There is so much that happens in the travel industry every week, and only a portion of it makes it to TravelLatte or other travel blogs. We’ll capture some of the highlights with this recurring feature. Please let us know you like it with a comment!
Bye Bye Birdie
The McDonnell Douglas MD80. It entered service in 1981 as the fuel efficient successor to the DC-9, with more room for passengers and their comfort. Today, it’s the bane of frequent fliers who complain about the aging aircrafts’ lack of modern amenities. It’s not exactly the darling of the airlines anymore, either, who are ordering newer, even more fuel efficient jets with room for even more passengers. (Though room for comfort is debatable.)
Back in the 1980s, American Airlines placed what was then the largest aircraft order ever, for 240 Super 80s, dubbed the Mad Dogs. Eventually, there were 370 of the planes in American livery. Now the airline is working to retire those that are still flying, sending 20 of them to an “airplane graveyard” in Roswell, New Mexico this week. (Interesting to note that AA’s first MD-80 order was for 20.) Even though it’s one of the largest retirement parties ever thrown for airplanes, there are 61 more Mad Dogs still flying, which AA plans to phase out over the next two years.
— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) August 23, 2016
If you’d like to learn more about the Super 80 story, there’s a great article on Airways Magazine.
The Very 80s Airline Systems
If you’re like most Americans, you’ve heard about – or maybe suffered through – airline computer outages that literally grounded fleets and stranded passengers, and thought, “What the heck?” (Or worse.)
You are not alone.
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) also want to know what the heck is going on. The senators sent letters to 13 airlines last week, expressing concern about the industry’s tech failures. They cited the Delta Air Lines’ debacle, which saw some travelers stuck for days in August, and Southwest’s outage in July. The Senators noted that just four airlines carry 85% of domestic travelers, and that one outage can strand a substantial portion of the flying public. So naturally, they asked about safeguards and Plan B’s.
Problem is, there really isn’t a Plan B or, it seems, any desire to come up with one. Blame all of the mergers. Instead of developing new systems, the airlines have spent the majority of the past few decades integrating existing systems. Blame years of borderline insolvency as well. Creating new IT systems is expensive, and the airlines were just barely keeping planes in the air as it was.
So what’s to come from Blumenthal and Markey’s missive? Probably not much. The pair wrote to the airlines earlier this summer also, urging them to stop charging baggage fees. That got zero results. As they see it, passengers are bringing more carry-on baggage to avoid fees, resulting in long delays at security lines. True, but inconsequential to the airlines who are making billions of dollars every year from those fees. Don’t expect progress on either front any time soon.
An American Bon Voyage
As the popularity of American river cruising continues to rise, another company is setting sail on Mississippi.
The trade organization Cruise Lines International Association welcomed the French America Line into their ranks as the company casts off on their inaugural cruise in September. The company claims they are introducing a “new era of premium US river voyages” aboard the flagship Louisiane. Their signature experiences will focus on regional cuisine, history and music with a French flair.
The ship carries an American crew of 64, and accommodates up to 150 guests in 75 suites and staterooms. She sets sail at the end of September, embarking on a Mississippi Headwaters cruise from St. Louis, Missouri, to St. Paul, Minnesota. The itinerary is called Jewels of the Heartland, and includes a night in Chicago, and a private train to St. Louis. Cruises will continue year-round in four regions:
- Mississippi Headwaters: Illinois and upper Mississippi Rivers
- Deep South: Lower Mississippi, Red and Arkansas Rivers
- River Crossroads: Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
- Wilderness Rivers: Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers
See the schedules, and learn more about French America Line here.
Uber Losses and Uber Futures
Although the ride-share company is still privately held, they do have private stockholder meetings to review the company’s finances. Last quarter was rosy because the company announced their first ever profit in North America. This quarter, not so much. Global losses, including those from the USA, totaled $750-million. Add that to the half-billion in global losses in Q1, and the company is down $1.2-billion.
On the up, the company ended its battle with Didi Chuxing in China, and took a billion dollar buy-out from its rival. Uber was losing $1-billion a year trying to under-cut Didi’s prices. But they’ve been fighting a price war with Lyft, too, resulting in higher driver subsidies which cost a pretty penny. And that gives us a peek in Uber’s crystal ball: If drivers are the biggest expense, why not phase them out? Testing of self-driving Uber cars begins shortly in Pittsburgh.
Coming Up: San Diego
- San Diego celebrates the 81st Anniversary of Fleet Week, all month long! The tradition began during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, and this year’s festivities include the Fleet Week Sea & Air Parade, the Miramar Air Show, a Fleet Week Party on the Pier, ship tours and more from September 2 through October 1.
- Also in San Diego during Labor Day Weekend are the US Sand Sculpting Challenge, and the Maritime Museum’s Festival of Sail, the largest Tall Ship festival on the west coast.
The Weekly Win
Norwegian Cruise Lines and Margaritaville have paired up to give away a Margaritaville-themed package that includes, well, Everything But the Sand. Details are here. Hurry; sweepstakes ends 31 August!