December 15th, 2010

Of Fees and Flights

There are a couple of newsworthy items that came out today that effect all Houstonians. The first is the mayor and city council’s agreement to raise the price of over 150 fees to help close the city’s budget gap. Get ready to guard your wallets. The second is Southwest Airline’s announcement that they will be offering service to Houston and Denver from Newark (as well as others). Travel fiends, start your engines, the fare wars are about to begin.

An example of the fee increases (and one that affects me directly) is the mobile food vendor license going from $300 to $535. That is going to get passed on to me, lover of taco, burger, and cupcake trucks, in the form of slightly higher food prices. I doubt we’ll see a bunch a food trucks close up shop because of this, but it is a nuisance nonetheless.

I wonder what the city has cut from the budget. The mayor has stated that there is a very real possibility of optional or even mandatory furloughs, yet I have seen little on what the city is actually cutting in terms of cost. Maybe, rather than raising rates on a number of items they could focus on providing essential services. I’m ok with them putting bike trails, parks, pretty art, etc. on hold if it means that less people have to pay higher fees. I would rather them fix water mains than install the UFO looking “art” outside of IAH.

The other big piece of news is Southwest Airlines announcing new routes and their updates on aircraft ordering and deliveries. First, Southwest is going after the big boys by flying some heavy routes out of their new Newark Liberty International slots. The routes include Newark-Phoenix, Newark-Denver, and the most important to us, Newark-Houston Hobby. They will fly to Hobby non-stop twice a day and will also offer connecting service to Hobby via Baltimore up to four times a day. Sound unimportant to you? It shouldn’t, these flights directly compete in three United/Continental markets and it could be a net positive for travelers. Continental Airlines is sure to lower fares to counter the offers that Southwest is known to advertise when they enter a new market. Be on the lookout for deals to a bunch of different destinations as the airlines wrestle for your business during this shake up.

This move may also dispel some of the myths about Southwest “always being cheaper” that a lot of people seem to buy into. There are a few reasons the airline does not market their fares on any of the major ticket purchasing websites and one of them is the fact that they are not always cheaper (even with free bags) and are, most of the time, nearly the same price as the competition, if not more expensive.

Southwest Airlines also announced that they are in the process of changing their Boeing 737-700 orders to 737-800 orders and wanting to have them ETOPS rated. ETOPS, affectionately known as “Engines Turn or People Swim”, is a rating that allows dual-engined aircraft to fly routes that are outside of 60-minutes flying time from the nearest emergency airport. The wording of the Boeing announcement leads me to believe that the 737-800s will be ETOPS-180 opening the possibility of West Coast to Hawaii routes.

These 737-800s will also be equipped with the new Sky Interior from Boeing. The interior is quieter, offers more headroom, and better lighting and Boeing hopes that it will also eventually lead to a fuel savings for the airlines. So while there is less than stellar news for businesses in Houston, the news for travelers in our city is a bit brighter. Happy Hump-Day Houston.

— Stephan


Scott — Tuesday, December 21, 2010 10:08 am

Great article.

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