Monthly Archives: February 2008

Details On Forthcoming Continental/United Deal; UAL Turning to ExpressJet for Regional Feed on Mesa Cancellations


As the pilots of both airlines apparently continue to try and come to terms on their seniority issues – the rest of us sit and wait. No news yet today on just when the Delta/Northwest merger may be announced.

In other rumblings however, one of our trusted moles sent us a communication this morning in which he outlined how a proposed United/Continental deal may come together. Remember, you heard it here first.

According to him, the bulk of the existing United Airlines brand will continue to be used internationally, but Continental will take over the domestic operation for the most part.

Other details we were told included the fact that there has already been a transition team put together. The deal will be announced after Delta/Northwest goes public.

There will initially be a holding company set up to run both airlines. This operation will continue for three-five years. This will allow for a “smoother transition” from the two airlines into one operation.

And, in another piece of related United Airlines news, we are being told that because of continued problems with Mesa Air Group cancellations, that United has turned to ExpressJet, and that ExpressJet is going to be adding regional service on behalf of United –beginning no later than the middle of March.

Indications are that ExpressJet will start flying at least three aircraft for United at that time, with the possibility that more aircraft could be added fairly quickly, “as needed.”

Did United contact any of its other regional feeders about providing service before turning to ExpressJet? Apparently. But from what we hear there were no takers.

Tickers: (Nasdaq:MESA); (NYSE:XJT); (NYSE:CAL); (Nasdaq: UAUA); (NYSE:DAL); (NYSE: NWA)

That’s What I Get For Being Out of the Office

Never fails.

I have to go see the tooth doctor, it takes much longer than it should, I walk back in the door and all hell has broken loose. My email inbox looks like a combat zone.

What a day. Where do we start?

Crude Oil Sets New Record High

First off — the price of crude oil. Crude oil closed today up more than $4.50 at a record $100.10.


We talked a bit about this in last week’s PlaneBusiness Banter. OPEC has been signaling that it does not intend to increase production, and in fact is considering lowering production levels when it meets next month.

Today, traders went nuts — over the possibility that the decision to cut production levels could come as early as two weeks from now.

It also didn’t help that an explosion yesterday shut Alon USA Energy Inc.’s Big Spring, Texas, refinery. According to Bloomberg, the facility can process 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Alon said in a statement that its goal is to resume partial operations in about two months.

Airline Stocks Drop Like Rocks

Horrible day for airline stocks today — as a result of the record-breaking crude activity. A small handful of airline stocks managed to post gains on the day including FEDEX, Hawaiian, Republic Holdings and WestJet. The rest? Not a lot to get enthused over.

US Airways East Pilots Get Representational Election Nod from the NMB

“USAPA NEWS FLASH : The National Mediation Board has ruled that, for the first time in 45 years, ALPA is in dispute.

We have an election!

More news to follow.

From the Officers and volunteers at USAPA, thank you for your unwavering support!

USAPA is the US Airline Pilots Association — the group that was founded by the US Airways East pilot group, after that group took offense at the ALPA arbitrator’s interpretation of how a seniority plan should be constructed between the pilots of America West and US Airways. The US Airways East folks have been working to get a representational election called for the pilot group — and it looks like they have succeeded.

There is now, officially, a major split in the ALPA not-so-happy family.

Delta/Northwest Pilots Approve Merger Plan

Last, but not least, the Detroit News reported today:

“Leaders of the union representing 11,100 pilots at Northwest Airlines Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. have reached an agreement on consolidating the two groups of workers under a merged carrier, sources close to the matter said Monday.

It outlines terms for combining the pilots’ seniority lists, as well as calls for a pilots’ representative on the board and an equity stake in the merged airline.

The plan addresses most of the pilots’ concerns and removes a major hurdle to a Delta-Northwest merger.

The agreement between the Delta and Northwest chapters of the Air Line Pilots Association — the only union representing employees at both airlines — will be presented Wednesday at a scheduled meeting of Delta’s board in New York, the sources said.”

A Glimpse of the Friendly Skies

Thanks to one of our United Airlines’ readers, who sent us this post  tonight.

A Glimpse of the Friendly Skies

By Captain Loren Bohnett, A-320 SFO

On a leg home from Denver last December, we had some VIPs on board who seemed as excited to meet us as we were them. The President of The Greatest Generation Foundation,, was on our flight traveling out to HNL through SFO with a number of Pearl Harbor veterans. All of these gentlemen stopped by the cockpit, crowding in, in twos and threes to take a quick look, introduce themselves, and shake our hands. Among them was an Air Corps vet who flew B17s, 24s and 29s during World War II. He was impressed by all the glass, but stated for the record that he preferred round dials; who was I to disagree? According to the TGGF President, these gentlemen hadn’t been back to Pearl since the end of the war, but they would be front and center for the festivities this year.

As pushback time approached, a flashing ACARS message got our attention; almost never good news. Our minor EDCT delay had been modified for the worse and it would be at least an hour before takeoff. The low clouds at home were backing up the system again. A little research confirmed our fears: these guys were not going to make it to Hawaii tonight as they would miss the last flight out of SFO. Would UA delay the HNL flight? Not likely. There was some hope though, if everyone could pull together and make it happen.

We sent an ACARS note to Dispatch asking them to involve the ATC Coordinator, explaining the nature of the assembly we had aboard. As the leader of that group waited in the cockpit with us, a look of concern on his face, a message came back: “How soon can you be ready?” A plan had been hatched to add a few minutes of delay to five other flights so that ours could be greatly reduced. Our new EDCT came from Dispatch along with the plea: “don’t miss it!” Everyone involved from our flight attendants, CS, and Ramp jumped into action and we made our departure slot.

Our little piece of the Friendly Skies ran like a first-rate airline that night, LCO or not. Everyone involved stepped up and did their part efficiently and with purpose. During the fast run to the west coast, as I keyed in our request for assistance at SFO, Dispatch sent us another note. Everyone was in the loop already and would be awaiting our arrival. Our gate assignment put us directly across from the HNL flight and CS would be there to serve as escort, we were told. After my flying partner greased our jet onto 28L, we arrived at the gate to find everything in place. A smiling CS supervisor was in fact waiting in the jetway holding a stack of boarding passes.

The best part of this story is still to come. It turns out that back in Denver, one of United’s Global Services customers overheard the travel plans and the importance of the trip our veterans were on. This anonymous person got involved and stepped up as well. Those boarding passes awaiting our arrival were all First-Class upgrades, paid for by this customer.

Many take for granted the incredibly complex task of providing safe transit that pilots perform day and night, flight after flight. From my perspective, as Flight Officers we played the usual leadership role, which is critical to safety as well as to the customer experience. What was special this night was that our extra efforts were well-received early on, which led to effective coordination and a better solution. Employees across the system were eager to help, motivated by the desire to honor this deserving group of veterans.

For me this was a glimpse of what our airline could be like every day for every passenger. We have the equipment, the facilities, and, most importantly, the people to provide this level of service and attention on every flight. Unfortunately, such a renewal of enthusiasm across this company would require a level of genuine appreciation, motivation and leadership from the top that is sorely lacking today. My hope is that we do experience this renewal, and sooner rather than later. For a couple of hours, this was a great place to work.”

Potential Timer In the Northwest/Delta Negotiations


Just a reminder for those of you who are following the Northwest/Delta Air Lines’ negotiations with interest.

As has been widely reported, Wednesday the Delta Board of Directors has a meeting scheduled.

While it may not result in anything noteworthy — it’s certainly the type of potential timing event that could lead to a formal announcement concerning the deal.

Off Topic/Thank You Bill Simmons

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I’ve talked here before about what a drop-dead great columnist Bill Simmons from ESPN is. Note, I said, “columnist.” Not “sports columnist.”

He’s done it again.

And this time he’s writing about a subject close to home. My home.

“Like everyone else who was there, I had more fun than I thought, and I won’t forget what I saw, and I’ll always remember painting the walls of McDonogh 35 on Friday afternoon and basking in the spirit of the kids who attend school there. They were happy to have us, and we were happy to be there, and that’s what life is really about.

Did the weekend accomplish anything other than painting a few schools, planting a few gardens, raising some much-needed money and making the city feel good for a few days? I say yes. Everyone who travelled here for All-Star Weekend will think about returning some day, not because they feel bad, but because it’s New Orleans, and it’s ready for us again. Skip your next Vegas trip and convince your friends to spend a wild weekend in the French Quarter. Don’t do it for charity, do it because it will be fun. And it will.”

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Yes, it was a great weekend here in New Orleans. The city put on one great friggin’ show for the NBA and all the fans who streamed into town to participate in the NBA All-Star festivities.

But, hey, Bill Simmons has already written the consummate column about it all. Here.

Readers Chime in With Broken Hearted Frequent Flyer Experiences

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Reading through the email this morning before finishing up this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter and couldn’t help but post this one. Longtime reader and PBB subscriber, this person told me I could post his note, as long as I didn’t say who he was. (Methinks he must have some friends at Alaska.)

No problem. I understand. That’s why I always get lots of emails and very few public comments. <g>

So for your Friday morning reading pleasure, yet another first-hand account of good relationships gone bad. Frequent flyer relationships that is.


Enjoyed your rant about frequent flyer tickets, even though it reminded me of the pain I’ve been enduring lately. Perhaps my most disappointing experiences of late have been with Alaska Airlines. Believe it? Alaska, my favorite airline of choice for many years.

Last August, I began searching for a reservation from Spokane (GEG) to LAX for Christmas. Even that far in advance, seats were very limited. The only ones I could find at the ‘saver’ rate of 20K miles were on the nonstop flights, which you’d think I would prefer. I would, except they were earlier changed from Alaska big jets to Horizon CRJ700s. I don’t mind that type for a short flight, say from GEG to SEA, but a 2 hour, 49 minute journey down to LAX? I don’t think so. Then I checked connections over SEA, and found nearly all the seats would cost me the equivalent of LUV’s “Freedom Fare,” or 40K miles. It turns out first-class tickets are also 40K miles, so why not book up front? The “best” connections involved three or more hour sits at SEA both ways.

I finally found a decent connecting going into Long Beach (LGB), with a return from LAX still involving nearly three hours of sit time at SEA, and booked the flight. Imagine my glee when, in November, ExpressJet announced new GEG-LGB service and offered an introductory roundtrip fare of $205 including nuisance fees, taxes, etc. I jumped all over it and gladly paid the $50 cancellation fee (since increased to $75) for Alaska to redeposit my miles.

I won’t go into all the details of my Florida trip that I wound up canceling as well, but here are the highlights: Alaska had no first-class seats on the daylight SEA to Orlando (MCO) flight on any of the three days I selected. Not being fond of red-eyes, I reluctantly booked the downward portion on Delta, an Alaska partner, with a return on Alaska; 45K miles, thank you very much. Shortly thereafter, I was notified that my Delta flights had changed; the 737-800 on the GEG-SLC portion was miraculously turned into yet another Canadair Regional Jet, not quite as long a flight as GEG-LAX, but long enough to turn me off. Because this constituted an “involuntary” schedule change, I was allowed to cancel and redeposit my miles, and then booked a “real” ticket on Frontier.

At this point, I was ready to reserve another flight to LAX for March. ExpressJet came in at $224 all up to LGB; why even bother with an Alaska mileage ticket? I decided to dump the remaining 140K Alaska miles and fly in style to Frankfurt next November for the annual aviation photographers meet; 140K miles equals roundtrip in first class on British Airways from SEA via LHR and includes the GEG-SEA portion on Alaska; I’ve done this trip six times already and thought it would be fun to see BA’s new Terminal 5; by then, they should have all the kinks worked out.

Now for the fun part. Alaska’s “Partner Desk,” that handles the details, was efficient and pleasant, as much as one can be with all the bad news. First class? Nothing available eastbound on the day I wanted, or the day before, in the dark of November; no holidays around it, nada. Going via Vancouver? Nope. Even San Francisco? Nope.  By going over a day earlier, I was able to get a business-class seat. The kicker is that business class is only 20K miles cheaper than first, which is well worth the extra 20K. I could get first coming back, but on the later departure from LHR, and it would cost me the 20K extra, even though I was going over in business. Okay … I went for business on the preferred flights. Those pesky taxes and fees were “only” $139!!

Once the formalities were complete, I was given my seat assignments on the Alaska segments. I asked if, as in the past, I should contact British Airways for my other seat selections? “Oh no, you don’t need to. Those seats are assigned at check-in.” Huh? I’m booking in business class TEN months in advance and can’t get pre-assigned seats? “No, only in First do they allow that.” But First is what I want!! The gal explained that I could check in on-line 24 hours in advance in order to get the best of basically what was left. Swell; you sure do get a lot for those 120K miles.

Well, silly me. After a week, I thought about that first-class bed for the return flight, which would get me home about 3 hours later, but what the hell? The 20K sitting in my Alaska account was all but useless and I might as well shoot the wad. I called back to Alaska, and an equally pleasant reservationist told me that yes, the seat was still available; would I like to do that? Yes, thank you very much. Done, even with a seat assignment: 4A. “And what credit card will you be using for the $75 change fee?” You’ve got to be kidding! “No, if you had upgraded on the same flight there would be no charge, but you’re changing flights.” Yes, even on the same day. Well, take my credit card, please! And take my 20K miles; we won’t be having this conversation again. The good news: I can keep calling and calling and, should by some miracle that first-class seat become available on the same eastbound flight, I can upgrade with no additional fee or miles. Now let me think: what are the odds? For fun, I checked the British Airways site, with the thought of changing my seat assignment. But alas, at least for us lowlife Alaska folks, only the last row in first was available, or center seats; the rest of the good ones were blocked. Could all those seats already be assigned to “real” people? I doubt it. At this point, I printed out my reservation details and filed them. I may try calling later for that elusive first-class seat. Then again, maybe not.

A footnote: when I was going through the drill with my LAX reservations, I commented to the reservationist about the difficulties involved and disappointment with Alaska’s tightened, more restrictive frequent-flyer rules. He responded with the company line: “We’re just made the changes to become more in line with industry standards; all the carriers are tightening the rules.” I reminded him that Alaska had been my airline of choice precisely because it was BETTER than the rest, and by aligning itself with the industry, its advantage as my airline of choice was quickly evaporating.

Pardon my ranting; I’ve just cut up my Alaska Visa card and feel much better.

Happy New Year!

Bad News on the Energy Front Sends Airline Stocks Reeling


In case you’re wondering why it was that airline stocks went boom today — the reason was the usual suspect. That reason was the rise in the price of oil.

Today the price of a barrel of crude picked up a cool 2.19, closing at 95.46.

By the way, anyone looked at the price of platinum lately? Hey, maybe some of you were thinking of giving something made of platinum to your sweetie for Valentine’s Day. So my question to you would be — did you buy it? Conversely, if you had been expecting something made of platinum at the bottom of your box of Godivas, did you get it?

The reason I ask this is because the price of an ounce of platinum closed at a whopping 2012.00 today. Gold, meanwhile, closed at 911.00. New record for platinum. Gold hit its high in January at 927.10.

Every time I look at the price of gold, I keep thinking about the car driver in Phoenix I used to use to pick me up at the airport — he was originally from New York and a little over three years ago he and I had a big discussion about gold. He told me he had decided it was time to buy some. He told me he was going to shed some of his stocks and buy about $30K of gold stocks.

I hope he did. It was priced around $375 an ounce at the time.

Happy Valentine’s Day: Where Is the LUV?


For those of you who are US Airways’ passengers, you woke up this morning to a little Valentine’s Day surprise.

And not of the good variety.

Damn, where are those chocolate-covered strawberries when you need them?

The airline sent out email missives today outlining two major changes to its frequent flyer program. One, the airline is now going to award actual miles, and not the minimal 500 mile credit, when a flight is flown.

Secondly, if you want to make a frequent flyer reservation less than 14 days in advance — it’s going to cost you $50.

Speaking of changes to frequent flyer mile programs, I got burned this weekend when I went to use a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards ticket for an upcoming flight. This was the first time I have tried to redeem a RR ticket since the changes Southwest put into effect to their RR program last fall.

You know, those changes that didn’t get nearly the same press coverage as the airline’s new “Business Select” roll-out. Except for here. We did talk about them.

But talking about them, and experiencing the changes are two different animals.

So this weekend, I knew that I had a flight coming up and I knew I had two RR tickets that were expiring in the next two months. So I figured, well, at least I can use one of them.


Using the airline’s new “availability” chart system to find out if there were any flights available on the days I wanted to fly (another rant for another day), the chart said yes, there was availability. The only problem is that the flights I wanted were NOT available. This is definitely a flaw in the airline’s new system. I don’t want to waste me time looking for avails if, after then going the extra distance to look at specific flights on specific days that supposedly have flights, that no, not ALL flights are available. Not sure how they could set it up differently, but it’s very frustrating. Or maybe it’s just frustrating because the whole time you’re in the middle of this mess you keep thinking about how easy it used to be to use a RR ticket. You called Southwest. You made a reservation. If there was a seat on the plane you got a seat. Period.

So now it appears that for the flights that are not two stops, and/or the longest in duration for the day I want to fly, I have to use not one, but two of my RR tickets — exchanging them for what is euphemistically called a “Freedom Award.”

If this is a “Freedom Award” why does this process leave me feeling so shackled?

Okay, so after stomping around for a bit, I decide, “Okay, the tickets are going to expire anyway, I’ll just use both of them and get a “Freedom Award” ticket on the flights I want.”

Go through the whole process again. This time I get a message that says I don’t have enough tickets to convert to a “Freedom Award.”

Investigating further, I realize that last year I did use one segment of one two-segment RR ticket when I had to come home earlier than expected.

So now I have three segments, not four. And I can’t get a “Freedom Award” RR ticket for the dates and flights I need.

At this point I decide, okay, I give up. I’ll buy a damn ticket.

Now, considering that there is only one airline that flies nonstop to where I want to go on this particular trip, and that airline is Southwest, I go back to the home page and start over.

But when I get to the fare page, I blanched.

“Business Select” round trip fare across the board, nonstop or one or two stops? $798.

Cheapest fare using two one-stop flights? $402.

I don’t think so. Not so fast.

Off I go to Continental AirlineswebsiteThey can fly me where I want to go. On the day I have to leave. I just have to connect in Houston. Not one of my favorite activities, but hey, there is a point of diminishing disadvantage in this exercise.

About 10 minutes later, I have a round trip for $322 total, and short connect times in Houston on both ends. Oh, and yes, I have reserved aisle seats on all four segments.

Granted, passengers have been kvetching about the airline industry and its members’ continued attempts to reduce the actual “value” of frequent flyer tickets for years. Today’s announcement by US Airways is just the latest in a continual devaluation in the actual “value” of a frequent flyer ticket on American, United, Delta, Northwest, name your airline.

But through all that screaming and yelling in the past, I would just sneer. After all, I was a Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards flyer. I enjoyed the best FF program in the industry. My tickets were actually worth something. They were, in a way, the chocolate covered strawberries of the frequent flyer world.

Something to be savored. Enjoyed. Cherished. A tangible reflection of my LUV’s affection.

Alas, no more.

Cupid has apparently decided he has to be more, dare I say it, productive.