Houston vs Dallas

June 30, 2014 on 1:58 pm | In Airports | No Comments

Recently, the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker was quoted as saying that Dallas and Houston do compete for international traffic and my only reaction was “Finally, someone willing to admit the truth.”

Both cities are large hubs and both are large gateway cities for the region.  For 40 years, the cities have worked furiously to ignore the fact that each desperately competes with the other for international flights.  In fact, until recently, I would have argued that Houston IAH had more diversity in its international operations than Dallas Fort Worth DFW.

I know for fact of many IT professionals working in the Dallas area under H-1B visas frequently go to Houston by car to travel home because it’s cheaper.

With Houston’s construction of an international terminal at Houston Hobby, it’s about to get even more competitive with Dallas.  For while Dallas Love Field will be unrestricted to domestic traffic in the 48 states, Houston Hobby will be unrestricted . . . completely.

Dallas / Fort Worth has never treated Southwest Airlines as a full partner in the community.  In fact, the metroplex area has always been willing to embrace the employment but never has been willing to truly work with Southwest to find out how to grow the airline in the DFW area.  American Airlines has had something to do with that.

This area is home to the biggest US Domestic Airline by passengers (Southwest) and the largest airline in the world (American Airlines) but Southwest gets very little Love.

Dallas doesn’t drive competition.  It doesn’t drive access and it doesn’t drive diversity in who serves it.  Houston always embraced both Continental and Southwest and worked hard to become attractive to a wide range of international airlines.  As a result, air fares from Houston to destinations inside and out of the United States are more competitive in general.

That’s a shame for the Dallas / Fort Worth area because I think it will continue to favor American Airlines and it will continue to restrict Southwest Airlines.  Love Field will be held in check from any growth because of the latest deal with the Devil (holding the terminal to 20 gates of which Southwest gets to hold 16 and which Southwest must give up gates if it wishes to use DFW. ) It’s a problem that few in the area are really aware of.

Yes, Houston and Dallas compete and Houston generally kicks Dallas’ ass on a regular basis.

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US Airways DFW to CLT

May 30, 2014 on 4:27 pm | In Trivia | No Comments

A preview of my trip(s) on US Airways today:

Wow.

So far anyway.

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The A380 in Dallas

April 7, 2014 on 8:47 am | In Airline News | No Comments

Emirates has announced it plans to serve Dallas with its flagship A380 on October 1st of this year.  The aircraft will replace a Boeing 777-200LR and will offer 223 more seats than the current 777.

Why?  Houston has service to the Middle East because of the oil business.  Dallas has it because of the IT business.

The Middle Eastern carriers are the airlines of choice for entire families from India and Pakistan when traveling between the United States and the Indian sub-continent.  Currently, many going to India actually travel down to Houston to fly home because the seat availability is better and the prices are cheaper.

Emirates knows it can reliably fill the A380 by lowering prices.

Quite frankly, I think this is being put into place today rather than next year or the following to ensure that a base of travelers is built up before American Airlines can deploy its 787 aircraft on a direct route to India.  (American’s 777 aircraft don’t quite have the range for the trip but the 787 will).

I think this is a powerful pre-emptive action on Emirates part to subdue QATAR, Etihad and American Airlines and it will likely work very well for them.

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Hubs! American Style

December 26, 2013 on 2:00 am | In Airline Service | No Comments

It’s been announced by new American Airlines President Scott Kirby that American Airlines will no longer have kinder, gentler hubs in the near future.  Some time ago, American Airlines de-hubbed its hubs some.  Instead of hard peaks and valleys of activity at airports, it allowed flights to spread out more on arrivals and departure.  Labor was more steadily occupied but it also gave passengers less connecting opportunities.  US Airways doesn’t operate this way and Scott Kirby doesn’t want American Airlines operating this way.

So, we’ll see hubs more concentrated with flights at various times.  Why?  Because it earns more money and it’s all about the Benjamins.  Is this bad for anybody?  Nope, not really.  Not a single person is necessarily impacted in a bad way.  It’s just a different style that earns more money.  Do you see a theme here?

Since hubs got mentioned by AA, I thought I would look at their new hubs.

AAL_Map

Everyone always suspects airlines are going to de-hub a location.  Every airline always promises that won’t happen.  It always happens but in the case of American Airlines, it won’t happen for at least 3 years at most locations.  Which, coincidentally, is about the time it usually starts happening.

I’m going to make some predictions on the AA hubs that are going to annoy some people.  First off, I think there are really 3 kinds of hubs today.  They are true network hubs, focus cities and gateway cities.  The first is the traditional major network hub that offers something for everyone.  The second is similar but more “regional” in flavor.  The third is a city where international and domestic flights interchange in large numbers.  It can also be a network hub.

Here is what I think will happen in the case of American Airlines hubs:

Dallas / Fort Worth:  Largely unchanged.  Seriously.  Nothing much to see here except, possibly, a few more flights to a few more destinations.  DFW is both a major network hub and increasingly becoming a gateway hub again.

Chicago:  The same as Dallas.  Exactly the same as DFW.  Nothing more here.

Charlotte:  The same as Dallas and Chicago.  Exactly the same.  There is no reason to change this location and it won’t be taking the place of Miami.

Phoenix:  The same as Dallas, Chicago and Charlotte.  It will remain a major network hub but probably with less focus on international destinations.

Los Angeles:  A gateway city that will become more gateway.  I think we’ll see an increase of international flights here to South America, across the Pacific and to Europe.  It will be the West Coast Gateway for American Airlines.  But it won’t be similar to Phoenix.  The two are not redundant.  Phoenix will feed Los Angeles and vice-versa but they won’t take each other’s place.

New York City:  This will be the East Coast Gateway, a version of Los Angeles.  I think we’ll see increased flying to destinations in the Middle East, Asia and India.  Europe flights will remain largely the same but possibly see aircraft upgauged to large sizes.

Miami:  A gateway city to South America that will be reduced in importance.  I don’t see opportunities growing much here and I don’t see Miami serving the area as a focus city or network hub.  It’s expensive and inefficient to operate that way in Miami.  We will probably see a few regional flights reduced to this city and maybe a few increased flights to South America.  Possibly we’ll see some flights to Africa.

Washington D.C.  This will remain a major regional focus city.  Nothing changes here at all.  A major presence at Washington National, a minor presence at Washington Dulles.

Philadelphia:  I think Philadelphia will be a focus city with international tendencies.  It’s possible that Philadelphia will become similar to Chicago but I think it will be more regional with some international flights.  Not quite a major network hub, not quite a gateway city.  I think there will be some reduction in flights to and from this city over a very long period on a net basis with possibly some European flights increased.

And then there is the gap.  The Pacific North West.  I think that American Airlines will look to establish a second West Coast Gateway city and I think it will be Seattle.  Alaska Airlines is about 3 years away from having an ulcer, in my opinion.  It’s possible they may choose to focus on Portland and that wouldn’t be the worse choice but I think that Seattle has more “name” to it.  Portland, on the other hand, has more available capacity, better weather and is just as close to destinations across the Pacific as Seattle.  Portland is the more “logical” choice but Seattle is the better brand choice.

Either way, a new Gateway City will be focused in that area sometime between Year 3 and Year 5, in my opinion, and it will be a battleground between both Delta and American Airlines with Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines suffering as a result.

 

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Change, it’s coming

December 15, 2013 on 11:37 am | In Airline News, Airline Service, Airports, Mergers and Bankruptcy | No Comments

With the US Airways / American Airlines merger done this past week, everyone is speculating on change we can expect but in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, I think we can expect change in at least 4 different areas and it’s all good for those in this metropolitan area.

1)  American Airlines will slowly return to being the on-time, service oriented airline that it once was.  Parker & Company know how to fix operational issues and get planes going where they need to go.  I also think we’ll see the benefit of code-share flights through the system to destinations that might well yield lower prices.

2)  Southwest Airlines will be unchained on October 13, 2014.  On that day, Southwest can fly where it wants to from Dallas Love Field as long as it is in the domestic 48 states.  This will not only offer us opportunities to fly non-stop to major cities in the US but it will also put some competitive pressure on American Airlines (and other airlines) on routes to and from the DFW area.

3)  Ultra Low Cost Carriers will move quickly to find their toehold at DFW.  There is a lot of low-hanging fruit to be had in this area and Spirit Airlines has figured that out.  I expect Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier to all try to get gate space and establish operations in this area.  Those ULCC airlines will put some competitive pressure on both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines who both could use it in this area.

4)  While I think United has missed a huge opportunity in the DFW area over the past 2 years, I have noticed that Delta hasn’t.  I expect Delta to work itself more and more into the DFW area and I think they will do this both at DFW and Love Field airports.  Delta has been doing very well at establishing point to point flights and encroaching on its competitors territory.  They pursue a modest push into markets with the resources that only an airline such as Delta has.

Most airlines know that there is a limited time left to encroach in this market and if you think that airlines executives aren’t worried about Doug Parker, you are only kidding yourself.  They know what Parker and his team can do with the resources that AA has and that is a big reason why many attempted to sabotage this particular merger.  Parker was never a great threat with US Airways because of the limitations it imposed on him and his team.

I said it two years ago and I’ll say it now:  As soon as American Airlines declared bankruptcy, that was the time to move hard into the DFW area.  Several airlines missed that opportunity to become entrenched (Virgin America and jetBlue) and some saw the opportunity and grabbed it solidly in their fists (Spirit and Delta).

It’s all good for those living in this area or those wanting to fly to this area.  In one year, I believe we will see much better services and air fares that remain competitive.  Don’t kid yourself, however, those air fares won’t be predatory.  They just won’t be exorbitant.  So if you’re waiting for an uber-bargain of the early 2000′s, your wait will be fruitless.

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The Middle East Comes Calling

December 14, 2013 on 2:00 am | In Airline News | 6 Comments

Etihad has announced less than daily service to start to and from Dallas / Fort Worth to Abu Dhabi with a 777-200LR.

Now DFW airport will enjoy services to the Middle East hubs by Emirates (daily), QATAR and Etihad.  If you think that suddenly that many people in the DFW area would like to fly to the Middle East, you would be wrong.

This is about developing a route to these hubs for follow on flights to these airlines other destinations in the Near East, Middle East, Africa and India.  This is about feed and this is about gaining a customer base before American Airlines becomes too big and too strong on those very same routes.

Because you can believe that a big part of AA’s strategy will be to grow internationally and those Middle East carriers’ route strengths are places where AA is weak today.  Dallas is a large and even growing IT hub and hires tens of thousands of contractors from India alone.  These carriers are the popular airlines for those people to fly.  The connections are more desirable and the service is perceived to be far better than any US or India based carrier.

Will it work for these carriers?  I kind of think that QATAR has the best chance since it gave in and joined Oneword.  American can feed that airline an immense amount of traffic.  The question is. . . will Parker & Company see QATAR as an ally or a foe as they work to expand American Airlines reach and attendant profitability.

I think Emirates and Etihad may well can survive on that route on the traffic to and from India alone.  Presently, there are many who travel to Houston first in order to take advantage of flights on those airlines to India.

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The Settlement: Part 3

November 13, 2013 on 1:01 pm | In Airline News, Mergers and Bankruptcy | No Comments

I smell a small mouse in this mix.  That mouse, hardly a rat, is Virgin America.

From the Department of Justice announcement on the settlement of the lawsuit with US Airways and American Airlines:

“Rights and interests to two airport gates and associated ground facilities at each of  Boston Logan, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Love Field, Los Angeles International and Miami International.”

I think that someone wants Virgin America to get access at the airports it has openly spoken of.  Virgin America is a service darling in that offers a superior inflight service experience combined with an LCC pricing scheme.

I think that some or all of these cities will find Virgin America getting the use of these at a pre-arranged price.  The DoJ will come off looking like a prince for getting Virgin America, arguably the smallest of LCCs right now, a place at the table.

But the airline, American Airlines, could care less. Virgin America isn’t big enough to introduce pricing power into those markets the way a larger, more established national airline could.  It’s a deal that, if it works out that way, does nothing to impact American Airlines and which does nothing to substantially introduce competition.

My guess:

I think Virgin America will acquire the gates and facilities in Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago.  Maybe Boston as well.

Virgin America already has a proper footprint at DFW airport.  So I do wonder who might be interested in those gates at Dallas Love Field.  It would be egregiously bad to award those to Southwest although I’m sure that Southwest would love to have them.

I actually believe that Southwest is constrained from getting those gates but readers are free to correct me.

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TSA Hijinks

September 10, 2013 on 1:51 pm | In Airports, security | 1 Comment

It’s been a long while since I wrote about anything involving the TSA but I managed to catch wind of an interesting little thing going on at a local (to me) airport.

Evidently 9 people were involved in a theft ring where employee parking passes were being stolen and re-sold at DFW airport.  These passes allowed people to use airport parking a great deal more economically, if you know what I mean.

What does this have to do with the TSA?

8 of those 9 people worked for the TSA.

Am I shocked?  No.  We have real world concerns about security in airports regarding legitimate threats to people.  There are real and tangible security threats that exist and are even focused on the US.

What’s our answer?  The TSA:  Our front line security against these threats.

At least when they’re not stealing from co-workers cars.

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Let’s talk about competition, airlines and taxes: Part 2

August 18, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline News, Deregulation, Mergers and Bankruptcy | No Comments

Let’s talk about competition among airlines.  Has competition been damaged over the past 8 years?

Truth be told, I felt it would be when the Merger Mania started.  I really did.  I thought that choice would go down, pricing power would go way up and airlines would become even challenging to fly for even business travelers.

That really isn’t what happened.

Before I go further, let’s all acknowledge that the financial crisis, resulting recession and US economy has impacted the airline industry in the worst ways.  Airlines have been smacked around on an unprecedented level.  Remember how much fuel has risen over the past 8 years?  Milk?  Even the guy who mows your lawn?

What makes you think those rise in costs are any different for the airlines?  Even the cost to borrow money in that industry is exceptionally high relative to prime interest rates.  No one believes in the long term viability of airlines much.  So, it’s hard for you and it’s hard for the airlines and their prices may be somewhat higher but they are not double or worse.  They climbed as did most of your other costs related to transportation.  That isn’t inappropriate.

I have railed at the “lock” that American Airlines has on DFW and how much higher people in the Dallas / Fort Worth area pay for air fares to other major cities as a result.  Similar situations exist in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis / St. Paul, Detroit and elsewhere.  But it has been quite bad in the DFW area for years despite the competition provided by Southwest Airlines via Love Field Airport.

That has changed dramatically now.  Airlines are now competing with American Airlines in the DFW area for the first time in decades on many routes.  There is now real choice when going to Chicago or Denver.  I can fly to Newark (NYC) for fares less than $700 for the first time in a decade.

And the same is true in other cities now.  Those cities are seeing airlines which finally have enough scale and network that they are comfortable making a play for passengers in new, non-traditional markets without just buying the customers.

Witness Delta’s recent announced intention to take the West Coast Shuttle traffic away from the incumbents (United and Southwest Airlines.)  That would never have happened even 3 years ago.

We often talk about Southwest and the Department of Justice recently referred to them as largely irrelevant in competition when they filed their lawsuit.  But wait!  Southwest is already competing strongly against airlines such as American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Airlines in their fortress hub cities and to take them as irrelevant is just silly.

Need I remind people that Southwest has entered non-traditional markets such as New York La Guardia and Newark Liberty Airports?  Southwest *bought* its way into the Atlanta market and it gave a world class beating to Frontier in both  Milwaukee and Denver.  In fact, United got its head kicked in by SWA in Denver as well.  Continental was so afraid of Southwest that as United it went to war against them operating (potential) international flights out of Houston.

There is more high profile competition in place today than we have seen in almost 2 decades.  Let’s celebrate that for a moment because it *is* good for the consumers.

Even the casual traveler has seen new options in the form of the ULCC carriers such as Spirit and Allegiant Air.  In fact, those ULCC carriers are actually keeping LCC carriers such as Southwest (who really isn’t an LCC anymore), jetBlue and Virgin America honest.

Even I can admit that I’m wrong and I admit it.  We *do* have considerable competition today and it is more healthy competition in the right ways than in the last 30+ years.

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Shop that flight

June 26, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Travel Hints | No Comments

It pays to shop around and it pays to question whether or not a Low Cost Carrier really is low cost.

Just for fun, I looked around for flights from the DFW area to Portland, Oregon and I used Labor Day weekend as my target as it was a weekend where we should see some restrictions and fairly high travel.  In other words, I wanted to make it a popular time to travel that would see realistic fares.

I checked out Spirit Airlines and found a roundtrip all-in fare of $320 and that didn’t seem all that great to me given what we know about their many fees.  Next, I checked out my favorite airline, Southwest Airlines, and found a very high fare available for just over $500.

Yes, over $500 to fly Southwest to Portland, Oregon from Dallas and it was a connecting flight.  This is way too much.

Like Goldilocks, I found the bed that was just comfortable enough:  United Airlines with an all-in fare of just $367.00.  It, too, was connecting (through San Francisco) but not with an terrible flight time involved.

Yes, I would pay a fee to check a bag on United but that fee would be less than Spirit’s typically and I would get to fly on a vastly more comfortable aircraft.

United’s 31″ of seat pitch vs Spirit’s 29″ of seat pitch.  It makes a huge difference.

So, the Low Cost Carrier wasn’t, the Ultra Low Cost Carrier wasn’t and the legacy airline was the best fit.

Lesson learned?

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SolarImpulse lands in Dallas

May 23, 2013 on 12:38 pm | In Trivia | No Comments

The SolarImpulse solar powered airplane has landed in Dallas and the Dallas Morning News’ Robert Wilonsky has captured the event.  It may be the slowest plane ever to land there and the video is. . . excruciating.

 

 

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DFW to Seoul

May 12, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | No Comments

American Airlines has started its first ever flight from Dallas / Fort Worth to Seoul, Korea and this is a bit of a big deal for the airline as it represents a completely new destination for the airline as opposed to a return to service.

Curiously, Dallas airline Braniff International offered service from Los Angeles to Seoul using its new 747-SP aircraft in the late 1970′s.  It was not possible to fly from DFW to Seoul non-stop at that time as even the long range 747 didn’t have quite the range necessary for such a flight.  It’s even more notable that Braniff failed on that route in a very bad way.

Load factors on those flights served to quicken the airline’s problems leading to bankruptcy.  At that time, South Korea was still governed primarily by the military and it was highly nationalistic in protecting its own airline, Korean Air Lines.  So the route award to Braniff was made to be very problematic for Braniff to operate an attractive flight to Seoul.

Had that flight been introduced 10 years later or 10 years and from DFW, it likely would have succeeded.  The ties between Korea and Dallas are signicant both in terms of residents of the DFW Area as well as in the telecom/electronics industries.

American Airlines should have every opportunity to succeed with this route and we applaud its development as it signals a desire to improve revenues and expand on opportunities to Asia from non-West Coast cities.

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Where does competition start?

March 6, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Service | 1 Comment

Each time two airlines merge, there are Great Debates on competition in the marketplace among airlines and those debates usually start in Congress and among pundits for the airline industry.  It’s a valid concern but there is something that gets ignored in the debate.

Airlines are presumed to be competing openly in perfectly competitive markets throughout their business structure.  They are assumed to be gaining some advantage through ownership of fortress hubs but we know that such fortress hubs are not always as “fortress-like” as we might believe.

With so much emphasis on airline competition, I do wonder when we focus on another part of the competition equation in the airline industry.  That would be airports.

We do very little foster competition at most airports even when there is a demonstrated desire by an airline to enter a marketplace and lower fares.  In fact, many airports simply do not cooperate nor do they ask for cooperation on the part of existing airlines to bring in new airlines except when that airport is a ghost town (think Pittsburgh).

American Airlines has more than 80% of the traffic in and out of DFW airport these days and will be approaching 90% after its merger with US Airways.  This airport won’t get scrutinized by regulators because there is nominally some gate space available for airlines to use.

Consider this:  American Airlines effectively controls 4/5ths of DFW airport today.  It has full control of 3 very large terminals (A, B and C) and effective control of Terminal D.  The only terminal it doesn’t control is Terminal E, the least optimal terminal for an airline to operate into and out of.  And by far the terminal most in need of a refresh (it’s getting that now and that is long overdue.)

But what if an airline would like to start substantial operations at DFW?  Is there space today?  Not really.  It would be possible to find two or three gates at best and that doesn’t not exactly invite airlines to enter the market.  If airlines want to share space, they can but it’s up to them to figure out how to do it.

Will DFW build a new terminal for new entrants?  No, not without a very substantial commitment from an airline to help pay for those facilities.  Yet, without new space and flexibility, DFW can’t begin to hope to add new airlines except on a small, ad-hoc basis.

That new terminal space is exactly what would attract more competition into this airport.  People wonder why Southwest doesn’t give in and use DFW but this is one very big reason why:  DFW actually can’t provide adequate gate space for a substantial operation run by Southwest .  Consider that for a few minutes. . .

Competition isn’t just controlled by airlines, it’s controlled by those operating the airports.  Those airport boards feel very beholding to large incumbents and often do not accommodate anyone else due to unspoken (and sometimes not so  unspoken) threats by those owning the fortress hub.

Take a look at how United (Continental) Airlines treated Houston after it allowed Southwest to build a 6 gate international terminal at Houston Hobby.  It was unseemly and unwarranted.

If you want more competition, you have to make it possible for new entrants to gain a foothold in a market and you have to make it possible for them to grow a little too.  I realize (and so does everyone else) that there are a few airports where that has to be governed a bit differently such as NYC’s La Guardia and JFK and Newark Airports.  In fact, those are about the only places where it has to be done a bit differently.  Everywhere else things could be done more attractively and more efficiently than is the case today.

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AA will get coal for Christmas

February 13, 2013 on 11:37 am | In Airline News, Airline Service | No Comments

American Airlines had 14 aircraft delayed on the tarmac at DFW airport as a result of a minor snowfall in the Dallas / Fort Worth area.  9 of these flights were American Eagle flights and 5 were American Airlines flights.

No doubt American Airlines will moan and groan over this and claim the weather precluded them being able to do anything.  Sorry but when you control 3/4ths of the airport terminal capacity and it isn’t a major storm with lightning, you don’t have many excuses here.

The weather was miserable on that day.  Light to medium rain fell until around the noon hour and then snow fell for several hours following that.  The snow fall didn’t accumulate fast and certainly didn’t completely kill visibility.  Delays such as these at DFW airport on the part of American Airlines just doesn’t compute under most circumstances.  It was possible to disembark people and park aircraft.  It’s notable that Christmas Day actually isn’t even a very heavily traveled day.

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Competition at DFW

January 13, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Service, Airports | 2 Comments

About a year ago, a few airlines started to enter the DFW market and that made me thrilled.  For all too long, American Airlines has dominated virtually all routes from Dallas / Fort Worth to all other destinations.  It’s even been able to manage keeping its pricing up on intra-Texas flights against Southwest.  The last time a truly competitive fare was found in Dallas was when Delta was still here operating a hub.

I saw the entrance of Virgin America on routes between DFW and LAX/SFO as a great start and American Airlines clearly didn’t like the competition because it did what it always does and tried to scare away the airline.  Virgin America CEO David Cush has never said anything but glowing things about VA’s performance to and from DFW.

JetBlue came to town as well with 3 flights to and from Boston.  Boston is a route that is, again, dominated by American Airlines and which had very high fares and by all reports, those flights do very well, too.

Spirit Airlines has come as well and they’re killing it.  Spirit has been adding routes and now is adding a crew base in Dallas because it’s discovered an untapped demand that is the result of very little competition in Dallas.  Hey, folks who live here like a good deal as much as anyone when it comes to a leisure destination.

But a year later, I see two airlines (JetBlue and Virgin America) maintaining their status quo.  I wonder what it is about the middle of the United States and Texas that scares these two airlines so much.  Particularly when you have a major legacy carrier sitting here airling and another LCC carrier (Southwest) raising fare prices in this market considerably.  There is some low hanging fruit.

If I had been Virgin America, I would have targeted Dallas for routes on LAX and SFO for sure.  I would also have laid on flights to New York City and Washington D.C.   I would have opened up a gate in Chicago and connected LAX, SFO, NYC, Washington, D.C. and DFW to Chicago in a heartbeat.

If I had been JetBlue, I would have added flights to New York City, not just Boston and I would have looked at some point to point flying to its Caribbean destinations as well.  We’re as close to the Caribbean as anyone in the Northeast and it’s a popular vacation destination for this area.

But it hasn’t been done.  A year later, these two airlines sit with their timid schedule into and out of Dallas from their strongholds while AA prepares to come out of bankruptcy as a cost competitive airline that potentially is mated with US Airways.  I would have spent the last year building loyalty on routes that those airlines could serve well by offering the fares people want here and getting them just a little too addicted to excellent service on modern aircraft.

It’s disappointing to me, the consumer, because I think that DFW is a destination where a lot of “upstart” airlines could succeed more.  The fear towards AA and SWA defies my imagination at this point.  And there is Spirit Airlines who is taking advantage of the moment and growing like crazy.  Go figure.

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Trip Review of American Airlines DFW/EWR Part 2

January 2, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Service | 7 Comments

Let’s get on with the second part of this trip review:

American Airlines Flight 1905 (EWR – DFW)
Scheduled Departure Time:  05:05pm  Actual Departure Time:  Cancelled
Scheduled Arrival Time:  08:10pm  Actual Arrival Time:  Cancelled

Yes, it was cancelled.  Here is the actual flight:

American Airlines Flight 2705 (EWR – DFW)
Scheduled Departure Time:  07:10pm  Actual Departure Time:  07:49pm
Scheduled Arrival Time:  10:05pm  Actual Arrival Time:  10:24pm

I was monitoring my flight status from the start of the day as well as the flight status of several family members.  My flight suddenly showed cancelled at around 1pm of that day and I had to call AA to find out what was going on.

After spending yet another frustrating 10 minutes fighting through the goo that is AA’s voice activated system for determining what you don’t want to do, I got a reservations agent.  After a couple of minutes of working with this agent, she determined that she couldn’t help me because the trip was booked on AAdvantage Miles.  So I got transferred to a new agent.

I did not find this funny.  To battle an automated system for 10 minutes and then to work with a reservations agent for another 10 minutes only to be told “please hold while I get you the AAdvantage desk” is just not amusing.

The next woman indicated that I had been re-booked on the next flight out.  I was OK with this since it meant I was still departing the same day and just  a couple of hours later.  I wasn’t amused by the fact that my seat had changed from 10A to 25E.

Me:  “Let me get this straight.  You’ve cancelled the flight and think I’m happy with sitting in seat 25E which is in the back of the aircraft and in the middle?”

Res Agent:  “Sir, it isn’t in the back of the aircraft.  It’s actually in the middle of the aircraft.”

Me:  “I’ve flown the MD-80 aircraft since you guys put it into your fleet.  Seat 25 is just a couple of rows from the rear galley and a middle seat isn’t amusing to a man who is 6′ 2″ tall and 270lbs.”

You be the judge.  Here is the SeatGuru map. I’m just going to note that row 25 has 24 rows in front of it and 7 rows behind it.  But apparently AA thinks it is in the middle of the aircraft.

After an interesting exchange between myself and the AAdvantage agent which involved holding for a while while she checked on things, I got Seat 12A offered to me.  Much better.

Arrival at EWR (Newark Liberty International Airport) found me once again stepping into the swirling mess that is AA right away.  The gate agent found it difficult to print 2 baggage tags for my bags because, at first, she couldn’t find me on the flight at all.

TSA had a Priority Access lane that, once again, didn’t save me any time at all.  Particularly so when TSA is permitting people left and right to claim imminently departing flights and by-pass the line.  After several had done this, I began to suspect that locals have figured out that this is the real way to have Priority Access.  I can’t prove it but I do suspect it.

As I arrived at the gate, I checked my flight status app on my phone and saw that the flight had a new flight plan filed for a delayed departure.  I approached the gate agent and asked about the delay and was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about and of course the flight would leave on time.

Roughly 10 minutes later, maybe less, this same agent was announcing that there would be a delay in the departure because the aircraft suffered a bird strike on the inbound approach and had to be inspected prior to going back into service.

It was another 25 minutes before I saw any mechanics go out to the aircraft to look at the airplane.

Once we boarded, the exact same Dance of the Privileged Passengers took place.  In fact, it was as if I was back in Dallas leaving for Newark 2 days earlier.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what it means to carry your luggage on to the aircraft.  I am an ardent supporter of checking bags on flights.  Baggage doesn’t go getting lost with any meaningful statistical frequency.  I have been flying since 1968 and in all of that time my baggage was lost exactly once.  I’ve guessed that I have traveled roughly 3 to 4 million miles in that time.  It isn’t worth taking your life’s possessions on board, it really isn’t.  I can’t tell you how often I arrive at an airport, wait for my bag at the baggage claim and then find myself walking past those who didn’t check bags as they wait for their rides curbside.  This makes you people look silly.

But if you insist on carrying your luggage onto the aircraft, observe the rules.  For instance, one personal item (purse, briefcase, etc) and one bag means that.  It doesn’t mean, for instance, a purse, an oversize rollaboard that doesn’t fit and 2 large boxes from Macy’s.  And, no, I won’t remove my small briefcase and light jacket from the overhead bin so you can park your possessions in various places throughout the aircraft.

American Airlines:  If you’re going to have rules, you’re going to have to enforce them.  Or remove the rules and let the games begin.  I actually think you would earn more revenue and experience fewer delays if you charged someone $25 to bring their rollaboard into the aircraft.  Seriously, charge *those* people for carrying luggage.  You’ll stop the chaos in boarding and earn more money, I would wager.  Offer one free checked bag, charge for additional checked bags and charge for a carry-on.

After the flight took off, we had another Chatty Captain who described in painful detail how we were going to fly the entire route and that we would be pushing against the jetstream the entire way so we would likely run very late.  In fact, the return trip took about 1 hour longer than the one going to Newark.

The truth is, my trip back to Dallas was very similar to the one to Newark.  Right down to lethargic flight attendants doing a beverage service.  Out of sheer curiosity to find out what would happen, I asked for a sandwich again.  This time, I did get one (Roast Beef) but only after taking the chance to remind the flight attendant I had asked for one when she leaned over my seat to reach the person behind me.

The sandwich was . . . OK.  Nothing special but I could taste meat and other items and it was filling enough.  About what I expected for my money.   I was satisfied with it and would argue that a better sandwich would, in fact, require a higher price.

Arrival at the airport found us disembarking from a gate that was inexplicably many, many gates away from an open entry/exit point in Terminal A at DFW.  While walking towards the indicated open exit point, I asked some service agents how much farther did I have to walk to the exit, 6 or 7 more miles, and they just laughed heartily.  What is annoying is that I checked the gates near the open exit point.  All but one were empty.  In other words, AA could have parked their aircraft near an open exit point and prevented a long hike late in the evening.

Once I had my baggage and walked past those who had carried all theirs onto the aircraft, I was able to flag a Parking Spot van immediately and get to my car in just 8 minutes.  I was home just 50 minutes after arriving at the airport and I live a great distance from DFW airport in the Metroplex.

Summary:

  • Boarding experience:  B-
  • Flight Crew experience:  B- (hey, I got my sandwich)
  • Onboard Seating experience:  D (Because there is no reason for this discomfort on a airliner today)
  • Departure / Arrival experience:  C+  (routing your flight through the jetstream was just stupid.)

 

Final thoughts:

On both flights I was struck by one thought over and over again.  I don’t ever experience this kind of poor attitude, poor behavior, and awful service when I fly Southwest Airlines.

Nominally, when you fly American Airlines you are supposed to be flying a full service airline.  When flying Southwest, you’re supposed to be flying a cut-rate airline.  In fact, the opposites are true.  Let’s compare:

Aircraft Quality

Southwest has clean, well maintained and fairly new 737 aircraft.
American Airlines has some new 737 aircraft but after having them for over 10 years, I’ve yet to have flown on one.  I am always on a MD-80.  That isn’t chance, that is because they can fly them from DFW to just about all points in the US and because AA has a stranglehold on the DFW O&D market, they know they can impose this condition on its customers.

Aircraft Seating

Southwest has extremely comfortable leather seating with more average seat pitch than just about any legacy or SuperLegacy airline.  Yes, they’re updating their seats to fit more on the aircraft and I will say that time will tell if these are as comfortable.  They could be and I do have some faith that SWA knows it’s wise not to diminish the seating experience for their customers.  American Airlines on the other hand just has the most outdated, uncomfortable seating available.  It’s that simple.  There might be some seats on the 737s or 777s that are better but that doesn’t describe the vast majority of the fleet.

Service Staff

Southwest’s staff tends to be moderately friendly, fairly interested in solving a problem and ready to help.  Onboard, their flight attendants are usually the right combination of “in charge” and “service oriented”.  Yes, they’re only serving a minor snack and beverage but they somehow make it seem important that it be done timely and right.  American Airlines service staff are surly, resentful and fairly uninterested in solving a problem or even having the correct facts about a flight.   Flight attendants onboard tend to be very senior and very resentful of passengers and their situation.  They are clearly uninterested in serving beverages or food.  I’ve had more than one scold me with “We’re hear primarily for your safety!”  No you aren’t.  You’re there to be in service of the customer and to act in the event an emergency requires strong supervision of passengers.  98% of the time spent performing your job is to keep the passenger happy.

Value

Look, Southwest isn’t “cheap” anymore.  That said, they are competitive on price and when you consider the experience, the convenience and the ability to get someplace on time, they’re high value.  They don’t charge for checking bags and what they do charge fees for makes sense and are priced appropriately.  American Airlines is just bad.  Their fares are high, their service value is the worst around presently.  It’s that simple.  There isn’t a value proposition to flying AA in my opinion unless you’re burning unused air miles.

Tomorrow:  A suggestion for investors in American Airlines

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Trip Review of American Airlines DFW/EWR Part 1

January 1, 2013 on 3:20 pm | In Airline Service | No Comments

For long time readers, it will come as a surprise that I flew American Airlines anywhere.  Relax, this was a trip made on award points. I confess that I did regard this as an opportunity to re-check my thoughts regarding travel on American Airlines.

I scheduled myself to fly from DFW (Dallas / Fort Worth) to EWR (Newark, NJ) for my brother’s wedding.  When checking the schedule, I noticed right off that, once again, the flights available for this route all included what I like to refer to as the Ubiquitous MD-80.  Mostly MD-83 aircraft.

I despise the American Airlines MD-80 fleet.  They are old, very old, compared to virtually any other legacy airline fleet in the United States.  They are not well kept aircraft and lack any cabin updates that would be described as meaningful.  Their seats are extremely dated and you have to love (not) a seat that you can sit on and actually feel the support structure through the cushion.

It’s true that I’ve always liked the 3-2 seating configuration in this aircraft because only 1/5 of all seats are middle seats instead of 1/3.  That said, I readily acknowledge that the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 fuselage is not the most economical around and should have drifted away to retirement about 20 years ago.  China’s COMAC who is building the ARJ21 should take note.

There is a reason why the AA MD-80 fleet is seeing more and more mid-air engine shutdowns and other problems that are cancelling and grounding flights.  It isn’t well maintained.  Yes, the MD-80 is built like a brick outhouse but if it isn’t maintained in the manner of, say, Delta, it starts to deteriorate badly.

On my outbound trip, I watched another AA MD-83 lineup and do a full power take-off while we waited on the ramp for our turn.  This aircraft was a former TWA aircraft as it had the “TW” suffix to its registration.  It made it about 1/4 of the way down the runway, clearly suffered a problem as it appeared that thrust on the aircraft wasn’t equal and suddenly the aircraft did a rejected take-off and quite quickly took a high speed exit from the runway.

If AA pilots are feeling frustrated by this aircraft, I feel your pain.

So, let’s kick off the outbound segment of this trip.

American Airlines Flight 1554 (DFW – EWR)
Scheduled Departure Time:  11:40am  Actual Departure Time:  12:12pm
Scheduled Arrival Time:  03:49pm  Actual Arrival Time:  03:45pm

Arrival at DFW airport was smooth and I almost always use The Parking Spot on the north side of the airport because A) it’s far less expensive, B) I can get into the terminals as fast or faster than DFW long term parking and C) I can remember the name of the place.

I made it to the terminal and checked both my bags and then found myself killing some time because I actually arrived faster than I even planned thanks to a quick driver at the Parking Spot.  The terminal was fairly crowded and I’ve come to despise the bottlenecks at DFW known as the TSA.

DFW’s design isn’t TSA friendly and I get that it is expensive to run many entry points to DFW but, hey, that’s the design of the airport and better to accommodate it or redesign it.  In AA’s case, they just live with it.

I entered the line with AA Priority Access privileges and despite bypassing roughly 2/3′s of the crowd, it still took me approximately 15 minutes to pass through TSA.  I find it disappointing that after 11 years we still are removing shoes, belts, jackets and other items of clothing to get through security.  Even more disappointing with the new(ish) scanners in lieu of being sexually assaulted.  Yes, I used the scanner.  The backscatter scanners are quick(ish) but really don’t save anyone any time since we’re still removing our clothing, our jewelry, our wallets and our dignity.

The Dance of the Privileged Passengers aka boarding the aircraft was somewhat delayed and when begun, it was slow due to gate agents more interested in frantically locating standby passengers than, you know, filling the aircraft with those who were there.

First hint for AA:  Manage your standby passengers better and when you have more than 30 people waiting to go standby, make the call for the passenger once, maybe twice and move on to the next.  Don’t spend 10 minutes making repetitive announcements requesting that Johnny Doe please come to the counter for his standby ticket.  If Johnny isn’t interested enough in getting on the flight to be standing at the ready to get his ticket, move on to someone who is.

Despite Priority Access for this flight, I boarded after roughly 1/3 of the flight had already boarded.  It’s shocking how many people boarded for first class.  I counted 21 people going through as first class passengers.   The problem with that is that there are only 16 first class seats on that aircraft.  Right, so the gate agents weren’t really paying attention to whether or not it was someone’s turn.  I suspect this was true as well for Executive Platinum and Gold passengers given the number of those who went through.

Next hint for AA:  Don’t do this Dance of the Privileged Passengers unless you are truly willing to enforce who gets on by status.  Otherwise, it becomes a farce in which the dishonest are awarded with early boarding.  Although, one does question the sanity of a person who wants onto an AA flight early.

Passengers boarded in a disorganized and frantic fashion while literally claiming overhead bin space for their overstuffed carry-on bag as much as 5 or 6 rows away from arriving at their seat.  I boarded with a small briefcase and jacket.  Many seemed to be carrying considerably more than intended by current rules.  For instance, I’m pretty sure that a large purse, backpack and carry-on rollaboard was a bit over the line.

The flight finally departed the gate, struggled to the runway 100% full and did an exceptionally high powered takeoff to the north that took a fair bit of runway nonetheless.

We climbed fairly quickly, achieved cruise altitude pretty quickly and after the Chatty Captain finished his lengthy description of his flight plan, the flight attendants went to work doing their beverage service.

This beverage service was amusing to watch.  I was in seat 12A which was the 6th row back in economy. With 2 flight attendants working this service, you would expect it to move along reasonably well paced despite the full load of passengers.

You’d be wrong.  I timed it.  It took 38 minutes to reach me and offer me a beverage.  I requested and got orange juice and asked if there was food available.  There was in the form of either a roast beef or chicken sandwich.  I was hungry and asked for the roast beef sandwich while trying to offer my credit card.

I’m still waiting for that sandwich.  Folks across the aisle from me aren’t waiting for theirs.  Theirs came roughly 5 minutes after their request.   Another hint for American:  If you want to sell things on board and earn extra revenue, then deliver what’s been requested.  Furthermore, don’t make it hard to get later.   Seriously, you have to act like you want to sell the stuff to get people to buy it.

The aircraft arrived in New Jersey quickly taking just 2 hours, 33 minutes as a result of some very fast tailwinds that day.  Somehow my butt was still quite sore after what is a fairly short trip time.  I believe it was the metal structure it was riding on due to very worn cushion material.  I’m not one of those guys who minds thin cushions.  I don’t.  Airtran had fairly thin cushioning but it was cushioning.

Summary:

  • Boarding experience:  B-
  • Flight Crew experience:  C
  • Onboard Seating experience:  D (Because there is no reason for this discomfort on a airliner today)
  • Departure / Arrival experience:  A (but you got lucky with a high speed jetstream pushing the aircraft AA.)

Tomorrow, the return trip.

 

 

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Spirit offers another shot across the bow of AA and SWA

October 12, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | 2 Comments

Spirit Airlines is establishing a crew base in the Dallas area to support the flights it is adding furiously into and out of DFW airport.  This is in addition to the maintenance base it has just established at DFW.

Clearly Spirit plans to stay and that puts a big thorn in American Airlines’ side, I think.  Leisure travel isn’t the bread and butter of AA but it is what can fill their aircraft for incremental revenue.  Spirit will drain that off some.  In addition, I do expect that Spirit will put downward pressure on prices at American Airlines.

SWA will see a similar drain of those occasional leisure travelers but its brand loyalty and ever increasing business traffic help alleviate that impact considerably.

Bottom line:  Spirit sees long term opportunity in the DFW area and I couldn’t agree more.  The idea that DFW is an expensive airport to operate from is no longer entirely valid and hasn’t been for some time.  In addition, it is no more and no less impacted by traffic and/or weather events.  This makes DFW an attractive airport and other airlines should sit up and pay attention.

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Spirit launches flights between DFW and Houston

September 20, 2012 on 12:37 pm | In Airline News | No Comments

Spirit Airlines has launched two daily non-stop flights between Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW) and Houston (IAH) starting today.  The flights from DFW to IAH are an early morning and a early evening flight and I can see how those would be satisfying enough for the casual traveler that is Spirit’s target customer.  From IAH to DFW, there is a mid-morning and mid-evening flight that also appear to be fairly satisfying at this time.  Prices show to be Spirit’s typical ultra-low cost fares with some showing to be as little as $30 each way (without fees).

I think Spirit is targeting opportunity it sees in this market pretty smart.  Some of this is aimed at Southwest and it’s original customers who have seen SWA prices rise considerably over the past several years.  This won’t hurt Southwest because that airline is selling frequency and value now that earns a revenue that is consistent with its needs.

It’s more of a strike at American Airlines.  It hits at their airport and with times that actually fit OK into the day trippers that exist between those two airports but who don’t find Love Field (DAL) or Houston Hobby (HOU) convenient.

I expect we’ll see more and more flights from DFW to other Spirit destinations over the next 12 months and most will be aimed squarely at AA routes.

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QANTAS pilots go at it.

August 22, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | 2 Comments

Two senior QANTAS 747 pilots got into a heated argument over what data to input into a flight management system for takeoff.   This occured on the QANTAS flight from DFW to Brisbane August 14.  Ultimately, the flight was cancelled and set to take off the next day due to weather.  However, it was determined that these two pilots could not work together and a replacement crew was sent.  Both pilots are now suspended from duty.

Was this a safety of flight risk?  Possibly.  The environmental data one inputs into a modern flight management system determines things like take-off thrust and the speed at which an aircraft should lift off.  On shorter runways, this can be criticial.  On a flight like the DFW to Brisbane one, it is particularly critical since the aircraft will typically be fully loaded with a full fuel load.  The flight is the longest that a 747 currently flies and is at the very edge of the range performance for a 747-400.  On the other hand, DFW possesses runways that are extraordinarily long and even with a slightly incorrect performance calculation, a pilot would be able to adjust and continue the take-off or even reject the take-off if he/she sensed a problem.

But getting along in the cockpit is critical and this speaks to two pilots acting very unprofessional just prior to a flight where working as a team is what gets the aircraft to its destination.  A destination that requires crossing 6000 miles of Pacific Ocean.

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