April 1, 2021

No April Fools jokes here, but if you need your annual fix, head on over to crankyflier.com.

Frontier Goes Public

It’s been a long time coming, but Frontier finally got its wish for a successful initial public offering (IPO) today as it floated 30 million shares under the ULCC ticker on NASDAQ.

Frontier had been targeting a price range of $19 to $21 per share, and it came in at the low end of that with a $19 share price. In its first day of trading, investors weren’t impressed as the stock dipped 0.79% to $18.85 a share.

The day did not start off well when Frontier sent several animals representing its tails to ring the opening bell. Grizwald the grizzly bear broke loose and wreaked havoc on everyone in his path. There were no serious injuries, but trading was suspended until he could be tranquilized.


United Stops Requiring Customers to Forfeit Credit

United has reversed course and will now allow travelers to use their residual credit when they change their ticket to a new one with a lower fare. This finally brings the airline in line with its competitors.

When United first eliminated change fees, it added one controversial caveat. If a traveler changed a ticket to a lower fare option, any remaining value would have to be forfeited. Both American and Delta continued to allow customers to retain that remaining value for future use.

United made the first move, likely hoping American and Delta would follow, but they did not. United has now begrudgingly decided to let passengers keep the credit that was rightfully theirs in the first place.


Airlines Split on Extending Change Fee Waivers

Though many airlines have eliminated change fees on most tickets, they appear to be split on extending their blanket change fee waiver that covers even highly-restricted tickets like those booked in Basic Economy.

Alaska, Delta, and United have extended their waivers by one extra month. Now any tickets bought through April 30 will be changeable without penalty. American, Hawaiian, and JetBlue, however, let their waivers expire on March 31. That means basic economy fares on those airlines as well as some travel purchased in international locations will now have change fees apply.

Just to make things more confusing, United will be ending its change waivers for people booked on a 737 MAX as of April 7, presumably because absolutely nobody cared.

The two sides met in a dark parking lot to try and fight this out to pick a winner, but in the end, after circling each other threateningly, they agreed to disagree. Southwest showed up to watch, but with no change fees on any fare, it could only laugh.


FAA Certifies the 737 MAX 8200

The latest variant of the 737 MAX — the MAX 8200 — has been approved for entry into service by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Travelers recoiled in horror upon learning that this version will pack nearly 200 people into an airplane originally meant for far fewer.

Ryanair is the launch customer for the MAX 8200, a 737 MAX 8 that will hold 197 passengers. The large increase in capacity was only permitted after Boeing added an additional pair of exit doors in the aft of the aircraft. The airline is planning on putting the airplane into commercial service this summer, assuming the European safety agency follows the FAA’s lead and offers its approval.

American could only look on with envy. It has increased its capacity on its 737-800s from 150 to 172, matching the seating it put on its MAX. It is now looking at refitting its fleet with extra doors to see if it can add seating in the overhead bins.


Willie Walsh Takes Over as IATA Director General

Former British Airways and IAG CEO Willie Walsh has officially taken over as the Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) today. He takes over from Alexandre de Juniac, former CEO of Air France-KLM, who served in the role for nearly five years.

Walsh is known for being outspoken and blunt, something that the quasi-governmental lobbying and regulatory organization desperately needs. His top priority appears to be focused on “restoring freedom of movement.” He’s starting this campaign by making sure that everyone in an airport will get a ride on one of those electric carts, restoring their freedom to rapidly zip around the terminal even if they can’t cross borders.

Walsh summed up his charge with, “My goal is to ensure that IATA is a forceful voice supporting the success of global air transport. We will work with supporters and critics alike to deliver on our commitments to an environmentally sustainable airline industry.”


Airline Potpourri

  • Air Canada will extend Aeroplan elite status for travelers through 2022, signalling they’ve already given up on 2021.
  • American has introduced a quarantine-free option for travelers who are able to fly to Italy… which is not a lot of people.
  • Austrian will fly to Zaprizhzhia, Ukraine 3x-weekly beginning May 17. Rumors are that Austrian will give free flights to any Austrian resident that can pronounce the city’s name properly.
  • Cebu Pacific is looking to add another $6.6m through a convertible preferred share offering on top of the $256m it already raised.
  • EGO Airways in Italy is now officially flying, with its first flight from Catania to Parma.
  • Emirates will restart its New York/JFK- Milan flight on June 1, one of its two pre-pandemic flights between the US and Europe. The other, Newark to Athens, has already been announced to start the same day.
  • Fiji Airways has received regulatory approval to bring the 737 MAX back into service.
  • IranAir won’t be privatized any time soon as the government has faced reality and given up.
  • TAP Air Portugal flew an A321LR for over 10 hours from Maputo, Mozambique to Cape Verde, setting a new record. It’s unclear how many people were onboard.
  • Ukraine International refunded $6,711,576 in the first quarter of this year after receiving 30,000 requests. That just seemed like a fun fact worth sharing.

Brett’s Moment of Levity

What do you call 40 millionaires sitting around watching the World Series?

The New York Yankees

(Happy opening day everyone!)

February 26, 2021

United Partners With Landline to Provide Bus Connections

Following in Sun Country’s footsteps, United Airlines has partnered with Landline to provide bus service for connections from Denver to Breckenridge 1x daily and Fort Collins 4x daily, as first reported by Airline Weekly. The buses will be sold as flights, similar to United’s current partner bus service between Allentown/Bethlehem and Newark.

As detailed in the press release, United passengers who arrive in Denver will go to an assigned gate on Concourse A where the bus will be waiting to take them to their final destination. Baggage will be transferred automatically, as with any regular domestic connection. For the return, travelers will be required to go through security in Denver.

The buses will be painted with the United logo, and Landline has partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to ensure that the ride is COVID-safe. That includes electrostatic spraying, UV disinfection, required mask-wearing, sanitizing wipes, and reduced capacity. The buses will have wifi and streaming entertainment onboard, and travelers will earn miles in MileagePlus.

We understand this was to be announced much earlier, but it took United a long time to come to terms with the fact that the bus provides a better experience than the airplane for all but Basic Economy passengers, who will be put in the luggage hold.


San Francisco Delays Renovations to United Terminal

San Francisco International’s Terminal 3 — the home of United Airlines — was due for a $1 billion renovation, but it is going to have to wait longer. It now appears unlikely that it will happen until 2024 at the earliest.

The renovation was supposed to break ground last June but has been delayed multiple times. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the Board of Supervisors approved lease extensions through 2023 for several outlets that were not going to be a part of the renovated terminal. If the airport changes its mind, leases can be terminated with 6 months notice.

San Francisco has gone through several major improvement projects. The well-received International Terminal was opened in 2000. The old international terminal, now Terminal 2, was then rebuilt for Virgin America and American, opening in 2011. Terminal 1 is in the process of being rebuilt with several new gates having opened in the last couple years. That leaves only United’s Terminal 3 without a major investment.

In retaliation for the delay, United says it will bring back a fleet of Jetstream turboprops to flood the runways and cause delays for everyone until the work is done.


IAG Reports a Big Loss

International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) — owner of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Vueling — reported its full year 2020 results, and they were very, very bad.

IAG generated an operating loss before special items of €4.365 billion (~US$5.2 billion) on revenues of only €5.512 billion (~US $6.6 billion). That led to a dismal operating margin of -79.2%. Capacity was down 66.5% vs 2019, and passengers dropped 73.6%.

On the bright side… oh wait, there is no bright side. The subsidiary airlines did all race to see who could claim the crown of “Europe’s worst performer,” and there was a clear winner. Iberia wasn’t even trying with its operating margin of “only”-33.6%. British Airways was at -58.2% and Aer Lingus at -76.8%. Vueling took the crown with a whopping -108.5% margin.


Mesa Ends CRJ-700 Operations

Cargo carrier Mesa Airlines has exited its CRJ-700 fleet of aircraft as of earlier this month. It will now focus on exclusively flying human cargo on CRJ-900 aircraft for American and Embraer 175 aircraft for United, along with non-human cargo on 737s for DHL.

Mesa had 20 CRJ-700s in its fleet that were operated on behalf of United Airlines. As part of a restructuring of its agreement, Mesa agreed to lease those airplanes to GoJet, which will convert them into 50-seat CRJ-550 aircraft for United.

GoJet has quite the steep task ahead after inheriting a fleet of airplanes that has been flown only by Mesa for more than 15 years. A complete gutting, dousing with sanitizer, and burning of sage is the minimum being required to prepare the aircraft for future service.


Norwegian Reports Brutal Fourth Quarter Loss

Norwegian Air Shuttle reported fourth quarter numbers, and let’s just say that the airline is probably jealous of IAG.

Excluding special items, Norwegian had a Q4 pre-tax loss of NOK 882 million (~US$102 million) on revenues of only NOK 670 million (~US$77 million) for a margin of -131.6%. If you include special items, many of which are related to the airline’s bankruptcy filing, Norwegian posted a remarkable -2,477.6% margin. Move over, Vueling. There’s a new king in town.

Out of a fleet of 131 aircraft, only 15 operated. Even with that, the airline could only manage to fill slightly more than half its seats. Passenger numbers plunged by 92%. Despite all this, Norwegian says its bankruptcy restructuring is on track, and things are going swimmingly.


Airline Potpourri

  • Condor is getting creative just in time for spring break with new flights from Dusseldorf to Beirut in Lebanon and Sulaimaniyya in the Kurdistan Region.
  • JetBlue has taken delivery of its first A321neo with the newly-refreshed Mint business class onboard.
  • Qantas, Virgin Australia, and no other Australian airline operate the airplane, but the Aussies have decided the 737 MAX is safe to fly in the country again… if anyone cares to do so.
  • Surf Air is not a SPAC, but it’s still buying an electric aircraft company called Ampaire which specializes in converting non-electric aircraft to electric.
  • Tailwind is hoping to start flying seaplanes from Manhattan to Bridgeport in Connecticut this summer.
  • Transair Hawaii — always on the cutting edge — is finally graduating from the original 737 (-200s, which it will still operate) all the way to the classic version with its first 737-400, a 27.8 year old aircraft.

Dave’s Moment of Levity

What’s the body temperature of a Tauntaun? Luke Warm.

February 25, 2021

Southwest Adds Bozeman and Fort Walton Beach to Its Route Map

Southwest continued its rapid expansion of leisure destinations by adding both Bozeman (Montana) and Fort Walton Beach/Destin (Florida) to its route map.

Bozeman will be served twice daily from both Denver and Las Vegas starting May 27. Denver ramps up to 4x daily on June 6. Fort Walton Beach will have more destinations with 1x daily beginning May 6 to Baltimore, Chicago/Midway, and Dallas/Love Field. Nashville will get 3x daily flights.

Fort Walton Beach, sandwiched one hour east of Pensacola and one hour west of Panama City, completes the Panhandle Trifecta for the airline. The state tried a “fly three, get one free” approach to get service into the state capital in Tallahassee, but Southwest declined since it only wants to serve destinations with names its customers can spell. It is unclear how the airline justifies serving Cincinnati.


2020 Was a Great Year for Airline Operations

While 2020 was an awful year for airlines financially, it proved to be a great year from an operational perspective according to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) latest Air Travel Consumer Report.

The reporting U.S. airlines averaged an on-time rate of 84.5% for the year, compared to just shy of 79% the year before. Outside of Allegiant, which ran a dismal 71% due to the way it scheduled at the beginning of the pandemic, no airline had fewer than 82% of flights arrive on time. Cancellations soared to 6.0% vs 1.9% the previous year, but that is solely because of the massive number of cancellations that occurred at the onset of the pandemic.

Looking at other metrics, the mishandled baggage rate improved from 5.85 bags per 1,000 enplaned passengers down to 4.11. Oversold flights plummeted more than anything, which is unsurprising since you have to actually have passengers to oversell a flight. In 2019, there were 526,000 passengers denied boarding. In 2020, that dropped to 80,000, most of which occurred in the first quarter of the year before the pandemic.


2020 Was A Horrible Year for Airline Complaints

In that very same Air Travel Consumer Report, there was one category that saw things go in the other direction. Complaints filed with theDOT soared from 15,342 in 2019 to 102,550 in 2020. You have three chances to guess the category that nearly 90,000 of those complaints fell in, and the first two don’t count. That’s right, the complaints largely focused on the color of employee uniforms refunds.

You again can probably guess which airline had the highest number of complaints. With more than 10,000 surrounding refunds alone, United nearly doubled the next worst performer. The airline played games with refunds early in the pandemic, so this is no surprise.

Dishonorable mention is due to second-place airline Air Canada which continues to deny refunds to this day. It had more than 5,700 refund complaints alone. TAP Air Portugal had over 5,000, giving it third place. That is an impressive showing for an airline with such a small presence in the U.S. We understand a petition to have the official DOT name of this list changed to “airlines you shouldn’t book” is working to gather signatures.


Qantas Delays International Flight Resumption Until Late October

Qantas — which announced a large half-year loss — says that it will no longer resume flying its international network in July as previously hoped, except for additional flights to New Zealand. The new target start date for the rest of its international flying is October 31.

On October 31, Qantas says it will resume flights to 22 of its 25 international destinations but with smaller 787 and A330 aircraft. It has retired its 747s and the A380s are not expected to return to the fleet for years, if ever. The three destinations that will not begin that day are New York/JFK, Osaka/Kansai, and Santiago. Those will resume when Qantas good and well feels like it.

The change in date reflects the current estimate for Australia’s expected completion of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the country. The July date was based on people being immunized, but the government has now expanded to require all wallabies, koalas, and kangaroos to be immunized as well, just to be safe.


Lufthansa Announces Leisure-Heavy Summer Plans

Lufthansa Group has announced its summer plans, and unsurprisingly the focus is on leisure markets. There will be 20 new destinations from Frankfurt and 15 from Munich.

Within Europe, the focus will be on the Canary Islands and Greece with new flights to places like Chania, Mykonos, Zakynthos, and Preveza, proving that unlike Southwest, Lufthansa will gladly serve destinations its customers can’t spell.

Beyond Europe, service to the Maldives and Mauritius will now become year-round destinations instead of summer-only. Eurowings Discover will launch this summer with new flights from Frankfurt to Anchorage, Mombasa + Zanzibar, and Punta Cana.

Meawhile in Austria, Austrian will return to New York/JFK and Montreal in May with 3x weekly flights to each. SWISS returns from Zurich to Miami on March 28 and both Boston and Los Angeles get more frequency.


Airline Potpourri

  • Air New Zealand lost NZ$185 million (~US$137 million) for the final six months of 2020 with revenues decreasing 59% on a 65% reduction in capacity. For a country that has sealed itself off from the rest of the world, that could have been a lot worse.
  • Delta and LATAM received final approval from Brazil for their joint venture.
  • Flydubai will begin flying to Cluj in Romania from Dubai.
  • SAS operated only 25% of capacity year-over-year in its weird November-January quarter.
  • South African Airways has seen the cost of its business rescue program double. I know you are all shocked.
  • United said its board has authorized the sale of up to 37 million additional shares of common stock “from time to time.”
  • United acquired the slot for its new Boston – London/Heathrow service from British Airways.
  • Volotea continues the low-cost carrier invasion of Italy with flights from Bologna to Lampedusa and Pantelleria.

Maxwell’s Moment of Levity

I’m a big fan of whiteboards. I find them quite re-markable.