American tries to entice top United fliers

American Airlines has finally decided to take advantage of the problems many United Airlines fliers have experienced since the merger with Continental Airlines was completed on March 3. In an extremely rare move, American is now offering conditions-free top-elite status match to United’s most loyal customers.

Having read and heard about many United customers’ troubles after the carrier adopted Continental’s reservations system — and having encountered some problems myself — I e-mailed American spokesman Tim Smith on March 16. Smith has been the best PR person to deal with at any airline since I started writing my column in the Washington Times in 2008. I asked him whether American had any intention of capitalizing on United customers’ dissatisfaction by stealing some of them away through a status-match offer…

Carriers lose appetite for Tokyo Haneda

When I landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport today, I had one of my easiest, fastest and smoothest international arrival experiences. But I wondered where all those airlines that last year fought and won a fierce battle over the right to fly to Haneda actually were.

It appears the industry overestimated Haneda’s appeal to travelers, and it also might have miscalculated how many passengers remain in Tokyo, as opposed to those who connect to other destinations. It’s true that the March earthquake and tsunami had a negative impact on travel to Japan in general, but traffic to and from the much bigger Narita Airport has largely recovered…

Keeping United international first class

Should the new United Airlines have international first class, like the old United, or not, like the old Continental Airlines? Most frequent fliers expect a decision in favor of one of the two models, but why not go with a mixed model? Why not keep first class on routes where it makes business sense, and fly two-cabin planes where it doesn’t?

Since the two carriers’ merger was announced in May, there have been many opinions in online travel forums advocating just coach and business class, but it’s hard to see the world’s largest airline without long-haul first class at all. Continental may call its premium cabin BusinessFirst, but it’s business class…

Mexicana embarrasses Oneworld alliance

Global airline alliances are a relatively new concept, and the three existing ones have naturally had to create their own rules. This week’s Mexicana Airlines decision to suspend ticket sales raised serious questions about Oneworld rules and requirements.

Why did the alliance insist publicly that all was fine at Mexicana just a day before the announcement? Did the carrier fail to give Oneworld a proper warning? On Tuesday, Mexicana filed for insolvency proceedings in Mexico and bankruptcy protection in the United States. That same day, Oneworld spokesman Michael Blunt issued a press release, assuring travelers that the Mexicana’s position in the alliance was “unaffected” by the developments…

What to do with empty premium seats?

Have you flown in business or first class lately? How many empty seats did you count? With so-called premium traffic falling faster that airlines can cut capacity, what should they do with the growing number of unsold seats?

Should they drastically lower the high prices they charge for them? Should they open up more seats for mileage redemption? Or should they offer free upgrades to their most loyal customers? First and business-class fares have come down somewhat, but a wide dramatic decrease is yet to be seen. Many carriers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to install expensive lie-flat seats and entertainment systems, so they rightly want a return on those investments…

Aviation meets community service

It’s no secret that times are rough for the airline industry, and the glamor once associated with it is long gone. Many children, however, still dream of a life in the sky. Should they be encouraged?

The answer of Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s main airline, is a resounding yes. In 2003, it started a program for high school students called “I Can Fly,” which teaches young aviation enthusiasts the basics of the industry at no cost — from piloting and engineering to marketing and customer service. About 3,000 students have graduated from the three programs in Hong Kong so far, said Elsa Leung, Cathay’s corporate communication manager…

Airlines want budget, premium fliers

Can an airline be a low-cost carrier, nickel-and-diming most of its passengers, while offering luxury to a few others and charging them $15,000 for it? And is that an “all things to all people” model or a version of “divide and conquer”?

Executives at the so-called legacy carriers know that a huge part of their revenue comes from passengers who pay for business and first-class tickets, so they are trying to keep them happy by installing flat beds, upgrading entertainment systems and serving gourmet meals. However, airline chiefs also realize that most people on their planes sit in coach and can’t afford $7,000 to fly to Europe in business class. Because economy passengers pay what the airlines consider low fares, carriers are trying to minimize the costs associated with carrying those fliers…