What's Going on with the Airlines

By Ed Perkins

The combination of a lousy economy, increasing fuel prices, and intense competition is creating unprecedented turmoil in the airline marketplace. Although no single event warrants a full column, several are important enough to cover.


The saddest current news is the demise of the last "superior product at the regular coach fare" proponent.

Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines, a pioneer of this grand idea and its longest survivor, has thrown in the towel. Republic has acquired it and although Republic says it will continue to operate Midwest as a stand-alone entity, it will be a much different entity. Between Midwest's birth -- as Midwest Express -- and imminent death, perhaps a dozen "first-class service at coach prices" lines have come and gone, some within a matter of months. Although industry mavens blame the circling of competitive sharks at Midwest's Milwaukee hub, the real murderers are you, the flying public. Offering a better product costs more than offering a lousy cattle car, and most of you, voting with your credit cards, decided that although you like "better" you won't pay for it. Remember that the next time you moan about lousy coach service.


Ambitious upstart JetAmerica, slated to start flying between Toledo and Newark on July 14 (and other routes soon afterward), announced a delay in its startup schedule. Now, says the line, it will start its ultra-low-fare flights on Aug. 14.

JetAmerica blames trouble arranging slots at Newark for its problem, but some industry-watchers believe that the whole idea might not fly. The company is still taking reservations for flights after Aug. 14, and if you find a flight and fare that works for you, you might give it a try -- but be sure to buy with a credit card and have a "Plan B" in mind.


Already more than a year late with its revolutionary "Dreamliner" 787, Boeing delayed first flight yet again, with no firm replacement date. Finding a significant design defect only weeks before a scheduled first flight is not good news for any airplane builder -- and doubly difficult with Boeing, which seems to be steadily losing ground to rival Airbus in the world marketplace. Given the plane's potential improvements for travelers -- higher cabin pressure and humidity, larger windows, possibly wider seats -- this delay is bad news.


Several airlines, including Delta, are looking at a new type of coach seat that staggers seats a few inches apart, front to rear, and promises more side-to-side room for each passenger. The idea looks good on paper, but raises some issues about getting in and out of window and middle seats that I don't see as being addressed. The supplier says airlines can use that extra space either to keep the number of seats in each row the same and increase passenger comfort or to add a seat in each row of a wide-body plane while preserving current perceived "comfort." I'll give you one guess about what the airlines will decide.


A survey commissioned by 3M concluded that a majority of Americans would rather get stuck in traffic (56 percent), go on a blind date (56 percent), or go to the dentist (54 percent) than sit in the middle seat on a full flight. So what else is new?


Cuba Travel Services, of Los Angeles, offers weekly nonstops between Los Angeles and Havana, with round-trip fares starting at $689. The chartered flights (on Continental) were made possible by recent relaxation in U.S. rules about travel to Cuba. The tour operator expects most of its business will be "friends and relatives," but rules have also been relaxed for some other travel so expect similar flights from other cities. As yet, however, ordinary tourists are still not eligible.


Just about all the airlines are eliminating routes as demand continues to be soft.

Cutbacks range from small communities (Delta drops Dubuque) to big ones (Virgin Atlantic drops Chicago). If you've ticketed ahead, keep alert for any route or schedule changes that might affect you.

Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money ," is now available through amazon.com


© Ed Perkins Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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