Trusted travelers, antiquated ATC, rising airfares, American’s troubles, ads everywhere, Qantas’ woes and Expedia gets fined

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

  • The Transportation Security Administration has officially started a “trusted traveler” program this week. According to the TSA, “This pilot program will help assess measures designed to enhance security by placing more focus on pre-screening individuals who volunteer information about themselves prior to flying in order to potentially expedite the travel experience.” I was actually offered an invitation to participate in this program, but declined since it currently only covers domestic passengers flying out of Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas and Miami. I fully look forward to such a permanent program and will definitely apply.
  • Our air traffic control system here in the United States is totally antiquated with even Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines, poking jabs at it. Eventually it will be satellite-based offering efficiency unmatched by current ground radar capabilities. The $2.1 billion enhancement is still underway, but the FAA this week has stated “software problems” exist that will delay full deployment. The NextGen system was scheduled to go into effect by the end of 2012, but now won’t likely be a reality until 2014.
  • Rising airfares are always a hot topic and the mainstream media is quick to note when fares increase or when airlines add additional surcharges, such as those seen around the holidays. We are still, however, paying relatively much less when looking at it from a historical perspective. A Wall Street Journal reporter notes, “Average domestic airfares, adjusted for inflation, have fallen 16% since 1995.” When demand for air travel falls, such as it did post-9/11, airfares are noticeably cheaper. There are still, of course, sales and periods of the year when prices are incredibly cheap (January & February), but we all should recognize just how inexpensive it remains to travel hugely far distances in a matter of hours. Do I like it when fares rise? Of course not, but if you really think of the incredibility of what air travel offers, a rise in airfare shouldn’t be such an earth-shattering shock.
  • American Airlines was largely in the news this week due to its nearly 40% drop in stock price and rumors over a possible bankruptcy filing. Also, as you might recall, the carrier placed one of the largest aircraft orders in history recently. I’ve read so many articles claiming “yes they should,” or “no they wont” file Chapter 11, but do any of us really know? It’s all speculation and I think had they filed back when many of the other majors did, they’d be posting profits akin to what Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are today. Once I hit million-miler status with United, I might likely jump ship and become loyal to American as they really impressed me this year.
  • Advertisements are everywhere. Just today inside the United Club at LAX I noticed a huge ad appearing on one wall. Medford airport in Oregon is looking for additional revenue through offering up the placement of ads on its control tower. Exposure would be significant both for people at the airport and those driving nearby as the picture in the article shows. Can’t we go anywhere without ads? Yes, you can just ignore them, but I’m tired of being bombarded by them. I absolutely love that Wimbledon has consistently disallowed ads appearing around the courts. It’s so refreshing. There is one brand seen… Rolex on the clock, but otherwise it’s a clean ad-free environment.
  • I seem to write about this every week, but it’s worth mentioning again. Qantas once again has cancelled and delayed flights this week due to labor unrest. I’ll give unions credit for championing in the benefits even we non-union workers enjoy, but I think the disruptions they cause in events such as this is just ridiculous. On a more positive note for Qantas, the carrier will begin daily Sydney to Dallas service – up from four times weekly – beginning in July 2012. The Boeing 747s on that route will feature the fully-flat Skybed seats in business class and Recaro Premium Economy seats.
  • It’s common for airlines to be fined for false or misleading advertising or failure to comply with government standards, but this is the first time I’ve read that an Online Travel Agency (OTA) got dinged. France has fined Expedia $484,000 for “misleading marketing practices.” Among the charges, France claims Expedia showed hotels as being fully booked when they weren’t, incorrectly displaying hotel phone numbers and advertising prices as promotional rates when they were just standard prices. Half a million dollars, though? Ouch!

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