Friday, April 30, 2010

Arizona Boyott

Nah, just kidding. Nogales, Az., International Airport always looks like this.


European Airports Ending Liquids Ban in 2013

While the TSA in the U.S. still drifts along, a year and quarter without a permanent director in charge, the European Union has found a way to lift the widely hated and frequently ridiculed ban on carrying liquids. It will occur in 2013, however.

From, via an EU announcement:

The European Union this week announced new measures intended to streamline and simplify the EU framework for aviation security. The new measures will update those policies which were first put into place in 2002 following 9/11, the first time the EU had adopted common rules on aviation. Previously each Member State had its own rules for aviation security.

"The revision is about better regulation – simplifying and improving procedures to make it easier for industry on a daily basis to implement safety controls, without any reduction in security," EU said in a press release.

The framework sets a deadline of April 29, 2013 for the lifting of current restrictions on the carriage of liquids in cabin baggage. New screening equipment for liquids must be used in all airports across Europe by that deadline.

As a preliminary step in phasing out the restrictions on liquids, beginning April 19, 2011 at the latest, duty-free liquids purchased at third country airports or on board third country airlines and carried in tamper evident bags will be allowed as cabin baggage and will be screened, the EU said. Currently these liquids are only allowed in cabin baggage if they come from selected third countries (United States, Canada, Singapore and Croatia).

It says the package will also open the door for negotiating "one-stop shop" security agreements with third countries. Those agreements could potentially reduce re-screening for transfer passengers.

"A lot has been learnt since the first EU-wide rules putting in place common aviation security standards were put in place after September 11," Commission Vice-President in charge of transport Siim Kallas said. "This is about building on the experience of recent years and streamlining procedures, so that on a daily basis security controls are easier for industry to implement. For passengers, the aim is also to simplify wherever possible the necessary security controls. In that sense this package takes a significant step forwards in signaling the beginning of the end for the current restrictions on liquids in cabin baggage, with a clear and final deadline of April 2013."

The new rules put in place a series of measures to improve, streamline and simplify existing procedures, by:

* Eliminating duplication of security controls. For example, reducing costly duplication of checks in strictly controlled areas of EU airports, where there has already been strict screening for access. This is of significant operational benefit for airlines and airports.
* Simplifying procedures. For example, by establishing a single set of standards for the documents you need to get access at airports. The new rules clarify which kinds of identification and authorizations are necessary for access to different restricted areas. This clarifies the situation for authorities making it easier for them to operate the system.
* Harmonizing procedures. For example, introducing EU-wide procedures for the recognition of hauliers transporting air cargo consignments. These can be recognized and used by hauliers in all Member States – this reduces restrictions for hauliers and the need for costly re-screening of cargo.
* Introducing common minimum standards as regards security training for all staff that implement security controls.

"The implementation of these security measures at EU airports will continue to be closely monitored through unannounced Commission inspections," the EU said in its press release. "Where necessary, the Commission will perform follow-up inspections or start infringement procedures against Member States in order to ensure the overall level of aviation security in the EU."


Oil Slick Forecast for Lousiana Coast

If it's not one thing it's another ...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Arizona's Stupid New Immigration Law: Read It For Yourself

[Photo -- Clueless in Phoenix, Appointed Gov. Jan Brewer signs Arizona Laughingstock Law]

I'm impelled to publish the full text of the ridiculous bill that the appointed governor of Arizona, resembling some poor dear wandering a casino looking for the nickel slots, signed into law yesterday.

The actual text is useful because reporters can't seem to explain this nonsense coherently. For example, I just read in a news account that the bill makes it a crime "to not carry immigration papers."

What the hell are "immigration papers" and why must you or I have them on our persons in Arizona -- or be arrested? Even in a stone stupid law, that makes no sense.

That's another consequence of one of the more disturbing trends in journalism today, the trend toward paraphrasing rather than quoting specific language. As Bill Moyers said, "Reporters are paid to explain things they don't understand."

Anyway, here is the text of the bill as signed into law. As any second-year law school student can see, it's full of laughably imprecise language and spurious provisions that won't stand up to legal challenge.

And I hasten to add that this ridiculousness -- vaulting Arizona to the top of the national state-laughingstock list (South Carolina and Mississippi say thanks!)-- is the work of the nativist cabal that controls Arizona from within the invincibly resentful white right-wing population mass in Phoenix.

Phoenix is Orange County circa 1964, but without an ocean. Tucson, on the other hand, is relatively progressive (if politically weak) -- a citadel of good Old West sense and diversity.

Some people are calling for a tourism boycott of Arizona. But I'm launching a new campaign here: "Tucson, the Anti-Phoenix."


Friday, April 23, 2010

Ugly Racial-Bigotry Charges At Ritz-Carlton in Florida

[Please see my comment at the bottom about newspapers giving free rides to bigots in comments attached to legitimate news stories online]

Just as higher-end travel is coming back and five-star hotels are reporting a small rebound, the swanky Ritz-Carlton hotel in Naples, Fla. has a sticky situation on its hands.

Alas, there's a lot of rushing to judgment online about this, compounded by the predictable onslaught of people shooting mouths off in comments before the facts are clear.

This much is clear:

A 15-year employee at the hotel -- a Haitian-born U.S. citizen -- has sued for emotional distress. He says he was blocked by supervisors at the hotel restaurant from serving a British couple who had specified in their instructions before arrival that they not be served by "people of color" or people with "foreign accents," according to a report first published in the Naples, Fla. News.

According to the Naples newspaper, the complaint states that a guest-profile entry in the hotel computer system, which is consulted by staff, said: "As per Mr. Staros, this couple is very, very prejudice(d) and do like like (sic) ppl of color or foreign accents."

The reference, by the way, is to Edward V. Staros, the top executive at the hotel and, ulp, a co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton chain in the U.S. during the 1980s. (Ritz-Carlton was bought by Marriott International in the 1990s).

Staros is one of the lions of the hotel industry and, frankly, I'm not buying any assertion that a person of his stature would have been so crude, let alone so dumb, as to promulgate a bigoted directive at the behest of some racist slobs from the UK.

Hotel people are the smartest and most cosmopolitan people in the travel industry; they were practicing diversity before it became something that corporations had to do -- it just doesn't add up to me that a guy like Staros would given any such guidance to staff. I repeat: It doesn't add up.

More likely, the low-ranking staffer who made the vile profile entry -- if the lawsuit complaint's citation is accurate -- was merely invoking the boss's name. That's the general assumption among hotel people I talked to today, by the way.

Furthermore, Staros himself also spoke with the British guests after the initial commotion and instructed them, speaking for the company, that they are no longer welcome at any Ritz-Carlton in the world, said Vivian Deuschl, the Ritz's highly respected spokeswoman.

Ritz-Carlton is a well-managed company that is intensely focused on staff training and has a solid record of international diversity. But the company needs to move decisively to deal with this and keelhaul those responsible, because this story has legs.

Here's the official statement from Ritz-Carlton:

"Ritz-Carlton is in the process of investigating the facts underlying the lawsuit. While we do not comment on ongoing litigation, we believe it is important to convey several points. We absolutely deny that Ritz-Carlton in any way condones discrimination by its guests against its employees or discrimination in any form.

"We value our guests and employees and their diversity in all respects. The guests in question stayed at the hotel in March 2010 and were barred from the hotel and other Ritz-Carlton Hotels shortly after their stay ended, as information about their conduct and comments came to light. We are in the process of reminding all of our employees of Ritz-Carlton’s strong non-discrimination policies."

And by the way, the editors at the Naples Daily News need to use better judgment in the kinds of comments they're allowing to be posted with their story on this incident. People have the right to say whatever they want, within the legal bounds of libel and slander. Anyone can start a blog or buttonhole their neighbors. But newspapers shouldn't give bigots and ignoramuses a free ride on the tails of a legitimate news story.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

US Air: We're No Longer Talking to United About a Merger

US Airways says it no longer is talking to United Airlines about a possible merger.

In a letter to employees this morning, Doug Parker, the US Air CEO, said, "our Board of Directors has decided to discontinue those discussions ... those talks have not progressed to a merger agreement, and for the foreseeable future we intend to remain a standalone carrier."

Not long after the talks between United and US Air began last month, United also began talking with Continental Airlines about a merger. Those talks are continuing.

Parker, like other airline executives, strongly believes that the domestic airline industry needs to contract and consolidate to achieve better control over pricing. "As I have said many times, it is not necessary for us to be direct participants in a merger because the entire industry benefits when consolidation occurs," he said in his letter to employees today.

He added, "I am sure some 'industry experts' will suggest that US Airways will be strategically harmed if United now chooses to merge with Continental. They will be wrong. Thanks to all that we have done together over the past two years – capacity rationalization, a la carte revenue programs, cost control and our commitment to operating efficiently and reliably – we have a strong and viable standalone airline that is producing industry-leading results. Should our competitors choose to merge and help create a more stable airline industry, our independent airline will only become stronger."


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Narco Gunmen Storm Holiday Inn in Monterrey, Mexico, Abduct Guests

Gunmen stormed two hotels in downtown Monterrey, Mexico, in the middle of the night and abducted 7 guests and workers in one of the boldest attacks yet against the staggered tourist economy in the border region of Mexico.

The hotels were the Holiday Inn Centro and the Mision Hotel.

Here's the New York Times report on the attack.

Monterrey, a major business center for both Mexican and American companies, is about 150 miles south of the Texas border. Border towns from Tijuana to Matamoros have been stunned by drug violence in the last two years, and tourism has been devastated.

Nearly all of the violence, which has accounted for about 20,000 murders in Mexico in two years, has been between drug gangs or drug gangs and police and military, though innocent bystanders have often been killed. This year, violence escalated sharply in Monterrey, but an attack on a major tourism/business hotel is very unusual.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Airlines Ready to Jack Up Fares With 'Fuel Surcharges' Again?

If it's not one thing it's another.

According to Rick Seaney at, airlines may be poised to slap fuel surcharges on domestic ticket prices, something they haven't done since November 2008, when legacy airlines folded these surcharges into the base airfare as the price of oil dropped dramatically from record summer highs that year.

[Delta has already added fuel surcharges to many peak summer fares, and other carriers could follow.]

With oil prices rising over $80 a barrel, surcharges are beginning to make a comeback, according to Seaney. On Monday, he said, "Delta Air Lines filed a $20 roundtrip ($10 one-way) fuel surcharge on top of their lengthy list of peak travel day surcharges, on tens of thousands of mostly smaller city-pairs with no departure date restrictions."

For example, a one-way connecting Delta flight from San Francisco to Denver or Dallas (via Salt Lake City) on May 27 has both a peak travel surcharge of $30 and a fuel surcharge of $10 tacked onto the base airfare.

"A closer inspection of the cities with this new fuel surcharge shows that airfares to/from Delta's hub cities along many non-stop routes were spared this fuel surcharge hike -- placing most of the hike on smaller markets and larger non-hub cities," Seaney said, adding:

"Airlines have been struggling to get even the smallest systemwide domestic airfare hike to stick this year. Several attempts have failed in the last few months. In lieu of significant base airfare hikes, airlines have resorted to fewer sales, peak travel day surcharges, a bevy of non-ticket fees, and the release of fewer of the cheapest seats, all in order to increase revenue.

"This new fuel surcharge filing is effectively an airfare hike as miscellaneous (peak) and fuel surcharges are added to the base airfare prices before the 7.5 percent U.S. sales tax is added on. Note that as of this afternoon no other airlines have matched the fuel surcharge increase."


Corporate Travel Managers Assess Impact of Europe Shutdown

[Correction: ACTE is based in Alexandria, Va., not in the UK.]

Stranded travelers and canceled meetings were the two top effects cited by corporate travel managers in a new survey of the impact on business travelers of the volcanic ash crisis that shut down air travel in Europe.

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), in a survey of its international membership, says that 31 percent of respondents claimed their greatest challenges resulted from stranded travelers and canceled meetings (as an equal priority). Nineteen percent cited stranded travelers as their primary concern, while canceled meetings were a major issue for 11 percent. Twenty-two percent checked "all of the above,' including stranded travelers, canceled meetings, reduced sales calls, and increased expenses. A remaining 11 percent said they were not affected at all.

ACTE is based in the UK. The ACTE president-elect, Chris Crowley says he is currently stranded in the United States.

Asked if air-travel disruptions in Europe were to continue for months or even a year, 29 percent of respondents said they would rely on a strategic response combining rail travel, ground transportation and electronic travel alternatives -- including video and Web conferencing. Thirteen percent reported they have a program for electronic travel and meeting alternatives in place now. Thirty-nine percent indicated they had both a strategic response and a plan in place now, while 19 percent felt confident they would need neither.


Never Mind II: Now the Brits Are Reopening Air Space -- Tonight

In an abrupt twist, Britain plans to phase in an opening of its air space tonight at 10 p.m. London time, which would be shortly from when I am posting this around 1.30 p.m. Pacific time.

Let me note, there is some remarkable stuff in this statement from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has come front and center amid growing criticism of two for-profit companies that have been largely setting the agenda in British response to the crisis, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) and the Met Office. Both NATS and the Met Office have been criticized for allegedly overreacting to the situation starting last week.

An example of some remarkable stuff in the announcement: The news that aircraft manufacturers (whose specifications are sunk into the bedrock of aviation safety standards) have "increased tolerance levels" for flying near low-ash areas.

Anyway, here is the statement from the CAA, the UK’s aviation safety regulator, issued in conjunction with the Irish Aviation Authority.

"New guidance allows a phased reintroduction from 2200 tonight of much of the airspace which is currently closed due to the volcanic ash plume over the UK. There will continue to be some 'no fly zones' where concentrations of ash are at levels unsafe for flights to take place, but very much smaller than the present restrictions. Furthermore, the Met Office advise that the 'no fly zones' do not currently cover the UK.

... The CAA has drawn together many of the world’s top aviation engineers and experts to find a way to tackle this immense challenge ... Current international procedures recommend avoiding volcano ash at all times. In this case, owing to the magnitude of the ash cloud, its position over Europe and the static weather conditions, most of the EU airspace had to close and aircraft could not be physically routed around the problem area as there was no space to do so.

We had to ensure, in a situation without precedent, that decisions made were based on a thorough gathering of data and analysis by experts. This evidence-based approach helped to validate a new standard that is now being adopted across Europe.

The major barrier to resuming flight has been understanding tolerance levels of aircraft to ash. Manufacturers have now agreed increased tolerance levels in low ash density areas. [Italics mine]

Our way forward is based on international data and evidence from previous volcanic ash incidents, new data collected from test flights and additional analysis from manufacturers over the past few days. It is a conservative model allowing a significant buffer on top of the level the experts feel may pose a risk.

In addition, the CAA’s Revised Airspace Guidance requires airlines to:

--Conduct their own risk assessment and develop operational procedures to address any remaining risks;

--Put in place an intensive maintenance ash damage inspection before and after each flight; and

--Report any ash related incidents to a reporting scheme run by the CAA."


Never Mind: UK Scraps Plan to Resume Flights As New Ash Cloud Looms

[UPDATE: British Airways canceled all long-haul flights departing from the UK today and all long-haul flights scheduled to arrive in the UK before noon tomorrow.]

Britain postponed a plan to open its air space more generally to flights as the Iceland volcano pumped more ash into the skies.

According to this report today in the Times of London, "Airports in the south of the UK will remain closed until at least 7 p.m. and British Airways abandoned plans to operate some short-haul flights. Glasgow and Belfast, which briefly reopened this morning, both shut by the afternoon."

This, alas, is going to be the situation for weeks, if not months, for air travelers in Europe if that Iceland volcano, Eyjafijallajokull, keeps erupting on and off, as has been its habit in previous major eruptions.

Worse, there's a bigger and more dangerous volcano just to the east of Eyjagfijallakull that has had an unfortunate tendency to erupt soon after its smaller neighbor does. Its name is Katla, which at least has the virtue of being easier to spell. Let's hope we don't have to spell that one too often, though.

[Hey, remember the good old days when the toughest foreign spelling journalists had to learn was Chiang Kai-shek?]

See my column in today's New York Times for a hint on how many business travelers, corporations and others stuck in the air-travel shutdown are finding alternatives using teleconferencing.

By the way, there is continuing controversy surrounding two private companies that have been setting the response-agenda in Britain - NATS, the privatized national air travel service, and the Met Office, which is in effect Britain's weather bureau. It's also a private company.

Both are under fire for using computer models to project ash-cloud patterns without supplementing the computer projections with real flight tests in the skies. NATS, for one, has been criticized for overreacting. The computer models used for the evaluations of the ash cloud are based on incomplete science and limited data, according to Matthias Ruete, the European Union's director-general for mobility and transport, quoted in the Financial Times newspaper yesterday.

In Britain, the Met Office, which defends NATS in this situation, is largely a province of meteorologists, rather than hard-core academic scientists.

Some weeks ago, a fascinating story in the New York Times described the conflict over global warming between meteorologists and climate scientists.

That story mentions a new study by George Mason University and the University of Texas showing TV meteorologists', let us say casual, attitudes toward climate science. Two-thirds of the TV weather people surveyed don't believe that global warming/climate change is caused by human activities.

Of course, most "meteorologists" (and being one requires merely a bachelor's degree, if that), are local television-news performers whose main focus is enhancing their own celebrity, with hand-puppets if ratings demand.



Monday, April 19, 2010

Vegas: A Bad 2009, But Luck Is Changing

I've always liked Las Vegas. But, critics sniff, it's so over-the-top! Yeah, I reply, but it's over-the-top to an epic degree; it's the dang apotheosis of over-the-top.

Living in Arizona, I always recommend a visit to Vegas to foreign friends who haven't been there. They never regret it. Unlike Atlantic City, which is a grubby, mean-spirited burg, Las Vegas is full of life and sun and, yes, small-town cheer, even though it's a big city.

Anyway, Vegas has had a couple of bad years, with the economy sour and with other factors like a sharp decline in air service (Vegas is a cheap-fare market and airlines have pulled about 20 percent of capacity out of the destination).

The emotional public backlash against spending on corporate meetings and conventions -- Las Vegas and Orlando are the top cities for big conventions -- has also hurt. (What? Your company spent dough on sending people to Vegas? Eeeeek!)

Anyway, the very efficient Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau sent me the numbers for 2009. They look bad, but they also show a steady improvement all year, from truly dismal numbers in the earlier part of '09. Of course, the numbers on hotel rates are good news for visitors.

Some excerpts:

--Total visitor volume, down 3 percent.

--Airline passengers, down 8.2 percent.

--Hotel occupancy, down 4.5 percent

--Average daily hotel room rate, down 22 percent (to $92.93)

--Convention and meetings attendance, down 23.9 percent (to 4.5 million)

--Number of conventions and meetings, down 13.6 percent (to 19,394)

--Strip gambling revenue, down 9.4 percent

--Downtown gambling revenue, down 10.1 percent.


Very Slowly, Airlines in Europe Staggering Back to the Skies

[Update: European airspace is gradually being reopened as narrower boundaries are being drawn to mark the no-fly zone affected by volcanic ash.]

European airlines are announcing limited returns to service, with some planning flights as early as tonight.

Here are some of the current announcements:

Air France:

"Air France is intending to operate the following flights on departure from and arriving at French provincial airports:

Dubai, AF 4178, leaving from Bordeaux at 23:00

Beirut, AF 4164, leaving from Bordeaux at 16:00

Pointe-à-Pitre, AF 4160, leaving from Bordeaux at 14:00

Montréal, AF 4166, leaving from Bordeaux at 19:00

New York-JFK, AF 4180, leaving from Toulouse at 15:00

New York-JFK, AF 4184, leaving from Toulouse at 21:00

Washington, AF 4182, leaving from Toulouse at 18:00

Boston, AF4186, leaving from Toulouse at 23:00

For customers wishing to take these flights and who have a reservation, coaches leaving from Paris-Charles de Gaulle (Terminal 2E, check-in area number 7) will take them to the airports concerned on a space-available basis at the following times:

Monday April 19:

- 10 p.m. for flights AF 4180 to New York-JFK and AF 4182 to Washington

- 11 p.m. for flights AF 4160 to Pointe-à-Pitre, AF 4164 to Beirut and AF 4166 to Montreal

Tuesday 20 April:

- 7:00 a.m. for flights AF 4178 to Dubai, AF 4184 to New York-JFK and AF 4186 to Boston.

Arrival of 22 flights:

Bangkok, AF 173, arriving in Bordeaux at 06:00

Saint Martin, AF 3515, arriving in Bordeaux at 08:10

Santo-Domingo, AF 3525, arriving in Bordeaux at 11: 00

Douala, AF 173, arriving in Bordeaux at 06:10

New York-JFK, AF 4169, arriving in Toulouse at 10:00

Dakar, AF 4171, arriving in Toulouse at 08:00

Fort-de-France, AF 4163, arriving in Toulouse at 6:00

Rio de Janeiro, AF 445, arriving in Toulouse at 11:15

San Francisco, AF 083, arriving in Toulouse at 13:00

Saint-Denis de la Réunion, AF 4173, arriving in Toulouse at 21:00

Santiago de Chile, AF 401, arriving in Marseille at 11:20

Miami, AF 695, arriving in Marseille at 08:10

Buenos Aires, AF 417, arriving in Nice at 11:00

Abidjan, AF 703, arriving in Nice at 05:35

Washington, AF 039, arriving in Nice at 07:50

Bombay, AF 217, arriving in Nice at 08:05

Bamako, AF 3093, arriving in Pau at 06:05

Dubai, AF 4179, arriving in Pau at 14:40

Riyadh, AF 3863, arriving in Montpellier at 06:10

Malabo, AF 3009, arriving in Montpellier at 05:40

N’Djamena, AF 559, arriving in Montpellier at 06:10

Nouakchott, AF 3027, arriving in Montpellier at 05:50"


British Airways:

"British Airways will aim to resume some flights into and out of London's airports from 7 p.m. on Tuesday April 20 following the proposed reopening of UK and European airspace by the aviation authorities.

We are working on detailed plans to help as many customers as possible who have been unable to fly due to the unprecedented circumstances that have faced all airlines operating in northern Europe over the last five days.

... Tomorrow, we will aim to operate long-haul departures that were scheduled to depart after 4 p.m. and short-haul departures scheduled to depart after 7 p.m.. This will however be subject to the full and permanent opening of airspace.

All flights before these times have been canceled.

We have more than 80 aircraft and almost 3,000 cabin crew and pilots out of position overseas across our global network.

All of these aircraft will require detailed checks before they are cleared to enter service again.

Inevitably, this will mean some delays and we ask for our customers' patience and understanding in these very difficult circumstances.

Customers should check their exact flight details on and only come to the airport if they have a booking and their flight is operating.

Customers booked to travel on a canceled flight can claim a full refund or rebook their flight for a later date."

Virgin Atlantic

"Virgin Atlantic is currently working on its contingency plans, following the announcement by NATS that air space may open in the south of the UK tomorrow evening.

As such, Virgin Atlantic plans to operate a number of flights tomorrow once airspace has re-opened. Our priority will be to get as many passengers back their country of residence as quickly as possible. In the meantime all flights in and out of the UK remain canceled.

As soon as plans are confirmed further information will be published on the Virgin Atlantic website so passengers should check this for the latest flight information.

We strongly urge passengers not to travel to the airport over the next few days unless they have a confirmed booking on a flight which is confirmed to operate."


Cost of Europe Shutdown to U.S. Carriers: $80 million and Counting

While European aviation officials brawl about whether the systemwide shutdown of airspace was an overreaction based on limited computer modeling techniques (see earlier posts), here's some data on the financial impact on domestic carriers:

The flight cancellations caused by the Iceland volcano eruptions will account for about $80 million in lost revenue to major U.S. airlines, including losses from secondary domestic passenger traffic generated directly by international flights, according to an analysis today by the Boyd Group.

"The financial hit for U.S. airlines goes well beyond the passengers lost on the trans-Atlantic," says Tim Sieber, the vice president of Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting and forecasting firm. "It extends into the domestic market as well, because international passengers also generate significant domestic enplanements."

On average, each international passenger journey generates approximately 1.4 additional domestic enplanements, he said. "Passengers to and from abroad don’t all remain in U.S. international gateway cities," he said. Many also fly onward (and back) within the U.S.

Boyd Group's analysis indicates that the European shutdown caused a loss of more than 73,000 domestic one-way passenger trips. In terms of actual passengers, U.S. carriers lost over 200,000 passengers during the first four days of the event alone.

International traffic has a growing importance in the domestic system. According to Boyd Group International's Airports' U.S. enplanement forecasts, over 27% of all US passenger enplanements will be directly or indirectly the result of international passenger demand by 2014. (An enplanement is defined as one passenger boarding one aircraft, whether on a nonstop or a connecting flight).


World Airline Trade Group Slams European Governments on Airspace Shutdown

As I've been pointing out here since last week, there is serious concern in the aviation industry that the shutdown of air travel in Europe may have been a gross overreaction by governmental agencies and, in the case of the UK where the panic began, by a private company that manages Britain's air traffic.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) today sharply criticized "European governments" for what the airline trade group called "their lack of leadership in handling airspace restrictions." IATA urged "a re-think of the decision-making process."

The IATA CEO, Giovanni Bisignani, said in a statement: "We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it -- with no risk-assessment, no consultation, no coordination, and no leadership. This crisis is costing airlines at least $200 million a day in lost revenues and the European economy is suffering billions of dollars in lost business. In the face of such dire economic consequences, it is incredible that Europe’s transport ministers have taken five days to organize a teleconference."

He was referring to a contentious teleconference over the weekend involving European air transport officials and Eurocontrol, the agency that controls air space on the Continent.

In his statement, Bisignani four times invoked the concept of risk-management. He criticized Europe’s closing airspace "based on theoretical modeling of the ash cloud."

Rather than governments doing what governments should do, which is take sensible responsibility for their air space, "it has been the air-navigation service providers who announced that they would not provide service," Bisignani said, in an apparent reference to NATS, the private company in Britain that manages UK air space. NATS led the shutdown last week as volcanic ash drifted toward the British Isles from Iceland.

IATA called on European governments to "agree on ways to flexibly re-open airspace." He said that "risk-assessments should be able to help us re-open certain corridors, if not entire airspaces."

Several European airlines have now conducted test flights at various altitudes, up to 41,000 feet, in various corridors. "The results have not shown any irregularities or safety issues," said Bisignani. Among options being explored by airlines as the ash cover lingers over sections of European skies are day flights using visual flight rules, rather than instrument flying. Also, Bisignani said, airlines are considering "specific flight corridors, special climb-and-descent procedures, and more frequent detailed boroscopic engine inspections to detect damage."

In Britain, Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways, took part in a two-hour test-flight yesterday. Walsh, a pilot, said that British Airways' tests provided "fresh evidence that the current blanket restrictions on airspace are unnecessary." He added, according to the Times of London, "we believe airlines are best positioned to assess all available information and determine what, if any, risk exists to aircraft, crew and passengers." BA is asking the government for a bailout after losing about $124 million so far in the airspace shutdown.

As noted here last week after the British company NATS shut down the UK air space that also serves as the most important gateway to Europe, airlines in Asia, where volcanic disruptions are more common than in Europe, immediately warned that the Europeans might be overreacting. "Is this a massive overreaction by supercautious politicians and bureaucrafts who are far more concerned about their own liability?" the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, representing Asian carriers, said in a statement last week.

Bisignani said, "We have seen volcanic activity in many parts of the world, but rarely has it resulted in airspace closures, and never at this scale. When Mount St. Helens erupted in the U.S. in 1980, we did not see large-scale disruptions, because the decisions to open or close airspace were risk-managed with no compromise on safety."

IATA called on Eurocontrol to establish a "volcano contingency center capable of making coordinated decisions" and asked for an immediate meeting of the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization "to define government responsibility for the decisions to open or close airspace in a coordinated and effective way, based on real data and special operating procedures."

Stand by for more major flap on this one, as the world media finally come to terms with the story of the overreaction that shut down air travel in Europe, and stranded hundreds of thousands of people. And the bills are only starting to arrive.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

5 Big Airlines: We Won't Try the Spirit Airline Stunt

Well, duh.

Five big airlines swear they won't follow the lead of little Spirit Airlines and charge passengers to use the overhead bins.

That's the word today from Sen. Chuck ("Don't Get Trapped Between Me and a TV Camera") Schumer, who announced to the TV cameras today that he had obtained assurances from Delta, American, United, US Airways and JetBlue that they would not charge for carry-on bags.

"He said he was hopeful other carriers would follow suit," the AP said and added, equally portentously, "Notably absent from the list was Continental Airlines ..." Uh, AP: Most notably absent from the list was Southwest Airlines, which does not charge even for checked bags.

Now, come on, media. Except for Southwest (which carries more passengers than any U.S. airline), the major airlines charge for checked bags, for food and other in-flight services. They bang you $100 in cancellation fees. But there was no way they were considering aping that stunt by Spirit, the low-fare leisure carrier that is generally regarded as having the worst customer service in the industry.

No one who knows anything about airlines thought the idea of charging for overhead bags was going to be copied widely. Regular travelers, including business travelers, would simply draw the line at that one. And Southwest and JetBlue, among others, would undoubtedly go to town advertising that they don't do it.

There are, to paraphrase that lawyer joke, certain things even an airline won't do.


Aviation Industry in Europe Bridles Over Flight Shutdown and Demands Safety Reassessment

Told ya.

While the lockstep MSM were accepting official pronouncements at face-value and covering trivial anecdotal aspects of the air-travel shutdown in Europe (Oh look, someone's stuck in an airport! Oh my God, could this ash cause cancer? Let's speculate endlessly!), they missed the growing backlash among airlines in Europe and elsewhere about what some see as an overreaction to the volcanic-ash problem.

See my earlier posts, including the one headlined "Second Guessing on Shutdown of Air Traffic in Europe," in which the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, which represents Asian carriers, asked whether the shutdown was a "massive overreaction of supercautious politicians and bureaucrats who are more concerned about their own liability ..."

In Brussels today, European airlines and airports went public with their misgivings about the extent of the reaction to the Iceland volcano. They want the situation reassessed.

[Update -- According to a report in tomorrow's Financial Times, "Lufthansa, which says it is losing $34 million a day from the crisis, said it was 'scandalous' for authorities to have imposed the ban on what appeared to be limited data from computer images, rather than flights testing safety."]

"This is not sustainable. We cannot just wait till this ash cloud dissipates," the European Union transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, said at a press conference in Brussels.

Meanwhile, the statement from the Airports Council International Europe is below.

First, let me state again that volcanic ash is a grave peril to aircraft (see earlier post on the 1982 incident near Indonesia when volcanic ash shut down all four engines on a British Airways 747, which landed safely but severely damaged). No one is arguing for unsafe flying. If an aircraft were to go down because of flying through ash, the impact of the disaster would be incalculable, first of course on victims on the flight, but also on European aviation in general. On the other hand, there is growing concern that the Brits, who tend to have hair-triggers these days in response to perceived peril, overreacted -- followed then by the rest of the Europeans.

At any rate, here is the statement from ACI (Europe):

"Brussels, 18 April -- For the fourth consecutive day, airlines and airports
across Europe are facing the unprecedented closure of almost all the continent’s
air space, due to the threat of volcanic ash dispersion. The situation has resulted
in the total standstill of intra-European mobility by air, coupled with a huge ripple
effect on long-haul aviation to the US, Asia and elsewhere. With over 63,000 flights canceled since Thursday, many millions of passengers affected so far and
a devastating impact for the aviation industry, the consequences are now
expanding to the wider economy given the reliance of businesses on aviation.
While Europe’s airlines and airports consider safety to be an absolute priority,
they are questioning the proportionality of the flight restrictions currently
imposed. The eruption of the Icelandic volcano is not an unprecedented event
and the procedures applied in other parts of the world for volcanic eruptions do
not appear to require the kind of restrictions that are presently being imposed in

AEA and ACI EUROPE support the efforts initially deployed by the European
Commission, EUROCONTROL, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and
national authorities to gain control of the threat posed to safety, but call for an
immediate reassessment of the present restrictions at European level.
Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, Secretary General AEA said “Verification flights
undertaken by several of our airlines have revealed no irregularities at all; this
confirms our requirement that other options should be deployed to determine
genuine risk. For example, the FAA has a world-established process of identifying
clear no-fly zones. Airlines must be able to fly where it is safe to fly and make
decisions accordingly. It is what our passengers demand of us.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI Europe commented, “With 313
airports paralyzed at the moment, the impact is already worst than 9/11. More
than 6.8 million passengers have been affected so far and European airports
have lost close to €136 million. Many thousands of passengers are still stuck at
airports because of this situation. While safety remains a non-negotiable priority,
it is not incompatible with our legitimate request to reconsider the present


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Are Germans, Dutch Bridling at UK Response to Ash? They Test the Skies Themselves

Are the Germans and Dutch thinking about going off the reservation in the response to the volcanic ash situation, which so far has been largely dictated by NATS, the for-profit British company that controls air space into and out of the UK?

(The NATS Web site is, astonishingly, still offline. Just as astonishingly, the company blames "heavy Web traffic" for not being able to keep its Web site up in a national emergency!)

Obviously, volcanic ash is a very serious flight concern, but I'm picking up grumbling here and there, including from Lufthansa, that just maybe the Brits may have overreacted in shutting the whole system down and keeping it shut for days. There is no indication of when flights in Europe might resume, as the Iceland volcano keeps erupting.

Today, Lufthansa flew 10 airliners (without passengers) from Munich to Frankfurt at altitudes between 10,000 and 26,000 feet. The planes were undamaged, Lufthansa said.

KLM also flew test flights at various altitudes without incident.

On Lufthansa's Web site, the following statement appears. Do I detect a note of pique in the first sentence? (italics are mine):

"Like all other airlines, Lufthansa must comply with directives issued by ministries and air traffic control. Many European airports have closed. In Germany, the airports in Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Dortmund, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Hof, Leipzig, Munich, Muenster/Osnabrueck, Nuremberg and Stuttgart have shut down. All arrivals at and departures from these airports have been canceled until further notice.

Lufthansa has canceled all flights worldwide scheduled until Sunday, April 18th, 1800 UTC (8pm local German time). Passengers whose flights have been canceled are kindly asked not to travel to the airport."

Stand by as Euro-politics, rivalries, old resentments and economics enter the picture!


Stop Bothering Us! Company That Runs British Air Transport Goes Offline in a Crisis

The for-profit company that operates air transportation in Britain, the National Air Traffic Services, NATS, has astonishingly gone offline in the current, worsening crisis.


As you can see here, the company is saying that "due to heavy Web traffic, the normal site is currently offline." Instead, a "holding page" is provided for general updates on the chaos. Air travel "restrictions," as the company puts it, remain in effect at least until 7 a.m. tomorrow. By "restrictions," NATS evidently means, um, total shutdown of the system.

A cynic might say that this is what you get when you take a vital government function like managing your national air-transportation system and sell it off to a profit-making corporation that, evidently, hasn't invested in the minimal technology to keep the public informed in an emergency, when "heavy Web traffic" would certainly be most expected. The biggest shareholder in NATS is the British government (49 percent), with most of the rest owned by a group including British Airways, easyJet, Virgin Atlantic and others.


Friday, April 16, 2010

By the Numbers: The Air Travel Mess Today in Europe

From, a look at the mess in air travel today in Europe. (Click to enlarge).


Volcanic Ash and Airplanes: 4 Engines Gone on a 747 in 1982

The best-known incident of an airliner imperiled by volcanic ash occurred in 1982 on a British Airways flight from London to Aukland. The plane, a 747, flew into an ash cloud spewed up by a volcano in Indonesia and lost all four engines.

Famously, the 747 captain, Eric Moody, in a masterpiece of British understatement, got on the intercom after the engines flamed out and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress."

Moody and his two flight officers (747s carried an engineer back then) managed to glide the plane in a descent from 37,000 feet to 12,000 feet, for about 15 minutes, before they got an engine restarted. The plane landed safely in Jakarta. The engines were severely damaged.

Here's an interview with the now-retired Moody yesterday by the BBC. It's well worth listening to.

It was nighttime when the 747 entered the ash cloud, and the pilots were unaware of the ash problem. Volcanic ash is dry and is not typically picked up on radar.

There was another volcanic-ash incident involving a 747 in 1989, when a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Anchorage flew into an ash cloud from the erupting Mount Redoubt. It lost all four engines and landed safely, though with severe damage to the engines and fuselage.


Second-Guessing on Shutting Down Air Traffic in Europe

Was this really necessary? And what happens if the Iceland volcano continues to erupt and spew ash for days or weeks?

As airports in England, France and elsewhere in Europe remain closed today because of volcanic ash in the skies, some skepticism is arising about the decision to shut down air travel in western Europe. The UK, where the days of the Battle of Britain are a fading memory, is no stranger to hysterical over-reaction to air-travel threats, of course.

In Britain, the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) rejected assertions that it had overreacted. "Safety is our main priority and volcanic ash is a serious threat to aircraft," a spokesman said, according to the Times of London.

NATS, which operates commercial air traffic in the UK, is a private corporation. It would seem in general that a private corporation, exposed to civil liability, would be cautious in deciding when planes could fly under potentially hazardous conditions in the skies.

Air traffic in England and Wales remains shut down till at least 7 a.m. Saturday and possibly beyond. Some international flights have been allowed to operate in Northern Ireland and Scotland as the ash cloud drifts southeast beyond the British Isles. Twenty airports in France, including those in Paris, also remain closed till tomorrow morning at 7, and possibly beyond.

In Iceland, the volcano continued to erupt today. "It is more or less the same situation as yesterday, it is still erupting, still exploding, still producing gas," University of Iceland professor Armann Hoskuldsson told Reuters. "We expect it to last for two days or more or something. It cannot continue at this rate for many days. There is a limited amount of magma that can spew out."

Obviously, aircraft are in danger flying through particulate-heavy volcanic ash.

But what exactly is the science here, and where do politics intrude, if at all?

This today from the Sydney-based Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a pretty strong voice in international air travel. CAPA, which represents airlines and others with obvious financial interests in keeping planes flying, bluntly describes the reaction in Europe as "paranoia." Here's the statement:

"Much of European airspace is closed for today at least. Within Europe the scene is casual chaos. Not only are travelers and flights grounded in several major European city, but it will take days to restore schedules, even if the scare is called off today. And in points as far away as Australia and Argentina, aircraft bound for Europe have been grounded too.

Is this a massive over-reaction of super-cautious politicians and bureaucrats who are far more concerned about their own liability – while suffering none of the financial carnage that this will cause the airlines and their feeding chain? Or is it a genuinely serious event that justified shutting down most of Europe's airspace. ...

If the closures continue for up to three days, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) estimates some six million passengers will be affected - probably forfeiting their flights; as an "Act of God," the volcano's impact nullifies insurance claims for canceled flights.

EUR120 million was wiped off the value of Ryanair and Aer Lingus yesterday, with their share prices each falling 1.4% yesterday in what was otherwise a healthy day for European stock markets.

British Airways and easyJet fell 0.2% and 0.3% respectively, while Nordic airline stocks suffered, with SAS and Norwegian falling 3.9% and 3.2%, respectively. Aeroflot was 2.1% lower."

Here is the latest NATS statement on the Icelandic volcanic eruption, posted at 02:30, Friday 16-Apr-2010:

"The cloud of volcanic ash continues to cover much of the UK and the eruption in Iceland continues. Following a review of the latest Met Office information, NATS advises that restrictions will remain in place in UK controlled airspace until 19:00 (UK time) today, Friday 16-Apr-2010, at the earliest.

However, flights in Northern Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland to and from Glasgow and Prestwick may be allowed up to 1300 (UK time) today, subject to individual coordination. North Atlantic traffic to and from Glasgow, Prestwick and Belfast may also be allowed over the same period.

We will review further Met Office information and at 0830 (UK time) we will advise on the arrangements that will be in place until 0100 (UK time) on Saturday, 17 April.

In general, the situation cannot be said to be improving with any certainty as the forecast affected area appears to be closing in from east to west. We continue to work closely with airports, airlines, and the rest of Europe to understand and mitigate the implications of the volcanic eruption.""

An earlier (14:00, 15-Apr-2010) NATS statement noted, "in line with international civil aviation policy, no flights other than agreed emergencies are currently permitted in UK controlled airspace…We continue to work closely with airports, airlines, and the rest of Europe to understand and mitigate the implications of the volcanic eruption."

Back to the CAPA statement:

"The question is, what happens if Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier volcano keeps on erupting - for days, or weeks? The Vatnajokull eruption in Iceland in the 1990s (a similar event under a much bigger glacier) led to minimal disruption, apart from a short period when the eruptions began, with aircraft routed around the area. It certainly did not lead to region-wide closures of air space. Such has the paranoia around safety and security grown since September 11.

Recovery in the key trans-Atlantic business market (the lifeblood for many European and US long-haul airlines) is still elusive, while short-haul premium demand within Europe continues to contract. Airlines finances, particularly in Europe, remain fragile, and airline managements will be hoping the ash – and the attendant paranoia – settles quickly.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

United Pilots Signal Better Fit With Continental Than US Air

Dunno, an unkind person might say that United Airlines management is peddling the company like a Lincoln Tunnel hooker, but at least the pilots feel that a hookup with Continental Airlines would work better than one with US Air.

The latest speculation is that United and Continental are in talks. Again! This comes less than a week after reports that United and US Airways are talking merger.

Continental is regarded as a well-run airline, and the betting here is that in any merger Continental would be on top, even though it's smaller. (I'd say US Airways would, too, if the talks between United and US Air were to result in a merger, though the United pilots are very skeptical about any link with US Air)

Anyway, here's a statement from Wendy Morse, a United captain who is chairman of the United council of the Air Line Pilots Association International:

"It has been our long-standing position that the pilots of United Airlines would support a merger if such a transaction would benefit the careers and futures of our pilots.

"Several media outlets have reported today that United and Continental have reopened merger talks. For United’s pilots, Continental, rather than US Airways, represents a more logical merger partner for United Airlines. In light of the recent reports of merger discussions between United Airlines and US Airways, it is our belief, along with many analysts, that a merger between United and Continental would contain less route overlap and greater attainable synergies. These factors would contribute to the protection of pilot careers, lead to long-term security for both airlines’ pilot groups and produce a stronger overall enterprise.

"We have been down this path before, and we have a long-standing working relationship with the pilots of Continental. We would parlay this relationship to help make a merger between United and Continental viable for both pilot groups, as well as toward the success of the combined operations."


Heads-Up On Air Travel to/from Europe

[UPDATE 6 pm London time: Air travel chaos in Europe could continue through tomorrow, says the Times of London in this update on the situation. Paris airports closing later tonight.]

If it's not one thing it's another.

An erupting volcano in Iceland spewed ash into the atmosphere and has shut down airports in western Europe, including Heathrow. All flights in Britain have been grounded.

The eruption in Iceland occurred at a volcano over a glacier at Eyiajjallajokull in the southern part of the country. There was a previous significant eruption at that spot in 1821. It's near a much bigger volcano, Mr. Katla, and there is some worry that a second eruption could occur there.

The mess is ongoing as the ash drifts south across the UK. If you're flying to or from western Europe, you need to carefully check flight information.

Here's some useful information on the eruption from the Weather Channel.

Here's the report in the Independent newspaper with some information on the path of the ash-cloud, and the closing of UK airspace to all except emergency flights.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Copping a Smoke Undetected on Flight 663?

That's a pretty good folo in the Times today on the Arab diplomat who made alarm bells ring loud after he ducked into the lavatory to cop a smoke on United Flight 663 from Washington to Denver on Wednesday night.

This, by the way, is a federal crime right off the bat. Then, when confronted at his seat by an air marshal, he shot off his fool mouth about maybe lighting up a bomb in his shoe. Heh-heh.

Everyone agrees, what a moron. What a shame this nitwit has diplomatic immunity, because a couple of months in jail would give him occasion for contemplation about the realities of aviation terrorism.

And everyone with any sense also agrees with Kip Hawley, the former TSA chief, that the security response to this incident was exactly as it should have been. By all indications, there was a bomb threat on that airplane.

(By the way, those fighter jets that were scrambled to "accompany" the flight after the incident was reported had a secondary mission, after escort. If things happened to go very, very wrong on board, they were up there to shoot that plane down if so ordered.)

But I'm still wondering. According to the accounts, the fact that this guy had been smoking his pipe in the lavatory was determined only after a flight attendant, followed by another passenger, used the lav and reported that it smelled of tobacco smoke.

What about those lavatory smoke detectors that the airlines always warn you not to be "disabling or tampering with"?

Did the lavatory smoke detector on that airplane not work? If not, shouldn't this be an issue for the FAA to follow up on?

Do airplane smoke detectors work? In some states, you can't even sell a house till the local fire department comes to certify that all of your $12 home smoke detectors are working.

You shouldn't be able to fly an airplane full of people without the same level of assurance.

[UPDATE: The "comments" link below shows 0 comments, but it's wrong. Click it for a useful comment from a reader who clearly knows what he or she is talking about, saying the smoke detectors are for dense smoke and/or fire, not casual tobacco smoke. Noted.]


Hiding Use of Private Jets

USA Today ran an excellent piece today by ProPublica saying that private jet owners benefit from a special new deal with the FAA that allows them to keep secret their use of private planes.

Usually, any passenger flight, commercial or private, is listed by the FAA. Using online flight-tracking sites, anyone can identify the owner of record for any flight on any given day.

Unfortunately, the main article posted today by USA Today failed to note that its owner, the Gannett newspaper company, was one of the beneficiaries of the deal, though it does name the publishing company that owns the Albuquerque Journal and Sam Zell, the chief of the Tribune newspaper publishing company. The Gannett connection is mentioned in the sidebar, however.

Of Gannett, the ProPublica article says: "Gannett, the media company that owns USA Today, which published a version of this article in collaboration with ProPublica, has blocked its corporate jet. Company spokeswoman Robin Pence said Gannett shields its flights mostly for competitive reasons, such as when it looks at possible acquisitions and investments. Security in a post-9/11 environment also is a concern, she said."

Here's the link to the article as ProPublica, the interesting non-profit news organization, sent it out.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

As United, US Air Talk Merger, the Passenger Squeeze Is On

Lots of baloney is being sliced as United and US Air talk merger.

Keep this in mind: Since 2000, the domestic U.S. air transportation system, at least as measured by available seating capacity on the major airlines, has shrunk by 20 percent. That's the equivalent roughly of one major airline disappearing.

In the last two years, airlines have been shrinking capacity as much as they can as demand sagged with a deteriorating economy.

As demand grows again, the airlines want to devise a permanent system in which most seats are always full on most flights -- and any merger between United and US Air would be done with that idea in mind. From the airlines' point of view, that's the only guarantee of sustained profitability.

For well over a year, most seats have been full on most flights anyway, as airlines routinely reported so-called load factors (the percentage of available seats sold) well into the 80 percent levels.

That number is creeping up.

In March, United planes flew with a whopping 85 percent of seats full on domestic flights, and 83.2 percent full on international flights.

At the same time, United shrank domestic seating by 5.3 percent and international by 6.1 percent, compared with March 2009.

In March, US Airways flew with 84.8 percent of domestic and 83.2 percent of international seats full, while shrinking domestic capacity by 4.7 percent (and adding 6 percent to international capacity).

They'll be shoveling a lot of stuff about "synergies" in any merger scenario, but if it happens, this much will be assured: Airplanes, already more full than at any time in the history of commercial aviation, will become fuller.

The media will focus mostly on the corporate/Wall Street story, which certainly is important.

But the travelers' story is that passengers will have fewer choices; we'll be more miserable and cramped. And we'll get to pay more for the privilege.


Ryanair and Its Pay-Toilets Claim

I'm endlessly amused by the way online "news" reporting can lift a half-assed report and make it worse in the re-telling and re-telling.

For well over a year, Michael O'Leary, the publicity-savvy CEO of the European budget airline Ryanair, has regularly rattled reporters' chains and obtained publicity for various schemes, among them his pee-in-the-sky proposal to install pay toilets on the Ryanair fleet.

The latest flush of publicity rests on very thin ice, as usual. British newspapers, which love to rush breathlessly into print with smirky stories that turn out to be not fully reported, have tossed out the pay-toilets claim once again.

Here's an example of the caliber of reporting that these stories rely on, from the Guardian: "However, O'Leary confirmed that he will ask Boeing to look at putting credit card readers on toilet locks for new aircraft. 'We are serious about it,' said O'Leary, who has acquired the nickname Michael O'Really within aviation circles for some of his more outlandish claims. ..."

Nothing new here and in an even shakier report in the Daily Mail newspaper in London. The typically half-baked Daily Mail story begins: "Ryanair has confirmed that it is pushing ahead...". Right, and I confirm that I am pushing ahead with my plans to win the Nobel Prize.

Absolutely nothing is new from the last time O'Leary got copious attention for his airline's toilets. O'Really has merely again repeated that he is exploring the idea of pay toilets. He has "confirmed" that he will ask Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, to "look at" a possible method of installing credit-card readers on lavatory doors.

Boeing, of course, has no such technology, and has announced no plans to develop it with O'Leary or anyone else. Never say never, of course, but as has been pointed out previously when O'Leary went off on this subject, the European Union has fairly detailed rules about requiring public restrooms under various circumstances. Flying a planeload of people without access to a bathroom unless they have a credit card is a proposal that's likely to attract some attention in Brussels.

Last spring, O'Leary discussed the pay-toilet scheme in a press conference in which he was widely ridiculed. Among his statements that day: "Our passengers can choose to pay a pound for the toilet, no one's forcing them to." ... "They’ll learn to go to the toilet before boarding, and they’ll go after landing ..." and "We don’t want to charge our passengers more, we want them to use toilets less. It’s about changing customer behavior."

Since then, O'Leary has admitted that the idea had no chance of flying, but on other occasions he has insisted it would work, and said that any European Union rules requiring free pay toilets under specified conditions could be overcome.

Meanwhile, the U.S. carrier Spirit Airlines has announced that it plans to start charging for using overhead bins on airplanes. That's real and outrageous enough, though the Spirit charge comes bundled with priority boarding access. Other airlines have to be looking at this stunt with great interest -- though keep in mind that Spirit is best known for very cheap fares and very limited service.

But I don't know anyone in the aviation industry who thinks O'Leary's pay-toilets are anything but a publicity stunt. And I have seen absolutely no reporting yet that takes this "story" beyond airy speculation.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

'No Fly' List Expanding

The 'no fly' portion of the terrorist watch list, which had about 2,000 people on it two years ago, now has about three times that number.

Watch the news media stumble over this information, since in general media accounts have inaccurately reported on the terrorist watch list for many years.

The 'no fly' list, which many reporters commonly confuse with the much-bigger 'selectee' list, contains names of people posing known terrorist threats who are not allowed to board an airplane.

So far, from what I have been told by people familiar with the way the watch lists operate, no one on the no fly list has tried to fly. So it isn't entirely clear just how it works if someone on that list shows up at an airport. They are not necessarily arrested, but the police are alerted. [Over the years there have been a few "false positive" hits on the no-fly list, when people have been detained at airports because they have been mistakenly flagged as being on the list. But these have been cases of either mistaken identity or outright checkpoint incompetence).

The news media always get this confused. The no fly list is one thing. The selectee list is quite another. That portion of the terrorist watch list has 20,000 to 50,000 actual identities on it, but that list is an unholy mess. It's an amalgam of numerous intelligence and law enforcement data banks, some so obsolete and half-baked that names like Jack Anderson are on it. Jack Anderson, the famous muckraking columnist, died five years ago. His name evidently migrated onto a list of people to be watched because Anderson was deeply hated by Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. Until recently, anyone named Jack Anderson (including an eight-year-old boy) has been stopped for additional security inspections at airport checkpoints.

If you share a name with one of the names, aliases, identities or half-baked data entries with anyone on the selectee list, you're likely to have been delayed at checkpoints for extra questioning. This year, the TSA is supposed to be perfecting a procedure, called Secure Flight, for greatly reducing the so-called false positives on that list, which has about 500,000 various data entries altogether. That's the reason airlines now ask for your birthdate and gender when you book, to help narrow the false hits against that list.

The selectee list is an acknowledged mess of tangled data. But from what I have been told, the "no fly" list is deadly serious. Anyone on it is bad business, and it's probably good news that it's been expanded.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Baja Earthquake Rattles Los Angeles

As if there isn't enough trouble south of the border, an earthquake reported at 7.2 magnitude struck the region around Mexicali in upper Baja California around 3.40 p.m. today Pacific time.

Damage reports in the Mexicali region are just starting to come in.

The earthquake rattled buildings in Los Angeles and San Diego, but so far there are no reports of damage in Southern California.

About 20 million people felt the quake in Mexico, Southern California and southwest Arizona, according to the initial report in the Los Angeles Times.

Aftershocks are expected throughout the region.

Here's the current U.S. Geological Survey-Caltech seismic report.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on Mexicali. Mexicali is near the border about 100 miles east of San Diego.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Skyservice, Canadian Charter Airline, Abruptly Shuts Down

The Canadian charter carrier Skyservice Airlines abruptly shut down yesterday and went into bankruptcy receivership. The shut-down left about 3,000 customers stranded in the Caribbean and Mexico, though arrangements are being made with other charter operators to get them home.

Skyservice was forced into receivership yesterday owing $8.8 million to its partner Sunquest Vacations. Here's a bulletin from Sunquest to its customers who have booked on Skyservice.

By the way, Skyservice Business Aviation, which operates private jet charters, says it is not affiliated with Skyservice Airlines. Skyservice Business Aviation says it continues to operate normally.