Probably the ugliest volley in the Delta/Alaska “frenemies” game

So everyone’s probably already heard about how Delta and Alaska – once great friends, have slowly been turning into enemies.  And while they still are cordial to each other, the heat is getting turned up – but quick.  Delta has decided to expand their West Coast presence with flights going from Alaska hubs Seattle and Portland down to the Bay Area and Los Angeles.  Alaska volleyed back with majorly expanding their presence in Salt Lake City.

But the biggest volley by far (in my personal opinion) is the fact that Delta is going to start a shuttle between Portland and Seattle (end of the article) – a la Horizon Air, Alaska’s sister airline.  The Portland/Seattle shuttle is a breadwinner for Alaska because those that can’t “get there” from Portland (or the surrounding communities), almost always can get there from Seattle.  In my 1.25 million miles, the most popular route that I fly has been between Portland and Seattle.

And while I think at first, if it actually does come to pass (I’m wondering if Delta’s version of the “Seattle Shuttle” will ever really get off the ground), I don’t think it will be all that long lived.  Or if it does, I can’t see Alaska’s partnership with Delta lasting all that much longer.

A quick side note: With Delta coming back for flights between Portland and Seattle, the first thing I thought of was D. B. Cooper.  He’s the man that hijacked a Northwest Airlines (now Delta) Boeing 727 out of Portland, headed for Seattle, then disappeared from the plane and was never heard from again…  Hey – maybe Delta can dub their flights the D. B. Cooper Express!

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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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So Alaska Air Wants To Stay Independent

At least according to something the CEO just said.  He wants Alaska Air Group to be independent while others consolidate themselves out of existence.

I think it’ll happen, but there’s a catch.  And that catch is, there isn’t an airline CEO with the gumption to try and out-size United Continental.  Let me explain.

Back when Delta and Northwest went to merge, that was huge.  Until then, American was the largest US airline, followed by United, then Delta and the rest.  Overnight, Delta became the largest, with American shrinking to number two.  Then came United and Continental; honestly it was just a matter of when, not if, once Continental jumped SkyTeam and went with Star Alliance.  See, United wants that old “feeling” back, but it couldn’t get there with a merger with US Airways.  Honestly, the government did United a favor, saving them from an arranged marriage with the ugly stepchild of the big-boys.  Say what you want, but US Airways is lowest in the consumer ratings.

So who’s left that’s independent of the big boys?  US Airways and American.  US Airways is global, but like I said – ugly stepchild.  American did the honest and respectable thing by staying OUT of bankruptcy and keeping promises to their people and the world by being obligated to the debts they have.  And how are they rewarded?  By having a stock price that is in the toilet, and being so unattractive to the market because they decided the honorable thing of not filing bankruptcy.  (Remember United did it like THREE TIMES in a very short period of time!).  The only investment/takeover that they can even get is from some guy who’s now under investigation by the SEC.

So here’s the thing.  American needs to make themselves over, and US Airways needs to get out of the gutter.  I don’t think that they’d ever merge; it’s just too different.  But I do think, if one of the CEOs gets enough gumption to want to compete with the big guys, they’re going to go for not one, but TWO takeover targets: Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Air.  Here’s why:

Alaska is big in the West; probably the biggest carrier up and down the West Coast.  They have 10% of their market in Hawaii; they went in to an already saturated market, established themselves, and are making a profit.  Who wouldn’t want to have those routes and that much liesure traffic that always seems to be there?

Hawaiian Airlines.  Sure, they’re up and down the West Coast to Hawaii, and they’re the dominant player there.  But they’re also making a major push into Asia.  And every airline CEO will tell you, if you want to grow, Asia is the market to tap into.  Hawaiian is doing just that.  But can they do it with a moniker of “Hawaiian”?  Not as successfully as if the name were “American”.  See where I’m going?

I would never see Hawaiian and Alaska hooking up.  But I could see them being taken over (Alaska probably through a hostile takeover, Hawaiian through some big wheel & deal).

So who knows…  The CEO of American has got to be itching to do something to compete with the big boys, and US Airways could do with a thorough identity makeover.  It could happen!

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Just fitting for AirSnark – Survey of the 11 worst airlines

Oh, what a snarky way to start the morning.  Huffington Post has put together a survey of “America’s 11 Worst Airlines” based on the 2010 Airline Quality Ratings.  The authors of the study do state that airline service has gotten better over the last year.  Here’s my take on the listings:

#11, US Airways: I avoid them like the plague, mostly because I don’t fly Star Alliance.  Last time I flew them, I did manage to wrangle a first class upgrade – but no drinks.  Seems a US Airways flight went “dry” because someone got a PAX drunk and they got a DUI.  Who the hell can fly US Airways and NOT drink?

#10, American Airlines:  Wow. They’re only #10 on the list? I have so many horror stories from AA.  Like being trapped next to a 600 pound passenger on an MD80 in the exit row. If that plane had gone down, we wouldn’t have been able to push his fat ass out the window exit – he literally would not have fit! I had to spend my time standing in the back of the plane, because he took up too much of my seat.  American’s response? NOTHING. Literally – they refused to respond.  Their customer service has to be the absolute WORST of any airline.

#9, ExpressJet: Nothing really to say about them. A regional carrier, so they have that against them. They tried to grow to do regional and stand-alone, but it was the wrong time.

#8: Alaska Airlines: Now I TOTALLY disagree with this one.  Of all airlines I have EVER flown, Alaska has to be my favorite.  Their dedication to passengers is second to none.  Something is up with this study – oh well!

#7: Mesa: Wow. Cutthroat yes (they were the ones that basically put Aloha out of business). But with sleepy, overworked pilots.  Besides – who wants to travel Hawaii (their subsidiary “go!” is all-Hawaiian) in tiny regional jets?

#6: United Airlines: I started avoiding them a while ago because of customer service.  Due to equipment malfunction once, Alaska Airlines put me on a UAL flight back home.  Standing near the gate, I was probably five feet from a gate agent, talking to flight crew.  No small talk between these people – it was “These customers make me crazy”, “I hate these people”, blah blah blah. They literally bad-mouthed the people they were flying for about 20 minutes, then put on fake smiles and boarded us.  And this wasn’t in a small, rinkydink airport – this was SFO.  Yeah, UAL deserves to be on this list – but WAY higher up in the listings.

#5, Sky West: “I don’t care how we do it on other airlines. This is how we do it on MINE.”  Yeah, that cheery, chipper attitude was just the tip of the iceberg when I flew them last, as a Delta Connection customer.  The flight attendants actually went through each and every seatback pocket and if they found ANYTHING of yours in it, they made you move it.  Didn’t matter – magazine, iPod, iron lung.  “This doesn’t go here. Move it to your own luggage or put it away elsewhere!” was the nasty decree.  Yeah, never again.

#4, Delta Airlines: I have mixed feelings about Delta.  The old Northwest is now gone, forever integrated into Delta.  And when that was gone, so was a lot of the reason to fly them.  I remember one flight leaving PDX.  As we were taxiing and the video was going, some woman got up, got her bag down, and started unpacking and repacking it.  The flight attendants just walked past her, not saying a thing.  At least the woman sat down before we took off.  On another flight, HALF of the airplane electrical just went out (lights, individual reading lights, television displays).  The flight attendants said it was “normal”.  WTF? Plus, with Delta’s call center outsourced to India (which it was the two times I called about four years ago), screw that!  The last Delta flight I took, their systems were so screwed up that they gave us free WiFi. Not because they were nice, but because they somehow couldn’t charge for it due to a glitch.

#3, Comair: Flew them just recently.  Eeh.  Cabin crews could use an attitude adjustment.  I need to fly them more to make more of an opinion.

#2, Atlantic SouthEast Airlines: Never flown them, so no opinion.

#1, American Eagle:  Let’s just sum this up with one experience I had a few weeks ago.  Gate agent: “You’re going to have to move row 4 to the back for weight and balance”.  Flight attendant, “Uh, yeah”.  Gate agent: “Do you need me to help?”.  Flight attendant: “Don’t worry about it”.  Gate agent left.  Flight attendant read her magazine some more.  When given word, she shut the cabin door.  Being in row 3, I heard the whole thing, and saw row 4 was ready to move.  Flight attendant did not even react; she played the audio of the safety briefing, did her walk through, and sat down. Row 4 stayed where they were and were never moved.  Thank goodness we had no issues on the flight.  But being THAT nonchalant about people’s safety? Yeah, that’s a load of crap!

So head on over to Huffington Post, and rank these airlines yourself!

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Are all mainstream airlines run by morons?

That’s what I think, especially when it comes to the “flying standby” thing.  Let me lay the groundwork here.

First, there was 9/11, and nobody wanted to fly.  Airlines parked planes in the desert.  Then more economic downturns, and again, more planes parked in the desert.  Things were steady for a little while, and then the idiots who play with derivatives trading ruined the economy, and wow, more planes got parked, airlines stopped buying planes, yadda yadda yadda.

So, we have a few less people flying, with a DRASTIC reduction in the number of airplane seats available.  Thus, more people per plane.  Fares went up, but that wasn’t good enough, so airline executives came up with “charging for checked luggage”, did away with free food, and even did away with free drinks (thank you, US Airways! They wanted to charge $2 for a cup of soda or coffee until people rebelled).  So one of the last things they did was get rid of the free standby flights.  You know, like if you have a four hour layover, and there is an earlier flight going out to your destination, you used to be able to get on it as long as there were seats.  Not anymore.

I was flying on an Alaska Airlines ticket with my MVP Gold status (gotta love Alaska/Horizon!), but had a connection on American. Now I’m Platinum on American, but traveling on my Alaska frequent flier number.  I get to Chicago early (ODD, I know!) and see that there’s a flight leaving in 30 minutes for my final destination.  I roll up to the counter and ask to get on it, hoping it’s not full.  The gate agent looks at me and says, “I’m sorry but we have a new policy; you’re not allowed to board.”  I asked if he had seats, which he said yes.  I then told him I was American Platinum.  His face totally changed, and he instantly printed me a boarding pass, so I go to get on the plane.

The plane was an EMB145, which seats about 50 people.  There couldn’t have been more than 12 people on that plane when I boarded.  WTF, American?  You’d rather a plane go out mostly 75% empty rather than let someone on?  Who in the hell came up with THAT business model?  Thing is, that later flight that I was supposed to be on was A) the last of the night and B) was packed.  They very well could have left other passengers stranded in Chicago for the night.  I was doing them a FAVOR by offering to go early.

The only airline that did this whole “standby” thing correctly (post 9/11) for any non-elite status holding PAX was the old NorthWest (though JetBlue and Air Tran are doing a good job today).  See, if you wanted to go standby, you would give them your credit card number and if you got on the plane, it was $15.  They only charged you once your plane landed in your destination city.  You weren’t charged if not.  Such a deal!  But carriers these days are totally screwed up.  United is changing their policy as of today, probably to match American.  Southwest is horrid – if there’s a fare difference, you have to pay it.  There was a famous scene in the Southwest reality TV series where they wouldn’t let a PAX change their ticket until they paid $1.  ONE SINGLE DOLLAR.  Nice, eh?

So you moronic people who run airlines these days.  Your PAX already pretty much hate you as is; stop giving them more reasons to hate you more!

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