United and Continental may merge. But should they?
That's what the Wall Street Journal is reporting. If true, that could mean higher prices for tickets (as there will be less competition). But it could also mean more streamlined routes and better connections. What do you think? Should they merge?
UPDATE May 1:
United will merge with Continental, creating the world's largest airline--named United--and proving that there really are more ways to make things worse at O'Hare.
UPDATE: April 30:
For the first year after the mergers happen, fares will jump, especially on routes that serve smaller cities. If you have travel plans in mind, book those tickets now.
But over time, low-cost carriers like Southwest will swoop in and serve these markets, bringing fares back to their current levels. Unlike Continental and United, Southwest posted a profit last quarter. Plus: The discount carrier has a record of jumping into routes and airports that are abandoned during airline mergers. As expert Joe Brancatelli has pointed out, countless mergers in the past 30 years have not caused fares to stay high for the long term.
The merger would have some pros and cons, of course.
Pros: Connections will be easier to make, as airlines coordinate their flight times and routes. United has a strong network of flights to Asia, while Continental is strong in routes to Europe and Latin America.
Cons: Many planes on popular routes will be even more crowded. But flight delays shouldn't increase, except for the first few days of the mergers. Many towns and small cities will either lose routes or face higher ticket prices, at least for a year after the mergers. As a rule, on routes where United and Continental each fly a plane, there will now only be one plane flying. Obviously, the reality for any particular route is more complicated, but that's the general idea. Larger cities will also see fewer planes on routes to smaller destinations, again, at least for a year after the mergers. Expect changes for Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, Houston, and San Francisco, in particular.
Frequent-flier mile options will change, too. Many experts expect that budget-conscious, leisure travelers will find that it will be even harder to redeem frequent flier mile awards. On the flip side, business travelers who fly hundreds of thousands of miles a year may receive more perks and find it easier to redeem award miles. (More details for frequent fliers are available at Airline Examiner.)
Why are the airlines merging now? Two main reasons. No one wants to lend them cash because they have such a bad history of getting into bankruptcy and there's not a lot of free capital floating about right now. The airlines want to pool their capital funds together so that they can finance the purchases of new planes, especially during the aftermath of a recession.
One more caveat: The government will also have to approve any merger, of course. This will be the first high-profile test of the Obama administration's attitude to mergers that will likely raise prices for consumers, especially in Obama's hometown of Chicago.
What do you think? Should United and Continental merge?
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It's a new day for flier's rights: We're human beings, not just cargo!
New Department of Transportation rules take effect today, and the gist is that when a flight is delayed on tarmac, passengers are no longer subject to inhumane treatment. Finally! As we've reported before, the new rules have been a long time in the making, and only became a reality after several highly publicized incidents in which airline travelers were stuck on tarmacs for six, seven, nine hours -- sometimes having to endure the wait without food, water, or even operable bathrooms. Here are the new stipulations that affect passengers, from the DOT's Fast Lane blog states: Under the new rule, U.S. airlines operating domestic flights must allow passengers to deplane after a tarmac delay of three hours. The only exceptions allowed are for safety or security, or if air traffic control advises the pilot otherwise. Carriers are also required to provide adequate food and drinking water within two hours of being delayed on the tarmac; they must also maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention. You'd think that mandating that an airline attend to its customers' basic needs -- and you don't get more basic than the ones above -- wouldn't be necessary, but here we are. A DOT press release explains the rest of the new rules, including one that: Prohibits the largest U.S. airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights While we enthusiastically applaud the new requirements, one potential downside is that deplaning passengers due to a lengthy delay may lead to even bigger delays. But at least you'd be delayed in the terminal, not inside a cramped, stuffy plane.
London: On Golden Hinde
In 1577, many years before he defeated the Spanish Armada, the great English buccaneer and Sir Francis Drake became one of the first sailors to circumnavigate the world in a wooden galleon called the Golden Hinde. Along the way, he made what was probably the first European landfall in California, naming it Nova Albion. He also captured one of the largest hordes of treasure ever taken — paying off the English national debt in one fell swoop. On his return, the Hinde became so famous that it was put on public display on the south bank of the Thames here in London — the earliest recorded example of a ship being preserved for public posterity. And while it rotted away, a full-sized working replica has replaced it and remains harbored on the river. It, too, has circumnavigated the globe and sailed over 140,000 miles — many more than the original. The replica Golden Hinde is in a prime spot — a few minutes walk from both the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe. And unlike both of those sights it's a real hit with kids. It's possible to visit the ship anytime between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on a self-guided tour. But it's far better to come on one of the activity days. May is set to be a busy month for these, with 23 days of organised activities, from guided historical tours and full day living history days. On May 8 and 22 there are pirate fun days, when kids have the chance to dress up as pirates, participate in a series of re-enactments and generally run riot on the boat. And on May 29 the Golden Hinde will be staging one of its summer sleepovers — and overnight living history tour for children between 5 to 10 years old (accompanied by an adult), which includes an afternoon and evening of costumed activities, a Tudor dinner, and sleeping out on the gun deck amongst the cannons. A Tudor breakfast of bread and cheese is provided in the morning, followed by a snack of hot chocolate as you return to the twenty-first century. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Check out our London City page Find hotel suggestions and travel tips
Paris: New phone booths offer free Internet
On April 9, the city of Paris and Orange telecom unveiled a dozen "experimental" phone booths that offer free Internet and multimedia services. These booths are scattered throughout the city (handy map, here), with four located in areas that have a high number of visitors — the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, ChampsÉlysées, and the Marais. The promise In addition to traditional phone calls, these booths promise to let users browse the Internet and view and send emails. These two services are currently free, with log-on time limited to 10 minutes. Users can also search for local services near the booth, including restaurants, pharmacies, banks, hotels, train stations, etc. This mapping service will always be free, but there will eventually be a charge for using the Internet. The reality In theory, these booths could be a godsend for travelers who need to look up information, quickly check for an email, or locate a service. But how well do they really work? To find out, I took one of the new booths for a test drive yesterday afternoon and found the following: The Surf's Not Up. For the moment, it's not possible to visit the website of your choice. Orange promises that this will change if the booths make it past the experimental phase, but for the moment your choices are limited to a handful of pre-selected sites. The Touch Screen is Tricky. I found my email provider among the small number of available sites (Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail) and was able, after 3 or 4 tries, to successfully enter my password using the booth's touch screen keypad. Scrolling down the page, however, was almost impossible, and composing a reply using the touch screen might take far longer than the 10-minute allotted time. The Search Didn't Find. One of the prime services that these booths are advertising — the ability to locate nearby businesses — wasn't working when I tried to use it. I pressed the buttons to find "pharmacies" and "restaurants" and stood waiting without results until my session time expired. It's all in French. We are in France, so I suppose this makes sense. But offering navigation in multiple languages, as is done with ATMs, subway ticket booths, and Velib' stations, would add significant value to this service for visitors. The future These dozen new booths are being tested for a period of six months before evaluation by the Mayor of Paris. If the booths work well, JCDecaux (the advertising company that finances Velib') may implement them on a national level in 2012. Where can you find these new booths in Paris? • Eiffel Tower — Quai Branly, western pilar, 7th arrondissement • Champs Élysées — 48 avenue des Champs Élysées, 8th arrondissement • Montmartre — 16 boulevard de Clichy, 18th arrondissement • The Marais — 1 rue de Rivoli, 4th arrondissement • La Villette — 219 avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th arrondissement • Place d'Italie — 213 boulevard Vincent Auriol, 13th arrondissement • Saint-Michel — 20 boulevard Saint Michel, 6th arrondissement • Saint-Germain — 142 boulvard Saint Germain, 6th arrondissements • Near the Grands Magasins — 40 boulevard Haussmann, 9th arrondissement • Montparnasse — 77 boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement • Bercy — 26 rue des Pirogues de Bercy, 12th arrondissement MORE Budget Travel's Affordable Paris coverage
Should alcohol be banned at campgrounds?
For many campers, beer is just as much a part of the experience as eating S'mores, telling ghost stories, and unleashing vulgarities while struggling to set up the tent. But in one state, campground guests are looking at the first-ever summer with a prohibition on booze. The state is Maryland, and, per the state park service, the ban first went into effect last November, with the explanation that there's "a potential conflict with the family atmosphere of the park campground if visitors are consuming alcohol." Alcohol can be consumed on park grounds only if you have been approved and paid for a permit ($35), only for special events, and only in designated shelters spelled out in the permit. The new rules are getting attention now that camping season is upon us -- and now that, thanks to details in an AP story, it's looking like the booze ban could be bad for business. Just yesterday, a group of 40 said they were going to shift their annual outing from a Maryland state campground to one where they're allowed to enjoy a few beers around the campfire, no permit required. What do you think? Many folks who've spent the night in a tent know that there's some wisdom to downing a couple beers before hitting the rock-hard sack. Would you prefer your camping experience to be dry -- and not just meaning that it doesn't rain? If you found out a campground had a no-alcohol policy, would you switch to one where you could drink?