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?


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