Shocking: Airlines have no long tarmac delays, world doesn’t end

Airlines and tarmac delaysFor the second month in a row, the world hasn’t ended. The threat of heavy fines has ensured that the airlines haven’t kept passengers trapped in the cabin on the tarmac for more than three hours at a time, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. October and November were good months for passengers, now that airlines are being held accountable. These are the only two months in which the airlines haven’t had tarmac delays since the DOT began keeping score back in October 2008.

So, the lobbyists and industry folks were wrong. They forecasted logistical catastrophe. Once again, this has not happened. And, it happened to coincide with record profits for the U.S. airline industry, which means that doing the right thing for passengers is probably good for business, too.

There have been a mere 12 tarmac delays of more than three hours from May 2010 through November 2010. For the same period the year before, there were 550. So, let’s be realistic: the airlines were more than a little lazy in 2009. When the threat of severe fines cause that drastic an improvement, the implication is that the airlines should have been doing a better job on their own.Of course, those representing the airline industry believed that the threat of fines would lead to a heavy rate of flight cancellation, as airlines would rather give up than risk having to pay large tabs to the government. Of course, this didn’t happen. In November, U.S. carriers posted a cancellation rate of 0.7 percent. Sure, it’s up from 0.5 percent, which is negligible, but it’s also down from 0.97 percent in October. The number of tarmac delays lasting more than two hours ticked slightly higher, from 224 for the May-to-November period in 2009 to 241 for the same seven months this year. There were 11 canceled flights in November 2010, up from none the previous November.

So, that’s a lot of canceled flights relative to the prior November, but how big a deal is it? Eleven canceled flights relative to more than 500 long tarmac delays shed? Those are pretty good numbers, suggesting the government can pass a useful law every now and then.

[photo by Simon_sees via Flickr]

Australia floods leave tourist industry in peril

Brisbane, brisbane, Australia, australia
The terrible floods in Queensland, Australia, have destroyed thousands of homes, done billions of dollars of damage, and have left at least a dozen people dead. Queensland is a major coal exporter, and with the rising waters hampering shipments and flooding mines, world coal prices have risen. A major consumer of Queensland coal are Asian steel mills, which are already feeling the pinch. This has led to a rise in steel prices. That’s a double dose of bad news for the economic recovery.

Another Queensland industry has also been hard hit–tourism. The tourists have fled along with the residents, but it’s the long-term effects that are more harmful. If rising coal and steel prices hurt the economic recovery, that’s bound to hurt the tourism industry pretty much everywhere. Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the center for Australia’s Gold Coast, a major draw for Australia’s $32 billion tourist industry. Floods are damaging popular beaches and will require costly repairs. Coastal and riverside hotels and shops are being destroyed. The Brisbane Times reports that toxic materials washed into the sea could have an effect on delicate coral reefs and fish populations. With snorkeling and scuba diving such popular activities on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, this could do long-term damage to tourism.

Meanwhile, airlines are worried about how this will affect them. Virgin Blue has already seen its shares drop by 3.4 percent today because investors fear there will be a drop in bookings. Qantas shares also dipped slightly. Airlines are issuing fee waivers for passengers who want to change their flights to, from, or through Brisbane.

It looks like Queensland residents will suffer from the flood long after the waters recede.

[Photo of Brisbane sunset courtesy user t i m m a y via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Judge blocks Sabre, gives American Airlines a break

American AirlinesI guess it would make sense for American Airlines to turn to litigation. After all, this approach worked well against Orbitz.

Here’s the situation: the battle between airlines and online travel agencies escalated from the beginning of November – with American’s announcement that it would pull out of Orbitz – through the new year. The latest move was by global distribution system Sabre, which has made it more difficult for American’s fares to be found. Along the way, Expedia dropped American in a defensive move, and Delta pulled out of three smaller booking sites: CheapOair, OneTravel and BookIt.

The decision by Sabre to “demote” American Airlines had obvious business implications for the carrier, which is likely why it sought relief in the courts. As a result of a hearing held yesterday, Sabre has been blocked from limiting the visibility of American Airline flights, but there’s clearly more to come.

In addition to making it more difficult for customers to find American’s flights, Sabre also increased the fees it charges American, which would lead to an annual cost of $157 million for the airline.

Sabre maintains that it was within its contractual rights, according to an Associated Press report, while American believes the move was anti-competitive.

Five airline fees you haven’t thought about (but they have!)

airline feesOver the past two years, the fees that airlines have figured out have been seemingly endless. Baggage and cancellations are just the tip of the iceberg. Now, passengers are stuck with a healthy dose of fee fatigue, but the good news is that there doesn’t seem to be anything left for which to charge – except maybe access to the flotation devices in the event of an emergency.

Well, don’t get too comfortable.

Despite having had a fantastic year in 2010, there are already grumblings in the airline industry about increasing fuel costs. This means, of course, that the additional expense will have to be passed along to us, the passengers, in some form. Even though we may not be able to think of (realistic) charges to levy, it seems as though the airlines have this under control, according to an article on MSN Money. Already, 19 different a la carte charges exist, and they are set to earn the airlines $22 billion worldwide for 2010.

So, the airlines want more of your money. How are they going to get it? Well, here are five ideas for them:1. Pay to talk to someone: do you need to talk to a ticket agent, or would you merely prefer to do so? Don’t worry; this perk option isn’t going away. You will have to pay for it, though, according to Jay Sorensen of IdeaWorks, a company involved in tracking consumer trends. The good news is that the only people in line will be shelling out cash for the privilege, so you won’t have to wait too long.

Alternative: if you want to talk to someone that badly, and are willing to pay for it, try online dating.

2. Pay to tote your own bags: are you ready to pay to avoid paying check-in fees? Spirit is already doing it, and most airlines in the United States have said they aren’t going to head in that direction. But, American Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways, according to MSN Money, “essentially have,” calling it “priority boarding or choice seating.” If you get a better seat you have a spot for your bags on a crowded flight. Otherwise, you’re stuck hoping for the best.

Alternative: make friends with a frequent flier.

3. Pay to take your bags overseas: we’re getting used to paying for checking the first bag on domestic flights, but we’ve been spared the humiliation when traveling internationally. That could change, though, especially since there’s money to be made.

Alternative: there’s a Paris in Illinois, too.

4. Pay to deal with your kids: so far, an infant on your lap has gotten a free ride, but this discomfort could cost you. George Hobica, of AirfareWatchdog, thinks this one could be on the list for 2011. “If the government doesn’t act to ban lap children,” he told MSN Money, “we might see the airlines make a move.”

Alternative: birth control.

5. Pay to be like everything else: back when I had platinum status on one airline and gold on another (in the same year), I came to appreciate the benefits – and this was even before the ancillary fee trend took hold. Now, status is worth even more, because it alleviates some of this fee pressure. The MSN Money article mentions that the hit could be targeted at non-elite loyalty program members, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see even the airlines’ best customers lose some of the perks someday.

Alternative: buy on price instead of loyalty.

[photo by compujeramy via Flickr]

Five reasons why you’re wrong about American Airlines and the booking battle

American AirlinesEveryone seems to think this is about the passengers. It’s not. In true airline industry fashion, nobody cares about the customer.

Okay, now that I have your attention, an analyst note from Avondale Partners was sent to me last night. While most people don’t get excited about this sort of thing, I have to admit that I still do. Nerdy, maybe. Insightful … in this case, it definitely is.

The analyst note gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly. What’s the deal with American Airlines and the online travel agencies (e.g., Orbitz and Expedia)? Well, here it is in five straightforward points:

1. It’s the economy, stupid: remember that saying? Well, it holds true here. According to Avondale Partners, many press accounts of the dispute “confuse the relationships of the players and miss the underlying economics driving the dispute.” Stop thinking about people and start thinking about how American can save up to $9 per ticket in fees.

2. American will lose before it wins: according to Avondale Partners, “AMR [the airline’s parent company] eventually prevails.” But, it’s going to take some time. Along the way, the analyst note explains, the airline will lose some of its online travel agency customers to its competitors. However, it continues, “should pick up the spilled traffic, given current loads.”3. Ultimately, it’s a break-even: AMR will wind up with the same amount of traffic it has now, Avondale believes, but it will come at lower net costs. Translation: for the same amount of passengers, American will make more money. For a business, that’s never a bad thing.

4. “I like to watch”: that seems to be what the other airlines are thinking. Avondale Partners believes they’ll jump on the bandwagon. As it is, Delta has already pulled out of three smaller online travel agenciesCheapOair, OneTravel and BookIt – though for slightly different reasons. When big, bold moves like this happen, you better believe that everybody’s thinking about it.

5. And, the folks with the most risk are …: it isn’t American Airlines, apparently. Rather, Avondale believes that Travelport and Sabre “have the most to lose,” though stock prices for online travel agencies, according to Avondale, “should continue to suffer from the press.” Translation: this won’t be fun for any of the parties involved for quite a while.

Here’s the full report:

Analyst Note From Avondale Partners Re AA Distribution, 1-6-11