Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Airline pact paves way for O'Hare expansion

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- City officials here and United (UAL 24.23, -0.50, -2.02%)  and American (AMR 6.55, -0.06, -0.91%) , the two biggest operators at O'Hare International Airport, have broken a logjam over the city's multibillion-dollar expansion and modernization plan, the federal Transportation Department announced Monday. The multiyear project has long been billed as a bid to combat flight delays by adding and reconfiguring runway capacity and as an engine of growth for the regional economy. When the plan was unveiled a decade ago, the carriers backed the expansion enthusiastically, committing to pick up a majority of the costs. But, as traffic growth slowed and the airline industry entered a period of uncertainty and upheaval, United and American backed away from their prior support, suing in January to stop the city from pushing forward without airline backing. The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that a dismissal of that suit played a role in the compromise announced Monday.

2. High Hopes For Low Prices At GSP

GREER, S.C. -- This week's arrival of Southwest Airlines at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and another discount air carrier later this month have raised passengers' expectations of lower fares.
Southwest's first flight out of GSP was Sunday.
On Monday, a steady stream of passengers checked in at the airline's new ticket counter. The first flight out for the day was at 6:25 a.m. bound for Baltimore.
A few hours later, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly joined airport officials for one last kick-off event.
"This is really an opportunity to win new customers, to serve our existing customers and that's the real exciting part of adding South Carolina to the route map," said Kelly.
Southwest also began service out of Charleston over the weekend. Kelly said bookings were up a little more there than in Greenville initially.
Kelly also commented on his company's announcement of adding a $10 surcharge to the price of a roundtrip ticket on all domestic flights because of rising jet fuel costs.
"It's about 40 percent of our costs now," said Kelly. "It's a huge expenditure and one that is also not stable. We're doing the best we can to conserve as much fuel as possible. We're focusing on the rest of our cost structure so we can share those savings with our customers."
Kelly said his company does not nickel and dime passengers. He said they prove that by not charging baggage fees or to change flights.
"We try to make changes to fares very modestly and very infrequently," said Kelly. "Unfortunately, fuel prices are up 30 percent over the last year."
Kelly said the fare increases enacted this year have not offset their increase in fuel prices. He said it fuel prices are volatile and and hard to predict, so he could not predict if another fare increase was likely.
Curtis Quarles flew into GSP on Southwest on Monday morning. He said his wife searched for the cheapest fare and Southwest was it. He'd never flown into GSP before this trip.
"We paid less than all the other times we've flown here," said Quarles, referring to South Carolina to visit his mother.
Another discount air carrier will begin doing business out of GSP on March 25.
Vision Airlines will offer roundtrip service to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach airport three days a week at 7:30 p.m.

The company's marketing director, Clay Meek, said Vision's business model is different than other major airlines. He said by offering service to just the one destination out of GSP, they really do not compete with other airlines.
"That is good for the area," said Meek. "That is also good for us and good for the other airlines to have other operators serving Greenville and Spartanburg. It gets people more mindful of coming here."
Vision charges $15 for the first checked bag. Meek said other than that, they try not to pass along any other expenses to the customer.
Meek said the way they keel prices low for passengers is by working with resorts in the destinations they fly to offer great deals.
"By keeping our fares low, keeping our expenses low and serving on a less than daily basis in the market, we are going to be able to stay profitable.

3. Religious Prayer Ritual on Alaska Airlines Flight Causes Cockpit Lockdown

Police escorted three men off an Alaska Airlines plane from Mexico City to Los Angeles yesterday after flight attendants were alarmed by their orthodox Jewish prayer ritual.

"Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant saw what she believed was unusual behavior from three passengers on board. The three passengers were praying aloud in Hebrew and were wearing what appeared to be leather straps on their foreheads and arms," an Alaska Airlines spokeswoman explains to NBC LA.

"This appeared to be a security threat and the pilots locked down the flight deck and followed standard security procedures," the spokeswoman continues. "The pilots informed LAX and when the plane landed, TSA, customs, the FBI and law enforcement were there."

Firefighters and foam trucks met the jet as it taxied to the terminal, where the FBI removed the three Mexican nationals for questioning. After the suspicious activity turned out to be a prayer ritual called tefillin, the men were allowed to continue on their way.

"The plane was inspected by local law enforcement and has been cleared," says the airline spokeswoman.

In January 2010, a US Airways flight from New York to Louisville was diverted to Philadelphia after a 17-year-old practiced the same ritual.
Neha Jain

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