American’s restructuring, Alaska’s religion, United expands IAH, 787 long-haul, JetBlue & Hawaiian, Lufty’s 747-8 and airline idiot of the week

In other airline industry news this week…

  • American Airlines CEO Tom Horton issued a letter to employees this week outlining a redesign of the carrier’s management structure that will more than certainly involve layoffs. Several executives left at the end of 2011, and this letter points to additional tough decisions that will be made in the coming months. Separately, the Allied Pilots Association issued a letter to American’s passengers through a print ad in the USA Today (and likely other newspapers). It thanks American’s customers and also speaks to American’s management: “Along with financial reforms, American Airlines’ restructuring must also include a commitment by those who manage our company to cultivate a better corporate culture – a culture that values the crucial competitive edge that a fully engaged workforce provides.” It will be an interesting year to follow the changes and issues at American.
  • Alaska Airlines sent an email to passengers this week saying they will discontinue providing “prayer cards” on meal trays. The company started the practice in the 1970s to differentiate the service, but now feel ending it is, “the right thing to do in order to respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of all our customers and employees.” I agree and think religion has no place in airline service or marketing.
  • United Airlines broke ground this week on a $1 billion redevelopment project at Houston’s Intercontinental Airport. It’s a three-phase project first beginning with a $160 million redo of Terminal B’s south concourse dedicated to regional jet operations. The project will span seven to 10 years and include the redevelopment of Terminal B’s lobby and baggage claim areas, a new international-capable north concourse and other infrastructure enhancements.
  • All Nippon Airlines (ANA) flew its first long-haul service with the Boeing 787 this week from Tokyo Haneda airport to Frankfurt. The cabin features 46 lie-flat business class seats and 112 standard seats in economy. ANA now has five 787s in operation, with the long-haul version currently operating three times weekly HND-FRA. 787 service on that route will become daily from February 1, 2012.
  • JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines entered a partnership this week streamlining passenger ticketing when the two carriers are involved on one reservation. They will soon also enter into a codesharing agreement, as well as offer reciprocal benefits in each other’s frequent flyer program. Once Hawaiian begins it’s HNL-JFK service on June 5th this year, it will use JetBlue’s Terminal 5.
  • Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinental aircraft will (finally) offer lie-flat seats in business class and feature “warmer colors giving it a living room feel.” The carrier plans to retrofit the rest of its international fleet within the next four years to include lie-flat seats in business and full details will be forthcoming in March. First Class on the 747-8s will be located in the nose of the aircraft vs. upstairs as now seen on their 747-400 fleet.
  • It seems there’s at least one airline story each week that features a passenger behaving badly. This week, a Continental Airlines flight was diverted due to some moron lighting up a cigarette in the cabin. The flight was from Houston to Ontario and he must’ve lit up pretty soon after becoming airborne because the flight landed in San Antonio where he was arrested by the FBI. When I smoked, I always used nicotine patches when flying uber long-haul flights to Australia and gum for shorter domestic hops. Hopefully he will in the future now, too.

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