Top Airline...

Business Travel News has rated Delta as the top airline. BTN surveyed over 400 corporations that spend over $500,000 per year on air travel. United/Continental was rated second. USAir was third. American was fourth.

Southwest was rated last in this survey. The reason for Southwest’s poor showing is probably directly related to the respondents of the survey. [more]

Corporations that spend over $500,000 per year on air travel most likely have a managed travel program. Most of these companies require their travelers to utilize preferred carriers that offer incentives. Southwest does not offer corporations any booking incentives. Southwest does not play well with other airlines. They do not display their inventory in the same manner as other carriers. They do not offer first class seating. Their boarding process is still a challenge to most business travelers.

Southwest does many things wonderfully, like making money. But the long and short of it is Southwest has a long way to go to become a preferred carrier for a majority of business travelers.

BAML Loves Delta

In addition to the readers of BTN, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) likes Delta as well. BAML says that Delta is paying off $1.5-$2 billion in debt this year. BAML likes that Delta is updating its hub at JFK and reducing its presence at LaGuardia.

BAML also likes that Delta is adding an upgraded coach to its international fleet. This is a move to match United’s very successful “Economy Plus” seating.

UA/CO News Brief

Speaking of United/Continental (UA/CO), they are not sitting still either. UA/CO is planning to spend $7 million on new technology to track luggage. An emphasis on this investment will be to track luggage for Elite/Premier and Star Alliance Gold/Silver members.

UA/CO is also expanding overhead bins on 150 Airbus A319 and A320s. The new bins will have 66% more space to stow carry on luggage.

Not to be outdone by the BTN survey we discussed above, The Beat, an industry-leading email travel newsletter, has selected UA/CO as the Most Admired Airline in its 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards.

UA/CO will take delivery of its first 787 in the second half of next year. United’s CEO, Jeff Smisek, says the Boeing 787 will be “A Spectacular and Game Changing Aircraft.” The reason is the new 787 is lighter than a normal aircraft its size and will use 20% less fuel. The carbon fiber skin of the plane weighs less than traditional aluminum.

American More Attractive in Bankruptcy

Last week we talked about American Airlines and their financial problems. This week we are seeing articles that declaring bankruptcy will make American a more attractive merger partner for USAir.

“If you were thinking of acquiring American Airlines or talking to them from a merger standpoint, you would probably want to wait for them to go through bankruptcy or to go into bankruptcy before you tried to buy them,” said Helane Becker, an analyst with Dalman Rose.

Industry expert Robert Mann agrees that if American wants to stay an independent carrier it has to avoid bankruptcy. According to Mr. Mann, bankruptcy would be very enticing bait for USAir to “swoop in.”

American has said they do not want to go into bankruptcy and have no plans to go this route. But at some point American does have to turn a profit.

Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group in Denver. These insights are excerpted from Robert's weekly newsletter, From the Desk of Robert A. Polk.