Update – October 1, 2018

To Start…

More Cuba Fallout

AA is dumping CLT-HAV. The 55% load factor was a great way of losing money.

Just the latest. Except for Havana, and even there with limited traffic, Cuba is a financial black hole.

Facts v Hyperbole & Fantasy. In 2009 and later in 2014-2015, when Obama reduced flight restrictions between the US and Cuba, BGI accomplished extensive analyses of the US-Cuba market.

We concluded that any route planner that suggested a domestic market with the dismal aspects of just about anyplace in Cuba would find it a career-limiting move.

But that ran counter to the rapture in just about all areas of the travel industry. Cuba!!! Huge, gigantic expectations of floods of traffic!

Travel industry gurus were touting the “pent up demand.” At least a couple of airlines licking their chops, thinking about all the new flow traffic over their hubs to places like Santiago, Santa Clara, and more! Socialist-leaning wackos decrying how it would degrade the near-perfection of the Castro Worker’s Paradise – (“Come to Cuba before it’s ruined by Capitalism!” – was an actual sales pitch.)

Boyd Group International was the only consulting firm that actually researched the subject.

We found that Cuba was far from ready for prime time, and most of the markets in Cuba had no chance of any viable US traffic. No infrastructure. No business base. A government that smothers freedom and free speech. Other than capturing the existing flows to Havana, our data found the market to be a dog.

And that’s exactly what’s happened.

Let’s Stop The Delusional Nonsense. Cuba Is A Dead Market. At Least For Now.The current convenient scapegoat is President Trump, who has tightened restrictions on travel. But that’s nonsense…. the market that was foreseen – hordes of visitors and huge business investment – was a complete pipe dream.

All Trump did was to tighten restrictions on a market that had no viability, anyway. The lack of hotels, poor transportation, lack of free speech, and Cuban incomes not enough to pay bag fees – even if they could freely travel – completely transcend any increased restrictions.

As a vacation destination, Cuba is a bow-wow compared to other venues. As a place for business investment, there is zero free market.

Until the corrupt socialist cleptocracy in Havana is dumped, Cuba will be at best an Havana side-show for US carriers.

Get Ready For The Show…

The Seat Size Festival Is About To Begin!

Now that the FAA funding bill will apparently include a mandate for the agency to determine standards for airline seat size, get ready for a flood of non-factual reporting from the usual media suspects.

Starting With Facts, Instead of Fake News, Would Be Nice. Still circulating is the inaccurate babble – at this point traced to a completely-bogus story a few years ago in USA Today, but maybe from other sources, too – that back in the mid 1980s, the narrowest seat in the US industry was 19 inches.

Some stories also accessorize this bit of concocted data with the statement that the average width in US economy cabins is now 16.5 inches.

Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the industry knows that this is another reason to question a lot of the stuff that certain sectors of the fifth estate put out. Those stats are created out of some reporter’s imagination.

They are inaccurate, and in light of the all-too-obvious information any semi-literate high school dropout could easily find, they can only be ascribed to the reporter not being too concerned with finding the truth.

Average Seat Width Has Actually Increased. Here’s a little hint: the standard economy seating in Boeing narrow-body airliners has been 6-across since the first 707-100 entered service sixty years ago. It’s still 6-across. So, contrary to a lot of the sloppy reporting, narrowing it from the alleged 19 inches to where it is today (@17.5) wouldn’t do anything to increase seating capacity.

Some facts:

  • The narrowest seat in the US major brand fleets is 17 inches wide – that’s on CRJ and ERJ airliners.
  • The actual average width has actually grown in the past 30 years, with the increase in the number of A-320 series and E-170/190 airliners entering service, which have 18+ inch-wide seats in the economy cabin.
  • The entry of the A-220 (nee CSeries) will increase this further, with economy seats even wider, and the middle seats at 19-inches.

This is not to say that seat pitch hasn’t shrunk. Indeed, it has actually atrophied – and that’s where the consumer angst is coming from, and it is mostly understandable. But it’s also fed by media stories that eagerly tend to generally equate airliner cabins with flying versions of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

But, it is a valid issue. To a large degree, the potential of flossing your teeth on the reclined seat-back in front of you isn’t too far from reality.

It is tight in many cases. The issue is whether it’s a health or safety issue. And that is a valid issue for discussion and illumination.

Consumers Complain. But They Don’t Vote With Their Wallets, This Time. Airlines certainly could go back to what was once 34-inch or higher seat pitch. But market realities are that this wouldn’t do anything to get more ridership. First, the currently-configured airliners in the US airline system are functionally full – 82% or higher, which means that during times folks travel, there aren’t many empty seats.

So, cutting out two rows of seats to gain more pitch in the rest of the cabin would be not only a revenue-losing proposition for airlines, but wouldn’t move the needle one centimeter toward getting more brand-loyalty. It’s been tried in the past – anybody remember American’s “More Room In Coach” program in the 1990s?

Prediction: Media Performances First. So, the matter is now front and center. We can look forward to lots of cheap theater at congressional hearings – bank on it, because it’s a chance for two-bit politicians who wouldn’t know “seat pitch” from a curve ball at Yankee Stadium, to clamber up on their soap-boxes and pander as being great protectors of safety and health.

Watch for the oh-so-outraged “consumerist” clowns to come in like the grand opening of a Barnum & Bailey circus. Of course, the usual lightweight-don’t-bother-with-facts contingent of the media will be posting lots of misinformation on seat configurations. Do prepare for lots of picto-grams of airplane cabins.

But don’t expect too much rational discussion.

FAA Response: Thank You For Sharing. And at the end of the festivities, the FAA will take all of this “under consideration,” wait the perfunctory post-hearing mourning period, and then issue a lengthy decision, relating their findings mostly to the issue of emergency evacuation. And buried under all of this babbling, there will be a de facto standard of probably 30-inches or maybe 31-inches for seat pitch. That will settle the matter.

That decision will be issued in the next 18 months.

In the meantime, plan for lots of cheap, but entertaining theater.