Archive for June, 2010
This has not been a good year for mileage runs. Fewer planes are flying, fares are higher, fewer seats are available.
For years, my goal has been to find a flight in the low two cents per mile range or lower. The last time I spent a serious amount of time looking, I couldn’t even find a flight below 4 cents per mile. Today I managed to find a flight below 3.5 cents per mile. Not great, and in most years I would not even consider it, but it’s a good deal by current standards.
I found a trip to San Jose (SJC) on July 17. I’ll leave Austin at 6 a.m., return home at 8 p.m. that evening with a connection both ways at DFW. A three-hour layover at SJC will not allow me to leave the airport and go into town, but it will give me enough time to eat lunch without being rushed. The ticket cost $280; with my Platinum bonus that came to 3.61 cents per mile. Not great, but better than many I have found , particularly for that time of year when ticket prices are so much higher.
I used a 10% discount coupon that I earned for voting in the Century in the Making promotion. That lowered the fare to $257 and a cost per mile of 3.32.
Is this a great mileage run? Absolutely not!
But I’ll earn more than 3,700 EQMs, and 7,750 total miles; I really need those EQMs! My hope at the start of the year had been to again earn Platinum status in 2010; I need 50,000 EQMs to do that. Since it is June and I am only at 13,000 EQMs, I can give up on Platinum unless American offers its double EQM promotion again.
So, my new goal is to earn at least 25,000 miles and achieve Gold status for next year. With this trip I’ll have almost 17,000 miles, putting Gold within reach. All I need to do now is find those 8,000 EQMs.
Let me begin this post by saying that I am not now nor have I ever been an employee of American Airlines (AA), the AMR corporation, or any of its subsidiaries. But that did not stop me from getting an e-mail from Laura Glading, the President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA).
Background: The APFA members are currently working for AA without a contract. AA and the APFA opened contract negotiations in accordance with Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act in February 2008. More than two years later, they have not yet reached an agreement. APFA members recently voted overwhelmingly to go on strike at American Airlines. In response, AA asked many of its management personnel to volunteer to take flight attendant training so they could help keep the planes flying in case of a strike. That’s where my letter from Ms. Glading comes in.
For some reason. I’ve ended up on an AFPA mailing list of AA management; she wrote to me to give the AFPA’s side of the dispute, and to ask me not to work as a flight attendant during a possible strike.
The letter began with a “Dear Coworker” salutation. It continues:
“Recently, American Airlines sent out a call to management staff to voluntarily train as replacement Flight Attendants in the event of a strike by APFA members. As the President of APFA, and on behalf of our membership of over 17,000 of your fellow employees at American, I implore you to weigh carefully any consideration you give to answering this call.
“Like AA’s management staff, APFA Flight Attendants have a long history building American Airlines. We are all working hard for this company, and we rely on the teamwork that all American’s employees bring to our jobs. Before you volunteer to replace Flight Attendants in the event of a potential strike, it is vital that you get all the facts about what Flight Attendants have gone through in these negotiations and what we are resolutely trying to achieve.
“Flight Attendants are dedicated to our jobs and to American Airlines. We do not want to strike; no one ever wants to strike. However, after seven years struggling under the sacrifices that we have all made for the survival of our airline, we feel strongly we must now take a stand not just for our profession and our futures, but for the futures of all of us.
“Our industry has seen unprecedented lows this past decade, from which we are just now beginning to see a slow and long-anticipated turn-around. American’s very survival through these difficult times bears witness to the perseverance, allegiance and commitment of its work force in all divisions. This work force now deserves to see its future security and prosperity rewarded in working agreements which move toward rebuilding our careers and the financial stability we have put on hold for so long.
“We are not different from you, nor from working Americans across this country. Given what has happened to employees throughout our industry—reflecting the same economic malaise affecting our nation—we feel we are truly standing up for the broader middle class.
“Very simply put: if not now, then when? We are not expecting or demanding an overnight reversal of fortune. But we cannot sit idly by and ignore the promises made by management that this company will prosper and that the employees that sacrificed so much would also share in the prosperity. Our proposals to the company are reasonable and will provide the foundation on which to see Flight Attendants and their families’ living standards and future secured
“Make no mistake. This is about more than just Flight Attendants at American Airlines. It extends to all workers in every facet of the company: from your work place, to the planes we fly, to the airports and to the ramps. It’s about a lifestyle we have all crafted and merit, one in which we don’t live paycheck to paycheck with constant worries about tomorrow. It’s about being able to pay our mortgages and bills and provide for our loved ones. In this, your goals and ours are surely the same.
“American has chosen to negotiate in the media, claiming what APFA is asking for will bankrupt our airline. That is absolutely not true. It’s the last thing Flight Attendants want. We are well aware of the competitive nature of the airline industry and we want American to prosper. Some progress was achieved, in fact, in our recent negotiations, but the Company’s latest proposal will not make us the highest paid in the industry, as management has claimed. That’s not even close. In fact, it will leave our pay, benefits and work rules well below where they were in 2003, when we all made concessions to bail out American.
“This is your struggle too. APFA members are fighting to raise the standard of living for all workers at American. So please think twice before you decide to volunteer to be a replacement Flight Attendant.”
You can find American Airlines’ view of the ongoing negotiations at this website.
Why did I receive that letter from Ms. Glading? I don’t know.
I have no doubt that APFA members are working hard for the company and are dedicated to their jobs and to American Airlines. I also have no doubt that management is doing its best to get the company through a difficult time. Somewhere, there must be a common ground between the two sides. Unfortunately, after more than two years of negotiations helped by a federal mediator, some common ground has been found, but not enough to put a new contract in place.
American is my airline of choice and I hope it succeeds and, along with its employees, thrives in the coming years. Neither side benefits from a strike. I don’t know enough about the issues to say who is right or wrong: all I can say is I hope they are able to reach a resolution soon. More than two years of negotiations is enough.
The International Air Transport Association has announced that it expects the airline industry to show a profit of $2,5 billion in 2010. That’s quite a turnaround from their earlier prediction of a $2.8 billion loss.
The Wall Street Journal reports the IATA says “passenger traffic is now expected to grow 7.1% this year and cargo volumes will grow by 18.5%, compared with its previous forecasts for 5.6% and 12% growth, respectively. Industry revenue is forecast at $545 billion, up from $483 billion in 2009.”
The numbers are not all good: IATA predicts that European air carriers will lose $2.8 billion this year, up from the earlier predicted loss of $2.2 billion. Those increased losses are blamed on everything from the economic downturn to labor strife to the grounding of flights due to volcanic ash from the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajokull).
Simple math says that if these numbers are accurate and European carriers show a $2,8 billion loss, then the rest of the world will show a very substantial profit of $5.3 billion. IATA earlier predicted that Asian carriers would make $900 million, they have now revised that to $2.2 billion.
The huge differences between IATA’s earlier predictions and their latest ones should give one pause: let’s wait until the end of the year to see if there will be any other wild swings in the market.
If the numbers are accurate, what do they mean for North American air travelers? Simple. If you were paying to check bags, you will continue to — that fee will not go away. Nor will the fee for a meal or a pillow or a blanket or a set of earphones. The airlines have made a huge amount of money from those fees and will not drop them anytime soon. In the meantime, airfares will continue to rise.
The airlines have found that to be a winning combination, there is no reason to believe that profitability will cause them to lower airfares or fees.
It’s an interesting time. The legacy carriers (American, United, Delta, etc.) report that they are making a substantial amount of money by charging their customers luggage fees. MSNBC reports that the airlines made almost $8 billion last year from luggage fees alone. For an industry where profits are few and far between, the fees have been a much-needed source of revenue. At the same time, Southwest Airlines, which charges no fees, says it has made a lot of money as people fly them instead of the legacy carriers.
American Airlines charges $25 for the first checked bag (one-way) and $35 for the second bag. (Passengers with AAdvantage elite status and members of the military are exempt from the fee.) So, if you take two bags with you, the price of your round-trip ticket goes up by $120. If your bag weighs more than 50 pounds, you’ll pay an additional $50 beyond the fees listed above.
With these policies in place, a passenger can avoid fees by using a carry-on bag instead of checking it, and being sure that their bag weighs less than 50 pounds. Seeing this, the luggage industry has responded.
USA Today says passengers are packing lighter and smarter. Luggage maker Travelpro says its sales of carry-on bags have risen 30% in the two years since the airlines started to charge for checked bags. In addition, Travelpro has redesigned its carry-on bags so that they now weigh as much as 5 pounds less than they did in the past.
Delsey luggage has a bag that features a red light in the handle that comes on if the weight of the bag exceeds 50 pounds.
Some people use FedEx or UPS to deliver their luggage to their location; while the fee may be higher, they don’t have to carry the bags to/from the airport or worry about going to Cancun while the airline sends their bags to Seattle. (Or as happened to me once on an international flight — I arrived at my destination to find that I had made my connecting flight but my luggage had not. The airline knew where it was and was able to deliver it to my hotel the following day. )
As airlines try to satisfy the flyers who always look for the cheapest ticket, their revenues drop. These fees seem to be one of their best ways to make up for those losses. Whether we like it or not, these fees are here to stay. We can only wonder what the next additional fee will be.
NOTE: given recent legal cases involving bloggers endorsing products, I’ll say that I own Travelpro luggage and love it, but have not received any consideration from them for this post.