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When Two Airlines Tie the Knot

New York Times |  As soon as Continental and United announced their proposed merger, news media outlets began reporting on how the union might affect travelers—less competition and higher fares being the primary concerns.

But some airline experts see those worries as overblown. First, the two airlines had effectively moved in together before deciding to get married, aligning their flights through a code-share partnership and linking their frequent-flier programs, so they were more partners than rivals even before the merger was announced. More important, most analysts believe that airfares are likely to increase regardless of whether these carriers tie the knot.

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Airlines, Travelers Gird for Summer Delays as Volcano Plume Persists

Associated Press |  It’s been a month now, and Iceland’s volcano shows no sign it will stop belching ash across Europe anytime soon. The rolling eruptions threaten more havoc for summer vacation plans and higher costs for struggling airlines.

Although the global disruption of last month’s massive eruption has faded, smaller ash plumes snarled air services intermittently over the last week all the way to Turkey—more than 2,500 miles from the Eyjafjallajokul volcano.

Air-control authorities and geologists agree that the continent must brace indefinitely for rapid shutdowns of air services as computerized projections try to pinpoint where the ash clouds will float next at the whim of shifting winds.

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Spirit Airlines Is At It Again

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Spirit Airlines, the Florida-based airline that will charge $45 to stow carry-ons in the overhead bin starting August 1, is plumbing new depths of customer annoyance by announcing today that it would begin placing ads for a toothbrush company on its lavatory mirrors.

The toothbrush company, which will get no additional publicity here, apparently believes Spirit’s media kit claim that the ads will get “100% saturation, with a targeted, captive audience that is actively engaged by ads for an average of three hours.”

It’s difficult not to snigger at the phrase “captive audience.”

Spirit, which recently installed cheap and uncomfortable “pre-reclined” seats on many of its aircraft so it could increase the passenger load, has sold advertising on barf bags, tray tables, bulkhead panels, beverage napkins, ticket envelopes and more. In years past it mandated flight attendants to wear aprons imprinted with the Bud Light logo.

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Fly JetBlue on Tuesday and Wednesday for $10!

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Missed Mother’s Day?  Fly home to Mom’s and kiss her in person for less than cost of a bouquet of peonies.

In another giddy gesture to celebrate their 10th anniversary, JetBlue is having a 2-day sale. If you can find a remaining seat on any JetBlue flight on Tuesday or Wednesday, you can book it for $10.   Just buy your tickets at www.jetblue.com/deals/ten-years/ by 11:59pm on Monday night and take a flyer!

Ann Shields is an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of JetBlue Airways.

United-Continental Deal: Birth of a Behemoth

New York TimesUnited Airlines and Continental Airlines on Monday announced a $3 billion merger that would create the world’s biggest airline.

The all-stock deal would form a coast-to-coast American behemoth with a leading presence in the top domestic markets, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, along with an extended network to Asia, Latin America and Europe.

The deal was completed in a remarkably short three weeks, and would give the airlines the muscle to fend off low-cost rivals at home and to take on foreign carriers abroad. United is buying Continental, and the combined company will keep the United name and be based in Chicago. It will, however, keep the Continental logo, livery and colors and maintain a large presence in Houston.

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United, Continental Could Announce Merger Monday

USA TodayUnited and Continental airlines have reached the precipice of a merger agreement that their executives hope to announce on Monday, a source involved in the negotiations said Friday.

The announcement hinges on the boards of both airlines approving the deal, said the source, who is not authorized to speak for the airlines and requested anonymity. The board of United's parent, UAL, is to meet today. Continental's board is supposed to meet today and Sunday.

A union between Chicago-based United, the third-largest U.S. carrier, and No. 5 Continental, based in Houston, would create the biggest airline in the world. Based on passenger miles flown in 2009, the combination would be about 10% larger than the current world leader, Delta Air Lines.

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Spirit Air Announces "No Recline" Seats

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I just flew in from Ft. Lauderdale to New York, and, boy, am I tired! No, seriously though, I am. Because Spirit Airways has decided to change out their old seats for a new “lightweight, leather” model that doesn’t recline at all, I didn’t doze one bit on my 7 a.m. jaunt up the coast.

Just last week, Spirit released an absurd statement (one rivaled in ridiculous spin only by the airline’s own proud announcement in March that it would begin charging for carry-ons) that touted its new paralyzed seatbacks as a positive development for passengers. The claim:

1. The seats offer comfort throughout the entire flight, since you don’t need to put them in their full upright position during take-off and landing (right, because the lean-forward, lean-back thing is such an exhausting part of travel).

2. Customers appreciate that “there is no longer interference from the seat in front of you moving up and down throughout the flight.”

Yes, the inconsiderate gent in 14B sprawling back just as you dig into your chicken-flavored Cup-O’-Noodles is annoying. But not being able to recline at all? That’s plain infuriating. And, on any flight over two hours, as I can attest, terribly uncomfortable.

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FAA Opening Commercial Spaceflight Center

Network World |  The Federal Aviation Administration this week took a step closer to setting up a central hub for the development of key commercial space transportation technologies such as space launch and traffic management applications and setting orbital safety standards.

The hub, known as the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation would have a $1 million yearly budget and tie together universities, industry players and the government for cost-sharing research and development. The FAA expects the center to be up and running this year.

The new center would be an offshoot of other FAA Centers for Excellence that through myriad partnerships develop and set all manner of aviation standards from aircraft noise and emissions to airport systems. According to the FAA the center's purpose is to create a world-class consortium that will identify solutions for existing and anticipated commercial space transportation problems.

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Europe Flights Take Off, But What About the Backlog?

The first flights to take off in a week may have left London's Heathrow Airport yesterday and many of Europe's airports may once again be open, but there are still thousands of people stranded around the world, unable to fly due to ash from Iceland's recent volcanic explosion.

If you're not one of the lucky fliers who happened to be flying Emirates Air (the airline went above and beyond and is paying for hotel stays and three meals a day for some 6,000 passengers stuck in Dubai!), chances are you're ready for this ordeal to be O-V-E-R. Now, the question us who gets dibs on some of the first flights out?  For details on who goes to the front of the check-in line, check out CNN's excellent Q&A today:


How are airlines prioritizing ticket allocation?
Other than a few special cases, most airlines are prioritizing those with pre-existing tickets for scheduled flights. In some cases, empty seats on these are being filled by customers with urgent travel needs. Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific says it is giving priority to unaccompanied minors and students heading back to the UK to sit exams. Singapore Airlines is fast tracking those with "special needs," the elderly and those with infants or young children. Rochelle Turner, head of vacation research for consumer watchdog Which?, says any prioritizing is at the discretion of individual flight operators. "The elderly, the sick, frequent flyers—it's entirely up to the airline who goes first."

Do I need to do anything if I have a ticket on a scheduled flight?
All airlines are advising customers to double check whether flights are going ahead before heading to airports. British Airways is even urging customers with tickets on scheduled departures to consider delaying their travel plans to free up space on planes to allow delayed passengers to travel. In most cases, passengers who hold tickets for a flight due to take off as scheduled should be fine. Says Turner, it is still advisable to call the airline to confirm or check-in online.

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Adrien Glover is the online deputy editor at Travel + Leisure.

Clear Skies Over Europe? Not Yet

It’s no secret ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano (say that 10 times fast) has choked the skies over Europe since erputing on Apr. 14, grounding hundreds of thousands of flights; stranding passengers on both sides of the Atlantic; ruining (and extending) vacations; and serving as a healthy reminder of the indomitable power of Mother Nature. Here’s where things stand today:

- Iceland’s volcano spewed more ash into the sky Tuesday, continuing restrictions over UK air space and concerns that the cloud could choke jet engines.

- There is still no confirmed safe limit of ash through which an airplane can fly.

- Flights are restricted to those flying above 20,000 feet—above the ash belt.

- Half of the scheduled air traffic in Europe, or 14,000 flights, are said to be operational today.

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