With the government-ordered grounding of the world’s 787 Dreamliners now going into its seventh week, Boeing has reportedly come up with a plan for at least a temporary fix that it hopes could put the planes back into service sometime this spring, according to a report in the Seattle Times. Meanwhile, airlines continue to adjust schedules to cope with the absence of their Dreamliners — as on United’s planned Denver-Tokyo route, for instance.
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After testing “shared itineraries” between Southwest and its AirTran subsidiary in a few markets, the company says it is moving ahead with rapid deployment of the program to more routes; and it has also rolled out streaming movies on demand aboard its Wi-Fi equipped planes.
In airline news this week, even before its overhauled JFK Terminal 4 project debuts in May, Delta has anounced plans for more construction at the New York airport; London Heathrow officials expect to spend even more billions of pounds improving the airport in the next five years; San Jose adds a private terminal for Google executives’ jets; Singapore will build a fourth terminal; and a South American capital cuts the ribbon on a brand new airport.
• Delta Air Lines’ redeveloped Terminal 4 at New York JFK — a $1.2 billion project due to open in May — will be followed by even more improvements there. Delta said last week it will spend another $175 million constructing an additional 11 gates linked to Terminal 4’s Concourse B. That will give Delta a total of 27 gates at T4’s Concourse B, and will replace its regional jet operation at Terminal 2 (another bonus: no more ramp-level boarding for regional flights as passengers do now at T2). After the expanded T4 debuts this spring, Delta will eventually tear down the old Terminal 3, a job that should be finished in 2015, using the space for aircraft parking. Delta said it will also double the shuttle bus operation linking its Terminals 2 and 4.
• London’s Heathrow Airport unveiled plans to spend $4.7 billion over the period from 2014 to 2019 on a variety of improvements — and is asking the government to OK an increase of up to 40 percent in the per-passenger fees assessed on airlines there to pay for the work. The airport authority said work covered in the new budget will include an extension of the new Terminal 2, due to open in 2014; installation of more self-service check-in kiosks and self-service baggage drops; the closing down of Terminal 1 in 2016; adding more retail outlets and passenger lounges; undertaking infrastructure improvements that will make LHR “the busiest hub for A380s in Europe;” extending rapid transit links between Terminals 2 and 3 and their parking garages; and partially funding a rail link from Heathrow to London’s financial district, Canary Wharf and East End. LHR officials said that billions spent on improvements in the past several years have boosted on-time performance at the airport from 63 percent in 2007 to 80 percent today.
• Those lucky executives at Google’s California headquarters who have access to company jets will be getting their own private terminal at nearby Mineta San Jose International Airport. Officials are planning to build an $82 million facility on the airport’s west side to serve “the personal aircraft of the principals at Google, among other clients,” the airport said in a statement. The 29-acre facility, which will include a terminal and hangars, will be able to accommodate aircraft as large as the Boeing Business Jet (a modified 737) and even a 767, the airport said.
• Faced with growing demand for space from low-cost carriers serving the region, Singapore said it plans to build a fourth terminal at Changi International Airport for use mainly by the single-aisle planes used by those airlines. The $485 million construction project is expected to begin later this year and be finished in 2017, boosting the airport’s annual passenger capacity to 82 million; it handled 51 million in 2012.
• South America’s newest international airport will open for business on February 20. It’s Quito, Ecuador’s new Mariscal Sucre International Airport, located about 12 miles northeast of town. It replaces Quito’s 53-year-old airport that is close to the city center but ringed with mountains that make for rather dicey approaches, earning it a spot on some media lists of the world’s most dangerous airports.
In news of hotel openings, closings and rebrandings this month, Loews Hotels moves into Boston; Starwood adds a pair of Le Meridiens in the U.S.; Wyndham and Choice take over 100 Jameson Inns; two boutique properties open in the Los Angeles area; Poland gets a Luxury Collection location; Hyatt takes on four hotels in France; and Shangri-La adds a Mumbai property.
Last month, Delta told its SkyMiles members that starting in 2014, elite status will be based on how much money they spend on tickets plus how much they fly. And now Delta says it will make additional changes to the program starting in March 2013, also designed to match benefits to spending.
In news of U.S. airlines, Virgin America has plans to add another two routes to its growing domestic network; some JetBlue customers can now use their mobile phones to download boarding passes; Southwest hikes AirTran bag fees; and American Eagle unions challenge AMR’s plan to outsource regional flying.
The odds of having your checked bag lost on a U.S. airline last year were lower than they’ve been since the government started tracking that data 26 years ago. That’s just one positive note from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) annual summary of airline performance.
A recovering economy means greater demand for business travel services, and that is expected to push the cost of travel higher in 2013 — significantly higher than many companies are willing to increase their budgets, according to a new survey from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Foundation.
The widely anticipated merger between US Airways and American Airlines was finally made official after the boards of the two companies approved the deal, and although it will mean big changes for the airline industry over the long term, there will be no immediate impact on customers.
In its latest briefing on the problems of overheating batteries on the Boeing 787, the National Transportation Safety Board said last week it still hasn't identified the cause of the problem; meanwhile, airlines that fly the Dreamliner are faced with increasing losses and operational challenges as the probe continues and the planes remain grounded.