The Virgin America brand is headed to the archives. Yesterday, Alaska Airlines announced that following a successful acquisition of the smaller carrier, the joint airline moving forward would be simply called Alaska Airlines, wiping the other brand off the map. “While the Virgin America name is beloved to many, we concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name – for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares,” said Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing in a prepared statement.
While expected, the news was largely met with disappointment among fans of Virgin America, who adored the airline because of its forward-thinking cabin design, approach to in flight entertainment and general appeal towards younger travelers.
The CEO of Box made the following commentary:
Ah, the classic “take something that was loved by everyone and destroy it” strategy. https://t.co/t3WnVSnDiJ
— Aaron Levie (@levie) March 23, 2017
Virgin America had only operated flights for ten years before investors forced a sale of the company, against the wishes of much of the management and Sir Richard Branson, the airline’s founder. After a protracted bidding process through the middle of 2016, in which bidders came from as far as China to make an offer, Alaska Airlines eventually came out on top. The acquisition was finally approved of in late 2016 after a series of regulatory hurdles passed. In December, the acquisition was finalized.
Throughout the course of the sale, many hoped that facets of the Virgin America experience would eventually end up in the joint product, but as a details of the new company emerged it quickly became apparent that that would not happen. An aircraft with a joint livery, for example, was released in December of last year, but the interior cabin kept all of Alaska’s features without any of Virgin America’s influence. Alaska went on to announce a new series of routes out of San Francsico earlier this month, though many of them were simply rebranded from Virgin America.
Despite many of the branding decisions falling on the Alaksa Airlines side, the airline still maintains that it plans to use facets of the Virgin America experience in the future brand. In a statement released yesterday, the airline said that it “will adopt many of the brand elements that Virgin America enthusiasts love about their favorite airline, including enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, music and the relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests.” It was unclear, however, how each of those elements would be integrated across Alaska’s roughly 155-strong fleet.
For many, Virgin America’s brand retirement, which will continue through 2019. marks the passing of an airline that pushed the boundaries of marketing and design to bring back some excitement to everyday air travel. In a letter to Virgin America’s team and its customers, Richard Branson said “This was the ride and love of a lifetime. I feel very lucky to have been on it with all of you.”
LA: Uber From Louis Armstrong? Kenner Mulls Airport Pickup Fees That Could be Highest in Nation, ‘Possibly the World’
March 21–Citing the cost of road maintenance, the Kenner City Council is considering legislation that would double the fees that ride-hailing, shuttle and limousine companies must pay when they pick up fares at Louis Armstrong International Airport.
The proposal — which could be voted on Thursday — has drawn complaints from many of the companies it would affect, including Uber.
In fact, if the measure passes, the New Orleans-owned airport would have the “most expensive … shared-ride ground transportation fees in all of North America, possibly the world,” shuttle-bus company owner Warren Reuther warned in a letter, citing an opinion from national Airport Ground Transportation Association Director Ray Mundy.
Those cool to the proposal have an ally in City Councilman Dominick Impastato, who said Tuesday that he opposes a measure he believes will “obstruct tourism because of excessive and unreasonable taxing of limos, shuttles and (ride-hailing) transports from the airport.”
But five of his six colleagues — Gregory Carroll, Maria DeFrancesch, Keith Reynaud, Michael Sigur and Tom Willmott — have attached their names to the proposal. Council Chairman Leonard Cline said he was not prepared to comment on his position.
In addition to the higher fees, the proposed ordinance would require drivers for Uber and Lyft to have a commercial chauffeur’s license, which requires additional fees and tests. Critics say no other city or parish in Louisiana has that requirement.
Sigur, though, said the provision merely mirrors a state law that requires all drivers of vehicles for hire to have a commercial chauffeur’s license. He said it’s fine if other local governments don’t classify Uber and Lyft drivers as commercial chauffeurs who have to follow that law, but “I am not going to follow the pack just because the pack went there.”
Sigur said the higher airport pickup fees would help cover the cost of repairing the “tremendous deterioration of our infrastructure because of the traffic to and from the airport” that often uses Kenner city roadways.
The measure calls for companies like Uber to pay $4 per airport pickup; shuttle services would pay $6 and limo companies $10. The companies already pay those same pickup fees to the airport, which uses the money for operations.
Taxis, the main rival to ride-hailing services like Uber, pay the New Orleans Aviation Board an annual fee for the right to pick up passengers at the airport.
Typically, some 1,400 taxi and 900 Uber drivers make their way to Kenner every day to pick up passengers at the airport. Those numbers can spike to 2,800 and 1,500, respectively, during busy travel periods, according to a memo prepared by New Orleans officials.
Sigur said that volume creates wear on municipal streets surrounding the airport, and it therefore is reasonable to ask companies doing business there to help mitigate the damage.
However, Reuther’s letter said an extra $6 fee per passenger would be “a death blow” to his company, Airport Shuttle, which registers 200,000 airport pickups annually through a contract with the airport to ferry travelers to hotels in downtown New Orleans.
Reuther said the effect would be no less devastating on a New Orleans tourism industry that “depends on our reasonably priced shared-ride services for millions of visitors including meeting and convention attendees annually.”
The proposed measure before the council also calls for Uber, Lyft and similar ride-booking services to pay a fee of 50 cents per pickup in other parts of Kenner. That fee would not apply to pickups at the airport, where Lyft does not operate.
The measure also would remove a limit on the number of taxis that can operate in Kenner, instead letting any companies enter the market if they pay either $250 per cab or a flat fee of $10,000 annually. Uber and Lyft would not be subject to such a cap either; their annual fee would be $7,500 per company.
Other parts of the proposed measure are similar to rules already in place in Gretna, New Orleans and unincorporated Jefferson Parish, which require Uber and Lyft drivers to undergo background checks and drug tests.
But the portions at the center of the controversy are noticeably different from the rules for unincorporated areas in Jefferson Parish that neighbor Kenner.
Kenner for months has been trying to settle on rules that would govern Uber and Lyft, but the council has repeatedly delayed a decision. Cab owners have called for “a level playing field,” complaining that they are subject to costly regulations that do not apply to ride-hailing operations.
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March 18–A Delta Air Lines plane got stuck in the snow Saturday after it landed at LaGuardia Airport, the Port Authority said.
Flight 5964 from Chicago landed safely at 11:25 a.m., PA spokesman Steve Coleman said. But as the pilot was turning from the runway to the taxiway, the plane got stuck in the snow, he said.
The plane was pulled out by a tug about 30 minutes later, and it used its own power to make it to the gate, he said.
There were no injuries to the 73 passengers or the crew, and there was no damage to the plane, Coleman said.
Despite earlier reports that the plane skidded off the runway, Coleman said that is not the case.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, Coleman said.
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March 17–The former owner of a suburban construction business convicted of acting as an illegal front so another company could secure a lucrative city airport contract was sentenced Thursday to 12 months in federal prison.
Lawyers for Elizabeth Perino had sought probation and home confinement, but U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman said he opted for prison to send a message to “an industry that needs to clean up its act.”
Perino’s conviction is the latest turn in an eight-year saga sparked in 2008 when Perino’s former project manager filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging misconduct in massive projects run by industry giant McHugh Construction, a century-old company that reported more than a half-billion dollars in revenue in 2015.
That sparked a joint investigation by federal prosecutors and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan resulting in the criminal charges.
Perino’s company posed as a legitimate woman-owned business, allowing Chicago-based Diamond Coring Co. to meet its requirements for hiring disadvantaged businesses in order to win a multimillion-dollar runway repair contract at O’Hare International Airport. Perino did no work for the bills submitted by her company.
In 2011, Perino submitted fake documents to the city purporting to show her company, Perdel Contracting of Lockport, had rented to Diamond Coring $140,000 of equipment, including an air compressor, a dump truck, a trailer and a boom truck, the indictment alleged. She also had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the owner of Diamond Coring, Anthony Cappello, to hide the fact that asphalt sweeper equipment supposedly owned by Perdel actually belonged to Diamond Coring.
“Perino said that the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ had to be handwritten and not in a computer so as to avoid detection during an audit,” the indictment alleged.
Cappello, who cooperated with authorities and testified at Perino’s trial, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to two years of probation in 2012, records show. A federal jury convicted Perino in June on all four counts of mail and wire fraud following a weeklong trial.
In 2014, McHugh agreed to pay $12 million to settle the whistleblower lawsuit without admitting any wrongdoing. The company agreed to implement a compliance program and have an independent monitor oversee its subcontracting process for three years. McHugh also agreed to donate $2 million to the city to support government programs for disadvantaged businesses.
The probe involved about $150 million in McHugh contracts on some of the biggest recent public works projects in the Chicago area, including the reconstruction of Kennedy Expressway ramps in 2005, the reconstruction of the North Avenue Bridge in 2006 and the 2010 Wacker Drive viaduct reconstruction.
Under laws designed to give companies with less clout a foot in the door, McHugh was supposed to subcontract out about $40 million of the work on those projects to businesses owned by women or minorities.
Most of the subcontracts were given to Perdel and Accurate Steel Installers, another firm owned by Perino, according to the charges.
On Thursday, Perino’s lawyer, Jacqueline Jacobson, asked the judge to take into account Perino’s age and a recent “catastrophic illness” in crafting his sentence.
Perino, 62, of Willowbrook, walked with the aid of a cane as she stepped to the lectern to address the judge.
“When I went into septic shock, I almost died,” she said before bursting into tears. “I’m very sorry for what I did,” Perino said.
For Perino, who was well-known in the construction industry, the criminal conviction marked a stunning fall.
Perino had followed in the footsteps of her father, who worked in construction and died when she was just 18. She “often went with him to job sites, “developing a passion for the construction industry,” her attorneys said.
Perino also cared for her disabled brother, Bruno, until his death in 2012.
The judge acknowledged her good deeds and letters of support from family, friends and colleagues, but he said a prison sentence was appropriate due to rampant fraud in the construction industry.
“She knew it was wrong,” Feinerman said. “She did it anyway.”
___ (c)2017 the Chicago Tribune Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
March 15–An American Airlines flight destined for Chicago was diverted Monday afternoon to Jacksonville International Airport after leaving Miami due to a maintenance issue caused by a spilled soda.
Roughly 150 people were aboard the Boeing 737 when the plane landed in Jacksonville about 4:45 p.m., a Jacksonville Aviation Authority spokeswoman told the Times-Union.
“The aircraft did land safely and is currently parked at gate C6,” said spokeswoman Debbie Jones.
Matt Miller, spokesman for American Airlines, said the plane was grounded because of a maintenance issue. He discredited reports of smoke in the cockpit.
“A passenger spilled a soda on an electrical item in the main cabin. Our highly trained crew quickly reacted, and resolved the issue. Out of abundance of caution, the crew made the decision to divert to JAX,” he said.
Miller said a maintenance crew is inspecting the aircraft to see whether it will be able to continue or if another aircraft will need to be brought in.
“We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience, and are working to get them to Chicago as soon as possible,” he said.
FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, indicates the flight left Miami International about 3:10 p.m., roughly 90 minutes behind schedule, and was scheduled to arrive at Chicago O’Hare International about 4:15 p.m.
Tom Francis, spokesman for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, said the department had units on standby after receiving an alert about the unexpected stop but the plane landed without incident.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.
Check Jacksonville.com for updates to this developing story.
Garrett Pelican: (904) 359-4385
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March 12 — NEW YORK — During spring break, Canadian families used to pile the kids into a tour bus and head to New York to see the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center and other attractions. It was the start of the busy season for Comfort Tour, a Toronto-based firm that usually brought between 200 and 300 tourists to New York in March.
This year, 11 people have signed up for the tours.
“Even white, Anglo-Saxon people, who are most of our customers, they are afraid of crossing the border,” lamented Al Qanun, manager and part-owner of the travel agency. “They don’t want to end up in some prison.”
The fallout from President Trump’s executive orders limiting travel from some Middle Eastern and African countries is having far-reaching implications for U.S. tourism
It is not just visitors from the countries targeted by the bans that are souring on U.S. travel; the seven countries included in Trump’s original order in January account for 0.1% of incoming travelers. Rather, an atmosphere of fear at the nation’s airports — and well-publicized incidents of visitors being detained and interrogated — are scaring off people without the slightest connection to the Muslim world.
“Think twice about visiting America if you don’t want the ‘Mem Fox’ treatment,” read a recent headline in the letters column of the Australian magazine Traveller, referring to the children’s book author who swore she would never return to the United States after being questioned at Los Angeles International Airport on her way to a literary conference.
The Toronto Star newspaper in late January published a commentary calling on Canadians to forgo unnecessary trips to the U.S. until Trump is out of office.
Ana Teran, a 68-year-old essayist and short-story writer from Mexico City, used to make three or four trips per year to the U.S., where she lived and studied in the past.
On her last trip, a weekend visit in mid-February to see a friend who’d had a heart attack, she said she was pulled out of a line at Washington’s Dulles International Airport and made to sit three hours before she was finally admitted. She was only briefly questioned and not given any explanation about why she was held, although she assumed it was because of her Mexican passport.
“I was going to make another trip to Miami to visit my sister, who just bought an apartment there,” said Teran. “But not now. Not after what I went through.”
An economic consulting firm that has crunched the numbers from various airline and travel booking websites projects that the U.S. will lose 6.3 million visits by the end of next year, which translates into $10.8 billion in spending. What the firm, Tourism Economics of Wayne, Pa., is calling “Trump-induced losses” could affect an estimated 90,000 Americans whose jobs are directly or indirectly dependent on tourism.
“It doesn’t take very much uncertainty or antipathy to influence decisions away from a given travel destination,” said Adam Sacks, the firm’s president. “Ultimately, destinations and companies are in the business of building a brand and a message that is welcoming …. All the ‘America first’ rhetoric in various policy areas like trade, diplomacy and immigration is conveying the exact opposite.”
Among the cities that stand to lose the most are New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. New York expects to lose 300,000 foreign tourists this year, a big worry because it is foreigners who drop the big money, spending about four times as much as domestic tourists, according to officials.
The city recently rolled out a new campaign that — without mentioning Trump’s name — tries to distance the city from its native son.
“People know that New York is a city of immigrants, that we pride ourselves on diversity and tolerance. But Trump is also from New York, so who knows if that has created confusion,” said Christopher Heywood, senior vice president of NYC & Co., the city’s official tourism agency.
Heywood was speaking from Berlin, where a major travel trade show, ITB Berlin, is underway, with the U.S. political situation one of the main topics of discussion among participants.
“It is a perception challenge,” he said. “People worry what will happen to them at the border. They worry if their cellphone will be searched, what [passwords for] websites they will be asked to jot down.”
A survey released Wednesday by the Washington-based Global Business Travel Assn. found that 45% of European business travel professionals say they are less likely to schedule meetings or events in the U.S.
“There is no doubt that these travel bans will have an impact on [economic activity] and jobs,” said Michael McCormick, executive director of the association.
Trump issued a new order Monday that removed Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens are barred from entering the U.S. and clarified some of the confusion arising from his original order. Nevertheless, travelers’ horror stories are mounting, getting headlines that are giving many prospective tourists pause.
“I felt like I had been physically assaulted, which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby,” author Fox told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. after her interrogation last month. “And I’m 70 years old.”
Henry Rousso, a prominent French historian and Holocaust expert, and Muhammad Ali Jr., the son of the legendary boxer and a U.S. citizen, have also complained of aggressive airport questioning (twice, in Ali’s case).
A 30-year-old laboratory technician born in Canada to Indian immigrant parents was held for six hours last weekend and turned back when she tried to go with her friends to a spa weekend in Vermont. She told the Canadian press that her friends, who are white, were not challenged.
For Canadian tour bus operator Qanun, the difficulties at the border present a dilemma. If one passenger on a tour is refused entry, the entire bus is delayed, and the company is responsible for bringing the person back to Toronto and issuing a refund, he said.
“In 10 years in business, we only had one case where a passenger was turned away. Now we are wary,” Qanun said.
“Are we supposed to look at the names of our customers and see who is Muslim? Do we refuse to take those customers?” he asked hypothetically, since he has no intention of refusing any clients.
“I know politics is politics, but whenever Trump opens his mouth, it shakes our business.”
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March 09–The first passenger terminal at Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia was christened Thursday, an addition that airport officials hope will attract more on-demand and charter flights to the facility.
The airport doesn’t offer conventional commercial passenger flights but has for several years served a growing market for private services, mainly for the oil-and-gas industry.
“In 2013, we had a record year when we flew more than 3,000 passengers out of the airport,” said Airport Director Jason Devillier.
He said flights can range from a handful of passengers to more than a 100.
Before the new 1,800-square-foot terminal, the airport had been corralling passengers in a conference room and sealing off portions of the building and property to comply with Transportation Security Administration screening and security requirements.
“It was legal. It was TSA-approved. But it wasn’t pretty,” Devillier said.
He said the new terminal should greatly enhance the passenger experience and hopefully attract more business.
The airport decided to build the new terminal when the oil-and-gas industry was booming a few years ago, before oil prices tanked, Devillier said.
Although the number of passenger fights out of the airport has dipped over the past three years, he said, “we know it will pop back up.”
Devillier said the new terminal already has its first customer.
Bristow, a helicopter transport company that serves the offshore industry, starting running six to eight flights a day out of the facility last month.
The facility unveiled on Thursday, built next to the airport’s fire station, is the first phase of the airport’s expansion project.
The next phase involves building a new fire station, then renovating the old one to expand the passenger terminal.
“In essence, it will triple the size,” Devillier said.
The new terminal is named in honor of Air Force Brig. Gen. Wiltz P. Segura, a New Iberia native and decorated fighter pilot who served three decades in the military.
He was a longtime member of the Iberia Parish Airport Authority.
The Regional Airport was originally built to serve the military, first as an Army facility in the 1940s and then later operating as a Navy facility.
Military operations ended there in the 1960s, and the federal government deeded the airport to Iberia Parish government in 1969.
___ (c)2017 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Visit The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. at www.theadvocate.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
March 08–A mechanic at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is suing American Airlines for fraud, claiming he was recruited under a fast-track pay program that was dropped two months after he was hired in 2015.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 28 in Cook County Circuit Court, seeks class-action status and was brought by Thomas Ballard on behalf of potentially “hundreds of employees” who allegedly had their two-year flight to “top-scale” pay abruptly grounded by the airline.
Ballard was a 24-year aviation mechanic making more than $30 an hour when he met with American Airlines in March 2015. The flex incentive program, which had been in place for about a year, offered credit for previous employment and a two-year track to a top-of-scale hourly wage of $48, according to the lawsuit.
Hired in June 2015 to work for American as an aviation maintenance technician at O’Hare, Ballard took a pay cut to $25.70 per hour under the premise that he could nearly double his pay within two years. By August, just several months removed from a “secure position” with another employer, Ballard learned that American was rescinding the incentive program, meaning it would take him eight years — not two — to reach the top pay rate, the lawsuit alleges.
An American Airlines spokesman did not respond Tuesday afternoon to a request for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that American was already in discussions with representatives of the Transport Workers Union of America Local 591 to drop the program at the time Ballard was hired.
Brian Friedman, TWU Local 591’s regional vice president, said Tuesday that he was not involved in the negotiations with American over the flex program and declined further comment. Larry Drury, a Chicago-based attorney representing Ballard in the lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that American committed fraud, breach of oral contract and unjust enrichment and seeks actual, compensatory and punitive damages for Ballard and other potential members of the class.
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President Donald Trump is expected to sign on Monday a new executive order on his controversial travel ban at the Department of Homeland Security, according to senior government officials familiar with the matter.
It is unclear how significant the changes to the current order will be or whether the White House will continue a court fight over its old order.
The original order restrained immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, temporarily halted the entry of refugees and indefinitely shut down the entrance of refugees from Syria.
March 02–The Transportation Security Administration says it prevented two men from boarding planes in Charlotte carrying loaded guns on Thursday morning.
Investigators believe the two arrests at Charlotte Douglas International Airport checkpoints were not related, as far as a coordinated attempt to breach security.
The first incident occurred just after 6 a.m. at Checkpoint D and the second at Checkpoint A just after 6:30 a.m.
TSA officers detected the guns and ammunition as the men were passing through the airport checkpoints.
Officers staffing the checkpoint’s X-ray machines detected the firearms as they passed along the conveyor belt inside the men’s carry-on bags. TSA officers immediately contacted the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which responded to the checkpoints. The passengers were questioned and arrested on a local charge of carrying a firearm on airport property.
To date, TSA officers have detected nine firearms at CLT checkpoints this year. TSA found 53 firearms at Charlotte Douglas Last year.
Investigators did not release the identities of the men or an explanation of why they were trying to board planes with the guns.
Bringing guns to an airport checkpoint is illegal, says TSA. Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are unloaded, packed in a hard-side case, locked, and packed separately from ammunition. Then the firearm must be taken to the airline check-in counter.
The Transportation Security Administration screens approximately 2 million passengers and their luggage every day for prohibited items, including weapons and explosives. To do this, TSA uses imaging technology to safely screen passengers for any items which may be concealed under clothing, while X-ray units screen all carry-on baggage.
Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs
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