Archive for the 'Atlanta' Category

Delta and Northwest Announce Merger

After month and month of speculation, with four US airlines going under or declaring bankruptcy in the last two weeks, Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines have finally announced their merger late last night. When the news broke about a possible merger that Delta Airlines is a part of, it was about talks with United Airlines as we reported on the matter earlier. The final couple sounds a little bit more logical, with both of them being members of the same Airline Alliance (SkyTeam) and also sharing membership in the group of 6 SkyTeam members that were given antitrust immunity just last Friday, that allows for integration of their Trans-Atlantic flights under the US-EU Open Skies agreement.

Delta and Northwest planes in Atlanta, Delta\'s Hub Airport

One of the major issues (so far) has been the so-called seniority list of the ~11.000 Pilots at both airlines as the two Pilots’ Unions could not come to agreement earlier. The seniority lists guarantee special rights to Pilots who reach a certain level of experience flying for the airline and actually determines which planes they can fly (which influences their wages…). But if the two airlines merge their lists, the new, combined list may have more pilots with more experience that would move others lower in the list and they would lose or not get their advantages for a few years ahead… Looks like there is a conclusion on the horizon in this issue with Delta offering a pay hike for the pilots as a compensation. As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published on Monday (14APR2008) “some people familiar with the matter say, Atlanta-based Delta will try to cut a deal with its 6,000 pilots, roll out the merger and then negotiate with Northwest’s 5,000 pilots afterward.

The deal could set off a series of other mergers, “rumours” say that United and Continental could be first in line and that combo would be bigger than Delta-Northwest, and analysts also say that American Airlines would probably intensify its search for a partner. “It’s a very difficult time for the industry,” Delta CEO Richard Anderson told Delta’s 50,000 workers Friday in his weekly “Right from Richard” recorded message. Roughly half are based at the carrier’s huge Atlanta hub. The airline is Georgia’s largest private employer.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has done a very interesting comparison in February when the Delta-Northwest tie-up was first revealed, you can read the numbers here. The new, Atlanta based merged DELTA Airlines will have an annual revenue of 35 billion USD, a fleet of more than 800 aircraft, and 75.000 employees worldwide. The new airline together with its regional partners would have a network of 390 destinations in 67 countries. “We’re announcing a transaction that is about addition, not subtraction, and combines end-to-end networks that open a world of opportunities for our customers and employees,” Anderson said.

by balint01

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Low Cost Airline Marketing at AirTran

As I reported earlier in a flight review, I have flown with Atlanta based AirTran about a month ago. Being an airline enthusiast I have kept my eyes open all the way through the booking/boarding/flying experience. I found some of their marketing tools very smart, and some even unrivaled, and have decided to share these impressions and these marketing tricks with you in an article, so here it goes.

A) When arriving to the airport, you may check-in using their ByePass Check-in Kiosks, which offer the possiblity to already purchase drinks for your flight and receive the vouchers, which onboard you can exchange for an alcoholic drink in economy class.
Smart! Less worries for the flight attendants, less change to be carried around, happier passenger who knows while boarding that they will get a nice beer or cocktail, and may sell the drinks easier after all.

B) They offer a few “Rebooking Area“s around the terminal, where you can rebook your flight. The simple, easy to understand text on the huge poster reads: “Enter here to rebook reservation. / Pick up phone. Agent will assist you. / Go to kiosk. Print new boarding pass.
Smart! Sounds very easy, makes the people believe they can do it (it’s simple), and it’s cost effective, AirTran only has to have a few booking agents in a far away, cheap location answering phones, instead of renting high-price ticketing location at the airport, and hire lots of ticketing agents around all locations. And I saw a few people talking on the phone, so it works, too.

C) Business Class advertisements. Even though AirTran is classified as a low-cost airline, they offer business class on all of their flights. A very cool, again simple worded molino I have seen several times around the terminals/gates reads the following: “Affordable Business Class on every flight. / More room. Free drinks. Less explaining yourself to accounting. / Book at airtran.com.
I found it’s a very smart idea to point out a step of a business flight, that most airlines don’t care about: expense reporting to accounting! 🙂 Great way to influence passengers, smart again!

D) At most of the gates, or in between two gates in the waiting area you can find small Coffee Stations, with the following text: “Free coffee. See, we’re always finding ways to save you money. / AirTran.com
Really smart! Another great tool, people feel that a low-cost airline is actually delivering some extra service: coffee on the ground, before the flight (!) which traditional airlines have never offered outside their business lounges. So they pay less, get more, and AirTran makes sure that all passengers realize this with the text shown above. Small costs, big image building, effective!

E) Programs: Co-branded A+ Visa Card, A+ Rewards program for frequent fliers, and my favorite: AirTran U – specially designed for people between ages 18-22, offering standby flights, therefore selling the seats which otherwise remained unsold, in the last minute before the flight closes (http://www.airtranu.com). They even give half credits if the student is a member of the A+ Rewards program!
Most of the other low-costs simply do not worry about cargo, but AirTran uses the cargo holds of its Boeing 717 and 737 fleet by offering cargo services to its customers.
Smart again, using all capacity as much as possible, selling unsold seats at the last minute (with AirTran U), thus reducing losses.

F) My “favorite,” dumbest marketing tool, which may still work, though: the Gourmet Pretzel packaging. While onboard, you receive a small package of pretzels. The basic situation is the following: you’re bored onboard, finally receive the pretzels and start to open the bag. But then you take a look at the bag: what exactly will I eat? And you find the following text on the top side: “How to eat Gourmet Pretzels on a low fare airline. (see back for complete details).” – Just in case somebody would not turn to the back, they place another message at the bottom: “Book at airtran.com for our lowest fares and no booking fees.” Just so that you know. But let’s see the back of the package for complete details:

How To Eat Gourmet Pretzels - AirTran

In the same style as any other packaging, they placed the following text on the left top side of the back of the packaet:
Eating Instructions
1. Think about our wonderful low fares at airtran.com as you open packet.
2. Place pretzel in mouth. With each crunch, be reminded of our low fares.
3. As you swallow, remember again just how low the fares are.
4. Repeat until pretzel packet is empty.
5. Keep empty packet to remind yourself to book at airtran.com for our lowest fares and no booking fees.

Then comes the Nutrition Facts, which are normal.
Pathetic! I was just amazed how an airline can give their name to such a cheesy, baby-like advertising and marketing tool, it’s amazing. But to be honest, I have read it, so maybe other passengers read it as well, and it may work in the end. But I just find it the most dumb marketing text in the airline business ever…

Of course, everywhere they place the “airtran.com” logo, instead of a simple AirTran Airways logo, so you meet with the website address everywhere and you will never forget it (engines on the planes, flight details screen at the gate, any communication material, pretzels, etc.).

And their slogan is: “Go. There’s nothing stopping you.” Not advertising how great their services are, or how high they fly, but urging people to simply “Go.”, or “travel” in other words, which will most probably include a flight. A flight with AirTran. Good general marketing job guys, only those pretzels…!

by balint01

Flight Review: AirTran Airways

AirTran Logo 

Route: Atlanta, GA – Dayton, OH – Atlanta, GA
Operating Airlines: AirTran Airways
Travel Date: 30NOV2007 and 02DEC2007

Ticket Purchase

I have bought the ticket through www.airtran.com. The website is very simple, and thus very easy to use, very understandable, clear. It shows you all available fares in a very simple table with all flight details being displayed in small pop-up dialog windows. It is clear which flight is nonstop, and which ones involve a transfer. What is a nice feature that I have not seen before at other airlines’ sites, is that you can have a printer friendly version of the flight search results. So you can print your options and discuss it with somebody or attach it to a business trip plan, etc. Very handy, as mostly you end up with complicated, colorful search results which you can scroll for minutes and may be printed on four pages which then you have to somehow compile to see the actual information. This is a nice added value feature! After selecting your flights you get an overview, that includes the most important fare rules, terms and conditions, check-in information, and the option to add your a+ rewards number (frequent flier program of AirTran) as well to book a trip protection insurance. You also have the option to secure your seat when booking, which is at extra cost, but at an acceptable level I think. I chose 17F for both of my flights for an extra USD 5 for each flight, but could have chosen emergency exit seats with extra leg room for USD 20/flight. You can of course pay by credit card, but you can also use your PayPal account, with BillMeLater or with CheckFree account. In the last step you confirm your payment details and recieve a confirmation mail afterwards.

Offsetting Carbon Emissions 

There is no option to offset your carbon emissions on this website.

Check-In

I wasn’t worried about check-in at all, as I had pre-selected my seat, I knew I will have a window seat, still I received a mail 24 hours before the first flight that check-in is now available. I went ahead and checked in, where I could select another seat. (Actually on the way back I did so, as 17F didn’t have enough legroom due to some wiring at the bottom of the previous seat.) Online check-in at the website is also straight forward, and fast. You have other choices to check-in, such as the Bye-Pass Check-in kiosks at the airport, and you can also drop your luggage off at the sidewalk check-in areas at the Atlanta Airport so you don’t even have to carry your luggage in the terminal building, they take it away from your right where the taxi can drop you off.

AiTran B717 in Atlanta, GA, USA (by balint01)

1. ATLANTA, GA – DAYTON, OH (FL 702)

Aircraft: Boeing 717-200 (N923AT), relatively new aircraft operated by AirTran Airways – with special sticker: 100th Boeing Delivery
Class: Economy
Punctuality: Flight took off 10 minutes late, arrived at about the right time.
Boarding: Was very efficient, due to the boarding zones -printed on the boarding card- called one by one.
Seats: Comfortable, but not wide enough seats, with small legroom (especially as the bottom of the previous seat had extra wiring)
Flight Attendants: There were 3 of them, they were average looking, all of them seemed friendly.
Meals: Everybody is asked if they want snacks (small pack of pretzels) and a glass of soft drink (Coca-Cola products). For USD 5 you can also get beer, wine, shots or mini-cocktails. In business class these are included in the ticket prize for economy, you may pay onboard, or while checking in on the ByePass Kiosks before your flight, which would give you vouchers.
Entertainment: Free Satellite XM radio with optional headsets (but you can use your own, too) and on-board magazine: Go. Huge SkyMall catalog

2. DAYTON, OH – ATLANTA, GA (FL 414)

Aircraft: Boeing 717-200 (N-963AT), aircraft operated by AirTran Airways
Class: Economy
Punctuality: Flight took off exactly on time, arrived 10 minutes late.
Boarding: Dayton airport was deserted on this Sunday night, no lines to que, just walk-through to the gate. Same zoned boarding used as in Atlanta, due to the low number of people plane was boarded very quickly.
Seats: As my seat was on the left side of the plane where you only have two seats, it felt a little bit more comfortable. I had a bigger guy sitting next to me, but as soon as doors were closed, he moved elsewhere, so we were both more comfortable.
Flight Attendants: There were 3 of them, average.
Meals: Same small pack of pretzels, same soft drinks as on the outbound flight.
Entertainment: Free XM satellite radio at every seat.

Overall Experience

AirTran just does what air travel is basically about: Takes you from point A to point B. Considered as a low-cost, it still offers free drinks on board which is nice, and I also liked the XM satellite radio. Other than that it does nothing more, nothing less. It’s good value for your money with efficient procedures (online booking, online check-in, efficient boarding). I paid USD 248 for my return ticket, and if I will ever visit my American families in Ohio from Atlanta again, I would take this flight once more.

by balint01

Atlanta Fighting For Delta

Last Friday’s (16NOV2007) edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published a group of articles related to Delta CEO Richard Anderson denying all the reports from a day earlier which suggested that Delta is in talks with Chicago based United Airlines about a merger.

Delta plane with Downtown Atlanta in the background (c by usatoday.com)

Atlanta is surely interested in the possible merger news as it is the current headquarters for Delta Airlines and according to early reports the new merged airlines would have their HQ in Chicago, rather than in Atlanta. The two cities, which are 700 miles apart, reacted very similarly to the emerging news.We’d fight like hell” said Paul O’Connor, executive director of World Business Chicago. “It’s personal. It’s a matter of pride.” Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce countered: “The commitment of Atlanta to keep Delta is unwavering,” he said. “It always has been and always will be: ‘Keep Delta My Delta.” He also added that the chamber is supportive of Delta merging with another airline “as long as the headquarters stays in Atlanta.

At about the same time Delta CEO Mr. Anderson went through some tough minutes last Thursday in the Congress in Washington, too. He arrived for a hearing about the awaited air traffic congestion over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, but ended up protecting himself and Delta against the merger “rumours”. During the hearing Representative Lynn Westmoreland (Republican from the state of Georgia) challenged Mr. Anderson to assure him that Atlanta-based Delta was not involved in merger talks with United Airlines. Mr. Westmoreland said he was “dissapointed to read in the paper” about the talks. He said he had also read a statement Delta released Wednesday denying that such talks were taking place: “I want to look at you eyeball to eyeball” and hear you deny it, too.I was as surprised as you were, ther are no discussions. There have been no discussions” replied Mr. Anderson. The congressman from Newnan recalled that he was a “ramp rat” for Delta, his daughter was a flight attendant for the airline, and his wife worked in marketing with Delta (!). He said Delta is part of the Atlanta family, and “we don’t want the family to move north. I’m asking you to keep the family informed.” If the talks are indeed happening, it puts Mr. Anderson in a very-very hard position, having an alumni Delta family as the Congressman’s own family… This could be very useful in any other ways, but if the talks are true, it is a misfortune for him personally. But it would be a big help for Delta’s more than 26.000 emplyees in the state (of Georgia) which includes 3.365 at the headquarters alone.

Even though I’m staying in Atlanta at the moment for a month and a half, let’s hear the other side, too as Chicago is also a tough contender in keeping an airline HQ within the city-limits. United can trace its roots in Chicago to the 1920s, and the above quoted Paul O’Connor also said “They are us.” The two airports have been in a rivalry for a long time to clinch the busiest airport title, Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996, while Chicago is pushing to land the 2016 Olympics and show itself to the world, just like Atlanta did 11 years ago. Not so long ago Chicago officials heard rumblings about United Airlines looking at real estate in Denver (possibly to move their offices), and they replied with USD 6 million of incentives to persuade the airline to stay and to shift executive offices from the suburbs to downtown Chicago. O’Conner said if the merger talks “firm up, we would do what we could do.” United has about 16.000 employees in Illinois, almost all of whom are in the Chicago area.

Despite the two cities and their business communities fighting already (without anybody acknowledging the rumours) some people have a different opinion. A consultant from Chicago interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said: “At the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter as long as they were on time. They all at this point aren’t very good.” No further comment is needed on that one, I think, but “The Tale of The Two Cities Keeping An Airline Headquarter” seems to have started…

(based on the 16NOV2007 edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

by balint01


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