Thursday, July 31, 2008

8 Dead in Business Jet Crash Near Minneapolis

Above: A Hawker 800 jet. has posted a video of the flight path and weather conditions for the chartered Hawker 800 mid-size business jet that crashed today 60 miles south of Minneapolis, killing 8 passengers.

The plane was flying to a regional airport in southern Minnesota from Atlantic City.

Here is the best report on the crash, on the Web site of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The passengers worked for Tishman Construction and Revel Entertainment. They were flying to a meeting at Viracon, a glass manufacturer. The plane was chartered by Revel Entertainment, which is building a casino resort in Atlantic City.

Here is a statement from Brad Cole, the president of East Coast Jets, the charter company that operated the flight.

The Hawker 800 can be configured to carry up to 13 passengers, but normally carries 8 or 10.


International Air Fares Soaring

Tom Parsons of sent out a very detailed look at international air fares this fall and winter. They're up. Sharply.

Here's his report:


Arlington, TX -- Thursday, July 31, 2008 - "Airfares to Europe this fall and winter will be much higher than just a year ago" - states Tom Parsons, CEO and founder of

The primary reason for the increases are the fuel surcharges this year compared to last year. This week, we saw Delta, American, Northwest and United raise their fuel surcharges to most cities in Europe (except in England and Germany) from $330 to $350 roundtrip. "The fuel surcharge to London from midwest and east coast cities is now $302 roundtrip and cities west of Dallas are now a whopping $426 roundtrip" - adds Parsons.

The average airfare to Europe for the fall season (September 1 thru October 29) has risen by 16 percent. Destinations in England, including London, saw the largest increase with average airfares up 31 percent.

Airfares for the winter season (October 30 thru March 25) are seeing an even larger increase over last year. To most destinations, the airfares which include the new higher mandatory fuel surcharges are approximately 30 percent over the same time last year. Airfares to London and other destinations in England have climbed by an average of 53 percent. Airfares from Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco to London are as much as 60% higher than last winter.

"Travelers this fall and winter should brace themselves for these new airfare levels. Many travelers who were planning a trip to Europe may want to rethink their options. This week, we saw many airfares to the Caribbean and Mexico for the fall season up to 80% less than the cost of a ticket to Europe" - states Parsons.

Check out our air charts listed below comparing the fall and winter travel periods of 2007 to 2008. To see new fuel surcharges to other worldwide international destinations, please click here.

September 1 - October 28, 2008 Departures September 1 - October 28,
2007 Departures
October 29, 2008 - March 25, 2009 Departures October 29, 2007- March 25, 2008 Departures
New York City To: Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total %
Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total % Increase
London $310 $302 $612 $396 $130 $526 16% $255 $302 $557 $294 $120 $414 35%
Paris $385 $350 $735 $438 $150 $588 25% $297 $350 $647 $322 $170 $492 32%
Rome $420 $350 $770 $610 $150 $760 1% $340 $350 $690 $280 $170 $536 29%
Amsterdam $342 $350 $692 $435 $150 $585 18% $297 $350 $647 $280 $170 $450 44%
Madrid $346 $350 $696 $386 $150 $536 30% $310 $350 $680 $290 $170 $460 48%

September 1 - October 28, 2008 Departures September 1 - October 28,
2007 Departures
October 29, 2008 - March 25, 2009 Departures October 29, 2007- March 25, 2008 Departures
Washington, DC To: Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total %
Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total % Increase
London $410 $302 $712 $461 $120 $581 23% $311 $302 $613 $278 $120 $398 54%
Paris $595 $350 $945 $629 $170 $799 18% $503 $350 $853 $478 $170 $648 32%
Rome $673 $350 $1,023 $723 $170 $893 15% $489 $350 $839 $468 $170 $638 32%
Amsterdam $535 $350 $885 $522 $170 $722 23% $414 $350 $764 $396 $170 $566 35%
Madrid $526 $350 $876 $559 $170 $729 20% $391 $350 $741 $288 $170 $458 62%

September 1 - October 28, 2008 Departures September 1 - October 28,
2007 Departures
October 29, 2008 - March 25, 2009 Departures October 29, 2007- March 25, 2008 Departures
Chicago To: Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total %
Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total % Increase
London $460 $302 $762 $512 $120 $632 21% $346 $302 $648 $328 $120 $448 45%
Paris $646 $350 $996 $682 $170 $852 17% $541 $350 $891 $518 $170 $688 30%
Rome $697 $350 $1,047 $732 $170 $902 16% $466 $350 $816 $448 $170 $618 32%
Amsterdam $527 $350 $877 $560 $170 $730 20% $431 $350 $781 $408 $170 $578 35%
Madrid $420 $350 $770 $368 $170 $538 43% $377 $350 $727 $402 $170 $572 27%

September 1 - October 28, 2008 Departures September 1 - October 28,
2007 Departures
October 29, 2008 - March 25, 2009 Departures October 29, 2007- March 25, 2008 Departures
Dallas To: Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total %
Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total % Increase
London $453 $426 $879 $503 $130 $633 39% $357 $426 $783 $390 $130 $520 51%
Paris $656 $350 $986 $691 $170 $861 15% $568 $350 $918 $661 $170 $831 11%
Rome $770 $350 $1,100 $803 $170 $973 13% $479 $350 $829 $504 $170 $674 23%
Amsterdam $581 $350 $911 $615 $170 $785 16% $429 $350 $779 $411 $170 $581 34%
Madrid $456 $350 $786 $490 $170 $660 19% $467 $350 $817 $492 $170 $662 23%

September 1 - October 28, 2008 Departures September 1 - October 28,
2007 Departures
October 29, 2008 - March 25, 2009 Departures October 29, 2007- March 25, 2008 Departures
Denver To: Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total %
Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total % Increase
London $514 $426 $940 $564 $130 $694 35% $409 $426 $835 $393 $130 $523 60%
Paris $621 $350 $951 $673 $170 $843 13% $568 $350 $918 $548 $170 $718 28%
Rome $726 $350 $1,056 $776 $170 $946 12% $476 $350 $826 $458 $170 $628 32%
Amsterdam $682 $350 $1,012 $716 $170 $886 14% $483 $350 $833 $466 $170 $636 31%
Madrid $646 $350 $976 $680 $170 $850 15% $586 $350 $939 $568 $170 $738 27%

September 1 - October 28, 2008 Departures September 1 - October 28,
2007 Departures
October 29, 2008 - March 25, 2009 Departures October 29, 2007- March 25, 2008 Departures
Los Angeles To: Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total %
Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total % Increase
London $480 $426 $906 $530 $130 $660 37% $418 $426 $844 $398 $130 $528 60%
Paris $621 $350 $951 $621 $170 $791 20% $641 $350 $991 $688 $170 $858 16%
Rome $782 $350 $1,112 $785 $170 $955 16% $595 $350 $945 $518 $170 $688 37%
Amsterdam $682 $350 $1,012 $716 $170 $886 14% $539 $350 $889 $522 $170 $692 28%
Madrid $632 $350 $962 $666 $170 $836 15% $527 $350 $877 $539 $170 $709 24%

September 1 - October 28, 2008 Departures September 1 - October 28,
2007 Departures
October 29, 2008 - March 25, 2009 Departures October 29, 2007- March 25, 2008 Departures
San Francisco To: Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total %
Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total Airfare Fuel Surcharge Total % Increase
London $480 $426 $906 $512 $130 $642 41% $409 $426 $835 $388 $130 $518 61%
Paris $788 $350 $1,118 $838 $170 $1,008 11% $629 $350 $979 $608 $170 $778 26%
Rome $734 $350 $1,064 $785 $170 $955 11% $544 $350 $895 $518 $170 $688 30%
Amsterdam $691 $350 $1,021 $724 $170 $894 14% $516 $350 $866 $498 $170 $668 30%
Madrid $703 $350 $1,033 $736 $170 $906 14% $514 $350 $864 $488 $170 $658 31%

Tom Parsons, CEO and founder of, a discount travel website that tracks airfare changes and travel industry trends, is one of the
most sought-after travel industry experts in the United States. Parsons has been chasing down hidden travel bargains and bringing them to the traveling public for more than 25 years. Parsons regularly appears on over 100 national and local radio stations and television networks each month, and is regularly quoted by countless newspapers and magazines. Even Herb Kelleher, Former CEO and Founder of Southwest Airlines, called Tom "the best low fare policeman on the beat."

Northwest Hikes Fares $80; The Hits Just Keep On Coming

They're wearing me out with this stuff. Take it from Rick Seaney at

Tonight at 8:00pm EDT, after almost a month of silence on airfare hikes, Northwest Airlines increased domestic airfares by $80 roundtrip on over 4,000 city pairs for both leisure and business travelers.
While the total number of city pairs increased does not quite reach our threshold of 2/3 of a legacy airlines route system hiked for us to list this as the 22nd attempted hike of 2008, this particular airfare increase is noteworthy in that Northwest has not initiated any of the previous 21 attempted hikes of 2008 and has been habitually last to match the previous 15 successful hikes this year (success defined as all six legacy airlines matching on 2/3 of their respective route systems).
A quick check of Northwest hub cities shows significant airfare increase activity in Detroit with hardly any hike activity in Minneapolis or Memphis.
It will be interesting to see the reaction of the legacy airlines tomorrow to this Northwest "mini-hike".
Why have we had a one month break in airfare hikes after the torrid pace the first half of the year?
I think there are a couple of reasons, first we have seen the price of oil drop back to the mid $120s/barrel this month at the same time as many of the announced fee hikes have been kicking in with added revenue coupled with sluggish economic news.
The experiment I talked about in previous notes of almost weekly airfare hikes coupled with capacity cuts may be reaching the tipping point as summed up by Gary Kelly (CEO Southwest Airlines) in the most recent Southwest Earnings call (
"We have some evidence ... in the industry with our competitors where they feel like they’ve pushed fares too fast they’ve seen bookings in demand reduced and then they’d had to have the follow-on reaction of reducing flights, fleet, laying off employees and so there is just no pleasant way on the downside there to make that happen."
We will watch closely tomorrow as the next domestic airfare distributions at 10:00am and 12:30pm EDT occur for any reaction from the other five legacy airlines (American, Continental, Delta, United & US Airways).
The 2008 Airfare Hike Timeline can be found at the following link:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Revenge on the Telemarketers

My method of dealing with telemarketers and similar pests like political pollsters is to say, "Hang on a minute, I know he wants to talk to you," when one calls and asks for me by name. Then I set the phone down and forget about it till I hear those beep-beep-beeps (which my African gray parrot then imitates).

But comedian Tom Mabe is the Master. Listen to how he pranked a poor telemarketer. It's a riot.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Delta Doubles Fee for 2nd Checked Bag

Uh, somebody want to nudge Delta and tell them oil prices have been dropping this week? The headline on Delta’s announcement today that it is doubling the charge for a second checked bag, to $50, is: “Delta Responds to Record-High Fuel Prices by Increasing Some Domestic and International Baggage Fees.”

Here’s the Delta announcement:


“ATLANTA – Delta Air Lines today announced increases to some of its domestic and international baggage fees to help offset the 70-80 percent increase in jet fuel prices in the last year. These changes will apply to customers who purchase a ticket on or after July 31, 2008, for travel on or after Aug. 5, 2008.

As fuel costs remain at record levels, Delta believes revising the fee structure for excess bags and specialty items is essential to generate the necessary revenues to offset record fuel costs while continuing to offer these services to customers. Delta continues to offer all customers a complimentary first checked bag for domestic travel and two checked bags for international flights.

Fee changes effective in August include an increase to the service fee to check a second bag for domestic travel from $25 to $50; and fees for specialty items that require special handling such as surfboards or ski equipment will increase on domestic and international flights. First Class, BusinessElite and Medallion customers will continue to be able to check up to three bags at no charge. Customers checking bags on international flights may continue checking a first and second bag at no charge.”


Monday, July 28, 2008

Whoa III: Another Qantas Emergency

What in the world is going on at Qantas, which has rightfully billed itself as one of the world's safest airlines, based on its record.

Days after a Qantas 747 made an emergency landing in Manila with a gaping 9-foot hole in its fuselage, another Qantas flight, this one a 737, made an emergency landing today at Adelaide. A wheel-bay door apparently either opened in flight or (more likely) failed to close after takeoff.

Here's the story from the Herald-Sun in Melbourne.


Another Passenger Stranding: 7 Hours on JFK Tarmac

Tarmac strandings continue. In New York yesterday, passengers on a Las Vegas-bound Delta flight sat for seven hours on a plane to nowhere, before the flight was canceled.

The New York Daily News has the story today.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Qantas Flight: Whoa II

Here's a video of that harrowing Qantas emergency landing, taken by a passenger who, it seems to me, exercised remarkable news-telling ability from a very constricted perspective under very tense conditions.

Still no word on what the hell cause the plane to get a gaping, nine-foot-high hole in its fuselage.

The flight, on a 747-400, originated in London with a stop in Hong Kong and was bound for Melbourne, Australia, when the emergency occurred Friday. There were 346 passengers and 19 crew members on board, Qantas said.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Whoa ...

Maybe I'm just extra sensitive to big bangs heard on airplanes, and to fuselages missing sections, but this one really got my attention.

Here's the BBC story on that Qantas plane that somehow developed this great big hole.

No indication yet of what the hell happened.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

T.S.A. Dropping Out of Registered Traveler Program

[Left, T.S.A. chief Kip Hawley]

Almost totally removing itself from association with the Registered Traveler program, the Transportation Security Administration will announce Thursday that it will no longer provide the “security threat assessment” that is one of the features of membership in the private-sector program. Kip Hawley, the T.S.A. administrator, said in an interview today that the $28 federal security-assessment fee that was added to the basic price for a year’s membership in the program would no longer apply.

The T.S.A. also will announce Thursday that the so-called “interoperability” arrangement in airports will be greatly expanded to whatever the market decides. Until now, Registered Traveler biometric ID cards issued by competing companies were usable interchangeably at only up to 20 airports. That means that someone with a Registered Traveler card from one company could use it at lanes operated by another company.

What does this mean for the 135,000 people who now carry Registered Traveler cards?

Well, obviously, the $28 federal fee is dropped the next time you renew. But providers are raising their basic prices anyway.

Furthermore, the T.S.A. is saying that the only part of Registered Traveler it is willing to accept as a security measure is the biometric I.D. card -- and only then after issuers add photos and make other modifications to the cards.

Beyond that, the T.S.A. is saying, Registered Traveler is not a security program; it's a concierge service for those willing to pay the annual fee to use a special lane that effectively provides faster and more efficient access to the regular T.S.A. checkpoints.

Also, the T.S.A. is saying, competitors who want to expand their versions of the program are free to do so at any airport. Whoever issues the cards, they must be "interoperable" in competitors' lanes at any airport.

Registered Traveler lanes, the vast majority of them operated by Steven Brill’s Verified Identity Pass Inc. under the brand name Clear, are now in 19 airports.

It isn't clear to me yet what the implications are for Brill's operation, which has most of the lanes. For some time now, Clear has been marketing itself more as a "concierge service" than the expedited-security program it originally was promoted as being.

At first glance, it would seem to me that since Clear operates nearly all of the existing lanes, its competitors -- a few small operations that have largely held back as Clear expanded aggressively -- have just been handed a big advantage.

“Registered Traveler now graduates to fly on its own,” Hawley said. “It’s not going to be propped up by the government saying, we’re going to do a background check and you can get security benefits. It's not going to be restricted by the government saying, you can only have a certain number of airports.”

Mandated by Congress, Registered Traveler was originally envisioned as a security program that would provide expedited passage through T.S.A. checkpoints to travelers who passed a basic government background check and then paid a fee for biometric ID’s encoded with scans of their irises and fingerprints.

The initial idea was that a biometric ID card, scanned at the security checkpoint, positively certified the traveler’s identity, and that the holder of the card – having already had a background check -- was also a “trusted traveler” who didn’t warrant the same degree of security scrutiny as someone without a Registered Traveler card.

Proponents in Congress and in businesses like Brill’s that went into the RT program said that RT members would be able to pass through security far more quickly, and eventually without annoyances such as having to remove shoes, laptops or coats and outer garments.

As it launched at airports, Brill’s company spent heavily to develop a shoe-scanner for its lanes in conjunction with GE Security. But the Clear-GE shoe scanner has been rejected twice by the T.S.A. and is undergoing further testing and modifications.

Meanwhile, the T.S.A. has so far refused to accept Registered Traveler biometric cards, including the Clear card, as proper identification. Members of Clear and several smaller programs use special lanes where employees of the companies scan the cards. But other than the dedicated lane that allows members to approach the front of the regular airport security lanes, Clear and other Registered Traveler members still have to go through the same security screening as everyone else, and produce government-issued ID such as a drivers license, just like everyone else.

Hawley, who has been pushing the T.S.A. to develop its own technology solutions to address annoyances like removing shoes at checkpoints, said that the Registered Traveler biometric card will be accepted as ID at T.S.A. checkpoints once issuers make certain modifications in the cards, such as adding holders’ photos to them. Brill has said his company will issue new cards with photos on them once the T.S.A. spells out the requirements.

Hawley said yesterday, “the government is saying there is value in the I.D” component of Registered Traveler. “Other than that [Registered Traveler] is a marketplace thing, unrelated to security. It’s now being allowed to grow at its own pace and rate and not be restricted by the government, and we’ll see what happens.”

As it became obvious that the T.S.A. was resisting giving special security privileges to Registered Traveler members, Brill’s company and smaller competitors like Flo have been marketing memberships as having unique “concierge” benefits. Clear employees, for example, assist members in getting their possessions up to the checkpoint and in some cases collecting them at the other side. Flo, meanwhile, has been marketing membership benefits such as airport parking and other discounts.

Clear members who frequently use their cards at special lanes at airports like Orlando, where regular security lines can be long and unpredictable, have said the dedicated-lane feature alone is worth the cost of the card, because it at least gets them up to the T.S.A. checkpoint faster.

However, as the T.S.A. continues to improve its own crowd-handling procedures, and as security waits in general lessen at most airports, it’s not certain how big the future market for an RT card without special security benefits might be.

Clear currently charges $128 a year for an annual memberships, including the $28 fee that the T.S.A. plans to drop as early as next week. In a press release Wednesday, Clear said that it plans an unspecified price increase this fall. It offered members a chance to renew for up to three years at the current price, which, Clear said, “will be significantly less than what we will be charging this fall.”

The T.S.A.’s Hawley said that the RT security-threat assessment isn’t worth the $28 cost to the public, and that the T.S.A.’s direct involvement with the Registered Traveler program was not necessary.

The T.S.A. security assessment for Registered Traveler applicants did three things, he said. One, it checked an applicant’s name against the standard federal security watch-lists -- which is routinely done anyway when a passenger buys an airline ticket. Two, it checked an applicant’s name against criminal wanted and warrants lists. Three, it checked immigration status.

“We felt that our core mission of aviation security doesn’t include the wants-warrants or the immigration check,” Hawley said. Since airlines already check every traveler’s name against security watch-lists, there was no point in continuing doing that for Registered Traveler applicants, he said.


Monday, July 21, 2008

On Delta, Free Chopper from Manhattan

Well, not everything in air travel is going to hell, not quite.

Delta Air Lines said it's offering free helicopter service between Manhattan and JFK for domestic first-class and unrestricted coach tickets purchased through Aug. 29. Delta already gives the free helicopter lift to international passengers flying BusinessElite.

I've flown the US Helicopter shuttle, and they're not kidding that it's a mere 8 minutes from Manhattan to JFK, and the scenery over Manhattan and the rivers is spectacular. Usually, the trip costs $159 each way.

(By the way, when you consider how a car service costs from Manhattan to the airports -- about $90 with tip -- and how much time it can take by highway (anywhere from an hour to 12 days) the chopper isn't a bad bet even when you pay full freight.


Yes, But ...

It's as if the headlines said, "712 Passengers Saved on Titanic" and overlooked that inconvenient number, 1,503, who were not.

I'm endlessly amused by airline PR that twists itself into knots to present bad news as good news. But I'm also disgusted with it, because this sort of thing illustrates just how much disdain the airlines really have for their customers.

Here's this today from Midwest Airlines, which says it "Retains Service to 32 Cities" while burying the actual news, which is that it is discontinuing service to many cities and making a "transition to seasonal Orlando service."

As the Associated Press does the arithmetic today, the new schedule will leave Midwest with 90 daily departures to 28 cities, down from 118 departures to 38 cities; and its regional-jet service Midwest Connect with 102 daily flights, down from 138.

Airlines seem to be incapable of simply telling it straight.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Asian Load Factors Sagging

The Center for Asian Pacific Aviation newsletter reports Monday:

"Several Asia Pacific airlines are reporting worrying declines in average load factors as the year progresses, in a sign that rising travel costs and a slowing world economy are have an impact on demand.

Key points:

  • (Singapore Airlines) reports 3.2 points reduction in load factor to 79.2% in June 08;
  • Mainland Chinese carriers report further steep declines in load factors in Jun;
  • China Southern cutting executive salaries – symbolic move
  • Cathay Pacific’s capacity surges 16% in Jun
  • AAPA warns ticket price increases threaten to undermine growth;
  • AAPA calls on industry to work together to reduce costs – airlines need to make some 'tough decisions.'"
[AAPA is the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, representing 17 carriers in the region.]


Airlines to Vegas: Slow Down

I love Las Vegas. To foreign friends who express skepticism about including a trip to Vegas on a visit to the American West, I say: "Forget L.A.-- the Universal Studios tour is just plain creepy. Go to San Francisco, then go see the desert, and then go to Las Vegas. It's utterly over the top and you won't regret it."

Nobody who's taken that advice has complained.

So I'm a little sad to see Las Vegas facing the bad news that airlines are cutting back service there. Like Orlando, Las Vegas depends mightily on leisure travel passengers, especially low-fare travelers.

Both destinations are scrambling to address the problems.

There are a lot of airplanes sitting around unused, and there is a very big incentive for Vegas casinos and other interests to gin up air travel into the city. So we'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, the trends are not good. See this from the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.


Without Comment. OK, ... Maybe With One Comment

Today male pilots everywhere can proudly have a bounce in their step and a smile on their face, as it has been revealed that theirs is the sexiest profession (photo credit: Andrew Cooper) (apparently the UK's biggest extra marital dating website and of course the most reliable source for these things), surveyed nearly 3,000 women ... and found that a massive 27% would like a "bit of rough and tumble" with a pilot.

Maybe it's the calming voice or the uniform, but pilots beat the media (it must be the pen and paper or perhaps the shorthand that does it for women) into second place (13%) and property development into third (13%).

Here is the top 10 list:

1. Pilots 27%
2. The media 13%
3. Property development or ownership 11%
4. Lawyers 9.5%
5. Farming 8%
6= Healthcare and medical 6.5%
6= Teaching 6.5%
8= Construction 4.5%
8= Accountants 4.5%
10. Engineering 3%

Forget the impending recession though, the thought of "doing a deal" with estate agents or cars salesman seems to be a real put off ... with both getting a measly 1% and 0.5% of the vote respectively."


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Shameless Pitch for a Part in the Kate Hanni Movie

[Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights]

I just happened to casually check last Monday and saw that 500 flights were canceled at both Newark and Chicago on Sunday night.

It's got to the point where 1,000 canceled flights at two airports isn't even considered news.

One reason airlines are canceling more flights this year is to avoid the terrible black eye they sometimes get when an airplane sits on the tarmac, crammed with passengers, for three or more hours (some have sat for more than 12) while cabin conditions deteriorate.

Kate Hanni sprang into action in early 2007 after she and her husband and son sat for almost nine hours on one of more than 100 American Airlines flights stuck on tarmacs in and near Texas just before New Year's 2006. Kate got mad as hell and decided she wasn't going to take it any more.

Easy to say; difficult to do. Hanni did the very difficult. Tirelessly, she began organizing a grassroots coalition pressing for federal legislation to require airlines to take remedial action when planes full of people sit on tarmacs for over three hours. She got one law in New York (since overturned on appeal by the airlines, but currently under appeal by Kate's people) and a very serious movement in Washington toward federal legislation.

I first talked to Kate shortly after she began organizing. It was winter. She was on her cell phone from the small hotel in Washington where she'd set up a base camp for routine visits to the Capitol where she began buttonholing legislators.

Easy to say; difficult to do: Kate lives in California. Imagine plunging yourself into the Capitol in the dead of winter, with nobody paying your bills. She did this strictly as a citizen.

I was delighted, then, to see that Forbes Magazine's Executive Women named Hanni one of the 25 most influential female executives in travel.

And by the way, two things:

1. Even with preemptive cancellations, strandings are continuing to an alarming degree. Kate's organization (here's the blog, and the Web site is got more than 1,000 phone calls from stranded passengers this week.

2. Despite fierce lobbying and intense negative PR efforts from the airline industry, the federal passengers bill of rights still lives. As noted on the Web site, Rep. James Oberstar and Jerry Costello recently introduced a brand new version in the House.

Kate is writing a memoir about her amazing personal quest (I am not involved, incidentally, except as a cheerleader if she needs another one). It'll be a story of true grit and invincible determination. She quit her job as a highly paid real estate broker to take this on.

She's also a professional musician, so she understands how Washington can fiddle around while giving you a song and dance.

And if Hollywood has an ounce of sense (that's some if, I know) there is a movie in Kate Hanni -- "Erin Brockovich" meets "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Hey, wait a minute, Kate's a pal. If there is a movie, maybe I can get to play Jim May, the head of the Air Transport Association, Kate's mightiest enemy in Washington (and she has a lot of them).

Jim's well-known as a nice guy, just like me.

I think Jim has more hair, but wardrobe can fix that.


A Billion Here, a Billion There ,,,

About 25 years ago, in a fit of cultural bravado abetted by a bender of prosperity, the Wall Street Journal went on a wild hiring spree and brought in about 100 outside mid-career editors and reporters with solid credentials from big non-financial newspapers around the country.

It created something of a shock to the inbred corporate system down there on Cortlandt St., where Dow Jones then kept its offices in dingy warrens above a former Woolworth’s that had blossomed into a Century 21.

We outsiders were not exactly good fits initially, though mutual accommodations were eventually made.

Most of the staff at the Journal at that time had signed on right out of college (and for some, that meant the days of raccoon coats) and had never worked anywhere else – or, as some of us hot-shots put it before we learned our manners, at an “actual newspaper.”

And alas, few of us intruders from the Outside – some of us who had in fact run newsrooms -- knew the difference between a stock and a bond. But most of us were not shy about asking for explanations of things we did not understand.

It proved to be an interesting experience, because on occasion it became clear that the put-upon house sage you’d consult also didn’t always know what the words meant, not precisely.

“What the hell is a non-convertible subordinated debenture clause?” you'd ask, scowling at a piece of inscrutable copy in which phrases like that sprouted.

“It’s a provision for subordinated debenture that can’t be converted! I can’t talk now, the third-quarter flat-rolled steel report is coming in!” some lifer would hiss with exasperation, looking at you like you’d just wandered in from the Port Authority Bus Terminal with a three-dollar suitcase.

And into the paper the strange words would go. Initially, I assumed the readers all understood those baffling terms that I, a wretch who came from the journalistic world of mob rub-outs and urban machine politics and big-city city-room raucousness, did not.

Not precisely.

The matter comes to mind today as I read terribly earnest stories on the various wires about the combined quarterly losses – what is it? Sixteen quadrillion U.S. dollars? – at American Airlines and Delta.

I know the accountants and analysts understand these things, which have to do with how the books are manipulated. I also understand how three-card monte works.

But I’m not sure a general reader gets it when a news account reports breathlessly that Delta Air Lines, for example, said today that it had lost $1 billion in the second quarter -- when, it is quite clearly stated in the data, Delta actually made $137 million, all things considered.

The fly in the ointment seems to be a massive write-down of good will. Good will, as we all know, is an intangible asset of some sort, like grace or fairy dust.

I know the basic accounting principles. But would somebody please explain to me, in plain English, precisely what the hell they did with the books? My bus leaves the Port Authority this afternoon for Podunkville, so please hurry.

Likewise, AMR (American Airlines), seems to have actually lost $248 million in the quarter, and not $1.4 billion, as some headlines say. (The $248 million loss was really a gain, see, because the analysts had expected it to be worse. Thus the stock will rise, see.)

Again, I get it that it's all in the accounting, and somewhere in there is a bundle of somebody's money. But again, I am not sure I know what the hell is going on when AMR says the $1.4 billion loss reflects an accounting write-down of "the value of certain aircraft and related long-lived assets to their estimated fair value."


Actually, I am writing this from Tucson, a mere 20 miles from the burgeoning Evergreen aircraft storage facility at Pinal Air Park in Marana, where literally hundreds of unused airliners are parked for in the desert, and more are arriving each day.

Does this mean there are insane bargains to be had in the used airplane market, as there are in the used S.U.V. market?

(Actually, it does. Anybody with an American Express Platinum card can probably start up his or her own airline. As early as this afternoon. Unfortunately I have that bus to catch. )


Monday, July 14, 2008

Midwest Air Slashes Work Force

Now Midwest Air is making big cuts. Big as in 40 percent of its work force. Here's the announcement:

"Milwaukee, July 14, 2008 – Midwest Airlines today announced it plans to reduce the workforce of Midwest Airlines and its Skyway subsidiary by about 1,200 employees, or 40 percent of current staffing levels. The majority of the jobs affected are related to the airline’s previously announced decision to remove its 12-plane MD-80 fleet from service this fall, as well as other schedule adjustments to be announced.

`In order to successfully restructure, there is no way to avoid deep and painful reductions to our current workforce,' said Timothy E. Hoeksema, chairman and chief executive officer. `We will go about this task with compassion and dignity. Midwest has always been a place where employees take care of one another – in times that are good and in times that are hard. Perhaps more than any other time in our history, we must hold true to this value.'

The company said it would begin notifying affected employees today. The reductions will take the form of furloughs or position eliminations, depending on job function. The reductions are spread throughout the airline’s flight operations, inflight, operations, maintenance and general administrative functions. The effective date of the reductions will vary by job function, but most will take place no later than mid-September.

In addition, the company said it is continuing talks this week with the Airline Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, the labor organizations that represent its pilots and flight attendants, to reach agreements on concessions necessary to reduce the airline’s cost structure. ..."


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Northwest Cutting 2,500 Jobs, Charging for 1st Checked Bag

Bad news just keeps rolling in the battered airline industry. Northwest Airlines said today it would lay off 2,500 workers and start charging $15 for the first checked bag for tickets sold starting tomorrow for travel starting Aug. 28.

Northwest is also adding a charge for mileage-award tickets for travel starting Sept. 15 -- $25 for domestic; $50 for trans-Atlantic and $100 for trans-Pacific.

And starting tomorrow, the charge for making changes on nonrefundable tickets will rise to $150 from $100.

Northwest didn't specify where the layoffs would occur except to say that "all NWA employee groups will be affected." Here is the full announcement.

This time around, there's no indication that Northwest is sending out money-saving tips for employees about to lose their jobs. Who can forget that astonishing stunt in the summer of 2006, when Northwest sent soon-to-be laid-off employees the infamous Dumpster Diving brochure with tips on "101 Ways to Save Money" such as, "Put money aside in a special piggy bank" ... and "Take a shorter shower" ... and "Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash."

Here’s a copy of that particular human-resources beauty, which Northwest said it had outsourced:




Major Expansion for DayJet

After a couple of shaky months during the capital-markets crunch (and the layoff of 100 of its 260 employees), the air-taxi start-up DayJet has evidently found some new traction.

DayJet, based in Boca Raton, Fla., said today is will open two new "DayPorts,"-- its main regional airport bases. With the two new bases, it has 14 DayPorts and numerous other secondary locations in Florida and surrounding states.

DayJet flies new Eclipse 500 very-light jets. The new DayPorts are in Orlando and St. Petersburg.

"The rapid contraction of regional transportation options is causing many Southeastern communities to become increasingly isolated," said Ed Iacobucci, the CEO of DayJet, whose strategy is to provide on-demand, per-seat air transport to business travelers whose options -- and patience -- with commercial scheduled air transport are running out.

DayJet says that nowhere is the "crisis" in air transportation more evident than in "short-haul, small and medium-sized markets," including current DayJet markets in Gainesville, Naples, Orlando, Pensacola, Sarasota and St.Petersburg-Clearwater in Florida, and Montgomery, Ala., and Savannah, Ga.

The new Orlando DayPort is at Sheltair Aviation Services at Orlando Executive Airport; the St. Petersburg DayPort is at St. Petersburg-Clearwater-Clearwater DayPort is Sheltair Aviation Services at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.