Archive: September, 2008
Tom BeldenThe travel industry has been working for the last few years to get Congress to help the United States do as many other nations do and more actively promote travel by international visitors. There has been a sharp drop in overseas travel to this country since 9/11, for a variety of reasons. Today, the seventh anniversary of the attacks, a House subcommittee heard testimony supporting a bill (already approved by a Senate committee) with bipartisan support to do more promotion, using private contributions and a fee paid by visitors who don't already have to pay for a U.S. visitor's visa. Find more about the position of the Travel Industry Association of America and its testimony here.
The controversy that erupted in the spring over the way FAA airline-maintenance inspectors were doing their jobs at Southwest and American led to the appointment of an independent panel of experts to evaluate the situation. In a report issued yesterday, the panel found big differences from one regional office to another. In general, the panel that the FAA's approach to inspections, allowing largely voluntary compliance with airworthiness directives, is effective. As you would expect, the airlines were fairly pleased with the findings. For more detail, read today's stories from the Dallas Morning News and the New York Times.
Tom BeldenAs they have done the last few years on the 9/11 anniversary, PHL administrators will join representatives of the USO and Philadelphia police officers and firefighters at 1 p.m. today to honor the memory of the victims. The ceremony, including lowering and raising the American flag, takes place in front of the Terminal C Police headquarters. If you're passing through, perhaps you'll want to pause.
You may need to be age 60 or better to get that headline. Hurricane Ike is headed to the Texas coast and airlines already are issuing advisories about changing plans. Southwest won't fly to Corpus Christi or Harlingen, Tex., Friday or Saturday and will let you change your reservations to Austin, Houston and San Antonio as well. Watch for updates from your airline if you're headed that direction.
Tom BeldenDirect Air, a public-charter airline, announced plans today to start flights Nov. 24 between Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown and two leisure destinations, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Punta Gorda/Ft. Meyers, Fla. The flights will operate four days a week, but the news release doesn't say which four days (someone needs to help these folks write a news release). This type of service, which has come and gone at Lehigh Valley over the years, usually attracts only vacationers but a surprising number of business travelers -- those who want to save money, avoid the PHL congestion and can work with its limited schedule -- also may find it useful. Direct Air will use new A320 jets chartered from Virgin America, the start-up that flies between other major cities (not PHL) on the east and west coasts. As usual, Direct Air is having a fare sale through Saturday to promote the new flights -- $79 each way. Regular fares start at $99 each way. The aircraft hold 141 coach and eight business-class passengers. Learn more at www.visitdirectair.com or by calling 1-877-432-3473.
Tom BeldenIn recent weeks, interest in oil prices and their effect on the airlines have been in the background. That's probably a good thing, reflecting less worry that we were all going to go broke trying to pay for air travel and fill gas tanks. Today there's news about OPEC's decision to cut production and the impact that's had on the futures market. The good news is that crude prices have gone up just a little, a reflection it seems of the weaker demand for fuel ever since prices rose so sharply this spring and summer. Read more from Bloomberg News here.
Tom BeldenThe Wing Man has been busy in other spheres (earthly of course) today so we need to make this brief for now. Yesterday's column on the FAA's airspace redesign plan provoked complaint from a few folks, which pleases me since I'm just doing my job here and provoking is one of the more important ways a journalist should spend his time. So here are links to some who say 'where are you coming from' and there's 'oh so much more to the story.' No one knows that better than I do. Happy reading from the documents section of one group vehmently opposed to what the FAA has done: www.njcaan.org . And here's a link to a news release from Sens. Arlen Specter and Chris Dodd on filing an amicus brief on behalf of local governments fighting the plan. More later.
News stories and analysis about airlines sprouted like weeds in my garden over the weekend. Here's one I should have posted Friday: Continental became the fifth of the legacy carriers to impose a $15 charge for the first checked bag. Delta is the only holdout now among the Big Six to only charge for the rest of your checked luggage but not the first piece. Do we hear the sound of the other shoe dropping? With the NFL season getting underway yesterday, we also noticed a new round of commercials for Southwest, touting the absence of fees similar to their competitors.
Frequent-flier programs also are changing: USA Today has a good roundup on that topic this morning, noting that Continental and US Airways have taken steps to devalue their programs, a definite trend this year.
In the meantime, United pulled back on an extra cost it wanted to impose: Charging coach passengers for meals on trans-Atlantic flights. Airline Weekly, an excellent newsletter that is sent to us free (annual subscription $695) reports that United got an angry response from customers and flight attendants to the idea (I looked for a United news release on this but it's not on its Web site). No other trans-Atlantic airline charges for meals -- a good policy since it almost certainly keeps down air-rage incidents caused by passengers who didn't bring their own food on a nine-hour flight. It's hard to imagine what might happen if you're required to bring your own, and the folks behind you insist on unwrapping liverwurst-and-onion sandwiches just after takeoff. It's one thing to have those aromas in the cabin for a two-hour trip to Chicago, but try sleeping through it. Give me a bland piece of chicken in a creamy sauce and a plastic fork, please.