Welcome to the New Year – Part 1

At the beginning of each new year, I like to review what I thought would happen over the previous year and where I think things might go in the next year.  Let’s take a look.

North America:

I thought that not much would happen with AA labor in the past year and that pretty much was the case.  We’ve now seen several years of virtually no movement on solving these issues and I suspect that 2012 is the year that we see some kind of movement.  Look for the flight attendants to be the aggressive parties but the pilots to be the leaders.  All they need is a management group that wants to get something done.  This might end up being a make or break year for AA CEO Gerard Arpey and it could well be based on coming to an agreement with their labor groups.

United Airlines (and Continental) really didn’t go where I thought which was the status quo.  Instead, they merged and got going on getting somewhere and I like that.  I didn’t think they would merge and said so at the beginning of last year.  They proved me wrong.  However, I think CEO Jeff Smisek hasn’t considered carefully what he needs to get agreement on to move forward with each phase of the merger.  Look for this year to be good for United financially but bad on getting labor groups to agree on something.  I don’t think they are headed in the same direction as US Airways . . . yet.

This is a year for Delta Airlines to continue rationalizing its routes and aircraft.  They spent much of last year doing so and saw great financial results.  However, their goal of a sustained 10%+ profit margin makes me think we’re going to see some weird stuff out of them somewhere around the beginning of spring.  Probably in the form of new and innovative fees.

US Airways pretty much performed as predicted and I like how they are earning a profit but I hate how they still have no agreement with their flight crews that will permit them to quit operating two airlines in one.  If Doug Parker were to have a New Year’s Resolution, it should be to hire someone who’ll get that taken care of this year.

LCC(s) and Regionals:

I didn’t see a merger partner for Southwest except, perhaps, Sun Country.  Southwest proved me very wrong on that but I like the results.  One concern I have is the somewhat “plodding” progress towards consummating this merger into one company.  Does it indicate a plodding approach to actually consolidating operations?  One good thing is this brings the potential for greater international flights and, hey, Southwest, consider just keeping that Airtran reservations system and then spending some real time to pick or develop a new one that will last another 30 years.  You could do a lot worse.

Frontier/Republic is holding its own and I thought they would hold their own.  I think they’ll hold their own this year but I don’t see them merging with anyone and I don’t see them growing subtantially either.  Brian Bedford could prove me wrong and I hope he does.

Airtran made the Milwaukee market.  They deserve the credit for the huge growth that city has seen in air travel.  Southwest needs to commit to doing the same when they lead the game.

I slammed Virgin America a few times last year for appearing to be afraid to compete.  In particular, with American Airlines.  Finally, Virgin America made the plunge and came to DFW with flights from both San Francisco and Los Angeles.  I liked the move and I think there is room for them to grow here.  Time will tell.  One thing I’ve noticed so far:  AA doesn’t seem to be attacking them quite as badly as one would have expected from AA just 5 years ago.   Mr. Cush, let me suggest that you could really do well with some flights from DFW to the NYC area.  In particular, to Newark. 

Alaska Airlines has moved closer to Delta in the past year and that worries me a bit for Alaska.  They’ve generally been an airline willing to do a deal with anyone that made sense.  Now, they appear to be more and more the Delta lackey and that could harm them in the long run.  Another thing:  Alaska doesn’t have any more logicical merger partners that make sense.  American Airlines may have missed an opportunity here by not getting closer to Alaska instead of withdrawing more and more. 

I don’t think we’re going to see any big mergers in the US this year.  We might see one minor merger and that’s OK with us.  I think this year we’ll see legacy and SuperLegacy airlines attempt to earn as much money as they can to retire as much debt as they can and to bank as much war chest as they’re able.  However, I see competition heating up this summer and I think the LCC and new entrant carriers are going to put pressure on the legacy and SuperLegacy airlines in the form of adding capacity *and* routes.  The question is, will the industry discipline we’ve seen hold strong or will someone crack?

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