Where My 2 Worlds Intersect

I’m not only proudly American, and proudly Union, I’m also an airline guy.  So this bit of information from Jim Hightower intersects both of my worlds.

Hightower put together an article on his website called “Fixing American Airlines”.  And I tend to agree with the man, on many, many things.  He’s spot on here, as usual.

Anyone who’s paid attention to airline news has heard about American Airlines 757s losing rows of seats – they’ve literally come loose during flights.  Scary as hell, right?  I was just on an American 757 a few weeks ago, though we didn’t notice anything different…  Anyway, American is going through their bankruptcy, and their CEO has said that not all maintenance needs to be done here – by US workers.  It can be outsourced – you know, cheaper for the airlines.

So then the seats started coming loose.  And…  Well, let’s just see how Jim put it:

In September, when the seats started coming loose, the brass callously drove company morale further down by implying that American’s maintenance crews, who are members of the Transport Workers Union, were the culprits. But TWU fired right back, pointing out that maintenance of two lines of 757s, including seats, had been outsourced to a non-union, low-wage corporation where employees don’t get expert union training or regular on-site reviews by federal safety inspectors.

HA!  Those in power want so much to slash costs – and send jobs overseas – that they will use anything to say American workers aren’t up to snuff.  But in this case, those greedy executives at American Airlines were hoisted by their own petard.

Sounds like the greedy short-sighted outsourcers at American Airlines need to be outsourced, and those that truly care about the company need to take over.  “Why?” you may ask.  Because this is something people remember – for a long time.  Don’t believe me?  The Ford Edsel came out 52 years ago, but Ford still can’t shake the link between “Fords” and the “Edsel” being a lemon – and comparisons of “X is the new Ford Edsel” still continue to this day.

American had better come clean, or they won’t make it 50 years to even be made fun of!

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American’s making a bold, and smart move

I’m really happy to hear about some of the new things going on at American Airlines.  Yes, they’re mired in bankruptcy, and the speculation about a tie-up between American and US Airways is out there (with the city of Philadelphia throwing their weight behind such a deal).  But this new news is about American’s new planes.

American is going after the business traveler market.  Hard.  And this can only be good for them, because I think they’re going to win it.

The elusive business traveler is a client that is most loved by the airlines, but after 2001, the need for these travelers has tapered.  Sure, it’s been coming back, but there’s no single airline that’s really going after that market hard.  Until American’s announcement yesterday.

American is introducing their Airbus A321 Transcontinental fleet with 3 classes of service (click here for a video introduction).  Yep, this is a good thing to start.  But not only the three classes of service is on the plate.  They’ve also committed to WiFi on every plane, as well as a powerport.  That means business travelers – in coach, business, or first – will all have the same ability to continue their work at 36,000 feet.  And for business travelers like me, that’s a huge plus.  Many airlines have WiFi, but not throughout their fleet – and those that do rarely have powerports.  I remember a Continental flight 2 years ago where I had power, but absolutely no WiFi, which I think is a crime…

But American is doing it right.  New, fuel efficient planes with 3 classes of service (including lie-flat seats), powerports with USB at every seat in the plane, and WiFi.  Given the choice, I would definitely take an American flight (even paying $50 one-way more than a competitor’s flight without WiFi and/or power) for these amenities.

So good on you, American Airlines.  And business travelers?  Welcome to your ‘Office In The Clouds’.

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Scoop, or Bad Writing?

Okay, so we all know that American Airlines is looking to merge with another carrier – possibly – if the deal is right, and American comes out on top.  Immediately the pundits, including me, started talking about the possibilities.

But I’m startled by something.  There’s one source that I’ve found (after an admittedly short search) that says American is looking to specifically merge with Frontier, buying them off of Republic.  But does the article really say that?  Or is it just bad writing or conjecture on the part of the author?  You decide – and then you can tell me ’cause I have no freaking idea.

Most of the regular articles read like this one, and though they single out Frontier in the title, it’s clear that every one of the six carriers (though I highly doubt Virgin America – way too young, and not enough of a route-map to make a huge difference) is in consideration.  But read this one.  Notice the focus specifically on Frontier?  It’s odd to say the least.  At least further on, they do seem to muddy the waters and mention other carriers, but still.  It’s an odd duck.

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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!!!!


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Airbus factory in Alabama?

Okay, so I know I’ve ranted in the past about navigate to this web-site.com/2011/07/19/hey-american-air-how-about-you-buy-your-namesake/”>“patriotically named” airlines that don’t fly American planes.  It’s a particular pet peeve of mine.  I mean “US Airways (brought to you by a European consortium)” and “American Airlines (soon to be brought to you in part by a European consortium)” – that bugs me.  We make planes here in the United States; airlines, how about you buy them?  Alaska and Southwest has been doing rather well standardized on the Boeing 737.  Continental was all Boeing, until United grabbed them up.  But hopefully with Continental’s CEO at the helm of United, that “Buy American” attitude will continue.

But all that may change soon…  Airbus has factories in France and China, but they’re about to build a plant in Alabama, in Mobile – the town I was born in.  This is cool – but still, it’s still not an American plane.  So it bugs me, but not as much as it did before.

Don’t listen to me…  I’m bitter since my two favorite planes – the Boeing 757 and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 – were put to pasture.  There’s just something about being a passenger on one of the classic birds; just on your taxi out, you can feel how much the plane wants to escape the bonds of Earth, and glide along the wind.

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Now THIS is monumentally stupid

One of my regular blogs is USA Today’s “Today In The Sky” column by Ben Mutzabaugh; I check it a few times a day.  Today’s lead-off story is how a flier complained about having to sit next to a corpse for an overnight flight, and got a partial refund from the airline.

My complaint?  If, as stated in the article, that the corpse in question was indeed alive and having convulsions, then why in the hell did the airline taxi and take off?  This seems just monumentally stupid.  I mean, come on!  That is a medical emergency – the very definition  of medical emergency.  The plane should have never left the gate, much less the ground.  If the man had been taken off, he may well still be alive today.

When we were coming back from our last vacation, there was a medical emergency onboard.  A mother forgot her kid’s steroid inhaler, and basically from about 30 minutes into the flight from DFW to PDX, we had no idea if we were going to make it or not.  Luckily there was a pediatrician on, and the kid mostly responded to the medications he was given, but there were half a dozen times when the captain would come over the PA and ask for an update, saying we could be diverting (Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise are just a few that I remember) at any moment if the kid got any worse.

So okay, the flight above with the corpse was Kenyan Airways, and our flight was American Airlines.  But I’m sorry – a medical emergency is a medical emergency.  And the outrage is about sitting next to a corpse?  How about turning the man into a corpse in the first place!

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Paying Our Respects

I originally posted something similar to this over at CatastropheCast.com, but thought it should go here as well…

I’m not only a regular business traveler, but I’m an airline geek as well.  I have been my whole life; when other 7 or 8 year olds wanted to be astronauts and firemen, I wanted to be an NTSB aircraft crash investigator.  Seriously.

But I digress.

There’s something to be said about paying proper respect to those that deserve it.  It’s something nice, but doesn’t get done that often.  For example, did you know that one of the most horrific, largest loss of life airplane crashes on United States soil was American Airlines Flight 191, a DC10 that crashed in Chicago back in 1979?  There were 273 souls lost in that crash.  But as for a monument or memorial for these people?  It didn’t happen.  Not until a group of schoolkids got together and did a 2 year project, raising funds for it.  The memorial didn’t officially exist until 2011.

Another noteworthy crash, the crash of Continental Airlines flight 11, en route from Chicago to Kansas City to Los Angeles, happened in 1962.  The crash is noteworthy because it was the first time a jet (not turboprop) plane was brought down as an act of terrorism; a man bought a life insurance policy and then blew up the plane with 6 sticks of dynamite, the result of which started the era of passenger screening that we all yammer on about to this day.  But that crash didn’t have any type of memorial, either.  Not until fifty years later, when 100 people – including the surviving family members of victims and other townsfolk – gathered in Unionville, Missouri, and dedicated the memorial on May, 2012 on the 50th anniversary of the crash.

We owe these people something.  Something more than they’ve gotten.  For every significant crash (and where possible), these people shouldn’t be forgotten to history.  They should be honored, because their lives were not lost in vain; their lives, and the subsequent loss, has reshaped all of our histories.

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American Airlines: Worry About Your Own Ass First!

We’ve all been there, done that.  Gotten on a plane where we have a connection.  Plane gets delayed a little.  Flight Attendant asks if you have a connection, then tells you to talk to the Captain on your way off the plane.  Captain verbally accosts you about your clothing and has called your connecting flight, saying you’re not allowed to board unless you’ve changed your clothing.

Wait.  What?

This is beyond bullshit…  Okay, I get the fact that people may not like the word “FUCK”.  And it’s probably not a totally great idea to wear a shirt with the word on it.  Specifically, a pro-choice shirt that reads, “If I’d Wanted The Government In My Womb, I’d Fuck A Senator”.  But you know what?  That’s your choice.  If you want to do it, you can.

So where does American Airlines get off telling a passenger that she can’t get off the plane before talking to the Captain?  The same Captain who took the time to call to the passenger’s connecting gate and told them she wasn’t allowed to board her connecting flight until she changed?

I have my own love/hate relationship with American Airlines.  I once flew DFW to LAX on an MD80, my seat on the “2” of the “2/3” side of the plane, in the exit row.  Only thing is, I was forced to stand up in the back of the plane the entire time, not allowed to use my seat.  Why?  Because the man who sat next to me was so large that he took up all of his seat and about 80% of mine.  The only way I got through takeoff and touchdown was by raising the armrest and forcing myself to sit in the aisle, while still strapped into my seat (with the seatbelt at maximum length).

I complained to American.  Their response?

Nothing.  Not a word.

I complained a second time.  Again, nothing.  Their customer service finally sent me a blank email – just my email address and their return address.  I told them they did this, and asked for a proper response.

Almost five years later, and I’m still waiting.

Is it any coincidence that I was an AAdvantage Executive Platinum at the time, and since that day, have lost all my status and have not set foot on an American plane as an AAdvantage member since then?  Nope…

So American.  How about you worry about your own self first?  You know – get yourself through bankruptcy and turn your company around.  And stop harrassing your paying passengers!  Yes, sometimes there’s a fine line – but your employees not only crossed it, they flew past it so far you can’t even see it in the distance.

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Who’s Buying Who And Merging And What Now?

So what in the hell is exactly going on these days?

First, AMR, the parent company of American Airlines (but then again if you’re an airline junkie like I am, you already knew that!), filed for bankruptcy.  And almost immediately, there were rumors swirling around about Delta possibly putting together a bid for AMR.  And then there were rumors about another group (TPG Capital), a private equity firm, also looking into buying AMR with the help of British Airways.  Finally, there was a rumor of US Airways buying American Airlines.

Now there’s a rumor that Delta is thinking about buying US Airways.

What the hell?

Honestly, now that Delta is tied up with Northwest, SkyTeam Alliance (474M pax/year) is very well positioned in the United States.  American, now the third largest airline in the United States (and probably going to shrink considerably based on their bankruptcy) is oneworld (303M pax/year), which is having all sorts of problems.  I mean JAL, long-time OneWorld partner almost bailing?  Wow…  And on the other hand is United/Continental and US Airways as part of the Star Alliance (604M pax/year).  And with United/Continental being as gargantuan as they are, is it really doing US Airways any good being part of Star Alliance?

What should probably happen (in my personal airline-geekdom opinion) is that any bid by Delta be tossed out.  Delta is already huge; should the be allowed to get even bigger?  But US Airways?  If they want to stay viable with the big boys, I think they need to do two things.  First, they need to bail on Star Alliance and join up with oneworld.  This would make the playing field a little more equal with Star Alliance (minus US Airways) at 543M pax/year, SkyTeam Alliance still at 474M pax/year, and oneworld upped to 365M pax/year alliance-wise.  That would be a first good step.  And then, just like Continental bailing on SkyTeam and then United buying them (keeping the United name but the Continental brand, thereby shedding a bad image since Continental was more well liked than United), US Airways needs to buy American Airlines, and shed their US Airways image (though take over the company, again a la Continental CEO Smisek taking over United post merger).

Just my personal opinions about what needs to happen with the big guys.  We’ll see how it plays out.  And in the meantime, maybe I should put together some ideas for the smaller carriers.

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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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