Tuesday, March 31, 2009

American Airlines Expanding Inflight Wi-Fi

American Airlines says it will install Gogo Aircell wi-fi on more than 300 domestic aircraft over the next two years. The airline had been using the system in a trial stage on some flights since last August on 15 Boeing 767-200s, primarily on nonstop flights between JFK and San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami.

American says it will install the Aircell system on its domestic MD-80 and Boeing 737-800 aircraft fleets, beginning with 150 MD-80s this year.

The system lets passengers (for a fee, see below) access the the Internet using personal Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including laptops, smartphones and PDAs. Gogo uses the Aircell air-to-ground system, enabled by three small antennas installed outside the aircraft. Aircell's price for the Gogo service ranges from $7.95 to $12.95 based on length of flight and whether the device is a handheld PDA or a laptop computer. Prices:

* Long Flight Pass: $12.95 - Standard price for flights longer than 3 hours
* Short Flight Pass: $9.95 - Standard price for flights 3 hours or less
* Mobile Flight Pass: $7.95 - Mobile device pricing for customers using a handheld device on Gogo-equipped flights of any length

Cell phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service use will not be available, American said.

As I have long noted, airlines moving into this brave new world of inflight connectivity remain very worried about the CAP (Cellphone A------ Potential). That's the worry that voice-enabled inflight connectivity through various systems like Skype will allow various idiots to drive everyone else crazy braying into their cellphones in a very confined space with people packed shoulder to shoulder, hurtling through the sky. Thank you, American, for simply not giving in to the CAP. So far.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Fare Sales Aplenty, But It Depends ...

All these reporters are clucking in the media about all these airline fare sales! Cluck, cluck, cluck. And sure enough, you can find some good ones -- assuming you're going where and when the airline is selling. On the other hand, I've found that business-travel fares -- on routes that do not depend heavily on leisure travelers -- are significantly higher now than they were a year ago.

Priceline.com just put out some interesting examples showing the craaaaaaazziness in current fares. The Priceline airfare index identifies the largest week-to-week swings in average published roundtrip airfares for select markets. (Each price shown is the average of the lowest fares returned through multiple airfare searches for flights that are at least 7 days away from departure. The percentage change compares fare averages for the current week with those from the previous week. Amounts shown include all taxes and airline fees)

Portland to Las Vegas $ 233 -20%
Indianapolis to Orlando $ 214 -16%
Chicago to Phoenix $ 280 -14%
Chicago to San Francisco $ 283 -14%
Seattle to Phoenix $ 266 -12%
Dallas to Las Vegas $ 328 -12%
Los Angeles to Miami $ 350 -12%
Minneapolis to Los Angeles $ 259 -11%
Minneapolis to Chicago $ 135 -10%
Minneapolis to New York City $ 268 -9%
Houston to Las Vegas $ 314 -9%
Newark to Honolulu $ 674 -9%
Minneapolis to Las Vegas $ 279 -9%
Cleveland to Las Vegas $ 303 -8%
Chicago to Dallas $ 273 -8%
Washington, DC to Atlanta $ 262 +9%
Washington, DC to Los Angeles $ 304 +9%
Los Angeles to New York City $ 336 +10%
Atlanta to San Francisco $ 344 +10%
Detroit to Newark $ 215 +10%
Washington, DC to Chicago $ 279 +10%
Los Angeles to Washington, DC $ 293 +10%
Washington, DC to Denver $ 292 +10%
San Francisco-o Washington, DC $ 292 +11%
Los Angeles to Newark $ 378 +11%
Washington, DC to Dallas $ 292 +11%
New York City to Los Angeles $ 341 +11%
Atlanta to Washington, DC $ 266 +12%
Washington, DC to Boston $ 263 +17%
Boston to Washington, DC $ 282 +21%


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dumb Ash Versus the Volcano

[Photo: Volcano Ridiculer and Boy Exorcist Bobby Jindal]

Flights to and from Alaska continue to be affected by the continuing eruptions at Mount Redoubt, about 110 miles from Anchorage.

I would hope that Louisiana's inimitable governor (and aspiring future Republican presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal has gotten down on his knees and prayed for the end of the volcanic fires and ashes, perhaps sacrificing a virgin goat in the process -- science not having been on his agenda recently when he ridiculed as wasteful and silly a provision in the stimulus package that would have spent some money on scientific research to better study patterns in volcanic eruptions.

The preternaturally grinning Jindal denies evolution and has previously reported a personal experience in casting out demons, saying he performed an exorcism on a devil-possessed friend that also cured her of cancer, yessir, did too.

(Lookit that account linked to above on the Jindal exorcism, in a Talking Points Memo from last June. Maybe I'm just an old street reporter, but I started imagining the "possessed" girl's view of the incident, as recounted in a police report on a charge of felonious assault, gang attack, imprisonment, and choking and attempted smothering "by the use of a Bible pressed to victim's face until said victim was forced to say the words "Jesus is lord.")

Anyway, I hear Jindal the devil-chaser is holding off on planning any campaign trips to the great state of Alaska till he sees if the sacrifice of the virgin goat appeases the angry Mount Redoubt Volcano god. Meanwhile, his staff is looking for a second virgin goat to sacrifice to appease the sleeping, but more proximate, Mississippi River levees god.


Friday, March 27, 2009


Alaska Airlines is resuming a limited number of flights to and from Anchorage after operations were stoppped by volcanic ash in the air from the eruption of Mount Redoubt, which is in the Aleutian Range about 110 miles west of Anchorage.

What was it, a month ago when Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was publicly ridiculing the portion of the president's stimulus package that would fund the study of volcanic activity? Or, as Jindal put it, waste "$140 million for something called volcano monitoring." The inimitable Jindal added, "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C."


International Air Travel Slump Worsens

When does this bottom out?

Amid reports that international air travel plummeted 10.1 percent in February, Air France-KLM announced today that it expected a $268 million loss for this year, six weeks after it had predicted a profit for the fiscal year -- which ends Tuesday.

That sudden reversal of fortune shows just how tough the international business-travel travel market has become for airlines that depend mightily on it. Reuters today quotes aviation analyst Stephen Furlong: "The downturn is global and the downturn is most exposed to falls in cargo and premium traffic."

The falloff in premium traffic, business-class and first-class tickets, has been staggering to airlines who only a year ago thought the revenue growth in the front of the planes would never end.

Yesterday, the International Air Transport Association said that world airline data for February show a "continuing deterioration in demand."

Passenger traffic fell 10.1 percent overall. So far, airlines have not been able to reduce capacity quickly enough to adjust to the plunge in demand. Revenues, reflecting cheaper fares occasioned by the decline in demand, are off sharply across the board. The IATA is predicting that world airline revenues will fall 12 percent this year, and that may well be an optimistic number.

And, as I keep saying, the system is shrinking, shrinking.

"The priority for airlines around the world is survival -- conserving cash and adjusting capacity to meet demand," said Giovanni Bisignani, the CEO of the airline trade group.


Southwest Green-Lighted for La Guardia Slots

Southwest Airlines' bold move into New York is moving ahead, with a bankruptcy judge green-lighting its purchase the sale of 14 slots there that are among the assets of bankrupt ATA Airlines, it says here in the Dallas Morning News.

Used to be, major airlines would pounce like lions when uppity competitors like Southwest tried to nuzzle into major new territory. Southwest, whose service is widely anticipated in New York, seems to believe it can handle them. Note the recent move into Minneapolis-St. Paul, for example.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just Sayin'

---It's such a great time for leisure travel, if you're flexible. Check out FareCompare.com, Kayak, and all the others. Amazing fares. ... if you're flexible. And hotels, check out the four and five-star bargains. Utterly amazing.

---In general (and here with regard to good hotels, corporate meetings, and even business airplanes that have a sensible purpose) Everybody's mad and got their pitchforks out, but let's remember what happened After the Bastille got stormed. The Terror and Napoleon and all of that. Not to mention the Congress of Vienna and WWI and Hitler, all connected dots ...

--Does anybody bookmark that simpleton Drudge anymore? I sure don't.

---"They Call Him `Mister Lucky-san'": Off the ya-can't-make-this-up beat: In Japan, 93-year-old Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who was on a business trip to Hiroshima when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on that city, killing hundreds of thousands, on Aug . 6, 1945, managed to get home in two days, though with serious burns. Home was, yup, Nagasaki, where he was when the U.S. dropped the second atomic bomb on Aug. 9. The Japanese government last week finally certified him as a survivor of both bombings, though his compensation, and coverage for funeral costs, will not increase. Mr. Yamaguchi is 93 and, to me, a symbol of the indomitable human spirit to survive, and may he do so for many more years.

[UPDATE: That last item was phrased inappropriately, in the glib "They Call Him Mr. Lucky-San" lead-in. Rather than just rewrite it and make it disappear, which I consider weaselly on a blog except to fix typos and obvious dumb mistakes, I should say that Mr. Yamaguchi was not all that lucky at all, my smart-assedness aside. Profoundly injured, and struggling for the rest of his long life with the effects of radiation poisoning and burns, he said recently of his recognition as a survivor of both horrific bombings: "My double radiation exposure is now an official government record. It can tell the younger generation of the horrible history of of the atomic bombings even after I die."

As someone who blithely survives physically unscathed today despite an incredible mid-air collision, I should know not to be glib about luck, fate and the consequences.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Travel to Northern Mexico?

Many media accounts miss the point about the hideous violence in Northern Mexico -- that is, the places where a lot of Americans do business or visit for leisure.

I've been there recently. Downtown Tijuana and Ensenada are bereft of tourists. So is Nogales. Great, nice-to-visit Mexican towns all. No business.

The drug-gang violence, as I have written, is staggering on the border areas, where 7,000 people have died, many in massacres, in a year.

In the northern Mexico, in an indication of how pathetic the problem is, shrines to the possibly mythological early 20th Century Mexican Robin Hood, one Jesus Maleverde, can be found anywhere in the hills outside of any town.

Saint Jesus, you see, has become the patron saint of drug gangs.

I took that picture above on a routine drive through Baja California, not long ago with a couple of American guys who work for a coastal environmental group.

The shrine was inscribed with graffiti from drug dealers thanking Saint Jesus Maleverde for the good quality of the crop and the pretty good business environment prevailing, not to mention his benevolence toward the drug lords.

So business travel and tourism on the Mexican side of the U.S. border is horrific. Violence is spilling out (to a very small and limited degree) onto U.S. border areas, reaching into drug environments as far as south Tucson. Get into a jam with a drug gang in south Tucson and you may well have a visit from an uninvited person.

But now the media puritans are shrieking that "addiction" in the U.S. market is driving the disaster. Addiction to what, I ask?

What "drugs," specifically, are we talking about here?

Heroin? Cocaine? Meth?

Uh, for the most part, the drug in question, the drug behind all of this mayhem, is that devil crabgrass, marijuana.

Reefer Madness! We can't venture into the Mexican border areas because of ... marijuana gangs? Mexico is about to become an out-of-control state because of pot?

Myself, I stopped smoking pot after fiddling around with it in the 1970s -- and for a very good reason. Pink Floyd sounded great, and even Saturday Night Live seemed funny (your brain on drugs!) -- but pot gave me the munchies to the extent that, had I continued, I would have become one of those great big 1,000-pound fat guys that on occasion turn up in photos in the New York Post being hoisted by tow-truck from their beds.

Still, let's remember: Most of this carnage in Mexico, and a lot of this hysteria on our border, would end if we focused on the actual problem and looked at the option of simply decriminalizing that devil crabgrass marijuana.



Pilot Error Indicated in Buffalo Crash That Killed 50

In a careful worded update today, The National Transportation Safety Board clearly indicated that pilot error, not wing icing, was probably the cause of the crash of Continental Airlines flight 3407, operated by a regional-airliner subcontractor, Colgan Air, in which 50 were killed on February 12.

The crash occurred as the plane, a Bombardier Dash8-Q400 turboprop, went out of control while on approach to the airport in Buffalo that night.

"The circumstances of the crash have raised several issues that go well beyond the widely discussed matter of airframe icing" said the NTSB acting chairman, Mark V. Rosenker. The preliminary investigation shows that while icing conditions may have been present, the aircraft's de-icing system was working properly and that tests show that "icing had a minimal impact on the stall speed of the airplane," he said.

Instead, the plane appears to have spun out of control when whichever of the two pilots had the controls responded incorrectly to a "stick shaker" signal on the yoke by pulling the nose up sharply -- a mistake that put the aircraft out of control. Seconds later, it crashed.


Onion News Network on Travel Ennui

Prague's Franz Kafka International Named World's Most Alienating Airport

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Losses Mounting, Demand Down, the Airline Industry Remakes Itself

Let's get to the takeaway first: Enjoy those cheap fares ("Not valid on routes where competition is scant, valid only on routes where airlines are desperate to hold onto market share and fill seats, Saturday night stay and other onerous restrictions reply," as the TV commercial hucksters say in rat-a-rat voices).

The airline industry is currently shrinking itself and doing everything else possible to get people into seats at higher prices.

It's going to take them a while, and it'll be ugly. There will be casualties, as they say. But by this time next year, once the airlines get traction with an economy that is probably going to start improving by the third quarter, my prediction is that our national air-transportation system will be smaller, costlier and less convenient than at any time in decades. And some form of federal re-regulation is coming back, too.

Right now, airlines haven't been able to shrink capacity fast enough to match the totally unanticipated sharp plunge in demand that began manifesting itself with the economic collapse last fall. They're working on that, rest assured.

In a report today, OAG, the air-schedule-data company, says world airlines had 6.7 percent fewer flights scheduled for the first quarter compared with the 2008 first quarter, which OAG says marks the first downturn in flights since 2002, when the industry was still staggered from 9/11 and the aftermath of the dot.com bubble-burst.

Within North America, the number of flights is down 8.7 percent, with a capacity reduction of 7.7 percent in the first quarter.

Flights, capacity and demand on the key North Atlantic routes are all off sharply. This is very bad news for domestic airlines that bet heavily on growing revenue (especially premium-cabin revenue) on these routes, where they had sharply increased capacity in recent years. They're now reducing that capacity.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association today sharply revised its forecast for airline losses this year. The world airline trade group says that global airlines are expected to collectively lose $4.7 billion in 2009.

That's a revision of the last forecast by IATA, which said in December that the world's airlines would lose $2.5 billion this year.

"2009 is shaping up to be one of he toughest years the airline industry has ever faced," Giovanni Bisignani, the head of IATA, said in a press conference today in Geneva.

Fuel prices have come way down from the night-shrieking peak of almost $150 a barrel last July (but they've been bobbing up lately, to over $54). The airlines' main problem this year is the plunge in demand.

And for the airlines that made those big bets on premium business-travel, the news keeps getting worse. Premium traffic was down 16.7 percent in January and there are no signs that it's recovering.

The good news (good for U.S. airlines, not so good for customers now getting used to cheap fares on selected routes) is that airlines in North America will out-perform those in the rest of the world this year. Said Bisignani: "Why? Because they cut capacity early ... They will basically break even."

(Today at a gathering for the media in Tempe, Arizona, US Airways said it has positioned itself well enough that even if passenger revenue drops 15 percent this year, it expects to earn a profit for 2009.)

This year, most U.S. airlines will continue cutting capacity and routes to reduce supply in line with demand, and ultimately reclaim pricing power. That's going to be the hairy part, in a fiercely competitive environment where it's clear that not all airlines currently flying will survive.

Expect two things:

1. They will continue shrinking the system strictly on yield-management principles, cutting service where the yields are lower, basic national air-travel needs aside.

2. At some point, the federal government will start paying attention to the growing crisis in air service in many areas of this country, and the feds will get involved with some form of re-regulation.

We'll see how that all works out. But no matter how you cut it, fares will eventually go up.

Meanwhile, it's a wonderful time for leisure travel. Assuming you're flexible, the fares (and hotel deals) are spectacular.


Plane in Montana Crash Had 13 Passengers, 10 Seats

The NTSB says the turboprop plane that crashed in Butte, Montana, and killed 14 (seven children and seven adults), had 13 passengers and 10 seats.

"We are going to have to try and understand how, and why, there were three additional people on board the aircraft." Mark Rosenker, the acting NTSB chairman, said at a press conference on the scene.

The plane was fractionally owned by eight people, most of them related and several on board with their children when it crashed.

Remaining questions, aside from the obvious one, what caused the accident:

--The plane made several stops to pick up passengers in California en route to Bozeman, Montana, near where the group planned a ski and golf holiday. The pilot had filed a flight plan and, presumably, there was a passenger manifest. Are there no regulations in place to ensure that there are not too many people packed into a private passenger aircraft (and this one was a top-line Pilatus PC-12 turboprop, a model that is used as regional airliners in commercial service)?

--Why did the pilot divert from Bozeman to Butte?

--Where, oh where, was/is the FAA and the air-traffic control evidence-trail? Presumably, air-traffic control was involved in some part of that aircraft's final journey. The FAA has been veeeery quiet. The highly regarded NTSB, which is frequently at odds with the not-so-highly-regarded FAA, is pressing on this, I hear.

--And this may be a dumb question (comments, advice would be appreciated), but why is there no radar or air traffic control at the Butte airport -- an airport that has commercial airline service via Delta Connection/SkyWest?

[UPDATE: Please do see the dissenting comment (below) about ATC, etc. from an anonymous reader who appears to know what he or she is talking about.]


Meanwhile, another Montana crash story, without comment out of respect for the above:

In Billings, Montana, says the AP, friends of a Sparky Imeson, a pilot killed last week in a crash in southern Montana, say he had set out to photograph the site where he had crashed two years ago.

Says the AP:

"The 64-year-old Imeson took off alone from the Bozeman airport. Two friends say he had intended to document the site of a 2007 crash in the Elkhorn Mountains that left him with a compression fracture to his back, broken ribs, a broken toe and cuts on his head." The wreckage of his Cessna 180 was found last Thursday.


Monday, March 23, 2009

A Pilatus PC 12 Crashed in January, Killing 2

A Pilatus PC12 single-engine turboprop like the the one that crashed yesterday with 14 dead in Butte, Montana, crashed near Hayden, Colorado, on Jan. 11, killing the pilot and a sole passenger.

The preliminary NTSB report on the January crash said the aircraft suffered a "loss of control while on initial takeoff climb."

Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting today that the FAA issued an airworthiness directive that required safety inspections and repairs on all Pilatus airplanes for a problem that could threaten a loss of control of the plane. The directive called for the inspection and adjustment of a cable that helps the pilot control the up-and-down movement of the nose, the Times said, adding that is was unclear whether the owner of the plane had complied with the directive, "or if that problem was a factor in the crash."

In Butte, meanwhile, major questions remain unanswered, although the NTSB has now said the number of dead was 14, seven adults and seven children. The NTSB is continuing its investigation, hampered by the lack of a cockpit voice recorder or flight-data recorder on the aircraft.

Among the unanswered questions:

--Who was the operator of the flight, and was it a charter?

--Did the passenger load exceed the limit?

--Why did the pilot divert from Bozeman, the destination?

[UPDATE: The Associated Press today may have part of an answer to the question about who operated the plane, which was registered to Eagle Cap Leasing, an Oregon company, and under what classification. According to the Wall Street Journal, quoting AP, the president of Eagle Cap Leasing is Irving Moore Feldkamp III, a dentist from Redlands, Calif.

Feldkamp told the AP that two of his daughters, their families and another family were on board the plane, heading to a private ski and golf club near Bozeman.]

It's still not clear under what classification the plane was operating, though.


Delta Ups the Ante: Triple Elite Qualifying Miles

United and Continental recently began offering double elite qualifying miles, and now Delta has upped the ante: Triple elite qualifying miles.

(On some fares, that is).

The reason: business travel (which accounts for most elite-mile-status activity) is really, really down. Not that leisure travel is doing much better, but the airlines get most of their dough from business travel.

PASSENGER (on phone to airline reservations clerk): "What time does the flight to Los Angeles leave?"

AIRLINE CLERK: "What time can you get here?"


2 Killed As MD-11 Flown by FedEx Crashes in Japan

A FedEx MD-11 jet crashed on landing at Narita Airport near Tokyo this morning, killing the captain and the first officer, who were the only ones on board the cargo flight from Guangzhou, China.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are en route to the scene.

FedEx identified the victims as Capt. Kevin Kyle Mosley, 54, of Hillsboro, Ore., and First Officer Anthony Stephen Pino, 49, of San Antonio.

There was no immediate indication of the cause of the crash. But the safety record of the aged MD-11 model jets has been called into question in the past. See here. And also here.

Meanwhile, NTSB investigators in Butte, Montana, today are trying to sort out the crash that killed at least 14 yesterday when a turboprop Pilatus PC-12 regional airliner crashed on landing, after diverting from its destination in Bozeman.

As I noted in the previous post today, there are several crucial questions that must be answered.

The NTSB said today that is was looking into whether that plane was carrying more people than it was certified to carry.

The number of dead in that crash has not yet been officially announced. Initial reports said 17 had been killed, including the pilot. Current reports say at least 14 died.

Nor has it been disclosed who the operator of that flight was, and whether it was a charter flight -- and if so, whether the operator was in compliance with all of the rules. The flight originated in California. On board were children and adults bound for a ski holiday near Bozeman.

Nor has it been disclosed why the pilot diverted to Butte. The role of air traffic control is still unclear, as well. Nor is it clear why the plane did not have a cockpit voice recorder.

[UPDATE: In comment below, Randal L. Schwartz points out that Part 135 charters aren't required to have cockpit voice recorders, which I did not know. The NTSB wants them to, as on-demand charters have the highest accident rate. Here's some background if you're really, really interested in the detail.}


Montana Crash: Crucial Questions

Time to stop interviewing otherwise uninformed witnesses describing a fireball when a plane crashed on approach to the airport in Butte, Montana, yesterday and get to the serious business of trying to understand why this happened. Because I'm worried that it represents a growing problem with air-travel safety.

Reports from the scene are sketchy (the local paper, the Montana Standard, evidently had its reporter on other business yesterday, as it used AP wire copy throughout the day). But the plane, a Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12 turboprop, crashed in a cemetery just short of the runway. Initial reports had it that 17 were killed -- most of them children from California, bound, with some adults, for a ski trip to the Bridger Bowl ski resort area near Bozeman, which was the plane's destination. For some reason, the pilot (and there was only one) needed to divert to Butte instead. Some reports today say that 14 were killed, not 17. This is what happens when local newspapers slash staff, by the way.

Here are the questions I'm asking:

--This plane was registered to Eagle Cap Aviation, an Oregon charter and leasing company. Who was actually operating it?

--Was it a charter flight? Meaning, did the operators sell seats to people who signed up?

--The Times reports today that county officials in Butte said the plane had "no black box because it was not a commercial flight." But a charter flight is "commercial," it just isn't "scheduled." Why was there no requirement for a cockpit voice recorder on this airplane?

--It it was, as appears, a charter flight, who sold it or arranged it? With cutbacks in small-city scheduled air service, some ski areas have been putting together holiday packages using subsidized charter air travel. Was this the case in this incident? The destination airport, Bozeman Gallatin Field, has been growing rapidly in scheduled service, charter service and private aviation flights in recent years, but last year one of its smaller carriers, Big Sky Airlines, went out of business.

--Was there a control tower at Butte manned yesterday when the plane crashed? Was it supposed to be manned? (I read a report today that aircraft landing there are on visual flight rules, meaning, heads-up, you're on your own. How can that be, in an airport that does have some scheduled flights with Delta Connection? Horizon Air recently discontinued service to Butte.)

--If the tower was supposed to be staffed, was it staffed to the correct number? One of the great simmering scandals in our sagging air-transportation system is the staffing crisis among FAA air traffic controllers. Across the nation, because the FAA has been unable to keep up with hiring and training to replace a large number of recent retiring controllers, about 25 percent of the controllers pushing tin in our towers are not yet certified and are classified as trainees.

--From what I can see, the Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop, a plane that is used as a regional airliner as well as for charter and corporate flying, is designed to carry from nine to 12 passengers. If initial reports are correct and there were 16 passengers on board (and one pilot), was this particular aircraft certified to carry that many people? If there were 13 passengers, the question is the same.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

17 Dead in Montana Turboprop Crash

Seventeen people, including children reportedly on a ski trip, were killed today when a single-engine turboprop plane crashed on approach to the airport in Butte, Montana. Here is a report from Butte.

The passengers were onboard a Pilatus PC-12 single-engine aircraft registered to Eagle Cap Leasing, an Oregon charter-flight company. Here's the background on the Pilatus PC-12, an aircraft that is often used as a regional airliner and a corporate plane.

And here's the Wikipedia entry on the Pilatus PC-12.

And here is background on the plane from the Airliners.net Web site.

This is the second recent fatal crash of a regional-airliner-type turboprop passenger plane. On Feb. 13, a Bombardier Dash8 Q400 turbo-prop flown by Colgan Air, a regional carrier for Continental Airlines, crashed on approach to the Buffalo, N.Y. airport, killing 55.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Panic Time for Airlines

[Left: 1939 World War II poster that was famous throughout Britain; Right: Tee-shirt for sale in London now.]

What a mess.

Passenger revenue for domestic airlines fell 19 percent in February (compared with February 2008), the Air Transport Association said today. It was the fourth consecutive month in which revenue has fallen from the prior year.

The number of passengers was off 12 percent "with declines extending beyond the mainland United States to transatlantic, transpacific and Latin markets," the airline trade group said.

"The sharp decline in spending by passengers and shippers demonstrates how the global recession is taking an increasing toll on the traveling public, as well as on time-sensitive cargo shipments," said ATA Chief Economist John Heimlich. "The worldwide slowdown is forcing further capacity reductions, despite the meaningful drop in fuel prices."

From the ATA statement: "Annually, commercial aviation helps drive $1.1 trillion in U.S. economic activity and more than 10 million U.S. jobs. On a daily basis, U.S. airlines operate nearly 30,000 flights in 77 countries using more than 6,000 aircraft to carry an average of two million passengers and 50,000 tons of cargo."


Thursday, March 19, 2009

More Bad Numbers For Hotel Industry

The hotel business keeps getting worse.

The latest hotel data from Smith Travel Research have everybody asking, when does this bottom out? No one knows.

For the week ending March 14, the U.S. hotel industry continued posting worsening declines in all three key measures (compared with the similar week in 2008): Average occupancy was down 15.7 percent. Room rates were down 11.2 percent. And revenue per available room (RevPAR) -- the number every hotel is most interested in -- was down 25.1 percent. That is a shocking drop, and major layoffs are going to hit the hotel industry, where jobs are already been cut, if these trends don't start turning upward.

As has been the case for months, luxury hotels have been the worst clobbered. In the luxury niche, occupancy was down 20.3 percent; room rates were down 15.5 percent and RevPAR (gulp) was down 32.7 percent.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is Rudderless TSA Thinking Up Something Else To Do?

Oh sweet Jayzus, are we headed back to the old days at the TSA -- after Kip Hawley, now departed, spent three years drilling sense into the asinine mess that was airport security before he arrived? Or it just that this report in USA Today today is a breathless reaction to obtaining a secret memo from some bureaucrat that nobody knows what the hell really means until somebody actually takes charge of the rudderless TSA?

It says that there will be more random searching of passengers at the departure gates, after same passengers have already cleared security. (Actually, I have noticed that screeners have been setting up their church-basement bingo tables at departure gates here and there, and dragging people out of line to search for ... well, what? Butter knives that were somehow missed during the actual checkpoint screening and might be used by some deranged soul to attack the fortified cockpit door? Two ounces of toothpaste remaining in a 6-ounce tube?)

It also quotes the worst of the former TSA chiefs, "Adm. James Loy," as USA Today deferentially refers to him, who said back around 2003 that the second round of random checks and patdowns at the gate (which pretty much stopped after he went away) were a visible sign of security that helped passengers "regain confidence" after 9/11.

They did nothing of the sort, nor did they add an iota of extra strength to security, as security experts kept saying. They just made people ridicule and despise the TSA more.

This was the apex of the festering contempt for, and public opposition to, the security process. When he came on the job, Kip Hawley went a very long way to tackle that problem by professionalizing and beating sense into the screening procedures, with the underlying assumption that a security process that is ridiculed, confused, haphazard, arbitrary and capricious and despised by the citizens is in and of itself a security hazard. That's where a smart terrorist finds a hole.

By the way, as I kept pointing out at the time (and as one actual retired Navy admiral insisted to me) Adm. Loy was actually "Coast Guard Admiral" Loy, which is a whole different kettle of stars.

And during his tenure TSA got so out of control that many women stopped traveling because they were unhappy about being felt-up by out-of-control screeners during those patdowns.

Do remember that the Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano hasn't yet announced a replacement for Hawley, who will, one would hope, pick up where Hawley left off and not go back to the bad old days of ever-more silly "security theater."

The TSA's main tasks now -- aside from continuing to guard against terrorist attacks -- are to improve technology, get that ridiculous $8 billion budget under control, and get on with putting Secure Flight into effect so that seven-year-old kids named Jack Anderson aren't routinely pulled aside because someone named Jack Anderson, deceased, is on the terrorist watch list, which is supposed to contain only the names of terrorist suspects and not those of muckraking columnists who pissed off dainty J. Edgar Hoover and foul Richard Nixon lo these many years ago.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Every Time Someone Clicks On This JetBlue Ad, a Business Jet Loses Its Wings

Check out the new JetBlue ad campaign that hangs on the backlash against corporate jets. It's wicked and hilarious.


Kid Flies Air S.O.L.

[ABOVE: Kid whose parents forgot to pre-pay the "unaccompanied minor" and "seat selection" fees ...]

Friday, March 13, 2009

N.T.S.B. Worried About Possible Engine Design Fault in Boeing 777s

I'm a little fussy, as many of you know, about aviation safety issues. So take this for what you think it might be worth:

The National Transportation Safety Board issued an "urgent safety recommendation" calling for the redesign of a Rolls-Royce engine part on Boeing 777 aircraft that use Rolls engine.

Two incidents from last year events precipitated the NTSB investigation that led to the warning. One involved a British Airways flight from Beijing that crashed short of a runway at Heathrow Airport in London on Jan. 17, 2008. Thirteen on board were injured, and the plane was badly damaged. It was later determined that one engine had lost power below the necessary thrust level.

The second incident involved a Delta Air Lines 777 that experienced a single "engine rollback" in cruise flight over Montana en route from Shanghai to Atlanta last Nov. 26. The crew recovered engine performance using Boeing procedures, and the flight landed safely in Atlanta.

Boeing then modified the procedures, based on what it learned from the Delta rolback, and that became the basis of an FAA airworthiness directive.

The basic problem, the NTSB said, is a fault in the engines' fuel/oil heat exchanger system that can allow ice build-up from water present in all jet fuel, restricting fuel flow into the engine and causing a rollback in power.

The NTSB said this week that the procedure developed by Boeing for crew to handle this rare occurrence might reduce the potential rollback risk, but "they add complexity to flight-crew operations." The procedural fix requires a descent in altitude, with possible hazards then from terrain or weather. During critical phases of flight, such as a missed landing approach, the inability to maintain necessary thrust in an engine is potentially hazardous, the NTSB said.

"The only acceptable solution," the NTSB said, is for a re-design of the engine part to eliminate any potential for ice-buildup. Rolls-Royce began working on that re-design last month and expects the fix to be ready within a year.

"With two of these rollback events occurring within a year, we believe that there is a high probability of something similar happening again," the NTSB acting chairman, Mark V. Rosenker, said.

Aviation authorities in both the U.S. and Europe and overseeing the engone design at Rolls, which affect 777-200 aircraft powered by Rolls-Royce RB211 Trent 800 series engines.

Until the fixes are in place, flight crews at least have some warning and some procedural guidance on how to handle one of these unexpected rollbacks, thanks to Boeing's guidance.

Meanwhile, the European air-safety agency said today that the 777s were safe to fly. "You can fly it safely, and it is being flown safely, if you undertake the operational procedures that we have mandated," Daniel Holtgen, a spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency, told Reuters.

The take-away: Engine design problem potential hazard on 777-200s. Till engine design problem is fixed, it's up to the pilots to maneuver their way out of trouble, using procedures that have been carefully drafted to address the problem.

Oh hell, don't worry. Go back to yesterday's post with the video of the dancing parrot that loves Ray Charles, what I say.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Travelin' Music

No particular point here, you just got to look at this video of a parrot that loves Ray Charles, what I say.


Shrinking Air Travel Demand

Airlines are in a high-grade crisis mode as passenger demand continues to fall. The problem, I keep hearing, is no one yet has a sense of "where the bottom is." And so far, fare sales aren't doing much to get more people flying.

The situation really deteriorated in February, as almost every domestic airline reported sharp drops in traffic and sagging load factors, even though they're all cutting capacity.

Data released today by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show that the slump in demand has been protracted, and it began before the economy went off the cliff in the fall. December (traffic off 5.7 percent, in fact, was the 10th consecutive month that passenger traffic fell compared with the same month a year earlier, the BTS said.

Full year 2008 passenger traffic (people boarding U.S. airlines in the U.S. for either domestic or international flights, was 741.4 million, which was 28.2 million fewer passengers than in 2007 and marked the first year-to-year decline since 2002.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vanity Fair and the Cowardly, Fatuous Mr. Langewiesche (Part I)

Being attacked in the Vanity Fair magazine is a little like being assaulted by a parakeet. You wonder what got this ridiculous feathery turquoise thing in a flap, and who let it out of its cage to begin with.

A couple of months ago, Vanity Fair ran an article by the invincibly fatuous William Langewiesche about the horrific Brazil midair collision over the Amazon in late 2006 that killed 154, and in which I was one of the seven survivors.

Langewiesche did some decent reporting in the Amazon, but it was his depiction of events on the Legacy business jet that caught my grave attention, since 1. He wasn't there and 2. He didn't try to contact those who were there, like me.

Oh, but he had a grand time with his "it would seem's" and "one could assume's," reconstructing the horrible scene on the Legacy that collided with a Brazilian Boeing 737 at 37,000 feet, killing all 154 on the bigger jet.

In his zeal to construct narrative, this Langewiesche assigned motives to me, impugned my professionalism, put words in my mouth. He made several serious errors. He also implied in several instances, and overtly stated in one instance, that my presence on the jet had presented a possible distraction to the pilots, and may have contributed to the crash. Not only was that statement profoundly asinine, it was arguably actionable.

As I said, Langewiesche never had the basic courage to try to contact me. How does this character defend that? I spoke with one of his editors, and he wouldn't discuss it. As any reporter knows, this is a craven act. And any editor who lets a reporter get by without attempting to contact someone who appears in a story in a negative light, that editor is a base coward. There are commandments about how one behaves in journalism, and this is near the top.

Why was Langewiesche afraid to call me, having spent all of that Vanity Fair dough, having spent all of that time on this article, knowing full well that I have been openly discussing and writing about this disaster from the moment I got home from Brazil?

Hell, I was all over the media talking about this. My blogs accusing the Brazilians of scapegoating the two American pilots got me sued in Brazil for "defaming the nation."

(I have been the only survivor free to talk and write about this, because the other six, including the two pilots, were employees either of the charter company that had just purchased the jet in Brazil, or of the Brazilian manufacturer, Embraer, and thus they were involved in lawsuits over the crash, and in the pilots' case in criminal charges that are still in place.)

Instead, Langewiesche just sort of ... well, friends, he piped it, aided by a nearly year-old transcript of the cockpit voice recorders that Vanity Fair and ABC Nightline, which helped to promote the Langewiesche story (and tried to get me to appear on its show promoting that story without disclosing that it was working with Vanity Fair), ridiculously touted as an "exclusive." Vanity Fair got a lot of protests for exploiting the horror scene on the 737 by running on its web site the audio from the doomed plane as it went down. Evidently it is possible to shame even Vanity Fair, which removed that audio from its site.)

By the way, this is not the first time Langewiesche has been accused of cravenly employing various journalistically disreputable "literary" techniques to grease his precious "narrative."

In a book he wrote about the cleanup at the World Trade Center after 9/11, he accused some New York firefighters of looting a jeans store during the disaster, without presenting what you and I might call evidence.There are a couple hundred New York City firefighters and their relatives who would love to have a word with him about those precious narrative techniques.

More on that later, when I also will offer a little extra insight from a wonderfully illuminating and worshipful profile of Langewiesche that appeared in "Christianity Today," in which Langewiesche pretentiously expounds on his "narrative" technique and its tenuous relationship with common fact, when said fact might be inconvenient in a literary sense.

Big disclosure problem: Langesiweche is himself an airy-let-me-fly-my-little-plane-anytime-I-want private pilot. That is an avocation he didn't disclose in the part of the Vanity Fair article where he goes to some length to denounce private aviation as an abomination.

Also, Langewiesche's ancient father wrote a justifiably famous book about how to fly an airplane -- but the elder Langewieschwe also worked in the business-aviation industry -- the very industry that the son denounces with righteousness, righteousness being the substitute for courage.

After some negotiating, Vanity Fair ran my letter in which I objected to the Langewiesche article in the previous month's issue, along with a curiously legalistic editors' note that carefully suggested that no one with any sense could possibly infer from the Langewiesche article what it clearly said, and what I was clearly objecting to, in the letter printed just above said editors' note. But I thought that was the end to it.

Silly me!

Now there's another letter in this month's issue, this from one Wilson S. Leach, the aggrieved proprietor of the company that publishes the Business Jet Traveler magazine, which, as Leach noted, Langewiesche had stated could be considered complicit in the disaster "for wanting to ride along." (Meaning: Me.)

Leach allows as how it was otherwise a great article, but he wants to make sure everybody knows that I wasn't his representative on that airplane. Which is absolutely true, as we all know. That mistake wasn't the main journalistic problem, as I saw it. The real problem was stating that blame was shared by me for a horrible disaster.


The new Legacy plane had 13 seats, meaning nine were empty till I agreed to hitchhike home on one. It was a non-revenue delivery flight back to the U.S. The ExcelAir representatives invited me to ride back with them just so I could see how their new-plane delivery process worked and learn a little about the company. On the plane, the seven of us were just working stiffs.

But trust me, when that plane collided with that 737 seven miles above the deepest
Amazon, and as we survivors spent the next 25 minutes fully expecting to die before the pilots slammed it down on a runway that appeared unexpectedly in the jungle, the last thing I was thinking was, wow, I can't wait to get this story into the Business Jet Traveler magazine!

The story ran on the front page of the New York Times, where it belonged. At greater length, it later ran in the Sunday magazine of the Times of London.

In all of this huffing and puffing over that disgraceful Langewiesche article in Vanity Fair (and every journalist I know says it was a disgrace), it seems to me that something got lost, once one absorbs (as I personally am still haunted by every single day) the fact that in a freak accident, seven people inexplicably lived while 154 (inexplicably) died. I think about that every day,

Beyond that, and speaking now to this Langewiesche article: Who, exactly, was injured by its malice and error?

Oh, right: The guy who actually covered the story honestly and (as subsequent events would show) with courage ...


American Airlines MD80 in Emergency Landing At JFK After Engine Failure

An American Airlines MD80 made an emergency landing at Kennedy this morning during its initial climb on takeoff from La Guardia, after some sort of engine failure that caused metal debris to fall on a house. No further details are available yet on what the problem was.

There were no injuries to the 88 passengers and five crew on the plane, which was bound for Chicago O'Hare.

American's fleet of MD80s has had previous problems. Last April, after FAA inspectors found that American hadn't complied with a directive requiring inspection of MD80 wiring systems for safety problems, American grounded its MD80s (it has about 300) for inspection and canceled about 2,300 flights over several days, stranding over 100,000 passengers at airports around the country.

Last August, American was fined $7.1 million by the FAA, which said the airline had broken maintenance regulations and neglected employee drug and alcohol testing procedures in several instances that predated the April groundings.

Earlier this month, by the way, Southwest Airlines agreed to pay a fine of $7.5 million to settle an FAA complaint that it neglected in 2007 to perform certain inspections to check for cracks in fuselages of its fleet of 737s.


Senator 'John' Throws Airport Tantrum

Lookit this character, Louisiana Senator David Vitner, and how he behaved at an airport. Strangely enough, he wasn't cuffed and locked up, the way any regular person who pulled these stunts would have been.

Same guy managed to wriggle out of trouble with voters in Louisiana (State motto: 'Least We Ain't Mississippi') in 2007 after he turned up as a client on the DC Madam's john list. Back then he acknowledged his "very serious sin."


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Delta Reaffirms 787 Orders, My Bad

I carp all the time about reporters who love to speculate and editors who let them do it. If I had my way, the verb "seems" would be banned from newsrooms. (Along with the word "indeed," but that's another issue entirely.)

But what did I do last Wednesday? Link to a half-assed report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer whose reporter speculated, having inferred something from a reading of a financial filing, that Delta was backing away from the 18 orders for new Boeing 787s that it has inherited when it bought Northwest Airlines.

Not so, Delta's president, Ed Bastian, said today at the JP Morgan Aviation and Transportation conference.

I stuck a note on the March 4 post saying it was based on bad information.


Gas Money

Airlines are flapping around like ducks in a tornado, trying to figure out how to fill seats as passenger demand continues to plunge. Fare sales are busting out all over.

Just one cheery note for the industry. Fuel prices continue to drop. This just in from the Bureau of transportation Statistics showing the latest figures on average fuel prices per gallon on domestic scheduled flights:

January 2009 -- $1.75

December 2008 -- $2.04

January 2008 -- $2.61

Other interesting numbers: Despite the price drop, fuel consumption in January was 901.9 million gallons, compared with 1.1 billion gallons in January 2008. I'm not aware of any great fuel-burn efficiencies to account for that. It strictly reflects the fall-off in flying.

By the way, in July 2008, the peak, fuel prices were $3.82 a gallon.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Unclear Days At Clear

Steve Brill says he is stepping down from day-to-day duties running Verified Identity Pass. Inc., whose Clear program is by far the leading provider of membership in the slow-out-of-the-gate, not-quite-sure-where-it's-heading registered traveler program. Brill founded the company.

I've tried to follow this program from the start, when it was blessed by Congress as a way to allow pre-screened so-called "trusted travelers" to get an expedited pass through airport security using a biometrically encoded I.D. card obtained after paying an annual fee and passing a routine background check against the federal terror watch and no-fly lists.

Congress said go, but the T.S.A. said not so fast. Former TSA chief Kip Hawley, while formally supporting the goal of the program, steadfastly resisted giving it a green light to offer members long-touted amenities like the ability to pass through security without removing shoes or jackets, thanks to expensive new scanning machines Brill's company developed in a partnership with G.E. and others. The machines have yet to be approved. Last year, the TSA -- signaling that it did not regard registered traveler as a security program at all -- even stopped participating in the cursory watch-list background check for applicants.

The T.S.A. even refused to accept the biometric IDs and required Clear members to produce standard photo drivers licenses or other appproved ID until Clear managed to get photos of its members on their cards along with their biometric iris scans and fingerprints. As Brill quite sensibly pointed out, the biometric card (the holder's fingerprints and irises are scanned right at the checkpoint) are proof positive of ID, and a photo is proof of very little -- but the T.S.A. stood firm. I admired Kip Hawley for the ways he improved the checkpoint experience and helped to professionalize the work force, but I never entirely understood his dislike of the biometric ID system run by private enterprise.

At airports where long security lines are a problem (and this problem has lessened considerably in the last year or so), Clear has obvious virtues in that it basically gets you a special lane that funnels you to the front of the regular security lines (where you then go through the same TSA checkpoint clearance as anyone else). Clear employees also help you put your stuff on the belt as you go through the regular TSA security line.

Clear recently announced that it has had a quarter million people pass through its lanes at several airports, including those in Washington and in San Francisco. And I know some business travelers who swear by it.

At many airports, though, I have seen Clear lanes virtually empty for long periods of time, with uniformed Clear employees standing around with nothing to do.

I have never been able to figure out the economics of Clear (membership costs $199 a year), though Brill has always insisted to me that the business was viable as it expanded. It's now in more than 20 airports.

Anyway, here is Brill's memo to his employees:

"March 2, 2009

TO: The Verified Identity Pass Team
FROM: Steve
RE: Changes in our Leadership

As some of you are aware, over the last year I have been increasingly tempted to become more active in the kinds of public service and journalism pursuits that filled my life before I started Clear.

At the same time, I began to see that the work I love the most – building an important enterprise out of a wholly new idea – was, thankfully, becoming less of a priority at Clear than the hard work of managing and maximizing a going business. Indeed, our investors -- including me -- have had to become focused on how we can hunker down to get through this excruciatingly tough economy. It’s a situation that requires intense leadership of a different sort than I am enthusiastic about offering at this stage in my life.

Accordingly, my partners and I have agreed that effective as soon as we can work out a quick but smooth transition, I will become Vice Chairman of the company and work on a part time basis providing input into strategy, public policy and our relationships with our key stakeholders. A new CEO, reporting to our board, will soon be named to provide overall supervision of all day to day operations.

Please know that I continue to be a major shareholder of the company and plan to continue to play a constructive role, though without the responsibility that I have shared with you for what has become a near-24/7 nation-wide customer service and security network.

So, I’ll be rooting for you as I now turn toward the ideas I’ve been tinkering with related to the business challenges facing quality journalism, as well as assorted writing projects (including a new book) and my teaching at Yale.

More than five years ago, I told my family that I was doing yet another start-up because I thought the idea of a voluntary credentialing industry was just too good and too important not to do. I’m proud of all that we have done to prove that. For that, I owe great thanks to each of you and to our supportive investors."


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Order Book Sagging, Gulfstream Cutting Heavy Metal -- and 1,200 Jobs

Conditions keep worsening in the stricken business jet industry. And job losses are mounting, in an industry is a major exporter.

Because of "deterioration in the backlog, particularly during the month of February, and continued weak demand," Gulfstream Aerospace said today it will cut large-cabin aircraft production and green-aircraft deliveries to 73 from a projected 94 this year. Gulfstream also will reduce production of its mid-size aircraft to 24 from a projected rate of 30 in 2009.

General Dynamics, which owns Gulfstream, said that this is "an effort to both stabilize its backlog of aircraft orders and level-load production over 2009 and 2010. This action will result in a reduction-in-force of 1,200 workers, including approximately 550 contractor personnel.

"Despite the current challenges, we continue to believe that Gulfstream's backlog provides a solid foundation for the business in this tough market environment," said Nicholas D. Chabraja, chairman and chief executive officer of General Dynamics. "We regret the impact of these actions on our employees and their families, and are doing our best to minimize the number of workers effected."


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Big Bummer Bound for Boeing?

[Photos: The 787, including prototype business-class cabin]

Looks like Delta might be having second thoughts on following through on orders for 18 Boeing 787-8s it inherited when it acquired Northwest. This (it's a little speculative, mind you) is from the Seattle paper, which follows Boeing pretty well.

[UPDATE MARCH 10 -- Delta today reaffirmed those 787 orders, rendering this blog entry, like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer story it refers to, as full of crap as regards Delta's plans for the 787. Sorry]

Boeing has an awful lot riding on its innovative new 787 line (here's the Boeing boilerplate on the plane) , which has been beset with production delays that have now pushed back the guess on initial deliveries to summer 2010. In all, Boeing has more than 850 firm orders for 787s, most of them for the 210-passenger 787-8 model that Northwest had signed up for. (Besides the 18 firm orders, Northwest had another 50 options for 787s.)

Other U.S. airline with announced orders for 787s are American (42) and Continental (28). Air Canada, meanwhile, has 37.

If Delta does cancel, it will be the first big-name airline to drop out. The Russian airline S7 canceled its 15 orders in January, followed by the Dubai-based aircraft leasing company LCAL, which cancelled 16 of its 21 orders.

It's got to be a little extra worrisome for Boeing, which markets the 787 heavily for Asian routes, that Northwest brought a lot of Asian routes to Delta.

It's interesting to note that at least 11 of the 787s on the books have been ordered by several customers to be used as business jets. Others are believed to have been ordered for personal use. Those numbers have got to be a little squishy now, given the malaise affecting the business jet business.

Meanwhile, the major airline operating stats for February are mostly out. Bad news worsening for all.

And you remember that big bet so many made on the future of premium international travel -- you know, the bet they funded partly by slashing domestic capacity to throw more big planes on overseas routes and choke service in many American cities? Um, not looking good, that bet. (Why am I sounding like Rachel Maddow here?)

Mike Boyd refers to the trend as the "neutron bomb" about to hit the major airlines.

February operating details coming up soon.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Snow Job

It wasn't really all that much of a stow storm, at least in the New York area, despite the shrieking television bobble-heads.

Nevertheless, the airports are a mess throughout the East, partly because the airlines appear to have hit the panic button. In Atlanta, 1,441 flights were canceled yesterday, half of the total scheduled. (Of those that did arrive and depart, 60 percent were late, and most of those were classified as "excessively late," meaning at least 45 minutes behind schedule.) This is according to Flightstats.com

Planes are moving in the New York area, but cancellations nevertheless are high today: 445 as of 10 a.m. at Newark; 265 at La Guardia; 218 at Kennedy. In Boston, 250 flights were scrubbed, about a quarter of the total scheduled for today.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Snow-Choked Air Travel System in the Next Few Days: 'Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here'

[Photos: What Hath Skype Wrought?]

Please do not hate me for saying that I have postponed my trip back east from Tucson on Tuesday, and that it was in the high 80 degrees and (of course) sunny today in Tucson and will remain that way all week. My wife, who is very, very kind, said she was delighted I could stay out in the desert and avoid the mess while she and the parrots battened down the hatches back east. We communicate by Skype and the African grey is already saying, "It's snowing, woooooooooo."

Above are screen grabs of tonight's videoconference call between East and West, showing Rosie the African grey, who despises snow and rain, and Petey the blue & gold macaw (a rescue, by the way) who looooves all commotion, including meteorological.

No way am I entering the air travel system on Tuesday, when it will still be staggered by, and struggling to recover from, the effects of a big eastern snowstorm.

How bad is it already?

Well, as of 9 p.m. ET, there were over 1,400 flights canceled at Atlanta Maynard/Maynard G. Krebs/Stonewall/Andrew/Jesse Jackson Harry/Huntingdon Hartsfield Tri-State Support Our Troops Memorial International Airport (or whatever the hell they call the world's busiest airport these day; every time I look they have a different permutation of the name -- like one of those streets in Manhattan where they stick up commemorative faux street names like "Ed Sullivan Way" to confuse the sensible literal Germans and other tourists who are actually looking for, like, 52nd Street, and actually believe that, since Roman times, one of the basic civic responsibilities is to name your roads intelligibly).

And do not get me or any New Yorker started on the idiotically named "Avenue of the Americas," which absolutely no one in New York ever calls that except the poor hands-tied post office and stationery printers. How many innocent out-of-towners have been totally reasonably confounded by that?

But I digress, and why not? It's apparently snowing like hell. But not here!

By the way, I love how local papers don't get it why no one pays much attention to them. Hey Marge, we seem to be up to our asses in in snow and we got to get to the airport! Lordy, what's the paper's Web site say? Well, here is the current top headline online in the Atlanta paper Web site: "Hunger Walk/Run a Casualty of Snow."

Meanwhile, a lower-played smaller story about power outages caused by the storm allows as how "hundreds of flights" were canceled, as if it would be too low-tech for someone to go to a reliable source like Flightstats.com and actually count the canceled arrivals and departures. Lordy, we'd have to pull the reporter off the charity walk-a-thon to do that kind of work! Lordy, we already got the press releases on the walk-a-thon!

Farther up the coast, where the southern storm is fixing to hook up with a northern storm and become a thumper of a nor'easter overnight, at the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport (Slogan: 'You Want Freedom Fries With That?'), about 220 flights had already been canceled by 9 p.m. More are piling up for tomorrow.

Come tomorrow, preemptive flight cancellations will be affecting travelers all over the country. Not just delays, but flat-out cancellations.

Tomorrow, as regards the air-transport system east of the Mississippi: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." {And for copy editors, the "all" is in the place Dante put it, quite deliberately.}


Every Time Sumner Redstone, 85, Hooks Up With a Corporate Flight Attendant In Her 20s, a Whole Squadron of Business Jets Loses Its Wings

For your 'Sweet Jayzus Is There No End to This?' file:

It says here that heartbeat-in-an-alligator-bag Sumner Redstone has been dating a woman in her 20s who used to work as a flight attendant on one of the business jets owned by his company, Viacom. The New York Daily News quaintly refers to the young stewardess as a "fetching blond," which is a term you don't hear too often these days, thank God.

By the way, there is a whole industry of corporate flight attendants, most of them young and female, who work as independent contractors on corporate jets. Here and here, for a few examples.