Monday, May 23, 2011

Delta and USAirways try again in DC and NY

Delta and USAirways, who previously (as we discussed here) tried to swap slots and gates at New York's LaGuardia and Washington Reagan National airports but were ultimately blocked by competitive concerns are at it again.

In the plan announced today, DL and US will still trade a similar number of slots and cash and will open up some additional slots for new competition and destinations from both LGA and DCA.

One major change this time around is Delta's plan to continue to operate the Delta Shuttle from the Marine Air Terminal at LGA (last time it was going to become USAirways home). USAir, Shuttle and all, will remain their current home at Terminal C at LGA in the new plan.

As before, Delta plans to operate 132 slots worth of flights (that is 66 departures and arrivals for those of you counting) with regional jet equipment vs. the prop-jets that USAirways utilizes on most of these departures. The cities may change, of course, but we expect that they will look largely as they do today.

One odd part of the press release is that the USAirways Shuttle is described as the "popular hourly Shuttle service between LaGuardia, Reagan National and Boston that is operated on dual-class mainline jets will remain unchanged as a result of the transaction." However, a quick scan of Sabre from our friends at reveals that while the LGA-DCA flights are, indeed, all operated with dual-class mainline jets, the service to Boston with the exception of the 6AM departure is actually operated with Regional Jets - USAirways' unions will probably have a field day with this...

Accuracy aside, we view this as a great move for both airlines, consumers and the cities served by USAirways from LGA today. Regional Jets will provide significantly more lift into LGA than the Dash-8s and such that USAirways operates today and Delta's much larger presence at LGA will create substantially more connecting opportunities from those smaller bergs than USAirways offers today. USAirways offers very limited connecting opportunities today unless you happen to want to fly from Portland, ME to Norfolk and such. Delta will offer those same connections from Portland to Norfolk but will also offer connections to many larger cities that Delta serves from LGA such as Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and the like. This is good for those cities and good for consumers who gain more choice and competition.

As for Cincinnati and Memphis - we expect the aircraft Delta will require to operate these flights will come from those operations. Both are largely duplicative with Delta's hubs in Detroit and Atlanta, respectively. Delta certainly is not going to acquire new regional jets to "fund" this expansion in New York and the small amount of flights they are giving up in DC are not nearly enough. Look for a final de-hubbing in CVG and MEM following the inevitable approval of this transaction.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tripit Launches Evolutionary iPad App

Today Tripit, the company that brings all of your travel plans into a consolidated itinerary, is launching an iPad app to help you take those itineraries on the road. Unless you make most of your trips by covered wagon, you probably already use either the web based or smart phone versions of Tripit to manage your trips, and the company keeps things interesting by continuously improving its applications either by refining or extending the feature set. I’ve been a Tripit user from very soon after launch and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times it’s had a problem parsing the confirmation page from a supplier. It works well—period.

The iPad app is right in line with Tripit’s evolutionary development philosophy in that it’s not by any means a departure from the product on the web or phone, but a smooth shift to a midsized format. You may grouse that an iPad version should have some unique features that truly exploit some feature or capability of the machine (and you’d be right) but be patient—they first want to get off the ground with something that’s functional and usable before looking for the secret sauce. Having coached lots of product groups over the years, we know that’s a perfectly valid approach to the market, especially when you own a lot of mindshare for your product category.

When you install the iPad app, you’ll notice the same familiar look as on the iPhone, for example. Where the iPhone app uses a vertical ‘drill down’ approach that carries you from the trip level to the service level and further down to the details behind each service, the iPad app has the space to show the services and their details on the same screen. Most of the things you need are above the fold, but there are some additional items you’ll have to scroll down for if you’re interested.

One new feature is the map view, which shows you the locations of your trip on a map. You can see the relative placement of all of the components of your trip in one view. Unlike the rest of the application, this feature feels embryonic, as though it’s going to grow up into something interesting but it’s not there yet. It’s also fair to consider the whole app a little incomplete right now. There are features you remember from the other platforms that just haven’t been built out yet. The company says they’re coming in fast follow-on releases, so you probably won’t have to wait very long to have a full featured app on the iPad.

So what about those unique features that could really exploit the iPad form factor? I’m sure there are many plans in the hopper to spread out what’s already there. The map functionality, as mentioned before, looks like a great place to extend with the locations of points of interest, local businesses, etc. More important than all its technical and design assets, Tripit has a database of frequent travelers, many of whom have similar challenges on the road, and many of whom love the product and the company. The company could also expand laterally around some other things travelers do in connection with their trips. For example, given that Tripit already knows which services you’ve booked and, in some cases, how much you’ve paid for them, why not extend it with functionality like that of the amazing Expensify app that helps you prepare expense reports? Or provide tools aimed at all that time you have in the airport by taking a page from Gate Guru? Or, since Tripit knows where you are on your travels, what about creating a framework for local businesses to create promotions for travelers on the road? Arguably these are not iPad specific functions, but the larger form factor would help mitigate the additional complexity of the new features. Big screens make it easier to see the big picture.

It’ll be interesting to see where they’ve gone a year from now. I’ll probably still be using it regardless!