Friday, February 29, 2008

Could Have Been Worse

From Bill Shea:

U.S.Air Force's announcement on Thursday said that a Missouri
National Guard F-15 jet broke apart in midair on Nov. 2, 2007; the pilot
evacuated the plane safely. The breakup in mid air was blamed on parts

that didn't meet specifications; which raises issues ranging from national
security to potential legal action and even foreign sales.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Round of Fare Hikes? Advice: Buy Now, Fly Later

This from Rick Seaney, the CEO of

"Thursday, February 28, 2008 3:35pm CST

In today’s 12:30pm EST airfare distribution Delta Air Lines raised domestic airfares by $10 roundtrip on the bulk of its route system. Over 18,000 city pairs show this new $10 roundtrip airfare hike affecting both leisure and business travelers.

This domestic airfare increase attempt follows a similar $10 roundtrip hike last week initiated by United Airlines and marks the 6th attempted system-wide increase this year. Three of the previous five attempted increases in 2008 have been widely “successful” (sticky) except on selective routes dominated by lower cost airlines.

This trend in airfare hikes closely follows a similar pattern as 2007, where 23 attempted increases resulted in 17 successful airfare hikes. Airfare increases are being driven by the unprecedented run-up in fuel cost, firm demand for air travel and limited seat capacity. Last week I had predicted at least one more increase this quarter and would not be surprised to see another as well.

Airfare deals are going to be fewer and farther between in the coming years and travelers should brace themselves for higher prices – savvy travelers should be changing their shopping patterns by starting the purchasing process much earlier and being flexible on travel dates and times."


Airline Trade Group: Criticism 'Not Constructive'

(Update: I'm happy to give the spokesman for the Air Transport Association his say in his posted comments. But I cordially take issue. The airline industry has consistently failed to address the atrocious problems associated with mounting delays and the stranding of passengers on airplanes for long periods of time. Inadequate health and safety provisions for passengers are the issue. So is dishonest reporting of operations data, including flight diversions and cancellations. And if the ATA has problems with the passengers' rights movement's "mission creep" into areas other than stranded passengers, that is something the ATA needs to address with someone other than me.

We have a real and growing crisis in domestic air travel. I have never known passengers to be so angry, and much of the anger is prompted by bad customer service, indifferent management, and the expectation that every time you go to the airport, something unpleasant is likely to occur. Flight delays and cancellations are a routine occurrence. Every business traveler I know is fed up with the major airlines -- and these are people who understand the issues.

The ATA has blamed everybody but the major airlines that fund it for the problems. Yes, the air traffic control system is a mess and it's getting worse. Right now, it's being held together -- such as it is -- only by heroic efforts by controllers on the job. (And by the way, all those controllers Ronald Reagan hired when he fired the striking ones? They're all hitting retirement age).

Where has the industry been all these years as this obvious air-travel crisis developed? Paying top management big bucks, humiliating the workers they haven't fired, meekly going along politically with the F.A.A. as that inept government agency utterly failed to deal with congestion and outdated technology, that's where. Why hasn't the ATA been screaming bloody murder about the federal government's abject failure to bring the U.S. air-traffic system up to speed?

Instead, the ATA was busy putting together that silly "Edna" video campaign to try to blame the private jet industry for the problems of air-traffic congestion. Or applauding the risible White House stunt last Thanksgiving that opened a few military air lanes for commercial traffic, which of course then had to funnel itself right back into the same system.

The time has come for the major airline industry to cut the jive. Tell it straight. We are in a real jam, and it is going to be with us for years. NextGen is, as Mike Boyd calls it, "YesterdayGen" -- and even if NextGen does ultimately help alleviate congestion (which lots of people don't believe), it's more than a decade behind schedule, and still years away from operation. This is no way for a major world economic power to run its air travel system.

The sooner we all get on the same page, the better prepared we'll be to start finding solutions. Not all airlines are egregiously at fault, but the ones that are will simply have to start dealing honestly with their customers -- or government will step in. I'm convinced of that.

And yes, air fares will rise. We need to get used to that. In return, air service must improve. The airlines need to get used to that.)


Kate Hanni's Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights issued a "report card" on the industry today and it isn't pretty. Here's a copy: final2007reportcard.pdf

Kate's group is focused primarily on one issue: How airlines treat passengers who are stranded on parked planes, amid deteriorating conditions, for three hours or more. (In some cases last year, passengers sat in growing distress on parked planes for 12 hours and more). And what needs to be done to require airlines to provide for basic in-cabin health, sanitation, food and water; to give stranded passengers timely, reliable information, and to provide a way for people to get off stuck planes after a certain number of hours.

The airline industry is adamantly opposed to the group's push for federal legislation (bills are pending in both houses of Congress), insisting that it can handle the problem itself.

But it hasn't handled it. Instead, the industry's mouthpiece trade group, the Air Transport Association (ATA), has attacked Kate Hanni personally and, as shown in the following statement it issued today, has tried to muddy the issues.

Here's the statement the ATA issued:

"The Air Transport Association responded to a report issued by a consumer group critical of the airlines on customer service and delays, calling the group's claims baseless and not constructive. ATA went on to say that carriers are aware of the serious problems created by flight delays and noted that improving the country's outdated air traffic control system will address the core issue of delays. Steps have been taken at the individual carrier level as well as in concert with other stakeholders in the airport and government communities to address these challenges," the ATA said."

The disingenuousness in that statement lies chiefly its claim that "flight delays" are the issue -- and not airlines holding people for three to 13 hours in parked planes without adequate food, water or ventilation, and as passengers suffer through added indignities like unusable toilets.

How many stranded passenger instances have there been? Thousands, by Kate's group's count. By industry count, there were 462 flights last June alone that sat on tarmacs with passengers unable to move for at least three hours, and in many cases far longer.

Per usual, knuckleheads in the local press and cable network television media, who don't seem capable of doing reporting beyond what they've been told to put in their notebooks or cameras by the last flack they spoke to, keep confusing the issue.

No, NBC4 Washington, there were not merely "thousands of delays" in the air-travel system in 2007.

There were millions. Do the math. Industry data show that well over 25 percent of flights last year were delayed. There were 11 million flights. Allowing for the percentage of those flights that left the U.S. for another country (whose operational performance isn't reflected in the delay statistics), that still indicates that about well over 2 million domestic flights were delayed in 2007.

The ATA sniffs that criticism is not "constructive," while obfuscating the issue -- as if the Air Traffic Control system is responsible for not emptying overflowing toilets on stuck planes.
The airline industry doesn't seem to be getting the message that it had better sit up and pay attention to what it needs to do -- or will be legally required to do -- about stranded passengers and the crummy way they've been treated. “Who would think it would take a law to ensure passengers on a stranded plane get a drink of water and a working toilet?” New York State Assemblyman Mike Genaris, who drafted the landmark passeners' rights law that took effect Jan. 1 in New York State, asked me not long ago.


The Morning News ...

---Your brain off drugs: I remember when George Carlin was actually funny. When did he turn into Red Skelton?

---Excited Drudge headline of the day (Another two-way tie!): "Prince Harry Fights Taliban" and "Channel 4 News in Britain: 'I Never Thought I'd Find Myself Saying 'Thank God For Drudge' ... (Me, I'm starting to worry about that boy. Drudge, I mean, not Harry the Prince.)


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just Sayin' ...

---Excited Drudge headline of the day (a two-way tie): "Automated Killer Robots 'Threat to Humanity'" ... and ... "UPDATE: Don't Stop Taking Anti-Depressants, Doctors Urge."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2 More Pretty Women Nabbed by Southwest; Central Florida Strikes Yet Again!

[Left: The alleged perpetrators]

I really don't know what this is all about. Southwest Airlines says it's reacting to "some news reports," and here is a sample. This is the latest incident involving good-looking young female passengers who have run afoul of Southwest flight attendants (and in this case ended up being questioned by the police and the F.B.I., who evidently have no real threats to focus on.)

Oh, wait a minute. This happened on a flight from Tampa! Central Florida strikes again.

"The story has nothing to do with [the two female passengers'] appearance, but rather, their use of what other Passengers tell us was profanity ..." the Southwest statement intriguingly says, indicating an attitude that cursing is reasonable ground for arrest. I gather that the women in question charged that Southwest flight attendants assailed them for their appearance, which would not be without precedent.

Maybe Southwest has a point, if in fact these two were being unruly and "threatening." On the other hand, the womens' accounts sound pretty plausible to me.

Meanwhile, Jayzus, Southwest PR Department, would you please get someone who isn't wearing vintage lederhosen to proof-read this stuff?

All of those capitalized Common Nouns, in that vaguely Teutonic Manner, are weirding Me out.


US Air to Charge for 2nd Bag

As airlines continue to unbundle fares and add fees for certain things that used to be included in the price, US Airways said today it would begin charging most passengers $25 to check a second bag. This follows a move by United Airlines earlier this month to do the same.

The last time US Airways announced a reduction in customer benefits -- its recent move to eliminate the 500-mile minimum credit on trips of under 500 miles in favor of credit for actual miles flown -- it ridiculously described the change as some kind of unspecified benefit for customers. (See post of Feb. 14.)

I'm glad to see that US Airways plays it straight in today's announcement. All the usual travel-media scolds will be flapping their arms over this, but the fact is that very few business travelers check a second bag anyway. As I said before, it's usually the Clampett Family lugging all that stuff to the airport.


Monday, February 25, 2008

The Morning News ...

[Left, French President Sarkozy pretending to be a cowboy. Right: Napoleon showing off.]

---Cowboy Nick puts his boot in his mouth again in another incident

I keep pointing out that M. Sarkozy, who is wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt in this pose, is astride a pony, not a horse, as was universally misreported in all of those gushing accounts of the new style the dashing little rake was bringing to Elysee Palace.

A Carmargue pony, to be specific. And video clips at the time showed that his riding skills are elementary. Dead giveaway, aside from the fact that he's wobbling even in a western saddle: He keeps kicking his horse. A skilled rider gets a horse's attention with a subtle pressure from the leg and seat.

The fearsome Napoleon rode bravely, if not well, while off on his savage missions. He was known among his troops for falling off his horse rather frequently (like any good rider, he got right back on despite the pain). He is shown here in the heroic image the French love so much.

But in fact, Napoleon actually rode a mule over the Alps in his Second Italian Campaign, which would be the sensible way to travel across a mountain if you couldn't fly.


---I love reading the contrarian John Tierney merrily debunking knee-jerk thinking, like this morning's entry on his Times blog. I hope he's collecting his stuff, including that landmark magazine piece on recycling of several years ago, in a book.

---Speaking of books, Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason" is a must read.

---Will this guy ever just go away? (See also Andy Borowitz on Nader.)

---And finally, the excited Drudge headline of the day:
"Obesity 'More Dangerous' Than Terrorism."


Friday, February 22, 2008

Dicey South American Skies

--Another horrible plane crash in South America, this time in Venezuela.


Cancellations Pile Up At Newark (And Other News)

---Airport delays are piling up today and cancellations are mounting -- and if it ices up late this afternoon, as the forecast indicates it might, it's going to be an air-travel nightmare. [At 9:45 a.m., was reporting "excessive delays" at all 3 New York airports, and also at the 3 Washington airports, Chicago O'Hare, Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis.]

{Update: Newark, which had a 20 percent on-time arrival rate by noon, and reported 611 arrivals and departures canceled by 5 p.m. The total number of arrivals and departures scheduled for Newark today is 1,316 -- so already, before the evening rush, nearly half of the flights into and out of Newark have been canceled.}

[Later update: By 6:30 p.m., airports throughout the entire eastern and southeastern United States, from Fort Myers to Boston, were experiencing "excessive delays," reports. So were O'Hare and Las Vegas. ]



---Oh, great police work. And note the dateline.

---A post on the Times DealBook today says that Northwest Airlines CEO Douglas Steenland could bail out with a golden parachute worth about $7.8 million after a merger between Northwest and Delta. Last week, Steenland was busy assuring employees that they wouldn't be screwed in a merger. We shall see. Steenland, remember, was the guy in charge in 2006 when Northwest sent out that famous booklet on money-saving lifestyle tips to about-to-be laid-off employees. You know, the one that suggested people scavenge trash cans for useful objects to cut down on expenses?

---Real Dumb Magazine Selects Real Smart Cities -- Forbes Magazine comes out with a highly questionable list of the nation's "smartest cities."
...And the Columbia Journalism Review explains (well, partially, at least) why Forbes's list is stupid.

---Nobody asked me, but ... Shouldn't this guy otherwise be getting out of prison right about now for killing that girl?


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Central Florida Strikes Again

I don't know what it is about the Tampa area, where only last Saturday we heard and saw how a sheriff's deputy had dumped a quadriplegic out of his wheelchair, just for the hell of it, while evidently forgetting about that damn surveillance camera on the wall.

Here's a new candidate for Moron of the Week, Central Florida Division. Via the T.S.A. web site.

Here's the link.

Benjamin Baines Jr. was busted at security at Tampa International Airport last Sunday when the magnetometer at the checkpoint alerted T.S.A. screeners to the concealed box-cutter this master criminal was carrying inside a hollowed-out book.

"Relatives say he's a good kid ..." a local newspaper reports.

They always say that, if you ask relatives. Note all those brain-dead stories on what an otherwise nice, oppressed guy the homicidal maniac who hacked the Manhattan psychologist to death with a meat clever was. He just forgot to take his meds, is all.

Anyway, Baines was arrested, pleaded guilty, and got a 30-day jail sentence. Besides the "artfully concealed" weapon (we have steadily defined down "art." And when did pop singers start becoming "artists," by the way? Don't get me started.) he had a Koran, a Bible and "rap music lyrics referencing police, drugs and guns," we are informed.

Diversity in carry-ons!

A relative, evidently overlooking the weapon artfully concealed in a hollowed-out book, which is a trick I think I first saw in a Jimmy Cagney movie, said Baines was arrested merely because "he was black and carrying the Koran."

Baines says he just plumb forgot all about the knife. No one seems to have thought it especially important to ask why he'd hollowed out a book to carry it in -- which seems to me to be prima facie evidence of criminal intent.

Maybe he was off his meds.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

OpenSkies Chooses Paris

The British Airways start-up all-business-class airline OpenSkies has chosen its initial European city — Paris.

Here’s the .pdf of its filing to the U.S. Transportation Department.


If it gets approval from the U.S., which isn’t expected to be a problem, the little airline will fly 757s between Paris and JFK starting in June.The airline recently found a slot at JFK amid uncertainty about whether it would need to use Newark as its U.S. port if Kennedy wasn’t available.

OpenSkies, which plans to expand starting later this year, will fly 757s configured with 82 seats, mostly in first-class and business-class. At least for the initial phase, there will be a token small coach section in the back.

The airline, a subsidiary of British Airways, hasn’t yet decided whether the Paris port will be at Charles De Gaulle or Orly airports.


Insecure Security

---The T.S.A., it seems to me, has been making a genuine good-faith effort to balance the obvious requirements of security with the realization that the civilian public is not, per se, the enemy. Not so U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency that appears to be out of control. (Just ask any European business traveler who flies to the U.S. -- or just look at the sharp downturn in overseas visitors to the U.S. in recent years.) And have a look at this one -- and also this one -- to see an example of what appears to be invincible malfeasance at the border.

–Oh, this oughta work out real well. Amtrak is rolling out “mobile security teams” equipped with bomb- sniffing dogs (and armed, my guess is, with Uzis, flamethrowers and chucka sticks) to “randomly pull people out of line” at train stations for the good old once-over and third degree.

No explanation of why Amtrak suddenly decided to send out the bulls, more than 7 years after 9/11. These will be Amtrak employees, incidentally. Sleep well tonight.

For example:


June 30, 2007

From Phoenix News at 5
PHOENIX -- A 65-year-old St. Louis man is missing after Amtrak personnel, mistaking his diabetic shock for drunk and disorderly behavior, kicked him off a train in the middle of a national forest, according to police in Williams, Ariz. ... Police said there is no station or running water at the crossing, which is about 2 miles from the nearest road at an elevation of about 8,000 feet.


Anyway, the most feeble national rail system in the developed world says not to worry, the new in-house security measures will not cause the trains to run late. “This is not about delays,” an Amtrak spokesman told the Associated Press, in the non-sequitur of the day (so far). Hardy-har-har.

There’s a similar security program on the New York City subways, but it’s conducted by the New York Police Department, whose officers are highly trained, motivated, and generally aware that citizens are to be treated with civility unless they provide sufficient reason not to be. I’m not sure that’s in the Amtrak customer-service tradition.

By the way, the good old reliable AP failed to report when this new security program will start. (For some reason, some reporters increasingly overlook the “when” in the 5-W’s).

This week, on the Northeast corridor, is the answer.

Most security experts I know laugh at the idea of “bomb sniffing” dogs as an effective security tool for dealing with moving crowds. Stick a great big ham sandwich in a decoy bag, and that’s where the dog’s attention goes, they say.

Who can blame the dog? Better they should use “busy-body parrots” as security animals. I have two parrots, a big macaw and a little African gray. The little one is always ratting out the big one, and the big one screams bloody murder every time a jogger thumps down the street outside. And neither one can be distracted by a ham sandwich.

Meanwhile, consider the potential of the trained anti-terrorism wasp. USA Today actually did once.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Clip Job

Not sure whether the verb "clipped" is adequate enough to describe how an airplane's wing "became lodged" in the wing of another airplane, as this story on a taxiway accident at Washington Reagan says. At least they were on the ground in what is described here as "taxi mode."

I've had some experience with the other "mode," mid-air collision mode, so I have an idea of just how serious it can be when airplanes come into contact with one another. They aren't made to do that.

I haven't been keeping track, but it seems to me that runway incursions and airplane fender-benders on the ground are increasing.

Time to start paying closer attention.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wheelchair Assistance, Tampa Style

---Another reason to exercise caution in central Florida: Sheriff's deputy dumps quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair, apparently just for the hell of it, after his arrest on a traffic violation.

---And here's still another (and no, this isn't a summary of a Reno 911 episode).


Friday, February 15, 2008

Airline Merger (s) [Cont'd]

---More speculation on the United-Continental merger that is expected to follow quickly once a Delta-Northwest merger agreement is announced. One bit of encouraging speculation on the UA-CO deal: Continental's Larry Kellner, who succeeded Gordon Bethune as the head of the best-run domestic airline, would run the merged airline, says the Chicago Tribune.

---Given an executive branch accustomed to laughing at Congress while always getting its own way, I have my doubts about Congressional hurdles on the merger-dash track before the Bush gang leaves town in less than a year, but James L. Oberstar, chairman of the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, weighs in on airline mergers nevertheless.

---Patrick Smith, the aviation online columnist, parrots the official industry line in Salon today: "The airline industry suffers chronically from oversupply -- that is, too many seats chasing too few passengers ..." That's one rationale you'll hear for mergers and consolidation: reducing the number of unsold seats.

(Nevertheless, Smith has some interesting insight on staffing, fleets and other merger matters).

One problem with the "too many seats ... too few passengers" mantra: For over a year, domestic airlines have been reporting load factors around 80 percent (a load factor is a measure of the number of available seats sold).

Load factors in the 75-80 percent average range mean most flights are totally full -- as anyone who's been flying in the back of the plane is well aware. And so far, passenger demand has kept growing, despite the huge fare hikes airlines have been sneaking in on selected routes.

At the same time, the major airlines (Southwest excepted) have been steadily reducing the number of seats available on domestic routes. United, for example, cut its domestic capacity by over 10 percent in January, compared with January 2007.

And as to fares, how about $1,200 roundtrip for a coach seat, Newark-Toronto in a regional jet, which was what I was confronted with last weekend when I had to fly to Toronto this week on short notice? Not to worry, though, as my flight, and the one after that, were canceled by bad weather. Back in December, an earlier attempt to reach Toronto from Tucson failed when my flight into Houston arrived too late for me to make the connection.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

US Air Cuts Mileage Benefit. It's For Your Own Good!

Cutting benefits is a perk! Yeah, that's the ticket.

My jaw drops when I see an announcement like this from an airline, in this case US Airways this morning (italics mine):

As part of out continuing efforts to provide valuable benefits to our frequent fliers, US Airways is making a change to our Dividend Miles program …”

Surely, you’d think, while this announcement is going to contain some PR jive, there must be some arguable small benefit for US Air’s most loyal (and profitable) customers hidden in the palaver. I mean, they say this is part of a continuing effort to provide valuable benefits.

Uh, nope.

Starting May 1, passengers who fly trips of under 500 miles no longer will get a 500-mile minimum credit, the announcement says. Instead, they’ll get credit for the actual number of miles flown. (Most major airlines credit a passengers with a minimum of 500 miles for any trip.)

If anyone has an explanation for this move — which seems certain to infuriate some of US Air’s most loyal customers, while providing very little benefit to the airline itself that’s evident to me — I’d love to hear it. Maybe I’m missing something.

Let’s say I’m a loyal flier on the US Air Shuttle between LaGuardia and Washington, a trip of about 200 miles. As of May 1, I will no longer get a 500-mile credit for each trip. Instead, I get credit for less than half that.

By the way, the current roundtrip US Air Shuttle fare between LGA and DCA is $679.

My response, if I’m that customer: Amtrak here I come. I-95 here I come.

As part of its “continuing efforts to provide valuable benefits to our frequent fliers,” US Air also is slapping a $50 per ticket “quick ticketing fee” on award travel booked online within 14 days of departure.

I just don’t get it. Why do airlines persist in putting out public announcements couched in language that is an obvious attempt at deceit -- on the level of a prevaricating seven-year-old? Do they really think we can’t see this baloney for what it is?

Earlier this month, United Airlines pulled a similar stunt. United blithely sent out an announcement that passengers buying nonrefundable tickets (read: most of us who aren’t traveling at the last minute) would have to pay $25 for a second checked bag. (Which used to be free).

United began the announcement of the new fee with these words:

“As part of its continuing effort to offer customers choice, flexibility and low fares, United is announcing a new, simplified checked bag policy …”

Now, compounding the idiocy was the fact that most of us don’t routinely check bags anyway, and very few frequent travelers check a second bag except on very rare occasions.

If United had simply said, in effect, “Fuel costs are soaring; the weight of those extra 50-pound bags each member of the Clampett Family insists on carrying on affects our costs, and we reluctantly need to charge a fee for that second bag in order to keep fare hikes under control …” — most of us might have seen the point even if we didn't like it.

Insulting your passengers’ intelligence is unwise.

But wait till the merger (s). You’ll be reading more about the “benefits” coming your way.

PS: Here are two sample comments about the US Air move this morning on

"I just called UAMP about this since I fly the shuttle twice a week and they indicated that if booking as a United codeshare you would still get 500 minimum. The trick is not to book as true US in which case you'd get actual flight miles flown."


"So fuel is only expensive on flights of less than 500 miles? "


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Airline Workers Happy! No 'Dumpster Diving' Tips from Northwest. Yet

Above: What better way to follow Northwest's 2006 money-saving tips than acquiring this smart used dump truck, which can provide family transportation (plenty of room in the back, kids!) and also haul home those necessities you manage to score at the town dump. The dump truck is being auctioned by the city of Bryan, Tex., with the current high bid at $3,050.

As the Northwest CEO assures employees that there is nothing to worry about (see post below), I was reminded of the infamous Dumpster Diving incident of 2006, when Northwest sent to employees about to be laid off a booklet suggesting "101 Ways to Save Money." I wrote about it at the time.

Here's a link to the booklet on

Among the tips Northwest offered to the soon-to-be-sacked:

---Do your own nails

---Rent out a room or garage

---Buy spare parts for your car at the junkyard

---Quit smoking

---Take a shorter shower

---Go to a matinee instead of an evening show

---Share housing with a friend or family member

---Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash

---Move to a less expensive place to live

---Borrow a dress for the big night out

---Cut your cable television down to basic

---Buy pre-owned toys and children's books at garage sales

---But software at computer fairs

---Search the Internet for freebies

And my personal favorite, which turns out to have been such good advice for those about to be reduced to marginal incomes in mid-2006:

Refinance your mortgage


Airline Mergers: 'Consolidation' Means Happy Workers

Just for the record: We'll have to get back to you on that one, probably after you get your multi-million-dollar buyout, Skippy:

From today's Detroit News:

Merger may aid airline workers

Northwest CEO vows that any deal to join with Delta will be in employees' best interest.

Nathan Hurst / The Detroit News

Amid speculation that Northwest Airlines Corp. is close to reaching a merger deal with Delta Air Lines Inc., Northwest CEO Doug Steenland told employees this week that his airline's board will make sure any transaction is in the workers' best interest.

"I, the management team and the board of directors will not move forward with a transaction that does not benefit all of our key stakeholders: our employees, our customers, our shareholders and the communities we serve," Steenland said Monday in a recorded message on Northwest's employee hotline. "Any merger would have to put our airline in a safe harbor and offer long-term stability and job security for our front-line employees." ...


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Airline Merger (s)

The official line coming out of Delta Air Lines is that worries about deep cutbacks and consolidation in the imminent merger with Northwest Airlines are overblown, that the route structures will compliment each other and that more cities will have better air service.

Put me down as skeptical on that. But with all indications being that Delta's corporate culture will predominate in a merged giant airline, not Northwest's, at least we can expect a change of tone, in time. Northwest's work force in my opinion is the most demoralized in the industry, and that's saying something.

Delta recently had 50,000 people apply for 1,000 openings for flight attendants.

Delta has been sharply beefing up its international routes in recent years, especially eastward. Northwest, of course, is a major presence on trans-Pacific routes. A major priority in a merged airline will be to stimulate feeder traffic into domestic international hubs.

IS there any good news for languishing mid-sized and smaller cities currently seeing a sharp decline in air service? Not much, if they can't come up with international connecting traffic to feed the beast.

Mike Boyd has some thoughts on the prospects for medium and small city air traffic in his essay this week at the Boyd Group.

Meanwhile, the next shoe to drop is a likely United-Continental merger. Oh great. There goes the remaining value of my Continental elite status and miles.

Meanwhile, I'm off for an overnighter in Toronto. In an RJ. And it's about to snow. Shoot me now.


Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm Just Sayin' ...

--[News notes, Inside Baseball Dept., No. 1:] BULLETIN: Journos Upset When Billionaire Owner Utters a Curse Word!

I despair at the pursed-lip scolds who now dominate journalism. And I understand Sam Zell for whom six billion dollars is truly f-you money. Under the same circumstances, I might have muttered the same thing after that photographer -- photographer! -- asked a snotty question and then theatrically turned her back on him at a staff meeting at the Orlando Sentinel -- a newspaper that has seemed in recent years to be determined to put into a coma the half of central Florida that isn't already in one. The photographer now denies intending to turn her back as a gesture of contempt, but some people saw it differently. Meanwhile, the pursed-lip scolds won't just let it be. Imaging, cursing during a newspaper meeting! Miss Grundy, bring the salts!

Surely, a harrumphing Public Editor is settling down on the landscape somewhere in a big hot-air balloon. Ah, yes.


[News notes, Inside Baseball Dept., No. 2]. I'd hire this kid. The news business used to be full of pains in the ass like him, and it needs new ones desperately.


--Excited Drudge headline of the day: "Chertoff Worries About 'Earth-Shattering' Events" ... Don't we all, dude, don't we all.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Olympics Fun Begins ...

The Olympics hype is starting, a long time before the first sprinter drops dead of pollution in Beijing. Some updates:

Photos from top:

1. Britain's Olympic fox-hunting team is in for a challenge as the foxes work on their strategy.

2. Britain's team giving the Nazi salute at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. See this actual story from today about how the current UK Olympics team will be required to sign statements promising they won't criticize China at the summer games.

3. What a horse can do.

4-5. The U.S. Olympics shooting team, in intensive practice.

6-7. Me, at the Great Wall of China, failing to qualify for the Olympics equestrian team despite that elegant levade.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

And Away We Go ...

Assuming the Financial Times is right, the long-rumored Delta-Northwest merger is about to happen. (Meanwhile, I'll wait till I see some confirmation in the Wall Street Journal).

... Oh

Then this.

The Northwest Airlines CEO is already assuring employees that a merger would be designed to be in their best interests. Translated: "Dear employees, you are about to get shafted ... again."

Wait till you see the executive-suite buyout packages.

As airline mergers happen, and this probably won't be the only one this year, Wall Street types will cheer -- which never means good news for airline passengers. Note already how the prospect for a merger to "squeeze excess capacity" is treated as a good thing.

No. For passengers, squeezing excess capacity means higher fares. Plan on it. In fact, if you have firm travel plans ahead, with fixed dates, book those tickets now.

Mergers mean mean fewer domestic seats, more crowded planes (which already are flying with record passenger loads) and fewer options when even routine disruptions occur, such as missed connections or long delays.

Remember, this is the year we'll later refer to as Annus Horribilis in domestic air travel. Plan on that, too.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Home, James!

Top: Air traffic, mostly private jets departing from the Super Bowl or arriving to pick up passengers after the game, around Phoenix last night just before midnight Eastern time.

Bottom: 7 a.m. (EST) Monday.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Super Bowl Sky Jam

Above: Flight arrivals and departures at Phoenix Sky Harbor and Deer Valley Airports, 6.50 p.m. (Eastern time) Friday

I've been writing articles recently about the hype and hustle in the walk-up to Sunday's Super Bowl in Phoenix (actually, at the University of Phoenix Stadium in nearby Glendale).

You know, private jets pouring in, $5,000-a-head parties, celebrities and sports figures for hire by the hour like a herd of $3,000 hookers (and there's that, too). Super Bowl is a football game on television. To most of those who go there, though, it's the year's greatest corporate toga party.

The spectacle is compounded by the huge golf crowds already on hand this week for the FBR Open in Scottsdale, one of the major PGA tournaments.

There's a good follow-up story in today's Wall Street Journal reporting that lots of the Super Swells arrive, party, network -- and get out of town before the game!

Now, one reason for that is that those arriving by corporate and private jet are well aware that Super Bowl Sunday Night has become an infamous super traffic jam for private jets. And this year, the greatest influx of private jets ever is arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where two of the three runways are going to be used exclusively for private jets Sunday night.

The latest figures show that in excess of 1,000 private jets are expected to arrive for Super Bowl at Sky Harbor and at a half dozen smaller general aviation airports in the region.

That's roughly one in every 10 private jets in the world.

Fancy corporate reception tents and centers have been set up at private-jet terminals at Sky Harbor and other Phoenix-area airports -- for private jet passengers to cool their heels and maybe their tempers as the departure traffic mounts Sunday after the game. I'd love to be on hand just to see some of those hot-shots bellowing in a rage, "Do you know who I am?""

Anyway, for those of you keeping score, has a nifty Super Bowl Phoenix air space tracker that will show you the pile-ups for the next several days, commercial and general aviation. The snapshot image above is from 6.50 p.m. tonight.

If you really want to drill down into who's what in the skies, including real-time traffic by tail number and aircraft type, here is the amazing site to do it:

The weather forecast for Phoenix, where it hardly rains, is not good for Super Bowl revelers trying to beat it home on the G5 after the game: Showers and thunderstorms in early evening.

So be sure to tune in on Sunday night.

[Update, Feb. 2 -- By the way, here is my pick for the sorriest Super Bowl "color" feature, not that there haven't been dozens of other candidates this week. And the AP just jacked up its rates for its client newspapers, too.]


War: The Ultimate Business Trip

I'm a Vietnam veteran. I had a great-grandfather in the Civil War; both grandfathers in WW I, my father and three uncles in WW II, an uncle in Korea ... I really don't really recommend "50 to 100 years " more of this.

Just passing along this link showing Johnny "Bombsaway" in scary combative form from via YouTube.

And Johnny, stop that ranting on P.T.S.D. Really, stop it now.