The AA/US Merger Is Finalized!

So if you’ve been a frequent flyer of either American or US Airways, you probably just got notice that the merger between the two giants, making the largest airline in the world.  But it’s only done on paper; there are going to be years before anything really substantial happens.

The letter emailed out today says that the biggest change will be that US Airways will join oneworld Alliance on March 31st, 2014.  I knew that was going to be the case, but it’s still good to see it in writing.  Otherwise you’d have two of the three largest US airlines in the Star Alliance network – which wouldn’t be good.  And finally we’re going to see a beefed up answer to Skyteam and Star Alliance with the newly formed AA/US merger and oneworld Alliance.  Other than that, there shouldn’t be too many visible differences for a couple of years.  It took a couple of years for TWA to be fully absorbed by American, so I foresee the same thing happening with US Airways and American.

And now the real speculation begins.

So there’s always been scuttlebutt about the fate of Phoenix.  I think that, like Northwest’s Memphis hub, it will slowly become a focus city, with more flights funneled through DFW.  Whenever I’ve talked to people who work for America West (because AW/US still haven’t integrated crews, etc, even after all these years), they’ve acknowledged that the Phoenix hub doesn’t make a lot of money.  So honestly, I think there will be lesser emphasis on Phoenix, and more on DFW.  That means good things for carriers like Alaska and Southwest, both of which have expanded in the Phoenix market.

Speaking of Alaska Airlines, I’m wondering how this is going to affect them,  especially with the way they are maintaining their ‘frenemy’ relationship with Delta.  Delta is taking aim at Alaska, expanding in their primary Portland and Seattle markets, with Alaska taking aim at Salt Lake City.  Right now in markets where Alaska has a smaller presence, they contract with Delta to do a lot of their groundwork (checkin, luggage handling, boarding, etc.).  But say this merger with American and US Airways goes well, and Alaska – hedging their bets – keeps strategic partners with both Delta and the new American?  Maybe Alaska will move gates in Dallas /Ft. Worth and Atlanta and have American do the work that Delta is doing now?  And with the big expansion in SLC, I can foresee Alaska hiring their own employees in Utah instead of outsourcing to Delta; they’re going from 4 flights a day (2 incoming, 2 outgoing) all the way up to 18 flights a day (9 incoming, 9 outgoing) starting in June 2014.  With that much time to prepare, and with flights coming & going from 7am to 10:45pm, I bet those will be AS employees, and not DL.

Finally, are we done with merger mania?  Or is there any more consolidation to come?  The only thing I could possibly see myself is Alaska taking over Hawaiian – and making a commanding lead in Hawaiian flights (retiring the Hawaiian brand state-side and operating only Alaska 737s between the mainland & Hawaii), while letting a Hawaiian Air subsidiary concentrate on flights between Asia and Hawaii.  And we’ve still yet to find out the fate of beleaguered Frontier Airlines; have they been sold yet?  And what about once-darling jetBlue?  They’d better compliment a carrier like Alaska, but if jetBlue and Frontier somehow combined, that might let Frontier bow out of the super-dominated Denver market and focus more on less hub & spoke, giving jetBlue a better route network.  Or maybe even jetBlue marrying Virgin; might make getting Virgin out of the red a little easier.

So here’s to US Airways and American, and hoping the merger gets off on the right foot.  And I’m raising my glass to all the other speculators out there as well, who probably have their own ideas about what to expect next in the wild & crazy world of commercial passenger aviation.

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Let the merger-mania speculation begin!

So American Airlines came out and said that, instead of looking at options after they emerge from bankruptcy, they may start to look at merger options now.  Oh, the games that are just about to start…

Everyone knows that US Airways is out to gobble up American, but what about the crap that America West went through after they bought US Airways?  Just because they shed that America West skin doesn’t mean that they shed the attitude and other issues.  It actually got worse when you think about all the union problems and fights.  But can a merger with American do any worse?  Probably not.

And I can’t see American being allowed to merge with Delta, nor United; I think Delta is just spouting off, to be honest.  So that really leaves the only other large carrier, US Airways.  Otherwise, companies like Republic, Alaska, or Jetblue are just too damned small to justify a merger.

Unless …  I know that movement into Asia is the key to making money for a lot of airlines.  The only thing I could see useful for going with a smaller carrier – or rather two – would be if American bought out Alaska and Hawaiian both.  That would give them a toehold into Asia from both Hawaii as well as the Pacific Northwest bases of Portland and Seattle of Alaska.  But I’ll say it again – don’t touch my Alaska Airlines!!!!

Thoughts?

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HRC Rankings of Airlines, Hotels, etc. and a Word about United

For those of you that aren’t familiar, HRC stands for The Human Rights Campaign, which is the leading LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) rights organization.  Okay, so you’re not part of the LGBT community.  That’s fine.  There’s 10% of the population that is, and there are people who will often choose organizations based on their corporate actions (how they treat women and minorities, including LGBT workers).

I’m happy to say that my 3 primary airlines (Alaska Air, American Airlines, and Delta) and my primary hotel chain (Marriott) all have a 100% rating from the HRC.  If you look down the list, there are others; Southwest has a 95 rating, United has an 88 rating, Hertz Rent a Car has a 70 rating, with Skywest one of the lowest at 15, and Frontier and Midwest both with big honking 0 ratings.  (Personally, I didn’t know that about Frontier; I was going to fly them in January to see how they’ve changed since the last time I’ve flown them in 2010; now I know I won’t even bother!).

Now talking about United specifically.

So they have an 88% rating with the Human Rights Campaign, which means they can do better.  And what’s the first thing they should do?  They should address the ugly issue that came up this past weekend where a gay couple was denigrated when trying to use a United Club in Denver, including being called “faggots” and “idiots”, among other stuff.

So come on, United.  Denounce this manager’s action and use it as a teaching opportunity for your entire organization.

Personally, I don’t see this happening.  I’ve flown United a dozen times over the last ten years, and every time (without fail), the customer service is downright horrid.  I mean talking down to passengers, at a minimum.  Last time I flew them, I was standing near the gate desk in SFO, and the 3 flight crew were ten feet from me – and were talking smack about passengers.  It’s like a trained thing for United flight crews; day 1 is emergency training, days 2 through 5 is “creative customer insulting”.

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Hey American Air – How about you buy your namesake?

I had an interaction with user47 on Twitter a couple of weeks ago over this tweet:

As you can tell, I wholeheartedly agreed with @user47 – a company like American Airlines (the name alone just screams American unity) looking to buy foreign planes is really disingenuous.  We have a fine aircraft maker here, and the Boeing 737 is the best selling airplane ever.  But it looks like American wants to go with Airbus.  And that sucks.

I partially choose airlines based on their aircraft.  Alaska Airlines, “Proudly All Boeing” isn’t just a slogan.  They were the launch customer for the 737-900, and are all Boeing 737 in their mainline service.  While I liked Frontier, who started out with a fleet of 737s, they’re an all Airbus airline now.  And honestly, I tend to avoid them.  Same thing with United, though now that they’re merged with Continental, and are considering replacing original UAL Airbus flights with Boeing, I may go back to them.  They just have to get their customer service straight.

So American?  Do the right thing.  Don’t order Airbus; order Boeing.  But who am I?  Just an aviation geek that plans their flights around aircraft and service…

UPDATE 07192011 @ 15:31: Apparently Boeing is doing a big-old reacharound to American to try and get the business, and not let Airbus walk away with the whole order.  Woohoo!

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Travel-Related Customer Service in the Digital Age

Remember when customer service meant having to call an 800 number?  Yeah, not in the digital age anymore.  Things have changed, but not always for the best.  Here’s a rundown of some of the best – and worst – interactions I’ve had with customer service in the digital age.  All of these are travel related companies.  Every single one of these interactions was done via Twitter.

Best: HorizonAir (web: http://www.horizonair.com, Twitter: @horizonair )
Interaction:  It’s hard to pull just one interaction that I’ve with Horizon.  They’re probably the most responsive of any of the companies that I’ve ever dealt with on Twitter.  Even just a quick tweet once, saying, “Arrived SEA early. Changed to earlier @horizonair flight – then it was cancelled. Hope to get home soon.”  They responded within an hour, saying, “Sorry about the cancellation – hope you got home safely!”.  Whenever I’ve had a question, or even a concern over the recent changes going on at Horizon, Horizon has been quick to respond.  I hope that doesn’t change under the new Alaska umbrella.

Honorable Mention for Best: Marriott International (web: http://www.marriott.com, Twitter: @marriottintl )
Interaction: I’ve not had much interaction with Marriott.  To be honest, hotels are so much more stable and reliable than airlines.  I mean, when was the last time you got to a hotel and they’d cancelled everyone’s rooms?  Flights, yes.  Rooms, no.  My first interaction was a tweet saying something like, “I guess even being @marriottintl Platinum Premier doesn’t guarantee you the type of room you reserved.”  Within a few minutes, Marriott contacted me asking me for details of the situation.  I told them I was really more blowing off steam than anything else, but they insisted on making sure everything was done the right way, and the hotel hadn’t done it properly.  They asked for the hotel, and talked to them the next day to ensure that proper procedures were followed for room guarantees.  Nobody got into trouble, which was my main point.  And they’ve guaranteed my room type every week ever since.

Good, but can do better: Alaska Airlines (http://www.alaskaair.com, Twitter: @alaskaair )
Interaction: Usually questions sent to Alaska Airlines will be responded to.  However, I’ve noticed lately that queries I bring up are ignored.  It’s clear that their Twitter team and their Facebook team are the same people.  On a couple of occasions, I’ve said things on Twitter, and commented on Facebook on a separate issue, and the Facebook response from Alaska contains reference to my tweet.  I’m not sure what the disconnect is lately, though.  For instance, I’ve asked about the Alaska Airlines Board Room a couple of times lately (two times in the last 60 days), but the questions go unanswered.  Totally weird.

The awful: Business Traveller Magazine (http://www.businesstraveller.com, Twitter: @btuk )
Interaction:  I used to subscribe to Business Traveller Magazine’s print edition a few years back.  Once I started heavy travel again (read: cross country flights twice per week – or worse!), I decided to subscribe again.  This time, I saw they offer an online version of their magazine.  This being the electronic age, I subscribed to the electronic version.  That’s when it got bad.  First, they’re supposed to contact you – just a simple email – when a new issue is posted.  I think I’ve gotten two, maybe three of these.  The rest?  Who knows.  I cite this as bad because, as we all know, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  If you don’t know it’s out there, are you going to go and look for it?  No, not really.  Second, I downloaded the IMR file that Business Traveller puts out and tried to open it.  Hmmm, what’s an IMR file?  I look through their website, assuming that I will be able to find how to open the file.  Nothing.  Not even on the issue download page.  So then I start contacting them through their website.  No response.  So I see that their Twitter account is active, and contact them through there.  Again, no response.  Tweet again, no response.  Wait a few of weeks, download the new version of the magazine that’s just been released (but alas, I still can’t open), and tweet them again.  STILL nothing.  I finally find the company that creates IMR files for companies out of your own magazines/PDFs.  They won’t respond.

If you’re looking for the black-hole of customer service, Business Traveller Magazine is your winner.  I think it’s unethical for a company to take your money and provide you with an unusable product.  Oh sure, I could read the issue online.  But WTF are downtimes waiting for your flight in the airport, or transcontinental flights good for, if not to catch up on your reading?

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There HAS to be a story here!

I HAVE to find the story about this. An Alaska Airlines B737-800 at PDX with one of the emergency exit doors popped. Has to be on purpose, though, because there’s no slide deployed.

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