This Week’s Top 5 Travel News Highlights

Qantas' fleet of A380s are still grounded for inspections (Photo: Tamsin Slater via Flickr)

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the travel news world this week… here are the top 5 stories you might want to know about:

1. Free Wifi This Winter

Google is partnering with three major U.S. airlines to offer free wireless Internet access on domestic flights this holiday season. The free Wi-Fi will be available for travelers on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America from Nov. 20, 2010, to Jan. 2, 2011, according to a blog post by Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google. This is awesome news for anyone flying home this holiday season!

2. Hotels Are Ditching The Front Desk

You read right – some hotels are cutting costs by removing the front desk. Andaz, a boutique brand owned by Hyatt, now has kiosks to check-into your room. MSNBC reports “Traditional front desks, however, may be destined for a scrap heap teeming with bygone lobby fixtures like key boxes, desk bells and hat racks. Some mid-market chains already are dumping imposing check-in counters for cozy, one-on-one welcomes or for virtual check-ins through kiosks or mobile devices.”

Hotels are saying they want to lure in a “younger, more tech savvy consumer”, like the wonderful readers of ChronicWanderlust. So what do you think about this automation in hotels?

3. National Parks are FREE This Thursday (Nov. 11th)

In honor of Veterans Day, national parks will not be charging any entrance fees on Nov. 11. It’s one of several fee-free days the park system has offered this year. Some outfitters, shops and lodges based in the national parks offer two-for-one deals and other discounts in conjunction with the fee-free program; details at http://www.parkpartners.org/Special-Offers-for-2010.html.

4.  JetBlue Comes to D.C.

Traveling to Washington D.C. just got much easier… JetBlue Airways launched service Monday at Washington’s Reagan National Airport with daily flights to Boston and Florida. Great news for snowbirds, lobbyists and school groups.

5. Qantas A380’s Still Grounded

Qantas has grounded its six Airbus A380s for at least 72 more hours, following a discovery of oil leaks in three engines, says a report by the Associated Press Monday.

Engineers from the Australian carrier conducted tests on the double-decker jets after an engine burst on a flight last week over Indonesia’s Batam island. The Sydney-bound flight returned and made an emergency landing in Singapore. No one was hurt.

Low Cost Powerhouse: Southwest Merges with Air Tran

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Holy billion-dollar merger Batman! Southwest Airlines has bought AirTran for a whopping $1.4 Billion! In a public statement on September 27th, AirTran Holdings, the parent company of AirTran Airways announced that they have, “entered into a definitive merger agreement to be acquired by Southwest Airlines with the intent of merging the two airlines, combining operations and building the strongest and most diverse low cost, low fare airline network in the world.”

Photo: Mike Fisher via Flickr

Dollars and Cents

In AirTran’s public statement, they went on to explain that under the definitive agreement, “shareholders will receive between $7.25 and $7.75 in consideration per share of AirTran common stock subject to certain conditions based on the Southwest share price at closing. Currently, the transaction price would be $7.69 in cash and stock for all outstanding shares of AirTran Holdings, Inc., subject to regulatory review and approval of shareholders. This is a 69 percent premium over the September 24, 2010, share price of AirTran stock and is valued at more than $1.37 billion in equity based on more than 178,000,000 outstanding shares. Including existing AirTran Holdings, Inc., indebtedness and capitalized aircraft operating leases, the aggregate transaction value is approximately $3.42 billion.”… in other words, lots and lots of money is being thrown at this.

SWA in ATL? Atlanta might be SWA's next stop (Photo: Chuck Koehler)

What’s Going to Change?

  1. So Long Orlando! – Air Tran’s HQ in Orlando will be moving to Dallas, where SWA calls home. This means that Orlando no longer has a major airline to call their own. Not many details have been released about the move or what will happen to their training centers at MCO.
  2. Hello Atlanta! – With AirTran’s resources, SWA can now move into Atlanta, a major market for any airline. AirTran already has 200 routes through Atlanta, giving SWA room to start moving more flights into the city. SWA said they want to bring low-fare competition to nearly all large carrier hubs it doesn’t serve now.
  3. What about the employees? – AirTran hasn’t said exactly what will happen to their 8,000 employees, but does believe they are in better hands with a well-funded airline like SWA. An AirTran memo which was released to all employees says that the merger will have no immediate effect on their jobs.
  4. More LUV – SWA plans to move into most, if not all, of AirTran’s markets. Since this is all breaking news, SWA hasn’t given full details of their entire plan.  The airline predicts growth in flights, jobs and service – all great things for Orlando (if operations increase). SWA announced “significant opportunities to and from Atlanta… as well as Washington, D.C. via Ronald Reagan National Airport. The acquisition also allows [SWA] to expand  presence in key markets, like New York LaGuardia, Boston Logan, and Baltimore/Washington.”
  5. Goin’ Global – SWA plans to broaden their international flight offerings, most likely using AirTran’s routes to the Caribbean from Orlando. In SWA’s press release yesterday morning, they explained that they have, “access to key near-international leisure markets in the Caribbean and Mexico.”

Photo: Josh Hallett via Flickr

Opinions Matter

Travel pundits, bloggers and analysts are already speaking up, voicing their concerns and preaching their praises for the new mega low-cost carrier…

  • Tad Hutcheson, a spokesman for Orlando-based AirTran, called it “a great day for AirTran Airways and Southwest Airlines.”
  • Southwest CEO Gary Kelly believes that, “The acquisition of AirTran represents a unique opportunity to grow Southwest Airlines’ presence in key markets we don’t yet serve and takes a significant step towards positioning us for future growth.”
  • George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com said the merger, “spells bad news for low fares, since both airlines were leaders in the low fare space and had frequent, almost weekly, sales. I can only imagine that now pressure is on for American to find a partner, and also US Airways, and that will lead to even less fare competition.”
  • AirTran spokesman Christopher White explained that the deal will, “bring a level of competition to Atlanta that has never been seen before.”
  • “Southwest had been waiting to expand this past downturn and I think this acquisition proves that substantial organic growth is a thing of the past,” said Morningstar equity analyst Basili Alukos.
  • “No low-cost carrier can match the global access we bring to Atlanta,” said Delta spokeman Kent Landers.
  • Rhona Cook’s headline from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it all… “TRAVELERS CHEER SOUTHWEST-AIRTRAN DEAL”
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