Published on Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Latest airline news is enough to make you sick

North American airlines with hidden fees and other aggravations have been making passengers ill for years but the latest move gives new meaning to the term: free air sickness bags as part of an advertising campaign

Holding a bag aloft, the president of the Air Transportation Association recently announced the campaign. “It’s enough to make you sick,” said Nick Calio.

He and others in the industry are pushing the bags as objections against an Obama-backed security tax from US$2.50 per leg of a domestic route to $5 for each one-way trip.

Airlines have begun handing out air-sickness bags to illustrate their opposition to higher taxes. If Congress agrees, the taxes would raise an estimated US$36 billion over a decade. About $15 billion of that would go to deficit reduction.

The bags say they are “sick of taxes” with an arrow pointing to the top and the suggestion that users ”stop new airline taxes from driving up costs and reducing service.”

Other perhaps less-sickening news from the industry that regularly alienates its customers:

---Customer complaints over more fees, fewer flights, full planes and other matters are bringing smiles to the faces of top airline executives. The reason: After a decade of tough competition and other problems, the industry is again profitable.

“Despite the weak economy, most domestic airlines will have their second consecutive profitable year in 2011, after losing $55 billion since 2001,” reports The New York Times.

The only exception: American Airlines, which is about to report another quarterly loss. Once the largest airline in the US, American is struggling with debt and labor issues. Unlike other airlines, it has failed to successfully consolidate operations.

--- Southwest and its subsidiary AirTran announced fares based on distance, at least through the end of the day today. Flights of 450 miles or less are on sale for $35 each way – or less than $95 round-trip, even when taxes and fees are included.

For flights between 451 and 1,000 miles, sale fares are $65 each way (plus taxes and fees).

That jumps to $95 each way for flights of 1,001 to 1,500 miles and tops out at $125 each way for flights of more than 1,500 miles.

The sale fares must be booked by the end of the day Thursday. But tickets good for travel from Nov. 30 through Dec. 14 and from Jan. 4 through Feb. 15. There are other stipulations.

---Hawaiian hotels have been struggling but Hawaiian Holdings, Inc., was among those reporting a profit of $25.6 million for the third-quarter 2011, compared to $39.3 million in the prior year period.

“Particularly noteworthy has been the return of traffic on our services to Japan,” said Mark Dunderley, company president. “Our results on these routes would qualify as good in any year, let alone the year in which an earthquake and tsunami took such a large human and economic toll.”

---Boeing Co. predicted more sales cancellations for its delayed Dreamliner 787 after China Eastern airline scrapped 24 orders.  But the giant US-based plane-makers but said the overall order book for the new long-range aircraft remained strong.

“We expect to see more orders, we expect to see more cancellations, especially as we go through mitigation with our customers," Boeing marketing vice president Randy Tinseth told a briefing in Seoul.

China Eastern's purchase of Airbus A330s, a competitor to the Dreamliner, could add even more pressure on Boeing to ramp up production of the 787s, now three years behind the original schedule, reports Reuters. Each plane has a list price of $185 million.

---Finally, a Southwest Airlines flight bound for Kansas City from Los Angeles had to make an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas after a passenger became unruly.

The passenger, identified as 29-year-old Ali Reza Shahsavari, was removed from the plane at Amarillo International Airport. Reuters said he was taken into custody by the FBI, according to Patrick Rhodes, the airport's director of aviation,

There were no injuries or damage reported on board Flight 3683, Rhodes said. Few details were available.

By David Wilkening

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