Industry News 4-13-2007

*Code Share Down Under
*Travel Guard Offers Free Assistance to Greek Cruise Ship Evacuees
*Gay Couples to Wed at Disney

Air Tahiti Nui has announced a code-share arrangement with Air New Zealand that will see the French Polynesia-based airline assume some of the Kiwi carrier’s routes from Los Angeles to Papeete. The arrangement took effect on April 2.

Both airlines will continue to fly separately between Auckland, New Zealand, and Tahiti using code-share capacity on each other’s flights.

The agreement, announced by Air Tahiti Nui’s vice president for the Americas Nicholas Panza, follows on the heels of an announcement in September that American Airlines’ AAdvantage members can now accrue and redeem miles on all Air Tahiti flights.

Air Tahiti Nui, the flag carrier of French Polynesia, currently flies daily from Los Angeles to Papeete’s Faa’a International Airport and also has service three times a week from New York’s JFK to Papeete.

According to Panza, who is based in Los Angeles, the arrangement with Air New Zealand is a win-win for both carriers.

“We benefit from Air New Zealand’s marketing strength in North America,” said Panza, “while Air New Zealand can now use its equipment on other routes and in other gateway cities.”

But such arrangements can often prove difficult psychologically, said one airline industry executive, who asked to not be named.

“It’s often about ego,” he said. “For example, Air New Zealand needs to come to grips with the fact that they will no longer fly those routes. They are going to put passengers on another carrier. But the real question for both sides is, ‘Can we achieve cost savings but keep up our revenue flow?’ Obviously, they’ve both decided they can.”

In addition to its new routes, Air Tahiti Nui will also resume its popular “honeymoon” service between Los Angeles and Papeete, with flights leaving Monday night and arriving in Tahiti the next morning in time to allow newlyweds to make connections from North American gateways.

Air Tahiti Nui began service in 1998. The airline has a fleet of five A340-300 wide bodies, with no plane over five years old, and within five to seven years, the carrier expects to switch over exclusively to long-haul 787s or A350s.

To bolster its Los Angeles to Papeete route further, the carrier will add another flight during the peak season, from June to October.

Those departures will be in addition to the airline’s daily Papeete to Los Angeles to Paris flights. Traditionally, Air France and AOM flew from Paris to Papeete, but in 2002, when AOM folded, Air Tahiti Nui took over the routes.

Travel Guard Offers Free Assistance to Greek Cruise Ship Evacuees
AIG Travel Guard announced that it will provide emergency travel services and medical assistance services free to evacuees of the Sea Diamond cruise ship and their families after it ran aground and began taking on water off the Greek Island of Santorini on April 5.

Of the 1,200 passengers aboard, three-quarters are American, including many groups of U.S. college students.
The services Travel Guard is offering to those affected include emergency medical arrangements, cash wire transfers from their families, passport replacement, translation services, message relay, along with emergency travel arrangements, such as airline or hotel reservations, and luggage tracking.

“We want to do whatever we can to help those involved and have made arrangements to properly staff our travel assistance coordinators to accommodate the stranded American evacuees,” said Dan McGinnity, AIG Travel Guard vice president.

Family members seeking these services for their relatives can call Travel Guard’s 24-hour service center at 800-826-1300. From Greece, evacuees can call 00800-1809-201-2429.

Gay Couples to Wed at Disney
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has changed its weddings policy and will now allow same-sex couples to purchase its Fairy Tale Wedding packages and hold weddings or commitment ceremonies at its parks.

Disney previously had permitted gay couples to organize their own wedding or commitment ceremonies at ballrooms or other venues at its resort hotels. The change allows them to buy Fairy Tale Wedding packages and hold the events at Cinderella’s Castle or other locations inside the parks and have options such as attendance by Mickey and Minnie Mouse in formal wear that are available for such ceremonies. The packages start at $8,000.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Donn Walker, a company spokesman. “We had received an inquiry from a gay couple and they were told they didn’t have access to the Fairy Tale Wedding programs. We debated about it internally and decided it was time to make the program more inclusive.”

In the four days since the change in policy was enacted, Disney has received e-mails both in support and in opposition of its move, Walker said.

“The bottom line is that our business is all about hospitality and we want to make sure that everyone feels welcomed and respected,” he said.

AVC to Open Florida Office
America’s Vacation Center (AVC) recently announced plans to open an office in South Florida by the third quarter of this year. By launching a new office, the travel agency aims to provide increased support to their network of independently owned and operated affiliates, as well as deepen relationships with nearby cruise vendors.

“Cruise vendors have been asking us to open an office in South Florida for years, and we were waiting for the right time,” said Brad Anderson, co-president of AVC. “Not only will this expansion enhance our level of support for our agents, but it will also put us in the cruising hub of the world.”

The new AVC office will focus primarily on support, and AVC will maintain its global headquarters in San Diego.

“Carnival Cruise Lines is thrilled that AVC is opening a new office in South Florida,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and marketing of Carnival Cruise Lines. “By having an AVC office at our fingertips, we look forward to furthering our already strong relationship with the company.”