Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 February, 2017

Even if you know where this is, it probably won’t help you guess the air route with the most first class seats – see article below.

Good morning

Does President Trump read The Travel Insider?

He met with airline CEO’s on Thursday – although American’s CEO, Doug Parker, was notably absent due to a ‘scheduling conflict’.  One has to wonder – what sort of scheduling conflict would take priority over meeting with the President?  Maybe he was busy meeting with Nordstroms?

Mr Trump seems to have taken the advice I offered him last week.  He told the airlines that he was unable/unwilling to interfere with current international airline open-skies agreements, and pointed out that foreign airlines are actually contributing to our economy rather than draining it.  Bravo.

He also focused in on the new FAA Nextgen ATC system as being an infrastructure project he could support.  Bravo a second time.

All exactly as suggested in last week’s feature article.  Great minds think alike?  Or ‘fools seldom differ’!?

And, if you’re there, Mr Trump, please have a look at this week’s feature article too.  A transportation/infrastructure project that is calling out for infrastructure investment, and a huge opportunity to Make America Great Again.  You’ll see it at the end of the weekly roundup.

Also this week :

  • More Tales of Traveler Misadventures
  • Delta Gets Snippy with Emirates
  • UA Pilots Get Snippy with Norwegian
  • US Airlines Win Top Three Places – But Maybe Wish They Hadn’t
  • Spirit Airlines Shrinks (Its Carry-on Allowance)
  • The Route with the Most First Class Seats
  • 2016 was a Great Year for the Airlines
  • And Lastly This Week….

More Tales of Traveler Misadventures

Following on from our items the last couple of weeks, reader and recently retired senior airline executive Nigel writes

Some true stories of passengers going in the wrong direction. …

The Korean seaman who boarded a flight in Johannesburg and failed to get off in Nairobi to get a connecting flight to Hong Kong.  Apparently he asked the crew why there were no Chinese junks on the River Thames after he landed at Heathrow.

The passenger who, when airborne from Dubai, asked the crew why the flight was going East instead of West.  He had booked a ticket to Dacca, Bangladesh instead of Dakar, Senegal.

My particular favourite. ..a little old lady walked into the ticket office of BOAC many years ago and asked the price of a ticket to Salisbury.  She was quoted a fare of several hundred pounds and exclaimed ‘What, to Wiltshire? ‘. The airline staff thought she meant Salisbury, Rhodesia.  She had meant to go to the coach station across the road!

Delta Gets Snippy with Emirates

In the ‘good old days’, such as Nigel and many other readers will remember, while it is true that airlines did indeed compete with each other for passengers, behind the scenes, they all worked together.

This was not in any attempt to be anti-competitive.  It was for the best of reasons.  People realized, at all levels of the airlines, that their biggest competitor was not another airline, but was the passenger choosing to drive instead of fly, or stay at home and not travel at all.  The airlines, behind the scenes, joined together to ensure that passengers had as good a travel experience as possible, no matter what their choice of carrier.

This took some forms that passengers may have noticed, such as the willingness of one airline to accept a ticket on another airline if the other airline had to cancel its flight, way beyond the requirements of the one-time CAB in the US for airlines to do so.  It also saw interlining of baggage that was more flexible before airline codeshares than it is now, where it seems fewer and fewer airlines will transfer bags between each other, even though in theory the systems to do so are now more readily in place than before.

Another form of cooperation was one which hopefully passengers never noticed.  If an airline’s plane had a maintenance issue, and the airline didn’t have the necessary spare part at the airport the plane was stranded at, any other airline at the airport would gladly lend them a spare part to get the plane up and operational again as soon as possible, and avoid any inconvenience to passengers.

We’re not just talking about needing a replacement nut or bolt or piece of wire.  I’ve even heard stories of airlines lending other airlines a spare engine, perhaps worth $10 million or more.

So, with that as background, you might understand the sadness with which I read the story about Delta withholding a spare part that would have otherwise allowed an Emirates plane to be quickly fixed and fly out of Seattle.  Delta of course hates Emirates with a passion these days.

What makes the story particularly outrageous is that first a lower level person at Delta apparently responded to Emirates’ request by saying, as always would have been the case, ‘Yes, sure, help yourself’.  Emirates took the part (not an engine – a mere $300 item) and fitted it to its 777.  So far, so good.

But then a senior manager at Delta’s head office learned of the good deed and overruled the Seattle employee, demanding the spare part be taken out of the Emirates plane and returned to Delta.  Delta’s excuse for this petty mindedness was that the unit was the only one of that particular part that Delta had in stock in Seattle.  But with regular flights from Atlanta to Seattle, and only a limited number of 777 services out of Seattle, and a part that clearly seldom fails, one would think the risk of needing the part prior to another one being flown up from Atlanta, or sourced from any of their other larger maintenance bases, was so immeasurably small as to be inconsequential.

Emirates had to remove the part and return it to Delta.  Eventually Alaska Airlines managed to come up with a suitable replacement part which it gave to Emirates (Alaska being an airline that likes Emirates and dislikes Delta), allowing the Emirates flight to leave, 6 1/2 hours late.

Emirates said, when asked to comment on the incident, that they will continue to help other airlines anytime they need help, the same as they always have done – even including Delta.

UA Pilots Get Snippy with Norwegian

In a move probably timed to coincide with President Trump’s meeting with airline executives, the head of United’s pilot union sent a carefully pitched letter to President Trump, claiming that former President Obama’s decision to allow Norwegian to fly to the US would destroy the US airline industry and all the jobs associated with it, because Norwegian bases its labor contracts on Singapore and Thailand standards.  The letter described Norwegian as a ‘flag of convenience’ carrier.

Well, that sure pushes all of Mr Trump’s buttons, doesn’t it.  But none of it is true, starting with the suggestion that it was a personal action of President Obama that gave special permission to Norwegian.  In truth, it was quite the opposite.  Obama’s Dept of Transportation scurrilously delayed, for no apparent reason, responding to Norwegian’s application to add extra service via its Dublin hub and Irish subsidiary.  It refused to respond, knowing that if it denied Norwegian’s perfectly valid application, that would cause international outrage and would be eventually overruled.  So it just did nothing at all.  For almost three years.  An application that could have been approved in three days and should have been approved in three weeks sat and sat and sat.

Permission should have been automatically granted as per the Open Skies Agreement between the EU and US, but was only finally approved after the Presidential election, in December.  So, if one were to ascribe the DoT’s actions to a president, one could say that Mr Obama’s administration delayed approving and only after Mr Trump was elected was approval granted.

It would be news to Norwegian, to the Irish and UK governments (currently most of the Norwegian flights operate from the UK), and the EU authorities, that Norwegian is contracting on the basis of ‘Singaporean and Thai standards’ – whatever that means.  The airline is in full compliance with all applicable EU, Irish and UK labor laws.

And the pilots’ suggestion that the entire US airline industry, and all the jobs associated with it, will be destroyed by Norwegian, is off the scale of fevered imaginings and nonsense.

However, if their predictions of doom and gloom do indeed come true, perhaps the two reasons why would be US airline ineptitude and US union greed.  The solution to these problems lies within themselves, can not be blamed on Norwegian, and definitely does not need Presidential intervention.

There is no sign of President Trump heeding these allegations.

A common theme running through all the US airlines and their unions seems to be a fear of competitors, and a preference to destroy competitors rather than to improve their own games.  We’d all be so much better off if the airlines and their unions would respond positively rather than negatively to competition – you know, the way the great American model of free enterprise is supposed to work.  The next item might explain why US carriers fear competitors so much.

And, happier news, Norwegian just announced the latest city it will be serving – Providence, RI.  Norwegian will fly 737s between Providence and probably several different European cities, starting as soon as it gets delivery of new 737 planes from Boeing, later this year.

This is very relevant to the UA pilots’ complaint.  UA doesn’t operate 737’s across the Atlantic, and indeed, has no international service from Providence at all (it offers flights to ORD EWR & IAD).

Norwegian isn’t pushing United out of a route that it currently operates.  Instead, Norwegian is creating an innovative new set of routes that no other airline has ever given any thought to.  These new routes grow the market as a whole, provide valuable extra choices and convenience for people in the Providence region, to say nothing of bringing in European tourists to boost the local economy.  Norwegian had earlier announced it will also bring similar service to Stewart Airport in Newburgh, upstate New York – an airport that United doesn’t fly to or from at all, not within the US and not internationally.

The UA pilots should be complaining to UA’s management about this, not to President Trump.

US Airlines Win Top Three Places – But Maybe Wish They Hadn’t

There are some awards you want to win, and some you don’t want to win.

We suspect that Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and United may perhaps not be pleased to have come first, second, third and ninth on the list of the world’s worst airlines for customer service, but sometimes we also suspect that they totally don’t care.

Travel and Leisure have just announced their ranking of the world’s worst airlines for customer service; and in addition to the US carriers taking four of the nine places, the other five sinners, placing 4th through 8th, were named as Easyjet, Royal Air Maroc, Volaris, Egyptair and Air India.

Spirit Airlines Shrinks (Its Carry-on Allowance)

Still thinking of Spirit, the airline announced that the size of free carry-on you can bring on board with you on their ‘Bare Fare’ fares will reduce from 2688 to 2016 cu in.

The common size limits for carry-on bags is generally 22″ x 14″ x 9″, which is 2772 cu in.  It seems that the 2016 cu in is based on a 21″ x 12″ x 8″  set of dimensions.

If you’re caught with an oversize bag at the airport, you’ll be charged $100.  If you pre-pay, the cost is ‘only’ $26.

This is, of course, nothing other than an attempt to grab more revenue from more passengers.  The minor tweak in dimensions is unlikely to make much difference to how many bags can go in the overhead, but will make it easier for the airline to spot normal standard sized carry-ons and charge for them.

Spirit had announced a few days ago that rates of passenger complaints had been dropping.  This new measure, and their mass ejection of passengers last week, should help ensure they come top of the list again next year for the airline with worst customer service.

The Route with the Most First Class Seats

As part of the feature article this week, I listed the top ten busiest airline routes in the world.

Amazingly, none of the routes were in the US or Europe, and the busiest route of all was from Seoul to a place I’d never heard of and had to look for on a map.

I also came across another interesting statistic this week – the route with the greatest number of first class seats offered on it.  I was unsurprised by the route that came second (Beijing-Shanghai), but the route with the greatest number?  Bet you’ll never guess.  Answer here (and photo clue above, this being a landmark in one of the two cities on the route).

The article has some other interesting statistics too.  Some are unsurprising, others require a deep dive into arcane knowledge – for example, the oldest airport in the world.

Not mentioned, but a new record was set this week for the longest scheduled airline route.  New Qatar service now operating between Doha and Auckland has taken that title, with a 9,032 mile route and a 16.5 hour flying time, on a 777-200LR.  The return flight, into the jet stream rather than with the jet stream assisting, takes 17.5 hours.

Note that although this is the longest route currently being flown, when Singapore Airlines flew between New York and Singapore, it was longer, at 9535 miles.  SQ plans to return to that route, with a different plane.  It previously operated with an A340-500, and now plans to return with an A350-900ULR (‘ultra long range’) when the planes start being received in 2018.  It was/will be an 18 hour flight.

2016 was a Great Year for the Airlines

IATA report that global passenger traffic grew by 6.3% in 2016 compared to 2015 (although this was slightly due to it being a leap year), as measured on the basis of revenue passenger miles.  For the last 10 years (including the 2008 global financial crisis) traffic has been averaging a 5.5% annual increase.

The most growth was in India and China.  India showed a 23.3% growth, China an 11.7%.

A quick comment – everyone knows about China’s ascendancy on the world stage, but the real sleeping giant is India.  Its population of 1.25 billion is rapidly catching up with China’s 1.36 billion, and its skyrocketing GNP overtook that of Japan ten years ago and is now the third largest, after China and the US.  How soon before it eclipses the US, and how long before it exceeds even China?

This chart aptly shows the extraordinary growth in India over the last few decades. What will the next decade or two bring?

In the US, we had a below average rise of 5.7%, and with capacity growing by a lesser 5.1%, that means even fewer empty seats on planes and an average load factor of 82.2%.

The year also saw the establishment of 700 new city-pair routes, and a slight reduction in the average fare paid.

And Lastly This Week….

A rail passenger on Virgin Trains had an unusual problem last week.  He discovered that if he boarded his train to London from a stop 25 miles further away (on the train line) than the normal stop he’d board at, he could save £260 on his journey to London.  To travel 253 miles to London instead of 228 miles, you pay £92 instead of £356 – and you thought airfares were crazy!

He lived more or less in-between the two stations, so he went to the further away one to join the train, and bought a ticket accordingly, thinking that the extra 10 minutes of driving time was the best investment he’d made all year.

So far so good.  But the train’s guard accused him of getting on at the more expensive station, even though the same guard had checked his ticket twice already after he boarded at the further away station.

So – here’s the thing.  How do you prove which station you boarded a train at?  You might think that you should be given the benefit of the doubt, and you might wish to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  But Sir Richard Branson, and his Virgin Trains company, disagrees.  They believe you are guilty until you can prove your innocence, which gets back to this poor traveler’s problem.

The guard refused to believe the man, and so the man was met by police and detained in London until Virgin officials agreed to check through their CCTV feeds and eventually found video proof the man was telling the truth.

He missed the meeting he went to London for, was accused of being a cheat in front of the entire carriage of passengers, and of course, got to enjoy the companionship of London’s finest until eventually proven innocent.

No word from Sir Richard about this.  Details here.

Truly lastly this week, I wrote several weeks ago about Amazon’s Echo devices being accidentally triggered when a television news item mentioned the product and the ‘wake’ word used to activate them.

Last weekend saw the annual Superbowl ritual, one part of which is the parade of blockbuster advertisements (66 different ones this year).  One of these advertisements was by Google, promoting their own version of the Echo, called the Google Home.

And guess what happened.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.





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