Thursday, January 31, 2008

Michigan Passengers' Rights Bill

There are now passengers' rights bills pending at various stages in the legislative process in more than a dozen states, and one that became law in New York on Jan. 1.

These all are in response to airlines' strandings of passengers on tarmacs for long periods of time -- a phenomenon that accelerated just over a year ago as shrunken domestic capacity and continuing high demand collided in a system the airlines have designed to have very little slack to accommodate even routine weather disruptions.

Here's a link to a copy one of the most recent state bills, now in the Michigan Senate transportation committee. This one is different from the others because, at least as currently written, it seeks to set strict health and safety standards but allows the airlines to hold passengers for up to eight hours on parked planes. Most of the others set the limit at three hours before a plane must return to a gate to let passengers off.

(The Michigan law, as drafted, also contains some sloppy language that would get a paper bounced off a student's head in any decent law school. For example, it states that a carrier needs to provide, "as needed," fresh air and lights, waste removal and adequate food and water after three hours on a plane stuck on a tarmac. And it states that a passenger who is allowed off a plane after eight hours shall be accommodated on "the next similar route. [My italics]. Hell, a South Jersey real estate lawyer could poke a hole in that language, let alone a high-powered airline lawyer.)

Anyway, the New York law doesn't address the time period at all -- deliberately, its sponsors said, to avoid conflicting with federal law that deregulated airline flight operations in 1978. Rather, the New York law (like all of the other proposed state laws) addresses health and safety issues that clearly are within a state's authority, and holds the airlines responsible for violations within New York state, with potential fines of $1,000 per passenger.

The airline industry is furiously lobbying against these bills, especially in Congress. But the states are where the momentum is.

Behind these bills (and pending federal legislation) is, as I have said previously, the Coalition for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights (


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Oh God, the Pilot's On the Intercom and He Sounds Upset .....

Now, there is one thing you don't want to hear on an intercom over an airplane. That's when the pilot comes on and says, in that signature voice of resignation: "Well, folks ..."

But there is another thing you really, really don't want to hear the pilot say. And that is a pilot directly, personally invoking the Almighty -- whether it's, uh, something startling like "Allahu akbar!" or, in the case of this wing-nut co-pilot on a rampage on an Air Canada flight over the North Atlantic to England, "I need to talk to you God."

(Link is to the Evening Standard of London, via today's Drudge).

Now, in any rational world in this sort of horrifying in-flight situation, any heads-up Almighty would interrupt gently on the celestial intercom and say, "I hear you, Skippy, but please land the airplane first and then go find a church. They're all over the place. Then we'll talk. O.K.?"

Though there was quite a brawl, though passengers had to help restrain the fly-amok pilot while the sane pilot diverted the flight to Ireland, Air Canada PR man Peter Fitzpatrick said the following to the Evening Standard: "At no time were the safety of the passengers or crew in question." Fitzpatrick "refused to be drawn on whether the pilot had suffered a breakdown," the newspaper reported.

Dunno here, seems there was danger -- and breakdown seems to be the right word, unless this is how the fellow was trained to fly a plane and comport himself. He did end up in a psychiatric ward, you'll note. But maybe it was just for a flu shot.

Now let's see, Air Canada PR, Air Canada PR ...

Oh right! The same flack who declined to confirm or discuss whether sudden "air turbulence" sent passengers, carts and whatnot tumbling around on an Air Canada flight three weeks ago, causing 10 people to be hospitalized on landing. Even though passengers and crew said it was air turbulence --- and a perfect teaching opportunity to explain why those seemingly arbitrary "fasten your seat belts" the flight crews routinely make should always be followed, for safety.

I posted on that here on Jan. 10.

Meanwhile, pax domini sit semper vobiscum. And keep your seat belts on. Turbulence can occur when you least expect it, trust me.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Airlines Getting Nervous About Passengers' Rights Bills


Reflecting growing concern in the airline industry that the federal government might crack down on continuing customer service abuses, including stranding passengers for long periods of time on tarmacs, the Air Transport Association has filed a lengthy position paper (.pdf linked to above) with the Transportation Department opposing any move to require airlines to have contingency plans for “tarmac delays” and to incorporate those contingency plans into their “contracts of carriage.”

Contracts of carriage are the fine-print agreements you make with an airline every time you buy a ticket, basically allowing the airline to do anything to you except deliberately kill you, and in some cases there’s even a loophole for that.

The Air Transport Association (ATA) is the industry’s leading trade group. It sued unsuccessfully in federal court last month to try to block a passengers’ rights law that took effect in New York State Jan. 1. Legislation for similar laws is pending in other states, and federal passengers’ bills of rights legislation is pending in both houses of Congress.

As it has consistently done, the ATA blames most delays, cancellations and other disruptions on “inadequate system capacity and technology,” meaning a crappy national air traffic system that doesn't have enough capacity to handle disruptions like … weather.

But the ATA has been somewhat coy in this matter, given that proposed technological fixes are years behind schedule and won’t be made for years more to come.

The aviation industry forecaster Michael Boyd hammers the ATA relentlessly on this. Why, he asks, is the airline industry trade group — which has no problem denouncing private jets and/or Kate Hanni as villains — so timid about stating the obvious: That the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration have allowed this nation’s air-traffic system — specifically, the system for managing air space and traffic — to deteriorate so badly.

Boyd, by the way, is especially tough on the Federal Aviation Administration. See his useful primer-screed for the news media on that subject on his Web site

No one that I know argues with the ATA that the inadequate air-traffic system is a root cause of delays. Everyone I know worries that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, especially with the large cohort of experienced air traffic controllers hired during the Reagan Administration now reaching retirement age. Those men and woman have held the system together, and it will not be easy to replace them.

The issue the passengers’ rights movement people have with the airlines isn’t air-traffic control -- it is health, safety and a concern about a basic level of customer service. For over a year now, airlines have stranded tens of thousands of passengers on parked planes, while cabin conditions deteriorate, food and water are unavailable, toilets become disgusting if not unusable, people get sick and frantic. This, say the passengers’ rights people, must stop — even if it takes a federal law to make it stop.

The airline industry is terrified that government will step in. In the statement linked to above, for example, see on Page 4 where the ATA argues that requiring an airline by law to return to a gate after a certain period of time (three hours, say) “could force operational changes that would not benefit passengers” and is “an enormous carrier concern.”

Then my jaw dropped at the language in the next paragraph:

“A DOT requirement that carriers set and adhere to an unqualified, hard time-limit to return to the gate has potential to be counterproductive to safety and customer service. For example, recent planning by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for potential pandemics indicates the government may order carriers to keep passengers on airplanes under certain circumstances.” …

Oh. Sweet. Jayzus. … They’re playing the Bubonic Plague card.


Super Bowl High Flying

Here's what airborne private-jet traffic looked like last year after the Super Bowl in Miami. Planes waited for hours at various general aviation airports for takeoff slots.

More private jets are expected in for the Super Bowl in Phoenix. Let's just say it's going to be interesting.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Stranded Passengers, Some Links


I’m a little late out of the gate getting this .pdf (above) posted. It’s the Transportation Department Inspector General’s background report, as of September, on the stranded passengers and other airline foul-ups.

(I’m still stumbling around trying to do things like upload .pdfs).

And while I’m at it, here is a copy of a resolution that recently was passed in Missouri. Sad to say those boys ain’t so hot on their math — they seem to have under-counted the Dec. 29, 2006 debacle in Texas by 124 airplanes stranded, and they’re off by another couple hundred on the Feb. 14 meltdown at JetBlue in New York. But the resolution does show that the states are putting more pressure on Congress to get moving on the two federal passengers’ rights bills now pending — even as states themselves take the initiative by drafting draft their own versions of passengers rights laws, like the one that went into effect in New York State on Jan. 1.


In fairness I’m linking here to the lawsuit complaint against New York State made by the airline trade group — here.newyorkcomplaint.pdf

I don’t have a .pdf yet of Federal District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn’s scathing dismissal of the airlines’ complaint (he basically said they were full of baloney on every count) and I’ll post it when I get one.

Meanwhile, here’s New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s statement on the federal court ruling against the airlines.

And below is the press release the airline trade-industry group came up with in response. I was particularly taken, as I said earlier, by the flip and dismissive tone this press release took — for example in referring to U.S. Judge Lawrence Kahn’s court — twice — as a “New York Lower Court,” when in fact it’s a mighty federal district court. The snottiness some of the airlines show their customers is reflected in the snottiness their trade group shows toward a federal court, in my opinion. Here’s the press release:

ATA Responds to New York Lower Court Ruling on Challenge to Airline Services Legislation


WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2007 – The Air Transport Association of America (ATA), the industry trade organization representing the leading U.S. airlines, today issued the following 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:

“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.”

ATA will have no further comment.

ATA airline members and their affiliates transport more than 90 percent of all U.S. airline passenger and cargo traffic. For additional information about the industry, visit


Friday, January 25, 2008

The Airlines Bark, But the Passengers Bills of Rights Caravan Moves On

State by state by state, while the airline industry's empty suit of a trade group harrumphs and plods along trying to pretend this is all nonsense stirred up by a disgruntled gadfly, airline passengers' bills of rights are moving ahead steadily in legislatures.

The movement is all a direct result of a remarkable grassroots initiative led by Kate Hanni, who was one of thousands of passengers stranded on airplanes on tarmacs for 10 hours and more last year -- and continuing into this year.

New York State enacted a law that took effect Jan. 1, after the airline trade group -- which huffs and puffs but steadfastly refuses to enunciate the issues involved, let alone try to intelligently refute the specific arguments -- tried unsuccessfully to block it in federal court. As many as eight other state legislatures have pending bills. There are also pending bills in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Kate's group's web site is

[Here, by the way, is an example from a recent TV news interview of why the airline lobby hates Kate Hanni.]

And here are some excerpts from a draft copy of the pending Washington State bill:

S-4171.1 _____________________________________________
Senate Bill 6269
State of Washington 60th Legislature 2008 Regular Session
By Senator Jacobsen
Read first time 01/14/08. Referred to Committee on Transportation.

"AN ACT Relating to the rights of airline passengers ...

... The legislature finds and declares that the number of passenger complaints about the airline industry has increased significantly. Further, the legislature is committed to airline passenger policies that put the safety of all passengers first and foremost, while not imposing unrealistic economic burdens that adversely affect airline profitability or create exorbitant ticketprice increases. ...

[However] ...

Whenever airline passengers have boarded an aircraft and are delayed more than three hours on the aircraft prior to takeoff, the airline carrier shall ensure that passengers are provided for as needed with:

-- Electric generation service to provide temporary power for fresh air and lights;

--Waste removal service for holding tanks of on-board restrooms;

--Access to medical attention, adequate food and drinking water, and other refreshments.

All airline carriers shall provide clear and conspicuous notice on consumer complaint contact information by providing forms or posting signs, or both, at all service desks and other appropriate areas as necessary in an airport, which contain information in a form and manner
prescribed by the office including, but not limited to, the following:

--A telephone number and mailing address of the office, the aviation consumer protection division, and the office of aviation enforcement of the United States department of transportation;

--Explanations of the rights of airline passengers; and vasic information on the office.

--All airline carriers shall establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within twenty-four hours of receipt and appropriately resolve the complaints within two weeks of receipt.

--All airline carriers shall notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions and delays and cancellations transmitted by airport overhead announcement on the aircraft announcement system and by posting the delay or cancellation on airport television monitors.

--All airline carriers shall establish procedures for returning passengers to a terminal gate when delays occur to ensure that an aircraft does not sit on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a terminal gate. [My note: Woop, woop! That's the provision the airlines dread most, as they claim, with some justification, that it will create even worse jams as passengers try to get accommodated on alternate flights, in a system with no slack]

--All airline carriers shall provide for the needs of elderly passengers, passengers with disabilities, and passengers with special needs by establishing procedures for assisting with moving and retrieving baggage, and moving passengers from one area of the airport to another at all times by airline carrier personnel.

--All airline carriers shall publish and update monthly on the carrier's public web site a list of flights that are delayed thirty minutes or more at least forty percent of the time during a single
4 month.

--All airline carriers shall compensate bumped passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over twelve hours with a refund of one hundred fifty percent of the ticket price. [My note: Woop! Woop! Red alert for the airlines, which think that they're doing their duty by giving you a voucher for future travel that you may not be able, or willing, to book. This provision seems to refer to cold cash.]

--All airline carriers shall make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies, and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and shall update all of this information frequently.

--All airline carriers shall ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury. If baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline carrier shall notify the customer within twelve hours of the baggage
being reported lost or misplaced and compensate the consumer in an amount equal to the current market value of the baggage and its contents.

--The office of the airline consumer advocate is created in the attorney general's office. The attorney general shall designate one or more employees to serve in the office.

--The office shall: (...)

--Propose solutions, including administrative changes to practices and procedures of the airline carrier or airport;


--At the conclusion of an investigation, the office shall either Dismiss the complaint if it determines that a violation has not occurred; or

--Determine that a violation has likely occurred and, if so, attempt to resolve the matter by settlement, which may include a monetary settlement to cover the costs and expenses incurred by the office in investigating the violation. If a settlement is not achieved, then the matter must be referred to the attorney general for further proceedings including, if necessary, legal action.

--The attorney general may recover a civil penalty not to exceed one thousand dollars per violation, per passenger. ..."

[My comment: I would not get caught between an airline industry lobbyist right now and the nearest departure gate for Olympia, the Washington capital.]


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Turning In the Troublemakers

I don't smoke, except maybe once a year when I might score a nice big Havana and I sit out back in the desert, acres away from anyone else, and puff away in the sunshine. Once a year, I said. Way out in the Sonoran desert.

Even so, there are people who would object to this on environmental grounds. A good friend of mine, a splendid fellow who is kind to all things animal, vegetable and mineral, used to occasionally smoke a pipe. He was strolling one summer day through the delightful Brookdale Park in the People's Republic of Montclair, N.J., when some red-faced termagant accosted him and ordered him to snuff out the pipe, as it was "destructive to the trees."

Around the same time, my wife and I inadvisedly took a "tree orientation" tour organized by a community group in the same park, with the idea that we might learn something. Instead, all we got was a scold about people who trim tree branches around their homes. The woman who ran the tour said they were guilty of "arboricide," which evidently is a crime in the People's Republic of Montclair.

But I digress, as usual.

My friend's pipe -- which he kindly long ago abandoned under the endless scorn that rained upon him -- came to mind today when I read the following press release from a public relations firm that represents the Swissotel in Chicago.

I'm all for smoke-free hotel rooms. I hate people who smoke in hotel rooms.

But I get a little creeped out when a hotel run by the Swiss -- who, uh, had some issues about whom to "turn in" during those ... um, unpleasantries of World War II -- basically brags about paying off a staff member "who has caught a smoker."

Here's a press release just received from one Empower Public Relations, which represents the ever-vigilant Swissotel Chicago. Rat out your guests. Read it for yourself:

The $250 Cigarette

As Illinoisans begin to clear their lungs after the state-wide smoking ban, Swissôtel Chicago is guaranteeing a smoke-free stay. On December 3, Swissôtel instituted a strict policy, fining any smoking guests $250. The hotel is so committed to a smoke-free, healthy environment that any housekeeper who turns in a smoker actually receives a monetary award.

“The health of our guests and staff is of the utmost importance to us, and we will do whatever we can to preserve it,” says Nicole Jachimiak, Director of Marketing Programs and Public Relations. “We have asked our staff to help us with the smoke-free program to guarantee that our rooms are always 100 percent clean and fresh.”

When a guest is caught smoking in a room, that room is shut down for the day in order to have the carpets, drapes and all linens washed and shampooed. Only after the smoke and tobacco smell has been eliminated will Swissôtel open the room. The $250 fine covers the cost of closing the room for 24 hours.

Please let me know if you would like to speak to Nicole Jachimiak about this smoke-free program or a member of the staff who has caught a smoker.


Swissôtel Chicago offers 632 luxuriously oversized guestrooms and suites and 32 meeting rooms, which can accommodate up to 500 people. Designed by noted Chicago architect Harry Weese, the all-glass triangular hotel, wedged into the confluence of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, has fabulous wrap-around views from Navy Pier to Grant Park.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Coming Up: Annus Horribilis

Annus Horribilis is what the Queen of England, in a speech, called 1992 -- a year in which several of her goofy children got divorced, her favorite castle caught fire and her wack-job ex-daughter-in-law, the Princess of Pluto or whatever the poor girl regarded herself as, really began wigging out on hysterics and high colonics.

But at least the Queen had good air transportation, not to mention plenty of spare castles, a hat full of diamonds, and some very excellent horses. (Which she, unlike Pony Boy Sarkozy of France, can actually ride with skill). And by the way, am I the only one who thinks Pony Boy Sarkozy's new main squeeze looks a little like Michael Jackson in some photos? (Above)

But I digress. Forget the Queen of England.

Because if you hated 2007 in air travel, you are really going to hate 2008.

I've been at the news game since Christ was a corporal, and I have never heard so much dark muttering about air travel.

First and foremost, there are these imminent airline mergers. Last week, the Wall Street Journal (Incidentally, I worked there when their slogan was "The Daily Diary of the American Dream," and you weren't supposed to giggle at it) stuck this front-page blurb headline on a story about imminent mergers of airlines: "Friendlier Skies."

Friendlier? For who? Not for you and me, they won't be. Mergers will mean: Fewer available seats. Lousier service. A collapse of frequent-flier programs, which already have one foot in the grave. Less service to and from mid-size and smaller cities.

Oh, and more money for airline executives and those who might happen to own airline stocks.

Meanwhile, they're still stranding passengers on tarmacs. I've had e-mails from people stuck on planes in Atlanta that day and night for over 10 hours.

This situation just gets worse in 2008, and airlines have done virtually nothing to remedy it.

Take the Queen's lead. Get a horse.

Meanwhile, I'm going to be more closely following in months to come the actions of airports, which understand customer-service better, and whose executives are trying to get ahead of the problem, though they have tread very lightly around the airlines.

With the new capabilities on Randy Petersen's, I will instruct myself on how to upload various texts to make things more reader-friendly. For now please excuse my cutting and pasting the following news from airports:

Airports Outline Care for Stranded Passengers

ACI-NA Workshop Results to be Presented to DOT Task Force

Washington, D.C. (January 18, 2008) - Airports Council
International-North America's (ACI-NA) airport members and other
aviation industry stakeholders today developed operational
recommendations to care for passengers who are stranded on airplanes or
at airports because of weather-related incidents, security, air space
congestion or flight delays due to maintenance problems or other issues.

At ACI-NA's Workshop on Passenger Care During Irregular Operations, held
Jan. 17-18 in Arlington, Virginia, discussions focused on planning and
coordination among airports, airlines, concessionaires, local emergency
services, hotels, federal government officials from the Department of
Transportation (DOT), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border
Protection (CBP).

"A high level of communications, collaboration and coordination are the
foundation of airport plans for irregular operations," said James
Crites, Executive Vice President of Operations, Dallas/Fort Worth
International Airport, who organized the workshop with ACI-NA's Senior
Advisor for Policy, Dick Marchi.

"Respect and great care for our customers is our top priority when
passengers can't get home," Crites said. "Some of the terrific thinking
by the group included detailed planning to care for unaccompanied
minors, families with children, passengers with disabilities or special
needs, pets, and others. Participants stressed the need for
communication at all levels, using technology more effectively, and
developing solid partnerships with all stakeholders so that everyone
knows what their role is in helping passengers."

Workshop participants committed to ensuring that passengers stranded on
airlines or at airports are supplied with information and amenities that
will help address their unique needs and make their waiting period more

More than 100 participants from airports in the U.S., Canada and the
bahamas outlined a passenger care checklist that will be made available
to the soon-to-be-formed Department of Transportation (DOT) Contingency
Plan Task Force. The goal of the Task Force is to create model plans to
assist airports and airlines coordinate more effectively during
irregular operations.

"Through their participation in this workshop, airports, airlines and
others demonstrated their commitment to superior customer service and
meeting passenger needs," ACI-NA President Greg Principato commented.
"The results of these discussions will go a long way in assisting DOT's
Task Force with their contingency plans."

Kate Hanni, Executive Director, Coalition for Airline Passengers Bill of
Rights, kicked off the conference with an overview of the goals of the
22,000-member coalition. During the workshop several airports presented
their contingency plans that address vital passenger needs during
irregular operations. Following those presentations, workshop attendees
brainstormed ways they could provide even better service to stranded

This workshop followed a successful meeting led by Dallas Fort-Worth
International Airport last September addressing the same issues, where
industry experts identified the need for formalized planning between
airports, airlines and other stakeholders who prepare for these

Contingency plans include components such as assuring adequate staffing
in shops and restaurants after hours, providing passenger assistance to
locate hotel rooms, providing free wi-fi in the terminal, providing
cots, mats, blankets and personal hygiene products, assisting with
chaperones for unaccompanied minors and providing pet relief areas.

# # #



Subject: Airports Outline Care for Stranded Passengers
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 20:30:38 +0000

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Never Mind ...

Two updates:

--The much-anticipated Boeing 787 may not make it this year after all. The Wall Street Journal reported a further delay in production of the spiffy new plane, for which Boeing has more than 800 orders valued at about $135 billion. Here's a summary, via Reuters.

--The airlines' rush starting Friday to slap on $50 fare hikes/fuel surcharges suddenly collapsed when Continental Airlines folded its hand. Here's Rick Seaney's latest report:

"$50 Roundtrip Airline Ticket Fuel Surcharge Officially Dead

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008 1:35pm CST

This afternoon in the 12:30pm EST domestic U.S. airfare distribution the proprietary airfare processing system noted significant system wide airfare increase rollback activity related to the United Airlines $50 roundtrip fuel surcharge increase attempt late last week.

Delta Air Lines and US Airways rolled back to pre-increase levels ... leaving only Northwest Airlines remaining with the increase. Northwest has been slower both matching and rolling back than other airlines and at this point has no choice but to rollback to stay competitive. got comments from United spokesperson Robin Urbanski, who said only, “We rescinded the move to keep our fares competitive with other airlines” and American Airlines representative Tim Wagner echoed those sentiments, saying his carrier rolled back because “We weren’t competitive.”

Most legacy airlines (except some United Airlines markets) had a $20 roundtrip surcharge in place before matching the United 50$ roundtrip fuel surcharge over the weekend – all but Northwest have rolled back to this previous $20 roundtrip fuel surcharge level.

Continental Airlines appears to be the spoiler in this particular increase attempt as they were the first to roll back. ...This will be the last update on this particular increase unless Northwest fails to rollback later this evening."


Monday, January 14, 2008

Battle Stations! The Filipino Monkey Stalks the Strait of Hormuz!

My first "business-travel" experiences were in spending four years in the U.S. Navy, including one year on the ground in Saigon. I got there in early 1968, for historians among you.

Recently, and ever since the appearance online of that video of the incident in the Gulf of Hormuz involving U.S. Navy warships and the pesky (and reckless) Iranian speedboats (great story on the technique of "swarming" the other day in the Times), I've been curious about that strange voice that comes into the transmission, and seems to sound like Chevy Chase knocking on a door in the early Saturday Night Live days, saying, "Land shark ..."

Hey, George ("Dodged Vietnam") Bush: Chill, man. It appears as if the the Filipino Monkey has struck again.

Ol' George wouldn't know anything about actual military lore, of course, because his military "service"consisted of a stint in the Texas National Guard, a portion of which was spent A.W.O.L., which was still a shootable capital offense when I was in the actual armed services.

Navy officers, navigators and radiomen (and women) all know the Filipino Monkey, the generic name for the inevitable pain-in-the-ass adolescent with a CD radio, or the modern equivalent, who messes around, shore-to-ship, when ships are close to shore -- as they are in the Strait of Hormuz. Here's an even better link to the Filipino Monkey lore, from the UK Guardian.

I'd say the Navy on duty last week exercised admirable restraint with those speedboats, given the known perils of the terrorist technique of swarming. If I were the Iranian navy, I wouldn't push my luck again with that stunt.

I liked it the other day when good ol' Fred Thompson woke up long enough (hey, put yourself in the place of those poor souls dashing around the country running for president, when you and I can't even make a connection through Houston!) to remark of those Iranian speedboat-hotshots:

"I think one more step and they would have been meeting those virgins they've been looking so forward to seeing."

Ol' Fred, of course, never was in the military, though like the other chicken-hawks he talks a very good game to the uninformed.

I need to add my own caveat to Fred's wisecrack. The Islamic terrorists are not thinking things through if they believe that "paradise"means that you are cast as the central figure in the lives of 72 -- count 'em -- 72 virgins -- all contemplating eternity with the likes some bozos who thought it might be a good idea to swarm a United States Navy convoy.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff , undoubtedly impressed by the total confusion the Department of Transportation unleashed on the traveling public with its incomprehensible Dec. 28 directive on lithium batteries, has now got travelers in a befuddled uproar again.

[Hey! Wait a minute! Now that I look at that press release, I see that the "Dec. 28" directive on lithium batteries, linked to above, has actually been rewritten by DOT for a little more clarity, and sneakily back-dated to Dec. 28 -- so you won't have the original one to look at and see what a bunch of nimrods they were. Trust me, the version that actually appeared on the DOT web site on Dec. 28 and for about week thereafter was incomprehensible-on-a-stick. And I have copies.]

Anyway, you'll have to sort this one out yourself. Bottom line: Nuttiness, but it ain't gonna happen for a long time if at all.

[Update Jan. 14: USA Today today has the most cogent story explaining this .]

Already, there's Congressional reaction. In a letter of rebuke to Chertoff, Bennie G. Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, says that the license plan as outlined raises "more questions than answers."

Me, I'm all worn out from trying to straighten out the rest of the media on lithium batteries, and besides, I was born after 1964 (which I recall, incidentally, as the last very good year before everything went straight to hell) -- and for a change being an old fart has some benefit, that is, beyond wisdom tempered with the knowledge of what I went through over the years to acquire it.

My first question, of course, was what yours undoubtedly will be: Does this mean an extra trip to the dread Motor Vehicles Office? (My own plan is to move to Arizona before my current New Jersey license expires).

Once at the D.M.V., after the requisite four-hour wait, will a sullen Motor Vehicles employee staple a microchip into your skull?

I'm glad we have a place out in the desert. Easier to go off the grid.

[Update Jan. 13, Tucson, Arix. -- Lending more proof to the idea that readers of local newspapers have no hope of ever again being adequately informed by intelligent reporting and editing, the Arizona Daily Star, a Lee Enterprises newspaper in Tucson, leads the front page today with the following headline: " 'Real ID' needed to fly as early as May 11." And the lede paragraph says: "Arizona residents may find themselves unable to use their state driver's (sic) licenses to board airplanes as soon as May 11."]


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Airline Bonehead PR Stunt of the Year (So Far): Let's Avoid the Opportunity to Discuss Air Turbulence

Above: Awaiting the Official Word while resisting the urge to speculate ...

I know it's only 10 days after New Years, but we already have a candidate for Airline Public Relations Bonehead Stunt of the Year: A flack at Air Canada who declined to discuss whether serious injuries sustained by passengers on a flight from Victoria to Toronto today were caused by severe clear-air turbulence even though that's exactly what passengers said after the plane made an emergency landing in Calgary.

"It's going to take a bit of time to determine exactly what happened, I would encourage people to refrain from speculation," the Air Canada PR man told CTV Newsnet.

Wot? He would encourage people to refrain from speculation, even as eyewitnesses saw dishes, trays and other passengers tumbling around and felt the plane rock and roll? Oh hell, let's do go out on a limb here and speculate, because the subject is important if you fly.

It probably wasn't a poltergeist. Nor was it likely a brawl among passengers who tossed things and each other around. I'd rule out a possible encounter with a joyriding U.F.O.

Here's a case in which I think we can probably take the eyewitness accounts at face value.

The plane "went up and then sideways," one passenger told the Calgary Herald and said that a friend of hers was injured. "She flew up to the ceiling and right down."

Another passenger was quoted saying this in the Toronto Star: “Some of the armrests on the aisle seat sides were bent 60 degrees from people holding on — that’s how extreme it was.”

Yep, sounds like air turbulence, sure enough. I don't think we need to await the NTSB report 18 months from now to figure this one out.

As I say, the year is young and I will be accepting nominations for new Airline PR Bonehead Stunts as time goes on. I mean, wasn't this a good time to at least point out how serious sudden clear-air turbuelence can be, rather than coyly declining to discuss it?

Incidentally, those airline in-flight announcements that suggest you keep your seat belt fastened even when the seat-belt light is out are a guard against sudden air turbulence. They're good advice, because you don't always get a warning -- and neither do the pilots.

Air turbulence is serious stuff.

Take it from me, you can be flying along peacefully, minding your own business, and all of sudden something totally and utterly unexpected can happen to make you realize just how mortally vulnerable you are in a metal tube hurtling through the skies six miles above the earth. This has a marvelous way of focusing the attention.

Since that unexpected trip into the Amazon I had 15 months ago, people have asked me if I'm more afraid of flying. Not really, I reply -- but I am a hell of a lot more afraid of crashing.

Wear your seat-belts. The airlines don't like to say this, but a seat-belt won't do diddley for you in an crash. They're mainly to protect you from air turbulence, and they work.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Ahoy! Swiftboat Is Just an Old Tub

Some swiftboat that was!

The ludicrous characters of the scarily named Revelation Press have just announced their much-hyped "swiftboating" of a presidential candidate.

It turns out they are going after Bishop Romney. Mormons, it seems, believe in strange concepts, like transubstantiation and virgin birth. No, wait. That's the other ones. Mormons, it seems, want to set up a world-wide theocracy.(Given their druthers, that is)

Stop the presses!

So does Tom Cruise and that intense Korean preacher dude who takes out those full-page ads in the Times going on about Almighty God and angels in real small print.

My bet was that today's swiftboating was going to have something to do with Rudy Giuliani and the new winter line of Ann Klein fashions. We never get to have any fun anymore.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Now What? quote the immortal lament of the long-suffering General Halftrack in the "Beetle Bailey" comic strip.

Till yesterday, I was out in the Sonoran desert for another stretch, successfully ignoring the sorry media circus in Iowa -- a state that wily native son Meredith Willson churlishly depicted in the great American musical "The Music Man" as being populated by people who were narrow-minded, quarrelsome, cheap, parochial, and easy to manipulate. He'd have thought the same of the traveling salesmen among the media -- 2,500 of whom were accredited to cover the silly Iowa caucuses. This is the same news media that in general can't find 24 inches of print space or two minutes of broadcast time to cover the world.

Anyway, I find that it's way easier to ignore the clinical insanity of the presidential political process holed up in the desert -- but then I had to come home, now contemplating the meaning of whateverinhellthisisallabout.

Not to mention this, and this.

Sweet sufferin' Jayzus, is there any end to the insanity?

Oh, I almost forgot. The good news is that this a slow travel season, with the leisure-travelers in scant supply, and thus a very good time to use some of that play-money that is frequent flier miles. I flew Continental from Tucson to Newark in coach with a return to Tucson on Tuesday in first, all for a mere 35,000 miles.

As always, the advice here regarding miles is, if you got 'em, spend 'em. I'm headed back to the desert.

By the way, I know some people in southern Arizona whose opposition to the wall sealing off the border is based on the apprehension that if might prevent them from fleeing to Mexico, on horseback if necessary, till the presidential election blows over.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Passenger Strandings: The Lawsuits

As I have said here before, airlines have no one to blame but themselves for this.

The New York State Passengers' Rights law took effect today, days after the first lawsuits were filed in the event that started it all last Dec. 29, when American Airlines stranded thousands of passengers on parked planes in the Texas region for 10 hours and more.

Stranding incidents continued all year. As the year wound down last week, I was still getting reports from and about passengers who were stuck -- recently -- on planes for interminable periods of time -- including a woman with infant twins, and a woman in a wheelchair who was forgotten on a tarmac and sat there for hours calling for help.

More soon. Meanwhile, here's a report on the initial litigation. The force behind this grassroots initiative is Kate Hanni's Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.