Sunday, July 29, 2007

Delays Explained

Via a reader: From the in-cabin video flight tracker onboard a recent flight from Las Vegas to New York...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Blasted at Blast-Off

OK, if war is the most extreme form of business travel, riding the Space Shuttle is the most absurd.

I mean, come on! Ridiculing the Space Shuttle is way too easy.

N.A.S.A. admits astronauts were drunk at takeoff. (Let's leave aside the argument that intoxication is the only reasonable explanation for getting onto one of those death traps in the first place).

As regards the Space Shuttle and its levitating lean-to, the Space Station: Many experts feel they are made-for-TV boondoggles that have diverted a staggering sum of taxpayer money away from serious scientific pursuits of mysteries of the universe (and from other more pressing needs as well).

Let's see now. You basically strap a bunch of humans into a big tin can and strap a bunch of glorified firecrackers onto it and, blast off!

Now where have we seen that done before? (Oh, above. Vehicle courtesy of the Acme Company's Rocket Sled division).

Here's a party stumper: Ask people how high the Space Station actually is. Waaaaay out there in Outer Space, right?

Nah -- that pile of junk is actually barely in orbit, at about 210 miles in altitude (or the distance between New York and Boston). It requires regular goosing just to keep it from falling.

Here, from Wikipedia,
is the argument against spending one more dime on this.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Captain Speaking ...

It’s been the summer from hell in air travel. Delays are at record levels, and so are flight cancellations. People are still routinely being stranded on parked planes for three and more hours – sometimes as long as 12.

You’re read all about that already.

You’ve read here about Kate Hanni, a San Francisco area real estate agent, who quit her job in January to work full-time as a grassroots organizer for federal legislation to deal with the disgraceful way airlines have treated stranded passengers. (See my July 12 post on her headlined “Tarmac Madness.”) The Web sites for the stranded passengers group, by the way, are and

Airline pilots famously chafe at the idea of any more regulation in an industry – and a profession – they feel is already over-regulated. But I’m hearing from pilots all the time who say something has to be done about the increasing and severe problems of planes sitting on ramps for many hours with passengers trapped aboard, unable to take off or return to the gate.

How about hearing from a veteran airline pilot? I recently spoke to retired airline pilot Vance Atkinson, 64, of Dallas. Airline pilots are required by law to retire at the too-young age of 60. Mr. Atkinson now flies corporate jets – and as such is a frequent airline customer as he gets from one job to the next. He was recently stranded for hours on a parked plane.

Here are some excerpts from a long interview I had with him recently:

--“During any seven days I might get on seven or eight different airlines, so I get really good exposure to this crap” (on airlines).

--“The airlines have no capacity. They are stretched to the limit. Years ago, when airlines were flying only 40-60 percent full, they also had a lot of excess capacity, both in pilots in reserve and in aircraft, and they could respond to the problems. In a weather situation there’s nothing that’s going to help you out immediately, but the recovery went a lot quicker then, before you had planes booked to the max.”

--“Now, reserve crews are down to the minimum. The airlines don’t have any spare airplanes sitting around anymore. They’re all being used. In order to overcome problems like delays and cancellations, they have to have spare equipment -- and they don’t. They don’t want to give the public any kind of backup whatsoever.”

--“I think management has cut down on just about everything they can. Now they’re making money, but management is taking that money itself, not sharing it with the employees, and employees are furious.”

--“I think the feds are going to have to mandate that they (airlines) have an extra amount of capacity and equipment and whatever. The airlines are just going to scream bloody murder at that and say, you can’t run our business.”

-- “The passengers rights proposal? The airlines will resist that completely. They’ll say, well we are going to make some changes so this won’t happen again. But they don’t want [to be required to let people off after a specific time sitting on a parked plane.] “They’re going to weasel out again and look at the situation and see what they can get away with.”

--“In order to get back to a more reliable system it’s going to cost more money, meaning higher ticket prices. But the government could mandate 10 percent extra capacity, and say there are lots of ways you airlines can figure this out, but you are going to have to supply that. If they all raise their prices the same amount it won’t make any difference and the system will be able to recover from this mess.”

--Q: Isn’t the captain the sole authority on the plane, who can say we need to get these people off? “He is. The problem is the company will beat him up or pressure him [if letting passengers off adds to a delay or forces a cancellation]. “Of course, if he declares an emergency he can do anything he wants, go to the gate, call out the marshals, get everybody off this plane. But then he going to be called into one of the chief pilots offices and he going to get hammered and possibly disciplined. If you’ve got quite a few years in your career to go, nobody wants to get into that position. As you get closer to retirement it still a big deal [facing the wrath of the chief pilot, who is a management enforcer] -- but its not near as big as if you are only halfway through your career.”

--“The other thing you have to keep in mind is there is money involved from the crew's point of view too. When you push back from the gate, the money-meter starts [for the crew], and if you sit out on the tarmac, that meter is going and the crew is getting paid. A captain typically makes $200 to $400 an hour whether he’s flying or sitting on the tarmac, so if you have to sit there eight or 10 hours, that can be $3,000-$4,000. So for some of these guys, there is a motivation for going along with management anyway in these cases.”

--“There’s real concern that passengers might get to the boiling point and start opening the emergency exits.”

--“If the government mandates a capacity increase or whatever [to deal with stranded passengers], you have to consider another problem: what you going to do about the gates. The gates are often full. There are often other airlines’ gates available, but the they’re going to charge you to use their gates which, of course, the airlines don’t like, and people don’t want to give up their competitors to a customer going through their facility. So they’ll continue to be held hostage on parked planes unless a remedy is mandated by the government.”

-- “And then the question is, who’s going to pay for this? The airlines lobbyists will be in Congress saying, this is going to cost us $100 million! This is an industry just back from the brink of bankruptcy, and they’re barely making a profit.”

--Mr. Atkinson predicted that pilots unions are going to become more militant as airlines remain profitable, particularly. The anger is palpable, he said, over airline managements recently awarding themselves bonuses and stock options, while pilots, flight attendants and other employees gave back substantial amount of salary and benefits to keep the airlines running in the leanest years. “There is going to be disruption. It starts with [unionized pilots] doing everything by the book and doing it slowly, and then it escalates.”

--Without some degree of federal intervention to deal with the continuing problem of stranded passengers, Mr. Atkinson said, the airlines are “going to continue to weasel around everything they can. You’ll keep hearing it from the managers: “Hey, we’re going to lose $280,000 on this flight if we don’t keep these people in the plane” [on the assumption that it will eventually take off]. Sitting on the tarmac for them is very safe.”

--“I hope we can get out of the mess, but there going to be a lot of screaming and kicking and hollering from the airlines. They’re going to want to do their own fixes, with a lot of ‘maybes’ and ‘shalls’ They need some hard fast rules. Congress needs to say, hey, three hours and you go back to the gate and give the customer the option of getting off the plane and re-booking, or not coming back.” Inherent in this, he added, is the possibility that a customer who elects to get off the plane may well be stranded at an airport until another seat becomes available. And this can sometimes mean a day or two later. That accounts for the call for mandating increased capacity.


Another Stink Bomb at The New Republic?

The Morning News:

This has nothing to do with travel, although I guess you could consider war to be an extreme form of business travel.

It looks like the New Republic magazine has another stink bomb on its hands. The magazine published three separate accounts by an American soldier in Iraq, writing under a pseudonym, describing truly awful atrocities committed by fellow-soldiers (parading around with disinterred skulls, group-taunting a woman disfigured by a bomb, et cetera)

I've been to a war, and I know that atrocities occur. But frankly, when I read the New Republic's soldier-correspondent's accounts, my trusty old city-editor bullshit-detector went off.

Just doesn't smell right. Furthermore, some of this soldier's accounts mentioning matters that can readily be checked -- the mechanical specifics of trucks and weapons, for example --are already being belly-laughed away by fellow soldiers.

My guess: Another pipe-job. Right now, the New Republic editors, in their defensive crouch, are claiming that it's "conservative bloggers" who are out to get them.

Say what?

I recall the reaction I had years ago when I read Stephen Glass's obviously made-up stories in the New Republic, especially the one about the brilliant computer hacker ("I want a Miata!") who supposedly was able to make bizarre demands of, and otherwise bully, awestruck software and other tech executives. I wasn't three paragraphs into that turkey before I decided it had been fabricated.

Oh, and I should mention that if you look up the granddaddy of all piped stories -- "Jimmy's World," by Janet Cooke, published in the Washington Post in 1980 and a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize that was subsequently withdrawn -- you will probably see by the end of the first 500 words that the whole story is so unlikely-sounding that it appears at face value to have been cooked, so to speak.

Reading it years later (see for yourself), I couldn't believe any editor would have put it in the paper.

And yes, of course, there was that odious twerp, Jayson Blair, who bamboozled editors at the New York Times into publishing fairly innocuous stories -- most cribbed from others' reporting -- from places that Jayson never visited, despite expense accounts asserting otherwise. Blair was a common plagiarist, a pickpocket, but not a fabulist, in that he didn't really have the ability to entirely make up a really major big fat whopper.

A pretty good movie was made of the Stephen Glass incident, assuming you accept the movie's position that the New Republic was a vitally important publication, rather than a marginal magazine of limited circulation, mostly in Washington and New York.

Now comes the New Republic's breathless GI Joe with his journalistic IED.

Serious questions are being raised about the accounts of this guy, who wrote under the name Scott Thomas, and whose real name is Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp. That's "Pvt." as in not even "Pfc", by the way. You'd think it might have seemed to a competent editor that, for a buck private, this Beauchamp fellow really managed to get around.

Now the New Republic has published online the sort of pious statement that almost invariably precedes the "Oh shit, are we frigging sorry we published this, please forgive us!" correction. (Scroll down the online New Republic feature called "The Plank" to the post dated July 26 and titled "A Statement from Scott Thomas Beauchamp")

"Thus far we've found nothing to disprove the facts in the article," the editors say. I say always watch out for anyone who begins a sentence with the words "Thus far..."

And then comes the kicker. In his own statement, Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp wails that "it is maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned." (Italics mine)

He pleads "plausibility." He doesn't actually state that the stories are true, or deny that they were invented. He says they were plausible.

Whoop-whoop! Stink bomb alert!

Quick, call the development people. I see a movie.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A380 Nears Takeoff

Here's the first look at the livery of Singapore Airlines’ new A380 aircraft as it leaves an Airbus finishing plant in Hamburg bound for final interior work in Toulouse, France.

Singapore Airlines, which has 49 A380s on order, will be the first carrier to fly the vaunted super-jumbo plane, which is certified to hold 853 in a single coach-class configuration.

But the international carriers who have ordered the plane so far have all said they will fly it in three-class configurations with about 500 passengers. While cabin design and configuration are being kept secret till launch, a Singapore spokesman tells me that the Singapore A380s will hold fewer than 480 seats.

Singapore's first commercial passenger flight, from Singapore to Sydney, is scheduled for late October, assuming everything remains on schedule. (The A380, of course, has long been beset with delays).


Correction: As a reader points out, Singapore has ordered 19 A380s, not 49. Emirates is the top A380 buyer, with 47 orders.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Brazil to International Aviation Group: Drop Dead!

Please see my Brazil blog.


Just Asking: The TSA??

Just asking (and the question is from Mike Boyd, the airline consultant, in his post today on the Boyd Group Web site

"As of 12:01 a.m. August 4, 2007, cigarette lighters will suddenly be transformed from terrorist weapons into benign items passengers can now carry through TSA security check points. Every Zippo and Bic in America will be safe. But not until then, mind you.

... O.K., if the lighter prohibition is now determined to not be necessary, how come the TSA has to give a two-week warning of the end of the ban? The message is that it takes this ponderous bureaucratic mass weeks to implement a simple change. Weeks to communicate it to their thousands of screeners. "


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Simmering Issue: Airline Maintenance

We've all been paying a lot of attention to cancellations and delays in this summer of crisis in air travel. With good reason.

But lost in the chaos has been the issue of maintenance on aircraft. Pilots tell me they're concerned about deferred maintenance, not to mention layoffs and outsourcing in maintenance. Some pilots tell me they're very uncomfortable with the number of routine maintenance red flags they're taking off with. Taking off with a few red flags (something is flagged to be fixed, but it in and of itself isn't a critical safety issue) is normal -- but the sheer accumulation of them has some veteran pilots worried.

Around 1.40 a.m. Friday, American Airlines Flight 955, reporting hydraulic failure on its starboard side, made an emergency landing in Norfolk while en route to Buenos Aires from New York. The 767, with 236 passengers and crew aboard, landed safely.

I heard from someone on the flight who said passengers were put up in hotels, but no one had access to their checked bags because Norfolk couldn't offload 767 cargo.

Continuing onward the next day after a refueling stop in Miami, the plane was re-directed through Brazilian air space in the aftermath of the radar breakdown over the Amazon, but finally did make it to Argentina.

Keep your eye on maintenance problems. My guess is we're going to be hearing a lot more about them.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Brazil Link: Lucky Lula Explains It All for You

The President of Brazil says there's nothing wrong with the aviation system and that Brazilians should remain "serene, so as not to commit injustices."

Meanwhile, four American Airlines planes headed to Brazil today from the United States were turned back when Brazilian air-traffic control radar broke down again.

Please see my Brazil blog.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Say What?

Or make that, "Allege what?"

Headline of the day, from the Web site of the Air Transport Association, the domestic airlines' trade group in Washington:

"Airlines Profitable Despite Alleged Decline in Customer Service"

The summary says:

"Investors in U.S. airlines are smiling about industry profit reports, even as passengers complain of what they say is declining customer service. A spokesman for the Air Transport Association says many of the delay problems travelers experience are out of the airlines' control. "The reality is the (air traffic control) system can't handle the volume" of air traffic, he said.

Whatever. But words do matter, even in the screwy airline industry. Someone needs to have a talk with whoever stuck that word "alleged" in there to modify "decline in customer service" and then compounded the knucklehead offense by stating that "passengers complain of what they say is declining customer service." [My italics].

What is this, Albania in 1972? Turkmenistan today?

I mean, I know there are real problems with air traffic control, but give us a friggin' break here: Does the Air Transport Association really think that the "decline in customer service" is an allegation, perhaps a figment of our wild imaginations, rather than a fact?


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Brazil: Lessons Not Learned

From Folha Online today: The Governor of São Paulo, José Serra, has already ordered a criminal investigation of the accident, by the State Prosecutors' Office and the Civil Police, he says he expects the aviation sector authorities to investigate the case as well.

From a statement by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IALPA) criticizing the criminalization of the Sept. 29 accident as "fundamentally flawed:"

"IFALPA believes that in any accident it is vital that an independent technical investigation carried out by experts in air accident investigation must be completed before any criminal or civil action is pursued. To pre-empt the results of a expert technical investigation with a judicial investigation which may not be technically competent is counter productive to improvement of air safety."

Also see this 2002 report for the National Transportation Safety Bar Association on the dangers of criminalizing an aviation accident unless clear criminal intent is evident from the start.
(For clarity, I'm posting this on this blog as well as on my separate Brazil blog because I'm having nothing but trouble with the Blogger typography on the Brazil blog, which won't let me do paragraph separations.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Breaking: Plane Crashes in Brazil

From AP reports:

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - A plane carrying at least 150 people crashed after landing at Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport Tuesday, Brazil's airport authority said.
The TAM Airline Airbus-320 apparently skidded off the runway and crashed into buildings outside the airport, said Jose Leonardi Mota, a spokesman with airport authority Infraero.


Brazil Link: Lost in Translation

As the scapegoating of the American pilots grinds on, the Brazilian congress is releasing its own voluminous report on the Sept. 29 crash. One small nugget of what to expect: One of the American pilots says to his co-pilot, "No, go ahead." And it's translated in Brazil as "Don't proceed."

See today's post on my Brazil blog.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Very Afraid in Miami

Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security boss, told us he had a "gut feeling" that something was going to happen, and it did. I am presuming's hyper-vigilant "Blotter" was on the, er, case.

Concourse F at Miami International Airport was shut down for 90 minutes this morning when alert authorities found that a checked bag contained a cardboard box holding the ashes of a passenger's loved one.

''Our officers are highly trained to look for what we call IEDs, or improvised explosive devices,'' Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, told the Miami Herald.

She told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "In an abundance of caution, we went through our proper security protocol, which we cordoned off a safe zone around the bag, called the bomb squad and made sure the public remained safe."

The ashes, or what we call remains, were not charged.

By the way, the T.S.A., after being lobbied by the funeral industry, firmly addressed the issue of carrying cremated remains on an airplane in 2004. You don't even have to put them in checked bags. You're supposed to be able to even carry them on with you, without Our Security Guardians getting the heebie-jeebies and shutting the airport down in a panic and calling out the bomb squad.

From the operative 2004 T.S.A. press release:

"WASHINGTON, D.C – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today announced a partnership with the nation’s funeral homes to ensure that cremated remains are safely and securely transported through airport security checkpoints.

'Americans have recognized the need for measures that have dramatically increased aviation security since the events of September 11th,' said Ron Sokolov, Executive Director for Customer Service and Education. 'As more Americans transport cremated remains, TSA and the nation’s funeral homes are striving to educate the public on the best method to move cremated remains through checkpoints in a manner that is both respectful to loved ones and secure.'

To maintain the highest level of security, TSA determined that documentation from a funeral home about the contents of a crematory container was no longer sufficient to allow the container through a security checkpoint and onto a plane.

Since February of this year [2004], all crematory containers must pass through an X-ray machine. If a container is made of a material that prevents screeners from clearly seeing what is inside, the container will not be allowed through the checkpoint. Out of respect for the deceased, screeners will not open a container, even if requested by the passenger.

TSA recommends that passengers transport remains in temporary or permanent 'security friendly' containers constructed of light-weight materials such as plastic or wood. Temporary containers are typically available from funeral homes and offer a security friendly means to travel by air with a crematory container.

Once the passengers complete their travel, they can visit their local TSA’s Funeral Home Partner who will transfer the remains from the temporary container to the permanent container free of charge. The complimentary 'Remains Transfer Service' has been embraced by the funeral industry and already many funeral homes have requested to become partners in this important customer service effort."


Friday, July 13, 2007

Brazil Link: New Charges Sought

A congressional draft report calls for more serious charges to be filed against the two American pilots already charged in the Sept. 29 crash over the Amazon. See my Brazil blog.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tarmac Madness

Kate Hanni

In the past, I've been pretty careful about not using the word "tarmac" to describe the ramps and around airport gates and the taxiways beyond.

The only time I have used it is in a quote, and even then, I get angry e-mails from scolds who tell me (I know, I kn0w) that tarmac is a paving material (I would assume one of those unfortunate products that's lost its trademark through generic overuse).

But every pilot I talk to, and I've been talking to a lot lately, uses the word "tarmac."

And so the headline stands. Tarmac. Yes, I know it's a paving material.

Kate Hanni uses it, as in "We were stuck on the tarmac for over eight hours" and "They were stuck on the tarmac for 10 hours."

In her case, it was in Austin in late December, when weather diverted scores of American Airlines planes from Dallas and sent them to alternate airports in the region, where many of them sat for five hours and more with no access to a departure gate. Food ran out, toilets overflowed, people got sick.

Yada yada. By now, you know the story because it's been repeated so often in airports all over the country in the last six months: Passengers stranded for 4,6,8 10 and even 12 hours on planes that just sit there, unable to find a gate or return to one, while the airline does nothing.

The airlines say they can't do much, because there is no slack in the system, especially when weather (or anything that can be remotely blamed on weather) causes planes to pile up on departure, or diverts them from a hub to an outlying airport, or causes the airline to cancel a flight outright. Flight cancellations have been running at record levels recently, and overall delays are worse by far than ever.

With "no slack" in the system (and most airplanes are now flying with every seat full) the airlines say, if we let you off the plane waiting in Austin we lose our place in line for takeoff -- and you might end up spending a night or two in the airport, in a Red Cross cot if you're lucky, till another seat becomes available. Plus it costs us money, and we're barely profitable, the airlines say.

As an economic argument, that has some validity, given the stripped-down, short-circuited air-traffic system the airlines have rendered unto us.

But with the sheer volume of stranded passengers and their colorful experiences being held hostage to an airline's operational convenience, the economic is becoming the political. There is growing clamor for federal legislation to address the problem because the airlines, on their own, have no desire, or incentive, to.

After all, they're already sold out. What do they care.

"The airlines have no intention of making a firm commitment of when they need to let people off a plane. Period," says Ms. Hanni, whose husband, Tim Hanni, is a world known wine and food expert.

After being stranded so long in December, Kate basically quit her Napa, Calif., real estate business and began rounding up a posse. She has worked full time, unpaid, as a grassroots organizer pushing for a federal passenger bill of rights.

There is some momentum. Watered-down versions of a passengers bill of rights are lumbering along in both the House and the Senate, with supporters trying to navigate around the legislative IEDs the airline lobbyists are energetically planting along the way.

Gone missing from those bills is the key provision in the draft legislation that Ms. Hanni and her fellow-travelers want: A requirement that says an airline must let passengers off after they've been stuck on a parked plane for more than three hours.

Too expensive to even consider adding enough ground and operational capacity to accommodate that onerous requirement, the airlines and their friends in Congress say. That would mean adding costs to the system -- higher fares! It's common wisdom that higher fares is a non-starter.

"None of us have said we wouldn't mind paying a little more for a ticket," Ms. Hanni says. "All we're saying is let us off the damned plane."

The most recent time I spoke to her was the other day, when she was in Washington again, working the halls of Congress. Since January, Ms. Hanni has made 13 trips from San Francisco to Washington. Suppporters sometimes chip in for her fare and a cheap hotel that now knows her well and looks after her.

Throught sheer dint of personality, Ms. Hanni has got herself frequetly on national television, on cable news, on radio and in many newspapers since I first spoke to her in January.

This much exposure comes with a risk, I know. Editors become wary of the amateur with a cause who appears to crave the the spotlight a wee bit, though God knows they don't seem to be wary of the profesional media gas-bags who keep showing up bloviating on this or that, ad infinitum. I mean, Jayzus, would someone please explain George Will to me?

And let someone like Kate Hanni laboriously hack her way into the congressional jungle on a populist hot-button issue like stranded passengers, and sure enough a safari of dissipated Naderites will be following along in their harrumphing, baggage-ladden band-wagon, hopelessly confusing everyone as to what's up. And the next thing you know, the legislation has a provision demanding the immediate release from prison of the Philadelphia cop-killer and crackpot chronic cause celebre Mumia Abu Jamal.

So let's give Ms. Hanni an opportunity for some clarity.

If you're interested in the issue, she and her compatriots pushing for a passengers bill of rights have two online sites. One is and the other is There's more information on the Blogspot one.

Here is the text of the proposed (and now battered-in-Congress) legislation:

"All American air carriers shall abide by the following standards to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their passengers:

--Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.

--Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.

--Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.

--Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.

--Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.

--Publish and update monthly on the company’s public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least forty percent of the time, during a single month.

--Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price.

--The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but rather passengers and consumers – that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.

--Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real-time.

--Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.

--Require that these rights apply equally to all airline code-share partners including international partners."

Meanwhile, a bill to address in-cabin health and safety on stranded planes was introduced in the New York State legislature by Assemblyman Michael Gianaris and moved quickly through passage in both houses. It is now headed to the Governor, who is expected to sign it.

A state can't legislate certain things, like when an airline must let people go. It's limited in scope to clear health and safety issues, in this case in-cabin conditions. Here is a link to a summary of the New York State bill.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Morning News: Steering by Gut

Be Very Afraid ....

It's one damn thing after another, evidently forever and ever.

The airports are starting to look like Red Cross emergency camps as delays and cancelations pile up in the peak travel season.

And here comes Michael Chertoff (right), the Homeland Security secretary, telling the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune that he has a "gut feeling" there's terror ahead.

That's a bet you won't lose money on, I guess.

Cue the "Blotter" report. (A couple of days ago, I made note of the Blotter's last exclusive-that-shall-ever-remain-exclusive).

They got another candidate today. The Bad Guys are headed this way! (According to those all-seeing "senior intelligence officials")

Well, as I always remind myself, a stopped clock is exactly accurate twice a day.

[This morning, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, Rep. Bernie G. Thompson, fired off a letter urging Chertoff to "clarify" that gut feeling. It said in part: "With all the resouces you have at your disposal and all the progress you assure us that you are making, I cannot understand why you are quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying you have a 'gut feeling' that we are entering a period of heightened risk this summer."

The letter went on: "What sectors should be on alert as a result of your 'gut feeling?' What cities should be asking their law enforcement to work double shifts because of your 'gut feeling?' Are the American people supposed to purchase duct tape and plastic sheeting because of your 'gut feeling'?"]

I mean, Jayzus, how long does this stuff really go on?

So it was with great comic relief today that I turned to the National page of the Times and read (in a deft article by Adam Nossiter) some real insight into Senator David Vitter, the Republican Senator from Louisiana whose phone number turns up on the client list of the so-called "D.C. Madam," Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who has been accused of running a big and very exclusive prostitution ring in Washington, D.C.

Confronted with the goods, Senator Vitter, who has staked out a couple of acres of prime holy land in the "family values" campground, admitted to a "serious sin" and, naturally, dragged poor God Almighty into the mess. Caught red-handed, the senator said he'd begged God for forgiveness and gotten it.

Since God Almighty was not available to confirm his support of the Senator (I believe He summers in Nantucket and nobody gets that cell-phone number), I was pleased to see the besieged senator firmly defended -- this time by a New Orleans madam whose whorehouse was shut down by federal authorities in 2002.

The New Orleans madam, Jeanette Maier, called the senator "one of the nicest and most honorable men I have ever met," according to the Times, quoting an interview with the madam on a New Orleans television station, WDSU. Their acquaintanship evidently was strictly professional -- in that he was, she said, a client in the 1990s.

You can take a tribute like that to the bank, I guess.

Oh, by the way, Senator Vittner is the Southern campaign manager for Rudy Giulianni. Man, this is going to be one fun year. If the Bogeyman don't git us, that us.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Brazil: Think Before You Fly

Carefully considering his options before deciding whether to fly over Brazil ...

Some hokey online poll has come up with a new list of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the usual kitsch postcard images, including the Christ statue overlooking Rio, are on it. Well, the nuns already assured me I was going to hell ...


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Boys of Brazil: Stop Fighting (the link)

I've heard from people unable to find my current posts on Brazil after I set them aside in a separate blog. Here's the link, including today's post. (I haven't yet been able to figure out how to move the Brazil archives on this blog over to the new one).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Just Asking ...

Just Asking (and apologizing for stealing the formula from Jimmy Cannon's "Nobody Asked Me, But .." as channeled by Joe Brancatelli) ...

---Now that summer holiday travel season is lurching along despite every effort of the airlines to make it as difficult as possible, isn't it about time for some new speculative news hysteria about terrorism? I mean, look at the Matt ("All Links All the Time") Drudge site today. It's just sad. That poor nervous boy is reduced to breathlessly linking to items like "Hundreds of goats die in truck crash."

Where's the usual holiday hysteria?

Come on, what are you, on vacation?

Last holiday time, just before Christmas, as you probably don't remember (who can keep track of this stuff?), Brian Ross & The Investigative Team on the oft excitable "Blotter" were man-the-battle-stations-full-speed-ahead on one of those Exclusives That Shall Ever Remain Exclusive:

"London Braces for Attack; 'Miracle' If There Isn't One" said the Dec. 21 headline.

Reported The Blotter on Dec. 21, with a slightly softened follow-up the day after:

"'It will be a miracle is there isn't a terror attack over the holidays in London,' a senior American law-enforcement official tells ... 'It is not a matter of if there will be an attack, but how bad the attack will be,' an intelligence official tells"

And then the exclusive disappeared without a trace. Online hyperventilating means never having to say you're sorry.

Well, maybe it was a Christmas miracle.

Yeah, I know, seven months later a bunch of psychotic Islamic doctors tried and failed to set off bombs in London (evidently without the assistance of skilled technicians), and a couple of these foiled criminal masterminds then raced up to Glasgow where they drove their bomb-laden car into the wall of an airport terminal. And of course there will be more criminal/terrorist attacks, somewhere, anytime.

But hey, where's the hype? It's barely July and I'm already worn out by languid stories on fishing holes and nostalgic essays on families in the firecracker business for many generations, though I am keeping an eye on those creeping, low-key sourced strories about how Iran needs to be taught a lesson next.

But it's the middle of the summer. Isn't it time to juice up the hysteria machine?

Trust me, any day now. is over-due and poor Drudge is sucking wind for links. Depend on it.

--- Just Asking ... Why don't they report the record highs and lows anymore in the paper? I'm reading lots of stories about heat waves in the West. Oooooo. It's 112 in Vegas. Hey, it's summer. It's a desert.

But when did we start forgetting about about good old Death Valley? According to, it was already 106 degrees there at 8 a.m. ("feels like 100," said reassuringly), and the forecast for today's high is 126 degrees. The 10-day forecast is for daily high temperatures well into the 120s.

Now, I myself love 100-degree heat, and so does my wife. This makes us odd, if not certifiable. We're perfectly happy in southern Arizona in the summer.

Heat actually makes me want to go clear brush, which is what I often do at our getaway in the Sonoran desert.

It's the only odd trait I appear to share with our Cowboy President, though I hasten to add that I can actually ride a horse and, unlike Cowboy George, am not the least bit afraid of them. Well, of most of them. I mean, I'm not afraid of horses, even spirited ones, that have been previously trained by somebody else much braver and willing to risk broken bones than I.

Trust me, horses don't come that way out of the box.

Some horses, "if you ain't shit-scared afeard of them, there's something real wrong with your head," as a wrangler who limped off the rodeo circuit once told me.

But I digress.

Incidentally, did you know that Death Valley-area motels actually do a robust business in the summer, thanks to "heat tourists?" Lots of Brits and Germans come over in July to experience real summertime heat. It's great fun to watch the Brits glare at the Germans who always get up earlier to stake out the poolside chairs with their towels. Sort of helps you understand World War I better.

Death Valley shares with various other claimants records for the hottest temperatures officially recorded on earth -- 134 degrees F. in Death Valley. The supposed world record is 135.9 degreees F. in Al 'Aziziyah, Libya, in 1922, but you have to wonder who was doing the recording and in what condition.

A guy who works at the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley told me two Julys ago that routine 116-degree days are easy enough to handle, given the extremely low humidity. But once you get into the mid 120s and higher, he said, "it actually scorches your nasal passages" -- dry heat or not.

That's a deal-killer for me. Still, I'm looking at least for the North American record this summer.

And lastly:

---Just asking ... How come the Funny Pages ain't the least bit?


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Summer Rituals: Baloney From Coney

Let's say you're on a business trip to New York, maybe with a spouse or friend in tow, and you have a day free.

All of your life, you've heard about fabled Coney Island (above, from its glory days in the late 1880s till it faded fast in the 1960s). You have a day free. Let's go check out Coney Island!

Trust me, don't.

The amusement parks, once among the wonders of the world, were mostly gone by the late 50s. The last of them, Steeplechase Park, was gone by 1964. Remember that roller coaster Woody Allen's Alvy Singer's family lived under in "Annie Hall? (1977)" The Thunderbolt was a wreck by the early 80s, and was torn down in 2000 before it fell down.

Besides one surviving rickety roller coaster, a sad huddle of church-carnival-level amusement rides (for most, this is their last summer), and a couple of Boardwalk storefronts (including one where mimes and other "performance artists" and stiltwalkers and the like will just get on your nerves), the place is just a wide forlorn Boardwalk with a beach on a dirty inlet surrounded by a dingy neighborhood that you don't want to be wandering around in past dinnertime.

Oh, I forgot -- and a hot dog stand with an effective PR operation that knows how to milk a slow news day.
Every year on July 4, a crowd of "professional eaters" -- a.k.a. slobs -- try to devour 60 or 70 hot dogs in 12 minutes in the annual hot dog eating contest at Nathan's. Thousands gather to watch. Every unfortunate, news-starved assignment editor in the region stuck with July 4 duty dutifully sends out reporters and camera crews, all of whom desperately try to put some kind of interesting spin on this tiresome stunt.
Truth to tell, Nathan's is a landmark hot dog stand, famous particularly as a late-night stop for the famished on a lark. "Goin' to Coney for some baloney" used to be a well-known N.Y.P.D. saying for making a run down to Nathan's while on duty in Brooklyn.

But trust me, you're visiting New York? A side trip to Coney Island just ain't worth your time. It's been over for a generation, a Coney Island only of the mind. Go to the Museum of Art or the Statue of Liberty instead. There are big development plans for a new Coney Island. Check back in five years.