Friday, November 30, 2007

Peninsula Manila: Crisis Management 101

(Above: The lobby of the Peninsula Manila hotel. Without the tank.)

I deal with a lot of PR people. A few of them are stone dopes who do things like pitch good story ideas to multiple people simultaneously (you want to P.O. a reporter? There's a very fine way). But most of them are at least pretty good -- and some are absolutely excellent, top of the game, smart and savvy.

The hotel industry, it's been my experience, tends to have some of the very best PR people. In fact, I enjoy all hotel people in general, especially at the big multi-national companies. You routinely run into a savvy GM who's now running the resort in, say, Phoenix, having just come back from a few years running the five-star property in, say, Cairo.

I'm writing a book about my travels in the last eight years, and I find that some of the best stories are associated with hotel people.

They're among the last of the great classic travel adventurers, hotel people are. The good ones can think on their feet anywhere in the world, hit the ground running, never have a hair or a collar out of place, and still manage to keep the kitchen running and the sheets washed.

I'm especially impressed today with the way the staff and management at the Peninsula in Manila appear to have handled the nasty hostage crisis this week, which was the Manila radicals' latest adventure in Woody Allen-land, with crazy armed rebels who evidently had no idea what the hell they were doing.

Two bishops were said to have been part of the rebel group. Manila has one of these half-baked coup attempts about once a year, but this is the first one I've heard of that included a luxury hotel and two bishops. Not to mention a tank smashing through the Peninsula's doors and being driven right into the lobby.

Anyway, it's over.

Savoir-faire is what the best hotel people have, and they showed it in Manila, from what I'm hearing from friends in the industry.

Here are is how the hotel PR people handled the crisis. No fancy flack language, no obfuscation, just the facts -- and the contact names and numbers. No baloney. That's exactly what a reporter needs on a deadline in a bad situation. And it's also what you or I as a business traveler perhaps with plans to stay at the hotel might need to know:


News release Nov. 29, 3.15 p.m. -- "The Peninsula Manila has been occupied by a group of gunmen. There are no reports of any injuries to hotel guests, patrons or staff, and the matter is being dealt with by the relevant Philippine authorities ...The Peninsula Manila is currently being evacuated and hotel guests are being transferred to neighbouring hotels. ... The Peninsula Manila is now closed until further notice ..." {My note: The list of contacts for guests and press were attached, with names and phone numbers}

News release, Nov. 29, 7 p.m. -- "The occupation of the Peninsula Manila has now ended and the rebels have left the hotel. The matter is now being dealt with by the relevant Philippine authorities. Hotel guests are currently being accommodated at neighbouring hotels. ..." {Again, the list of contacts was attached}

News release Nov. 30: -- "Following the recent incident at The Peninsula Manila, the hotel is now closed temporarily and will re-open for business at 3:00 pm on Monday 3rd December 2007.

"Guests with bookings for arrival before Monday 3rd December are kindly requested to make alternative arrangements for their visit to Manila. For assistance, please contact the hotel on + 632 887 2888 or , and our staff will be pleased to help.
For general enquiries, please contact The Peninsula Manila on (632) 887 2888.

"For media enquiries, please contact Ms Irene Lau, Corporate Affairs Manager of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Limited on (852) 9094 3153 or Ms Sian Griffiths, Director of Communications, The Peninsula Hotels on (852) 9026 5217."

Just the facts.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Just Askin'

How high are air fares prices headed? It's anybody's guess, with oil prices basically out of control and the media focused on nonsense like the purported success of the "Thanksgiving Express Lane" White House publicity stunt.

Given the lack of scrutiny, it's my guess that the airlines are feeling free to run up fares in this brief slack period before the next holiday crunch. (Though, of course, most leisure travelers have already purchased their tickets for holiday travel, unlike many business travelers). reports a "significant increase (in) matching activity by Northwest Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines." United started this latest fandango.

"Northwest Airlines significantly matched the $20 roundtrip increase for both business airfares (those less than 14 days advance purchase) and leisure airfare in over 18,000 city pairs," reported's chief executive officer Rick Seaney, who added:

"US Airways significantly matched both business and leisure airfare in over 9,000 city pairs -- Alaska Airlines matched in over 200 city pairs.

"This latest wave of matching by the legacy airlines of the 10th attempted increase since Labor Day has left Continental Airlines as the lone holdout not to match – I expect them to match over the next few days."


Just askin' ...

Did the airlines and the air-traffic system dodge the bullet this Thanksgiving holiday period? I'd say so, though I'd also point out that the overall on-time rate of about 75 percent was nothing to hire a brass band over.

Nice weather also had a lot to do with whatever success the system claims. Last Monday, when the weather did become gloomy in the Northeast, and nasty in Atlanta, the delays began stacking up again, making for a bad night at airports from Atlanta to Boston.

By the way, the Air Transport Association, the trade group representing the interests of major airlines, posted timely operational updates for the period on its Web site. Good for the ATC. Trouble is, you have to look at that damn Edna. (Above. Sorry.)

Just askin' ...

Is Registered Traveler doomed as a technology-based alternate security program for those who pay the annual fee? One who thinks so is Bruce Schneier, the security-cryptology analyst and author, who told me recently he thought private-sector security technology was a deeply flawed concept.

"At first I thought Registered Traveler was really stupid," he said. That's when the programs were being marketed with promises of tecnology like electronic shoe-scanners that would allow members to avoid the hated requirement to take off shoes for a pass through the magnetometer.

The program -- now up and running in 14 airports -- is also based on members carrying a biometric ID card encoded with iris scans and fingerprints. You get the card (with a $99.95 membership at the major operator, Clear, for example) after the TSA runs your name against no-fly lists and terrorist watch lists.

Neither the shoe scanner nor the biometric ID have yet been approved by the TSA for checkpoint security use. Clear and two small competitors are now marketing their versions of the RT program essentially as fast-pass lanes with concierge service to help you keep track of your stuff as you go through regular security.

Schneier thinks that's the way to do it. "I'm perfectly happy with people paying extra money to go in faster," he said. "Concierge service, that makes a lot of sense. But basically the background checks are irrelevant. Dump them. The verified I.D. is irrelevant. Dump it."

But a fast-lane concept itself? "People are going through (the RT lanes) faster just because the amateurs are not in those lines. I'd pay money to go through the line with just people who know how to go through security."

Just askin' ...

--Why hammer Rudy for his entourage's 9/11 travel expenses to visit his girlfriend, when his good bud, the naughty police commissioner Bernard Kerik, was actually commandeering a Ground Zero condo -- donated as a rest spot for emergency-personnel -- to shag the scary Judith Regan? Oh, I see. It was the Hamptons for Rudy. ...

--You think they're kidding about air travel becoming more like taking the bus? In his weekly newsletter in Travel Insider, David M. Rowell notes that the Delta's new executive vice president for operations used to run Greyhound.

--Why did the media take those Thanksgiving Express Lanes -- opening up some military space for commercial traffic to stack up -- seriously?...

--Is Christopher Hitchens the only national reporter with guts to address fraud dressed up in religious vestments? Hitchens, who told the stone truth about Mother Teresa, calls out Bishop Romney and those oh-so-delicate campaign reporters in a piece in Slate (And yeah, Romney is a Mormon bishop) … Did you know that Caroline Kennedy just turned 50 years old? Not possible, but true. ... Does Junior Gotti even begin to comprehend the notion of irony? ... What are the the four most terrifying words in journalism? "First in a series" ...

--Will no one speak for Teddy Roosevelt? The Sudanese government imprisoned a British teacher who taught at an exclusive grade school in Sudan for blasphemy, inciting hatred and insulting Islam. Her offense: Her students had a teddy-bear-naming contest, and the name Muhammad, which of course is a common name throughout the Moslem world, was selected. Hmmm. It would seem the authorities in Sudan might have more important things to concern themselves with ... like, oh, dunno, Darfur? Incidentally, teddy bears derive their generic name from Theodore Roosevelt, who was president at the time the little stuffed critters became a craze. ...

--Now that they've screwed up everything else, are they about to screw up the simple, utterly practical, all-weather, easy-to-use-without-gizmos-with-keys, ain't-broke-don't-fix-it book. (Yep.)

--And lastly: Is there anything Diane Sawyer won't do?


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Brazil Blog. The Transponder: Case Closed?

The Brazilian Air Force panel investigating the horrific Sept. 29, 2006, mid-air collision that killed 154 in the Amazon has concluded that the American pilots could not have accidentally turned off the transponder in the business jet that survived the crash. And nobody who isn't certifiably crazy thinks they did so deliberately.

(Update, Nov. 30 -- Down the rabbit hole again: A Brazilian federal judge says the pilots have to return to Brazil for trial. Case closed! Call the witnesses! See my Brazil blog. )


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims, The Worst Business Travelers Ever

I cannot be held responsible for my actions the next time I am presented with one more Thanksgiving feature about either that dirty old rock sunk in trash-filled muck on the beach in depressing Plymouth, Mass., or about the damned miserable Pilgrims.

Why do we buy into this nonsense every Thanksgiving, an otherwise fine holiday? Why do we teach children these stone lies?

The Pilgrims' voyage was the earliest example in this country of a really, really bad business trip that never should have been undertaken.

Having been given the bums' rush from England, where they were unable to establish their odious form of sexually-repressed religious fanaticism, they inflicted themselves upon these shores expressly to implant a tradition of religious fanaticism, intolerance and Taliban-like retributiveness in the unsuspecting New World.

I think the Indians were remarkably tolerant of these gapers, considering that the Indians carried hatchets.

I tell British friends who pronounce themselves appalled at some of the things going on in the U.S. today that their own ancestors bear a good part of the blame. I mean, they imposed the Pilgrims, and the Pilgrims' partners in repression and religious hatred the Puritans, upon us 400 years ago.

"Can we send them back now?" I ask. "No, thank you very much," the Brits reply quickly.

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving.

We're holed up for the holiday at our getaway in the Sonoran desert, where it's 80 degrees and spectacularly sunny. This year, my daughter, son-in-law and their two small children joined us in Arizona.

Last night near twilight, my wife took our 4-year-old grandson for a walk in the Saguaro National Park. The boy is at an age where television and peer influences press the idea of "monsters" on him, and his parents have been very successful at dispelling the notion that monsters exist.

But on their walk on a long path, my wife and grandson encountered a huge jackrabbit that was more than 3 feet tall. The beast must have weighed 30 pounds, said my wife, a woman who never, ever exaggerates, and who only takes a single Coors Light on occasion.

The humongous jackrabbit just sat there looking at them, and as they looked back, he moved off to a spot 10 feet away and resumed staring. Then everybody walked on.

Now to me, this constituted an encounter with an actual, living monster. All of that work gone to hell, telling the kid there are no such things! But the boy just took it in stride, informing me later that he saw a rabbit "that was as big as me."

[I know Sonoran jackrabbits are not known for growing to anywhere near that size, but there are plenty of anecdotal reports online of just such beasts, and a cowboy I know out here says he's seen more than a few. Trust me: This was a monster jackrabbit].

But enough about rabbits.

The morning travel news is keyed to the idea that air travel yesterday went off fairly smoothly. My jaw dropped to see news organizations actually credit that risible "Thanksgiving Express Lanes" nonsense (that's a reference to Bush's hyped press conference last week, where he said some that commercial airliners would, for five days, be able to wander into air space reserved for the military off the East Coast. The effect is like adding an extra lane to a congested section of I-95 feeding into a tool plaza. That anyone took the Thanksgiving Express Lanes ploy seriously is a great wonder.)

Air travel went off yesterday without horrendous hitches because the weather was good. But many airports, especially in the New York area, still reported serious delays. And nothing has been fixed.

Meanwhile, as predicted, an airfare hike snuck in while the media were running around shrieking about travel delays and other worsening problems, real and imagined.

The fare hike, which could be the start of the 9th round of incremental industrywide fare increases since Labor Day, was slipped in by US Airways Tuesday night, according to the vigilant Rick Seaney of

US Air calls it a "fuel surcharge." Call it what you will. According to Rick, US Air filed a $4.65 per ticket increase, which comes to $5 with the 7.5 percent U.S. sales tax. That means, you pay an extra $5 whether you buy a roundtrip or one-way ticket.

You'll hear no carping here about these small fare increases, buy the way. Oil is about to kiss $100 a barrel again and the airlines need to raise fares a modest amount. They also need to improve service and improve their attitudes along with those slightly higher prices -- and that doesn't mean cutting capacity and strangling routes in small and mid-size cities.

I just wish they wouldn't be so coy about it. Come right out and say it: Can everybody please chip in for gas?


Monday, November 19, 2007

Bwaaaaaahahaha: Holiday Hobgoblins

Every Monday I enjoy reading the airline forecast expert Mike Boyd's provocative, refreshingly cranky, online column on air travel -- even though he dismisses most travel reporters as dimwits. Of the the big holiday travel day on Wednesday, he says: "The good news is, it should be like pretty much like any other Wednesday. The bad news is, it should be pretty much like any other Wednesday." Here's the link.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Morning News: Kyla We Hardly Knew Ye

Does every incident in this country ultimately turn into cheesy irony?

Remember Kyla Ebbert, the 23-year-old college student (and, let's get it out of the way now, part-time Hooters waitress) who was barred from a flight by a snippy Southwest Airlines agent named Keith for wearing the outfit shown at left?

To me, the incident was an indication mostly of Southwest Airlines disgracing itself. Again. (See my posts of Sept. 15, 13, 9 and 7.)

Well, now I see from an item today in Salon that Kyla has flipped her 15 minutes of fame into a photo layout in Playboy.


Incidentally, does anyone still buy Playboy, even for the articles?

Says Salon, with a bit of a Fox entertainment-TV, male-adolescent snigger:

"After consulting with Mom and Dad, Ebbert agreed. She's currently featured on the magazine's Web site in a spread titled, wait for it, "Legs in the Air" (it goes without saying, NSFW)." [Geezer alert here: I have no freaking idea what that coy 'NSFW' means. I'm just guessing it indicates if you're 13 years old Salon says you shouldn't click on it. Me, I say go for it.] (Update Nov. 19 -- Readers inform me it means "Not Suitable For Work." Thank you.)

Anyway, Salon adds, "If Playboy's overloaded server is any indication, plenty of people would have been more than happy to be her seatmate.

"Southwest capitalized on this media circus by recently offering "miniskirt" fares -- now Ebbert's getting her piece of this prurient pie. When asked to comment on the photos, Ebbert simply said: "I don't see anything wrong with the female body."

Me either, sweetie. And I certainly got nothing against what the author Jim Harrison calls "nekkid women."

The issue is her brain, not her body. Kyla, trust me: You do not have a career in Hollywood no matter what any of those nice people told you. It's time to go back to school and shut up now.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hype Arriving at Gate 1600

The airlines and their pals the pols are increasingly afraid of the potential for a major breakdown in air traffic over the year-end holidays. Every time I check my e-mail I have another breathless press release about how they're rushing to make it all o.k. Don't worry! We're on top of it!

Even the White House has stirred itself and got into the act. Uh-oh, now I know for sure we're in the jackpot.

Note the tone in the media. Now we have an official White House promise! It's NEWS! Jayzus, I can see the correspondents posing in front of those airport tote boards already, and it's not even time for the network news.

Anyway, you heard the following here first:

--The risible "Thanksgiving Express Lanes" proposed by the White House. Selectively opening up air-traffic lanes reserved for, but little used by, the military in the Northeast will be the equivelant of opening up an extra lane on some ramps on I-95 north of Miami. It will funnel traffic into a slightly wider space and promptly pour it right back.

--After they announce caps that will put limits on the numbers of flights at JFK and LaGuardia (and they will), some of that traffic will spill over to Newark, which already has some of the worst delays in the country.

--The White House says the government is "encouraging airlines to take their own measures to prevent delays." That's simply a reiteration of "promises" the airlines have made in a desperate attempt to sidetrack a federal Passenger Bill of Rights law, versions of which are now in both houses. Conspicuously missing from all of the vague "proposals" are guarantees, or mandates, on how many hours stranded passengers can be kept on board planes for the convenience of the airlines. That is the third-rail that nobody in government really wants to touch.

--The phony pose of rushing to action will hand the airlines a beautiful opportunity to announce further domestic capacity and schedule cut-backs, except on lucrative business-travel routes and domestic routes that feed into international connections. You know, as a patriotic gesture.

--The Executive Branch? Come on. Every one of them, from the President to the head of Transportation and Homeland Security departments, and the inept FAA, is a short-timer, planning to cash-in the minute the next president raises a hand to take the oath of office. You really don't think they're serious about fixing a very complex problem, do you? There's no upside to that. Just hold a press conference to Show Your Care. But hey, there's a war on! Where's your flag lapel-pin?

--On the other hand, the White House has cleverly positioned itself to win no matter what happens. If the holidays go off without a major hitch, the Bush administration will take credit for it (and just watch how fast some media dimwits rush to credit the risible Thankksgiving Express Lanes, when any actual credit should go to luck and good weather). If it all goes to hell, the White House is on record expressing its concern and desire for action.

Meanwhile, the House Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing today to examine the preparations by airlines and airports to handle the holiday travel rush.

“The airline industry has had a very tough year in terms of customer service,” said Rep. Jerry Costello, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, which heard from airline and airport executives. That would be the understandment of the month (so far).

"No one expects them to eliminate all delays, but it is how they mitigate delays and how they treat their customers when delays happen that matters,” he said.

The witnesses noted that the airlines have hired additional staff, particularly customer relations personnel, and will use what the subcommittee press release calls"enhanced communications with passengers to inform them about delays and time-saving practices." (Right. Airlines say they bought some new PCs and software to fix the problem. Ran down to Best Buy and picked up a few things.

The statement added, "The airports have also added staff, and will have more food and water available and the necessary equipment to get passengers off of planes if necessary in case of long delays."

Well, we'll see. The very last thing the airlines want is still another debacle with passengers stranded on plans for six, nine, 12 hours. Very bad PR, that. But if bad weather hits in a system with no slack, during a peak travel season, with all planes full, there may be nothing they can do to prevent another ugly occurrence.

Kate Hanni tells me that she and her 20,000 or so volunteers in her Coalition for Airline Passengers Bill of Rights are loaded for bear during the new travel-torture season, which starts tomorrow.

Kate, whose energy has been unflagging as strandings became a huge issue this year, is virtually single-handedly responsible for the current rush within the airlines, the Congress and now the White House to get on the popular side of the issues of stranded passengers, both those stuck on parked planes and those stuck in airports where airlines have no ability to accommodate them, sometimes for days.

As soon as the subcommittee posts a transcript of the hearing, I'll link to it.

The subcommittee heard testimony from among the usual suspects:

Richard Anderson, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines; David Barger, the chief executive of JetBlue; Edward P. Faberman, executive director of the Air Carrier Association (and a lawyer who represents airlines and airports); Krys T. Bart, executive director of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and the chairman of the American Association of Airport Executives; and Gregory Principato, president of the Airports Council International – North America.

We'll see what they had to say for themselves once a transcript is available.


Airline Delays Accelerating?

Above: Pinal Air Park near Tucson, one of two big desert sites where airlines can park planes.

I once worked for a smart newspaper city editor who had a couple of pet peeves on behalf of readers. Top on the list was: In a story, don't ask me any damned questions. I'm a reader who is paying you 25 cents (this was a long time ago) to give me answers, not to annoy me with questions.

That said, are airline delays accelerating?

The stats are sketchy, as the Thanksgiving holiday travel season/airport torture-fest starts tomorrow. But early indications do not look good, in an air-traffic system stretched to its limits. Last night, I was getting calls from people maneuvering flight cancellations and delays on the West Coast, bound for New York.

Here's how it looked yesterday afternoon and night at New York airports, which are the dog that wags the national air-travel system tail. Ground-delay programs were in effect by late afternoon at all three airports, which also were citing weather, specifically "low ceiling," for mounting delays.

Using the brilliant old technique of looking out the window, what I saw was a moderately cloudy late afternoon, with no storms and no rain. It was a Wednesday before the holiday season, a slow travel day, and weather across the country was O.K.

Anyway, at Newark, a mere 17 percent of the 347 flights scheduled to arrive between 3 p.m. and midnight yesterday were on time. Of the late arrivals, the vast majority, 208, got in 45 minutes or more (and sometimes much more) after arrival time. (The stats are from

At Kennedy, only 36 percent of the 338 flights scheduled to arrive between 3 p.m. and midnight arrived on time. Of the late arrivals, 135 got in 45 minites or more after arrival time.

At LaGuardia, 18 percent of the 274 flights scheduled to arrive between 3 p.m. and midnight arrived on time, and of the late arrivals, 153 got in 45 minutes or more late.

This, folks, does not look good.

Meanwhile, the airlines are busy giving songs and dances to anyone who taps them on the shoulder. They're tripping over one another to send out press releases assuring the public that they will more more adept at providing adance information to travelers in the event of impending disruptions.
Not to worry!
Several major airlines have actually issued press releases saying they've reiterated or imposed procedures for addressing the ticking-time-bomb problem of stranded passengers. Most say they will re-assess the situation when a plane is stuck on the tarmac for three hours, allowing pilots and ops centers to try to work out a way to get the plane back to the gate.

And the airlines are also claiming that they have installed new technology to run their operations more efficiently and to track delays and diversions better.
Yeah, and I've installed a new system to address the problem of mounds of clutter on my desk. It's called hope. My wife calls it "pipe dream."

Are delays accelerating?

My hunch is, you bet.

How will the airline deal with disruptions?

My guess is they'll punt. The airlines -- network carriers and low-cost carriers alike -- are terrified by surging fuel costs and declining revenue quality, to the point where schedules could be pulled back on short notice.

Mike Boyd's airline-forecast column this week at makes some very intriguing points.

Some are long-term look (chronic high oil prices, severe pilot shortages, especially on the regional carriers, looming labor-union trouble).

And some are short-term -- most prominently, that rising fares might finally trigger a sudden, unanticipated drop in demand, causing airlines to "valve off" capacity.

Valve-off capacity? That means, basically, remove more seats from the system and on short notice.

How do you do this? Well, if you're a big network carrier with all those older planes, say Northwest and American, you can rather simply yank some out of service and park them in the desert till things blow over, if and when. After all, you own that trusty old MD80, which has been paid off since Christ was a corporal, as that same city editor I knew used to say.

If you're a low-cost carrier you have a bit more of a problem. Chances are higher that your (newer) planes still have a monthly payment due. Parking them in the Sonoran or Mojave deserts, where they generate no revenue at all, isn't an attractive option.

I'm hearing a lot of speculation right now that airlines have contingency plans to "valve down" capacity on short notice even before the end of the year. Any fall-off in passenger demand caused by rising fares wouldn't really manifest itself in the next six weeks of peak travel, since most polans have been made and most tickets have been purchased. But the smell of panic is in the air.

My bet is the airlines slip another unilateral fare hike in this weekend. It would be the ninth incremental fare hike since Labor Day.

Sorry, but I have to leave this with another unanswered question.

Will panicked airlines, despite their growing fears of serious federal intervention if they start stranding passengers in large numbers again, reduce capacity on short notice?

I was walking past Macy's in Manhattan yesterday and my spirits lifted as I watched the crews and trucks and cranes installing the massive store's Christmas decorations. I was up by the skating rink in Rockefeller Center the other day and it too was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

We're headed to Tucson this weekend for Thanksgiving. (Pinal Air Park, where airlines can mothball or temporarily park planes, is nearby, and I expect to pay it a visit).
But then it's back home. I like New York at Christmas. And that is where I intend to be, far from the airports.
At least that's my hope and/or pipe dream.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Great American Airlines Ad

No kidding, check it out. (The one titled "Team Building.")

It's one of the new American Airlines ads produced for business travelers, and it made me laugh out loud. You ever been to one of those goofy training seminars?


Monday, November 12, 2007

Plane Porn: The Private A380

Lookit that! Those are some renderings of what an Airbus A380 might look like outfitted as a private jet.

I wrote about this a while ago, but now there's an actual buyer identified. (Airbus told me they have still another private-A380 buyer lined up, but didn't identify the person).

The superjumbo Airbus A380, the first commercial flight of which occurred recently from Sydney to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, is also being marketed as a business jet for the extremely rich.

But build a little skepticism in for media hype here, because it's going to be many years before Airbus delivers any A380 to any private customer. So far, 10 A380s have been built, of the total 189 on order by 16 corporate customers, including international airlines (no U.S. carriers, and none on the horizon) and airline fleet-leasers.

By the end of 2009, assuming there are no further production hitches in the hitch-plagued production schedule, Airbus will have completed fewer than 100 of the planes already ordered.
So that's a long time before the Saudi prince -- who's currently in a mere private Boeing 747 -- gets his plane (and by the way, sweet Jayzus, how many princes does that country have? I know it's somewhere in the thousands).

(Some of the background in the AP story linked to above is ridiculously wrong. You can't get a LearJet or a Gulfstream for "$2 to $5 million," for example. Add a zero to those single digits. Also, that British editor the AP quotes is misinformed. There are dozens of commercial airliners that have been converted to private jets, including A319s and 320s and Boeing 737s, 757s, 767s and 747s. There are at least 10 private 747s flying now.)

Anyway, it's nice to have a look at what the designers of a private A380 have envisioned. These mock-ups were given to me last year by Lufthansa Technik, the Lufthansa subsidiary that specializes in private jet interior design, among other things.

The A380 currently sells for about $320 million. Add another $100 to $125 million for the interior fixings, Technik says.

I flew the A380 on a shakedown flight between Frankfurt and New York earlier this year, by the way. That plane, operated by a Lufthansa crew, carried about 500 people in three classes.

The A380 actually is actually certified to carry 853, just to give you an image of the other extreme from the Saudi prince's airborne palace. Imagine, just you and 852 others on a plane! Or lined up at the baggage carousel.


The Morning News: Coincidence? You Decide

Vice President Dick Cheney, the warrior who dodged the draft during Vietnam by applying for and receiving five deferrals ("I had other priorities," he once explained), gave the memorial Veterans Day speech yesterday at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington.

Meanwhile, news reports said the monument, formerly known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, has developed cracks.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Morning News: Yo, Rocky Travel

Top: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Right: Crappy "Rocky" statue before they moved it down to the sidewalk.

The city where I was born, Philadelphia, has always had a split personality. I personally once heard the thuggish late mayor Frank ("I'll Make Attila the Hun Look Like a Fag") Rizzo refer to the Philadelphia Orchestra as a "band" -- which kind of sums it up for me. Though in fairness I should add that he did call it a "really great band."

Here's a link to Rizzo.

Actually, it's a nice town in a lot of ways -- not all of which are apparent in some Philadelphia-generated tourism information, which tends to focus on things like that godawful kitsch statue of the movie character Rocky Balboa, which was once located actually above the magnificent steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before some of the more sensible people in town managed to haul it down to a basketball arena in South Philadelphia and then, under pressure, install it in a less prominent spot near the Art Museum.

And don't let anyone tell you that a visit to Philadelphia should include a stop at the 9th Street Market, more commonly known as the Italian Market, in South Philadelphia. The last time I was there it looked more like a souk in Yemen, but without the charm, selection, sophistication, sanitation and fresh produce.

Here's some ungrammatical local hype on the Philadelphia 9th Street market -- and yes, on the side of that building, that's a kitsch mural of the late Mayor Attila the Hun himself. Incidentally, Rizzo was still another of those tough-guy warriors who somehow managed to avoid combat -- unlike, say, the actual Attila the Hun. Rizzo the Hun was in the pre-World War II Navy for less than a year before he was discharged under circumstances that have never been adequately explained.)

[If you're visiting Philadelphia, don't say I didn't warn you about that grossly overhyped street market. Here is an excerpt from a travel review of the market on last year: "The thing we were most surprised and disappointed about was how small the "Italian Market" area was, and how many vacant stores there were. The worst thing about it was the filth - the streets and sidewalks were absolutey filthy with trash, as well as a lot of dead pigeons. ..."]

But back to Rocky:

In Philadelphia, the Rocky statue/movie prop, now installed on a sidewalk near the Art Museum, at least out of the way of the grand view, is notable for its utter lack of irony.

On the other hand, there's a gem of a story in today's Times about a Rocky Balboa statue in Serbia, where there appears to be a new culture, perhaps politically derisive, that evokes American kitsch iconography, perhaps ironically.

The nuance of it all! Makes me actually think that maybe Serbia might be worth a visit, if that's the way they're thinking about stuff there these days.

Also, the photo caption on the Times's Serbian Rocky statue picture, which begins with the words "Yo Adriatic!" is itself worth a special Pulitzer Prize.

And by the way, the word "Yo" does not come from hip-hop culture. In Philadelphia, it has always been the way to begin most exclamatory and many interrogatory sentences.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Morning News: Dumb Sheriffs Contest

Just when you conclude that Phoenix's Joe Arpaio (see previous posts) is the dumbest sheriff in America, another invincible doofus comes along to challenge him for the title. From
See also the always invaluable for some sensible background.

[Update Nov. 12 -- More on this nonsense from Salon, as desperately dumb-ass television news programs get a whiff.]

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Brazil: Another Fatal Air Crash

Another fatal air crash killed at least 8 people today in Sao Paulo. It was the fourth aviation crash in a week. Details, my Brazil blog.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Travel Photo of the Week

Uh ... I'll wait.


The Morning News: Shoes

Here, from pilot Patrick Smith in today's Salon, is one of the more sensible columns I've read in a while on the various follies of airport security.
Smith doesn't hammer hard-working and generally decent T.S.A. screeners in general, though as experience has taught me, any organized group of people will contain about 10 percent half-wits, and he's got one in here.
And I couldn't agree more about PBS which, except for some of the Frontline reports, is starting to look and sound an awful lot like ... ugh, network television. And don't get me started on WNYC radio and its prissy daily local output.