Following up on their new-and-improved partnership, American Airlines and British Airways have announced a reconfiguration of their New York to London schedule. And they’re making it a “shuttle” service. There won’t be more flights, just different scheduling.

So what will the new schedule look like?

Two morning flights: 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Then, starting at 6:00 p.m., flights leave every half hour, through 11:30 p.m., albeit not necessarily from the same airport. The reconfigured schedule will be take effect in April 2011.

So is this much of a change? I’ve always been impressed, frankly, at the sheer number of flights between New York and London. Here’s the current schedule of New York (JFK and Newark) flights to Heathrow on American and British Airways (chosen for October 28, an arbitrary date in the near future). This list excludes BA002 and 004, which are all-business class flights to London-City Airport. And this obviously doesn’t even take other airlines’ service into account at all, such as Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Continental, Air India, or Kuwait Airways…

Again, this is the OLD schedule:

AA142 departs JFK at 8:30 a.m.
BA178 departs JFK at 8:40 a.m.
AA100 departs JFK at 6:15 p.m.
BA112 departs JFK at 6:20 p.m.
BA184 departs EWR at 6:25 p.m.
BA174 departs JFK at 6:50 p.m.
BA176 departs JFK at 7:35 p.m.
AA104 departs JFK at 8:20 p.m.
BA188 departs EWR at 8:50 p.m.
AA132 departs JFK at 9:25 p.m.
BA114 departs JFK at 9:35 p.m.
BA182 departs JFK at 10:40 p.m.
BA186 departs EWR at 10:55 p.m.
AA116 departs JFK at 11:50 p.m.

From where I sit, a move to flights on the half-hour is a tweak, not a radical shift, but it’s still an improvement in booking ease. It sure is a lot easier to remember your flight options this way. But it’s still the same number of total flights, at the end of the day.

mcdonalds drivethru Upgrades and Downgrades   A la carte, bankruptcy redux, and liquids

Downgraded: American Airlines considers going fully a la carte
American Airlines is considering ditching the “combo meal” approach to plane tickets and going fully a-la-carte with all its fares. This potentially means something along the lines of Air Canada’s model, not just adding on fees for baggage. Amusing, to me: Air Canada’s executives “look down their noses a bit at the actions of their U.S. counterparts, saying a la carte pricing should be about transparency and customer choice, not simply revenue.” The promise of price transparency is not a victory for consumers unless everyone does it the same way: Making apples-to-apples comparisons will be harder if some airlines publish fares one way and other airlines don’t.

Downgraded: Sun Country files for Chapter 11
Sun Country, the Minnesota-based discount airline, has filed for bankruptcy protection… again. But hey, they’re still operating! Beats the “We’re sorry, all flights are canceled” message on the homepage of so many failed airlines. The airline faced a cash crunch after the company’s owner was indicted on federal fraud charges.

Upgraded: Odds of actually bringing liquids through security
TSA and international counterparts are “within a year” of relaxing restrictions on carrying liquids through security checkpoints. “TSA has been testing X-ray machines that can detect liquid materials used in bomb-making and the technology is close to be ready for widespread use. The X-ray machines themselves are already widely deployed in the U.S., but the software necessary for the liquids detection and evaluation is still being tested.” Again, these are already in action in Japan. What’s the holdup?


lga approach Upgrades and Downgrades    Shea Stadium approaches, Pakistan travel, elite lines, mileage minimums

Downgraded: New York aviation landmarks
There are a handful of routes where pilots use land markers to guide their approach for landing. New York’s LaGuardia is one of them, and they’re about to lose a key marker: Shea Stadium, the home of the Mets, is being demolished. The use of these physical markers, seen from the sky, is kind of quaint. I recall flying into LaGuardia (on a different approach path) and listening to Channel 9 on United (which lets you listen in on the cockpit conversations with the tower). The tower’s instructions were something like “Turn left at the Statue of Liberty and fly up the river.” Awesome.

Downgraded: Flights to Pakistan
A note to any passengers flying to Pakistan: British Airways has indefinitely canceled its flights to Islamabad, in the wake of the Marriott hotel bombing. BA’s FAQ page for passengers with flights to Pakistan is here. Joe Brancatelli suggests that travelers to the region avoid US and UK airlines and hotels, and consider companies that cater to Japanese travelers instead.

Upgraded: Elite lines at American Airlines… and Southwest
American Airlines is rolling out the red carpets for their elite frequent flyers. Literally. Starting September 30, at select airports, you’ll find check-in lines, security lines, and boarding lines. (Before anyone gets upset: The TSA doesn’t control the security lines, the airports and airlines do. See here for a defense of the process.) I’m not frequently on board AA planes, so I’m not an elite with them. But I’m shocked that this isn’t already out there for AA flyers. Other airlines have been doing this for years. Years! More shocking, though also, not entirely: Southwest is rolling out elite lines, too.

Upgraded: Continental, caving, brings back the 500-mile minimum
An anonymous commenter brought it up early, and it’s since confirmed: Continental is reversing itself and granting passengers a minimum of 500 frequent flyer miles on flights under that distance.

Downgraded: Uses of college budgets
I know that baggage fees suck, but is refunding students who fly back to school their $15 or $25 baggage fees really the best use of college funds?

Downgraded: “Fakeproof” passports
I love stories like this: British authorities touted the safety and security of their “e-passport,” effectively a passport with an embedded radio-frequency chip. Hacker-proof, they claimed. It was cracked, cloned, and altered within minutes. Minutes. Not even hours, much less days, or weeks. Minutes. The computer researcher proved his point by changing the data to make the passport appear to be Osama bin Laden’s, complete with passport photo. Just awesome. (Recall that, as posted a couple years ago, the easiest way to destroy the chip inside your passport, if you’re wary of RFID scanners stealing your personal information, is with a hammer.)

Downgraded: American Airlines upgrades
A downgraded upgrade? Indeed. American recently rolled out copayment fees for many of its upgrade awards. See the changes on the award chart here. More evidence of the devaluation of miles, if you needed a reminder.

Upgraded: European booking war hilarity
Britain’s Thomson Holidays, part of the TUI Group, came under heat for offering vacation rentals in Greece or Turkey for £14 a week. At £2 a night, that’s some cheap sleeps. Why was this problematic? Competitors complained that Thomson was changing customer expectations, causing travelers to hold out and wait for the rock-bottom room rate, instead of booking early. Sounds like crybaby talk to me.

Upgraded: Alliance dalliance
It’s not really a surprise, given the urge to merge that’s rampant in aviation today, but American Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia are looking to link up. They’re already alliance partners within Oneworld, and this isn’t a merger (yet), but the three airlines are trying to get antitrust immunity, so they can collude and set fares together. There’s really no benefit to consumers in this, especially if you fly between London and the United States. AA and BA dominate those routes, and the companies want to expand their price-setting power.

Upgraded: Google Maps’ sense of humor
Remember how Google Maps gave directions from the U.S. to Europe which included the instruction to swim across the Atlantic? Those jokesters recently did it again, suggesting you kayak across the Pacific Ocean. (They took it down, alas.)

kayak across pacific Upgrades and Downgrades    Baggage fee refunds...from colleges? High tech passports faked.  Kayak to Australia.  And more!

Upgraded: Your chance to speak your mind on aircraft interiors
Friend of the blog Addison Schonland is doing some market research on aircraft interiors, and what you want to see inside those aluminum tubes. Take his poll, which will hopefully filter through to airline designers and execs attending the Aircraft Interiors Expo show next month.

Upgraded: Stormy weather
Priceline is once again rolling out a cute promotion, which promises to pay the cost of your vacation package if your trip is rained out, through November 16, 2008. The “Sunshine Guarantee” kicks in if a half inch of measured rainfall is present on HALF of the days of your trip. That’s a lot of rain, so don’t count on any payout. Kerala monsoon holiday, anyone?


TechCrunch reported and Budget Travel confirms that American Airlines is pulling its fares out of the granddaddy of all airfare aggregators, Effective August 1, you won’t see AA fares on Kayak.

TechCrunch also reports, citing “the CEO of a competing travel site” as a source, that American is “considering doing the same with Orbitz. If it does so, other airlines such as Continental and Northwest may follow suit.”

For starters, this stinks for consumers, because it’s making comparison shopping harder. Already we’re stuck comparing apples to oranges, thanks to the variation between the airlines’ myriad fees. But in the long run, I’m betting that pulling out of comparison sites will stink for the airline, too, and we’ll see this decision reversed.

The comparison with Southwest will inevitably arise. Sure, Southwest doesn’t show up in comparison sites, but Southwest customers have been “trained” for years now to skip the search engines and go straight to the airline. American doesn’t have that kind of culture built up, and it’s unlikely to go all-in toward creating such a culture at this point. Just pulling out of Kayak won’t do the trick. And worse, it’s a real pain in the butt to waste time looking all over the internet for the lowest fare. I have always disliked that about Southwest, but hey, it’s working for them. Still, Southwest is the exception — not everyone can pull off selling tickets solely on their their own. Even JetBlue caved in and started publishing fares on other sites.

American Airlines has played these games before. They once yanked first-class fares from Expedia, but came back three weeks later.

This sort of thing goes both ways, too. Notably, online travel agencies don’t claim to cover ALL the options. Orbitz, for example, limits customers’ choices in its rental car search to those companies that pay to be included.

I’m betting that American’s pullout is a bargaining strategy. They hate to pay any referral fees to sites that drive them customers, but they don’t want to lose those customers entirely. Their real goal: to negotiate a smaller revenue split with Kayak and/or Orbitz.

If I’m right, then American’s fares will be back online for comparison shopping within a month or so. If I’m wrong, then we will likely see other airlines do the same, and the business model of Kayak and its competitors is at risk. It’s not just venture capitalists who lose out if those sites fail: The consumer loses. So I really hope my prediction is right.

 How can airlines make things worse?  Let me count the ways...

Dutifully playing follow-the-leader, and jumping into the proverbial meat-grinder, airlines are competing to make a bad scene worse. They’re piling on: adding fees, reducing benefits, and devaluing frequent flyer miles even more. And that’s just today. Yeah, it was a bad day.

Round one: Luggage fees

Barely wasting any time after American Airlines imposed a $15 fee for the first checked bag, United has followed suit. The new fee goes into effect “if you are traveling on or after August 18, 2008 on an Economy ticket or Economy award ticket purchased on or after June 13, 2008.” Yes, there are exceptions for elite frequent flyers (notably for all Star Alliance elites, and not just United elites) and premium-cabin passengers. Full details here.

Oh, and US Airways matched the $15 fee today, too. Who’s next?

Round two: Free stuff isn’t free anymore fee
American introduced a $5 fee for booking a free ticket online. Purely spiteful, as Gary Leff argued when this first arose. Online distribution was intended to lower costs, but now it’s just a profit center.

But American’s $5 fee seems downright generous compared to US Airways’ announcement today. There’s a double-whammy of “award ticketing fees” and “award processing fees.” The ticketing fees consist of $30 surcharge for U.S/Canada tickets, and $40 for international itineraries. But then there’s the “processing fee”: $25 continental U.S./Alaska/Canada, $35 Latin America/Caribbean, $50 Hawaii/international.


Round three: Free trips will cost more miles
American jacked up the number of miles necessary for many free tickets and upgrades, thereby making it harder to reach your award goals. No surprise, alas, given the oversupply of miles chasing a shortage of flights in an age of increasing airfares. But still annoying.

So far, no other followers… yet. Give it a day or two, and it won’t be a surprise if others devalue your miles the same way.

Round four: We will kick elites like dogs, and you’ll like it
US Airways will piss off thousands of its elite frequent flyers with its new “enhancement” to the Dividend Miles program: “US Airways is also eliminating its bonus miles program for Preferred status Dividend Miles members. Preferred members currently receive mileage bonuses based on their status level. The Preferred bonus program will be discontinued for tickets purchased on/after Aug. 6, 2008.” Ouch. So, elites who previously accumulated miles more quickly can now kiss that benefit goodbye. How many elites will be kissing US Airways goodbye? (Hat tip to Benet Wilson for pointing this nugget out to me first!)

Rounds five through infinity: Everything else.
Beyond that, the fees just keep on coming. US Airways is adding fees for all soft drinks, including water. Excuse me, that’s “a new in-flight beverage purchase program.” Ooh, a program! Groan. They’re raising the price of booze, too, to a whopping $7. United is increasing various ticketing fees, across the board, too many to name. And US Airways is shutting clubs and arrival lounges. Satire just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Is there a silver lining in here anywhere? I can’t seem to find it.

- Copycat: US Airways mimics United, starts charging for second checked bag
- Death by a thousand cuts: US Airways edition