18 April 2008

Now will you stop calling WN a LCC? Southwest to codeshare with International Airlines

I frequently get irked when people call US airlines Low Cost Carriers - LCCs. Such an animal is a rarity in the US market. The only carrier who fulfilled the model was Skybus. Westjet (sort of!).

But let's be clear. Southwest has not been one for many years. Air Tran is not. US Airways definitely is not (despite its stock symbol). Frontier is not. JetBlue is not.

So anyone who says that the US LCC market is approaching 30% (yes that means the Spin Doctors at Delwest) is smoking something.

'Nuff said?


Microsoft gets back into Travel - Buys Farecast

MS still owns a portion of Expedia but its somewhat remote. However, they decided to get back into the Travel game (via their MSN Travel vehicle) and have bought out Farecast.

Congrats to Hugh Cream and his team. This is a good acquisition on both sides and indicates the value of the search proposition now that sector has matured. With Yahoo owning a tool, Kayak and Sidestep as one, the business has the right dynamics.

This may seem to be a conflicting signal with regards to the G2 failure just recently. However I believe that this is just a shifting sands issue.

Underneath all of this is a supply side market that has gone soft. Better distribution and channel management tools are required. Better consumer tools are required. What is missing here is a better infrastructure. Harder problem to solve.



"I'M NOT DEAD YET" G2Switchworks

Denying reports of its demise as premature - Alex and Co are still in fact working and processing tickets. This is reported today by Travel Weekly.

So despite the similarities from Spamalot, the business is operating with just a skeleton crew.

The core GDS piece is still available for sale. With the benefit of Monday morning hindsight - it is actually a shame that they lost. Alex and crew should be proud of themselves for what they accomplished. However it was an inappropriate decision to develop the tool the way they did.

For a true GNE to emerge it has to challenge the core precepts of the GDS model not recast it. This means that complex things like Automated Refunds should not be a high priority. Rather the system needs to be able to operate profitably at a cost structure below $1 per reservation selling price. At the same time it has to offer the whole package of connectivity and distribution capability. That is not a trivial matter even with the smart crew that Alex has/had around him.

So for the benefit of all - it means:

A fares engine with full pricing
An availability server
A fabulous search engine
A PNR container and management system
A full BI set.

Basically nothing else should be touched.

Ladies and Gents - start your engines and call me when you are ready.



The Game is ON - Continental Redeems Golden Share

OK - so while I hate this - it looks like the game is afoot.

CO has redeemed its Golden Share back from NWA. So now the consolidation game can commence in earnest. It is no longer about common sense. It is about the cojones of boys and their toys.

I am firmly convinced that the best result here for CO is to take on the bigger fish and become the residual management team of a combined UAL/CO. Tilton seems to have outlasted his welcome in Chicago. Besides the $35 million in cash must be burning a hole in his pocket.

For American- this leaves few options. They definitely don't want to have to rescue US Airways. She who is decidedly the ugliest sister in all of this. But American's ego knows no bounds.

One prize is the shy and distant cousin - Alaska Airlines. She now has a great presence in the West Coast with 3 major hubs (SEA, PDX and LAX). A low cost operation and a great commuter airline - Horizon.

As I have said many times I hate this. This is bad all round.



17 April 2008

Regulation - a concept whose time has come?

There is a lot of buzz around the regulation question. Should there be some re-regulation.

Check out today's NY Times on the subject. With attribution there:

Did Ending Regulation Help Fliers?

Published: April 17, 2008
Thirty years ago, airline deregulation was supposed to fulfill two main goals: spurring competition and bringing down airfares.

Now the number of airlines may be shrinking, as the planned merger between Delta and Northwest is likely to encourage other big airlines to pair off. Reduced competition will probably mean higher fares, particularly as the airlines shrink their fleets and cut flights to reduce costs.
All of which raises anew the question: Has deregulation really worked out?
By some measures, it has. By others, not so much.
Before the industry was deregulated in 1978, there were 10 big carriers — referred to as trunk lines, they controlled 90 percent of the American market — and 8 smaller regional carriers. The airlines were tightly controlled by the Civil Aeronautics Board, which regulated routes and set fares that guaranteed airlines a 12 percent return on flights that were 55 percent full.
Service was limited. American, for example, flew to only 39 cities, and Continental had to wait eight years for approval to fly from San Diego to Denver. Discounts were rare, too. When some airlines tried to offer cheaper fares in 1974 for charter flights, the president of the Air Transport Association trade group said it would be “the beginning of the end of the nation’s air transportation system as we know it today.”
It is a much different industry today, but not all of it is better.
Flying is less expensive, as fares have fallen steadily, adjusted for inflation, and there are more flights to more cities. The barrier to entry is lower. Over the last 30 years, more than 150 airlines have sought bankruptcy protection or disappeared, but more keep springing up as investors continue to put hope over experience, said Denis O’Connor, managing director with AlixPartners, a restructuring firm.
“People don’t understand how easy it is to start an airline,” Mr. O’Connor said, because of a ready supply of pilots and other employees, as well as used airplanes. “Why would you put capital in something if you can’t make a go of it? Southwest is an example of why you would.”
But the industry incurred losses of more than $30 billion from 2001 to 2006 and has gleaned only scarce profits since then. Persistently high fuel costs are driving airlines into bankruptcy court, or one another’s arms, something proponents of deregulation did not foresee, said Alfred E. Kahn, who led the air board when deregulation took place.
The Delta-Northwest merger plan, announced Monday, may lead to a deal between United and Continental, which would push other leading carriers like American to pursue partners of their own. Meanwhile, smaller carriers like Aloha and Frontier have sought bankruptcy protection in recent weeks.
As anybody who has flown recently knows, the level of comfort and reliability today bears no relation to that of the regulated days.
The naysayers at the time of deregulation predicted that “jobs would be gone, cities would lose service, and customers would pay higher fares,” said Mark H. Rose, a professor of history at Florida Atlantic University and a co-author of “The Best Transportation System in the World,” which examined deregulation of airlines, trucking and railroads.
They were partly right. After a big industry buildup through the 1990s, more than 100,000 jobs have been lost since the beginning of the decade. Former hub airports like Pittsburgh and St. Louis are now far less busy as hometown airlines have merged with other carriers and their replacements have pulled back service. Fares have fallen, on average, but they often rise when an airline leaves a city.
What the architects of deregulation did not predict at the time was the rise of frequent-flier programs and the hub-and-spoke system. Both have the effect of a kind of regulation, since they create incentives for consumers to stick with one airline, rather than shop solely on price. And fortress hubs, as their name implies, were intended to keep competitors at bay, giving the dominant airline in the city more control over pricing.
Alliances between big carriers are meant to offer bigger route networks, but they also provide another reason for travelers to shop around less.
All that would seem to spell less competition, not more.
But Southwest’s transformation from a Texas puddle jumper to the biggest airline in terms of domestic traffic (at least until the Delta-Northwest merger is completed) would not have happened without deregulation.
That airline’s evolution is what some experts point to as the best proof of why deregulation, for all its troubles, ultimately is better than a regulated environment.
“This is the free market at work, and we’re not used to it,” said Mo Garfinkle, a lawyer and a longtime airline industry consultant. “The idea of deregulation was to allow entry, whether it was successful or not.”
Mr. Garfinkle, who has advised many airlines involved in merger talks, says he believes that the industry is only now winding up the first phase of deregulation, in which industry practices had to be established.
Indeed, the federal government still regulates safety and the air traffic control system, and it steps in whenever either seems threatened, as passengers were reminded when American, Southwest and others grounded hundreds of flights this past month to reinspect aircraft.
On Wednesday, the Transportation Department announced two ideas for solving perennial delays at La Guardia Airport. One would call for the government to reduce the number of flights; the other would have airlines rein themselves in by selling some of the slots that give them the right to fly there.
Both ideas, now up for discussion, are meant to encourage growth by new airlines, which might otherwise have a hard time establishing service from La Guardia, said D. J. Gribbin, the department’s general counsel. “If you block out a market, you block out competition,” Mr. Gribbin said. “This benefits new entries.”
Beyond that, the next phase of deregulation will take place when airlines are truly globalized, flying freely inside other countries’ borders as well as their own, Mr. Garfinkle said. The merger between Delta and Northwest would be a major step toward that end, given their broad American network and extensive list of cities in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, he said.
However, the prospect of American carriers trying to compete against healthier foreign airlines, some of them still government-owned, is daunting to James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, who heads the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
“It’s a very bad idea,” said Mr. Oberstar, whose state is home to Northwest’s headquarters. He said he expected “a cascade of carriers finding partners” if the Delta-Northwest combination is allowed to go forward, leading to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.
Even if that happens, Mr. Garfinkle says he doubts that Congress will take up any serious re-regulation efforts. “You’re not going to re-regulate fares, and you’re not going to re-regulate service,” Mr. Garfinkle said. “It’s not something where you can be half pregnant.”
But Mr. Rose says members of Congress will have to discuss re-regulation, if only to seem as if they are looking out for their constituents’ interests. No city or state with an airline hub wants to see it vanish.
“It’s like losing a major league ball club,” he said. Airline hubs are “the kind of things you need to be major league, for your corporations and for yourself.”
Jeff Bailey contributed reporting.

Podcast - The other side of the merger coin

Check out my participation in this podcast from this morning.



Episode: Mergers & Shotgun Weddings

16 April 2008

Ancillary Revenue - EasyJet making money the good old fashion way.

Pssst want to sell EasyJet Tickets? Have I got a deal for you.

Simply give me 72,000 Euros (a year) and you can sell any ticket you like (as long as I like it;-)

Yes folks that's the deal with EasyJet's direct API. This is not too different than the Navitaire price to the airlines who use that system and want a direct access API.

But this is the first time I have been able to confirm that there is actually a price associated with connecting. While it seems wise - it is just another example of the way Ryanair and Easyjet are going to stay competitive.

Well more to the bottom line I say!!!



Who says all Chapter 11 Airlines die? Maxjet is back

Interestingly as a charter airline for sports teams.

Check out the website: www.maxjet.com



PS Thanks Addison

United + US Airways - not a good merger candidate

In all the hubbub about mergers, one of the key ones discussed is the United and US Airways. (US Scareways to its friends).

The numbers don't actually look too bad. If you run through the fleets and the attributes - you think its a good mix.

One small detail? The synergies between the carriers on fleet are actually largely all played out. WHAT????

Yes you did not see a misprint. One of the fallacies of the Alliance Game has been the issue of once the airlines are in place and reach a steady state in an Alliance then the value of the Alliance goes away. IE the synergies are a one time benefit.

Thus while individually the airlines would look to be a good combination (although Tilton's stuffed shirts wouldn't last too long and anyway he is OUTTA there), the longer term prognosis is that the synergies in revenue are not as attractive.

You have been warned.



New Delta logo already incorporates Northwest

One Expense DelWest wont have to go through is a rebranding exercise for the (I think its) fourth time. The new Delta logo is already pointing er maybe Northwest.

If you see the two tails side by side on the new website: http://www.newglobalairline.com/ you see that the pointy bit is going in the same direction.

Coincidence? I think not



15 April 2008

Las Vegas - a good proxy for the US market

Las Vegas has been taking its knocks recently. The market is down. Over the last 4 months gaming revenues have fallen in 3 of them:

November -16.3%
December +4.1%(
January -4.1%
February -4.0%

February masks a probably worse number as it was a leap year so you should add 3.6% for the extra day.

Wall Street seems to agree - marking down several stocks. Major Las Vegas casino operators have seen their stock prices tumble in recent months. Boyd Gaming Corporation is down nearly 68%, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation is down 46%, Wynn Resorts Ltd. has fallen 38% and MGM Mirage stock is down 46%; all from records highs in 2007. Harrah's is running for the hills and changing its name to Caesars ( the second company to adopt the brand name!).

There is an ill here. All the recent development in LV has been at the ultra high end while the loss of rooms is at the low end. Sooner or later that model comes unstuck. I think we are there already. In 2002 the average Las Vegas room was in the $50s and $60s range. Now that number just 6 years later is doubled. This is unsustainable. What Vegas really needs - as in many cases is good value propositions. A value brand for the bulk business. Otherwise what usually happens in Vegas wont be happening at all.

So the fall guys for the T5 Fiasco are...

Ladies and Gentlemen - the Imperial Majesty of Airlines has spoken. There will be no follow up and the airline "did not have any intention of making any announcements about further departures of BA directors today, nor in the not too distant future."

So there.

Gareth Kirkwood, director of operations, and David Noyes, director of customer services, will be leaving the company.

The airline said the departures follow the airline's move to London Heathrow's new Terminal 5.

The Concorde nose is now leaving from Gate 1 in the up position.

GDS bypass 2.0 - It really is about Technology

I have always been fascinated by the apparent cloak of "superior technology" that the GDS companies have wrapped themselves in.

The GNEs when they arrived on the scene also told the same story - superior technology. The idea being to follow the model that Technology was the answer and that only technology from the GDS would address the needs of both the supply chain and the distribution system.

Over time this has increasingly not been the case. So now we are at version 2.0. Enter Multicom in the UK. The first player to overtly espouse the Non-GDS Technology based distribution system. EasyJet is the first Carrier to adopt it - because they own their own Reservation System. They have created a multi-channel distribution system without the same (full) cost models of the GDS. There are MANY other solutions out there that already do this. Some are pure API/XML link/Web Services based solutions. OpenJaw Technologies in Dublin for example was an early proponent of this solution set. The airlines res systems also have had this capability for some time but the cost model didn't work because it was tied to a GDS type cost structure.

We are waiting for a pure version - call it V2.5. In our scenario (actually now technically feasible and deliverable) a front end engine manages the channel services and you have a pure system without resorting to other external systems for connectivity or uber monitors. Built into the reservations environment.

Interested? Contact us for more information.



14 April 2008

So its done - NW+DL = DelWest or Big DL

Welcome to the world’s largest and potentially most troubled airline New Delta

At a time when people should be considering how to reform their models – Delta and Northwest have decided that the world is better off with a large monolithic airline. Frankly this is good news for just about everybody else but Delta+Northwest Passengers and Staff.

For British – the new airline will adopt a moniker of Delboy.

The aim of the new airline is nothing short of worldwide domination with Air France/KLM group taking a stake and the Skyteam Alliance effectively becoming the AFKLDLNW alliance.

The rest of the US market will see rapidly rising air fares. Thanks a lot. So lets speculate a little at what is going to happen in the next year.

Dismantling of the CVG and MEM hubs. Restructuring of the regional business reducing ACMI flying. Bruising competition at certain key markets. The one benefit will be more International service.

Personally I think this will end badly for the stock holders. Sure the Hedge Funds will win in the near term. But the regular stock holders will be looking badly at this in 3 years time.

Could this be the end of Alaska Airlines Independence?



T5 Chaos now to stretch out till June.

There used to be a be nice signed around LHR which would advertise "FlightSwitch" This would tell the story of airlines switching terminals. It was broadcast on signs all over the place.

Today those signs would have to change almost by the hour. LHR has been a complete chaos not just for BA but for the other airlines who were similarly waiting for BA to vacate the space.

Well further bad news... it is not going to get better till at least June. Even then the move by BA long haul to T5 will improve BA's life. But there is still going to be a lot of renovations as the other airlines shuffle schedules around to accommodate the BA's revised schedule.

This will continue to enhance LHR as the world's best airport... not.

13 April 2008

Blog will be a little quiet next week

The Professor has a busy week and wont have a lot of time for the blog.

So apologies in advance.

If I play my cards right - I may end up in HNL