Southwest’s seats, AirTran cuts, TSA failure, Hawaiian expands, Airbus’ price increase, airfare transactions, pilot reinstated and U.S. travel

In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…

  • Southwest Airlines will be adding an extra row of seats on their entire fleet of 737s with the introduction of new seat cushions and seatback pocket materials. The carrier claims the new seats are more comfortable than what’s currently flying, though seat pitch will suffer an inch going from 32” to 31” to accommodate the extra row. Separately, the carrier announced it will drop service to several AirTran cities, including Allentown, Harrisburg, Lexington, Sarasota, Huntsville and White Plains.
  • A woman was arrested this week after bringing a gun with her through security and onboard an American Airlines flight at DFW. What’s just amazing, though, is that TSA agents detected the gun in a scan, but the woman was able to get her bag from the conveyor belt and proceed into the terminal without being stopped. This is a clear failure of the TSA, actually, as that bag never should have proceeded to a point where she could pick it up off the belt. Oh vey!
  • Hawaiian Airlines is increasing flights in Hawaii to 180 daily, up from 157 and will further expand service in Maui so it can serve as a hub for interisland flights and those to the mainland. I was surprised to read they didn’t already have nonstops between Maui and Kauai, but that route, along with flights to Hilo and Kona on the Big Island will begin on March 11. Also, during the peak summer months, Hawaiian will operate a daily nonstop from Maui to Los Angeles using a Boeing 767.
  • Airbus raised the price of its A320neos by 6.1% and other aircraft by 3.9% at the beginning of the year. The company’s COO-Customers said the price increase “reflects the strong demand for our modern, eco-efficient aircraft families.” He further mentioned the A320neo offers a 15% fuel cost savings for airlines. In terms of revenue, Airbus has a 54% share of the global market to Boeing’s 46%.
  • Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) advised the least expensive airfares processed by the clearinghouse in 2011 were bought six weeks in advance of flight time. Those fares were on average 5.8% lower than the overall average fare of $358.30. They warned that they’re not advising people to exclusively purchase tickets at that time because it’s not guaranteed that’s when the best deals are out there. Separately, ARC mentioned mega corporate travel agency air transactions (AMEX Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, etc.) dropped 4.6% in December, the biggest decline seen in 2011.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered the reinstatement of a pilot who was fired from AirTran for his frequency in reporting mechanical problems. The pilot was terminated in 2007 and the carrier must now pay him more than $1 million in back wages, interest and compensatory damages. AirTran had no comment.
  • Finally, President Obama signed an executive order to ease travel requirements for foreigners wanting to travel to the United States. This will entail expanding reciprocal trusted-traveler programs, adding countries to the Visa Waiver Program, streamlining visa processing, and other U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board changes. The U.S. State Department issued 17% more visas in 2011 than 2010.


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