I figure January is a much better time than December to look into the patented OTR Looking Glass ™ to pull predictions out of my ass (er…closely analyze the airline industry) to see what the next year is going to look like. My thoughts:
– Wi-fi, Wi-fi, Wi-fi. Wi-fi will be widely available on US airlines this year and it will change flying for business travelers. I expect it will be priced to keep out the casual e-mail checker, but for business travelers it will be a game changer. This is exactly the opposite of how I used to feel (I think I’ve mentioned this before), but I used to think the airplane was the last cone of solace for business travelers. I’ve come around on this because of that sick-to-your-stomach feeling you have after a 5 hour flight when you know you have about 128 emails you have to catch up on (this feeling deserves a name – feel free to suggest in the comments). Eliminating that feeling is well worth $12.95.
– Airline fares will be decoupled by the end of 2009. The airline fare system will look like Air Canada’s by the end of the year, where you will simply be buying a seat on the plane, and you will add luggage, seat, wi-fi, food, frequent flyer miles, on top of that base fare. You think you hate it, but you’ll grow to like it. I promise. It’s actually fair. I’ve flown Spirit a couple of times recently, and they’re trying something along those lines, and I appreciated paying next-to-nothing for the flight and I wasn’t that annoyed by the ridiculously priced $3 soda. (Why the soda for $3 is ridiculous but I don’t complain about the $2.50 soda in the terminal is a mystery to me, too.)
– Airlines will be quicker to launch and pull back service than ever before. Allegiant has made this a hallmark of their strategy – try something and if it doesn’t work, stop flying there. Imagine that. We’re starting to see the majors trying the same thing (or even canceling before launch, as Delta has done with Raleigh-Paris and others). Which brings us to:
– More international destinations, with a caveat. We’re going to see more airlines taking the Continental/Delta approach to international travel and flying right-sized planes to secondary destinations. Delta’s very, very interesting Cape Verde mini-hub strategy will be closely watched: can you open a hub to serve out-of-the-way destinations. I’m not sure how many other opportunities there are for this, but the Azores could handle a similar 757-based operation for somebody willing to cherry-pick African flights. Oh, the caveat: many of these flights won’t be around for long, as airlines quickly pull back when things aren’t working and re-deploy. For every Gothenberg, there’s another Budapest waiting for service.
– Increased service to the Middle East. Yes, Delta just pulled back on their 2nd service to Tel Aviv. But they’ve launched Kuwait and Amman. Look for others to saturate the region, especially Oman, which is a more interesting tourist destination than Dubai
– We won’t lose any major US carriers this year. No, it’s not looking great over at Frontier, but they’ll survive. And Allegiant will continue to be the best story in airlines nobody is talking about, as they continue their smart strategy of staying out of the way and upselling.
I’m interested in hearing your predictions…please comment below.