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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

201004-b-spiritjpg

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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In-Flight Food Tries to Be Tasty

201004-b-bostonmarket2jpgNew York Times |  Those bland sandwiches sold by airlines to economy-class passengers? They’re on the way out.

Even as the last major airline—Continental Airlines—is ending free economy-class meals on domestic flights this fall, carriers are changing their whole approach to food.

Air Canada
has introduced healthy food options, like vegetarian sandwiches and yogurt parfaits, and Alaska Airlines has a new healthy snack pack. American Airlines is working with Boston Market. JetBlue is about to start selling food on select long-haul flights. Some carriers are expected to offer combination meals and other promotions similar to those available at fast-food restaurants.

And United Airlines is testing the sale of some food items sold on domestic flights, and a variety of sandwiches, in its Red Carpet lounges at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. It will also let passengers preorder in-flight food by the end of the year.  Photo Courtesy of American Airlines.

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Travel Chaos as Ash Closes Air Space



CNN London |  European countries shut their airspace one after the other Thursday as a cloud of volcanic ash wafted over from Iceland and posed a danger to flights.

Airspace over the United Kingdom was due to be closed for six hours from midday but air authorities later extended the closure until at least 7 a.m. BST (2 a.m. EST) Friday.

Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands also announced the closure of their airspace, authorities in each country said.

Norway also closed its ocean territory and canceled helicopter flights to off-shore oil installations, according to Avinor, the Norwegian agency responsible for the Norwegian airport network.

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Pay Toilet Foes Feel The Flush of Relief

The stupidest idea to come along in ages looks to have gone down the drain, literally. Last week Michael O’Leary, ceo of the Irish budget carrier Ryanair, said he would install pay toilets for use on short-haul European flights, but the cockamamie scheme turned out to have been more than a piddling matter. A stream of invective followed the announcement in the press.

The latest news: Boeing, which built Ryanair’s fleet of 737-800s, has put the kibosh on the plan for safety reasons, leaving O’Leary up a yellow river without a paddle. In addition to charging one euro to use the facilities, O’Leary had planned to remove some of the existing toilets and replace them with additional seats. But the airline’s planes already are configured for 189 passengers, the most that can be carried safely. Because the planes were made in America, any reconfiguration by Boeing to increase the number of passengers would be subject to FAA approval, which would be unlikely.

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Report Indicates Less Lost Luggage

201004-b-lostluggagejpgHere’s some good news about airlines (after my colleague Mark Orwoll’s posts on charging for bathroom access and for carry-ons, we could really use it): according to a March report by SITA, a company that specializes in aviation IT, only 25 million bags were lost in airports around the world in 2009—that’s a 23.8 percent drop from 2008, and over 40 percent less “mishandled” (a.k.a. lost) luggage than in the year before.

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