties have left me looking forward to my next stay at ANY of the Langham hotels.

The professional opinion of this travel agent is: By all means, whenever you have a trip to New York City, and are in the 5th Avenue/Empire State Building area, the Langham Place 5th Avenue should be your one and only place to lay your head at night.  I strongly urge all my clients to book here, each and every time.

Photos courtesy of the Langham Place 5th Avenue and from the author's private collection.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Buyer Beware: Online Travel Agencies versus the REAL Travel Agencies

Quite a few of us book through Online Travel Agencies like Expedia, Egencia, Orbitz, and Kayak, just to name a few.  When you call these folks for help, do you think you are really getting an actual travel agent employee of theirs?  I'm here to tell you you're not, and what you might not know just might disturb you.

To demonstrate my point, let's look closely at one of these agencies: Egencia, which is owned by Expedia and is their Corporate Travel arm, where the demands for travel are more last minute, higher priced, and with a more urgent need to get out on a somewhat more difficult itinerary usually covering multiple stops, airlines, hotels.  You'd think the agents who deal with these corporate travellers of such companies like Federal Mogul, Chipotle, Allegiant Air, PHI Helico, the Screen Actors Guild, and more, would know what they're doing, right?  More often than not, they do.  Are they all travel agents? No.  Are they all knowledgeable and usually full of hard-earned info to get their clients where they need to go?  More often that not, they aren't.  But aside all that, here is what gets me...Egencia (and I'm assuming other OTA's as well) outsources to third party call centers like Teleperformance and Actelion!

Not only is there a huge difference between the work ethic and knowledge and experience between front line Egencia employees and their lower-paid under trained counterparts at the call centers, but there is also the risk that the travelers secure info (like their credit card numbers and private information!) can be lifted with ease by some of the more unsavory call center employees.

Let me give you an example:  I worked for Teleperformance on the Egencia project for a while and what I found was insanity.  The training was incredibly sub par for the work to be done.  The project manager does not have a week of travel experience and should be removed from the project by one of the mangers who are far more capable and knowledgeable.  Several employees have nefarious pasts involving credit card fraud, securities fraud and one even had a bank robbery charge! (The only way I found this out was to do background checks on those I work with, as I am paranoid of having my own identity stolen again).  Do you really want to give your credit card info to someone with a shady past like this?  Not me.

Now let me ask you this: Don't your lawyers, doctors, and accountants all have to be certified by the state to practice their trade?  Why wouldn't you ask that of your travel agent?  Any travel agent who has their CTA (Certified Travel Agent) or CTC (Certified Travel Counselor) or even the CTIE (Certified Travel Industry Executive) is worth their weight in Gold.  They have knowledge and experience on their side and can get you where you need to go and when you need to be there.  Not only that but they can give you all the info on visas, passports, and government travel warnings without having you take the time to do it yourself.

A real travel agent lives and breathes travel.  The OTA call center people do the job for a paycheck, not because they are passionate about what they do or who they serve.  A real travel agent is as trustworthy as your family doctor, the call center...not so much.  Also, a real travel agent can usually make you feel more comfortable during a travel crisis than the OTA call center folks can.

Take your pick, I'll be waiting right here to help you with your next booking.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Welcome to the Gold Standard of Travel!

Two things that are WRONG:

1. The idea that Travel Agents are useless in this day and age, what with the Internet and all those
online booking sites.

2). ‘Travel Agents’ who won’t reach out of their comfort zones to help their clients get to where they
really want to go. If you truly feel that Dubai – in July – is where you want to spend your honeymoon,
and your Travel Agent is trying to get you to book at Sandals because that’s a whole lot easier...I don’t
think your interests are being served.

Which is why I came to a decision...

It was time for me to get back into the Leisure side of Travel, and open my own agency, the Gold
Standard  Travel Company.

I want to cater not only to those folks who are looking for a quick trip to Las Vegas or an all-
inclusive resort in Mexico, but also to couples who are looking for their once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon
experience. Far off destinations, unforgettable memories and everything else in between!
You can book all your travel online...but do you really know what you’re getting? Do you even know
where you’re really going? For example, you can book a flight to New York City, tap in NYC, tap in
“lowest fare”...and end up in Islip. Ever been to Islip? It’s a long, long cab ride from Times Square.
Actually, you’d be a lot better off booking your flight to Newark (it’s closer to Manhattan than either
LaGuardia or JFK) BUT...the website didn’t tell you any of that, did it? And that website didn’t exactly
stress the fact that your cheap fare came with a couple of stops, and baggage fees (or in the event of a
flight on Frontier or Spirit, carry-on fees)!

So I’m back in the travel game because I want to provide top notch travel service to anyone looking for
that once-in-a-lifetime trip, or a simple family vacation at the Mouse House (Did you know that there
are four big Disney resorts? Did you know they have serious differences?) I want my clients coming back
from their trips knowing they got treated right, had 24/7 access to me if they had any kind of problem
or any kind of question, knowing they would be taken care of, no matter what the issue.  Above all, I
want my clients to know I won’t try to shoehorn them into anything they don't want (like a completely
different destination!) and will bend over backwards to find the perfect solution for their travel needs.

I’ve had my CTA (Certified Travel Agent) designation since October 2011; this October I’ll be
attaining the CTC (Certified Travel Counselor) designation.  I’ve had 13 years in the Airline and Hotel
Industries and 5 years as a Travel Agent.  I’m an expert in Mediterranean, Middle East, Russia, Luxury,
Honeymoon, Corporate and Adventure Travel.  I’ve been a member of the American Society of Travel
Agents (ASTA) and NACTA (National Association of Career Travel Agents) since 2009.  In 2014 I was the third Travel Agent ever invited to join the Airline Industry's Wings Club. 

Let’s face it. I live and breathe Travel, and I invite you to make your next booking with me.

Welcome to the Gold Standard of Travel!

Monday, May 26, 2014

All Good Things...

Photo Copyright Joe Pries
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was an airline that originated the idea of low fare, high frequency flights with short turnarounds for their aircraft on the ground.  For $25 you could fly from one spot in the state to another further away, round trip, and the service on the ground and in the air was truly superb, friendly, and they were happy to have you on board.  The ORIGINAL Low Fare Airline was PSA - Pacific Southwest Airlines, based out of San Diego, California.  from 1949 to 1988 PSA was known as the "World's Friendliest Airline", and earned that distinction on every flight.  During the original round of merger mania in the 1980's, PSA fell victim to an apathetic management that felt it was better to sell off the airline and keep the rest of the assets from the Holding Company.  USAir took over PSA and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, some of you might remember PSA, some might not.  But there is another airline that has claimed to the "Original" Low Fare Airline.  Enter Southwest Airlines, widely regarded as the darling of deregulation and falsely claiming to be the "Original" Low Fare Airline.  In the late 1980's and into the 1990's, Southwest could do no wrong.  Cities and their respective airports clamored for Southwest to begin service.  Once Southwest came to town, they didn't start with a handful of flights to one or two destinations, oh no, they came in with all guns blazing.  They would start 5-6 flights a day to several cities, usually 4-5 at first, then constantly growing as the loads developed and maintained.  This normally boosted a town's population and was a major source for creating new jobs in the area.  This was called the "Southwest Effect".  For years, this was how it worked, and Southwest motivated every single local economy it touched.

Lately though, it seems as if Southwest no longer has the effect it once had on local economies.  Since the iconic Chairman of Southwest, Herb Kelleher, left the company in 2008, and his successor, Gary Kelly has steered the company in a whole new direction, one more attuned with how the US Domestic Airline system is turning out with the latest round of mergers and consolidation.  Where once Southwest studiously avoided high-rent and high-traffic airports such as New York/LaGuardia, Denver, and Washington's National Airport, they now control vast amounts of traffic out of all three of these, and more cities such as Boston-Logan, Newark, and Atlanta.  Fares have also risen, for example,  I did a search from my hometown, Salt Lake City to Denver, one of Southwest's biggest cities, and a route that has massive competition from Delta, and Denver hometown favorite, Frontier.  I did a search at least 7 days ahead, and here's what i found:

Southwest's Lowest fare on June 9, 2014:  $230

Frontier's Lowest Fare for the same day and as close to the same time as possible:  $88.99

Delta's Lowest fare for the same day and as close to the same time as possible:   $150

By the way, Delta's lowest First Class Fare is only $10 more than Southwest's lowest Coach Fare.

It's not just on the Salt Lake City - Denver route either, look at the New York/LaGuardia to Atlanta route, a Delta stronghold route for the same day and same time...

Southwest's lowest fare:  $416

Delta's lowest fare:  $233, and First Class comes out to $371.

Photo Copyright Joe Pries
I rest my case, but Southwest Kool-Aid drinkers always use the "Bags Fly free, though!" mantra with me.  In First Class you also get free bags, and it looks like First Class on Delta is quite a bit cheaper or equivalent to Southwest's lowest fares, and you get an assigned seat.  or, if you fly Coach, its only an additional $25 for a checked bag, vs. the much higher Southwest fare.  I don't buy Southwest's gimmicks, nor do I approve of their charging for a second seat for passengers of size.  This is the biggest rip off in United States Commercial Aviation today.

Once upon a time, Southwest was the darling of Wall Street and cost-conscious travelers.  Airlines such as jetBlue, Allegiant, and Spirit (you could toss Frontier in this pile too) have taken over the lowering of fares nationwide.  RIP Southwest, you're just another airline now.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Bottom of the Barrel

"With an unbundled product, customers can save even more by choosing to pay for only the products that they want, allowing them to customize their flight experience for each and every flight"

If you believe the hype spewed out this last week by Frontier Airlines, I might have some beachfront property to sell you -- in Arizona.  Stung by being spun off from its previous owners, a hub in Denver with competition on 3 sides, and a route system that looks to be a hodgepodge of places no one wants to go on top of seemingly well thought-out routes (i.e. their old, original route system), Frontier Airlines seems to be in a breakneck sprint to the bottom of the barrel of airline choices nowadays, a far cry from their glory days from startup in 1994, to the Airbus fleet renewal and expansion of the Denver hub, and the addition of the Cancun hub.

Let me give you some background history.  This is not the first Frontier Airlines to fly around.  The first carrier named Frontier started in the 1940's as an amalgamation of three smaller carriers based in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.  They selected Denver as their base of operations and grew from there.  They were one of the only airlines to support the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.  Due to mounting competition at their sole hub from two other major airlines also hubbed there, Frontier began racking up losses and was eventually bought out in 1986 by PeoplExpress, who itself was bought by Continental (one of the other 2 airlines hubbed in Denver at the time) just a few months later.

Fast forward a few years, to around 1993 or so.  Denver Stapleton has pretty much outgrown its usefulness, and the new Denver International Airport was under construction.  Due to yet another bankruptcy filing and cost cutting measures, Continental has shuttered the hub in Denver, leaving tons of communities across the Mountain West and Midwest without adequate air service.  Enter Denver businessman Sam Addoms, and several former original Frontier executives.  They decide to restart Frontier in Denver, serving cities abandoned by Continental's tear down of the Denver hub, using Boeing 737 equipment.  In July 1994, the first 737 takes off, connecting Denver to Bismarck, Faro, Grand Forks, and Minot.  It was a great little operation that grew to encompass a nationwide system with a fleet of brand new Airbus A318's, A319's, and A320's.

Things were looking so great for management they decided to grow sideways.  They reformed as Frontier Airlines Holdings, Inc.  a parent company for the airline and any subsidiaries management decides to add, in 2006.  (In my opinion, this was bonehead  move number 1, as the original Frontier tried this and spectacularly failed after they started an airline-within-an-airline called Frontier Horizon back in 1983)  The parent company was based in Delaware, to take advantage of the extremely business friendly practices in state, while the operating headquarters and Frontier's hub still remained in Denver.  The parent company gave upper management the leeway to begin other subsidiaries, taking their focus off of the airline completely.

One of the first things management did was start Lynx Aviation, Frontier's answer to feeder flights in and out of Denver, using 70-74 seat DeHavilland Dash 8 equipment, hoping the new subsidiary would cut costs at Frontier by 30% with operating efficiencies in the smaller communities Frontier served as well as lower wages than the mainline carrier paid.  Not a bad idea, in general, just badly executed and ill timed.  In 2008, Frontier's credit card processor, First Data, announced it would withhold 100% of the carrier's transactions beginning May 1, 2008.  It put such a cramp on Frontier's liquidity, management threw the whole company, parent included, into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection.

In Spring of 2009, Frontier reported that it will exit bankruptcy as a new subsidiary of Republic Airlines , once a feeder carrier for Frontier.  They also bought up Milwaukee based Midwest Express Airlines, famous for their baked on-board chocolate chip cookies.  Then they merged BOTH airlines under the Frontier brand, and went about cutting costs, slashing staff, and outsourcing stations away from Denver to third party contractors.  The instituted a march towards becoming a different kind of airline, a relatively new breed that has popped up called ULCC, for Ultra Low Cost Carrier.  That means you pay for your ticket, and your bags, your seat assignment, and everything else associated with your trip.  Marketing gurus call it "unbundling".  I call it a giant pain the wallet.

Final fast forward to this past winter.  Republic has been actively looking for a buyer of Frontier, after figuring out they were better off being a contract carrier than to run the risks of flying themselves.  In comes Indigo Partners, who own Spirit Airlines, and run by former America West boss Bill Franke.  They come in and announce that the company will institute a new fare saving gimmick, Frontier's Discount Den, where members can save $5 on their 1st checked or carryon bag,  as well as giving Frontier the ability to flood your email with deals on airfare to such exciting places as Trenton, NJ or Dover, Delaware.

And speaking of the costs for your checked bags, carryons and seat assignments, here's the breakdown:

Time of Carryon purchase:                        Classic Plus Fare            Economy Fare

Frontier's Discount Den member
booking on                               Free                                $20

Non-member booking on
or Reservations                                                Free                               $25

Web check-in at                       Free                               $25

Airport/concourse kiosk, or agent                     Free                               $35

At the gate                                                         Free                               $50

And seat selection?  Check this out:, anywhere between $3 and $15 depending on whether you assign a seat at booking, at check-in, or you allow Frontier to select your seat for you.  mind you, I do not recommend letting the airline select your seats if your not traveling alone.

Checked baggage remains the same at frontier as it does on almost every other airline in the United States, you still have to pay, but the fees range from $15 for Discount Den members at time of booking to $75 at time of check-in.

Like I said before, I'm not a fan of the ULCC practice.  The concept looks great, on paper, and sometimes, on the bottom line.  But to the consumer who flies more than once or twice a month, this blows.  I'll take my higher ticket fare and $25 checked bag fee to one of the network carriers and get to where I'm going in relative peace and quiet (and shoot for a chance at an upgrade).

Frontier seems to be headed for the absolute bottom of the air carrier barrel.  I will have a chance to try them out with their revitalized ULCC concept this November though, as my 12 year old daughter has been begging me to let her fly on Frontier, just once.  We'll see how that goes.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Empire State of Mind (Part III)

Continued from Empire State of Mind Part II, released on 4/2/2014.

My stay in New York City was incredible, even though I did not get the chance to do some sightseeing (the 9/11 Memorial is on my bucket list).  Needless to say, it was time to go.  Check out was a snap and I schlepped my bags over to Grand Central and backtracked my way to JFK Airport on the 6 and E trains.  I did make one small detour, though.  When the E train got to the Union Turnpike Station, I hopped off and back on to check in on Foursquare.  The reason for this stop was, this was my stop when I lived in Queens, so I checked in and snapped a picture just as the Subway doors were closing.  OK, enough foolin', back on the train to JFK.

I made it to Jamaica Station, and back on the AirTrain, where i had a killer view of everything in front and below, so I got to see most of lower Queens go by underneath as we got closer to JFK.  Now, if the weather could've just cooperated a bit more, I would've like that very much!  Coming up to the Federal Circle stop, where the Car Rental Building is, you can also see the now abandoned Ramada Plaza JFK, home to so many airline disasters out of JFK (TWA 800, EgyptAir 990, Pan Am 103, Swissair 111, American 587 come to mind), and hosting the victims families.  I had stayed here on various misconnects and cancellations, as well as during my initial move to NYC.  It's kinda sad to see such a building get treated and abandoned in that manner.

Taking the curve around all of the Terminals you come up to JFK's Terminal 1 which houses big foreign airlines such as Japan Airlines, Saudia, Turkish, Air France, Aeroflot, and more.  Then you come up to Delta's ancient Terminal 2, which originally housed Eastern and Northwest, then a big gaping construction site where the former Pan Am "WorldPort" used to stand, which has now been demolished to make room for Delta's new combined terminals 2 and 4.  After Terminal 4, you come up to jetBlue's T5 (also serving Hawaiian Airlines), guarded by the thankfully protected TWA Flight Center (the original Terminal 5), one of the most beautiful airline terminal of the Jet Age, albeit inadequate and small for today's airline operating environment.  I should know, I started my career at TWA, and spent 3 weeks each Summer at JFK on the Ramp and on the Passenger Service side of it.  Do I miss it?  Of course, I wouldn't be human if I didn't.  but I love the direction life is going now as well, and my return to the airline fold is shaping up to be amazing.

After T5, the train passes the now demolished Terminal 6 (originally housing National, then TWA's domestic Terminal, and finally America West and jetBlue before the new T5 was built) and Terminal 7, home to United's fledgling JFK operation and British Airways mini-hub.  The train starts moving again and come around one bend you see various jetliners from different parts of the world at the remote stands close to Terminal 8, where they wait until their next flight back home.  The train slows down and comes to a stop right in front of the Terminal, where you exit and take the covered hallway into the baggage claim level.  Escalators appear on the left to take you up to ticketing and security.

I have to say this about the American Airlines staff I encountered in the ticketing hall.  I went down one hall that was marked for AA Economy and Main Cabin Extra passengers.  I was stopped at the entry to the ticketing queue by some older staff who have apparently been there far too long.  In harsh, gruff tones they barked at me saying I was in the wrong area and to trudge my bags to the other end of the terminal and seek assistance there.  Yikes!  Off I went to drop my bags and make my way through security.

Once past the TSA checkpoint I went upstairs to the Admiral's Club to recharge, have a drink and download a movie to my phone for the 6 hour flight to sunny Los Angeles.  What do I pick?  Why, "Airport" of course!  After about an hour of loading up on Cape Cods and chocolate chip cookies by the handful, I made my way to the gate, and onto the plane, which ironically, was the same 767 that brought me from LA the other day, N322AA. 

Takeoff was quick and we bolted out of JFK like a rocket, out on the infamous Canarsie departure point, and on a northwesterly course up over the US/Canadian border and down over Lake Michigan and the Midwest down to Los Angeles, where we landed a few minutes early.  The 6 hour trip flew by fast after my movie, I managed to zonk out and sleep the remainder of the way.  Pulling up to the gate in LAX, I saw a brand new American 777 on one side, and the 767's replacement, the A321 on the other.  A changing of the guards indeed.

I had to hustle to the remote Commuter terminal to take my flight back to Salt Lake City.  After barging my way into the tiny Regional jet, this other sizable fellow sat next to me, with crossed arms the whole way back behind the Zion curtain.  Skywest does run a  good operation for American Eagle, though, and I sincerely hope they upgrade their flights to Los Angeles in the near future with this merger with US Airways.  They are a treasure of an airline, and I can't wait to try out the A321 on the next trip to New York.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Empire State of Mind (Part II)

Continued from Empire State of Mind, Part I, from 4/1/2014

That first night back in New York City reminded me I'm not the 24 year old smartass I was when I had originally moved to the City.  I woke up in a world of hurt the next morning, with creaky bones and muscles.  I have to hand it to them though, the Yale Club has some mighty inviting rooms and comfortable surroundings!  Not just anyone can book a room here, you have to either be a) a graduate of Yale with a Bachelor's or higher, or b) a member in good standing of the Wings Club.  Me being the in the latter category made me feel a bit overwhelmed, but I got over it and sucked it up.

I had several appointments that morning, first of which was across the street at the Wings Club offices, in the historic Pan Am Building (now known as the MetLife building), to be sworn in as a full-fledged member of this amazing organization.  Time was running short by the time the Concierge had my suit ready and pressed, luckily I was only across the street!  I made it with a few minutes left to spare, and took my oath on the Bible, wishing my amazing Wife and Dad were there to see me.  OK, it sounds tacky, but I consider this my return to the Industry I love and know all about, and it would've been nice to have family there.

Once the ceremony was over, I hustled down the escalators into the Grand Central Station to catch the 6 train up to the 59th and Lexington stop and over to my former employer, Homeric Tours, and an appointment with my old boss, Nikos Tsakanikas, who every now and then is elected President of the USTOA (US Tour operators Association) and the IATAN Board of Directors.  He was one of the few that got me started on the Travel side of the Industry, as well as the airline consulting part of my former airline career.  Walking into his office I was greeted with "What happened to the A330-200 order?!"  referring to a shelved plan to turn Homeric's charter flight operation into a full fledged in-house airline, using a long dormant Air operating Certificate from the US Dept. of Transportation.

The meeting with Mr. T (as everyone calls him), was pretty low key, and then he asked for the doors to be closed and got down to brass tacks with me.  He asked me if I wanted to take an equity stake in Homeric and take over for him, since he is in his mid-80's and ready to call it quits.  We used to joke around back in 2005 about me running things when the time was right, and I was left sitting there thinking it might all just be tongue-in-cheek, but I played along and told him if I could run things from my home office in Utah, and reopen the West Coast office in Los Angeles, as well as revive the botched A330 plan, this time with either the A330's or the new A350.  This is all heady stuff for me, but I had been around the block a few times with new entrant airlines and know what is involved.  But enough about that.  The meeting lasted about an hour, and left me in wonder, sort of.

After that meeting I had the rest of the afternoon off until later that evening and the Wings Club annual meeting.  I went back to the Yale Club and hung out in the 4th Floor Library until it was time for the gathering.  Now, mind you, this is a University's remote collection of books, but it was floor to ceiling and wall to wall bookshelves filled with the most amazing literary works known to man.  I wanted to live in there!  I settled back in one of the many recliners and buried myself in the book I was in the middle of at the time, From Beirut to Jerusalem, by Thomas Friedman.

6 O'clock rolled around quickly and off I went to the Annual Meeting of the Wings Club, where the new members (me included) were welcomed and the award for Distinguished Aviator went to Race Plane Innovator Bob Hoover, considered to be the grandfather of modern aerobatic flying.  After the festivities were over I hung around and chatted with a few of the folks there, including higher ups from companies such as jetBlue Airways, Pratt & Whitney Turbine Systems, IATA, Travel Systems International, and Airbus.  By the end of the night, I found myself having made a breakfast appointment with the former head of IATA, Giovanni Bisignani, the next morning before the luncheon with Brad Tilden of Alaska Airlines.  An eventful evening to be sure!  I waddled off to my room to call my home and hit the sack.

Thursday morning rolls around and I'm up and ready to go by 7AM.  I walked across the street to Grand Central and the famous Michael Jordan's Steakhouse, where I joined the Giovanni Bisignani, Dave Barger, and Kevin McAllister of GE Aviation for breakfast.  Giovanni signed and gave us all a copy of his new book, Shaking the Skies, detailing his time at IATA and the shakeout he enacted upon the megalith after the horrendous events of 9/11/2001.  He even signed one for my wife and invited us to Switzerland!  I think we really should take him up on the offer...

After breakfast and an amazing session of talks, the four of us headed back to the Yale Club for the luncheon, where Brad Tilden was giving his speech.  He detailed why Alaska Airlines is better off as an independent carrier, but with code shares with various other airlines, instead of going the merger or Alliance routes.  He also explained Alaska's expansions in San Diego, Sacramento, and Salt Lake City, while addressing the threat from Delta's expansion head-on, by stating that there is room in Seattle for both hubs.  This had to have been one of the most insightful speeches I've heard in a long while, and I made sure to tell him so.  That, and I support Alaska's expansion (especially in SLC).

After the speech was done, there was a brief networking session, and I happened to fall into a conversation with Peter Flynn, Sales Director of Airbus Americas.  I did everything short of gushing about how amazing the A330's are.  He then gave me his card and told me to shoot him an email once i got back to Utah, to see if there might be a future for me at Airbus (schoolboy giddiness ensued, while remaining calm and collected externally).  Needless to say, this trip to New York was incredibly fruitful, and definitely mark my return back to the airline industry.

I spent the rest of the day packing and getting all my ducks in a row for tomorrow's return to Salt Lake, via Los Angeles.

Empire State of Mind continues in Part II, due on April 7, 2014.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Empire State Of Mind (Part I)

I had been looking forward to this trip to New York City for months now.  First, after 16 years of trying to gain required experience and status within the airline industry, I was finally invited to join the prestigious Wings Club, thanks to my former boss at Continental Airlines, Gordon Bethune, and former TWA Captain Gordon Beaubien.  My gratitude goes out to both of them for recommending me, and they will not be forgotten.  Second, this was my chance to take my last flights aboard American Airlines Boeing 767-200ER's.  These planes have been plying the skies between Los Angeles and New York/JFK for the last 30 years and AA felt it was time to put them out to pasture and replace them with specially outfitted Airbus A321T's.

I had flown on the 767-200 quite a bit on TWA, Delta Air Lines, United Air Lines, and during my time at Continental.  When I was part of the fleet planning team at Continental, it was my idea to start the Newark-Athens, Greece flight with the 767-200ER, to establish ourselves on the route, which was eventually upgraded to the Boeing 767-400ER, before the merger with United took place.  I  know the 767 as intimately as I know my beloved Airbus A330's.  I had to say goodbye.

Back to the trip at hand.  The day started out fabulous, and it was still dark by the time Mary dropped me off at Salt Lake City International Airport.  Check-in took a while, only because there were two agents on duty, and alas, they were the ones who had our bag tags.  they were professional and friendly about the delays, though.  Once I surrendered my bag to TSA I headed for security, where as i predicted, was pretty busy, what with multiple departures going on from not only American/US Airways, but with Frontier, Alaska, United, and Southwest as well.  The TSA treats SLC like a lab rat, with various adaptations of screening going on at various times.  This time was a good one, and one that I hope will stick. We didn't have to take our shoes or jackets off, as the full body scanners were updated with software that could detect anything from the bottom of the scanning area to the top.  I liked this, and told them so as I left the security area and made my way to the departure gate.

In Salt Lake City, American is one of the most convenient airlines to fly on, as their gates are the absolute closest to the Terminal 1 security area.  they occupy gates A3 and A5, and from time to time will use A1 when there's overflow. The CRJ-200 that would take me to Los Angeles was at A3, and by the time I got there, boarding had begun.  Luckily I paid for the Choice Plus fare (slightly higher than the basic lowest fare), and had been placed in Boarding Group 1.  Off i went to get shoehorned into the tiny Regional jet.  This service wasn't the regular American Eagle service, it was operated by SkyWest, having been contracted to fly smaller routes that American Eagle didn't want to fly.  Nonetheless, it was still a pleasant ride, with no one seated next to me for the 2 hour ride to LAX.

Arrival into LAX was great as usual, it was nice to see the various carriers from around the globe that one doesn't normally see in a place like Salt Lake City.  We parked at the remote Commuter Terminal and were bussed into American's historic Terminal 4.  I had a bit of time to kill before my departure to JFK at 9:00AM, so I beelined for the Admiral's Club to recharge my phone and grab a drink.

The Admiral's Club in LAX is accessed from the West side of the concourse, across form Gate 40.  Once you check-in, you are directed upstairs to the Club, where it occupies a large area on the North and West side, while the Flagship Lounge takes up the East and South sides of the floor (you must be booked in International Business or First Class or Transcontinental Flagship Class to access the Flagship Lounge).  Oh, by the way, departure announcements are not made in the Admiral's Club, so you have to keep an eye out on the time.

Sure enough, by the time I had a little juice on my phone and a few drinks to clear my head, it was time to head down to the gate and off on my 6 hour jaunt to New York courtesy of American flight 2 (One of the few flagship routes still in existence from the original days of flying, AA002 was the original LA originator flight at 9:00AM since 1939).  Luckily, the gate wasn't too far, and my carry-on was light (I only had a couple of books with me).  Boarding went by rather smoothly, and again, as I was in Boarding Group 1, I got on relatively early and in my seat, ready to go.

Boarding took a while, due to it being a completely full flight. But, we were right on time, and departure out of LAX was powerful and fast, hurtling us over the Pacific and then into a turn towards the East.  Looking out the window was almost pointless, due to me being over the wing, but I had a killer view out over the front of the engine.

Looking around in the plane, you could tell she'd been flying a long time, just by the very vintage vibe she oozed.  The overhead bins were of the old fashioned upward-sloping bins that don't really fit much, but somehow people can cram entire Samsonite's up there!  Speaking of the plane, she was Boeing's 168th 767-200 off the line, first flown on March 13, 1987.  I felt at home on her, as the seat was ok for Economy Class, and though some people don't enjoy it, I loved sitting by the mid-cabin galley.  It gave me a chance to talk shop with the crew stationed there for a while before being left to my own devices and started watching the 1974 classic disaster film "Airport 1975" the rest of the way to JFK.  Funny thing about those phones, the juice goes fast when you start watching a movie or listening to music, so about the time we were over Ohio, I flipped it off to conserve the battery until landing.

It finally came time to land, we had arrived in the New York area, the worlds busiest airspace.  After a few turns to get out over the New Jersey shoreline, we sailed right into JFK and landed as light as a feather. i will say this, the 767 has the absolute best designed landing gear that make landings such a smooth experience, much like its slightly younger stablemate, the 777.  It didn't take long at all to get to our gate, and we were ushered of with the typical grace of a classic airline crew with smiles and thank you's all around.

Stepping into the Jetway, i realized it was cold in New York!  So what do i do?  I made my way to the closest Admiral's Club to recharge my phone, get a little bit of liquor of hot coffee in me, and put my coat on to face the weather.  Most people don't even think of recharging themselves before heading to baggage claim, but not me, I know better.  I'd rather stop for a second to get my bearings and be better prepared for the maze of subways I'd have to navigate through to get to my ultimate destination in midtown Manhattan.  Also, why try and do that when you're bone tired and weary after a cross-country leg?  Those private clubs are a haven for road warriors such as I.

After a good half hour or so, I gathered my belongings, paid my tab, and headed down to baggage claim. American has one of the prettiest and biggest terminals at JFK, so you really have to watch the signage if it's your first time so you don't get lost in that shopping mall just before the escalators down to baggage.  I got turned around in there and almost headed back for the concourse I had just left!

When I finally got to the Baggage Claim, AA had already snatched my bag and locked it up in the office.  All i did was show them my baggage claim ticket and they fetched my bag and off I went to find the JFK AirTrain to whisk me to Jamaica Station and onwards to Manhattan.

The walk from the Baggage Claim to the AirTrain stop is completely enclosed, so no worry about getting cold or schlepping your bags in the rain.  Not the same thing at Jamaica Station, once you paid the $5.00 toll, you walked out to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) tracks overpass (which is covered, but still exposed), and to the elevators down to the Subway level.

You can tell the masses of humanity use the Subways System in New york simply by taking your first lungful of air in the underground caverns.  I purchased my obligatory MetroCard, vaulted my bags over the turnstile, swiped my card and scooted through, while a huge line was forming behind me.  My apologies for bringing my baggage with me! Lurking through the tunnels I found my way to the Manhattan bound E Train, with its final stop being the World Trade Center.  The E train took me to the 55th Street and Lexington Avenue stop, where i switched to the 6 Train, and down to my final stop at the Grand Central Station, which is under the famed Pan Am Building (now known as the MetLife Building) and across the street from my lodging, the Yale Club.  I have arrived!

My sojourn continues in Part II, out on April 2!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

FL310, Speaking on Business (Travel)

I've noticed an uptick in Business Travel as of late, and the "Millennials" (travelers 18 to 30 years of age) are leading the charge. I've taken the liberty of doing a few diggings through several very recent surveys and have come up with several conclusions...

Nearly 40 percent of Travel Leaders Group's ( business-focused travel agents indicated that their clients will be travelling more in 2014 than they did last year and just shy of another 40 percent said client bookings will be about the same as in 2013, according to results of the consortium's top business travel trends survey.  Conducted this past fall, the survey results are based on responses from 424 TLG owners, managers, and front line travel experts throughout he United States who identified tat 50 percent or more of their portfolio consists of business travel clients.  The findings are fairly consistent with the same survey result I had seen the year before in a year-over-year comparison.

The survey also revealed that delayed flights are the top concern for business travelers, and found that there is an ever-growing demand for Wi-Fi in-flight and virtually everywhere else.  Well over half (59.7 percent) of agents surveyed indicate in-flight Wi-Fi as either "very important" or "an absolute must have" for their business travel clients.  Only 1.2 percent indicate it is "not at all important" for their clients when flying.  When asked, "How vital is it for our business travel clients to have access to Wi-Fi in their hotel room?"  more than nine out of 10 agents (95.1 percent) state it is either an "absolute necessity"  or "very vital". and Egencia's Future of Travel Study, one I have been perusing for a few years now, showed the vast difference in travel habits between younger and older businesspeople.  The study encompasses a wide range of participants including 8,535 travelers in 24 countries (most of whom I book travel for at Egencia).

An observation I've made from this study is that Millennials (18 to 30 year olds) have a great fondness for mixing business with pleasure.  Better than 6 out of 10 are likely to extend a business trip into a vacation, compared to about half of 31-year olds to 45 year-olds and just over a third of older travelers.

While the general consensus across all age groups is "a hotel's location is the most important factor", Millennials take it a bit further.  More often than not, a vibrant downtown space is where young professionals seek to be.  They seek to engage the environment around them and look for more than just the office or a cramped hotel room.  They want to be where life happens.

One group whose overall business travel numbers are trending slightly downwards is the LGBT community.  According to Egencia's Annual LGBT Travel Survey, released this past November, 27 percent of gay men reported an increase in this category, compared to 29 percent the previous year, while the decrease went up from 30 to 36 percent.  Among lesbians, however, reports of an increase rose from 25 to 26 percent while decreases dropped from 33 to 32 percent.

and that's FL310's take on Business Travel.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

We don't need no stinkin' miles!

Apparently hot on the heels of my last entry regarding Elite Status, I get an email from Delta Air Lines regarding changes to their award winning SkyMiles program taking effect in 2015.  Needless to say, I flipped my lid over the changes, and from what I keep hearing from my Delta loyal clients, they did too.  Let me explain, these updates change the very fundamental core of the SkyMiles program, to the point where miles don't matter anymore, at least, no where near the importance they once had, although Delta claim the accrual for Elite members does not change.

As I said above, miles for all Delta flights will now be earned based on ticket price versus actual flown mileage as well as your current SkyMiles status.  So, if you end up paying more for your ticket, you shall be rewarded as such, with up to 75,000 per ticket.  Also, any existing miles, as well as new miles, will not expire.  What irks me is, folks who have the Delta SkyMiles American Express ea more miles per dollar through this,but at least now it only applies to SkyTeam purchases with the card.

Delta says all this came about because of feedback from their most frequent fliers. Upon reading further through the changes, I can believe this claim, what with no blackout dates, supposedly more award seats available, new one-way award possibilities, as well as something borrowed from the likes of Virgin America and jetBlue, the ability to pay with miles AND cash, and comparison shop the three options of payment, like you can with United or Alaska.

After goofing around with the new system for a while and sampling various city pairs, fares, and options, one neat feature is the new award calendar, which will bring up fares and mileage options in a matrix of dates.

As far as earning Medallion Elite status, the requirements stay the same.  So you still need 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM's) and $2,500 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD's) to hit Silver Medallion status, 50,000 EQM's and $5,000 for Gold Medallion, and so on and so forth.  For flights purchased in foreign currencies, the currency will be converted to U.S. Dollars based on IATA's 5-day currency exchange rate at time of ticketing.  Then, the same mileage earn rates per USD will occur.

What's not known is how travel on SkyTeam and partner airlines will be accrued.  More details are supposed to come out later on this year.

That is about all I have for now, more news on this as Delta releases it.  But as far as I'm concerned, the days of a cheap mileage run to hit the next level of Status is over.  I myself have already jumped ship and am now giving my loyalty in the sky to American and Virgin America.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Elite Status really worth it?

This year, in anticipation of this new combined American Airlines, I decided to give up my goal of hitting Elite Status with Delta Air Lines, and instead am trying to hit Platinum Elite status with American's Aadvantage program.  Granted, I have a long climb ahead of me, on either airline.  I only had 7,000 Elite Qualifying Miles on Delta, and 5,000 Elite Qualiying Miles on American.  Gold Status on American is 25,000 EQM's.  Silver Medallion is 25,000 EQM's plus a Qualifying Revenue Threshold of $2,500.  Whoa, hold on a sec, Revenue Threshold?!  What is that, you ask?  Let me tell you.

Lately, airlines are getting more and more creative to find ways to give passengers less service for more money.  Delta and United have implemented these Revenue Thresholds ON TOP of the Qualifying Mile Minimums.  They almost guarantee you have to fly more than the minimum qualifying miles on those deep discount airfares, or you can fly the minimums, at a higher fare (usually a mid-range fare, still below the full "Y" fare will do the trick, but check the fare rules and terms to make sure) and hit the Status level of your choice.

American still hasn't implemented this, but in any case, when I buy a Coach ticket on American, I always go for the slightly higher priced "Choice Plus" fare, which give you a 1 free checked bag allowance, bonus miles, Group 1 Boarding (which helps in hubs like Los Angeles, New York/JFK or American's fortress at Dallas/Ft. Worth), no change fee for any changes made to your reservation, Same-day flight change as well as same-day flight standby, and another little perk I like, the free premium beverages.  Usually this only costs anywhere between $70-$150 more than the lowest fare, but it is still a great pick, especially on those longer flights or the business-heavy transcontinental flights.

Now back to the thresholds.  As I stated above, Delta's beginning Elite level is Silver Medallion, at 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles plus the $2,500 Qualifying Revenue Threshold.  It's not that unattainable, but is it worth it?  Depends on who you ask.  Those folks looking to rack up miles at the lowest possible fare, Elite status would never be worth anything to them as they are not loyal to any particular airline.  To the folks who fly a bit more, mixing both pleasure and business trips, they might be more inclined, as they hit the first status and get a taste of the upgrades, priority baggage, higher service levels, etc, it might be worth it, if they are loyal to that carrier or alliance.  The high-end traveler, the folks who fly on business week in and week out, they hit elite status often, and usually, with multiple carriers or alliances.  I regularly deal with clients who have Platinum or higher status on multiple airlines.  Their loyalty lies with whichever airline gets them where they need to go as conveniently as possible, and those 2 or 3 airlines are very happy to have them and take care of their every need from check-in to picking up their luggage.  For them, Elite Status is not only worth it, it's a way of life (I tend to fall in this category, BUT not with multiple carriers at once).

 Also, you have to realize the airlines are replacing older, less efficient airplanes with, in most cases, smaller and more efficient aircraft, thus, evaporating a lot of capacity on a lot of routes.  American, for instance has been using their Boeing 767-200 as the mainstay workhorse for their Transcontinental flights out of New York/JFK and Boston since the mid-1980's.  These big planes held north of 220 seats and were widebody aircraft.  They are being replaced by narrowbody (one-aisle) Airbus A321 aircraft in a special 3 1/2 class layout of 102 seats.  That doesnt leave a whole lot of room for upgrades to Business or First Classes.  but then again, American has been in the Transcon game since 1938, and has decades of experience and records showing what types of loads are on what flights and thus has decided the A321 is best suited for these negotiated corporate contract-heavy flights.  That is, after all, where their bread and butter is.

So, is Elite Status really worth the trouble of racking up all the points and revenue thresholds?  It depends on who you ask...for me, it is worth it.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

The need for a few more new entrant Airlines

If you had asked me a decade ago if the US needed or could support more new startup carriers, you would have heard a resounding "Yes!".  Now, after about 15 years of watching the upheaval and shake out of my most beloved industry, I'm more cautious and trepidatious about new carriers and their chances of survival.  There are very few reasons for new entrants to join the rat race in flying passengers from point A to point B.

That being said, there's a few markets out there that still could use a few new entrants.  I'm not talking about the new fad in new airlines, the ULCC (Ultra Low Cost Carrier) concept, where everything down to your carry-on is an extra charge before you get on board.  That concept, to a LOT of travelers, sucks.  It's good for those once-a-year leisure travelers just looking for a cheap(ish) way to get to Disney World, but hardly efficient for the everyday business travel road-warrior.  Airlines like jetBlue Airways and Virgin America are great concepts, and I would LOVE to see this concept expanded in the US, especially in the Midwest and Southern states.

Cities that used to be hubs in the 1980's and 1990's could be great places to start.  Especially places like St. Louis, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, New Orleans, Milwaukee, hell, even San Antonio, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City could all benefit from a new hometown airline in this niche of higher service levels and moderately priced routes with brand-new equipment.

Speaking of St. Louis, there have been rumors of a new carrier out of there with either Boeing or Airbus narrowbodies serving the major business centers in the US, ala the old Air1 concept of the 1980's.  What killed that carrier off was intense competition from TWA, now gone, leaving St. Louis' Lambert Field almost a ghost town of what it once was. I could most definitely see the need for a fleet of 10-15 A320's or 737's hitting places like New York LaGuardia or JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Denver, Seattle, Boston, and Washington D.C., along with a smattering of regional routes and a few leisure routes to keep the planes flying on weekends.  Do it right, with enough funding and a helluva PR team and you'll have the Midwest's version of Virgin America.

Las Vegas could also do with an all leisure airline along the likes of jetBlue.  Yes, Allegiant Air is based out of there, and they are definitely a build-your-own package type of airline, BUT, there's also a LOT of conventions and other events going on in Las Vegas that draw the business crowd.  Several airlines have tried to startup in Vegas and have failed or have never even gotten off the ground due to various reasons such as, lack of funding, the wrong equipment used (National Airlines and their hodgepodge fleet of Boeing 757's come to mind), to just being the wrong time to start have all contributed to these failures.

That being said, I also love the consolidation that's happening with existing carriers.  Y'all know I'm a huge fan of the US Airways/American Airlines merger.  Same with the now completed Delta/Northwest merger.  Southwest/AirTran destroyed a very good airline for the sake of a worse airline, as did the almost botched Continental/United mashup.  Will we see any more mergers with these megacarriers?  Probably not.  Will we see more regional niche carriers (i.e. Hawaiian, Alaska) tie up in code-shares with the megacarriers?  More than likely.  With the soap opera that's going on in Seattle between Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, I can most definitely see Alaska team up with their other code-share partner, American, and possibly even join the OneWorld Alliance.

Time will tell, and we will see.