The Daily Flyer
Welcome to the inaugural edition of “The Daily Flyer,” The Higher Flyer‘s newsletter gathering up and summarizing some of the day’s most important happenings in the world of airlines, hotels, award points, and other travel-related things. Today’s feature — for February 11, 2020 — covers the fall of Air Italy, as well as coronavirus flight cancellations, a hot take regarding the Global Entry ban in New York, and a surprise announcement from Uber.
The past few years haven’t been particularly kind to (low cost) carriers in Europe, nor the Middle East’s Big Three. As Etihad and Qatar amass huge losses and impose cost-cutting measures in hopes of coming close to profit, airberlin, Adria Airways, FlyBe, Primera Air, Thomas Cook, WOW Air, and XL Airways have all bitten the dust. Now Air Italy joins the ranks of the fallen, and its bankruptcy interestingly reflects both of the aforementioned trends.
Air Italy, formerly known as Meridiana, operated leisure routes out of Naples and Palermo. Then in 2018, following a huge investment (to the tune of 49%) from Qatar Airways, the carrier rebranded in to its current iteration. It took control of a fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 8s — that then sat on the ground for nearly a year from March 12, 2019 until today’s liquidation — and inherited Airbus A330s previously operated by its newfound parent company. Then, it launched a ton of long haul routes to North America and Asia and Africa, complemented by an expanded route network in the European Union. Such growth proved to be unsustainable, and the beginning of the end drew near when many of these routes — like ones from Milan to Chicago and Bangkok — were cut. The death knell came when Qatari investors no longer wished to invest in the airline without receiving any more equity in the company (EU regulations cap “foreign” investment to 49%), so they simply walked away on a moment’s notice.
Ironically, Qatar Airways’s CEO Akbar Al-Baker had visions of Air Italy overtaking a fledgling, deeply unprofitable Alitalia as the country’s flag bearer. At the time of the initial investment and subsequent rebrand, this looked like a very real possibility. Over the course of the past two years though, Alitalia has managed to hang on, even after being “cut off” by Etihad (which also had similar ambitions to build out a presence in Italy), while Air Italy ceased operations. That’s not to say that Alitalia is doing well though; it has a long and rich history of receiving government bailouts, including one valued at 400 million Euros as recently as December 2019. The morale of the story, especially for those with a few hundred million dollars laying around, is that the Italian air travel industry is a particularly complicated one. Invest with caution!
For those with flights booked on Air Italy, fear not! Air Italy won’t formally cease operations until February 25th, although its flights in the interim will be operated by other planes owned by other carriers. The logistics of this have yet to be explained in detail, but for now, trust the process and contact the airline or your travel agent. If you’re traveling on dates after the 25th, you’ll be refunded for your troubles, although that falls to you (or your own personal travel consultant) to do this. Details are available on airitaly.com.
This issue was first reported on by Il Sole 24, an Italian business-centric daily newspaper. Note that this article is written in Italian. Air Italy has since released a statement announcing its closure, but specific details are sure to be forthcoming. Image courtesy of Aldo Badini; hosted by Wikipedia.
From The Higher Flyer
Here’s a quintessential guide to higher flying, presented in an easily digestible “Top 10” list format. There’s also more than a few “subtle” references to The Higher Flyer‘s sister website, THF Consulting.
Other happenings in the world of higher flying
1. American Airlines extends Chinese flight cancellations through late April
As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout China — where more than 1,000 patients have died as of this writing — and beyond, people, governments, and companies are taking increasingly drastic measures to contain the contagion. At the onset of the outbreak, the three legacy United States carriers — American, Delta, and United — all suspended their Chinese operations. At the time, it looked like the suspensions would be instituted on a rolling basis, with updates coming every couple of weeks. No longer! A few weeks ago, Delta announced that it wouldn’t fly any of its routes to mainland China until May 1. Now AA is following, cancelling flights to both mainland China AND Hong Kong until the last week of April.
If you’re supposed to be traveling to/from China on American (or Delta) in the coming months, fear not! Both carriers have announced that they will rebook passengers on their partners’ planes. If you’ve decided that maybe now isn’t the time to visit East Asia — that, for what it’s worth, would probably be wise — you can get a full refund too. In any case, airline operating schedules aren’t necessarily predictive, but certainly such actions don’t reflect well on the situation on the ground in Wuhan and elsewhere. It could be a while before this gets better; stay safe!
2. Hot take: “DHS Was Right To Block New York Global Entry Applicants” by Kyle Stewart
Kyle Stewart, a contributor at Live and Let’s Fly, argues that the United States Department of Homeland Security was right in cancelling the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck applications/renewals of tens of thousands of New Yorkers. I won’t wade in to the nuances of his ham-fisted argument here — he’s been accused of parroting Fox News talking points — and his stance is controversial to say the least. Appropriately, the article has prompted some spicy back-and-forth from the site’s commentariat. Click the link here to see for yourself!
Whether or not he raises good points… well, that’s another debate. On one hand, it is good that the DHS is working to ensure its namesake, but on the other, is this really the best, most effective way to maintain the security of the homeland? Are undocumented immigrants really a threat to apply for Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck, and then take advantage of those services for nefarious purposes? It’s worth a discussion, and Kyle offers a starting point to that end.
3. Uber Pet is coming to a rideshare near you!
As per an email from Uber…
…Uber customers will now be able to request pet-friendly Uber rides. For a small additional fee, you’ll be allowed to bring a “single small animal such as a dog or a cat.” Furthermore, “there is no breed or size restriction,” but beware! “If your pet leaves waste, excessive hair, or damages the vehicle, you could be charged a cleaning fee” reads the disclaimer. We’ll see how this one works out for both passengers AND drivers, but hey, this could very well be a purr-fect travel arrangement for you and your best fur-riend (lame puns courtesy of Uber).
For what it’s worth, Uber, because of the additional service fees, issues extra status points when you book its “Pet” service. By offering awards to animals, it joins Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue as the only (known) travel companies to do this. Now Fido can fly higher on the road!
Sourced from the email screenshotted above. More information can be found on Uber’s website.
Got any tips? Questions? Comments? Email anything and everything to Paul@TheHigherFlyer.org, or comment below! In the meantime, thanks for reading, fly higher, and see you tomorrow!