Travel Extra’s Sunday Supplement: AA/US mega-merger, what does it mean? – and a flash choir

From left: Caitriona Toner Ireland manager of US Airways, the NYC/United fam trip to New York, Leo Varadkar and Niall Gibbons launch the St Patrick's Day green landmarks campaign for Tourism Ireland, and the greening of Vegas
From left: Caitriona Toner Ireland manager of US Airways, the NYC/United fam trip to New York, Leo Varadkar and Niall Gibbons launch the St Patrick’s Day green landmarks campaign for Tourism Ireland, and the greening of Vegas

What does it all mean, that great Valentine’s Day romance between American and US Airways?

Not a lot, The two airline’s affairs will continue as normal, as sources put it this week, for “quite a while.” The transaction will not be completed until the third quarter of 2013. American Airlines and US Airways will remain independent airlines until the merger closes.

In Ireland things will continue as normal for the five routes operated by the newly merged airline. Agents were told to “continue to book, track and manage flights through your usual channels, and your clients’ flight reservations will be unaffected.”

If the precedent in major airline mergers is followed, we will have a situation like the Continental/United merger, where the existing Irish office of Continental took over United’s sales. US Airways have an office in Ireland run by Caitríona Toner (above left) and her team, while American’s sales are handled by Simon Daly and his team in BA. Virasb Vahidi of American confirmed that American’s new Dublin-JFK route will start as planned on June 12th.

Analysts noted that US Airways watched American flounder, then pounced. US Airlines own press release on the merger was more gentle. The London Telegraph commented that consolidation allows airlines to limit the supply of seats, boost profits and offer bigger route networks that appeal to high-paying business travellers. The London Indie speculated that US Airways will no longer be the trans-Atlantic budget option. America’s Antitrust Institute pointed out that ticket prices within the USA rose by 20pc after Delta-Northwest merged and 30pc after the United-Continental merger. American’s FAQ release was worryingly unspecific (using the phrase: “studies have shown”): “studies have shown that airline mergers over the past ten years have not driven up airfares, and there is no concrete evidence suggesting that overall rates would rise.” Others predicted a culture clash, “US Airways is known for a far more relaxed environment than American, which can best be described as buttoned down.’”

The mega-merger drew attention to the fourth generation Irish-American who made the deal: Chicago lawyer Jack Butler is proud of his Irish heritage, and was a recipient of Celtic Medal of Honour from the Irish Chamber of Commerce in America. Some will remember him speaking at the Annual Albert Schweitzer Leadership for Life Conference at NUI Maynooth in 2011. His Irish connection is remarkably strong after such a time. Great-grandfather, John Butler, was born in Co Antrim on Christmas Day 1825. Grandfather, James Millard Butler, was born on July 1, 1874 in Davis, Illinois, spent his early business career in Chicago and later moved to Detroit where Jack’s father and Jack were both born, Jack relocated back to Chicago as an adult in 1989 and raised his four children there.

Not a lot has changed either on Ryanair-Aer LIngus. After last week’s leaks by the EU commission and the Aer Lingus unions, Ryanair strategically leaked its summation after a briefing in Brussels that the EU was about to block the deal, declaring that “no matter what remedies we offered, we were not going to get a fair hearing and were going to be prohibited regardless of competition rules.”

What next?  It is down to the lawyers, as John Mulligan said in the Irish Independent, which is where the latest takeover bid was always going to be decided. Mulligan had earlier observed that Ryanair could end up paying tens of millions of euro extra to Flybe on top of the €100m it’s already pledged Commentary was as bifurcated as ever. The Irish Times rather harshly declared that Ryanair only has itself to blame because of its unique PR strategy based on a dubious customer relations policy. Aer Lingus share price fell 4.3pc back to €1.28, two cents below the Ryanair share price offer.

Aer Arann got widespread coverage for its ambitious plans to double passenger numbers to 2m and join the elite European airlines. Details of the new Aer Arann sharehold proportions were revealed by the Irish Independent: Stobart 42pc, Invesco 42pc, Cenkos Securities 10pc, Pádraig Ó Céidigh 5pc

As if to prove that news can still travel slowly in the internet age, it took a long time to realise that Florida was requiring people renting a car to have an International driving license since January 1st. It was eventually flagged to the media by Elle Hubbard of rental broker Tripwheel. The law was promptly rescinded amid considerable publicity, but car hire companies are still confused over whether they can rent a car without one Few people carry the license but it is required in most countries outside the EU and the USA to rent a car. The AA is still recommending that travellers obtain the which is issued by AA and the form is downloadable.

It was a bad week for ski and snow holiday news, with a 10-year-old from England dying in a ski accident in Mayrhofen when she lost control and hit a tree. Six people were injured in a chairlift accident in Lecht in Scotland. An eyewitness described how one chair became detached from the main line and causing a pile-up. Is ski dangerous? The stats are that there is one fatality for every 1.4m people who buy a lift pass and spend part or all of a day on the slopes. Travel Extra editor Eoghan Corry is writing this blog from a snow resort in Andorra, where they have had their heaviest snow in 13 years.

Cruise too had a bad week. Passengers chanted “let me off, let me off’’” as Carnival Triumph reached dry land amid lots of news coverage, having bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico without power for five days, beating the four days Carnival Splendor bobbed at sea in 2010. After a fire disabled the Triumph’s power system on Sunday, the crew offered an open bar but had to cancel it after some passengers drank too much and began fighting. This is the sixth occasion a cruise liner has lost power through a fire or other mishap, leaving the passengers with a diet of helicoptered sandwiches before they were towed to port. Carnival passengers said the: “deck was like a shanty town, with sheets acting like tents, mattresses everywhere, and people using anything they could sleep on.”

This was preceded by even worse news, the accident which killed five crew members, three Indonesians, a Filipino and a Ghanaian, on board Thomson Majesty in Santa Cruz, La Palma. The Union said more people are being killed in lifeboat drill than in actual emergencies. Andrew Linington of Seafarers Trade Union Nautilus International pointed out that more people are being killed on lifeboat drill than in real emergencies. The last investigation in 2001 showed 15pc of all deaths involving professional seafarers involved lifeboat drills, with 12 deaths over 10 years and 87 people injured.

Tourism Ireland continued to expand the number of landmarks that are lit in green for St Patrick’s Day. Newcomers for 2013 include the ‘Welcome’ sign in Las (glas) Vegas (pictured second from left, with the support, John Donohue points out, of Las Vegas CVB) the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, HMS Belfast in London, City Hall in Houston, the Citadel in Jordan, the Tower of Hercules in Galicia, the new EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam, the International School in Bonn and Bayern Munich’s stadium. The idea originated with four sites in 2010 and has grown since then. Leo Varadkar and Niall Gibbons posed for the pics (third from left above) There was some debate over whether Lizzie Windsor would allow Buckingham Palace go green. It appears not.

The Connaught Telegraph asked what it described as the unanswered question: How can Knock Airport survive when the state is funding a plan to increase Shannon Passenger numbers to 2.5m at its expense. Knock’s Ryanair routes from Knock to Paris Beauvais and Frankfurt Hahn which operated from March last year will not be renewed for 2013. Liam Scollan believes lack of tourism promotion is to blame

John Donohue of NYC and Co and Pat Reede of United Airlines led an Irish Product Manager FAM to New York City to showcase three lesser known areas of the city, Long Island City, Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. They returned on Friday missing the snow in New York City about six hours after they left: pictured here are Polly Bond of Tour America; Martin Penrose of Topflight Worldwide; Mary Downes of Cassidy Travel; Pat Reede of United Airlines; Renee Lambe of World Travel Centre; John Donohue, NYC and Co and Dee Burdock of American Holidays

  • Sales this week from Aer Lingus which offers up to 50pc off Travel Mar 1-June 20 on Stena‘s spring sale €89 single for car and driver every day of week, book by February 28. Irish Ferries spring sale, €89 travel Tues and Weds Dublin to Holyhead and Rosslare to Pembroke.

Flash choir dublin airport


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