Monday, December 31, 2007

That Phony Healthy-Airport-Food Report, Back Again

First off: Happy New Year.

Here, incidentally, is how that ball-drop tradition in Times Square got started.

And now to less festive matters:

Once again, the news media credulously report the annual "healthiest airport food" press release from an outfit that calls itself the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, without wondering who this marvelous committee is.

It's 2008 tomorrow, and I am growing weary. Don't reporters ask basic questions anymore?

The grandly named Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is, in fact, a social-agenda organization run by a psychiatrist with ties to the zealots at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

All of us are for ethical treatment of animals, of course, but we all know that P.E.T.A. has other agendas, among them an opposition to eating meat or dairy products, and a holier-than-thou attitude about food in general.

Not that there's anything wrong with a nice salad.

The annual "Physicians Committee" report -- which defines "healthy" basically as "not meat or dairy" -- used to get a lot more publicity before, uh, someone blew their cover 3 years ago.

Any reporter who picks up their press release without identifying who the people behind it are is simply sloppy. (And the link in the fifth paragraph is by no means the only example.)

The report still gets giddy treatment in local media, especially television news reports, which typically gush when the "physicians report" gives good marks to the local airport).


Friday, December 28, 2007

Chicago, Chicago...

Again today, I draw your attention to Chicago O'Hare, while most of the travel media are still running around clucking about Kennedy flight caps and the grossly overstated problems of mishandled bags and overbookings.

It's 1 p.m. Central time, and already, according to, 442 departures and arrivals have been canceled at O'Hare, where it's snowing. So far this month, about 3,000 flights have been canceled at O'Hare.

[Update, Dec. 29 -- 621 departures and arrivals were canceled yesterday at O'Hare -- and this time it was American Eagle and American combined that led the pack. So it's time for American Airlines passengers as well as United passengers to be wary. Check those flight schedules well in advance.]

And the month isn't over.

As I've said, weather is part of the problem -- but we always have weather. And in past years, a good number of the canceled flights would have been flown -- subject to delays, which get recorder statistically.

Then there's the trend this year toward stranding planes on the ground for long periods of time, which has given the airline industry some of its worst publicity ever.

With the passengers' rights movement gaining force, the last thing airlines want is pictures on TV and in the papers of passengers stuck in planes amid deteriorating conditions. And thanks to Kate Hanni's coalition (, some of those stranded passengers have cameras in the cabins and know where to send the videos and pictures to get attention.

So that's one factor.

Another is pilot and other flight-crew shortages as the end of the month and year arrive. This has been an especially acute problem with United Airlines, incidentally. Crews "time out" near the end of any month, but United especially doesn't seem to have enough resources in place to keep the planes flying. And now it looks as if American and its regional subsidiary might be in the same fix.

Anyway, it's another peak holiday travel time, and an awful lot of passengers are simply not being flown on flights that disappeared from the schedules. Those flights don't show up as delays, of course.

Meanwhile, an awful lot of planes -- and crews -- are out of position, scattered all over the Midwest and beyond.

It's a good time to stay home.

If you have to fly, as I do today (though luckily not through the Midwest) -- well, good luck to you.

As I have said before, the air-travel story this month is not delays -- which continue to be terrible. The story is cancellations.

If it's canceled well in advance (and evidence shows that's happening), a canceled flight doesn't generally draw hundreds of passengers to the airport, where their misery is publicly manifest, and where the unhappy crowds make for compelling news photos and video. Cancel the flight well enough in advance, and a lot of the affected passengers don't even arrive at the airport.

How many of those cancellations are being made preemtively by the airlines to keep the mounting problems out of sight?


A-Hunting We Will Go!

The only real business travel being done this week is by the poor devils running in primary elections in godforsaken places -- and the reporters whose sorry job it is to follow them around and try to look clever to each other, day after dreadful, soul-murdering day.

Via Drudge, who doesn't ever do any actual reporting but would have made one heck of wire editor on some old Hearst paper (assembling other people's work in the dead of night) the latest on Huntsman Huckabee.

The link is to a Chicago Tribune blog, incidentally.

Sweet Sufferin' Jayzus, another Elmer Fudd emerges! Can't we require some basic firearms safety training, at least, if these tough-talking politicians who themselves managed to "duck" actual military service themselves are going to be packing heat on the campaign trail?


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Passengers' Rights Move Spreads in States

The airlines have plenty of nightmares beyond the obvious ones like $150 a barrel oil. One of them is the spreading trend in the states to adopt legislation, modeled on a New York State law that takes effect New Years Day, spelling out what airlines must do when they strand passengers on parked planes for three hours and more.

Under the New York law, which has become the model for other states' initiatives, airlines are required to provide food and water and to empty the toilet tanks when they're full. These would not seem to be measures that you'd need a law to address, but airlines have demonstrably failed to address these problems on their own.

And they continue to strand passengers on idled planes, as they have since this fandango began last Dec. 29, when hundreds of planes were diverted from Dallas and thousands of passengers were stuck on planes idled at airports like Austin for eight hours, without food and as sanitary conditions deteriorated.

Legislators in New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Florida are planning to introduce legislation similar to the New York law. Now a state senator in Arizona has stepped up to the plate.

The year-end holiday mess has begun at airports. United Airlines has been canceling flights by the hundreds, partially because the airline's flight-crew scheduling procedures have melted down as the month wanes.

Look for the passengers' rights movement to gain traction in 2008. And when it does, the airlines will scream bloody murder about what the airline industry regards as misguided interference in its operations, interference that they claim will have unforeseen negative consequences for the traveling public.

Whatever. A strong grassroots populist movement is afoot, and the airlines have no one to blame but themselves as it spreads.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cancellations Plague United Passengers

Keep your eye on United Airlines as the month runs out, especially if you're flying United, of course.

United has been canceling a pretty hefty number of flights lately, and its pilots union claims that bad weather in the Midwest isn't the only reason. As the month and year wind down, a lot of flight crews are at their limits, procedurally and emotionally. And United, it seems, according to this Chicago Tribune report, has been having a hard time getting enough pilots on the job.

At O'Hare, according to, there have been 339 United cancellations as of 5.30 p.m. Central time today (there were 3,246 departures and arrivals scheduled for the entire day, with the evening crush still ahead).

Yesterday, there were 636 departures and arrivals cancellations of United flights, out of a total of 2,773 departures and arrivals all day.

Press reports usually note only the departure cancellations. I count both departures and arrivals because both categories represent flights that were not flown at O'Hare, so please be aware of the distinction.


Stranded Passengers: The Video

We've been hearing about stranded passengers all year, from numerous instances in which airlines have kept passengers on idled planes on tarmacs for six, eight, 10 and in some cases over 12 hours.

Kate Hanni has done an astonishing job organizing a grassroots movement to press for passage of federal legislation to address these strandings, which are a direct consequence of an airline system stretched too thin, with no slack to accommodate weather or other disruptions. See the Web site of the stranded passengers coalition at

You've read about these things. But now more people are recording their experiences, especially after this video on YouTube was widely disseminated. It shows what it was like on a Delta flight stranded on a tarmac for over 7 hours. Listen to the song and dance, shuck and jive, that emanates from the cockpit.

(This Delta flight wasn't even close in its misery to many others. Overflowing or stopped-up toilets, sick, frightened and hungry passengers, and foul air have been standard experiences on these flights).

My prediction: Now that New York State has stepped up to the plate and passed its own version of a passengers rights bill that will force airlines to provide basic health, safety and sanitation provisions to passengers stuck on tarmacs for 3 hours or more, there will be strong pressure in 2008 for Congress to move on the federal passengers' rights bills that have been languishing most of this year in the Senate and House.

Airlines, meanwhile, are doing everything they can to prevent any more of these videos and graphic reports from stranded flights.

Bad weather isn't the only reason they're canceling so many flights that would in the past have been flown, subject to delays. The airlines are very seriously worried about more bad publicity, especially now that some passenger back in seat 23B has video rolling.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Bulletin: MaxJet Ceases Operations

MaxJet went bankrupt and ceased operations today. The all-business-class discount airline had flown between the U.S. and London Stansted Airport for two years.

I mentioned here Dec. 8, after MaxJet abruptly halted trading its shares in London and didn't have the gumption to tell its customers why, that travelers should avoid the airline.

If you hold a ticket on MaxJet now, you're what the bankruptcy court calls an unsecured creditor -- meaning you're at the back of the creditors' line when it comes to divvying up any assets that might be left. But credit card companies issue refunds for services not provided, so if you're holding a MaxJet ticket, call your credit card company immediately.

MaxJet's end comes two months after American Airlines began flying a new route between New York and London Stansted, in what was seen as a strategic move to grab business-class market share from MaxJet and Eos, which also fliles to Stansted, an airport more convenient to London's financial district than Heathrow. As is its wont when trying to chase a competitor from a market, American undercut MaxJet's fares.

Eos, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that its load factors were over 73 percent in September. "All signs point toward continued growth" next year, said Eos, which flies 757s outfitted with 48 business-class seats. MaxJet flew 767s with 102 seats.

Lawrence Hunt, the chief executive of Silverjet, which flies all-business-class 767s from Newark to London Luton, told me today that Silverjet "should be profitable by March." London-based Silverjet is the only of the four all-business-class startups that also offers a non-transatlantic route, between London and Dubai. The other all-business-class start-up is l'Avion, which flies between Paris and Newark.

(In May, British Airways is expected to launch a new mini-airline -- being developed under the code name Project Lauren and said to be formally named "Open Skies" -- with mostly premium-class seats between Paris [or perhaps Brussels] and Kennedy [or perhaps Newark]. The official announcement is scheduled for Jan. 9.)

MaxJet's statement today about going belly-up did not say so, but Reuters reports that MaxJet "prepaid Eos Airlines for about 500 seats" to accommodate passengers it has stranded. I haven't been able to confirm that yet. I certainly wouldn't take it to the bank -- or bankruptcy court.

Meanwhile, here is the sad and sorry Christmas Eve statement from MaxJet:

"Dear Friends of MAXjet:

It is with deep regret that I must inform you that MAXjet filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on 24 December 2007.

With today’s fuel prices and the resulting impact on the credit climate for airlines, we are forced to take this drastic measure. Our top priority is to assist our customers, particularly those who already have begun their travel with us, in securing alternative flight accommodations.

MAXjet has contracted with Eos Airlines for seats on Eos’ scheduled all-Premium service to accommodate passengers awaiting a return flight between New York and London.

Passengers needing return travel between London, Los Angeles and Las Vegas will be contacted regarding their flight re-accommodations. Any customers who choose to make flight accommodations directly should seek a refund from their point of purchase (credit card or travel agency) for the unused leg of their journey.

We have also secured hotel rooms in London, New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles through early January 2008 which we will provide to affected passengers whose travel plans have been disrupted.

On behalf of the entire MAXjet family, we extend our apologies to you for the inconvenience. We are extremely saddened to discontinue a service that we so passionately believe in, and we thank our loyal flyers who helped build MAXjet since our start in 2005.


William D. Stockbridge

President and CEO

IF YOU HAVE STARTED YOUR TRAVEL… MAXjet is contacting customers with their new travel itineraries in priority order based on date of departure. Please contact MAXjet Customer Care at: US phone number: 1-866-837-9880 UK phone number: 44 (0)1279 216 478 Email:

Please have your contact information and either a confirmation number or flight date/number ready. Any customers who choose to make flight accommodations directly should seek a refund from their point of purchase (credit card or travel agency) for the unused leg of their journey.

IF YOU HAVE NOT YET BEGUN YOUR TRAVEL, BUT HAVE BOOKED TICKETS… Seek a refund directly from your point of purchase (credit card or travel agency). For further information, passengers who have not yet begun travel may contact: US phone number: 1-888-435-9629; UK phone number: 44 (0)1279 216 428 Email: Please have your contact information and either a confirmation number or flight date/number ready.
Investor Relations "

--end of MaxJet statement.

Incidentally, MaxJet said it had "contracted" with Eos, the all-business-class carrier that started up operations about the same time, to fly passengers awaiting a return flight to New York from London. Those passengers will be accommodated when seats are available on Eos, which stands to gain considerably from MaxJet leaving the New York-London Stansted market.

Keep in mind that a "contract" by a bankrupt company to secure services is a questionable proposition. Have a backup plan if you're one of those affected.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Federal Court Tosses Out Airlines' Bid to Block N.Y. Passenger Rights Law

A federal judge in Albany, N.Y., this afternoon threw out a move by the airline industry to block enforcement of the New York State Passengers Rights' law, which will take effect Jan. 1.

Besides denying the injunction, the federal court went further, affirming New York state's right to enact and enforce such a law, and denying the airlines bid for a summary judgment based on the airlines' contention that the state law is an unconstitutional violation of the provisions of the 1978 federal Airline Deregulation Act. (ADA)

The New York passengers' rights law "is limited and discrete in scope: the provision of lavatories, fresh air, food and water for passengers confined for over three hours on an airplane," U.S. District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn ruled. Consequently, the state law "is not preempted by the ADA," his decision said.

The passenger rights' law is fiercely opposed by airlines who fear that similar legislation will spread to other states and perhaps spur passage of a more-sweeping federal passengers' rights bill. The law requires airlines who keep passengers on board planes stranded for three hours or more on tarmacs in New York state to provide adequate food, water, ventilation and sanitary conditions. It sets a penalty of up to $1,000 per passenger for failure to do so.

California, New Jersey and several other states are considering passage of similar laws. And passengers' rights bills are pending in both houses of Congress. The federal bills would add a measure even more onerous to the airlines, requiring airlines to allow passengers to return to a gate and debark after three hours of being confined to the cabin of a parked plane.

"What you're going to see is other states following suit, and hopefully the Congress stepping in more aggressively, now that we know the states are moving on this," Michael Gianaris, a New York state assembleman who co-sponsored the bill, told me this afternoon.

The airlines, Mr. Gianaris said, "brought this on themselves. They promised action voluntarily. They didn't do that. It's an ongoing problem. My preference is not to legislate, but clearly in this case it was absolutely necessary."

In dismissing the airlines' lawsuit, Judge Lawrence Kahn said that the airlines had no ground in arguing that state regulation of in-cabin services, such as providing water and working toilets, was an unconstitutional violation of the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, which specifies that states could not set their own rules over airline flight operations.

"The field of health and safety is one of the most established areas of state police-power," the judge wrote, adding that "the Passenger Bill of Rights is an exercise in state protection of the public health. Fresh air, water, sanitation and food are necessities in the extreme situation in which this act applies."

The Air Transport Association, the airline trade group that filed the lawsuit, issued a statement that seemed to minimize the U.S. District Court, which it referred to twice, in its text and in the headline, as a "New York lower court." The U.S. District Court is not a New York court, but a federal court.

ATA said it was issuing its statement, "in response to the New York lower court's decision regarding ATA's challenge to the legality of the state's airline passenger rights legislation."

The statement said, "ATA believes that the court has misinterpreted the law. We are considering our options, including filing an appeal. ATA's sole purpose in filing this lawsuit was to preserve the principle that commercial aviation is best regulated by one source -- the federal government -- and not 50 individual states."


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Just Askin'

(Road Warrior Stocking Stuffer? Caffeinated sugar-free mints. See last item.)

--Who's supposed to fix the technology for the air traffic control system? The F.A.A., which talks an awfully good game and yet continually fails to deliver desperately needed new technology to manage crowded skies. The F.A.A. has a much-publicized Web page for checking the real-time delay conditions at U.S. airports: -- click the "Airport Status and Delays" link at the top right for a map showing major airports and (supposedly) their current operational status. Trouble is, the thing seldom works. More often than not, the map is as frozen as the air-traffic system.

--Who's counting? I know I sound like a broken record on this, but reporters really ought to be paying more attention to mounting flight cancellations. All the media ducks are quacking over Kennedy because they're being told to by the authorities, but it's O'Hare where the mess has been piling up for the last month every time bad weather smacks the Midwest. Yesterday, there were 398 cancelled departures and arrivals at O'Hare. Of the 1,904 flights that did take off or land there, 1,487 were delayed -- 1,006 of them by 45 minutes or more. Stats as usual from [Update: As of 8 p.m. Eastern time tonight, just about half of the 890 flights scheduled for Boston departures and arrivals had been cancelled.)

--Is there no dumb-ass local police stunt that small-town papers won't treat credulously? As security expert Bruce Schneier points out , this is a very good way to alert thieves that you have something possibly worth stealing in the car.

--Speaking of local papers, can the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries come soon enough? After that, the national media can stop pretending that the journalistic sad-sacks who run the editorial boards at poor-quality newspapers in Des Moines and Manchester actually have compelling to say.

--What in the world accounts for all of the gushing reviews of the movie "Waitress." Saw it last night on DVD, and my report can be paraphrased from the reaction of Dorothy Parker, dismayed at the infantile cuteness in a Winnie-the-Pooh book she was reviewing: I fwowed up. O.K., the pies in the diner were pretty. But Jayzus, was no reviewer even remotely troubled by the sweetly-presented in-office affair between the sorowful pregnant waitress and her gynecologist? In most jurisdictions, the district attorney and the medical board both would have had a term for this bum: sexual predator. (I know the writer-director, Adrienne Shelly, was tragically murdered just before the movie was released. Doesn't make the movie any more tolerable, though.)

--Stocking stuffer for a hard-core business traveler? These things have been around for a while, but I just discovered Penguin Caffeinated Peppermints, in a black tin box that advises on the back: "3 Penguins are the caffeine equivalent of 1 cola beverage." Sugar-free, too. They also come in chocolate and cinnamon flavors. By an outfit called ifive brands in Seattle. Web site



Thursday, December 13, 2007

What Is Lufthansa Thinking? Here's a Guess

What is the German carrier Lufthansa thinking, buying a 19 percent stake in JetBlue, which has no overseas routes but a whole lot of point-to-point routes into Kennedy airport? (Cost of investment: $300 million.)

Two words: Open Skies.

At the end of March, under the new Open Skies agreement between the U.S. and the European Union, European carriers will be able to greatly expand operations in the United States -- assuming they can get the scarce, and soon-to-be-scarcer, airport slots.

And what does JetBlue have? Lots of slots and gates at Kennedy -- where the feds are about to crack down on allocating slots. Not to mention a very good reputation for customer service, last Feb. 14's ice-storm strandings notwithstanding.

Suddenly, it makes a whole lot of sense to me. With British Air already committed to launching a subsidiary airline to fly from European cities to Kennedy and other U.S. cities in May, and with other carriers looking for entry and gateway slots, a new game is about to begin in international air travel. And the buy-in is high.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cowboy Down

I like rodeo and professional bull-riding, which are two separate things. I admire the hell out of rodeoers, male and female, and I am in awe of the skill and stone courage it takes to get on the back of a bull who's been trained to be mean. Or let's say even meaner than your average bull.

If I'm on a business trip somewhere and there's a rodeo in town, I'll try to make it.

On the other hand ...

There's been a lot of press lately about bull-riding as a great spectator sport, the "new NASCAR," as it's being called. That's wildly exaggerated, but it's true enough that the sport is gaining lots of new fans.

But there's no mention of the physical realities of bull-riding, a sport in which a 30-year-old who's been on the circuit for a dozen years is often over the hill physically.

I like to ride. Horses, not bulls, of course. Like most recreational riders, I tend to frown on a horse that's bucking in any form. If a frisky bucking horse can't be lunged out, stay off it unless you're prepared possibly to get dumped.

Riding in the Southwest and West over the years, I've gotten to know a fair number of cowboys and wranglers, some of whom have been on the bull-riding circuit. The bull riders often share two things in common: Very severe physical injuries and a lack of health insurance.

Every horse rider has been dumped on occasion.

But try it on a raging bull, in a sport where the best of the best are hoping to hang on for 8 seconds. (The bull always wins, no matter what.)

Here is the reality of professional bull-riding. And these guys are the money guys at or near the top of the sport. Behind them are hundreds of itinerant cowboys scrounging gas money to get to the next event, without the dough to do more than stumble into an emergency room hoping for a quick patch-up before heading off into that sunset.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Flight Cancellations Accelerating

I know the weather was truly awful today in parts of the far Midwest and the Plains. But flight cancellation numbers keep mounting as evidence that airlines might be simply scratching a lot more flights to keep them from being listed as badly delayed.

Stats are from the invaluable

--As of 8.30 p.m. Central time today, Chicago O'Hare had 810 arrivals and departures canceled .

-- Kansas City had 338 cancellations -- out of 559 scheduled flights. [Update Dec. 12 -- Southwest Airlines canceled all of its 71 departures yesterday from the Kansas City airport, saying it did not want people to risk driving to the airport.]

I am being told by pilots and by industry sources that airlines, seeing bad weather, are canceling flights that in previous years would have been flown, if greatly delayed -- expressly to keep the delay figures down and specifically to head off those news accounts of miserable passengers trapped in airports or on parked planes.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Open Skies: Shakeup Coming in Transatlantic Business-Class Markets

British Airways, as mentioned in yesterday's post on the troubles at MaxJet, is creating a new mini-airline that will fly transatlantic routes from various European cities.

The service will start next spring after the Open Skies agreement takes effect at the end of March. The agreement between the European Union and the U.S. greatly relaxes rules on which cities international airlines can serve between Europe and the U.S.

The name for B.A.'s new subsidiary hasn't been announced yet, but B.A. has been developing it under the code-name "Project Lauren." There's lots of speculation about the name, and I'd point out that the domains, along with and the .eu and .de extensions all were registered and parked in early October by someone.

Several months ago, B.A. chairman Willie Walsh said he wasn’t sure whether the anticipated new service would be all business class or a combination of business class (which B.A. brands as Club World) and premium economy (which B.A. calls World Traveller Plus).

B.A. has now decided to launch the airline starting in May. The new B.A. airline will fly 757s most likely configured with two cabins — business class and premium economy, though I don't know yet whether B.A. will brand the business cabins Club World. Initially, B.A. will devote only two or three 757s to the new routes.

The strategy, as Walsh described it to me months ago, is to fly from various U.S. gateway cities with heavy business travel demand to premium-market cities in Europe — he named Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam and said others were possibilities — using 757s.

Given British Air's worldwide networks and alliances, a B.A. entry into the boutique end of the transatlantic premium market would be bad news for MaxJet, since MaxJet flies out of the B.A. bastion at JFK. MaxJet uses 767s that are 18 years old on average.

But it probably wouldn't be good news for Silverjet, sincer Silverjet has long-0range plans to expand after Open Skies. And Eos can't be applauding the prospect of a new layer of premium service by the formidable B.A. B.A. flying a new premium service between Paris and the U.S. is bad news for l'Avion as well.

Not known: Where is the also-formidable Virgin Atlantic on this new strategy? Virgin -- whose luxury Upper Class business-class service is a high-shelf competitor to B.A.'s on the transatlantic London markets -- also has been talking about a new premium service niche between European cities and the U.S.

So there's a realignment in store over the Atlantic, come spring. And there could be casualties, perhaps well before spring.

MaxJet, which abruptly halted trading in its shares on Friday without explaining why, was said to be scrambling for emergency financing. In a statement today, it said it was continuing to operate flights and take bookings.


Repeat After Me: Security, 9/11, Rudy, Security ...

Via YouTube. But remember, in American politics, farce has a tendency to return as history.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

MaxJet Alert

MaxJet, the two year-old all-business-class airline, suspended trading of its stock on a London market.

In a very vague statement yesterday, the airline said "it is business as usual" -- which itself is a red flag because suddenly suspending trading of your stock is by definition not "business as usual." It is not a good sign for a start-up company to clumsily try to hide whatever the problem, disruption or unexpected turn of events is.

MaxJet has been reporting significant losses.

See this story today in the Times of London. (The London Times story says MaxJet is based in the UK. It's actually based in at Washington Dulles airport in Virginia). Also see this one in the Independent.

MaxJet is one of four discount all-business-class international startups to come on line in the last two years.

The others are Eos, which flies between New York and London and occupies the highest-end niche with its 48 lie-flat seats in 757 airplanes; Silverjet, which has been posting respectable loads on transatlantic routes between Newark and London; and l'Avion, which flies between Newark and Paris. (L'Avion seems to be competing with Air France for the title of Crappiest Airline Web Site in the western world, incidentally).

MaxJet flies 767s, with an average age of about 18 years each, between Kennedy and London Stansted; Las Vegas and Stansted and Los Angeles and Stansted. In late October, MaxJet suspended its service between Washington Dulles and Stansted.

The MaxJet roundtrip fare between New York and Stansted is about $3,900. Silverjet, meanwhile, has a fare sale, about $2,200 roundtrip on its Newark-Luton route. American Airlines, by comparison, charges over $8,000 for a refundable round trip business class seat from Kennedy to Heathrow. (Don't gasp: the walk-up first class roundtrip fare is about $13,000).

On Friday, Silverjet brashly announced that MaxJet passengers "worried about flight cancellations" would be accommodated on Silverjet on Friday and Saturday, on a space available basis, if they produced a MaxJet ticket. (MaxJet flew its normal weekend flights.)
The start-ups have generated industry interest in all-premium-class service, by the way.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have been making noises this year about possibly starting some all-business-class routes, or maybe even starting separate small airlines with all-business-class service (or a combination of business class and premium economy class).

There has been speculation that British Air might be looking to acquire an all-business-class airline, but I'm skeptical of that. For example, Willie Walsh, the CEO, told me that B.A. has plenty of suitable planes in the fleet that could, if called upon, be easily converted to accommodate all-business-class or premium-class cabins, depending on routes, flying to various cities in the U.S. from London and various other cities in Europe.
With oil prices hammering every airline's operating-costs projections, there are bound to be a few casualties among recent airline startups. I'd be surprised, for example, if the Midwest-based SkyBus makes it through the winter.

Meanwhile, in the absence of forthright information from MaxJet about what's going on, I'd avoid MaxJet, at least for now. Holding a ticket on an airline that goes belly-up is an EZ Pass to that queue marked "Unsecured Creditors."

If MaxJet is going to continue operations, the airline need to get out front of this situation and level with its customers. Pronto, and in detail.


Here is the MaxJet statement:

"MAXjet has temporarily suspended its share trading on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in the UK. This decision has no effect on MAXjet’s normal operations, and the Company and its Management Team assures its customers that it is business as usual. MAXjet continues to make bookings for its daily flights to/from London, Stansted and New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. There are no changes or cancellations in the flight schedule, and MAXjet will continue to offer its award-winning service."


Friday, December 07, 2007

The Morning News: A Modest Proposal

--This character says "media must stop creating celebrities out of lunatics." But, but ... what will all those Washington reporters do all day?

--The "lyrical terrorist" who posts online poems about how cool it is to behead infidels was given a suspended sentence after a conviction on (weak) terrorist charges in Britain (where else?). Great outfit, incidentally. Add a wimple I'm back in fourth grade being whacked by Sister Mary Godhelpus.

--Via the always excitable Drudge, Agence France Presse quotes John McEnroe fretting about Mafia influence in tennis. Suddenly a new mob-nickname world opens: Tommy "White Shorts" Fatarino; Vinnie "Fuzz Balls" Pecatori. Beware the rackets ... OK, I'll go do some paying work now...


Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Morning News

--Only USA Today, folks, could come up with a headline like this over its story online today about the mall massacre in Omaha:

Horror for holiday shoppers:
'Terrible way to start' season

No, that isn't a parody from the Onion. It's really the headline they put on the story.

[Update, 7.20 a.m. -- The day crew must have got up and had a horrified look at the Web site, because the headline has now disappeared in favor of a more appropriate one. Maybe Al Neuharth was wandering around the office in the middle of the night muttering about what's really important in the USA, and his password still worked.]


--Speaking of Onion, the Onion News Network Undercover Investigative Unit demands answers on airport security.


See Salon's "Ask the Pilot" columnist Patrick Smith today on the Thanksgiving Express Lanes farce and the airplanes-underfueled nonsense overblown by ill-informed reporters.


--Jayzus, come back to Earth and stop smoking that stuff, Pico. In which a travel writer actually states the following: "Air travel is as comfortable and reasonable today as it's ever been."


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

2 Airline Trends That Will Make 2008 Worse

Here are two things we should be paying more attention to: 1. Flight cancellations. 2. Plans by U.S. airlines to further reduce domestic seating capacity next year, in a system in which all domestic flights are already full.

First, flight cancellations:

Since the start of the Thanksgiving holiday, the airlines have been able to avoid a lot of bad publicity – the kind that comes from stranding passengers for many hours on planes parked idly on tarmacs – by canceling flights in advance when conditions start going south.

Obviously, weather is a factor. The Midwest has been hammered with ice and snow. But hey, it’s December. Weather is always a factor. What’s different now is that many airlines have cut domestic flights and seating capacity, and the system has no slack.

The airlines have learned that massive flight delays create very picturesque scenes in airports that resemble Red Cross camps and draw in the media cameras, and could lead to unwanted Congressional attention (assuming Congress is capable of paying attention to anything).

Not to mention Kate Hanni and her vigilant army of about 20,000 volunteers working for federal legislation to force the airlines to treat stranded passengers better. Kate has been advising passengers stuck on planes to take pictures.

So for the airlines, you could argue that it’s a lot more expedient to cancel flights in advance -- and hope that the media doesn’t notice beyond those lame AP bad-weather reports that usually just note that “hundreds of flights were cancelled.” As if the real number doesn’t count or is too hard to find out.

It isn't, by the way.

Let’s look at Chicago O’Hare from last Saturday. Hobbled by bad weather, O’Hare struggled to get 30 percent of its flights in and out on time. But the flight-cancellation figures (from were something else: Of 1,120 scheduled departures that day, 354 were cancelled. Of 1,187 arrivals, 337 were cancelled.

That’s nearly 700 flights that simply did not take off, either from Chicago or from other airports with Chicago as the destination.

Because O’Hare has a high percentage of regional-jet flights (many with about 50 seats), let’s be very conservative and say that each cancelled flight represents, what, 80 passengers? That’s probably a low average, but even then it represents over 55,000 people who didn’t make a flight last Saturday – in a system where all flights are already full, meaning it can’t readily handle tens of thousands of displaced passengers.

Let’s return to O’Hare today (figuratively, because it’s again not a good day to be flying there). More bad weather. And another very high cancellation rate.

Today, as of 1.30 p.m. Central time, 370 flights have been cancelled at O’Hare. [Update, Dec. 6: The total number of cancellations at O'Hare was 508 yesterday.]

For the flights that did fly, the on-time performance during the morning was well under 30 percent -- and the vast majority of late departures and arrivals were at least 45 minutes behind schedule.

That’s just a snapshot. But it’s a picture of things to come.

We’ll soon be seeing another round of those excitable media stories about record numbers of travelers taking to the skies for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

But record numbers of travelers have been taking to the skies all year. And in a system where nearly every seat is already full, an influx of holiday travelers doesn’t mean all that much, beyond misery as usual. In fact, most of them merely replace the business travelers who back out of the system during the holidays.

Barring a big airfare increases to offset oil prices (and the airlines have so far been able to do much more than push through a series of small incremental increases of $5 or so each), demand is likely to continue rising, in already known patterns. The weather is likely to disrupt flying a lot more than it did at Thanksgiving, again in known patterns.

So stand by for heavy rolls, as they say in the Navy when the seas get rough.

Meanwhile, as predicted here, the airlines are further reducing capacity for next year, meaning the squeeze gets even tighter.

Delta, for example, said this week that it would (further) reduce domestic capacity by up to 5 percent in 2008, while adding capacity to lucrative international expansion routes. Sometime in 2008, Delta says, international flights will account for 40 percent of its overrall seats. Southwest Airlines -- which recently started a new focus on luring more business travelers -- said this week is was further reducing growth plans for next year and planning to mothball some older 737s.

United Airlines -- which has already announced a 3-4 percent reduction in domestic capacity next year -- also is looking at a big international expansion in 2008 and the following two years.

According to this AP report, Jake Brace, the chief financial officer, told an investors' conference in Chicago yesterday that United "can carry out its next round of international expansion by reconfiguring or shifting planes from its domestic operations" -- but may also buy some new long-haul planes. (My question: Yeah, you and whose wallet?)

If you're a domestic airline competing with all of those fancy international airlines, you can maybe foist some Boeing 767s onto your international customers, but I wouldn't do it with the fierce competition flying better airplanes. The current long-haul workhorses, the Boeing 777-ERs, cost about $270 million each, a little more than a 747.

Assuming its uncle doesn't die and leave it about five billion dollars to buy new long-haul airplanes, how does United really propose to beef up international operations by 15 percent?

Hey, I can answer that! Shift more big planes to overseas routes and fly more crummy little regional jets on ever-longer domestic routes. And cut service in smaller markets that don't cough up enough dough per passenger.

As Michael Boyd keeps pointing out, when domestic airlines cut capacity, the first places they put the screws to are small and mid-sized markets where the economics don’t work well because they don’t have well-established business-travel feeds into airline hubs, especially feeds into international routes.

So look out Small Town U.S.A.!

And keep an eye on those cancellation figures to get an idea of how the system is tottering.

The latest report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that 132,632 domestic flights were cancelled in the first 10 months of this year, compared with 94,282 in that period in 2006, and 117,393 in 2005.

Yes, flight operations are up slightly, given the increased relilance on small-payload regional jets. But remember, each cancellation represents x-number of passengers thrown into a system that, by definition, can't readily accommodate them.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Free the London Underground Emma!

Proving that only some Brits have a great sense of humor, the nitwits who run the London Underground system fired Emma Clarke, the woman whose voice is heard on some of those famous voice announcements for the London subway system.

You know, "Mind the gap" and all that. The voice that tells you what the next stop is. The one with the accent that American feature writers always call "plummy" and the English used to call "Received Pronunciation."

Emma's offense: She got interviewed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper and allowed as how she doesn't ride the subways herself. She takes buses or taxis instead.

"The thought of being stuck in the Tube with strangers for minutes on end and having to listen to the endless repeated messages of my own voice fills me with horror," she said. Sounds to me like she was joking, incidentally, but that isn't the point.

Emma (above), a comedy writer, is also a voice-over specialist for radio and for advertisers. On her Web site, she's posted a variety of pretty funny spoof announcements. Here's the link.

I love the gentle admonition to American tourists. And also the one about people engrossed in "their Sudokos." Also the one about Londoners who think their city is the center of the world.

The nimrod PR man for the London Underground said that Emma was fired because "we wouldn't employ somebody to promote our services who simultaneously criticized our services."

I recently saw the excellent movie adaptation of the play "The History Boys," and reading the PR man's statement caused me to hear the voice of Clive Merrison, the wonderful actor who played the pinch-faced Headmaster, in my head.

Now if someone would only track down that American lady who sounds like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, and who does those grating, annoying announcements for U.S. airport terminals -- like that infuriating one they keep running at the Houston airport that says you will be arrested if you make "eny inappropriate remarks or commints concerning s'curity."

I'll bet that lady doesn't have a Web site with funny spoof announcements.

She could get 'rristed.


Snow Day 2 [With 3 P.M. Update]

A lot of airplanes are out of position today because of the ice storms in the Midwest, which arrived in the Northeast overnight as snow. Luckily it’s a Sunday and, if nothing else goes wrong, the air-travel system should struggle back to shape by tomorrow.

Till the next time the weather turns bad. This being the cusp of winter, that'll be soon enough.

But consider: Of the 2,297 departures and arrivals scheduled yesterday at Chicago’s O’Hare, 683 were cancelled. That’s a whole lot of airplanes spending Sunday morning where they aren’t supposed to be, in a system without any slack.

Questions: Where are the thousands of people who were booked on those cancelled flights? How many are still stuck in airports, given the fact that there are often no short-term re-booking options if your flight doesn’t fly.

Anyway, be sure to check on your flight times today or tomorrow.

[Update Sunday 3 p.m. -- I was maybe a little too optimistic earlier. Cancellations to and from airports in the Northeast are piling up, and no way does this get fully sorted out by tomorrow, even if the weather is great. As of 3 p.m., there already had been about 225 cancellations at Newark. Snow-and-ice delays were stacking up at Kennedy, LaGuardia, O'Hare and Philadelphia, and at San Francisco high winds were delaying flights.

If you're traveling tomorrow, plan ahead. And make sure you have an apple or a granola bar or two in your carry-on, in case your flight gets stranded for hours on the tarmac, as sometimes happens.]


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Best Thanksgiving Travel TV News Feature

The Onion News Network on the scene, as usual.

Also, in light of the hostage-taking disturbance at Hillary Clinton headquarters in Rochester, New Hampshire, yesterday, help for schizophrenics.


Snow Day in the Midwest

Delay alert if you're traveling today, especially from, to or through the Midwest:

Freezing temperatures and ice are hampering air travel in the Midwest and into upstate New York. As of noon, Chicago O'Hare had a ground-delay program in effect. Aircraft de-icing was slowing traffic at Minneapolis/St. Paul. Des Moines Airport was closed this morning and hadn't re-opened as of noon, after a United regional jet skidded off the runway.

(Update: At 6 p.m. Eastern time, O’Hare is a mess. According to, of the 426 flights scheduled to depart O'Hare between noon and 6 p.m. Central time (an hour from this writing) 159 have already been cancelled. Of 461 flights scheduled to arrive from other airports in that period, 163 have been cancelled. Not delayed -- cancelled. Now the delays and cancellations at O’Hare and elsewhere in the Midwest are starting to roll out to either coast, and come tomorrow a lot of airplanes are going to be sitting at the wrong airports. Good thing today is a Saturday (though that sentiment does you no good if you happen to be flying today).


For Rudy, A Little Travelin' Music

Not at all sure Rudy is going to be able to 9/11 his way out of this derision about his 2000-2001 business-travel expense accounts. These are being widely e-mailed. Source: