Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Mush from the Terrorist Watchdog Patrol

We're never going to end this security fiasco if we can't even get our terminology straight. A news account going around today says a flight was diverted because some genius found out belatedly that a passenger on board was on the terrorist "no fly" list. That is not correct.

I repeat: The terrorist "no fly" list consists of fewer than 2,000 names, nearly all of them foreign nationals, who are known to be terrorists or close working associates of known terrorists. So far, to the best of my knowledge, no person on the "no fly" list has been known to have shown up at an airport and tried to fly. (Can't be sure, because the bureaucrats classify everything as secret).

The other portion of the terrorist watch list consists of a s0-called "selectee" list, which the TSA has told me has roughly 20,000 actual known persons on it. These people are, for one reason or another (and some of the reasons are questionable) deemed worthy of a "second look" at the airport. That is, they get extra inspection and questioning before they are allowed to board their flight. That list -- maintained by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center -- is an unholy mess because it includes aliases, name variants, associates of name variants, and a veritable cornucopia of police, intelligence and anecdotal information, some of it half-assed file remnants dumped from J. Edgar Hoover's big drawers.

As a consequence, the "selectee" list, which the TSA and airlines are working to clean up, has more than 500,000 entries (not 500,000 different specific persons). The "selectee" list is the one that ensnared then-7-year-old Jack Anderson of Minneapolis and thousands of other innocent Americans, including David Nelson, the son of Ozzie & Harriet. If you share a name, a name variant or some other vaguely defined characteristic with the actual person on the list, you're subject to questioning and delay every time you arrive at the airport, till you prove that you're say, 7-year-old Jack Anderson and not the "Jack Anderson" who evidently is on the list -- and in this case, it's obvious that the Jack Anderson in question is the late muckraking columnist who was loathed by both J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon. That Jack Anderson -- a solid Mormon family man -- has been dead for years, and the fact that his name was ever on a list that found its way to the terrorist watch list data bank is a national disgrace.

Here is the news account in question, via the "terrorism" news site National Terror Alert. Note how the term "no fly list" is used interchangeably with "watch list:" Also note that nearly all of the "sourcing" is anonymous, although the invincibly inept TSA (still without a permanent director for over a year) does seem to be on the record.

"UPDATE: A Continental Airlines Inc (CAL.N) flight bound from New Jersey to Colombia was diverted to Florida on Friday because of security concerns about a passenger, but the person was cleared by the FBI and the flight resumed, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said.

Government officials say a flight was diverted to Jacksonville, Fla., because a passenger on board was an apparent match to a name on the terrorist watch list. Law enforcement officials are looking into whether the passenger is actually a suspected terrorist listed on the government’s no-fly list.

An airline is not supposed to issue a boarding pass to a person on the no-fly list. It was not immediately clear which airline was involved.

According to an internal government report, the flight originated in Newark and was bound for Bogota, Colombia. It was diverted to Jacksonville International Airport.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the incident.

Via Source."


Friday, January 29, 2010

Southwest Signs Deal With Row44 for Wi-Fi In Entire Fleet

It's long been in the negotiating phase, but Southwest Airlines has finally signed a deal with Row44, the satellite-based in-flight Internet provider, to outfit its entire fleet of 540 Boeing 737s with Row44's broadband system.

Other major airlines, among them Delta, American, Virgin America, United, US Airways, and AirTran already have deals with a land-based Internet provider, Aircell's Gogo service, and to date more than 725 mainline planes have Gogo installed. Continental is also about to install Gogo on 21 of its 757s, as part of a test as it also installs DirecTV on many planes.

As I keep pointing out, the big question is how many people will actually pay for domestic in-flight WiFi service, the per-flight price of which can range up to $12.95 (though it's oiften half that for hand-held wireless devices, and many promotional offers have been luring users). To date, from what I am told by top industry sources, the "take rate," that is, the percentage of people who opt to buy, is a disappointing 5-7 percent per flight, though some flights such as Virgin America's non-stops between San Francisco and New York, come in higher because of the number of techies on that route. Also, Virgin American has a very high-quality in-flight entertainment system with interactive capabilities that integrates the WiFi services.

Here's the announcement off the Southwest blog on its Web site today:


"Hello everyone! You probably saw the title of this blog post and thought, “haven't I heard that before?” True, the road to onboard wi-fi has been a long one, but this week we took a major step that gets us closer to rolling out the system fleetwide. We ended the equipment "testing" phase and signed an equipment purchase contract with our wi-fi provider, Row 44. That means we now begin the process of getting equipment ordered and aircraft scheduling in place to begin our full fleet installation.

"We’ll begin installing the equipment in the second quarter of 2010. We expect to install equipment on around 15 aircraft per month initially, with the goal of increasing that number to 25 aircraft a month as we ramp up the process. With this schedule, we estimate that our full fleet of more than 540 planes will be outfitted with wi-fi service by early 2012.

"So, on to the next pressing issue… what will it cost to connect?. We don’t have an answer to that quite yet. We’re still testing a variety of price points on the four aircraft that currently have wi-fi. We’ll have a decision on price in the second quarter of 2010—rest assured that, just like our fares, it will be a great value. You can count on it!

"We’re excited about this new inflight amenity and we promise it will be well worth the wait! We’ll have more updates along the way, but, in the meantime, keep booking those Southwest flights! Your chances of traveling on a wi-fi plane will increase soon!..."


Monday, January 25, 2010

Delta Improving Premium Cabins, Adding First Class to Some RJs

Delta Air Lines plans to spend about $300 million a year through mid-2013 to improve service and inflight amenities for its BusinessElite, first class and elite-level flyers. Among the changes will be adding first-class cabins on some regional jets. This is from the Delta announcement today:

* Installing full flat-bed seats in BusinessElite on 90 trans-oceanic aircraft, including 14 Boeing 767-400ERs, 52 Boeing 767-300ERs, 16 Boeing 747-400s and eight Boeing 777-200ERs. Upon completion, each of these fleets will have full flat bed seats on all aircraft.
* Adding in-seat audio and video on demand throughout Economy Class on 16 Boeing 747-400 and 52 Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. With these additions, Delta will offer personal, in-seat entertainment for both BusinessElite and coach customers on all wide-body aircraft.
* Adding first class cabins to 66 CRJ-700 aircraft operated by Delta Connection carriers ASA, Comair and SkyWest, bringing to 219 the number of regional aircraft with First Class seating.
* Completing the modification of 269 pre-merger Northwest aircraft to feature Delta's signature blue leather seats, updated lighting and enhanced cabin amenities such as increased overhead bin space on pre-merger Northwest 757-200s.
* Installing winglets on more than 170 Boeing 767-300ER, 757-200 and 737-800 aircraft to extend aircraft range and improve fuel efficiency by as much as five percent.
* Renovating and expanding Delta's Los Angeles Sky Club lounge, and introducing new Sky Club locations in Seattle, Philadelphia and Indianapolis.

"Delta's planned fleet and product investments mark the most significant investment we have made in our customers in more than a decade," said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. "Our premium travelers tell us that the comfort of a flat bed seat with direct aisle access, a first class experience on regional jets and in-flight entertainment are important factors in their choice of carrier."

"This investment will be made while staying well within the level of our historical capital expenditures," said Ed Bastian, Delta's president. "Rather than invest in new aircraft, Delta will be spending its capital to improve the quality and consistency of the on-board product and efficiency of the aircraft we already own."

Delta currently has more than 100 domestic aircraft equipped with in-seat audio and video on demand. Delta also continues to rapidly expand in-flight Wi-Fi service, which is available on more than 340 aircraft and more than 1,200 flights each day. Delta, the largest operator of Wi-Fi enabled aircraft in the world, plans to have more than 530 aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi by mid-2010.

Delta's upcoming fleet and product investments build on recently announced improvements including the re-launch of the Red Coat program at Delta's international hub at JFK and subsequently at all domestic hubs; the addition of BusinessElite service on Delta's transcontinental routes between New York-JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco; the introduction of the full flat bed seats on all flights between the United States and London-Heathrow; and the announcement of plans to create a domestic hub at Delta's No. 1 business airport - New York-LaGuardia, subject to government approvals.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

TSA Follies (Continued): Screener Pranks Citizen With Bag of 'Drugs'

There is apparently no end to the nonsense perpetrated by the TSA and no limit to the amazing tolerance Congress and the President show toward the fact that the agency has been operating without a permanent director for over a year now.

This screener's "prank" was just odious. The link is from

And by the way, a TSA screener has no business acting like a law enforcement officer, and the Fourth Amendment applies even at a checkpoint.


TSA Follies (Continued): Strip-Search Machine Fails to Spot Bomb Parts

A German television program had a close look at the TSA's vaunted whole-body image scanners and found that while they can show intimate body details, they also can fail to spot concealed components that could be used to make bombs.

Here's the link to the report via Huffington Post.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

American Airlines $344 Million 4Q Loss; U.S. Airline Passenger Revenue Plummeted in 2009

American Airlines today reported a $344 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2009, and the numbers behind that look bad for an industry that continues to struggle.

Meanwhile, the Air Transport Association said today that passenger revenue for U.S. airlines plunged 18 percent in 2009, a record. Overall, passenger traffic fell 3 percent from 2008.

Of American Airlines' $344 million third-quarter loss, writing-down the dropping value of smaller regional jets (which gobble fuel) accounted for $42 million. Parking other aircraft in the desert accounted for $23 million.

Overall mainline seating capacity was off 4.9 percent, reflecting the continuing shrinking of air-travel service among U.S. carriers.

The load factor for the quarter was a record 81.1 percent, meaning more people were crammed into fewer planes.

Yield, or the amount of dough the company took in from passengers, was off 7.6 percent, despite the mounting windfall-revenue that domestic carriers are seeing from those baggage and cancellation fees.

American blamed the yield decline on "more aggressive pricing industrywide" (that's a flack's way of describing fare discounting and promotions to lure passengers) and "reduced traffic in the premium cabins."

That refers to what is one of the key developments in the industry's fortunes, the plunge in the number of business travelers who are buying business-class and first-class seats. Along with that, though not reflected in the basic passenger-traffic numbers, is the sharp reduction throughout the global industry in premium fares. Those $9,500 round-trip fares between New York and London are pretty much history now.

The International Air Transport Association reported on Monday that worldwide premium traffic continued to decline in November, the last month for which data are available.

The number of passengers traveling on first or business-class fares fell 6.7 percent over the already depressed numbers of November 2008, the trade group said. That's just passenger numbers. Reflecting fare reductions and sales, revenue in the premium market (which typically accounts for about a third of passenger revenues industrywide) was off 30 percent in the first half of 2009, IATA said.

As I have said before, this trend cannot continue indefinitely. Something's gotta give.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Another Fine Mess for the TSA; Security Breach Causes JFK Terminal Evacuation

Somebody walked through an unguarded door in the secure area of Terminal 8 at Kennedy International Airport this afternoon, causing the terminal to be evacuated and thousands of passengers to be re-screened. Another fine mess for airport security, which doesn't seem to be able to guard doors -- which is, come to think of it, historically the first job of security.

While no one is watching the doors, the TSA, still being run by Bush appointees, is busily awarding huge contracts to politically connected companies, including one represented by Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, for virtual "strip search" checkpoint technology whose efficacy has been called into question.

And by the way, the TSA has now been without a permanent director for one year and one day.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The TSA and Its 'Myths'

You have previously met here young Jack Anderson, aged 7 when that photo was taken in 2008 with his mother, Christine, near their home in Minneapolis.

Now behold the TSA in its full glory, insisting on the "Myth Busters" section of its chatty blog that it is a myth that there are eight year olds on the "no fly list."

The Times uses that in a story today in which it finds an eight-year-old, little Mickey Hicks, who has been subject to the third-degree when he shows up at an airport.


Anyway, it's certainly true that there are no eight-year-olds on the "no fly list," as the TSA maintains. The media keep using that term interchangeably with the "watch list," but it's incorrect to do so. The "no fly" portion of the watch list has about 2,000 names on it, and those people are all known terrorists. In other words, if someone identified as being on the "no fly" list shows up at an airport (and apparently no one has yet), they don't just get a third-degree, they don't fly and the cops are called.

The other portion of the list -- the so-called "selectee" part -- contains about 500,000 various identities, names, name variants, half-baked name leads, and historical grudge-list candidates (the late Jack Anderson, of course, was a pesky newspaper columnist who was loathed by Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover). People who share a name the same as or similar to any one of those "identities" have been getting the third-degree at airports, including at least these two young boys.

And yes, the TSA is technically correct, though thoroughly disingenuous. Young Jack Anderson, now aged nine, was evidently removed from the selectee list last year after his mother kept pressing for remedial action (and after all the publicity). I say apparently because the list is top-secret and the authorities never disclose who is on it or not).

Next -- One more time: How the watch list really works.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

From Mike Boyd, the well-known airline forecaster, at

"Those F-16s Weren't Scrambled To Help Serve Coffee

"There have been two incidents of fighters scrambled as a result of security incidents on board airliners. Media assumed they were there to 'guide' and 'assist.' Wake up, guys. They were there to put a Sidewinder up the airliner's tailpipe if necessary."


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Airport Power Out, Flights in Cleveland Affected Through 6 p.m. Today

Continental Airlines suspended operations at its Cleveland hub at Hopkins International Airport through 6 p.m. today because of an airport power outage.

United, American, Southwest, Delta and US Airways also canceled most flights through at least 6 p.m.

What's going on? Late in the morning, long after the airport mess had been manifest and travelers were being confounded with scrubbed flights, the Web site of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer stirred itself into action with a report on what was going on, though "scores" of flights canceled is a low-ball guess. Why don't reporters simply look these things up?

According to the real-time data on in early afternoon, 95 of the 138 departures scheduled between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. were canceled. For the same time period, 66 of the 118 scheduled arrivals were canceled.


Friday, January 08, 2010

This Is How Bad Security Really Is Where It Counts

At the checkpoints, dozens of TSA officers stand around. But I'd always wondered about those exit corridors, used by passengers leaving the airport.

Typically, they're guarded by a lone TSA officer at a podium and a sign that says "Do not enter." A wide-open corridor!

As we know, some idiot shut down terminal C at the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport on Sunday when he decided to stroll into the secure area. How bad was the security? With video, here's this AP story, via USA Today.

The surveillance video, by the way, was made not by the airport (as the AP story states) but by Continental Airlines, according to today's New York Times.

An excerpt from the AP report:

"He took advantage of a guard's absence to sneak past a security checkpoint and walk arm-in-arm with a woman into a secure area, causing a terminal shutdown.

The couple's actions emerged in a surveillance video released Thursday by the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who had pushed the Transportation Security Administration to release the footage.

In the video, the man stations himself near an exit lane ... A minute or so later, after the guard leaves his podium for several seconds, the woman approaches the exit from inside the terminal and motions to the man, who ducks under the rope to join her. The two then walk into the passenger-only area ... During the time the guard was away from his post, dozens of passengers are seen walking out through the exit lane, further obscuring the man and woman. Someone waiting for an arriving passenger notified the guard."

You'd have to be a very wily terrorist to foil that level of security, right? Forget about hiding explosives in your shorts. Hell, you can bring an entire roadside bomb assembly in when they just let you stroll through an exit.

And by the way, the TSA has been operating without a permanent director for 11 months and three weeks, and counting.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Here Come the TSA Virtual Strip-Searches, Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk

[Update, Jan. 7 -- There's a priceless anecdote in a security roundup story in today's New York Times, a woman flying from Dusseldorf to Newark with her musical instrument, a "type of bagpipe." The woman was made to remove the bagpipe and play it "to prove its purpose."]

The absurdity never ends.

Last year, I wrote a lot about the so-called whole body imaging machines the TSA was prepared to roll out to all airport checkpoints starting last fall. The machines see through clothing to detect any material on the body or in, say, a pocket. This means, incidentally, that you won't be able to carry your wallet through the checkpoint. Onto the belt it goes.

(And ignore any reporting that says the machines can't "store" images. Of course they can. The TSA just says they won't store images.)

Successful terrorists adapt to circumstances. Whole body imagers, even if they do work as advertised, do not detect anything hidden within folds of fat, or in a body cavity. We can only wince to guess what the next step might be.

Faced with resistance, the TSA backed off the plan to replace metal detectors with whole body imagers at all checkpoints by early this year (the machines are now in use selectively at some airports). But thanks to the Christmas Day Underpants Bomber, now the plan is back on track.

More on that later, and more on the bad information bouncing around about the "terrorist watch list," which consists of two lists, one a "no fly" list that has fewer than 2,000 names on it (most of them known-to-be-dangerous terrorist suspects, mostly foreign nationals) -- and the other a "selectee" list that does not have 500,000 names on it, but rather 500,000 various identities and references to identities. Being a selectee means you get an extra inspection at the airport and have to prove you're not the person who is on the list. Among those identities and potential identities on the selectee list, as we know, are various David Nelsons and Jack Andersons, one of whom was 8 years old the last time he got flagged at a checkpoint as a suspected terrorist.

Anyway, here's a very interesting article on whole body imaging technology security from Mother Jones that has been making the online rounds.

Meanwhile, the TSA has been operating without a permanent director now for 11 months and three weeks.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Continental Results Indicate a Robust December for Airlines

Continental is always the first to report its monthly operating results, and the December numbers indicate a solid strengthening in business.

The load factor -- the percentage of available seats filled with paying passengers -- was 83.1 percent compared with December 2008, a record. That comprises a domestic load factor of 85.1 percent and international load factor of 81.9 percent, also records for the month. Especially on domestic flights, those numbers indicaate (as if any of us fliers need verification) that nearly all flights are totally full.

Revenue passenger miles, a standard metric measuring one paying customer being flown one mile, were up 3.5 percent domestically and 9.6 percent internationally.

Capacity, or available seat miles, also rose -- up 2.2 percent domestically and 2.5 percent internationally.

But fate still glowers at the airline industry. Just as it appears to be digging out of the long, dreary slump, here comes the nitwit Underpants Bomber on Christmas Day to create security chaos in the airports,

And oil prices crept over $81 a barrel today.

Takes a special kind of steely nerve to run an airline.


Security Collapse at Newark: Who's in Charge Here?

All the full-body pat-downs and whole-body imagers in the world cannot make up for an unguarded (or ineptly guarded) corridor that allows an unknown person to stroll into the secure area of an airport without so much as a "Hi, there."

This was seen yesterday evening at the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport, when someone evidently sauntered into the exit corridor at Terminal C, slipping right under the nose of the T.S.A. officer who is supposed to guard the passageway.

Lookit this statement from TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis: "A male individual was observed walking the wrong way down an exit lane in Terminal C at Newark Liberty Airport. TSA was notified and we immediately halted screening at the security checkpoints in Terminal C ..."

TSA was notified?

Again, we see evidence of an agency that has serious management ... um, issues, as the tech people love to say. As we know, the TSA has been operating without a permanent director since Kip Hawley left the job a year ago.

Last night, hysteria again moved into the breach. The terminal was shut down, passengers were hustled out, flights stopped departing.

Between 6 p.m. and midnight yesterday, 111 of the scheduled 162 departures left at least 45 minutes late, most of them way more than 45 minutes late, according to

By the way, some news accounts are saying this guy went through a "door." It's no door, it's a wide corridor with a podium where the TSA guard sits, or snoozes. And also by the way, the TSA has dozens and dozens of officers standing around at each checkpopint -- but only one person, typically, at the easy way in the out door.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

TSA: Travelers From 14 Suspect Nations to Get Extra Screening on U.S. Bound Flights

Passengers traveling from or through countries that either are officially recognized "sponsors of terrorism" or otherwise suspected of harboring terrorist causes will have to go through enhanced screening, including full-body pat-downs, before boarding any flight to the United States, the Transportation Security Administration said today. The measures include all citizens of those nations on flights to the U.S.

The new guidelines, the first to effectively profile citizens of and travelers from certain countries, are effective tomorrow.

The TSA described the new measures as "long-term, sustainable security measures
developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners" and said they were implemented amid "extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners."

The directive also "increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights," the agency said.

A couple of years ago, there would have been some howls of protest within the U.S. against any idea of "profiling" an entire nation, even one known to be friendly to terrorist organizations.

My guess is, not this time. In my opinion, this is a smart move by the TSA. It obviously took some fast, smart footwork in coordination with other nations.

I haven't yet seen the complete list, but the following countries are on it: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Cuba, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Lebanon, Algeria.

Expect indignant yowls from those countries.

I say, tough. Suck it up.


Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year: Revelers Raise Glasses; Airlines Raise Fares

Rick Seaney's New Years bells went off a little early when the fare-tracking system at noted "unusual activity" Wednesday night in the airline fare systems.

Yup, one after the other into the final day of the year the major airlines quietly raised prices.

Here's the alert he issued today:


"At 8 pm Eastern time Wednesday evening the proprietary airfare tracking system detected unusual system wide airfare hike activity initiated by United Airlines. Over 15,000 United city pairs were increased by $6 and $10 roundtrip ($3 and $5 each way). The increase covered the bulk of United’s domestic route system -- mainly at the $6 roundtrip level.

Yesterday (New Years Eve) the remaining legacy airlines began to match including American, Delta/Northwest, US Airways, Continental and Alaska.

Airfare hikes typically occur on Thursday evenings, but New Years is special case as no domestic airfares are distributed today.

The hike did not have any effect on a variety of airfare sales in the domestic system for travel through early March. Legacy airlines also tiptoed around overlapping low-cost airline routes (Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran) as the group has yet to participate in the hike.

This increase represents the 4th successful hike of 2009 compared to fifteen in 2008 and seventeen in 2007 – all since mid 2009.

The legacy airlines also have in place over 30 departure days where “peak travel” surcharges are applicable for travel in the first half of the year ranging from $10 to $30 each way.

Airline executives have been ranging from cautious to cautiously optimistic about overall air travel demand for the first 2 quarters of 2010 – while continuing to fret over the slow return of the lucrative business travel sector. Many executives have also signaled that domestic airfare is going up in 2010 barring any major change in current demand trends.

It is very rare to see all legacy airlines match a hike in such a short time span and have the hike fizzle – that said if any major changes occur on this increase we will send out an update."


Christmas Tree Ornament Diverts Orlando-Bound Flight

Some hysteric spotted a "suspicious" package on a Detroit-Orlando flight on Delta/Northwest, and the flight made an emergency landing in Nashville. No Disney World for you!

Can we please all settle down, please? The Christmas Day Underpants Bomber is safely in jail.

I mean, is this the nation that won the Battle of Midway or not?