The Brancatelli File



March 1, 2001 -- Submitted for your approval…

DO THE MATH The average price of an airline ticket rose 4.1 percent in January, according to the Air Transport Association, the airline industry's trade and lobbying group. Separately, USB Warburg analyst Sam Buttrick says domestic traffic fell by about 5 percent in February.

AND I QUOTE "Affluent, professional educated people see inside many more hotels than museums," writes Nicholas Foulkes in the Financial Times. "The hotel has become the conduit through which cultural stimuli are relayed to the domestic environment."

GONE IN 60 SECONDS Two start-up airlines have quietly and rather gracelessly bitten the dust. AccessAir shut down Tuesday night after a botched attempt at a second launch of low-fare service around the Midwest. And Legend Airlines, the highly publicized luxury carrier based at Dallas/Love Field, moved out of its offices. After ceasing service several months back, it was unable to raise funds to resume scheduled flights.

THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT CAROL Carol Taylor of Continental Airlines died recently. Carol worked at a special desk deep inside the OnePass program and, as she told me herself, "My job is to say yes. If you've reached me, you're an important customer who we've wronged in some way and it's my job to fix the problem." She was a sweet, affable woman who always found a way to help a Continental customer. She spread good will for Continental, loved the airline and the airline loved her. I once asked how she kept her good humor through her illness and after endless complaints from disgruntled, elite frequent flyers. "Well, sometimes a rude person will call and say, 'If you don't give me what I want, I'll have your job.' I just say, 'Sir, I make $6.50 an hour, you can have my job.'"

DO THE MATH II A quirky and ill-conceived federal law enacted last April allowed airlines to add more than 200 daily flights at New York's LaGuardia Airport, which had been operating under rigid slot controls . By January 30, there were 232 delays per 1,000 flight operations, making LaGuardia the most delay-prone airport in the nation. On January 31, the local airport authority imposed a controversial "slot lottery" system that eliminated many of the new flights. Delays on January 31 dropped to 56 per 1,000 flight operations.

MONEY MATTERS The Center for Responsive Politics says Northwest led all airline-related groups in "soft money" political contributions during the most recent election cycle. It contributed $954,843, divided almost evenly between Democrats ($496,044) and Republicans ($458,799). Overall, however, the airline industry was much more generous with Republicans than Democrats. Of a total of $4.3 million in soft dollars, more than $2.6 million went to Republican causes.

THINK GLOBALLY, SUE LOCALLY A 1992 Supreme Court ruling interpreted the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act as exempting airlines from state consumer protection laws. That has permitted airlines to delay state- and passenger-initiated lawsuits for years by dragging each action into federal courts on jurisdictional issues. Hoping to close the loophole, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado), has introduced a bill that would give state attorneys general the right to enforce their own consumer protection laws in airline-related matters.

AND I QUOTE II In an appearance on CNN last month, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) complained that airlines "are a bottomless pit of excuses."

A BIRD IN HAND The Transportation Department may finally be rousing itself to comment on the potential American-TWA and United-US Airways mergers. The new Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta, "wants to see DOT develop a more rigorous approach to the analysis and advice that it provides to the Justice Department as part of DOJ's anti-trust review of mergers and acquisition," a spokesman said Tuesday.

TWO IN THE BUSH Later this month, United is expected to start an advertising campaign promoting the benefits of its proposed merger with USAirways. In fact, more than 500 United employees are now working on an integration plan for the two carriers. Meanwhile, United's operational performance continues to deteriorate. On some days in February, it "mishandled" as many as one bag per 100 passengers, a rate twice as high as the industry average in the year 2000.

BUSINESS AS USUAL American and TWA have gone to great lengths to insist that it's been business as usual at TWA since its bankruptcy court filing on January 10 and American's subsequent purchase offer. But TWA announced last week that it would not be "the right time" to launch its planned St. Louis-Frankfurt service. Flights were due to start on May 1. And in making its official bid for TWA's assets in bankruptcy court Wednesday, American announced that it would "suspend" TWA's daily flights to Tel Aviv and to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

AND I QUOTE III British Midland changed its name to "bmi british midland" on February 1 as part of its plan to launch trans-Atlantic flights in May. The airline strenuously denied the letter "i" was for "international." When asked what the letter did stand for, director of marketing John Morgan said, "Nothing in particular."

This column originally appeared at

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