Tag Archives: US Airways

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

home-typewriter copy 1We’re baaack! No more vacation for us.

This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted.

This week we talk about a lot of stuff — including the fact that 3Q13 earnings are right around the corner. We are hearing very bullish comments from both analysts and airline folks about what we should see when the numbers roll out next month. Delta, in particular, looks like it is going to announce very strong 3Q13 earnings.

However, it looks like once again, United Airlines is going to lag its peers in terms of earnings and margin performance. We’ll have to wait to see.

This week we talk about whether or not the fact that United Airlines has a lack of dominance at its hubs (compared to Delta Air Lines for instance) is negatively affecting both revenues and costs. Hunter Keay, analyst with Wolfe Research, talked about this last week in a research note. We think he’s onto something.

In other news, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane approved AMR’s plan of reorganization last week, but the approval is contingent on the DOJ signing off on the deal. Judge Lane also refused to allow American Airlines‘ Chairman and CEO Tom Horton’s $20 million severance to be part of the reorganization plan. This means someone else is going to have to okay the payment.

Meanwhile hundreds of employees of both American and US Airways were in Washington today to lobby members of Congress on why the merger should be allowed to take place.

On the aircraft front, this week was simply stellar for those of us who like to watch brand new shiny airplanes take flight. We saw the maiden flights of both the Boeing 787-900 and the Bombardier C-Series 100 this week. If the Bombardier can come anywhere close to its projected fuel savings and engine performance (and we should start to get some real answers in about 6 weeks or so as flight testing continues) I think the company has developed a very viable player in the smaller jet segment.

But you know how it goes. Airlines are always reluctant to jump to a new player — especially when it is not part of a larger family of aircraft.

While we were on vacation, I am happy to report that energy prices more or less remained stable. Meanwhile, last week was a great week for airline stocks, as the inclusion of Delta Air Lines in the S&P 500 lifted the entire sector. Delta becomes the second airline in the index. Southwest Airlines is the second.

All of this, and much, much more, including a surprise departure announcement from a major airline CEO — in this week’s PlaneBusiness Banter.


PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

home-typewriter copy 1Good evening earthlings. Our last summer “kitchen sink” issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted. Alas. We were supposed to already be on vacation. But then the Department of Justice decided to sue American Airlines and US Airways last week.

So we bumped our three remaining 2Q13 earnings call reviews to this week. We also had a feeling that we’d hear more important information in regard to the DOJ’s machinations — which we did on Thursday.

So this week we wrap up 2Q13 earnings, including a look at break-even load factors and operating margins, we update you on the latest between the DOJ and American and US Airways, we take a sneak peek at how the bigger players are doing in terms of on-time performance in August, we muse about whether or not an airline should be named “Vanilla” and we go through a lot of mail.

Subcribers can access this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter here. 

By Popular Demand: PlaneBusiness Analysis Of GAO Report on American Airlines-US Airways Merger

Several weeks ago, after the GAO issued its report on the American Airlines-US Airways merger, PlaneBusiness Banter contributing editor Brett Snyder (who provides detailed analysis for PBB on various airline industry issues on a regular basis) took a very close look at the study. I had problems with the study from the get-go. As a result, I wanted someone to pick it apart for us and give us their opinion.

The conclusions Brett came to were more or less the same ones we took from the study at the time: besides there being problems on several key data issues, there was nothing in the study that would serve as evidence that a merger between the two airlines was anti-competitive to an extent that would warrant a thumbs-down by the DOJ.

We have had numerous requests, since the DOJ’s announcement last week, to repost this analysis publicly — outside the PBB subscriber firewall. So — here you are. This column originally ran in PlaneBusiness Banter on Friday, July 19.


July 19, 2013 — PlaneBusiness CrankyAnalysis: The GAO Report On American/US Airways Merger –More Holes Than Swiss Cheese

Editor’s Note: This week PlaneBusiness Banter contributing editor, analyst, and chief airline dork Brett Snyder takes a look at the recent GAO report on the pending merger between American Airlines and US Airways. Given a flurry of “anti-competitive” articles in the press of late, and given some obvious data issues with the GAO report, we thought it was important to take a deep dive into the data. Brett, as usual, was more than ready for the challenge.



By Brett Snyder, Contributing Editor, PBB

As American and US Airways march ever closer to finalizing their merger, there is still one big hurdle to overcome… government antitrust approval. This shouldn’t be difficult, but lately there has been some bad press trying to seed doubt on whether the merger will be approved.

Much of this backlash is being fueled by a government report that is woefully incomplete at best. I thought it would be a good idea to take this thing apart so that the real impact can be shown.

The report in question is from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO issued its report on June 19 entitled, “Issues Raised by the Proposed Merger of American Airlines and US Airways.” In the 31 page document, the GAO brings up a lot of potential issues and opponents of the merger have flocked to this as some sort of smoking gun. It’s not.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Will this merger reduce competition? Of course it will. If you have a set of competitors and two of them merge, then there will be fewer competitors in the market. That means less competition, but it’s hardly a reason to deny the merger. The key is for the government to determine whether the merger will harm competition enough that it creates an antitrust concern. That’s where things get difficult.

The GAO did some math to calculate what the effect of the merger would be on the routes currently flown by the two carriers. It took a year’s worth of traffic in each domestic airport-pair and then defined an effective competitor as one that had at least 5 percent of the traffic. After eliminating markets with fewer than 520 passengers each way during that year, it then looked at markets that would see the loss of an effective competitor.

I immediately saw some problems with some of the agency’s conclusions. So we set out to take a look at the underlying data and do our own research.

Unfortunately, the GAO told us that it had “outsourced” the data search to a consulting firm, therefore it could not share the underlying data.

I’ve been working with masFlight to try to recreate the analysis. So far, we’ve been unsuccessful at getting it to match up exactly. But we did get pretty close. The total number of markets that would lose an effective competitor was 1,665 according to GAO. The media, much less merger critics, rarely mention that 210 markets will actually gain an effective competitor, but we don’t need to focus on that. It’s really this revelation by the GAO that is what everyone needs to focus on.

“However, the great majority of these markets also have other effective competitors.”

Let’s take a closer look at those 1,665 markets.

Of those markets, more than 70 percent will still have 3 or more effective competitors. It’s hard to argue that those are going to be markets without significant competition even after the merger. In fact, competition will be heightened in some markets since the new American will have enough heft to provide serious competition to United and Delta. So let’s focus on those markets that will either become monopolies or will be reduced to having only one other carrier in the market after the merger since those are the ones that would be most concerning.

According to the GAO, there are 24 markets that will drop from 2 effective carriers to only 1 after this merger (we found 23) and 475 markets that will will go from 3 to 2 effective carriers (we found 484). But during the process of putting our own analysis together, we found a few problems with the analysis by the GAO.

1) The GAO included both interline and domestic codeshare itineraries in its analysis. That is misguided. Of the 484 markets dropping from 3 to 2 carriers, a full quarter of them aren’t even served by both carriers today. Wait, what?

For example, let’s take a look at a market like Charlotte to Midland/Odessa. US Airways doesn’t even fly to Midland and doesn’t even file fares in the market, but you have people who fly US Airways to Dallas or Houston and then connect on American or United from there. Does US Airways really deserve to get credit for this passenger? And will competition really be reduced after the merger? I find that hard to believe. You’ll have two strong carriers in the market

Or look at Reno to Wichita. US Airways does sell tickets in this market because of its current codeshare with United. Together, United and US Airways have 75 percent of the market and they are hardly competing with each other. When American and US Airways merge, that will reduce the percent of travelers flying on United to under 60 percent. American and US Airways together will be a much stronger competitor than American alone.

If we eliminate those markets, that leaves us with only 371 markets that will see truly reduced competition.

2) Of those 371 markets, nearly 30 percent have significant service from other carriers at alternate airports. However, the GAO report utilizes numbers only for specific airport-pairs even though in antitrust analyses, you’re supposed to look at total city-pairs. So why isn’t that happening? According to the report itself:

“It is generally preferable, time permitting, to assess city-pair, rather than airport-pair, changes in competition. Some larger U.S. cities (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.) have more than one commercial airport that can compete for passenger traffic. DOJ generally considers the relevant market to be a city-pair combination, but also examines the airport pair if relevant.”

In other words, GAO didn’t have the time to do the full and proper analysis, so it just put out what it could. It’s very strange that GAO would do this, particularly since the inclusion of Washington’s National and Dulles airports as members of a single city pair in an antitrust analysis more than a decade ago was a huge contributor to the failure of the United/US Airways merger.

If we take out markets with significant service from other airlines in alternate markets we’re down to 265 markets, give or take.

3) Looking at those 265 markets that will go from 3 to 2 competitors, will these markets really see a great deal of harm from lack of competition? Not all of them, that’s for sure.

Look at the biggest market left, Boston to San Juan. JetBlue is the behemoth in this market with just over 75 percent of the traffic. US Airways has about 8 percent while American has a little less than that. Combined, they will have a whopping 14 percent, but does anyone really think either of those airlines are driving pricing in this market? No way, it’s JetBlue. And that won’t change a bit.

Then there are the markets like Chicago to Honolulu. United has over 60 percent of the market. American has 25 percent and US Airways has 7 percent. If anything, this merger will make American a more effective competitor of United by allowing it to offer more options.

This is repeated over and over again in many markets. So will any markets truly suffer? Sure. These are mostly smaller markets. Cities that come up over and over in the data are places like Tallahassee and Chattanooga. These are cities that will see reduced competition, but is it enough to deny a merger that will provide so much benefit in other ways? I don’t see how.

The markets that should cause the greatest concern are naturally the ones where competition will be eliminated entirely. So let’s take a look at those markets. GAO shows 24 markets that will have service by only one airline after the merger. Our analysis turned up 23, including 2 of which weren’t on the GAO list (GAO had 3 that weren’t on ours). So let’s look at all 26 of them.

  • 3 markets are interline markets that aren’t served by both airlines. Burbank-Dallas/Ft Worth was served by American but the airline has since pulled out of Burbank entirely. Meanwhile, Dallas/Ft Worth-Lawton and Dallas/Ft Worth-Williamsport simply aren’t served by US Airways and American. Throw these out.
  • 7 markets are to St Croix, a market that is only seasonally served by US Airways. Considering American’s strength in the Caribbean this merger might create more service for St Croix in the end since US Airways provides very little today.
  • 2 markets no longer have US Airways as an effective competitor when including alternate airports (Boston-Miami and DFW-San Jose). US Airways doesn’t take enough traffic in the city-pair analysis to break that 5 percent threshhold.
  • 10 markets have more effective competitors in alternate airports. This is particularly amusing since the GAO report states,

“And unlike the United/Continental merger, where most of the endpoint cities had other airports in the region, fewer of these airport pairs have significant other airports in the region. This is especially true for the Charlotte (CLT)/Dallas (DFW) and Phoenix (PHX)/DFW pairs where few alternate options are available at either endpoint.”

The piece about Phoenix to Dallas/Ft Worth is just so wrong. So very, very wrong.

Spirit does not carry a ton of traffic today between DFW and Phoenix/Mesa but it does serve the market. More importantly, Southwest carries more than 20 percent of the market between Dallas and Phoenix when you include Love Field. And starting next October, Love Field opens up and Southwest can fly anywhere it wants from there throughout the US. I can guarantee that Phoenix will be one of the first cities to get nonstop service so it should grow its share more.

Here is how these ten markets break down.


Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a grand total of 4 markets that would be truly impacted by the merger. There’s DFW to both Philly and Charlotte, Charlotte to St Thomas, and DFW to Palm Springs.

The point here is not that competition won’t be impacted at all. It would be silly to claim that. The point is that the impact won’t be nearly as dire as has been suggested and there will be real benefits as well.

While I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Feds require that some slots be surrendered at Washington/National to gain approval, I find it hard to believe that the Feds could find a way to reject this merger on antitrust grounds.


Brett Snyder

Brett is the author of the award-winning airline industry blog The Cranky Flier and also runs his Cranky Concierge air travel assistance business. Though Brett has loved the industry since he was a kid (and was even a travel agent at the age of 12), he only began working for the airlines as a college intern for USAir. After graduation, he did pricing for America West and marketing for United, among other roles.

In 2005, Brett created the travel search site for leading comparison-shopping company PriceGrabber.com. He graduated from The George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1999 and received a Master of Business Administration from Stanford University in 2004. He lives in Long Beach with his wife, son, new daughter, and two dogs. You can find him on Twitter under the name @crankyflier and you can email him at cf@crankyflier.com.


PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Let’s see if this works this week. I never could get Movable Type to behave itself last week. I hope it refrains from giving me fits again. I have better things to do.

Oh, hello! This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted. Finally!

As I tell subscribers this week, our publishing schedule is going to be a bit, er, erratic for the next six weeks or so as yours truly hits the road. Or, more accurately, the skies. Conferences, presentations, and more conferences.

But hey, it beats sitting on the chair at the Worldwide Headquarters. I think subscribers benefit when I am out and about.

This weekend I travel to Orlando, where I will attend that wonderful gathering of testosterone and airplanes — the ISTAT Americas Conference. The next week? I’ll be presenting at a meeting of Travelport’s best clients out in San Diego.

Meanwhile, this week we have a lot to talk about. First, we wrap up the 4Q earnings parade of planes as we do an in-depth look at the results reported last week by Republic Holdings.

We also review and compare the 4Q 2012 break-even load factors and operating expenses for the sector. Bottomline? These charts simply reinforce how horrible United Airlines’ fourth quarter results were.

On the US Airways/American front, we have so much news I can’t begin to go over it all. In addition, yours truly spoke last weekend at the Association of Professional Flight Attendants Convention in Fort Lauderdale. It was a blast.

Then there was the JPMorgan Transportation Conference in New York this week. There were some interesting tidbits to come out of the conference, including a statement from Southwest Airline’s CFO Tammy Romo as to whether or not “Bags Fly Free” is an important recognized part of the airline’s brand. She says no. I disagree.

We also talk about the latest research report from Bob McAdoo at Imperial Capital. This one is on US Airways, and is basically a follow-up to Bob’s excellent report on American a couple of years ago. Short and sweet? The airline’s costs were never the problem. It was the airline’s inability to produce revenues.

PBB fans know I’ve been touting exactly the same sentiment for years.

Bob feels strongly that most people don’t understand that the true value to this merger is in the expertise and ability of the management team that is coming in — that of US Airways. The “Doug and Scott” synergies.

All of this, in addition to turtles mating on the beach, pigs flying, and photon showers — in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Hello everyone! This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted!
This week we offer up a varied mix of things for you to chew on including in-depth 4Q earnings reports on SkyWest and Spirit Airlines.
Long and the short? Both airlines turned in good numbers for the fourth quarter, but guidance for both airlines going into 2013 looks even better. No surprise that shares of both airlines took the top spots last week for the sector.
On the airline distribution front, we talk this week about a new API that Farelogix just rolled out that we think is pretty cool. The product will allow airlines to more closely control the point of sale and merchandise its product more efficiently. In addition, the API works nicely with existing platforms and whatever GDS company an airline is currently using. None of this “either/or” stuff.
Could United Airlines be the first airline to implement it? We think so.
Trust me. We’re all for letting airlines do a better job marketing their product. Notice I didn’t say …”seat.” That’s because today, a seat on one airline can be much different than a seat on another airline. But the way those seats are sold and marketed hasn’t changed much since the dark ages.
We also update you on the latest AMR/US Airways transition news, and we talk about how this nasty and very stupid “sequestration” fight in Washington could negatively affect the airline industry — and its passengers.
Don’t get me started.
All this, along with much more, including and lots and lots of letters — in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Good evening earthlings!

This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted.

Three guesses what we are talking about this week? (The first two don’t count.)

That’s right — the American Airlines/US Airways merger.

We’ll give you our take on what was announced, what was said that we don’t think is necessarily true, and why we think it’s still a great move not only for American Airlines and US Airways but for the U.S. domestic airline industry in general.

Oh, we talk about the situation at Boeing too. Anyone want to bet as to whether the FAA allows Boeing to put in a “fix” to the battery problem while investigators here and in Japan continue working to find reasons for the two battery issues that occurred in January?

I don’t think the FAA will do it, but apparently Boeing is going to make the pitch on Friday that a different battery design will prevent such things from happening again.

We talk a little bit about earnings this week, as we give a short and sweet summary on the recent results announced by both SkyWest and Spirit. More on the results from both airlines in next week’s issue.

We also look at the pre-announced earnings from Lufthansa.

But the most surprising news this week concerns the bankrupt shares of AMR, parent of American Airlines. As was announced last week, equity shareholders are going to receive a return on their equity investment. Late Wednesday night, JP Morgan analyst Jamie Baker issued a note in which he initiated coverage on the shares again. We’ll tell you why he thinks investors might want to take a look at the shares.

I know. Who would have thought?

Pigs have flown.

All this and more in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Hello everyone!

Oh my, oh my! It is rather exciting in the DFW Metromess tonight. Reports indicate that the UCC, and the board of directors at both American Airlines and US Airways have approved a merger between the two airlines.

Whew. Finally!

We should see a formal release around 7:30 in the morning, an analyst call after that, and a press conference at DFW International at 10 AM. At some point later in the day the members of the US Airways’ management team will fly back to Phoenix for a press event there.

Details leaked this afternoon indicate that the deal is pretty much what we have outlined previously in PBB – a 72/28 equity split, current US Airways Chairman and CEO Doug Parker will become CEO of American Airlines, the headquarters will be in Dallas.

However, it does appear that while current AMR Chairman and CEO Tom Horton will stay on in a non-executive role — his stay will be much shorter than the 2-year period that had been rumored a couple of weeks ago. Sounds like he may stay only into the early part of 2014.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

But hey, we have a lot of other things we are talking about in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter. We have complete reports on the recent fourth quarter earnings reported by Air Canada and WestJet. We also take a summary look at the numbers from both Ryanair and Singapore Air.

We also have the December 2012 and full-year DOT Air Travel Consumer Report rundown.

In addition, we spend a lot of time this week talking about Boeing. And dendrites. And Dr. Goodenough.

No, I’m not making this up.

All this and more in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter .

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Greetings earthlings!

This week’s mega-earnings issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted. This week we take an in-depth look at the recent earnings results from Hawaiian Holdings, Allegiant Travel Company, JetBlue, and Alaska Air Group.

We also take a look at the latest capacity analysis by analyst Dan McKenzie with Buckingham Research; we take a look at the latest news concerning Boeing’s little problem with the 787; we look at Imperial Capital analyst Bob McAdoo’s latest comments on United Airlines; we have a couple of reader letters we found interesting this week; and finally, yes, without further ado, we talk about the American/US Airways merger.

You’ve all read the headlines. You’ve all heard the escalating chatter this week. Yes, it does appear that we will hear the details of a proposed merger between US Airways and American Airlines next week. Tuesday or Wednesday to be exact.

It’s about to get really busy around here.

Subscribers can access this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter here.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Hello everyone. It’s that time again. That’s right — it’s earnings time in PlaneBusiness Banter.

This week we roll out our “All-New” PlaneBusiness Earnings Review format, which I hope subscribers will find easier to dissect, peruse, and digest.

This week we take our in-depth look at the results reported last week by Delta Air Lines, US Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Continental Holdings, parent of United Airlines.

Short and sweet? Delta Air Lines blew away the competition in 2012, but US Airways had a record breaking profitable year as well. It really is gratifying to see two major U.S. airlines turning out such great financial results.

United? The slog of its merger integration continues. 2012 was not a good year and it was really not a good quarter for the airline. However, we certainly detected a change in tone on the airline’s call this quarter — for the better — and we are looking forward to watching the airline as it tackles 2013.

While it seems the airline now knows what it has to do — now it has to do it.

Then there was Southwest Airlines. (We’ll talk about Alaska Air Group and its results in next week’s issue, along with Allegiant, Hawaiian and JetBlue.)

The results from Southwest were not overly impressive. In addition, analyst Jamie Baker with JP Morgan got into a rather interesting discussion with management at the airline concerning “brand.”

In a follow-up note to investors, Baker made the point that it seems the airline continues to make decisions based on brand, and not necessarily maximization of returns to investors and improved profitability.

It is an interesting concept, and we basically agree with him.

Of course we talk about about the American Airlines-US Airways merger process. Lots of things to talk about on that front this week, including our take on the rumors that Tom Horton, who is currently Chairman, President and CEO of AMR, might possibly stay on with the merged airline in some capacity — perhaps Chairman.

To say this story caused an avalanche of emails at the Worldwide Headquarters today would be an understatement.

Then there is Boeing — and that little problem of battery fires on its 787s. Boeing reported earnings today. We’ll catch you up on the latest with the company’s comments concerning the 787, and we update you on the latest progress in the hunt to find out just what the problem is.

All this, and much, much, more, including the Republic Holdings/AMR/Embraer deal, in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Hello everyone! It’s that time again. This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted.

Fourth quarter and year-end earnings reports began to roll out this week, as Delta Air Lines reported on Tuesday and US Airways reported record breaking results on Wednesday.

The two airlines continue to lead the major U.S. airlines in any number of financial metrics. Looking forward, both airlines also gave analysts good guidance for 1Q13.

As we usually do, we will have full earnings call reviews of US Airways and Delta Air Lines in next week’s issue. We will also cover the results from Southwest Airlines and United Airlines — both of whom are on tap for tomorrow.

In other news, we update subscribers on the latest news concerning the battery problems with the Boeing 787 that have kept all of the aircraft grounded. The NTSB is scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday, but the latest news late Wednesday is that there was damage to all of the cells in the battery that caught fire on the JAL aircraft when it was parked in Boston.

Boeing’s not happy.

But neither are Boeing’s customers.

Meanwhile those planes aren’t going anywhere until the reason for the problems are found and the problems are solved.

American Airlines? Oh, yes. American decided to forge ahead and roll-out a new livery and branding effort last week. I talk a great deal this week both about what it says that management at the airline decided to do this — at this time. And how god awful the new design is. Or as the article in Vanity Fair titled its story on the new livery, “Something Lousy in the Air: Analyzing American Airlines‘ Disastrous Redesign.”

Needless to say, the airline failed on all fronts.

We also update you on our latest merger timetable — and I remind all of the stakeholders in this bankruptcy of what will happen if the current management team at the airline manages to kill a merger in some form or fashion. But I am not the only one sounding this warning. So did a Wall Street analyst last week.

All this and more in this week’s edition of PlaneBusiness Banter.