Fares are cheap. Will it last? And other links from the week.

 

Happy Thursday, everyone. I'm sorry for the limited postings this week, but here are some of the aviation stories I have enjoyed recently. 

Fares are cheap in the U.S. But how long will it last? AP. 

Airlines want to make your TSA wait shorter. Bloomberg. 

JetBlue is very happy with its Mint business class product. Travel Weekly. 

Here's how the 'Internet of things' will make travel easier. CIO.com. 

Which airlines have the best wine lists? Up front, of course. Conde Nast Traveler. 

Some flight attendants have shtick when they give safety demos. Do we like that? New York Times.  

And finally, if you haven't already seen it, check out the Today in the Sky photo gallery of an airplane graveyard. 

United will stop flying between Los Angeles and New Orleans

United Airlines is making some tweaks to its network. Photo: United Airlines 

United Airlines is making some tweaks to its network. Photo: United Airlines 

United is cutting a handful of underperforming flights, including two that touch Southern California,  the airline told employees recently. 

Effective August 17, United will stop flying from Los Angeles to New Orleans, a route that in the past has catered to the entertainment industry which does a significant amount filming in Louisiana. But it is a crowded route, with American, Delta, Spirit and Southwest all flying between the two cities.

Another Southern California route disappearing soon (June 30) will be Ontario to Houston. This may depress the fine people of Ontario, which is east of Los Angeles, who have hoped their airport would grow, not shrink, now that it is under new management. On the bright side, United said it will add larger aircraft on the Ontario-Denver route starting in September. 

United's other route cuts come in oil-rich markets, which have been underperforming of late. These routes will disappear soon:

  • San Francisco-Edmonton (June 30)
  • Chicago-Edmonton (June 30)
  • Houston- Montreal (June 30)

And these routes will stop on a seasonal basis. 

  • San Francisco-Fort Lauderdale (stops Sept. 8, resumes Oct. 29)
  • Chicago-Anchorage (stops Oct. 5 and resumes Dec. 16)

Why does United sometimes stop flying unprofitable or less profitable routes? Here's the answer from the employee communiqué:

Competitive issues always play a role in our decisions. Often when capacity is added to a route, it will turn unprofitable. Other times, an already unprofitable route will see more capacity get added and we decide to move our plane to another route where it can be profitable.

 

Video: CBS LA takes a look at upcoming LAX improvements

Los Angeles International Airport is in the midst of a what is says is a $14 billion overhaul. The airport says this is the largest public works project in the history of Los Angeles.

Where is all that money going?

Our local CBS station did a story Thursday night detailing LAX's modernization program. You can watch it below. 

Photos: Inside a mockup of Mitsubishi's MRJ90 regional jet cabin

When ANA announced in 2009 that it would order 15 Mitsubishi MRJ regional jets, the press release noted that the first deliveries would occur in 2013. We are now three years past that date, and the planes are nowhere near delivery. 

But no matter, the first MRJ test plane is finally flying , and the company believes it should be ready for first delivery to ANA in 2018. Perhaps as soon as 2019, you'll see an MRJ aircraft operating as United Express, American Eagle or Delta Connection. I say "perhaps" because the MRJ90, the first plane Mitsubishi is producing, is larger than today's regional jets. That is a problem because American, Delta and United all have rules that govern how big their regional jets can be. And under today's guidelines, none can operate the MRJ90. (For more information about why, read this Aviation Week story.)

There is an MRJ70 coming, which is smaller and could work as a regional airplane. But it won't be ready by 2019. 

Anyways, now that we have the background out of the way, I wanted to share some photographs I took last week of an MRJ mockup. It was transported via ship from Japan to the United States. I caught up with it in a parking lot in Charlotte, during a conference. 

Let's take a tour. 

The plane has unusually large windows for a regional jet. 

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At least in this format, it is bright and airy. 

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Here's a three-row mockup of regular economy. There are two seats on each side of the aisle. 

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Here's what the mockup looks like from the outside. 

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Bins are not gigantic, but they can fit most bags. Not all wheels first, though. 

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I admire this fake lavatory. Great detail, right? There's even toilet paper. 

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Here's the back galley. 

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And a fake door. 

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Here are a couple of first class seats. Mitsubishi expects first class will be in a 1-2 configuration. 

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And finally, here is the ceiling. I include the photo because a Mitsubishi rep says it was designed to mimic Mt. Fuji's curves. How about that?

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American accelerates its retirements for all E190s, plus some A330s and 767s

American will retire all of its E190s, which once flew for US Airways, by the end of 2017, the airline told employees this week. Photo: David Montiverdi/Flickr (Creative Commons)

American will retire all of its E190s, which once flew for US Airways, by the end of 2017, the airline told employees this week. Photo: David Montiverdi/Flickr (Creative Commons)

American Airlines will retire all 20 of its Embraer E190s and some of its Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s sooner than expected, American spokesman Casey Norton confirmed to me on Friday. 

The E190s, which once flew for US Airways, will disappear by the end of 2019, according to a message from Hector Adler, the carrier's vice president for flight service. The small fleet primarily flies as the American Shuttle, which operates flights between New York, Washington D.C. and Boston. American will be keeping the Shuttle brand, but it will use different aircraft. 

"The E190s have some expensive maintenance scheduled in the near future, so it makes sense to phase them out of the fleet in 2019," Adler said.

American is also accelerating retirements for all nine of its Airbus A330-300s. According to Adler, the retirements will occur between 2017 and the end of 2018. American is keeping all 15 of its A330-200s, a smaller aircraft. 

American says it is retiring the A330-300s, which also came from US Airways, for three key reasons. First, Adler says, "smaller fleets can be pricey to maintain." Second, the aircraft is the only one in American's fleet to use the Pratt & Whitney PW4168 engine, which makes maintenance more complicated. And third, the planes have 291 seats, making them roughly equivalent to American's 289-seat Boeing 777-200. American believes it needs only one aircraft of this size. 

American is also accelerating Boeing 767-300 retirements. American has already said it will reduce the number of 767s, but it plans to move faster. American says its first 767-300 was delivered in 1988 and the planes have  "...been a challenge for our international reliability."

American says it has 40 Boeing 767s today. Previous plans called for the fleet to shrink to 25 by the end of 2017, Adler said. Now, the airline says, it will retire eight more, so it will have only 17 by the end of next year. These will be the carrier's 17 youngest 767s, and all have the airline's new business class product. 


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Video: A British Airways A380 performs a go-around in Vancouver

Most of you know a lot about aviation, so you know a go-around is no big deal. For a variety of reasons, many of them relatively mundane, a plane cannot land at the last minute. 

Instead of landing, it gets close to the ground and then climbs again. Not a huge issue, though occasional fliers might be surprised. 

Patrick Smith, who blogs as "Ask The Pilot," explained common reasons for go-arounds in a post a couple of years ago. 

The truth is pretty boring: go-arounds are fairly common and seldom the result of anything dangerous. In most cases it’s a minor spacing issue: controllers aren’t able to maintain the required separation parameters or the aircraft ahead has not yet vacated the runway. Not an ideal situation, but let’s be clear, this is not a proverbial near miss. The reason you’re going around is to prevent a near miss. Actual instances where a collision is narrowly averted do occur, but they are exceptionally rare.

Other times traffic has nothing to do with it. A variant of the go-around, spoken of somewhat interchangeably, is the “missed approach,” when a plane pulls off the same basic maneuver for weather-related reasons.

This week, as you can see above, a person who goes by the name AvgeekYVR on YouTube captured a British Airways A380 aborting a landing in Vancouver.

About 30 seconds in, you can see the aircraft gets close to the ground and then climbs again. It's an impressive video, and it shows how capable the aircraft is at climbing quickly. 

Why big airlines want used jets. And other links from the week.

 

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Here are some of the aviation-related stories I have enjoyed this week.

Lots of airlines, including Delta and Southwest, are seeking used jets. Why? Bloomberg tries to answer that question. 

Have you heard of PSA Airlines? It's a feeder airline owned by American Airlines, and it's doing well, according to Ted Reed of The Street. 

A Utah man was charged with hacking United's website and stealing travel vouchers. Deseret News

People love airlines, according to a recent J.D. Power survey. Which U.S. airlines have scored the best? Find out in Fortune. 

The U.S. is getting another unusual China route. This time it's Xiamen Airlines, which will fly Seattle-Shenzhen. Seattle Times. 

Is there a regional airline pilot shortage? Yes, the Charlotte Observer says. 

Southwest rewards frequent fliers with more than other airlines, the Wall Street Journal says (subscription required.)

Why do airlines overbook flights? Here's one answer.

Do you know why American Airlines overbooks coach? Rendering: American Airlines. 

Do you know why American Airlines overbooks coach? Rendering: American Airlines. 

Many of you fly a lot, and you're probably savvy about why airlines overbook flights. 

But in an employee newsletter, American Airlines recently published a short Q & A with Don Casey, the carrier's senior vice president for revenue management. 

I thought you might find his answer about overbooking interesting. He is what he said:

On any given flight we know it’s likely that at least a few customers won’t show up. Some customers might have refundable tickets, or have same-day standby privileges so they switch to other flights. Revenue Management has a model that predicts the right amount of seats to oversell, but in the end we are playing the probabilities and some oversales are inevitable. So even though vouchers aren’t cheap, they cost less than the sales we would give up if we didn’t oversell a little bit. Our denied boarding rates are lower than some of our network peers

As for denied boarding rates, here's how various U.S. airlines compared in 2015, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. The DOT says it does not include inbound international flights in its tally. 

Did you know? Bird strike edition.

I recently wrote a story about bird strikes this week for Conde Nast Traveler, and I learned some information that did not make it into the piece, so I wanted to share it here. 

You may have seen a couple of weeks ago that an American Airlines A321 hit some birds upon takeoff from Seattle, creating a dent in the aircraft's radome. This was not a big deal, but it was nonetheless heavily covered by news outlets. 

I had read that Seattle's airport was going to send the bird remains to the Smithsonian in hopes that they could be identified. 

I sent an email to Perry Cooper, the airport spokesman, to confirm this was the plan. Here is my question, and his response. 

And is it true you've send the bird remains to the Smithsonian? If so, why?

Yes. Our wildlife team gathers from the aircraft what’s called ‘snarge’ – a mix between snot and garbage. Snarge is the remains of a bird. Sometimes there is enough to easily identify what type of bird was involved in the strike. Our operations teams will go out and check the runway areas to see if they can find the carcass of the bird, which makes it easier to ID. If there isn’t enough to positively ID, they will gather the snarge, put it in a bag and send it to the Smithsonian. They have a list of DNA for birds and they can positively ID the type of bird from the strike. Pretty cool!

Interesting, right?

News and notes from Gogo's recent quarterly report.

Gogo reported another quarterly loss. Photo: Gogo. 

Gogo reported another quarterly loss. Photo: Gogo. 

Gogo, which provides internet for American, Delta, Alaska and other airlines, released its first quarter earnings on Friday. It reported a loss of $24.1 million, which means Gogo still has not turned a quarterly profit since its 2013 IPO.

Gogo has three business units, one for what it calls business aviation (mostly private jets), one for its airline business in North America and one for its airline business elsewhere.

Gogo says its business aviation and North America segments make money, while the rest-of-the-world business has lagged. Part of the reason, Gogo has said, is because it is still investing outside of the U.S. as it tries to win new customers. (British Airways parent IAG signed up this week.)

I suspect most readers use Gogo in North America, so I thought I would compile some interesting facts about the U.S. and Canadian business here. The data comes from Gogo's quarterly report. 

  • Gogo's 'take rate' - the percentage of people on each plane who bought the service - decreased in the first three months of 2016. A year ago, 7.2% of passengers bought Gogo internet. Now, that percentage is only 6.5%.

  • Why did the average 'take rate' decrease? Gogo says airlines have been adding its systems on regional jets, and on those smaller planes, fewer people buy WiFi. 

  • Gogo is making more money off of fewer customers. In the first three months of the year, it said it made an average of $13.05 per session, up from $11.73 in the same period last year. 

  • In North America, Gogo had 2,500 commercial airplanes outfitted with its systems at the end of the first quarter. This is 300 more than it had a the same time last year. 

  • Gogo's North America customers have the right to terminate the service for at least two reasons. 

    • Several airlines may "...terminate the contract if the percentage of passengers using connectivity on such airline’s flights falls below certain negotiated thresholds." (Gogo did not say what this threshold is.)

    • Delta, American and others may cancel contracts if "...another company provides an alternate connectivity service that is a material improvement," so long as Gogo is "unable to match the competitive offer in terms of price, technology and schedule." (American has already exercised this right on a contract for about 200 aircraft. But Gogo says it has approached American about upgrading the carrier's service so it does not switch to a competitor. It is waiting on American's decision. 


Stuck in a long TSA Line? Some airlines want you to complain on social media

Some of the nation's largest airlines have decided to use public shaming to try to get the Transportation Security Administration to add more staff at security checkpoints. 

A trade group called Airlines for America, which represents many U.S. airlines, including American, United, JetBlue and Alaska, has created a new website called 'I Hate The Wait.' On the site, it asks travelers stuck at checkpoints to use the hashtag, #IHateTheWait on Twitter and Instagram. (Notably, Delta is not part of the Airlines for America.)

Below is a screen shot of the new website. I suspect not many folks have found it yet, as I don't see much traction with the hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. 

The AP's Scott Mayerowitz wrote a nice story recently explaining why lines have gotten so long, and why they may not improve soon. Part of the problem, he said, is that fewer people signed up for the TSA's Precheck program than expected. 

The TSA cut its airport screener staff by 10 percent in the past three years, anticipating PreCheck would speed up the process. When not enough fliers enrolled, the agency tried to make up for that shortfall by randomly placing passengers into the express lanes. But it recently scaled back that effort for fear dangerous passengers were being let through. That's when the lines started growing, up to 90 minutes in some cases.

The TSA is shifting some resources to tackle lines at the nation's biggest airports, but says there is no easy solution to the problem with a record number of fliers expected this summer.

In its employee newsletter this week, American said long lines have become a major concern and recommended customers and workers use the hashtag, when necessary. 

"Our customers are waiting in security lines for an hour or more," the airline said in the newsletter. "Due to the length of the lines, tens of thousands of customers have missed their flights and thousands of checked bags have been delayed in TSA resolutions rooms due to low staffing."

According to American, the TSA needs help from Congress.

“TSA has asked Congress for approval to hire more officers, and pay additional overtime,” Jose Freig, managing director for corporate security, said in the newsletter. “We are working closely with the TSA, and will soon add contract personnel to assist TSA with non-screening functions. This is a short-term solution, and it won’t eliminate long wait times. However, we are looking at temporary ways to help our customers.”

Have you been stuck in any long lines? What did you do about it?

United reminds airport workers to monitor "hidden city" tickets

United has reminded airport employees to watch out for "hidden city" tickets. Photo: United Airlines. 

United has reminded airport employees to watch out for "hidden city" tickets. Photo: United Airlines. 

Are you thinking about breaking a key United Airlines fare rule to save a few bucks? You might want to rethink your plans.

United reminded airport workers last month to watch for "hidden city" tickets, which the airline says violate its contract of carriage. "When fraud is suspected, the Customer Service Representatives should send an email to Corporate Security for follow up," the airline said. 

What are "hidden city" tickets?

Here's an example. Let's say you want to fly one-way from Newark to Cleveland next week. As you can see below, nonstop fares are frighteningly expensive.  

But you can fly from Newark to Chicago with a stop in Cleveland for about $200 less. Theoretically, you could buy this fare and simply leave the airport in Cleveland. But most road warriors know this a bad idea, because airlines frown on it, big time. 

Here's how United describes "hidden city" tickets in the message to airport workers.

Some customers purchase tickets involving connections to a destination that offers a special discounted fare without the intention of ever traveling as ticketed. A “hidden city” ticket is the use of a ticket fared from a point either before the customer’s actual origin or to a more distant destination point than the intended destination in order to pay a lower fare.

United's contract-of-carriage permits it to delete miles your frequent flier account, revoke your frequent flier status and even terminate you from the program. It can also take these actions, according to the note to airport workers:

  • Cancel your remaining itinerary
  • Deny boarding
  • Collect addition fare with applicable change fees
  • Require you to buy a new ticket. 

"Hidden City" ticketing is perhaps a bigger deal now because a website called Skiplagged is helping passengers create these itineraries. You may be familiar with the site because United sued it in November 2014. The suit was dismissed in May 2015 after a federal judge ruled that Illinois was not the proper venue for the case.  United does have the right to re-file but as far as I can tell, it has not done so. 

For now, Skiplagged still says on its website that it will help you find "hidden city" itineraries.

Would you ever buy one? Or do you think the potential penalities are too great?


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Delta ups its commitment for super fast onboard WiFi

Delta Air Lines said Wednesday it is upping its commitment for Gogo's new super fast 2KU satellite-internet system, promising it soon will outfit at least 600 planes with the platform. 

In the past, Delta had said it would only be installing the service on about 250 planes. Retrofits will take some time, but Delta has already begun, and by the end of this year, it says more than 35 aircraft will have 2KU. In the short term, your best bets for getting 2KU will be on the airline's Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A319 fleets. 

I hate to use the phrase "game changer" but it might be apt here. I tried to use Gogo's traditional system last week on Delta, and it was so slow that it was almost unusable. But last year, I tested the new system on Gogo's test plane, a 737, and it worked about as fast as home internet. I could stream from Netflix and Amazon and even watch live television. Even if Gogo's system may not be quite as good as it was on the test plane, this will still be a huge improvement for Delta fliers. 

Here's how Delta describes 2KU. 

2Ku is next-generation technology that provides consistent, uninterrupted coverage nearly anywhere in the world, including over oceans. Installation of 2Ku will offer customers faster speeds and bandwidth more than 20 times that of Gogo’s ATG technology, allowing for video streaming functionality.

I'd say this puts pressure on other airlines, especially American and Delta, both of which are heavily reliant on older Gogo systems, to respond. What do you think?

Burbank Bob Hope Airport is now Hollywood Burbank Airport. Why?

Bob Hope Airport has a new name. Photo: Bob Hope Airport. 

Bob Hope Airport has a new name. Photo: Bob Hope Airport. 

An airport just north of Los Angeles is getting a new name - and it's a little clunky. 

Burbank Bob Hope Airport soon will be known as Hollywood Burbank Airport. According to the Los Angeles Times, the airport's local governing body voted 8-1 to make the change. The legal name of the airport will remain Bob Hope, but all the branding will change. 

The problem with the old name, officials said, is that out-of-towners did not know where the airport was located. Burbank is as close to many areas of L.A. as Los Angeles International Airport, but if you're not familiar with the area, you would not know. Local officials believed - and I think they're right - that a tourist in, say, Omaha, looked only at one-stop itineraries to LAX, rather than adding Burbank to the search. The airport hopes the Hollywood moniker will help. 

"Research demonstrated that 70% of surveyed passengers east of the Rockies didn't know where Bob Hope Airport was," the airport wrote on its Facebook page. "Some thought it was in Texas, some in Palm Springs, some in Vietnam."

The new name does a better job of describing where the airport is, but it is not quite accurate. It is true that the airport is close to Hollywood, but it is not in Hollywood. Instead, it is in the San Fernando Valley. 

According to a different L.A. Times story, four options had been under consideration - Hollywood Burbank Airport, Burbank Hollywood Airport, Los Angeles Burbank Airport and Burbank Los Angeles Airport.

A branding firm hired by the airport had preferred to put Los Angeles in the name - it said the city's name would result in more web searchers finding the airport - but local residents did not like that, according to the Times. 

What do you think of the airport's name switch?