Airline industry best and worst of April 2011

airline industryThe most recent U.S. Department of Transportation data is out, and it’s time for the airlines to brace themselves. The good, the bad and the ugly can be discerned from the data, and numbers are notoriously poor at showing excuses (I mean, “underlying reasons”).

So, let’s start with what looks good. Hawaiian Airlines is most likely to get you to your destination on time, leading U.S. carriers with a 94.1 percent arrival rate. It’s followed by Alaska Airlines at 89.5 percent and AirTran Airways at 82 percent.

At the bottom of the barrel, for on-time arrivals, are ExpressJet Airlines (68 percent), JetBlue (68.4 percent) and Atlantic Southeast Airlines (68.5 percent). Think about it, a third of the time, these airlines won’t arrive on time.

Overall, the airline industry posted an average on-time arrival rate of 75.5 percent. This means that a quarter of the time, they miss the mark. It’s almost as easy as being a weather man!The dubious distinction of having the longest tarmac delay was United Airlines flight 19 from JFK to San Francisco. On April 24, 2011, it sat on the tarmac for a whopping 202 minutes. It was tied by Delta flight 1076 from Atlanta to Salt Lake City only three days later. On the same day that flight 1076’s passengers grew restless, Delta flight 1714 (Atlanta to Ontario, CA), sat on the tarmac for 200 minutes. Twins!

Delta owned three of the four longest tarmac delays of the month – and only four flights had delays of longer than three hours. The remaining flight was Delta flight 823 from Atlanta to Ft Lauderdale, also on April 27. It sat on the tarmac for 185 minutes.

According to Google Maps, it takes 10 hours to drive from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale. Just sayin’.

If you flew American Eagle, your flight was most likely to get canceled: it posted a cancelation rate of 5.1 percent. Following were ExpressJet (3.8 percent) and Atlantic Southeast (3.7 percent). You were better off flying Hawaiian Airlines, which posted a tiny cancelation rate of 0.1 percent. Frontier (0.2 percent) and Continental (0.5 percent) also posted solid stats on this metric.

[photo by Brett L. via Flickr]

Five airline amenities making a comeback … and the one we want

airline-amenitiesWow, there’s a headline I never thought I’d write! Though I suspect it has little to do with actual customer demand – after all, the airlines don’t even call us customers – several are starting to bring small, small perks back into the cabin. Two factors help, of course: (1) they aren’t expensive and (2) airlines have shown solid profits this year (at least in the United States).

So, despite having to pay for extra bags and invoking ire at the mere request for orange juice, we’re finally going to get something back! What that is depends on where you are in the world, and some of these amenities are downright bizarre. But, the average passenger is probably at a point where even the slightest indication of humanity is incredible. We’re like hungry dogs, after all, and with these in-cabin perks, it feels like the airlines are waving a steak.

What are the airlines offering? Let’s take a look at five amenities, according to MSNBC:1. The “stretch bar”: SAS is installing a bar on some of its flights – and not the drinking kind. It’s an exercise rod that passengers can use to stretch out while on long flights. In continuing to cater to the vain, SAS is also adding mirrors to some seats, so you can make sure you look your hottest without having to leave your seat for a trip to the lavatory.

2. Lighting and sound effects: All Nippon Airways is using these tools to create “a calm cabin atmosphere that invites passengers to relax and rest,” MSNBC reports. The goal is to make flights more comfortable for passengers with late-night departures. The new “Relax” cards go with this – press a button and enjoy the lavender aroma.

3. Happy Moms: Asiana Airlines, based in South Korea, offers a “Happy Mom Service” at many airports, according to MSNBC, with a dedicated check-in line for families with small children. Nursing blankets, baby slings and baby seats are available on board the planes.

4. Locally-sourced booze: Horizon Airlines is kicking in free local wines and microbrews from the Pacific Northwest on its flights – even in coach!

5. In-flight wifi: since a relatively small number of passengers has been using this service, some airlines are seeking out sponsors and offering it up free to passengers. On Delta, AirTran and Virgin America, Google Chrome is ponying up the cash for free passenger use through January 2, 2011.

So, what’s the one amenity not being offered that would make flights so much more comfortable? How about an alternative to the lav for mile-high club membership? It’s not easy to pull off, and there has to be a better way than this.

[photo by PhillipC]

Which airline made the most money on baggage fees?

airline baggage feesLast year, baggage fees were used by airlines to make up for lost fare revenue, as the recession kept people on the ground. This year, it’s just been a great source of extra revenue, as passenger traffic and fares are up – and the fees haven’t gone away. Almost all airlines are getting in on the action, some more egregious than others.

Well, data for the third quarter of 2010 is in, and we can finally take a look at who’s hitting us hardest … and for how much. The numbers will probably shock you. The top baggage fee-grabber owned close to 30 percent of the total baggage fees charged in the United States, a market that has reached $2.6 billion for the first three quarters of the year, and the top five dominate with approximately 80 percent of the total fees charged for bags, according to data from the Department of Transportation.

Let’s take a look at the top five airlines for baggage fee snatching (and then the rest):1. Delta Air Lines, $733 million: in fairness, Delta is the largest airline in the United States, so it’s to be expected that it will generate the most revenue.

2. American Airlines, $431 million: the third-largest airline hits the #2 spot for baggage fees, implying an aptitude for prying open customer wallets yet to be recognized by its competitors.

3. US Airways, $388 million: again, this is an impressive take, as evidenced by the distance between US Airways and Continental, in the #4 spot.

4. Continental Airlines, $258 million: this almost makes the airline look downright reasonable, especially when it’s year-to-date baggage fees aren’t even as substantial as what Delta raked in during the third quarter alone!

5. United Airlines, $239 million:

And, the rest:

6. AirTran Airways: $112 million

7. Alaska Airlines: $81 million

8. Spirit Air Lines: $56 million

9. Frontier Airlines: $44 million

10. JetBlue Airways: $43 million

11. Allegiant Air: $43 million

12. Hawaiian Airlines: $40 million

13. Virgin America: $27 million

14. Southwest Airlines: $23 million

15. Republic Airlines: $18 million

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16. Horizon Air: $13 million

17. Sun Country airlines: $9 million

18. Mesa Airlines: $2 million

19. Continental Micronesia: $2 million

20. USA 3000 Airlines: $2 million

[photo by The Story Lady via Flickr]

Airlines getting scammed online, fighting back

Airlines lose a boatload of cash – tens of millions of dollars a year – because of online fraud. Think about it: you pay for your pillow and to check a bag because some degenerate can’t bother to work for a living. The airlines are keeping their customers in mind (shockingly), though, and they’re fighting back. Better protection systems, increased staff and a higher priority for prevention are now on the agenda as carriers seek to protect their coffers.

The stakes are high, and airlines are exposed. A Deloitte UK survey conducted in 2009, with 50 U.S. and global airlines responding, report that 48 percent have seen increases in fraud year-over-year, with average losses of $2.4 million a year. Yet, it could be far, far worse. CyberSource and Airline Information conducted a poll and came to an estimated loss amount of $1.4 billion in 2008.

According to USA Today:

“The general feedback from everybody … is that they see it getting worse,” says Graham Pickett, partner in charge of aviation services for Deloitte UK, which conducted its survey for the International Association of Airline Internal Auditors. “The main driver has been … the Internet, and in particular credit card type bookings.”

Airlines have invested in protecting their profits over the past two years, especially the larger companies. Of course, they aren’t all that willing to talk about specific measures:

“Common sense on this issue limits a discussion of what we do to track, prevent and seek prosecution of such occurrences,” says Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines. “We’re just not interested in providing a ‘how to’ lesson on the subject.”

The cyber-attack on airlines comes after online travel agencies, such as Orbitz, steeled their systems. For a while, they were the primary targets, with Orbitz, for example, getting spanked for millions of dollars a month by fraudsters.

The anti-fraud measures appear to be working. AirTran‘s team has reduced fraud losses to less than 1 percent of revenue, and Southwest says it has cut fraud by 73 percent.

How much does this matter? Think about all the small cuts you’ve had to deal with as a passenger. Every dollar matters to the airlines. Cutting fraud losses is just putting cash back in your pocket.

[photo by jepoirrier via Flickr]

Southwest uses AirTran for access to business travelers

The key to success in the airline industry is the business traveler. This category flies often, has less flexibility in pricing and spends more on flights than a leisure traveler could possibly imagine. So, it’s hardly surprising that Southwest‘s acquisition of AirTran – a $1.42 billion transaction – could help deliver greater share of the white collar travel crowd to the low-cost carrier.

According to MSNBC:

Southwest – which currently serves key cities such as Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and Baltimore – has long been considered a vacationer’s airline. But it has lured corporate road warriors with offers like Business Select fares that cost more but promise priority boarding, extra frequent-flier credit and a free drink.

So, we’re looking at an expansion of Southwest’s strategy into a more lucrative market. Southwest has already proved that it can thrive in the volatile leisure market, ostensibly more challenging than catering to the business crowd. It seems as though this strategic shift is as close to a “sure thing” as one can imagine in the airline industry.

The acquisition also provides Southwest with international routes, as it picks up AirTran’s access to Mexico and the Caribbean.
[photo by AGeekMom via Flickr]