I must admit that I’m a big fan of Countdown with Keith Olbermann. So, I’ve decided to take a page from his playbook for my final post of 2006. Without any further delay, I present this year’s Worst Airline in the World.
The bronze goes to Varig, an airline which teetered on the edge of extinction for most of the year. Not many airlines had a worse year than Varig. The airline had been listing aimlessly in bankruptcy and the creditors swarmed waiting to repossess their planes. The courts held them off as the airline restructured, but customers suffered through frequently changing schedules and canceled flights.
By June, the situation became desperate. The government set a minimum bid to takeover Varig at $860 million, but a bid of less than $500 million was eventually accepted since nobody bid higher. Even that bid was bogus and they couldn’t come up with the cash. Things were so bad that the government had to plan for alternate transportation for their World Cup team and fans to ensure they could make it back home from Germany in July.
At the end of July, in order to save some semblance of the airline, the judge in the case allowed the airline to be carved up like a turkey into two airlines. The first, New Varig, was bought for a low $24 million plus a commitment to invest $500 million+ in the business. Old Varig lives on saddled with all the debt and one pitiful route.
So where is Varig today? Brazil’s formerly dominant airline with a grand history and about half the country’s market share is now a footnote at best with no more than 10% of the market. They had 15 planes at the bottom of their spiral, but they’ve announced plans to expand to 31 recently. Customers have suffered greatly through all this with shifting routes and last minute cancellations. Employees have suffered even more with fewer than half keeping their jobs.
To put a big cherry on top of this sundae of doom, Star Alliance announced they would be booting Varig out of the alliance effective January 31, 2007 because they don’t meet the requirements any longer. Way to go Varig.
Our runner up is Air Madrid, which probably holds the record for pissing off the most people during the year through its frequent delays, cancellations and eventual shutdown (as mentioned yesterday).
You could have seen this coming from the beginning. Air Madrid came on strong since its founding two years ago and expanded quickly. Reading customer reviews for the airline is like watching a train wreck every time. For a sample of your own, look here.
The airline overbooked often and delayed flights for hours on end without warning. Countless holidays were ruined by their fluid schedule changes. The airline shut down in the middle of December in advance of the Spanish government declaring them unsafe and shutting them down themselves. This left over 300,000 customers stranded just before Christmas, a fitting end to a legacy of customer disservice.
Just as the frequent watchers of Countdown have come to expect to see Bill O’Reilly take the prize more often than not, frequent readers of this blog will have already guessed that the winner for Worst Airline in the World is the inept, the incompetent . . . Alitalia.
I’ve been pretty hard on Alitalia this year, but my words can’t begin to explain the incompetence surrounding this airline.
You know you’re off to a bad start when you have an easier time counting the number of days the airline is NOT on strike in any given year. And striking isn’t even the worst of it. In yet another worker protest, two aircraft were sabotaged. (Fortunately the problems were caught before they flew.) You’d think that alone would be enough to scrap the airline and start over, but nay, you’d be wrong. Instead they celebrated their failures by repainting their planes in a new livery.
The Italian government has allowed Alitalia to continue with its inept ways and has made the situation far worse by meddling. They’ve repeatedly said over the years that Alitalia is important to the national interest of the country, regardless of the fact that it bleeds money like there’s no tomorrow.
In a year when even US airlines are making money, Alitalia expects to lose over $400 million. The promises of making money after last year’s government recapitalization proved oh so wrong after the first half of the year saw them lose an additional $100 million over the previous year’s results.
In a desperate attempt to save the airline yet again, the Italian government has just announced that they plan to sell anywhere from 30 to 49% of the airline to a private company. That would be welcome except for the fact that there are so many onerous restrictions that it’s bound to attract only the most insane investors if any at all. What are the restrictions? Well, effectively no job cuts or major route changes can occur, both of which are badly needed to right the sinking ship.
So Alitalia will continue to teeter as the government pulls the strings and management remains uncommitted to really saving this airline. For this outstanding performance, Alitalia is the Worst Airline in the World for 2006.