Runway overhaul to divert some Dubai flights this summer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Officials say Dubai airport, the Mideast’s busiest, will undergo a major runway overhaul starting next month that will see more than a dozen airlines shift flights to another airport in the city.

Dubai Airports said Sunday that two runways at Dubai International Airport will be closed at alternate times during the project, which includes resurfacing one of the runways, lighting upgrades and construction of extra taxiways. The work begins May 1 and runs through July 20.

Fourteen airlines that currently fly out of the airport, including budget carrier FlyDubai, will temporarily move at least some flights to the just-opened alternate Dubai World Central airport during the project. Dubai’s main carrier Emirates will not move any flights.

Dubai International ranks behind only London’s Heathrow in terms of international passenger traffic handled.

Phoenix Airport’s First Independent Lounge Opens

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has welcomed The Club at PHX, the airport’s first shared-use lounge. This marks sixth club for Airport Lounge Development, which specializes in the design, construction, operation, management and marketing of independent shared-use airport lounges.

The Club at PHX is located past security near the high B gates in Terminal 4 and is available to all passengers traveling out of that terminal. Amenities include free snacks and beverages, including beer, wine and spirits, complimentary high speed Wi-Fi and work stations with PC’s and printers. Lounge access is available for $35. The club also welcomes members of Priority Pass, Priority Pass Select and Lounge Club.

“The concept of ‘independent shared-use’ airport lounges is still relatively new in the US, but very popular in Europe and Asia,” said Nancy Knipp, senior vice president at ALD. “ALD is taking the successful business model used in Europe and Asia, and tailoring it to the US market, designing and operating spaces that allow travelers to relax or work in comfort while waiting for their flight.”

Italian court bars Emirates’ Milan-New York service

An administrative court in Italy has ordered Emirates to scrap the Milan Malpensa-New York Kennedy service that it launched in October 2013.

The TAR Lazio court last Thursday ruled on a suit from Italian airline trade association Assaereo, backed by Delta Air Lines, brought against the Italian Civil Aviation Authority for permitting the service.

The court ruled that fifth-freedom flights (service between two countries by a carrier that is not based in either the origin or destination country) from Italy are not permissible.

Emirates said it is considering whether to appeal, but Delta, which also flies Milan-JFK (as do Alitalia and American Airlines) welcomed the decision.

“The TAR Lazio decision makes it clear that UAE-based Emirates is not authorized to operate this nonstop service,” according to a Delta statement.

“The Emirates route provides no additional benefit for travelers who are already well-served by U.S. and Italian carriers between Milan and New York and could significantly harm U.S. and Italian airline employees by adding unnecessary capacity to an already competitive market.”

Average fares on the route have halved since Emirates launched its service, and the Dubai-based carrier has already gained the largest market share on the route, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Based on the success of the service, Emirates has said it is considering launching more fifth-freedom flights across the Atlantic.

The court’s decision comes as Emirates’ local rival Etihad is engaged in advanced negotiations to buy a 49% stake in Alitalia.

American, US Airways latest to revamp mileage awards

American Airlines and US Airways have become the latest U.S. carriers to make a dramatic shake-up to their frequent-flier programs, instituting new award levels for frequent-flier awards.

As with other changes made recently by Delta and United – the country’s other two big “legacy carriers” – the changes made by merger partners American and US Airways increase the number of miles needed for certain award tickets.

And, mirroring Delta’s changes, the new award charts at American and US Airways will add new redemption levels – adding complexity for fliers figuring out how many miles they’ll need to use for an award ticket.

American and US Airways also changed their bag fee policies, moving to reduce the number of free bags for most customers outside those flying to South America.

As for the frequent-flier changes, they take effect immediately and apply to all award tickets used for itineraries beginning June 1 and after. New award itineraries prior to June 1 will be subject to the previous award-ticket thresholds.

The changes at American appear to be the most complicated. The carrier is keeping its “SAAaver” and AAnytime” award categories, but it’s tweaking the tiers.

There will now be two redemption levels for SAAver tickets – Level 1 and Level 2 – on most routes. Domestic routes, however, will continue to have a single level. On AAnytime routes, American is going to three levels – Level 1, Level 2 and an unusual Level 3. The third level is unusual in that American is not listing what the threshold is, saying only that those awards will be “offered on a few select dates and will require higher number of miles to redeem.”

In a release detailing a broad set of changes, American says those Level 3 awards “will fall on the busiest travel days of the year. On those days, American will offer a higher award redemption option, which will be available starting at 50,000 miles one way.”

US Airways also is adjusting its thresholds, going to four redemption categories – Low, Medium, High Level 1 and High Level 2 – on domestic routes. On international routes, US Airways will now have five redemption levels: Off-peak, Low, Medium, High Level 1 and High Level 2.

Reaction on frequent-flier blogs has been mixed, though most echoed concern about the changes.

“The good news is that the MileSAAver level of awards is not affected from what I’m seeing,” Seth Miller writes on his Wandering Aramean blog. “For those with flexibility and who can search for the cheap award seats that should be comforting. For those who use the AAnytime awards on occasion, however, the news is mixed. AAnytime awards are now split into three tiers and only two of the tiers are published. The third tier is represented on the chart simply as a star with the fine print…”

The Crazy Things Delta Does to Cancel Fewer Flights Than Any Airline

Last year, Delta Air Lines canceled fewer flights than any other airline, scratching just 0.3 percent of its flights. That’s more than five times better than the industry average. It’s an obsession for Delta, an airline that once ranked near rock-bottom for cancellations, and as The Wall Street Journal explains, the company strives for zero-cancellation days in some very unorthodox ways.

After hitting the skids financially, and merging with Northwest Airlines in 2008, Delta chiefs were searching for a way to revive the airline’s tarnished image and poor performance. A 2010 passenger survey pointed out a pretty obvious, but none-too-simple goal: fliers will take a delay over a cancellation any day. So Delta’s vice president of operations control, Dave Holtz, threw down an ultimatum: “If that’s what customers hate most, let’s not cancel any more flights.”

Keeping the fleet in flying condition is a logical part of the equation, and Delta bolstered crews to deal with infrequent but flight-grounding malfunctions as swiftly as possible. For instance, the airline spent $2 million supplying Boeing 767 engine starters to every airport that supports the plane, and invented a vibration monitor that tells mechanics to replace wobbling instrument cooling fans before they conk out.

Delta also uses some unusual flight rerouting to prevent cancellations. WSJ explains how just last week, the airline directed a Nigeria-to-Atlanta flight to make a pit stop in Puerto Rico, swapping in two fresh pilots to avoid canceling the trip because the original pilots had hit their 28-day flight limit. Despite the diversion, the flight arrived in Atlanta only 40 minutes late. The pit stop maneuver is a new favorite of Delta’s, especially on international flights where a cancellation would be a major pain for passengers.

And then there are the seemingly goofball changes. In Delta’s operations center in Atlanta, maintenance managers and customer departments had their desks moved side-by-side, to make cooperation (and eavesdropping) easier. Now, if the mechanical crew discovers a plane won’t be ready for a flight, the team that handles hotel reservations for stranded passengers gets the news at the same time. Low-tech, but effective.

The unconventional practices are paying off: Delta had 72 days in 2013 where not one of its 2,500 flights was canceled. True, the crazy storms that opened 2014 hit Delta just as hard as every other airline, but the company has still posted more zero-cancellation days this year than the same period in 2013.

The astounding thing is, while these all sound like pretty logical practices, they’re seemingly revolutionary in the slow-to-change business of air travel. Go figure, when a company spends money making service better for its customers, that service actually improves. [WSJ]

Taking liquids through security in the EU

In February, the European Commission ruled that all airline passengers carrying liquids, aerosols or gels on to UK and European Union flights, over and above what they’re currently allowed in their one litre plastic bags, would be subject to stricter security screening.  This is in the interests of safety and will affect things like baby food, medicines and duty free.  As a point of interest, duty free bought from any airport can be taken through UK security, so long as it was properly sealed, with its receipt, in a Tamper Evident Bag at the time of purchase.

United Installs 500 Airport Charging Stations

United Airlines this month began installing nearly 500 electronics charging stations in customer-seating areas at many U.S. airports, beginning with its hometown airport Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the airline said Thursday.

O’Hare will be outfitted with more than 110 of the new charging stations in concourses B and C, the airline said. Each new charging station offers access to six, 110-volt power outlets and two USB ports.

Other airports slated to get new charging stations are its hubs in Houston, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington Dulles, as well as New York LaGuardia and Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans.

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