Archive: July, 2009
Tom BeldenAnother travel writer's perspective on Southwest's bid to acquire Frontier Airlines in a bankruptcy court auction was published on te Wallet Pop Web site today. The writer notes that lower-cost travel to Mexico couldbe among the results if Souhwest wins the bid. Find the article here.
Southwest Airlines just announced that it's planning to bid on Frontier Airlines, the Denver-based carrier that's been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Republic Airways, a regional operator, has also submitted a bid for Frontier.
Southwest said it would make a minimum bid of $113.6 million. Republic's bid was for $108.8 million. Southwest indicated it was willing to raise the bid as part of the bankruptcy-court sale process in order to get Frontier's assets. Southwest would keep Frontier's 737 jets, since those are the only aircraft type Southwest now flies, and dispose of Frontier's fleet of Airbus jets.
As mentioned here earlier, acquisition of Frontier would boost Southwest's operations in Denver, which already is one of its fastest-growing cities. That's one of the key points that Southwest executives made in a conference call with reporters this afternoon. If Southwest acquired Frontier, it would have about a third of the Denver market while United Airlines has about 50 percent, "This is going to be good for competition," said executive vice president Ron Ricks.
Tom BeldenThe European Union says airlines are not allowed to stop passengers suspected of having swine flu from boarding flights. That's a job for public health authorities, and so far, despite growing concern about how the disease may spread this fall and winter, the World Health Organization has not called for restrictions on travel to try to stop it. Read a little more about what the EU said here.
Months, even years, can go by while Congress plods through the legislative process on some issues, including those that directly affect travelers. Then, occasionally we get pretty fast action when a problem turns into crisis of confidence -- in this case we're talking about the safety of regional airline flying.
A bipartisan bill was introduced in the House yesterday, and appears headed for quick approval, that would set tougher standards for regional airline pilots' training and work practices. This flows out of the Colgan Air crash at Buffalo last winter that killed 50 people. Pilot skill and actions are a suspected cause. Read more about the legislation here.
In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee adopted a transportation and housing bill that includes less money for high-speed rail projects than the House or the Obama administration sought, but boosted funding for the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flights to small cities with little traffic. Read about that at this link.
The issue of what rights airline passengers should have when stuck in a plane at an airport for hours because of weather-related or other delays has been largely out of the news lately. Such "tarmac strandings" are relatively rare but when they occur often make good tales for the media and revive talk of legislation to govern such situations.
Federal legislation is working its way through Congress now that would outline what airlines must do in such situations. I'll be looking into this more for a future column. For now, a long article on the topic was published by USA Today this week and provides good background. Find it here.
The American Society of Travel Agents weighed in on the issue with Congress, asking for a clear message from new regulations. Here's a report on that from Travel Agent magazine.
Inquirer airline reporter Linda Loyd has a story today that I had to write several times in years past: What would happen to PHL, and by extension the regional economy, if US Airways were to merge with another airline, or be forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection again? There's been a lot of chatter lately about that among industry analysts and other talking and blogging heads (this blogging head excepted). Linda's story is rightly hypothetical because, as those she quotes point out, US Airways is not in any kind of merger talks nor is it in the same financial shape it was before its two previous trips to bankrupcy court.
The short answer today to the worst-case scenario is the same as it has been for years. The region's large population means that US Airways hub here is different from those that operate now or have operated over the years in smaller cities, including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Memphis. Almost two-thirds of PHL's passengers are "O and D," airline parlance for origin and destination, meaning they start or end trips here. In some hubs, 80 percent of the customers are simply transferring between flights, something they could do at other hubs. That O and D traffic base would over time attract other airline service. Rebuilding international service would take longer, but even there, the big population would keep quite a bit of direct service intact, in my opinion.
Today's story includes thoughts from PHL acting director Mark Gale and a number of other experts on the topic. Read it all here.
The AP has a good story today on the National Transportation Safety Board's concern over the growing threat of bird strikes to airplanes. The NTSB reported on one deadly case in Oklahoma that didn't end like the landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January. Rather, two pilots and three passengers were killed after their plane hit a large pelican.
The board is meeting today to consider what more needs to be done to avoid bird strikes. Read the artricle at this link.
Here's a news brief from this morning's Inquirer about concern at Standard & Poors about US Airways' credit rating. PHL's big carrier and its subsidiaries have been placed on credit watch with negative implications because of concern about its future cash flow generation and liquidity. Read more here.