The Skift Airline Innovation Report is our weekly newsletter on the business of airline innovation. We look closely at the technological, financial, and design trends at airlines and airports.
Brian Sumers writes and curates the newsletter, and we send it on Wednesdays. You can find previous issues of the newsletter here.
Earlier this week, in a Skift Take, I recommended customers avoid PSA Airlines until the carrier could solve problems with its crew scheduling system. The regional airline, which operates as American Eagle, canceled more than 1,000 flights over several days because it could not fix its technological issues.
When I wrote the line, I realized its absurdness. Many customers don’t know they’re flying a regional airline. They buy tickets on American’s website, and when they reach the airport, they check in at American’s ticketing counters. Later, they board an airplane that says “American” on it, with the operating carrier — PSA in this case — in small print.
If you read this newsletter, you may know more than average travelers. But even you probably get confused. Maybe you know you’re flying a regional. But which? Perhaps one day you’re on Envoy Air. Another you’re on Compass Airlines. Still another you’re flying SkyWest or PSA. Who can keep track?
I’m not arguing major airlines should reduce their reliance on regional airlines. Sure, it would be nice if majors resumed flying half-filled Boeing 737s into small cities. But the economics don’t work. Those markets need fewer seats, and smaller jets are more expensive to operate on a per-seat basis, so airlines need regional airlines to fly them.
Still, I suspect big airlines must improve at explaining to passengers what carrier they’re flying. This could have some real-world implications. Take for example, travel waivers. Usually, when an airline suffers a major snafu, it allows passengers to change or cancel for free.
That didn’t happen here. American helped passengers rebook, but it didn’t give them blanket authorization for changes. I don’t know why American didn’t issue a travel waiver, but I bet had it offered one, it would have confused customers. Thousands of people might have called American’s 800 number asking if they were flying PSA. That would have created another mess, increasing hold times for others.
What do you think? Do major airlines have a messaging problem with their regional carriers? Or am I making too much of this?
Send me your thoughts via email [email@example.com] or Twitter. I’m @briansumers.
— Brian Sumers, Aviation Business Editor
Stories of the Week
Why U.S. Regional Airlines May Not Be Able to Fly Embraer’s Newest Jet: The Embraer E175, a large regional jet, is popular in the United States, flying for American Eagle, United Express, Delta Connection, and Alaska Airlines. Embraer is updating the jet to make it more comfortable and more fuel efficient, and the new version should fly by 2021. But for now, U.S. regional airlines can’t fly it. Why not?
Tomato Juice Is Back on United Airlines Flights, But It’s Still Not Popular: Perhaps it wasn’t the most important story this week, but it was my favorite. At Skift Tech Forum, United’s chief digital officer told me about using technology to reduce catering costs. I followed up by asking why United recently removed tomato juice from flights. You’ll recall United returned it after passengers complained. “It’s a ridiculously small number of people that actually drink tomato juice on our flights,” she said. “We count the cans going in, and we count the cans going out. We know the answer.”
United Plans New App But Is Weighing ‘Creepy’ Versus ‘Personalized’: Also at the conference, United’s executive, Linda Jojo, told me about how much the airline knows about its customers, and what it does with that information. “We’re actually trying to arm our employees with information about who is seated in 7C so that our flight attendants can have a better way of interacting with them,” she said. “But the reality is that the line between personalized and creepy is different for different people. Do you like it when we come up and wish you a happy birthday? We’re trying to figure out where does that line fall.” My colleague Dan Peltier wrote this story.
Norwegian CEO Warms Up to Potential Sale: Did Norwegian Air CEO Bjorn Kjos learn his negotiating style from former Virgin America CEO David Cush? Like Virgin America, which never found a way to compete with the big boys but nonetheless annoyed them, Norwegian Air is getting pushed around with its transatlantic low-cost flights. But major carriers still consider Norwegian a nuisance, and they’d prefer not to have to compete with it. A large airline may buy Norwegian, and then Kjos could be in a for a massive payday.
JetBlue’s Founder Is Raising Cash for a New U.S. Airline, Report Says: Airline Weekly reported that JetBlue founder and former CEO David Neeleman is planning to start a new U.S. airline. Most investors fail in the airline business, but Neeleman is no ordinary entrepreneur. That’s good news for consumers, who soon could have a new low-cost option. Bloomberg has the scoop.
Norway Pushing to Have Commercial Electric Planes in the Air in 10 Years: Of course the Scandinavians are leading the push for electric airplanes. The first generation jets are expected to have relatively short range, but they’ll still be useful for regional carriers. Let’s hope Wideroe, a Norwegian regional airline, follows through on its desire to fly electric aircraft sooner rather than later.
Air France Tries a Softer Touch With Labor But Unions Aren’t Amused: Air France unions are feisty, huh? Labor wants higher wages, and it may get them. In the meantime, though, as negotiations continue, the airline has tried to take a softer approach with workers. Recently, it said it would add more rooms for rest breaks. “It’s a joke,” a pilot union representative told Bloomberg. “I don’t see how I can come back to pilots and ask them to lift the strike with these bizarre promises.” Ouch.
Skift Tech Forum
Thank you to all the readers who came to our first Skift Tech Forum last week in Silicon Valley. I enjoyed catching up with all of you, and hope you enjoyed my interviews with executives from United Airlines, Air Canada, and Southwest Airlines. If you missed it, we’ll post videos of the sessions soon.
The next Skift conference is Skift Global Forum in New York in September. Our speakers will include Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines; Scott Kirby, president of United; and Robert Isom, president of American.
Get your tickets today. I’d love to see some familiar faces.
Keep in Touch
Skift Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers [firstname.lastname@example.org] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send him an email or tweet him.