By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
Most travelers won’t miss 2019. The year saw very little gain for travel consumers, although to be fair, nothing really bad happened, either. Here’s my take on the most important developments.
Boeing on the Ropes: I don’t believe anyone would disagree that Boeing’s tribulations were the big travel story of 2019. To compete with improved Airbus models, Boeing elected to develop the 737 MAX variant, which was a kludge to the older 737 design. This kludge led to the software problem that in turn led directly to two disastrous crashes that killed 346 passengers. And those led to worldwide 737MAX grounding, still unresolved at year’s end. Even after the 737MAX is fixed — and it surely will be fully fixed — Boeing will find it a tougher sell.
But Boeing’s problems don’t end there. While Boeing was trying to “fix” the MAX, Airbus grew the 320 into the 321XLR, a plane that can virtually match the venerable 757 with a range up to 5400 miles while burning 30 percent less fuel. The 321XLR cuts the heart out of what Boeing was considering as it “new mid-market” or NMA plane: United, considered a prime customer for NMA, just ordered 50 321XLRs. The net result is that, as of 2019, Airbus has displaced Boeing as the world’s leading commercial jet supplier.
For travelers, the continuing delays in getting the MAX back into the air means that some U.S. airlines — most notably Southwest and American — were be able to fly less than they originally planned. And Norwegian had to cancel a bunch of transatlantic routes planned for the MAX.
Death of the A380. Airbus was not a complete winner in 2019. During the year, it announced it would halt production of its giant A380, already down to a trickle, by the end of 2021. Airbus will never recover its huge development investment. The airplane is dead, less than 20 years after production started. Airlines flying early 380s are already retiring them. Most travelers like flying the 380, but you had fewer A380 options this year than last.
More C Series. 2019 marked the entry to domestic US service of Delta’s new C Series or Airbus 220 models. Most travelers love them; you will too.
New Mega-Airports. Two huge new “green field” airports opened in 2019: Beijing and Istanbul. The new Beijing Daxing airport enjoyed fast, direct rail access to the city center from the get-go, and several airlines have already switched from the older airport, which will nevertheless remain open. I see no reason to avoid Daxing.
The new Istanbul airport is some 20 miles north of the city center. It’s still just “Istanbul Airport,” because the older Attaturk Airport has been shut down completely. Unfortunately, the planned rail connection to the Istanbul Metro is not scheduled to open until sometime in 2020, and I wouldn’t be surprised to encounter a 90-minute bus ride as the only alternative until sometime in late 2020 or even 2021. Be warned if you’re heading for Istanbul.
DOT to Consumers: “Drop Dead.” 2019 was not a good year for consumer interests in the US. The FAA reluctantly carried out the Congressional mandate to test the safety of tightly-packed economy class seats with a test rigged to make sure that even the tightest layouts passed. DOT ignored mandates to assure airlines would seat traveling families together without paying for seat-assignment fees, and it continued to ignore its legal mandate to assure that change fees on international air tickets be “reasonable.”
Rail: No News is Bad News. While China has added many hundreds of miles of new high-speed rail every year, in 2019, the U.S. just dithered. In Europe, the Eurail Pass system added some great-looking new options, but high hidden surcharges make the passes less valuable than they might look.
Deceptive Hotel Pricing. Nebraska and the District of Columbia brought deceptive advertising suits against hotel chains that omit mandatory “resort” fees from posted prices, but there was no further action from the Federal Trade Commission or other states.
So, 2019 was not a great year. Let’s hope for a better 2020.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at email@example.com. Also, check out Ed’s rail travel website at rail-guru.com.)
(c) 2019 Tribune Content Agency LLC — December 31, 2019