Topic of the Week: Friday Free-for-All


Last week, it was suggested that I try a Friday post without a topic; one where people can just discuss whatever is on their minds in the airline industry. So let’s take a swing at it…

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67 comments on “Topic of the Week: Friday Free-for-All

  1. Southwest and Business Class…Inevitable?

    As the WN product matures and expands into the international arena, it is my opinion that sooner rather than later Southwest will introduce a proper business class product onboard it’s aircraft.

    While Southwest does a decent job of steering the biz traveler to it’s Business Select product eventually they will need to differentiate that product physically, versus the various perks currently offered.


    1. Maybe not a true Business Class, but perhaps a premium economy with a little more legroom like WestJet is offering. I guess having the data from AirTran’s business class gives them a pretty good idea of what would work best.

    2. I agree that WN is probably leaving revenue on the table. If they did it, it would be a spirit/airtran style F or some generic extra legroom product. Not sure if their IT systems could handle it, though.

      The operational change of mentality, slowing of boarding, etc. means I doubt we will see it for a few years

    3. I don’t see a true business class being offered. I know from experience that I have been able to purchase the “upgrade to business” for less than $70 on AirTran multiple times and so have others I have talked to on those flights. Given that AirTran isn’t consistently selling these seats, the cost to retrofit the fleet would likely outweigh to benefit. It makes sense in some markets, but you can’t retrofit 1/3 of the fleet for business because you would lose flexibility to swap equipment, one of the key pieces of the Southwest model.

      An easy solution would be to go the European route and block the middle seat for the first 3-6 rows. They already board business select first anyway so the impact to the boarding process would be minimal.

      1. What I’m really curious about is how long WN will be able to hold out on their single class model and sticking to the “Southwest Way”. If anything WN is starting to be in for a bumpy ride that’ll be interesting to watch.

    4. I don’t see a true biz offering, either. Heck, I honestly doubt we’ll even see something like jetBlue’s EML seats. I agree with the other poster that a “Euro biz” offering, with a blocked middle seat in the first few rows, is the most likely outcome.

    5. Once they get everything sorted out with AirTran and see where they major business traveler markets are, they could convert to a ‘special’ type seating area up front to upsale to business type passengers. It only makes sense since other carriers do it and could draw new biz passengers who won’t fly the ‘cattle’ call airline.

      1. Well if we’re not changing the seat, how about food? I think an upgraded food offering is worth looking into esp. given the longer stage lengths. Maybe gourmet food partnerships with their local hub companies like Sun Country and Frontier do?

        I personally don’t see F or even Euro biz to be honest.

    6. I hope so. SWN essentially has a hub at my home airport so I end up flying them because I have to, not because I want to. They have morphed into a legacy without the benefits. No first class, no food, and high fares.

      Another SWN question: what are they going to do with all of the non 737 AirTran planes?

      1. MarylandDavid, the 717s that WN got from Airtran are going to Delta. Which is a nice circle given that Airtran got its start as Valujet with DC-9s that were previously Delta DC-9s.

    7. I cant imagine Southwest putting any seating enhancements on the airplane. They just refit the entire 737-700 fleet with brand new seats. That’s the time to introduce a new premium economy product if you’re going to do it… and they did nothing. Now, should they do it? I think they should. But I don’t think we’ll see it.

        1. Arubaman – Southwest is adamant about not adding fees for bags and changes, so it leaves a lot of money on the table. It needs to find a way to increase revenues, and this is a perfect opportunity for several reasons.

          1) It’s not a “bad” fee as some might say in that it’s paying for a tangible benefit that wasn’t available previously.

          2) It’s a product benefit that would encourage more lucrative business travelers to fly on Southwest.

          3) Some may complain that it’s not in the spirit of Southwest’s egalitarian nature, but let’s be honest, that is long gone. There is already an elite program at the airline and you can pay to board at the front with Business Select.

          The reality is that Business Select isn’t compelling and people aren’t going to pay much for it, if anything. Just look at JetBlue. The airline is expecting to make $165 million this year from Even More Space seating. Southwest, a MUCH larger airline, will be lucky to make half that fro Business Select.

          1. Mr. Cranky…..For the sake of our conversation, let’s assume all your points are factually correct. Given it’s reputation for careful analysis and methodical decision-making, why do you think Southwest has not adopted your ideas? What do they see that many of us are overlooking?

          2. Arubaman – I don’t know that I agree that Southwest has a reputation for careful analysis and methodical decision-making. I see Southwest as an airline that is very set in its ways. It has a model that it doesn’t want to change. So it makes tweaks around the edges but continues to plod along without making big changes that might make sense.

    8. I don’t see it happening, and if it does, I don’t think it will be tied to international expansion. Remember, even if when they do start flying internationally, they’re still not going very far with the 737 fleet, so we won’t be seeing things like transoceanic long hauls where there’s definite incentive for people to want to upgrade. We’re talking 5 hours, 6 max, which WN already flies on routes like SAN-BWI.

      Even doing something like a euro-biz class would require a culture change, since they’d have to clearly delineate which rows are reserved for euro-biz and thus the “regular” coach passengers can’t sit in those empty middle seats. Hawaiian and Aloha used to have assigned seats in first class and open seating in coach, but there it was easy to tell with the fixed divider and different seats. Also, gate agents would make announcements like “open coach seating begins at row 4”.

  2. In the last year, Virgin America has gone from growth to non-growth in solidifying their foundation and ending the financial bleeding they have had over the last few years. Seems like JetBlue, which after rapid growth moved back to slow and steady management of the company, is getting back into the rapid growth phase from its early years with the introduction of tons of new service this year. With the US/AA merger and JetBlue being the last man standing in having access to major hubs without having the scale of the legacy carriers, can anyone see a scenario where JetBlue buys Virgin America in order to try to match up in scale the the big guys? It wouldnt exactly put them on par but it might help solidify their base on the west coast since they are mainly focused on east and Caribbean.

    1. Highly unlikely. I’d doubt that Jetblue would want to deal with the debt load. The only way Jetblue might entertain purchasing Virgin America’s assets is through a bankruptcy fire sale, and even then I’m not sure they’d want to deal with harmonizing the product which would destroy much of the reason for buying VX.

      B6 can go into VX’s markets if they’d like. They have equipment on order as well as having consistently sold jets, so they’re not hurting for planes.

    2. When did Virgin America end the financial bleeding? I haven’t seen that at all. If they’re going to do it, now is the time since they have cut back on growth. But I haven’t seen it yet.

      If JetBlue wants to buy Virgin, it is solely to shut it down. So if the price is cheap enough, then it might be worth thinking about depending upon how much of a drag Virgin is on JetBlue’s earnings. Otherwise there is no good reason to buy that airline.

  3. One of the fun things we like to speculate about here in the Metroplex is what new nonstops will come out of DAL once the Wright Amendment repeal is final in 2014. I figure that DEN, MEM, MDW, and probably LAX are inevitable, and probably a market or two in Florida. But I wonder just how much they can squeeze with only 18 gates at their disposal. Thoughts?

    1. I would think that BWI is coming to link up “hubs”. I think anywhere that Spirit added at DFW would be ones that WN would want to add.

    2. The whole DAL/DFW thing always seemed dumb. Did they really think DFW would be a ghost town if flights to anywhere out of DAL were permitted all these years. It’s no different then having JFK/LGA/EWR, SFO/OAK/SJC, LAX/BUR/LGB or any other metra area with multiple airports.

      1. Trust me, it had nothing to do with cannibalizing DFW. It was a political payoff from Jim Wright to AA, egged on by some parochial interests in Ft. Worth and NIMBY forces in northwest Dallas. As time went on, though, the original argument given by AA, that business travelers would flock to DAL because of its convenience to downtown, kind of died on the vine naturally because of the spreading out of metro DFW. Many of the suburbs and corporate parks are actually closer to DFW now. It was always a specious argument, but lost all credibility by the late 90s anyway.

    3. It’s only 16 gates that are available starting Oct 2014. I have my predictions for 160 dailies – 111 to the old destinations and 49 to new places. I’m sure the usual BNA/ATL/BWI/MDW/LAX/SNA/DEN/PHX/LAS/FLL with multiple dailies will happen. Where the gray area is the single dailies. I would hope we see at least single dailies to places like DTW/MSP/SEA/SAN/SJC/BOS/LGA/DCA. I heard OMA is a given to thank the senator that help repeal Wright.

      The biggest hits will probably be on ELP and ABQ. I see single daily reductions on STL, MCI, MSY, and most of Texas except the 24 daily HOU shuttle.

    4. I think you’ll probably see some flights to Charlotte, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Newark, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Baltimore (or Reagan?), Midway, St. Louis, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and other legacy hubs (as well as to the New York and L.A. areas). I also wouldn’t mind seeing a slight relaxation of the Wright Amendment restrictions as a condition of the US Airways / American merger.

      1. Not much chance on further Wright relaxation to go with the USAA merger. The merger approval is regulatory (DOT & DOJ), Wright is legislative. Good luck getting any congressional movement on that one much less anything else this fall.

      2. FYI – Wright will be officially dead and buried as of next year (I think May 31 is D-day, but don’t quote me on that). The only restriction remaining, the cap on the number of gates at 20 total, is a local matter. There are quite a few NIMBY activists in the neighborhoods around DAL, so the only way the Dallas city council would support the Wright repeal was if they agreed to cap the number of gates. So those restrictions aren’t going anywhere, but it isn’t due to Wright per se.

    5. For those who missed it, Southwest said in its recent earnings call that it is already carrying more passengers between Dallas and Atlanta on connections than AirTran did with nonstops. So you can be sure Atlanta is on that list.

      The losers are also interesting to talk about. We’ll see big reductions to places like El Paso, Albuqerque, Amarillo, and Lubbock. Those airplanes are often full of passengers coming from elsewhere that won’t need to go through there anymore.

      1. Here is WN’s current schedule:

        BHM 3
        AMA 6
        LBB 6
        OKC 4
        TUL 6
        MCI 9
        STL 9
        LIT 6
        MSY 8
        MAF 5
        ELP 7
        ABQ 8
        BRANSON (lose my Av Geek license I forgot the code) 1
        AUS 12
        SAT 13
        HOU 26

        The flights to AMA, ELP, and ABQ have some through traffic, and there is a lot of through traffic on the MCI and STL routes (mostly to MDW). I figure these are prime ones to lose some. I figure they might take one from AUS and SAT, but they’ll keep most of those and most of HOU.

        Certain additions to DAL for WN:


        I would imagine they’d throw in at least a couple to ICT and MEM.

        We will probably see AMA, ELP, and ABQ each lose a couple of flights, and probably 2 or 3 each from MCI and STL. Also wouldn’t surprise me to see them yank another one from each of the other smaller airports. I’d think you’d see AUS, SAT, and HOU keep most of their flights.

        1. How crazy is it that there are 26 flights a day between DAL and HOU? Nuts. 06:15, 06:30, 07:00, 07:30, 08:00, 08:30, 09:00, 09:30, 10:00, etc…I think the DC metro runs less frequently on the weekend than that schedule…

          1. I fly that DAL-HOU flight frequently, and it is almost always full too. There have even been some days without any delays where the standby list could almost fill the plane by itself. Having that many options is great.

          2. Sounds like a candidate for the -800’s to maintain capacity and open other routes. I understand frequency is important, but there are probably 4 or more that can be dropped at less peak times.

  4. It looks like the CSeries will fly next month. Who is the next North American carrier to add the CSeries to the fleet? I would love to see another carrier in Canada add it, but I don’t know how it fits into AC’s plans (E90s) or WestJet (737 commonality … even though it could replace the 736)

    1. Just from looking at the wikipedia pages for the CS100 and the ERJ-195, the CS100 costs $15M more. I do know that airlines negotiate these costs. Unless airlines truly need the extra range I don’t see many choosing the CS100. The larger CS300 might get some attention from those needing a larger aircraft.

  5. Let’s talk about new Middle East and TK routes to the US.

    QR recently announced DOH-PHL but with a odd schedule (dep DOH 0100) that doesn’t support India connections on the Doha end. They’re going straight to a daily 77W. I have no doubts the route will do fine due to limitless connections on AA/US at PHL but they really need to add some India feeders in the DOH 8am morning bank to make this stick well. What’s the rationale for this schedule?

    We are left with ATL/DTW/BOS/CLT/MIA without a Middle East carrier. DL flies ATL-DXB but that’s about it. Currently all these cities have significant service to the connecting hubs in Europe. We’ve heard about Middle East demand in DTW, Indian demand in ATL, student and financial demand in BOS, connections in CLT, and just rich people in MIA. Of these five destinations who’s going to make it first to each and who might be hurt most?

    1. I think (hope?) that the eventual introduction of the 787 will sort this out. Except for the CO/UA service out of EWR, all of the other 777 direct flights to India failed as they just weren’t making any money. But it wouldn’t surprise me if, for example, ATL-BOM could succeed with a 787.

      And I still think AA is up to something as far as the partnership with QR goes. It wouldn’t surprise me if the PHL-DOH flight is either eventually re-timed to permit India connections, or if QR is planning, say, a 4 A.M. departure to someplace like DEL or BOM to make it work. I also strongly suspect we will see a DFW-DOH nonstop at some point soon (again, perhaps after the 787 goes into service for AA), giving AA a way to funnel traffic to India from both the central/west and east. I might be dreaming, but that’s my suspicion.

  6. I’m curious about the opinions everyone has about airplane seating. We know that the legroom has been getting smaller and the seats are getting narrower. Also premium economy is finding a good niche market. I know and appreciate that airlines are trying to keep ticket costs down, but with the fact I’m 6 ft 4 in and pretty much have to eat my knees, I’m wondering how much more cramped we are going to get. Or if it will get to the point that we may have to see some regulation on the subject. Also I’m concerned about being able to evacuate in an emergency with the seats getting closer together.

    1. This is probably an area that is best left up to the free market. I am 6’2″, so not quite as tall as you, but I still selected a Spirit A320 with 28″ pitch to go to Cancun. It was a tight fit, but not bad considering the ~1hr flight time from FLL. Of course I would pay any amount to avoid that seat on a transcon, but for 1 hr it was not a problem.

      As a tall person, I consider it my duty to ensure that my selected airline and aircraft fit my needs. Those who are large must also take this into consideration.

      1. Nathan Im a tad taller than you, well a damn lot actually. All aircraft seats are a pain to me. Most times I get given an exit row on check in however the US is a bit more problematic as they are not as forthcoming. Like you I choose airlines based on pitch v length of flight but I wont fly with anyone unless I can prepurchase an exit row.
        Unlike you I think this is unfair. I didnt get this way by any other method than genetics.

        1. The big problem I’m seeing is soon with the exception of Jetblue that the seat pitch on every airline will get to the point where it will be barely tolerable. I also feel it is a little unfair and personally think the geniuses that came up with this idea need to try it out on a transcon out and back with the seat reclined in front of them. Not to mention reducing seat width as well to fit an extra seat or 2 in each row on a widebody. But it also makes the isles a little narrower which would make an evacuation interesting. I guess my problem with this is I don’t think we need to be crammed in like cargo just to save a little. And as a side note, I am a little concerned in the case of an emergency having a hard time to get out in a hurry.

  7. I am curious if others have noticed that for the past several weeks United Airlines has been changing flight numbers on several domestic routes almost on a daily basis. For example, the 7:30 am departure today from SEA-IAD is UA1444, yesterday it was UA419 and tomorrow it will be UA1295. Similarly the 5:20 am morning flight from SEA to SFO is numbered 1285 or 1524 or 439 or 298 on different days. This is not limited just to SEA originating routes but numerous domestic routes system wide. Could there be an operational reason for this and if so, would it last several weeks as it has? Could it have something to do with the reporting of on-time arrivals?

    Does Cranky or anyone else have any thoughts?

    1. This is alegacy from CO. Why they do it, I don’t know. As an example, in this months AMEX SkyGuide, there are 18 CO flights listed for IAH-MEM. The reality is there are 6 flights a day. To me this is a mnor waste of time and money for UA’s Scheduling and IT to do this. The one thing I have noticed is you will see that the flights usually run a route that is Spoke-Hub-Spoke. Maybe it’s a gimmick to tell the spoke customers “look at how many cities you can go to without changing planes” Then again maybe UA is just nuts.

      1. I think the Spoke-Hub-Spoke route on a single flight number is a way of conserving flight numbers. Also airlines have been routing the planes on Spoke-Hub-Spoke for a while now as it prevents bad weather in Spokane WA from impacting your flight from DFW to MCO. And to tie this to the other thread – this is a major risk that Southwest’s through routing model leaves them exposed to.

    2. SKD – I have no idea, but I’m assuming George is right on this one. It’s probably something that they inherited from Continental.

  8. I know it’s a bit late, but I’m wondering about your thoughts about relaxing rules about the on board use of electronic devices. I vaguely remember the crash that caused the ban. Apparently, an electronic device, maybe a transistor radio, interfered with the on board navigation system in use at the time. But this was a long time ago (if memory serves, and it may not, it was in the range of 30 to 40 years ago). I would think that electronics (both consumer and on board navigation equipment) have changed so much in that space of time, that the issues are quite different than they were so many years ago.

  9. I have always wondered how the airlines determine multiple pair routes. I just flew round trip BWI-CLT. To CLT I was on USAir and the flight ultimately was BWI-CLT-St. Thomas (USVI). The way back was on SWA and it was CLT-BWI-ROC.

    How do they determine how to set those up? Is there a team of data analysts crunching data to come up with the most profitable combinations?

  10. Hi guys,

    I was wondering- are credit card churns, and millions of miles going to be worthless in the next 20 years?
    CNBC had a story on where people were told that the airlines are going to fade away award tickets and stuff- is that true?
    Will only Goldman Sachs employees, who’s companies pay for business class be the only ones sitting in them?

  11. With the US and AA merger you reproduced a slide to show the synergies going east and west. Is there one that shows them going north and south? While most say Miami is the premiere South American gateway, I don’t think CLT should be discounted as many say for the connections that CLT brings to the table from Middle America to South America. Are there any slides showing this? I just do not see US management changing their ways in focusing on the bottom line and leaving Middle America connection money on the table in favor of creating new thin RJ routes to Miami.

    1. Abeflyer – I don’t think there is a slide showing that, but I would say that it’s more likely that DFW will be a better connecting point to South America for much of middle america. I think Charlotte can support Sao Paulo but I don’t know how much more.

  12. CF-The problem from most of Middle America in the east and northeast is that DFW doesn’t work since little service from here to there except perhaps once a day at best. I think DFW and Miami are the same from east of the Mississippi–little AA service. From my home airport AA lefted after not successully competing with UA to ORD. Similar for the MDT nothing south. That’s why I think Miami is over estimated. AA-centric folks forget US makes it bread and butter on the smaller cities of the Northeast and Ohio Valley and brings that to the table. It’s not a putdown of Miami or DFW, its just AA doesn’t connect with these cities, while US has them all connecting to CLT 3-4 times a day. Miami and DFW will continue to function as powerhouses, but I thin kso will CLT in that regard. You don’t walk away from he money these little cities bring to the table. If you fly out of them you will see the revenue per mile is substantially higher then the metro areas that compete with LCC.

    1. Abeflyer – I guess I’m a little confused because Charlotte is far from being a South American powerhouse. There is only the Rio flight and Sao Paulo will be starting this summer. I really don’t see Charlotte as becoming a big South American hub, but if it’s a matter of maintaining what it has today, then that’s a different story.

  13. CF You are right the CLT today is no powerhouse to South America, but similar to the east west chart, if you leverage what AA has in South America and minimal cost to add a flight to CLT to tie in the smaller cities CLT serves but Miami and DFW don’t I think you will see expanded service from CLT to South America. It’s US leveraginng the best of AA and vice a versa.

  14. I doubt CLT sees a big jump in international traffic. It won’t lose traffic, but it will function more as a funnel for local East Coast cities to larger international hubs (MIA, JFK, and PHL), and to a lesser extent DFW.

    There’s not enough traffic through CLT to warrant a whole lot of new flights to Latin America. But they can grow by connecting places like Richmond, Columbia, and Knoxville more easily to Miami, JFK, or Philly, and to many international destinations from there.

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