Category: Cranky Flier CF

Virgin America Has One More Day Before it Disa…

Virgin America Has One More Day Before it Disappears and Alaska Is Prepared:

Virgin America’s time is almost up. After the last flight goes tomorrow night, April 24, the airline will officially be gone from the public eye. Starting Wednesday, all those Airbuses operate under the Alaska Airlines name. There are many milestones in a merger, but for the public, the passenger service system (PSS, aka reservation system) cutover in the big one. Sometimes these migrations have gone horribly wrong (US Airways/America West and United/Continental are the poster-children) while others have gone extremely well (most recently, American/US Airways). How will this one go? After talking to the team running this cutover, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t go smoothly.

I’ve written about how American and US Airways set the gold standard for how to do a cutover, but Alaska and Virgin America are making things even more fool-proof. I spoke with Charu Jain, Alaska’s Chief Information Officer as well as Sandy Stelling, Managing Director of Process Engineering (and project lead for the migration) who walked me through the plan.

You’ll remember that American and US Airways did a “drain down” meaning that at 90 days before the day they wanted to cut over, they stopped accepting reservations on US Airways and sold the flights as American only. That meant that there were very few reservations that needed to be migrated to the new system since most bookings happen within 90 days of travel. Alaska and Virgin America are taking this one step further. They won’t have to migrate a single booking.

About a year ago, Alaska made the decision to set April 25, 2018 as the date that all flights would operate under the Alaska name. So at 330 days before departure when reservations would normally open for sale on Virgin America… they didn’t. Oh sure, you could keep buying tickets on Alaska’s Boeing fleet. But the Virgin America Airbus routes just didn’t go on sale for travel past April 24. In fact, they kept cutting down the booking window for the Airbuses, not taking any bookings past April 24 until October 5 when the schedule finally opened for sale… as Alaska flights.

That means Alaska had to migrate exactly ZERO bookings from the Virgin America reservation system. Every booking was made on Alaska Airlines. So, uh, end of story, right? What else matters? Well, there are a few things.

Airport Training
While the bookings had all come in on Alaska, there’s still the issue of making sure the Virgin America people at airports know how to use the new Alaska systems. It certainly helps that both airlines use Sabre, but they each have different graphical overlays, so the Virgin America people had to learn something new.

At the time of the merger, Virgin America operated at 29 airports, and all but 2 were also airports where Alaska flew. Those two, LaGuardia and Love Field, got Alaska flights soon after the merger, and the airlines worked hard to co-locate in all of those airports as quickly as possible.

With the teams working together, Alaska decided to install both Alaska and Virgin America systems on every workstation. Training of Virgin America airport employees began last November and has been happening continuously. So Virgin America employees have been exposed to Alaska’s system for several months, and have used it in real-life on Alaska flights as well. They should be well-prepared.

Call Center Training
What about in the reservation centers? This one was easy. Virgin America outsourced its call centers to a third party, so, as Virgin America bookings wound down and volume increased on Alaska, Alaska started hiring in its own call centers in Boise, Phoenix, and Seattle. There are today more than 300 additional res agents on the Alaska side.

At the same time, Virgin America stopped using one of the outsourced call centers as volume shrunk. There are fewer and fewer people working in the second one. On April 25, calls will all go to Alaska’s in-house team, so no training of the old outsourced agents was needed.

Why Wednesday?
As I was going over this information, I stopped and realized how weird it was that they would make the switch on a Tuesday night into Wednesday. Why do that when most airlines do Friday night into the quieter weekend? Alaska had a lot of reasons, actually.

  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are quieter operational days with fewer flights.
  • Demand is lower, so load factors are lighter and they could thin out the schedule by cutting more redeyes that night without having a big negative impact.
  • Middle of the week tends to have more experienced travelers who are more likely to understand how things work and need less hand-holding.
  • Lastly, Alaska’s most senior employees tend to be working on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and not on the weekend.

Adding all that up, Alaska thought mid-week was the way to go.

What to Expect
So what exactly can you expect to see that’s different between April 24 and April 25? Not much. The last departure goes surprisingly early on the 24th. It’s Virgin America flight 1947 leaving Los Angeles at 9:35pm and arriving San Francisco at 11:04pm. If you wanted to be on that flight, too bad. It’s a celebration flight for Virgin America employees who were there since the beginning. But there are flights which will land later, including a couple of the only redeyes still flying like SF to Newark and LA to Philly.

When the 25th arrives, things will only look mildly different. Alaska has already replaced Virgin America signage where it could. In some places, the Alaska signage is hiding beneath a Virgin America sticker which will just be removed. Alaska has already installed enough of its own kiosks to handle the full passenger load for both airlines. The old Virgin America kiosks aren’t being rewired. They’re being retired.

Possibly the most noticeable difference will be the extra employees in the airport. Alaska is staffing up in the Virgin America stations just in case there’s an issue, but really, there shouldn’t be….

What Could Go Wrong?
With all the bookings being made in Alaska’s system and employees already proficient in the new system, what actually could go wrong? Very little, but there are a couple points to watch.

The first is flight status, or what Alaska calls “flight movement.” The Airbus fleet will still run on the legacy Virgin America system for now when it comes to flight movement, and Alaska had to make sure that the res system would work with that. The work has been done and it’s been tested, but I’ll be looking for errant flight status information on that day if things don’t work right. Still, that shouldn’t be a major source of delays even if there is a hiccup.

The bigger threat could be the the passenger counts used for weight and balance. That’s also on a legacy system for the Airbus fleet, and it too has been tested with the Alaska reservation system. If that goes wrong, there are backups. But if you see them manually calculating weight and balance, then you know things have gone really wrong. That could cause delays if it were to happen, but that’s a pretty small risk compared to what we’ve seen in other migrations.

There are just so few potential points of failure in this cutover that it’s remarkable. Chances are, it’ll go smoothly and you’ll never even know anything changed. That is, unless you’re a Virgin America fan. Then you can recognize this as a key point in the ultimate demise of the airline. Sure, some of those airplanes will still have the name painted on the side and purple mood-lighting for awhile longer, but the end is near.

April 23, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

Cranky on the Web: Rethinking Window Seats Aft…

Cranky on the Web: Rethinking Window Seats After Southwest 1380:

Window seat or aisle? After Southwest incident, some fliers think twiceCNN Money
If you read the title of this post and rolled your eyes, then we’re in the same boat. When I got the call saying some people were suggesting that they would reconsider window seats because of the death that occurred on Southwest 1380, I started to rant. The odds of something like this happening in the same exact way are so incredibly tiny. You’re more likely to die by getting run over by a cart in the aisle, or something else equally improbable and ridiculous. But, I did change my tune toward the end of my conversation. I think people should definitely start choosing aisles more. That leaves more window seat options for me.

April 21, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

3 Links I Love: Allegiant and the FAA Get Hamm…

3 Links I Love: Allegiant and the FAA Get Hammered, Rolls Royce Has Engine Problems Yet Again:

This week’s TWO featured links:
I decided to feature two links this week, because they shine light on two sides of the same coin…

Allegiant Air: The Budget Airline Flying Under the Radar60 Minutes
In case you missed it, 60 Minutes ran a scathing half-hour piece on Allegiant’s safety issues last Sunday. It makes the FAA look pretty bad too. Now the question is… how much is right? Had Allegiant bothered to actually comment on the story, maybe some of the inaccuracies could have been resolved easily. But no, Allegiant inexplicably wouldn’t talk to 60 Minutes, and that instantly made the airline look guilty in the public eye. After the story went live, Allegiant finally woke up…

Personal message from Allegiant CEO Maury GallagherYouTube
Here’s a video from CEO Maury Gallagher that was uploaded on Tuesday talking about the report. He refutes some of what was in there, and I’ve talked to people who have been crunching the numbers. It’s not easy getting to some of the exact data points mentioned in the story, so I don’t quite know what to believe and what not to believe. But as they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire (inappropriate pun intended). There are issues here in one form or another.

Either way, I don’t think this hurts Allegiant in the long run. People will still keep buying tickets because it’s cheap and in many cases, it’s the only nonstop option. Oh, and did I mention it’s cheap?

One for the road:
FAA imposes restrictions on Boeing 787s powered by some Rolls enginesThe Seattle Times
Remember when Rolls Royce had those A380 engine problems? Well, now it’s time for the 787s to have trouble. No US airlines are impacted since they don’t have Rolls onboard, but British Airways, Norwegian, and ANA all do. And now they have to fly closer to alternate airports while this gets worked out.

April 20, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

Southwest’s Post-Accident Response Starts the …

Southwest’s Post-Accident Response Starts the Right Way, But The Road is Long:

At first, it seemed like a routine engine failure. Sure, the pictures coming off Southwest flight 1380 looked bad as did the panicked passenger response, but we’ve seen that plenty of times. It was only in February that a United 777 lost an engine cowling and those images looked just as bad. But the more we learned, the more the severity of this situation became clear. The window was knocked out by the debris from the engine, and one passenger was killed. Southwest’s crisis response team jumped into action, and it did a commendable job. But this is just the beginning of a long and difficult path.

Southwest has been flying for more than 45 years, and it has never lost a passenger due to an accident until this week. (Yes, a little boy was killed when a Southwest aircraft over-ran the runway in Chicago. Not that it’s a distinction that really matters, but he wasn’t on the airplane.) Like most big airlines, Southwest had a response plan in place, but it hadn’t been tested in a real-life accident like this. Heck, no US airline has been tested in this way since 2009 when Colgan Air had an aircraft crash in Buffalo.

This particular aircraft was flying from New York to Dallas near cruising altitude when the engine failed. The pilots descended quickly and landed in Philadelphia just before 11:30am Eastern. By all accounts, they did a textbook job of getting the aircraft on to the ground safely, though I’m sure that will be scrutinized carefully in the investigation, like every other detail.

It looks like Southwest’s first official tweet about the accident was at 12:39pm (all times Eastern from here on out).

An initial press release was put out confirming that something had happened. Southwest continued to operate Twitter as normal by responding to customers as quickly as possible, but no proactive tweets went out except for those related to the accident.

As we’ve seen other airlines do in other parts of the world, the airline then scrubbed its public presence to make sure it appeared focused on the accident and not on selling tickets. The logo on Twitter was changed from the usual multi-color heart to a gray one. And the background was just a flat blue.

On the airline’s website, it took off any sale advertising and left a generic blank spot with the logo in the middle. (That was eventually shrunk down in size and a link to information about the flight was posted.)

Another press release was put out around 4:30pm with more detail, including the fact that one person had died. The press release linked to a video of CEO Gary Kelly talking about the accident.

I thought the video was well done. I know he’s just reading a script, but Gary still seemed somewhat shaken. Leaders are at their best when they don’t try to hide emotions in times like these. That somber tone carried through to the media briefing Southwest held at 6pm. (Ok it was more like 6:15pm by the time it got started, but that’s excusable. There’s a lot going on.)

The name of the passenger who died soon became public. Jennifer Riordan was from Albuquerque. She was married with kids. This made the story much more human. Southwest didn’t flinch, however, and stayed on message that its focus was on helping the family and not on anything else. By the end of the day, when people were talking about Southwest, they were talking about the actions of the pilots and not about any potential culpability of the company. But that will inevitably change over time as the unfortunate race to assign blame begins.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt said yesterday that in the preliminary investigation, they had found that one of the fan blades in the engine had broken away. And in this “preliminary examination,” they saw that there was “evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated.”

We don’t know more than that, but that is the kind of news that makes everyone nervous. Certainly there will be questions about whether Southwest properly inspected the engines on this airplane. The engine manufacturer, CFM (a joint venture between GE in the US and Safran in France), will come under scrutiny as well. This is one of the most popular engines in the world, and it has had a handful of issues that may be similar to this one. In fact, there was an airworthiness directive issued the last time this happened (also on a Southwest aircraft). Undoubtedly the FAA will be under the microscope. Looking closely at every party involved is what makes for a good investigation.

Right now, we don’t know why this happened, but the NTSB will figure this out. And there will be inspections and changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Ultimately, there will be learnings that make flying even safer than it already is. That’s the best thing that can happen in any accident and it’s what really matters, not the blame game.

As Southwest CEO Gary Kelly kept repeating over and over, this was a sad day. Southwest communicated well throughout the early hours of the crisis, but it will be tested further as this investigation unfolds.

April 19, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

Sun Country Earns the Cranky Jackass Award for…

Sun Country Earns the Cranky Jackass Award for Giving No Options to Stranded Customers:

When it comes to major weather problems, I’m a pretty forgiving person. Weather wreaks havoc on an airline, and recovery can be really difficult. But even if it takes a week, it’s still important for an airline to make sure it completes its recovery by getting everyone where they need to be. Sun Country failed that test this weekend when it stranded scores of passengers in Mexico. I hoped the airline would change its mind, and I reached out for comment today thinking maybe it would have. But even in the face of widespread (well-deserved) criticism, Sun Country has stuck to its guns. And for that it gets the Cranky Jackass award.

Let me set the scene here a bit. A bunch of pale Minnesotans hopped on an airplane to fly down to Cabo and Mazatlán to catch some sun. Spring break is over, and Sun Country is getting ready to pack it in for this year’s season before moving airplanes to different markets. But in the dying days of winter, there are still Minnesotans looking to escape.

While they’re there, Mother Nature gets involved. She says, “You think winter’s over? HELL NO. I hope you like Dairy Queen, because it’s BLIZZARD TIME!” And Minneapolis/St Paul (MSP), home of Sun Country, gets absolutely walloped with a late season storm. I’ll let Sun Country’s VP of Marketing Kelsey Dodson-Smith tell you just how bad it got for the airline.

MSP was closed to all arrivals and departures for a total of 9 hours on Saturday causing us to cancel 25 flights, combined with other carriers, the cancellation count came to 495. Network disruptions continued into Sunday due to weather challenges and runway closures at the airport. We had to cancel 15 of our flights, 315 flights were cancelled in total.

We understand that it has been difficult to call through to our reservations call center based on the significant increase of call volume and recognize the hold times are unacceptable. Our staff continues to work around the clock to reduce the call volume and assist every passenger affected by the extreme weather. We continue to staff to the fullest in an effort to decrease the wait time and assist our passengers as soon as possible. Some of our agents have literally worked from one day, through the night, and into the next to help passengers and to cover for colleagues who were unable themselves to get to work due to the storm.

Long hold times, canceled flights, rolling delays. I get it. It’s really uncomfortable, and people will have their plans disrupted, but that’s just life when weather hits the one hub of a small airline, especially a newly-minted ultra low cost carrier. There isn’t the same capacity to recover as there is with the bigger guys. None of that is Jackass-worthy, but wait, there’s more. Remember those people in Mexico? They were supposed to come home during the blizzard, but instead, flights were canceled and their options were… well… I’ll let Kelsey describe it from here.

Our most challenging recovery situation remains to be our Los Cabos and Mazatlán flights and we cannot apologize enough to those passengers who were hit by the one-two punch of an April snow storm and the seasonality end date of our winter schedule. Our fleet was already allocated to fly other operations and unfortunately, we were unable to send additional aircraft to Los Cabos and Mazatlán without cancelling more flights causing further disruptions to more of our passengers. We felt the best option for these passengers was to provide them a full refund on their airfare so they could get on their way as quickly as possible. If their tickets were booked directly with us, the refund is being automatically credited back to their account. If passengers booked through a travel agency or online travel provider, we are working with those partners to assist with those refunds. Sun Country may take up to 7 days to process the refund. Dependent on the passenger’s bank it may take longer for the refund to be reflected in the passenger’s account. We have expedited processing these refunds ahead of all others.

That’s right. Sun Country has its fleet flying hard, and it doesn’t have the slack to send a rescue mission down to pick up those people who are stuck. So what did it do? It just punted. That is not a solution. People who likely got a bargain flying at the end of the season were now told to go buy a ticket on another airline out of pocket. You can be sure they had to pay a whole lot more than they did in the first place. Of course, a refund should be an option for people who need to get home. But Sun Country should provide more options for those where cost is a greater concern.

I sent follow up questions asking if the airline had thought about other options, but I didn’t receive a response before publishing. Here are just a few of the things Sun Country could have done.

  1. Find some spare aircraft time and send a rescue mission. I know, Sun Country says it has no spare aircraft time. But guess what? You can cancel one of the three daily flights to Vegas and reaccommodate those passengers so you can send a plane to rescue the Mexican tourists. There has to be some way to make this work.
  2. Charter a plane. This isn’t cheap, but it’s an option. If the airline wanted to prove it was the ULCC with a heart, then this would have given good press for miles.
  3. Put people on other airlines. It’s true, the big guys don’t have interline agreements with Sun Country, so the airline would have to just pay for tickets out of pocket on most. But Sun Country does have an interline agreement with Alaska, and Alaska flies to both of those places. This seems like a cheap solution for Sun Country, especially in Cabo where Alaska has a lot of flights back to the US (if not Minneapolis) and a lot of seats available to sell in the next few days. Mazatlán is tougher since Alaska has much less service, but it’s still an option that could be offered to some people. But Sun Country could have just bought the tickets outright. Maybe, what, $150,000 total to do that? It’s worth it.

I don’t know why Sun Country has decided that the “best option” was to give no option. But you would think the airline would be more sensitive to its public persona right now as it morphs from a well-liked hometown carrier with a Minnesota attitude into an ultra low cost carrier. That move made sense to me, but part of the pitch was that the airline was going to keep that “Minnesota nice” attitude. This says very loudly, very publicly, otherwise.

April 17, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

IAG Shows Its Smarts With Effort to Acquire No…

IAG Shows Its Smarts With Effort to Acquire Norwegian:

There is nothing quite like watching CEO Willie Walsh and the team at the generically-branded International Airlines Group (IAG) work. Every so often, the company (parent of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus and LEVEL) comes up with seemingly hare-brained ideas that, after further review, don’t seem so crazy after all. The latest news is that IAG has taken a stake of 4.61 percent in Norwegian, and it’s interested in talking about a takeover. Why would a company like IAG want a money-losing, debt-ridden mess like Norwegian? There are so many good reasons, and the fact that IAG is making a move shows that the company remains at the top of its game.

Norwegian, as I’ve written here before, is a mess. It has grown like a weed but not in a wise way. Though it was successful as a low-cost carrier flying 737s around Europe, its expansion since then has tanked the airline’s financial performance. Now, as things have become more dire, the airline looks increasingly vulnerable. Its stock has been trading near a 52-week low, and that means it’s the perfect time to ponder an acquisition… if there’s anything worth acquiring.

IAG has been very deliberate about the airlines it has brought into its portfolio over the years, so it might seem strange that Norwegian would be of interest. But IAG is always looking for something that would better the group’s performance, and this has the potential to do just that. It would be a great way to eliminate an irrational competitor and pick up some assets along the way. This is a forward-thinking move. While Air France/KLM bumbles around with regular strikes and poor strategic decisions and Lufthansa continues to cobble together its Frankenstein-esque monster in Eurowings, IAG continues to outpace them both by a mile.

The most obvious benefit to IAG would be to simply get rid of a ton of competitive capacity from an airline that doesn’t seem to be interested in actually making money. Norwegian has been aggressive over the Atlantic not only with 787s on big routes but also 737s on smaller East Coast-Europe runs. And unlike competitors, IAG has not been taking this threat lightly.

At British Airways, Norwegian’s large-and-growing Gatwick hub has been of real concern. Without Norwegian, there’s no way BA starts flying London to Oakland or Ft Lauderdale. Those flights, operated by 777s in a dense configuration, are merely meant to put pressure on Norwegian. Then there’s LEVEL, the quickly-whipped-up long-haul, low-cost competitor to fly from continental Europe to longer haul destinations, many overlapping with Norwegian. This may seem like an overreaction from a competitive standpoint, but it’s really not, as I’ve come to appreciate. IAG realizes that if Norwegian doesn’t make it work, someone will. If Norwegian disappears, that will be quite the vacuum to fill, but IAG can get ahead of the game by acquiring Norwegian and re-shaping it into something worthwhile.

It could take the long-haul routes that work and bring them into the LEVEL operation. Or really, it would go the other way since LEVEL is still mostly piggy-backing off the Iberia operating certificate. It could use the Norwegian operating certificates in the UK as well as Ireland. For short-haul, IAG could find a way to have some of that mesh nicely with what Vueling has built. This would rationalize routes while letting IAG cherry pick what make the most sense. The continuity of the whole transaction would give little daylight for others trying to take advantage of Norwegian’s vulnerability.

Presumably an IAG-owned Norwegian would be much smaller than today’s Norwegian, but many of those shiny 787s and 737 MAXs could find a home elsewhere in the networks of IAG’s portfolio airlines. The airplanes it doesn’t want, it can use its heft to negotiate out of (or it can lease them out through Norwegian’s leasing company, though that would seem odd). It’s not just the airplanes either. Imagine how British Airways would like to have all those Gatwick slots under its control. Oh sure, some divestiture would be necessary to pass a competition review, but BA would still end up ahead of where it is today. Then there are the ancillary businesses, like Norwegian’s staffing operation. As Jon Ostrower notes, that could be of real interest as well.

The basic idea is that Norwegian doesn’t work as a whole, but there are pieces of interest. And if Norwegian fails, there will be a race to fill that void. This gives IAG pole position in that race.

Of course, this may go nowhere. Norwegian had no idea this was coming. Early signs don’t indicate that the CEO (who owns over a quarter of the airline) is jumping at the chance. But guess what? Even if it falls apart, IAG still gets rich off its investment. Just announcing it had taken a small stake caused Norwegian’s stock to rocket up 50 percent. If this works, IAG gets to shape the competitive landscape in a meaningful way. If it doesn’t work out, Willie will be able to walk away and count his kroner. Either way, IAG wins.

April 16, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

Cranky on the Web: Why Boarding Sucks, Taking …

Cranky on the Web: Why Boarding Sucks, Taking Out Loans to Travel:

Boarding an airplane is such a pain in the neck. Can the process be fixed?Los Angeles Times
Catharine Hamm at the LA Times tackled a reader question about why boarding sucks. The problem, in my eyes, is all the carve-outs for people with status, credit cards, priority, etc. Go back to the way Northwest used to do it. “Attention passengers. Get on or we’re leaving you here.” The random scrum seems to work best. But those carve-outs will never go away, so it’s not going to happen.

Fly Now, Pay Later: Are Travel Loans a Good Deal?Associated Press/NerdWallet
A trend that’s long been normal elsewhere is becoming more popular in the US: taking loans out to fund travel. I am always skeptical about loans for things like this unless there’s a very specific reason. For example, let’s see you have a good friend getting married somewhere far away and you know your tax refund will cover it. You just don’t have it yet. Ok, fine. Do what you need to do to be there. But for regular vacations? It’s risky.

April 14, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

3 Links I Love: Two Airlines Pour Money into J…

3 Links I Love: Two Airlines Pour Money into JetSuite, Evolution of Ontario, Prescott’s Options:

This week’s featured link:
JetSuite Plans Big Expansion With New Investments From Qatar Airways And JetBlueForbes
I continue to scratch my head over the announcement that Qatar Airways will put money into JetSuite, and JetBlue will up its investment. I totally get it from JetSuite’s side. It’s trying to expand and it’s not profitable, so it wants more money to fuel growth. But what is Qatar going to get out of this? And why is JetBlue doubling down and putting more money into the currently-money-losing venture?

Even if JetSuite is successful, I’m not sure how JetBlue and Qatar expect their core businesses to benefit. Maybe Qatar thinks it can get in JetBlue’s good graces by helping keep JetSuite going so JetBlue doesn’t lose its investment. Maybe it’s all the beginning of some bigger, super secret plan. Or maybe Occam’s razor applies and the simplest explanation is the right one. What is that? JetSuite just caught the eye of Qatar’s CEO and so he put money in, and JetBlue wants to chase its original investment with more so it doesn’t get diluted. It’s just hard to see how this all comes together, so I’m going to stop trying to make sense of it.

Two for the road:
The Evolution of Ontario International Airportairport business
Curious to learn more about the rise of Ontario here in Southern California? Benet Wilson sat down with CEO Mark Thorpe to learn more about what the airport is doing. Watch out for those cargo carriers. It’s a huge growth opportunity for Ontario, and when they grow, that brings costs down even further for all the other users of the airport.

Prescott Airport could have commercial flights again within weeksThe Daily Courier
When an airline goes belly-up and a small airport loses all service instantly, it’s quite the hardship. Prescott in Arizona, however, seems to have a lot of competition for replacement service. One seems pretty far out there – Advanced Air wants to fly KingAirs from Hawthorne, that little airport you see on the left side on final approach to LAX. That would be odd, to say the least, and a strange use of federal funds.

April 13, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

American Makes a Move to Grow Dallas/Ft Worth,…

American Makes a Move to Grow Dallas/Ft Worth, But Bigger Decisions Need to Be Made:

Everyone wants an Atlanta. Delta has built Atlanta into an incredible hub, a machine that pushes through an enormous number of passengers to feed the airline’s global network. Both United and American would love to have an Atlanta of their own, and for American, the best option is at Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW). An announcement last week marks the beginning of American making its move with a net acquisition of 13 more gates and a planned increase in flights of more than 10 percent. But if American is going to really want to turn DFW into Atlanta, there are some big decisions that need to be made.

Let’s dig into DFW a little bit more with this awful artwork.

No matter what you think about Texas, we can all agree that they tend to think big there. It may have seemed crazy when they plopped down an airport on some prairie way back in the day, but DFW is now one of the few airports in a big city with plenty of room to grow. The original terminal plan was for, I believe, 370 semi-circular terminals straddling either side of the central roadway holding 400 trillion passengers, or something like that. But when it was first built, there were just four.

The original Terminal 2E (now Terminal A) was presumably named with the expectation that there would be another couple horseshoes to the north, but those have yet to come to fruition. Today, it’s a newly-renovated building that’s entirely occupied by American’s mainline operation.

Terminal 3E (now Terminal C), just south of A, is also used exclusively by American. But Terminal C hasn’t been renovated and you could be mistaken for thinking you had gone back to the 1980s the second you step inside. Its future remains up in the air, though a plan should emerge by the end of the summer.

Terminal 4E (now Terminal E) is better known as the one terminal American didn’t use. In fact, it was the home of Delta’s now-defunct DFW hub. Delta was bursting at the seams to the point where in the 1980s, the airport opened that little satellite building to hold more flights. Now E is home to pretty much everything that’s not American and not international… but the satellite has remained empty since renovations were finished on the main terminal.

Terminal 2W (now Terminal B) was the one building on the west side when the airport opened. It’s now solely filled with American Eagle airplanes. American started running out of room, so it added on that weird growth-like stinger concourse on the northwest side to take advantage of empty real estate. B has 3 gates in the southeast corner that are connected right into the customs facility in Terminal D, so American Eagle flights from close international destinations don’t have to park with the big boys. But the place is running out of room again.

Terminal D (would have been Terminal 3W if it had been open before the naming convention changed) is only a little over a decade old, and it’s the airport’s increasingly-busy international terminal.

Overall, DFW has 165 gates and until now, American has controlled about 122 of them. Despite all these gates, American is hungry for more. The airline is planning on growing from around 800 peak daily flights today to around 900 peak daily flights next summer. It’s also going to gain a net 13 new gates. Here’s what’s happening.

What’s Changing
American has decided that flying on 50-seaters isn’t miserable enough. So the airline is going to pull some of those away from Terminal B and put them in the now-abandoned Terminal E satellite. The gates there will be reconfigured for regional jets, so the number will increase from 9 today to 15. But it’ll be used by those Embraer 140s and 145s you love to hate. If you happen to be starting or ending in Dallas, that’s not bad. But if you’re connecting, especially between E and B, get ready for a hike.

With those airplanes moving out of Terminal B, American has a little room to play. It’s currently looking at extending the sterile corridor which connects the 3 gates in Terminal B to customs to a handful more. Those gates would be reconfigured (and 2 would be lost) to allow mainline airplanes to start using B for near-international and domestic flights.

This gives American control of 135 gates at DFW, but it’s going to eventually need more. And it has to start making a decision on how it wants to make that happen.

What Needs to Change
American has a few issues at DFW, and the first of which is what to do about Terminal C. It’s pretty awful, and American knows it. It pushed off the renovation back when money troubles arose, but it can’t keep doing that forever. The airline could pour a bunch of money into the building and make it passable, or it could just put some lipstick on it to keep it running until it can build a new facility. I expect we’ll know more about the plans for C by the end of the summer. Decisions needs to be made. But a renovation wouldn’t get American much more in the way of gates anyway.

There have been grand plans in the past to create mega-terminals, but the easiest and most obvious solution would be to build Terminal F. Fans of symmetry would rejoice at finally having three terminals on each side of the highway with F on the west side just south of D. The footprint is, as you can see in that photo above, there for the taking. Taxiways were all designed knowing that something would be plopped right in there one day. That’s not to say that it will be cheap to build, but it should be a whole lot cheaper than some of the crazy things more constrained airports have had to do.

If American really wants to grow, then the right thing to do is to pony up the money and build F. Presumably it could be built in a way that would net more gates than what C has today. Then C can be shuttered, knocked down, and eventually rebuilt to add a ton more gates to the airport’s overall footprint. We won’t see that happen for a long time, but it’s the kind of long-term planning that airports should be doing if American is serious about turning DFW into its own Atlanta.

April 12, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

A Pleasant Alaska First Class Flight to Puerto…

A Pleasant Alaska First Class Flight to Puerto Vallarta and an Equally Pleasant Return on Delta in Coach (Trip Report):

I celebrated my 40th birthday in Hawai’i last year. This year, it’s my wife’s turn. Though our big celebration is this summer, we opted to also sneak in a weekend in Puerto Vallarta closer to her actual day. And since I was down there and award space was uncommonly good, I decided to do our annual spring leadership get-together for Cranky Concierge after my wife went home. Even though I flew Alaska down in First Class and Delta back in coach, I’d argue both were similarly good, though for different reasons.

Going down, my wife wanted the earliest possible departure, and that was on Alaska. Tickets were fairly cheap in coach, so we used 11,474 Ultimate Rewards each to cover the cost. When I returned a week later, I used a Delta travel voucher from last year’s Phoenix mess to pay for all but about $35 of the ticket. (Total price $165.58.)

I had been watching First Class availability as we approached our departure date and it looked fairly empty, so I was hopeful we could start the trip off right with an upgrade. Sure enough, when I went to check in at 24 hours before departure, Alaska wanted a mere $53.75 each. For a 2.5 hour flight to start this birthday trip off right, that was a no-brainer. And I didn’t tell her it was happening.

(Side note: It looks like we got it in the dying days of the old upgrade program. This 1,218 mile flight will now cost nearly double.)

We got to the airport early and made it through security quickly. On the other side, we just staked out a couple seats and waited it out.

Our 737-900 (non-ER version, so a relatively old guy) pulled up in the new colors, and boarding began soon after. It didn’t take long before my wife figured out we’d be sitting up front, and she was excited.

March 16, 2018
Alaska 254 Lv Los Angeles 9a Arr Puerto Vallarta 109p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 65B, Runway 25L, Depart 4m Early
Puerto Vallarta (PVR): Gate B8, Runway 22, Arrive 9m Early
N323AS, Boeing 737-990, Seahawk Green colors, ~99%
Seat 4A, First Class
Flight Time 2h28m

The outside may have had a fresh coat of paint, but on the inside, this airplane looked its age.

The interior was standard old Alaska, and it does look somewhat dated these days. The seats were clean but appeared well-worn.

We took our seats in the last row, and relaxed. It was a slow taxi, but eventually, we were in the air climbing above the scattered clouds below.

I had just finished up the inflight magazine when the flight attendants came through with drinks. I was surprised that they had sparkling wine onboard, so we decided to take it and have a little toast to the beginning of the trip. (I followed it up later with some scotch, because, well… don’t judge me.)

At this point, I decided I’d see if I could use my phone to watch Alaska’s streaming content unlike on United. Sure enough, it seemed to work, at least to the point where I had to download something to be able to watch. But we were already in Mexico and out of range, so the download never completed.

The flight attendants came through with a meal tray. It was full of fruits and veggies with hummus, and it was actually a nice little snack for a relatively short flight.

Clouds had thickened below us, so I couldn’t see the always-beautiful view of the Sea of Cortez. I just sat back and listened to music. The clouds eventually parted and were replaced with a more scattered tropical scene. We cruised over the water and soon started descending.

The first time I came into Puerto Vallarta, we landed to the north in the remnants of a hurricane. The second time, I landed to the south but the approach was covered in clouds. This time it was perfectly clear, and I was able to get a better sense of the scene below. We made a right turn to catch our final approach, and I waved to the Aviacsa 737, which continues to recede into the jungle, right before we planted our wheels on the runway.

Lines were short, and we were on our way to the St Regis Punta Mita in no time. I don’t usually like fancy hotels, but man, did I love this one.

What a great spot to spend a couple of days. But soon we relocated to the Westin in Puerto Vallarta and my team came in. A quick shout out to the crew of Delta 770 on March 19. My wife flew home that day and accidentally left her wallet in the seatback pocket after using it to buy food. Before she even knew it, Delta had called her to tell her they had her wallet. She wasn’t far off the airport and was very happy to turn around and grab it. Great job, Delta.

For me, it was a productive week, but I was ready to go home by the end of it.

I checked in online but then remembered that you can’t do mobile boarding passes there, at least not on Delta. I snickered as the offer to upgrade for more than $450 came on my screen. Um, no thanks.

I arrived at the airport early with a couple of coworkers (one who would fly with me), and we got our boarding passes from the kiosks. In a few minutes we were through security and dodging duty-free vendors before making our way to the B concourse. I really can’t stand that place. It was really bad last year when I was hungover, but this year in a much better state, it was still terrible. The airports seems like it was designed to echo all the noise and make life miserable. There are constant concourse-wide announcements that are often interrupted by individual speakers blasting news in an unintelligible manner at each gate. It’s also generally overcrowded. This is when I started dreaming about the invention of beaming technology.

Our airplane pulled up to B7, and here’s a rare uncongested view of the gate area.

As you can see, there aren’t many seats near the gate itself, but if you aren’t standing right there, you can’t hear the boarding announcements. So it’s relatively quiet when nothing is happening, but when boarding finally begins, everyone crowds. The agents did briefly hold up a sign announcing which group was boarding, but that was only mildly helpful. I was in group 3, and I just hoped there would be room for my bag up top as I walked on board.

March 23, 2018
Delta 770 Lv Puerto Vallarta 344p Arr Los Angeles 6p
Puerto Vallarta (PVR): Gate B7, Runway 22, Depart 3m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 21, Runway 25L, Arrive On Time
N386DA, Boeing 737-832, Standard Delta colors, ~99%
Seat 16A, Coach
Flight Time 2h44m

Our captain was extremely friendly and stood at the door welcoming everyone. He asked how I was doing in a genuinely-excited way. I told him all was well, and he seem stoked to hear that. I’ll admit that it put me at ease for some reason.

Delta’s done a great job with its interiors.

The airplane looked really sharp, especially with that red accent on the Comfort+ seats. I was in row 16 which is the one row of regular seats in between Comfort+ and the exit rows. I don’t mind not being able to recline, but the overhead situation is problematic. The bin right above the row says that it’s reserved for Comfort+. Everything else was full unless I went several rows back. So what did I do? Well, I put my bag in the Comfort+ bin. Scandal!

I looked at how much space was open and saw how many seats were already full and figured it wouldn’t be needed by Comfort+ people anyway. I didn’t see any bag scuffles onboard, but I realized I do not want to sit in that row again for that reason. (There is, however, one redeeming quality of sitting in that row. The seat in front is Comfort+ so it has the little pocket in the back for you to put your phone.)

We were ready to push back, and the captain came on to tell us that we’d have “2 hours and 41 minutes of nonstop fun” on our way back to LA. I loved this guy. In the meantime, I flipped through the seatback video and decided this would be a good time to watch the new Thor movie since my coworker had just been talking about how much he liked it.

After a short taxi, I waved goodbye to my old friend, the Aviacsa 737.

Within a minute, we were in the air over Banderas Bay before swinging around and heading north. There were a lot of high clouds, and we flew in the tops for awhile. It again blocked our view much of the way up the Sea of Cortez, though we had a few spectacular breaks.

This flight had Gogo’s 2Ku service onboard, so that meant I had wifi service in Mexico. About an hour in, I decided to log on with my phone and use my free T-Mobile 1 hour of service. I immediately tested out the streaming service, and it worked. Now I can confirm that there’s clearly just something wrong with United’s system even though they’re all powered by Gogo. The in-seat screen, wifi, and power is what made me really enjoy this flight. It wasn’t First Class, but there was just so much to keep you busy on a relatively short flight.

We started descending somewhere in California and then the clouds began to clear out. It was a beautiful late afternoon with a big storm having moved out by that morning.

After landing we had to sit in the penalty box for awhile. That did give me a chance to alternate between watching airplanes take off and watching the NCAA tournament on TV.

Even with the delay, we blocked in right on time. Customs and immigration down in the belly of Terminal 2 was empty, and I was on the other side less than 15 minutes after arrival. I hopped in a Lyft (in which the driver strangely decided to blast an audio book the whole way) and headed home.

April 10, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: