Sunday, March 30, 2008

Aloha Airlines Ceases Operations





Aloha Airlines is shutting down flight operations. The announcement is below. (I do wish they would have avoided blaming "unfair" competition, or saying that passengers will be "inconvenienced" rather than, as will be the fact in many cases, "stranded." Even on their death-beds, airlines seem to be unable to speak truth.)

Aloha, battered by competition from the low-fare airline go!, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 20.

Code-share partner United Airlines is offering space available accommodations to Aloha code-share passengers with a United ticket, and offering "discounted one-way fares" for those with Aloha tickets to return home. Here's the United statement.

[Joe Brancatelli just sent out an alert to members of his subscription site Joesentme.com with good advice for Aloha ticket-holders left holding the bag: "Worst case scenario, contact your credit-card company to contest the charge. Under federal law, credit-card companies cannot charge you for services not provided."]

Here's the Aloha announcement:

"ALOHA AIRLINES TO SHUT DOWN PASSENGER OPERATIONS AFTER MARCH 31, 2008, ENDING A 61-YEAR TRADITION OF SERVICE TO HAWAII

HONOLULU – -- Aloha Airlines announced today that it will be shutting down its inter-island and transpacific passenger flight operations. Aloha’s last day of operations will be Monday, March 31, 2008. On that day, Aloha will operate its schedule with the exception of flights from Hawaii to the West Coast and flights from Orange County to Reno and Sacramento, and Oakland to Las Vegas. Code-share partner United Airlines and other airlines are prepared to assist and accommodate Aloha’'s passengers who have been inconvenienced.


For more information on United'’s accommodation options, contact United at 1-800-UNITED1 or www.united.com. Passengers who do not wish to be re-accommodated by another airline should contact their travel agent or credit card company to request a refund. Effective immediately, Aloha will stop selling tickets for travel beyond March 31, 2008.

The shutdown of Aloha'’s passenger operations will affect about 1,900 employees. Aloha also announced that its air cargo and aviation services units will continue to operate as usual while the U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeks bids from potential buyers. On March 27, 2008, Saltchuk Resources, Inc., announced its intention to buy Aloha’'s air cargo business.

“This is an incredibly dark day for Hawaii,” said David A. Banmiller, Aloha’'s president and chief executive officer. “Despite the groundswell of support from the community and our elected officials, we simply ran out of time to find a qualified buyer or secure continued financing for our passenger business. We had no choice but to take this action.

“We deeply regret the impact this will have on our dedicated employees who have made Aloha one of the best operating airlines in the country. “Aloha Airlines was founded in 1946 to give Hawaii’s people a choice in inter-island air transportation.

Unfortunately, unfair competition has succeeded in driving us out of business, bringing to an end a 61-year-old company with a proud legacy of serving millions of travelers in the true spirit of Aloha. ”We realize that this comes as a devastating disappointment to our frequent flyers and our loyal business partners who have supported this company for many, many years.”"

###

The Morning News ...

---Disruptions continue at Heathrow's new Terminal 5, heralded (until it actually opened on Thursday) as the crown jewel of British Airways. No one really knows how many bags have gone missing, but 15,000 is the current estimate. And, of course, recriminations are flying.

###

Saturday, March 29, 2008

That Mexican Border Wall

---Two reasons why we might want to think a little more about whether that border wall should be built:

1. Jobs:
http://www.twango.com/media/asan13.junk/asan13.10786

2: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as quoted in today's Times: "Show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder." [Actually, the quote seems to be from Napolitano's 2006 State of the State speech in which she said, 'You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border. That's the way the border works.'"]

###

Heathrow Terminal 5: Or, the Fall of Saigon?


So far, the only person to get in or out of the new Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 on schedule was the Queen, who stopped in to cut a ribbon two weeks ago and hustled out fast, pearls clicking, to return to the serenity of her castle.

Nobody expects a new airport terminal to function perfectly on Opening Day, but British Airways, which had proudly trumpeted the opening of the huge, modern new terminal that will be the center of its Heathrow operations, was clearly stunned by the mishaps, delays and customer fury after the terminal officially opened for business on Thursday.

It's been a customer-relations disaster for British Airways, an airline that prides itself on its reputation for quality in-flight service.

Here's a comprehensive update today from London's Evening Standard newspaper. (Today, even the terminal's elevators malfunctioned.)

###

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Nipple Rings and the TSA Response

Mandi Hamlin, the 37-year-old Texas woman who was made to use pliers to remove a nipple piercing by TSA screeners in late February, is being represented by Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who has called for a TSA apology to Hamlin.

She's going to get it -- or at least a courtesy call with an acknowledgment that TSA procedures as followed in this case need to be modified.

TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe told me this afternoon that the agency has already spoken with Allred, and that arrangements are being made for TSA director Kip Hawley to call Mandi Hamlin personally.

Howe also said that based on the Hamlin case the TSA is changing its procedures to allow for a screener of the same sex to conduct a visual inspection of a private body part, such as a nipple with a piercing that has set off the metal detector alarm, if requested by the person who has triggered the alarm. Until now, the TSA operating procedures -- the details of which are classified -- prohibited screeners from inspecting or patting down private parts of the body such as genitalia and female breasts.

"We reviewed the situation and it appears [the screeners] did properly follow the procedures as they exist," Howe said. "They didn't have in their procedures the option to visually inspect."

She added, "We are going to acknowledge that the procedures caused difficulty and we are going to make a change that will enable the procedures in the future to meet security needs while providing additional flexibility for this kind of screening situation," Howe said.

"We had a good conversation with Gloria Allred yesterday and we definitely understand the woman's distress," Howe said.

Hamlin had said that she could hear male screeners "snickering" as she stood behind a curtain using the pliers to remove one of the nipple rings. The TSA's Howe said there was no indication that any routine checkpoint chatter overheard was directed at Hamlin, however.

At the press conference, Allred and Hamlin seemed to present a pretty straightforward case of a woman being arbitrarily humiliated by TSA screeners at Lubbock, Texas.

A video clip of the press conference is linked to at Allred's Web site, under "Featured News."

In November 2004, by the way, I wrote about a widespread problem of women being humiliated and arbitrarily patted down by airport screeners, and the TSA ultimately dealt with the problem. That story was initially prompted by an e-mail from the singer and actress Patti LuPone, who told me in subsequent conversations how she'd been humiliated and almost arrested when she refused to remove her blouse in public at an airport checkpoint.

(This has nothing to do with the subject, but Patti, by the way, opened on Broadway last night starring in the revival of "Gypsy," to great reviews.)

###

US Airways Wing Panel Broke Loose, Struck Fuselage


[A passenger on the US Air flight took a photo of the missing wing panel. Via MyFox Washington, D.C.]


A 5 x 7 foot panel from the left wing of a US Airways 757-200 tore loose last Saturday and struck the fuselage, cracking one window, according to an FAA report on the scary incident.

The FAA incident report, filed yesterday, describes the damage to the aircraft as "substantial."

The flight was at 27,000 feet and 45 miles from Baltimore when the accident occurred. It was bound to Philadelphia from Orlando and landed without further incident. There were 174 passengers on board. The FAA incident report was filed yesterday.

[It wasn't a great weekend for US Air and safety. The day before the wing-panel accident, as noted here in a recent post, a US Airways pilot accidentally discharged a firearm in the cockpit
of a flight from Denver to Charlotte. No one was injured.]


According to the initial FAA report on the wing-panel incident, because "the loss of the wing panel adversely affected the flight characteristics of the aircraft, the event has been classified as an accident. "

That preliminary FAA report went on:

"The wing panel has not yet been located. Safety Board
investigators are using a specialized computer program to
perform a Ballistic Trajectory Analysis with data such as
the aircraft ground track, speed, prevailing winds and other
factors to create a search area where the missing panel is
most likely to be found. Once a specific search area has
been created, local authorities in the vicinity will be
notified that an aircraft part may be located in their
jurisdiction. ..."

###

Cancelled Flights: Short Notice?

Delta Air Lines' flight schedule returned to normal this morning after a shaky start when 12 flights were canceled by 6 a.m., according to FlightStats.com data. Yesterday, Delta canceled 241 of its 1,656 scheduled flights as it pulled aging MD-88 aircraft off line to conduct FAA safety inspections.

I like Delta. But I think they dropped the ball on this one. Unlike American Airlines, which provided a day's advance notice earlier this week when it pulled its MD-80s out of service for the same FAA maintenance checks, Delta waited till Wednesday night to send out a news release that it was taking planes out of service on Thursday.

On Tuesday, American announced it was removing 200 MD-80s from service. The actual number was nearly 300. American ended up canceling 325 flights on Wednesday.

Delta left a lot of customers flat-footed yesterday. I happened to be at a book-party lunch yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South in New York, and a handful of people there had to either return to Washington or fly elsewhere. They all were anxious about whether they'd get there on Delta. All of them lacked information.

Airline management is often ham-handed, and Delta's is right in character on this. Here's the lecture ... I mean, customer-service statement ... that Delta put out yesterday to make sure you know your "inconvenience" was for your own damn good. Note how it fails to address the fact that Delta simply didn't give customers enough notice:

"DELTA AIR LINES OFFERS OPTIONS TO CUSTOMERS IMPACTED BY MD-88 RE-INSPECTIONS

ATLANTA, March 27, 2008 – Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) remains on track to complete all MD-88 maintenance re-inspections by late today and expects to resume normal operations Friday morning, March 28, 2008.

In a statement to customers on its web site, Delta said:

“Dear Delta Customer,

We are very sorry for any inconvenience the MD-88 re-inspections may have caused you and realize fully that our decision to conduct this review may have negatively impacted your travel plans. However, at Delta we take safety requirements very seriously and moved quickly to take voluntary action in addressing the issue. Though these re-inspections impacted the travel plans of many of our customers, safety is our No. 1 priority at Delta and conducting these inspections proactively was the right decision.

Delta is already taking steps to communicate with Delta SkyMiles members whose flights were canceled as a result of the MD-88 re-inspections. However, if you are a customer who is not part of the SkyMiles program and you experienced an MD-88 flight cancellation as a result of the re-inspection, you may contact Delta via a special form found on delta.com. You’ll be asked to provide your contact and flight information so you may be contacted and assisted by a Delta representative.

Many of you have already heard from Delta after signing up for our customer notification system, Delta Messenger, or worked with Delta’s reservation agents and airport customer service agents to be reaccommodated for canceled flights.

We once again apologize for any inconvenience this may have had on you and your travel plans and hope that you can understand how important safety is to everything we do at Delta.

Sincerely,

Steve Gorman
Delta Air Lines
Executive Vice President – Operations"

Delta's Statement Continued:

"Delta yesterday began working in full partnership with the FAA to proactively and voluntarily revalidate the full compliance of a prior Airworthiness Directive completed earlier this year.

Delta expects this voluntary review, which is taking place on the airline’s 117 MD-88 aircraft, to result in approximately 275 cancellations through early Friday, impacting about 3 percent of Delta’s worldwide flight schedule.

Based on the aggressive and proactive re-inspection schedule, Delta expects inspections to be complete on approximately 70 percent of its MD-88 fleet by early Thursday evening, with normal operations planned by early Friday. The majority of impacted customers have already worked with Delta reservation agents and gate agents to be reaccommodated or receive refunds for canceled flights."

###

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Hits Just Keep On Comin' ... (And Other News)

--Looks like domestic passengers on major airlines are about to get hit with another fare hike as the weekly, weekend airfare fandango approaches.

The latest attempt to hike fares and make them stick among the six legacy carriers was initiated today by Delta.

"After last week’s attempted hike failed, [Delta] persists this week, trying again by adding an additional $10 round-trip fuel surcharge systemwide," said Rick Seaney, the CEO of FareCompare.com

"This marks the sixth airfare increase attempt in the past five consecutive weeks, and the tenth attempted increases so far in 2008," he said. Five of those increases have stuck.

"Last week United was quick to match Delta, but the other legacy airlines stood on the sidelines for a few days and forced a rollback by both," said Seaney. He said he expects United to match the new increase, and that United and Delta would then "hope to drag along the other four legacy airlines over the weekend."

So far, I haven't seen any evidence that soaring fares have affected passenger demand, even as the summer peak travel seasons approaches. The convention wisdom is that demand will begin to soften in April, including business-travel demand, but we'll see.

Seaney agreed. "I continue to get mixed messages from a variety of sources on travel demand for the next few months. From all accounts bookings look to be strong, and typically late spring and early summer are strong -- which could support “even” more increases, but I also continue to hear more than the normal amount of rumbling about business demand waning slightly.

Still, as the fare-hike hits keep on coming, comparisons with previous periods are difficult. "We are in completely uncharted waters right now," Seaney said.

Meanwhile, in a phone interview, Seaney -- who along with Tom Parsons of BestFares.com follows these mind-bogglingly complex fare structures carefully -- pointed out that there is a difference between a fare hike and a fuel surcharge. So far, he said, about half of the across-the-board increases or attempted increases this year have been filed as fuel surcharges.

To most of us, the difference is nil. But if you're a big corporate travel manager, you probably have negotiated fare discounts with one or more airlines. There's where the difference can be important, because under most agreements, fuel surcharges are added onto the bill after the discount. Fare increases, on the other hand, are usually subject to the negotiated discount.

Typically, he said, though contracts can vary, "you only get the discount off the base fare.” When your employees are the ones "buying those $1,000 tickets," the difference mounts up, he said.

On the other hand, calling an increase a fuel surcharge "gives some notion of its being temporary" and thus some perceived marketing advantage, he said. "Right now the fuel surcharge is around $40 or $50 for most city pairs, though some don’t have it on routes competing with carriers like Southwest, which are fuel hedged."

Internationally, fuel surcharges have crept up to the $200 to $300 level on many routes, by the way.

One dynamic Seaney sees affecting demand:

"The real issue will be pretty simple. Most business travelers need to do business face to face, which is the way deals are done," and that fact tends to support demand.

On the other hand, "there is a huge travel economy around consulting businesses -- with major corporations sending people all over the country. During the week, they fly out on Monday and come back on Friday.

"These are the people buying $800 to $1,000 tickets. What might happen is the companies they are consulting for could say, 'Why the hell am I paying $1,000 each for these 20 consultants to come work here all week'. And that will occur if the economy keeps in its present trajectory, when those corporations will say let’s cut discretionary travel spend by 20 percent. That's when we'll see the softening.

"That's the airlines' biggest fear," Seaney went on. "And when it happens, they're going to ground flights. If the flight is not profitable, or the lowest rung on their schedule, they're just not go to fly it. That will be very bad for consumers who have are used to basically walking down to the nearest airport and going wherever they want for a relatively cheap price."

***

In Other News ...

---Delta Air Lines became the third carrier to add a charge for a second checked bag, following United and US Airways. Starting May 1, it'll cost an extra $25 for a second checked bag on Delta. American is expected to follow imminently. After that, the other major competitors will likely also get on board.

(By the way, I caught hell from business travelers after I said a week or two ago that generally the only people who check a second bag are the "Clampett Family." Oh yeah? What about golfers and skiiers, several readers said. And families, and those of us who have to lug equipment or pack for three weeks? And so on. Sorry, I was way too glib on that one.)

***

---I never worked in PR, but I do know this is a basic rule: Don't go prattling on too much. You could end up as a snippet of video on, like, the Daily Show, and they won't be laughing with you ...

For example, TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird hereby wins the Quote of the Week award (no use even going through Friday; no one will top this) with the following utterance as quoted today by the Associated Press:

''I'd be really curious to know what this woman had in her nipples," Baird said. "Sometimes they have a chain between their nipples, or a chain between their nipples and their belly button. ..."

Here's the issue he was addressing.

***

---David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue who basically faded away after the Valentine's Day 2007 fiasco in which thousands of JetBlue passengers were stranded for four to eight hours on idled planes at Kennedy, announced plans to start a new airline modeled after JetBlue -- in Brazil, the land of troubled skies, but also the land of a vastly underserved air-travel market.

Neeleman said today he's looking for a name for the snazzy startup.

Oh, I dunno, given the horrible disasters Brazilian airlines Gol and TAM had in late 2006 and last year, how about: "NoCrash Airways?" ... Oh jeez, there I go again ...

###

Delta Cancels Flights for MD-88 Safety Inspections


[Above: A Delta Shuttle MD-88]



---Following the extraordinary action by American Airlines yesterday, Delta Air Lines says it's pulling an unspecified number of MD80 models -- MD88s in this case -- off line over maintenance issues. Flight cancellations will result. Delta flies 117 MD88s in its total mainline fleet of 454. And remember, MD-88s are what Delta uses on its shuttle.

Delta's statement was issued late yesterday after the news agency Reuters reported the story. Note that the word "cancellations" is weirdly missing from the PR language, as if not saying it means customers won't notice the schedule disruptions.

Yesterday, American Airlines said it was inspecting 200 of its MD-80s. American canceled 325 flights yesterday, according to FlightStats.com data. America has about 2,200 mainline and about 4,000 total system (including regional feeds) flights daily.

[Update: As of 6 p.m. EDT today, Delta has canceled 237 of its 1,639 scheduled mainline flights, with operations at Atlanta being hardest hit, according to FlightStats.com. So be sure to check your flight status if you're on Delta tonight or tomorrow.


Here's Delta's statement:

"ATLANTA, March 26, 2008 – Delta Air Lines today issued the following statement regarding its proactive, voluntary review of MD-88 aircraft:

Safety is Delta's No. 1 priority and we take [the FAA] Airworthiness Directives very seriously. Delta is working in full partnership with the FAA and has begun pro-actively and voluntarily revalidating the full compliance of a prior Airworthiness Directive that was completed earlier this year. We expect this voluntary review, which will take place on Delta's 117 MD-88 aircraft, to have some impact to the operation. Delta apologizes in advance for any inconvenience this may cause and will work to pro-actively contact and reaccommodate any affected customers. The review will be completed by the end of the week."

###

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Morning News ...

---American Airlines canceled 200 flights today, citing maintenance issues. During a routine audit, American said, "a joint team of AA and FAA inspectors raised questions regarding an already accomplished directive concerning how a certain bundle of wires is secured to the MD80 aircraft. We are re-inspecting the MD80s to make sure the wiring is installed and secured exactly according to the directive." The MD80s will return to service throughout the day, said American, which has a total of about 4,000 flights a day. American is the major operator of MD80s, which are considered to be fuel-inefficient. America flies 300 MD80s in its mainline fleet of a total of 655 aircraft.

---Excited Drudge Headline of the Day: "EARTH DIVIDED ON OBAMA/CLINTON ... Oh, I dunno, some earthlings probably have more pressing matters to fret about in Darfur, Tibet -- oh hell, even Scotland and Greece.

###

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Renewed Call for Federal Passengers' Rights Law

Today's federal appeals court ruling overturning a New York state law requiring airlines to ensure basic health and sanitation standards for stranded passengers (see my previous post) brought renewed calls in the Senate to get the stalled federal passengers' rights bill moving.

Here's a joint statement today from Sens. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican. [The boldface is theirs.]

"SENATORS BOXER AND SNOWE RENEW CALL FOR FEDERAL PASSENGERS BILL OF RIGHTS FOLLOWING COURT RULING

"Washington, DC—Following a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals today to strike down a New York State law designed to protect air travelers, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said it was more important than ever to move forward at the federal level with their Airline Passengers Bill of Rights.

Senator Boxer said, “The Court’s decision today reinforces the need to move forward at the federal level to protect the flying public. Those of us who travel frequently know that sometimes delays cannot be helped. But there is no reason that passengers should ever be trapped on airplanes for hours without food, safe drinking water or functioning restrooms. It has been almost a year since the Commerce Committee recognized the need take action and passed the Boxer-Snowe Passengers Bill of Rights as part of the FAA Bill. It is long past time to get this bill to the Senate floor.”

“Today’s decision places the onus on the federal government to take immediate action to pass our Passenger Bill of Rights bill,” Senator Snowe said. “With the summer travel season approaching, Americans nationwide will face the prospect of endless delays and no guarantee of service – the airline industry has proven its inability to protect passenger rights. Congress must put into place some sort of minimum standard. I would urge the leadership in to Senate to bring to the floor the Passenger Bill of Rights.”

The Senate Commerce Committee passed the Boxer-Snowe Airline Passengers Bill of Rights as part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill in May 2007. The legislation ensures that travelers are not unnecessarily trapped on airplanes or deprived of food, potable water or adequate restroom facilities.

The language included by the Committee also requires air carriers to develop and submit to the Secretary of Transportation their own plan, incorporating medical considerations, to ensure that passengers are provided a clear time frame under which they will be permitted to deplane a delayed aircraft. The Secretary would be required to make the plans available to the public. In the absence of such a plan, passengers would have the option of safely deplaning a grounded aircraft three hours after the plane door has closed. This option would be provided every three hours that the plane continues to sit on the ground.

The Senate cannot move forward on the legislation until the Finance and Commerce Committees resolve the funding issues in the FAA Reauthorization. Senators Boxer and Snowe today wrote to the Chairs of the Senate Finance and Senate Commerce Committees, urging them to act promptly to get the FAA bill to the Senate floor."

###

Appeals Court Overturns N.Y. Passengers' Rights Law

The New York State passengers' bill of rights law was stuck down today by a federal appeals court which found that "requiring airlines to provide food, water, electricity and restrooms to passengers during lengthy ground delays" violates the landmark 1978 Airline Deregulation Act.

The ruling, which is expected to be challenged in the Supreme Court, reversed a decision by a U.S. District Court that upheld the New York law, which took effect Jan. 1.

The New York law was the first state legislation addressing airlines' responsibilities toward passengers stranded on idled airplanes for three hours or more. It basically said that airlines must provide adequate food and water and working toilets to passengers stranded on parked planes, unable to get to a gate. The law provided for penalties of up to $1,000 per passenger for violations.

At least a dozen other state legislatures are considering their own versions of passengers' rights laws. A federal version of a passengers rights law is currently stalled in Congress.

The key argument made by the airline industry, which vehemently opposes the legislation, is that the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) specifically prohibits states from interfering in airline "service."

Proponents of passengers' rights laws like the one in New York argued that the ADA prohibitions against state interference in airline "service" do not preclude states from ensuring that airlines provide basic passenger health and comfort provisions, including adequately working toilets, for stranded passengers.

However, today's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit states that "requiring airlines to provide food, water, electricity and restrooms to passengers during lengthy ground delays does relate to the service of an air carrier and therefore falls within the express terms of the ADA's preemption provision."

The Air Transport Association (ATA), the airline-industry trade group that had filed suit to challenge the New York law, hailed today's appeals court ruling. In a statement, the trade group said:

"The court's decision vindicates the position of ATA and the airlines -- that airline services are regulated by the federal government and that a patchwork of laws by states and localities would be impractical and harmful to consumer interests. This clear and decisive ruling sends a strong message to other states that are considering similar legislation."

A blog (published by a New York law firm) that tracks civil-rights opinions of the Second Circuit appeals court stated that "this case may be on a rocket ship to the Supreme Court" because other federal appeals courts in different cases have had different interpretations of what constitutes airline "service."

That blog (http://secondcircuitcivilrights.blogspot.com) says: "When the Courts of Appeals around the country disagree on the interpretation of a federal statute, the Supreme Court usually intervenes to iron out those differences. This case is a perfect candidate for Supreme Court review."

[Michael N. Gianaris, the New York state assemblyman who drafted the law, told the New York Times "City Room" blog today that the appeals court ruling was predictably pro-corporation. He said:

“One would struggle to find examples as outrageous as those faced by passengers on these planes. Even with the most minimal of requirements, the court has sided with the company.”

To get a feel for how people think about this, check out the comments following the City Room item.]

###

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Morning News: Hey, Andy, Can I Ride Shotgun?


---The trouble with guns on an airplane is they sometimes go off when you least expect it. Here is the TSA's statement on the incident:

Photo of an airplane flying

"March 23 -- A US Airways pilot, who is a member of the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, accidentally discharged his firearm while airborne today (US Airways #1536, Airbus A319, Denver – Charlotte). The flight landed safely in Charlotte and was never in danger.

TSA and the Federal Air Marshals Service take this matter seriously and an investigation is underway. The pilot was authorized to be in possession of the weapon and he completed the appropriate training.

This pilot last requalified on Nov. 7, 2007."

###

Friday, March 21, 2008

'As a Service to Our Valued Customers, We're Simply Not Flying the Plane'



Airline delays and meltdowns could be getting to the point where they don't qualify as news. Still, the business and personal lives of an awful lot of people are being routinely messed up.

It's snowy and icy in Chicago today. Already, cancellations are piling up at O'Hare, where 767 departures and arrivals had been canceled by 4.30 p.m. CDT, according to FlightStats.com

Says the Chicago Tribune, quoting the Chicago Department of Aviation, airlines "'proactively canceled flights to minimize impact on their customers."

Try reading that sentence again. I suppose it makes sense -- but this is how we "minimize impact" these days, by not flying the airplane?

###

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Super Jumbo Jam?

[Above: The A380, configured at 555 seats. Now add about 400 seats.]

Several years ago, I heard from aviation sources that the then-still-unveiled Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet was in fact designed to carry nearly 1,000 people in an all-coach configuration. That was back when the media were all dutifully referring to the double-decker behemoth as a "550-seat" plane, which in fact is roughly in the seat-range that most of its buyers have configured their A380s at. (In fact, usually fewer).

But it was obvious to me that while most would fly in three-class configurations, some of these planes would ultimately be used at full capacity, sans frills. And so, it is suggested in this speculative report by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, it may well soon do so. Emirates announced today that it is starting a new low-cost carrier.

Emirates has 58 A380s on order. Ergo ...

###

Dallas Delays and Cancellations Mount; Trouble Spreads Thorough System

Delays and cancellations snarled Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston Intercontinental airports today.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport was virtually shut down by storms.

By late afternoon, other major hubs such as Chicago O'Hare were reporting excessive delays, the result of both bad weather and the effect from the massive congestion around Dallas and, to a lesser extent, Houston.

It should be anticipated that the ripple-effect will slow down flight operations at Kennedy, Newark and other major East Coast hubs starting early tonight.

Complications from the Dallas mess, which chiefly affects American Airlines, are expected to ripple through the national air-traffic control system for days as American and other airlines struggle to get canceled and diverted airplanes, and their crews, back into place in their schedules.

As of 5 p.m. CDT, an amazing 1,064 of the total 1,914 flights scheduled for the entire day and night at Dallas had been canceled, according to the updates on FlightStats.com. Additionally, American Airlines diverted at least 100 flights to other airports as thunderstorms disrupted air traffic.

At Houston, 556 of the total 1,606 departures and arrivals scheduled for today and tonight have already been canceled as of 5 p.m. CDT.

This sort of event is usually a recipe for stranded passengers sitting on tarmacs for long periods of time.

[Update 7:45 pm EDT: Kate Hanni's indefatigable Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights is already getting phone calls from affected passengers or their relatives. For example, at least three commercial planes diverted from Dallas to Sheppard Air Force Base, which is also the municipal airport in Wichita Falls, Texas. However, employees at the airport delivered pizza to passengers, some of those passengers reported.]


***

Advisory: It’s going to take American and other airlines affected by this mess at least a day to get its planes and crews back into position. That means flights all over the country will be affected. Make sure to check on flight status before going to the airport.

###

Summertime ...



Might it be too early to speculate on what domestic air travel may be like this summer? Perhaps not:

Summer air travel is gonna suck! It's gonna suck so bad!!

Sorry about the yelling. Channeling Sam Kinison there.

But really, it's going to be just awful. The only possible mitigating factor is that so many Americans will be utterly bummed out by the U.S. economy that they'll stay home in droves. Not likely, though.

Delta Air Lines today supplied some new hints of what's ahead. This comes just after major airlines sneaked in the fourth big across-the-board domestic fare hike this year (and by the way, I know they're not getting together in a big secret room and colluding on fixing fares. That would be wrong! But I swear, the recent fare increases do seem to have the reflect the same result.)

Delta said today it was cutting another 5 percent off domestic capacity this summer. By summer, 40 percent of Delta's seat capacity will be on international routes, where the profits are better.

And that's going to be a trend. At the end of last year, projections were that the major airlines would probably cut domestic seat capacity by an additional 3-4 percent this year (after a nearly 10 percent reduction last year). Now I am hearing estimates that domestic seat capacity on the major airlines might drop by as much as 10 percent this year.

Naturally, the news accounts are leading with Delta planning to cut 2,000 jobs, which is bad news -- but doesn't nearly have the effect on most of us that widening capacity reductions will have, even with fare hikes continuing.

Last year, domestic airlines racked up an average load factor of about 80 percent. That means 80 percent of available seats were sold, and it further means that on most flights, every single seat was full.

Last summer, load factors were close to 90 percent, incidentally. You saw the cascade of delays, cancellations, diverted flights and instances of passengers stuck for long hours on tarmacs.

That just gets worse this year. What little advice I can offer is: Book early if you have plans.

###

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Morning News

---As a part-time resident of southern Arizona, I joke that I'm against that anti-immigration fence on the border because we might some day decide to flee to Mexico. In a depressing article in today's Slate on how American business incompetence has become a laughingstock worldwide, Daniel Gross reports: "Americans abroad are constantly taunted by perceived failings of American management. America's aviation system is now the butt of jokes because 9-year-olds have become accustomed to removing their Heelys before boarding a plane. As my family and I passed through the snaking security line in CancĂșn, Mexico's airport last month, we were harangued by a security guard who encouraged tourists to sing along with him: "Please. Do not. Remove. Your shoes."

---There will always be a Duffy: On St. Patrick's Day, the encouraging news that a Queens bar owner has banned the singing of "Danny Boy" for 48 hours is overshadowed this morning by the ravings of one Peter Duffy on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. In late 1846 and early 1847, says our man Duffy, Protestant clergymen and "the WASP establishment" including "the cream of New York society" were so stricken by reports of abject suffering and death from famine in far-off Ireland that they mounted a city-wide fund-raising campaign on behalf of th' poor, starvin' Emerald Isle.

The fact that the famine nevertheless "dragged on" for years "doesn't absolve New York's Irish from recognizing the generosity shown to them," insists this Duffy, who appears to be the type who used to stay for the recitation of the Rosary after all the other men had scooted out once the damn priest was seen approaching the scene of the wake.

News for ye, Duffy, me lad: The reason the "cream of New York society" was raisin' th' money was to try to keep th' poor starvin' Irish from actually comin' to New York, where a vicious nativist movement was gunning for them. Didn't raise enough dough, it would appear.

And a happy St. Patrick's Day to yez all.

---Except the McGreeveys, that is. To switch vernacular: Oy. (The story was broken yesterday by the Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey, which has a terribly designed Web site. As it its wont, the Post failed to credit its betters).

---And this just in: Glad to know these bozos have their eye on the ball and are spending their time concerned about what's really important, curse words.

---Excited Drudge headline of the day: "Paper: Why Does Hillary Wear Such Bad Clothes?" You have seen that boy Drudge's absolutely precious fedora, right?

###

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Big New Fare Hike: All Aboard

Northwest joined in the round of airline fare hikes, making it likely it will stick. Legally, airlines are not allowed to collude on fares because it would constitute price fixing, but they all seem to be marching and matching to the same tune these days ...

Here's an update -- with some good advice and analysis -- from Rick Seaney, the CEO of FareCompare.com

***

By Rick Seaney

"Update 3 – All Legacy Airlines Match United Increase, Will it 'Stick'?

Saturday, March 15, 2008 11:03pm CDT


Earlier this evening in the 5:00pm EDT domestic U.S. airfare distribution Northwest Airlines completed the matching of the unprecedented $4 to $50 roundtrip increase initiated by United Airlines late Thursday evening.


Northwest Airlines had been last to match on several of the past increase attempts and their matching tonight marks the 4th increase by the legacy airlines in consecutive weeks and the eighth attempt at an increase in 2008 (six – including this increase --“successful”).

Tonight Northwest Airlines completed what can only be described as the most broad based single domestic U.S. airfare increase since I began closely tracking airfares in 2002.

United had attempted on January 11th, 2008 to increase the fuel surcharge from what was then $20 roundtrip to the then unprecedented level of $50 roundtrip (an increase of $30 roundtrip) -- which was then the largest single increase we have tracked -- but that particular increase attempt fell apart when Continental Airlines bailed out. It subsequently took an additional 5 weeks with incremental increases of $10 roundtrip (every week or so) to get to the current $50 fuel surcharge level by mid February - That fuel surcharge increase attempt in mid January pales in comparison to this particular airfare hike.

Most of the U.S. airlines continue to be upbeat about travel demand (short term) and have been churning out more revenue per passenger in the first two months of 2008 than the same time period last year, but there is no doubt airlines must be fidgeting with their worry beads as the 2008 economic forecast continues to slide and the seemingly unending march of oil prices continues through low $100’s per barrel and possibly beyond.

Most airlines had been on a “financial roll” up to the end of the 3rd quarter of 2007, when they were blindsided y fuel increases that stopped their momentum in its tracks.

What are the airlines choices in a $140 barrel of oil environment and looming economic downturn?

Well, it is pretty simple and not very pretty for anyone involved, airlines and passengers alike:


·
Airlines can continue to daub the wound by increasing airfares every week (or so) until corporate and leisure passengers significantly begin to push back

· Ground a significant portion of the most unprofitable flights (they have already been reducing either capacity or growth significantly in the past few years)

· Spin off or divest assets (frequent flyer programs, maintenance operations, …)

· Merge (not likely to help in the short term)

· Combination of all these

What can passengers do?


Unfortunately travelers better prepare themselves for more inconvenience and packed planes (if it is possible to be more packed) and higher prices for the foreseeable future. Airlines will continue to be promote deals, competition will foster deals in certain cities and travelers must be willing to be more flexible, by traveling on the cheapest days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and choosing the times of day and paths less traveled.


Prediction

I am predicting this increase will “stick” for a few reasons:

Demand continues to be firm for the moment

  • United rolled back a few of the smallest increases tonight ($4 and $8) which were mostly overlapping with lower cost airlines, but did not touch the much higher $20, $30 and $50 roundtrip increases
  • The legacy airlines were swift to match what is a relatively complex – laddered – increase without much hesitation
  • They need the additional revenue to offset the highest jet fuel prices in history""
  • ###

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Fare Hike Gains Traction, But Will It Hold?

You can never tell for sure on a weekend whether any new round of fare hikes initiated by an airline at week's end will stick through Monday. Sometimes a spoiler will back out and then everybody runs for the hills. But looming $110-a-barrel oil has made the airlines less skittish in that regard.

The latest fare hike, another big one, is sticking so far, says Tom Parsons, the CEO of Bestfares.com. On Thursday, United filed a series of higher fares, from a $10 round-trip increase on short flights to $50 round-trip on flights over 1,500 miles. Continental followed the next day, and now American, Delta and US Air have too. Northwest -- which has been a spoiler in the past, but recently has tended to go along -- hasn't yet joined in. But the weekend is early.

Here is the latest from Parsons:

"" All Major Airlines Raise Airfares Except Northwest. Is This Fare Hike A Bust?

On the evening of March 13, 2008, United Airlines raised both leisure and business domestic airfares by $10 round-trip on flights up to 500 air miles, $20 on flights 501 to 1,000 air miles [ed. note: mileage measured each way on a round trip]; $30 on flights 1,001 to 1,500 air miles; and a whopping $50 round-trip on domestic flights over 1,500 air miles ...

On Friday March 14, 2008 Continental Airlines was the first major airline to match United Airlines airfare hike. “Today American Airlines, Delta Airlines and US Airways also jumped on board. The only holdout of the major airlines NOT to match is United Airlines airfare increase is Northwest Airlines.

“Northwest Airlines has been the spoiler on airfare increases many times in the past” says Tom Parsons, CEO and Founder of Bestfares.com, an internet travel website that tracks airfare changes and travel industry trends. It does not mean that Northwest won’t match these fare hikes tomorrow but as of today Northwest offers the cheapest business and leisure airfares up to $50 less than their competitor. “If Northwest elects not to match this aggressive airfare hike by Sunday March 16, 2008, this could force the other five legacy airlines to rapidly descend their new higher airfares” adds Parsons.

“If there is any good news for travelers, America now has many routes served by the low cost carriers. Due to the competitive nature of the airline industry in most instances, the major airlines are forced to offer lower competitive airfares on these routes. When comparing airfares in nearby competitive markets that are serviced by low cost carriers and comparing nearby alternative airports to non competitive markets some airfares can be better than half price” ...

"It should also be noted that since December 18, 2007, the major airlines had already successfully raised both leisure and business airfares by $70 roundtrip by either raising airfares or fuel surcharges. If this increase is matched by American, Delta, Northwest and US Airways, travelers flying over 1,500 airmiles on non-competitive routes will be paying as much as $120 roundtrip more on the same routes in less than three short months. Listed below are the airfare hikes and fuel surcharge increases the major airlines have made since December 18, 2007.

(1) Week of December 20, 2007: Major airlines raise fuel surcharges on leisure and Business Class fares from $10 roundtrip to $20 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $10 roundtrip.

(2) Week of January 7, 2008: Major airlines raise leisure and Business Class airfares by $10 roundtrip. Fuel surcharges still remain at $20 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $20 roundtrip.

(3) Weekend of January 24, 2008: Major airlines double fuel surcharges on leisure and Business Class airfares from $20 to $40 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $40 roundtrip.

(4) Weekend of February 22, 2008: Major airlines raise airfares on both leisure and Business Class airfares $10 roundtrip. $40 fuel surcharge still in place. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $50 roundtrip.

(5) Weekend of February 29, 2008: Major airlines raise leisure and Business Class airfares $10 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $60 roundtrip.

(6) Weekend of March 7, 2008: Major airlines raise fuel surcharges from $40 to $50 roundtrip. Total airfare increase with airfare hikes and fuel surcharges since December 18, 2007, $70 roundtrip.

(7) March 14, 2008: United & Continental Airlines raised both leisure and business domestic airfares by $10 roundtrip on flights up to 500 air miles, $20 on flights 501 to 1000 air miles, $30 on flights 1001 to 1500 air miles, and a whopping $50 roundtrip on domestic flights over 1,500 air miles one-way. On March 15, 2008 American Airlines, Delta Airlines and US Airways matched the new fare hike. ..."



###

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not So Fast ...



(Top: The New Gulfstream 650; bottom: the Citation X)


There's a big, pretty, full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal today for the in-development Gulfstream 650 business jet. And what a beauty it is, just in pure terms of design. (Please, no scolding letters from save-the-planeters. The last business jet I hitchhiked on crashed in a Brazilian rain forest, and I am abundantly aware of the multiple ironies involved.)

But there's also a story in the New York Sun (breathlessly linked to by, who else, Drudge) that makes it sound like the new Gulfstream jet will be the fastest thing beneath the sound barrier.

Ain't exactly so. Cessna's popular Citation X (pronounced "X" and not "Ten") , introduced 12 years ago, is far less roomy and has about half of the projected 7,000-mile range of the new G650 (and is also well under half the projected $60 million cost for the new Gulfstream) -- but it will be able to fly at essentially the same maximum speed: The Gulfstream will be able to clock in at a max Mach 0.925, compared with the Citation X's max of Mach 0.92 -- just under the sound barrier.

The Mach 0.92 bragging rights are a big reason the Citation X has been such a hot seller, despite a somewhat more cramped cabin than other jets in its model segment.

Besides, by the time the new Gulfstream starts coming off production lines in four years, an under-development new supersonic business jet might well be on the market.

###

Another Fare Hike

I’m glad Rick Seaney at FareCompare.com is keeping such close track on these interminable air-fare hikes. When I go to book a ticket these days, that $350 fare I was expecting suddenly has turned into a $600 fare, such as one I just booked to Atlanta. Here’s the latest report from Rick, who has been doing a tremendous job keeping track of these fares:

***

By Rick Seaney

United Airlines 4th Airfare Increase in a Row – Up to $50 Roundtrip!

Friday, March 14, 2008 9:15am CDT

Last night in the 8:00pm EDT U.S. domestic airfare distribution United Airlines raised airline ticket prices between $4 and $50 roundtrip for the bulk of its route system.

This attempted airfare hike is the 4th consecutive weekly increase and marks the 8th attempted increase in 2008 – five of the previous seven attempted increases in 2008 where “successful”.

This increase attempt breaks the pattern this year’s numerous $10 “every week or so” increase attempts — by increasing airfares up to $50 roundtrip for the longest distance routes and providing 6 different price increase levels based loosely on distance.

This United increase is “loosely” based on route distance (with several notable exceptions) and is laddered as follows (leisure, 14 days advance purchase or more, business, less than 14 days advance purchase):

  • $4 roundtrip increase – 300 leisure city pairs, 700 business city pairs
  • $8 roundtrip increase – 1,500 leisure city pairs, 3,800 business city pairs
  • $10,$11,$12 roundtrip increase – 3,900 leisure city pairs, 5,800 business city pairs
  • $20 roundtrip increase – 200 leisure city pairs, 180 business city pairs
  • $30 roundtrip increase – 5,000 leisure city pairs, 6,200 business city pairs
  • $50,$52 roundtrip increase – 2,500 leisure city pairs, 3,800 business city pairs

The total city pairs with an increase are approximately 20,000.

United has thrown down the gauntlet for this particular increase – a change of this magnitude across such a wide range cities, with different increase amounts ostensibly based on market competition (or lack thereof) and distance is a massive undertaking. Legacy airline matching may take some time as they try to absorb the intricacies of this complex airfare hike.

A quick check of the United Airlines hub city Denver shows this laddered increase on dozens of city pairs, even on overlapping Southwest Airline markets.

I have been closely following airfares for almost 5 years and this past 6 months (culminating with this latest increase) have been so volatile on the increase side that I don’t have any historical information to compare it against – I have been predicting air travel consumers are in for a wild ride on airline ticket prices this year and I think we just reached the top of the highest point on this rollercoaster…

Case in point, in the midst of the increase there is a sale in place started by Southwest which is getting selective matching, so those that are very flexible can still grab some of the cheapest air travel deals we have had in the past year.

Other notable increases occurred on U.S./Canadian markets of $22 roundtrip by several legacy and smaller airlines (initiated by Air Canada).”

***

Here here is the way it's seen today in a report by Tom Parsons, the CEO of BestFares.com:

"United And Continental Airlines Attempt To Raise Airfares Up To $50 Roundtrip

Arlington, TX -- March 14, 2008 - On the evening of March 13, 2008, United Airlines raised both their leisure and business airfares by $30 roundtrip on flights up to 1,500 airmiles and a whopping $50 roundtrip on domestic flights over 1,500 airmiles. Continental Airlines matched this increase today.

"If this airfare hike sticks, it will be up to 250% higher than any other fuel surcharge or airfare increase we have seen since December 18, 2007," says Tom Parsons, CEO and founder of Bestfares.com, an interline website that tracks airfare changes and travel industry trends. "We have seen United raise airfares once this year for $30 roundtrip, but that attempt was rolled back," adds Parsons.

It should also be noted that since December 18, 2007, the major airlines had already successfully raised both leisure and business airfares by $70 roundtrip by either raising airfares or fuel surcharges. If this increase is matched by American, Delta, Northwest and US Airways, travelers flying over 1,500 airmiles on non-competitive routes will be paying as much as $120 roundtrip more on the same routes in less than three short months.

Listed below are the airfare hikes and fuel surcharge increases the major airlines have made since December 18, 2007.

(1) Week of December 20, 2007: Major airlines raise fuel surcharges on leisure and Business Class fares from $10 roundtrip to $20 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $10 roundtrip.

(2) Week of January 7, 2008: Major airlines raise leisure and Business Class airfares by $10 roundtrip. Fuel surcharges still remain at $20 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $20 roundtrip.

(3) Weekend of January 24, 2008: Major airlines double fuel surcharges on leisure and Business Class airfares from $20 to $40 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $40 roundtrip.

(4) Weekend of February 22, 2008: Major airlines raise airfares on both leisure and Business Class airfares $10 roundtrip. $40 fuel surcharge still in place. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $50 roundtrip.

(5) Weekend of February 29, 2008: Major airlines raise leisure and Business Class airfares $10 roundtrip. Total increase since December 18, 2007, $60 roundtrip.

(6) Weekend of March 7, 2008: Major airlines raise fuel surcharges from $40 to $50 roundtrip. Total airfare increase with airfare hikes and fuel surcharges since December 18, 2007, $70 roundtrip.

Please note that this hike might not stick unless matched by AA, Delta, Northwest and U.S. Airways.
(7) March 14, 2008: United & Continental Airlines raise airfares by $30 - $50 roundtrip. Total airfare increase with airfare hikes and fuel surcharges since December 18, 2007, $100 for flights up to 1500 miles, $120 for flights over 1,500 miles.

"Now that the price of crude oil has gone as high as $111 per barrel this week, we do expect the airlines to pass this higher fuel cost on to the traveling public," states Parsons. "If there is any fact here, air travelers will be paying much more than they did last summer, especially in markets where the legacy airlines do not have to compete with low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit, Virgin America and Frontier."

As fuel prices continue to rise, non-competitive markets will continue to take the brunt of future airfare and fuel surcharge hikes. The biggest opportunities for low-cost travel are to those travelers who have the option of flying on low cost carriers, or on those routes where the legacy carriers have to match those fares to remain competitive. Those travelers still have the "Freedom To Fly" for less, for example, coast to coast for as little as $198 roundtrip.

"For those who are planning travel for the upcoming busy summer travel season, the airlines are going to have to keep addressing the reality of higher and higher fuel prices and the general public is going to have to face the fact that they are going to have to spend more if they want to continue to travel by air. If you thought you'd be able to travel this year for less than, or even the same price, as last year, well you better get rid of those thoughts because they're not based in reality," adds Parsons . (" )

###

The Morning News ...

---On the USA Today Web site this morning, I clicked on "Southwest Repairs 4 Cracked Jets," and whooo, here comes a pop up ad for a Southwest fare sale.

---Headline of the day so far, from this morning's Salon: "Are Bill Clinton, Rupert Murdoch, the pope and Osama bin Laden part of a new global power elite that may make traditional governments obsolete?"

###

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brazil Update: Pilots Can Testify in U.S.

For those of you who may still be following the Brazil-crash story, a news break: A Brazilian federal judge today reversed himself and ruled that the two American pilots charged in the Sept. 29, 2006, mid-air collision over the Amazon can give their testimony in the U.S., according to Joel Weiss, one of the attorneys involved in the complex and anguishing case.

I have let my separate Brazil blog lapse in recent months. I'm planning on getting it back up to date soon.

Just as background, Brazilian authorities insisted for over a year that the two pilots of the Legacy 600 private jet that collided at 37,000 feet with a Brazilian 737 (killing all 154 on the 737) be required to return to Brazil for the trial, which is ongoing.

Famously, Brazilian authorities had rushed to "criminalize" the accident and scapegoat the Americans during the emotional uproar following the collision. I was one of the surviving passengers.

As I have reported since practically day one, the disaster was put in place by Brazilian air traffic controllers who had placed both aircraft at the same altitude on the same path, in an area over the Amazon notorious for poor radio and radar communications. Also contributing was the apparent failure of an avionics device that was linked to the anti-collision alarm on the private jet.

Seven of us on the private jet, including the two pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, somehow walked away alive after an emergency landing in the Amazon. The four other passengers and I were detained and interrogated for several days, but the two pilots were held in Brazil for two months until a judge ordered their release in December 2006.

The day of their release, the Brazilian authorities cobbled together criminal charges of failing to ensure the safety of Brazil's troubled skies. The charges carry prison terms upon conviction.

However, there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Brazil on those charges -- and the two pilots understandably were hesitant to return to Brazil, where the clamor for their conviction had been strong even as it became abundantly clear that air-traffic control failures caused the disaster.

It hasn't yet been determined how the judge's questions will be posed to Joe and Jan, who have already been interrogated repeatedly. The Brazilian judge can travel to the U.S. for the proceeding -- but it's more likely the questions will be posed in writing, at a time period that's still several months away. In the U.S.

At the time of the crash, Joe and Jan were employed by ExcelAire, the Long Island jet charter company that had just purchased the new $27 million Legacy jet on the day it crashed. Joe still is; Jan took a new job with a commercial airline. Both pilots were and are deeply concerned about the ramifications of any conviction in Brazil, as they would then technically become fugitives, subject to arrest in many other countries.

Aviation authorities and pilots groups around the world condemned the Brazilian rush to criminalize and politicize the accident. My sense is that emotions have cooled and perhaps the Brazilian justice system will dispose of this tragic matter with reason and with a sense of duty to the cause of aviation safety everywhere, which depends on honest investigations of accidents.

###

American Airlines to Gatwick: 'Buh-Bye'

The Open Skies agreement between the U.S. and the E.U. was designed to create new competitive opportunities for flying between U.S. cities and European cities. And it will.

On the other hand, American Airlines is moving its last flight from Gatwick to Heathrow, obviously as an anti-competitive thrust against both Continental and British Airways. Continental recently paid an amazing $209 million to acquire for four Heathrow slots, as part of its plan to start service between Heathrow and New York under the Open Skies provision that allows Continental to begin flying to and from London's main airport.

Both Willie Walsh, the British Airways chief executive, and Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic founder and honcho, have been grumbling quite loudly with complaints that the first phase of Open Skies gives a competitive edge to U.S. carriers and that the second phase, due to kick in next year, had better well give European carriers more freedom to acquire U.S. carriers outright or to operate more freely within U.S. cities.

An airline brawl is shaping up over the Atlantic. Usually that's good news, at least temporarily, for customers. It's gonna get noisy and ugly fast.

Anyway, this is the announcement from American Airlines:

"FORT WORTH, Texas -- American Airlines will move three of its London flights from Gatwick Airport to Heathrow Airport in the coming weeks as part of the "Open Skies" agreement between the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU) which takes effect March 30.

American previously announced that it will move one of its two daily round-trips between Dallas/Fort Worth and London Gatwick, as well as its daily round-trip between Raleigh/Durham and Gatwick, to London Heathrow Airport on March 30.



In addition, American will be moving its second daily round trip between DFW and Gatwick to Heathrow on April 13. American recently obtained additional take-off and landing slots at Heathrow to make that move possible. This will result in the closure of American's Gatwick operations after 26 years of service. All of American's employees at Gatwick have been offered jobs at the airline's other London locations.

"We want to strengthen our competitive position within the new 'Open Skies' regime, so it makes sense to focus our efforts in London at Heathrow," said Henry Joyner, American's Senior Vice President - Planning. "These changes do not impact the total number of American flights to and from London. We'll operate up to 18 daily departures to Heathrow this summer from seven U.S. airports."

American's London Heathrow gateway cities in the U.S. will be: New York (JFK), Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and Raleigh/Durham.

In addition, while not directly related to the new "Open Skies" agreement, American will continue to serve London Stansted Airport from New York's JFK Airport. [My note: That flight flight, added in October, was a competitive thrust against Eos Airlines, the all-business-class carrier that began flying between New York and Stansted in late 2005]

American will add a second daily Stansted round trip beginning Aug. 1. ...

The new "Open Skies" agreement also allows airlines to add new cities within Europe to codeshare relationships with other airlines. Effective April 13 American intends to add 12 new destinations by expanding its existing codeshare agreement with Spain's Iberia Airlines, one of its oneworld Alliance partners. Among the 12 new destinations are Valencia, Seville, Gran Canaria, Brussels, and Lisbon. American flies nonstop between its Miami hub and Madrid, where passengers will be able to easily connect to the new destinations."

###


The Morning News ...

---Re: Man arrested for running on runway at Heathrow. If he was flapping his arms, my guess is he was just desperately trying to depart on time.

---Just saying: Can the news media please stop prominently referring to that poor soul of a 22-year-old prostitute, the one who brought down the august Client 9, as being from a "broken home?" What the hell kind of a pinch-face Pius XII-era term is that? All reporters, editors or publishers who print or broadcast it ought to be able to swear that they come from a home unaffected by divorce.

---Note No. 2 on the same subject that everybody in New York can't stop talking about: What exactly does $5,000 get you, anyway? ("Royally screwed," someone told me). Anyway, that's the question every male I know has been asking. There was a time when dinner and a couple of rum and cokes and being really nice and funny and ... well, never mind, that was back when Kennedy was running around the White House pool with hookers. Who knew?

---Note No. 3: This one is serious. The 22-year-old hooker that everyone is being so gleeful about is a Jersey girl. "A Jersey tomato," as some of the snickering louts in the media have put it. If I were still a city editor, I'd send a couple of smart reporters out on this story: That filthy dung-hill of a town, Atlantic City, has now lured two generations of poor, messed-up girls from South Jersey and the Jersey Shore into all levels of prostitution -- hotel high-end and motel low-end. My hunch is that the former Ashley Youmans, later known as Ashley Alexandra Dupre (accent on the "e," godhelpus), was one of them.

###

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mr. Spitzer Goes to Washington


[Top: Client 9, with his Patriotic Flag Pin and his "Ain't-enough-Xanax-in-the-world-to-get-me-through-this-day" poor spouse, cruelly placed on display]

[Bottom: The Scene of the Crime]


Oh man, does the New York Times have a corker of an exclusive today.

Whoo-eee -- and this one just gets worse, for "Client 9" and others. We are now re-entering Theater of the Absurd-land in New York politics ... which has disgraced itself. Again! (To quote Yeats in another context.)

I remember that the former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who inconveniently croaked while IN THE ACT of having sex with a woman other than his wife, though he was not paying cash, per se. I don't think Nelson actually ever paid cash. And, of course, he wasn't on the taxpayer payroll at the time.

Whatever: The next in line to become governor of New York, after "Client 9" quits, is the lieutenant governor, who is legally blind (ok there -- who needs to see what is going on in Albany? Trust me, I've spent time there. And the new guy will undoubtedly have more vision that his predecessor (s) . Next in line after him: State Senator Joe Bruno, who is under investigation by the F.B.I. on unrelated matters.

[Update March 14 -- On the other hand, maybe I'm too rash in crediting the new governor with the potential for vision, Albany being Albany. See Paterson's amazing response to a discrimination lawsuit cited in this little beauty from the Daily News.]

You really, truly cannot make any of this stuff up.

Myself, I want to see "Client 9" Spitzer's expense accounts for those business trips to Washington.

A while ago, the crooked Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards said the only way he could lose an election was "if they found me in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."

New York ain't Louisiana, and I don't even think Louisiana is Louisiana anymore.

Spitzer is talking the usual pious palaver about redemption and --gag me now --- failing to meet his personal high standards. I'm sure some staff flunky, and more than a few of the usual therapy-whores in the media, are desperately thumbing through their D.S.M. IV (r)'s looking for excuses.

Meanwhile, Spitzer disgraced himself further by dragging out his unfortunate (though very rich) wife as a prop to stand beside him -- very much as that ass-hat former governor of New Jersey, McGreevey, did to his own wife when he got caught in a gay sex-extortion scandal.

Can a man possibly insult his wife any more than that? What sort of a man would even ask? I mean, how does that conversation even begin?

Spitzer says he is not resigning, of course. I give the bum maybe a day because like all chiselers he's hoping for a lucky break.

And Client 9: Why don't you lose the lapel flag-pin display? Nobody's saluting, Skippy.

By the way, what kind of an anxious day do you suppose Clients 1 through 8, and 10 through whatever, are having?

###

The Main Cause of Delays

Let's leave aside for the moment the issues of the poor way many airlines treat passengers who are stuck in stranded planes, and the airlines' willfully dishonest reporting of stats on delays, diversions, cancellations and strandings.

The delays crisis is worsening. Michael Boyd of the Boyd Group has a useful primer (warning: it's lengthy) on why. Here it is.

###

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Flight Delays and Cancellations Mount (Cont'd)

Airlines are scrambling today to assemble crews and airplanes in the right places after an unholy mess yesterday caused by rain and wind and, of course, a system chronically stretched so tight that there is no slack for disruptions.

Here's how it toted up at 3 key airports yesterday, according to FlightStats.com:

Atlanta: Overall ontime arrival rate: 22 percent. Number of cancellations: 287. Number of arriving flights delayed: 835. Number of those arrival delays that exceeded 45 minutes: 609.

JFK: Overall ontime arrival rate: 20 percent. Number of cancellations: 200. Number of arriving flights delayed: 376. Number of those arrival delays that exceeded 45 minutes: 286.

Newark: Overall ontime arrival rate: 22 percent. Number of cancellations: 209. Number of arriving flights delayed: 327. Number of arrival delays that exceeded 45 minutes: 263.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Start Worrying

The F.A.A. says (as dutifully reported here) hey, not to worry! Those two planes that were put into danger in the air near Pittsburgh by a rookie controller had beaucoup distance between them! Hundreds of feet! Besides, anti-collision systems are foolproof!

Dunno, but I seem to recall a pretty harrowing personal experience in an airplane collision 37,000 feet over the Amazon, put in place by an inexperienced Brazilian air traffic controller who had two planes on a direct collision course, while his colleagues failed to notice that they'd had no contact with one plane for 50 minutes in an area known for spotty radio and radar. When the anti-collision warning system also failed, 154 people died -- and the seven of us who lived still can't figure out how we walked away alive.

Now look at the safety violations piling up in the United States. (Hello, Southwest). Look at the increase in reports of runway incursions. Look at the amount of maintenance outsourcing.

Remember that the nation's air traffic control towers are understaffed, and that all those controllers hired en masse during the Reagan Administration are reaching retirement age. And the F.A.A. has been dragging its feet getting up to staff.

Worry.

***

In other news...

Excited Drudge headline of the day:
"French women 'are the sexual predators now'...'

Hey, dude: Chill! You've seen Sarkozy trying to stay balanced on his little white pony! Get back to those breathless stories about Prince Harry -- he's the one that looks like the butler, innit? -- that absolutely nobody else in the world besides the Queen-obsessed UK Telegraph newspaper cares about.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Singapore Airlines: All-Business Class Across the Pacific

You heard it here first.

"SINGAPORE AIRLINES TO LAUNCH FIRST ALL-BUSINESS CLASS FLIGHTS FROM USA TO ASIA

(Los AngelesNGELES, March 4, 2008 Citing consistently strong demand from business travelers, Singapore Airlines has announced plans to convert its five Airbus A340-500 ultra-long-range aircraft into an all-Business Class configuration on daily flights from New York and Los Angeles, making it the first airline to offer this service over the Pacific.

The current 2-class, 181 seat, configuration will be replaced with 100 of the airline’s new, award-winning, Business Class seats in a 1-2-1, configuration. At 30-inches wide, the seats are the largest Business Class offering in the sky.

Unique to Singapore Airlines’ widebody aircraft, every seat will have direct access to the aisle, and convert to a horizontal flat bed. The new Business Class seats are the same design as those installed on the Airline’s A380 and B777-300ER fleet.

The implementation will be phased in gradually from mid-May, 2008, on the New York (Newark) to Singapore route, with daily services in the new configuration to New York by the end of June, and Los Angeles by late September 2008. The program will require each of the five aircraft to be retrofitted in turn.

To manage the retrofit program, the existing daily Los Angeles to Singapore non-stop flight will not operate on Tuesdays between mid-May and late-June. There will be no change to New York service frequency.

Customers who are currently booked in Executive Economy Class on the A340-500 services, which will be affected by the conversion, will be re-accommodated where possible on existing Singapore Airlines services between Los Angeles, New York and Singapore.

In the future, customers looking to fly Economy Class between Singapore and Los Angeles or New York can book on existing one-stop flights.

In the case of New York, a daily B747-400 three-class flight operates between Singapore and New York’s JFK Airport, while between Singapore and Los Angeles; there is a daily B747-400 three-class flight via Tokyo and a four times weekly B777-200ER two-class flight via Taipei.