US Airways And American Airlines To Officially Announce Merger

American Airlines and US Airways are set to officially announce their merger plans today, after months of speculation and planning. The joint operation between American, the currently bankrupt carrier based out of Dallas, Texas, and US Airways, the twice-bankrupt carrier based out of Tempe, Arizona, would form the largest airline in the world.

According to multiple sources, the airline would keep the American Airlines name while Doug Parker, the current CEO of US Airways would take the top management seat.

Full intentions of the merger are scheduled to be announced today in a 10 a.m. CST conference call in Dallas. Once the formal announcement has been made there are dozens of extra regulatory steps to be made prior to an official merger, including approval from the Federal Trade Commission, but most believe that the process will encounter little resistance. Complete joint operation is expected later this year or early next year.

As to how this will affect consumers, there is plenty of analysis in the airline community to read before going to bed, but the basics are pretty straightforward. With slightly less competition between carriers, consumers may expect to pay more out of pocket moving forward, but can expect a stronger airline better capable of handling economic downturns and volatile oil prices.

Based on previous mergers (among them, Delta and Northwest to form the then-largest airline) neither frequent flier program nor the miles therein will be gutted, but consumers can expect either AAdvantage or Dividend Miles to adopt the most cost-effective facets of the other program.
Until the airlines agree on all of the details further down the road, however, the community is only left to speculate on the full effects of the merger. Expect numerous updates as the year goes on.

[Flickr image via Fly For Fun]

Galley Gossip: Why flight attendants might not open an emergency exit during an evacuation

The first thing a flight attendant does before opening an emergency exit during an evacuation is assess the conditions outside. This is one reason why some airlines require passengers seated in the exit rows to keep their window shades up during takeoff and landing. The last thing you want to do is escape one bad situation only to find yourself in an even worse one. Think fire. Water. Captain Chesley Sullenberger.

BRACE FOR IMPACT!

That’s what everyone on board US Airways flight 1549 heard right before Captain Sully ditched the aircraft into the Hudson River after experiencing a double-engine failure while in route to Charlotte, North Carolina January 15, 2009. There were 150 passengers on board and 5 flight crew.

Flight attendant Doreen Walsh did exactly what she was trained to do. After unbuckling her belt and jumping out of her seat, she looked through the tiny porthole window to make sure it was safe outside to open the door. This is when she noticed they hadn’t landed at an airport, and that there was water outside! For a split second she wondered if maybe, just maybe, she could get the slide raft inflated before the water became too high to safely do so, but then quickly realized it was already too late. Before she could begin directing passengers to another exit, a safe exit, the window exit only a few feet away, passengers pushed Doreen out of the way and cracked the door open. Water began flooding inside until it was all the way up to their necks. With only a few seconds left to escape, Doreen ordered everyone standing in the aisle to crawl over the seats.

Three years have passed since the Miracle on the Hudson flight crew gave their testimony to the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. And yet I just saw the video for the first time last week. I’m a flight attendant for a major US carrier. I write about travel. Usually I’m up on these things. So if I missed the short clip of the flight attendants detailing their experiences, chances are you probably did, too. That’s why I’ve posted it here.


Flight attendants go through weeks of intensive training. We’re also required to attend a yearly recurrent training program. During this time we role play medical scenarios and practice our emergency evacuation procedures. While we’re yelling our commands, our instructors keep us on our toes by throwing things at us like fire, exits that won’t open, slides that won’t inflate, passengers too afraid to jump, which causes us to go into a whole other set of commands and procedures. Because of our training we’re prepared to handle just about anything, including an evacuation in the Hudson River. Trust me, we’ll ask for help if we need it. Until then please refrain from pushing us aside to open a door we would never in a million years open.

Photo courtesy of PhotoGiddy

Obese passenger forces neighbor on US Airways flight to stand for 7 hours

Arthur Berkowitz, a passenger on US Airways Flight 901 from Anchorage to Philadelphia, had no other choice but to stand up during his seven hour flight. It seems the next seat over was occupied by a passenger so overweight that it was impossible for Berkowitz to stay in his seat. Now, Berkowitz is speaking out about the ordeal.

“I didn’t fly from Alaska to Philadelphia on Flight 901,” Berkowitz told consumer advocate Chris Elliott, “I stood.”

The neighboring 400-pound man’s body spilled over into Berkowitz’s personal space so much that he was forced to stand for most of the 7 hour flight, and he couldn’t use his seat belt during takeoff and landing.

“His size required both armrests to be raised up and allowed for his body to cover half of my seat.” said Berkowitz.

US Airways apologized for the incident and said in a statement “Our intention is to offer the best travel experience possible. The details you have provided indicate that we have failed to meet our intentions.” US Air offered Berkowitz a $200 voucher in compensation.

In a poll on Elliott’s consumer watchdog site, 96% (over 17,000 votes) thought that US Airways did not offer Berkowitz enough compensation. We agree.


[Image credit: AP]

Airline fees are worth more than Facebook

Airlines, Facebook and money

Outside the travel world, everyone’s marveling at the prospect of a Facebook IPO, which could be valued at as much as $100 billion. So, what are we missing while we fawn over Mark Zuckerberg’s creation? How about the slow, stodgy, ugly airline industry. Known for a painful user experience and a steady decline of free features, the likes of Delta and American Airlines are outdoing the hottest online property in the world simply by annoying their customers.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation‘s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, baggage and reservation change fees brought the U.S. airline industry a whopping $5.7 billion last year. Delta picked up close to a billion dollars on baggage fees alone, which doesn’t include what they yanked from the wallets of soldiers returning home from combat. The largest airline in the country also brought in approximately $700 million from reservation change fees.

American Airlines, the fourth largest airline in the United States, came in second in both categories, with $580.7 million in baggage fees and $471.4 million in reservation change fees.The particular beauty of these fees is that they are basically found money. Some passengers need to check bags, and the airlines have to invest in the overhead required to meet this demand. It’s an expense that can’t be avoided. With this fee, they monetized what they’d have to pay anyway. The same is the case for reservation change fees.

The top five earners of baggage fees in 2010 are:

1. Delta: $952.3 million

2. American: $580.7 million

3. US Airways: $513.6 million

4. Continental: $341.6 million

5. United: $313.2 million

Unsurprisingly, the top five earners of reservation change fees don’t look much different:

1. Delta: $698.6 million

2. American: $471.4 million

3. United: $321.5 million

4. US Airways: $253.1 million

5. Continental: $237.4 million

No doubt, activist groups will be up in arms shortly. And airline employees will lament the fact that their executives are so richly compensated while they have endured round after round of pay cuts and layoffs for years upon years.

Frankly, I offer my congratulations to the airline industry. Yes, they are soaking us. Passengers are a captive audience, particularly on routes with limited coverage, and we sometimes have no choice but to pay. The airlines are using this to generate profitable growth for their shareholders, which is their primary responsibility.

So, what about Facebook? The company is estimated to pull in revenues of somewhere above $4 billion this year, most of it from advertising. It is pretty interesting that the popular social network is annoying its customers as a way to generate revenue, just like the airlines!

Who knew that pissing off your target market was an awesome business model?

[photo by Tobin Black via Flickr]

2011 Airline Quality Ratings – AirTran at number one

airline qualityThe 2011 Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) were just released, and AirTran topped the list at number one. The Atlanta based air line got top marks in the study that accounts for on time arrivals, mishandled baggage, complaints, and other metrics. The study only includes airlines in the United States and provides interesting statistics about the overall quality of domestic air travel.

The main form of complaint involved flight problems, followed by baggage. While overall complaints went up about 30% from 2009 to 2010, overall quality rating also went up marginally. This could be due to the communication channel widening to include new forms of customer feedback. AirTran handled baggage the best with only 1.63 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. American Eagle was at the other end of the spectrum with 7.15 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. Of all the airlines listed, Hawaiian Airlines topped the list in on time arrival. Over 92% of their flights landed on time. The full report can be viewed here.

AQR Rankings – Domestic Airlines
16. American Eagle
15. Atlantic Southeast
14. Comair
13. Mesa Air
12. United
11. American Airlines
10. Skywest9. Frontier
8. Continental
7. Delta
6. U.S. Airways
5. Southwest
4. Alaska
3. Jet Blue
2. Hawaiian
1. AirTran

flickr image via Bob B. Brown