Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Lost Weekend

A British oil-futures trader, drinking heavily all night during a weekend binge, made $520 million in wild trades for his firm during an all-night session last June and singlehandedly drove up the world price of oil to an eight-month high. The trader, who was fired, said he doesn't remember slipping into his office after a drink-fueled golf weekend and trading, as it were, in the dark.

For two years now, the airline industry -- especially the Air Transport Association -- has been insisting that speculation in the oil market has sent prices on crazy spins -- and I think this guy is probably a smoking gun.

Here is a compelling lede in the New York Times online today:

"LONDON — Alcohol-induced behavior has produced many unintended consequences, but pushing up the global price of oil and losing $10 million must rank among the most novel."


As Big Holiday Approaches, Here Are the States Most (and Least) Likely To Hand Out Speeding Tickets

July 4 is a big driving holiday. The AAA, which gets copious and credulous publicity for its holiday travel predictions (how do they come up with these things, and does anybody ever check back to see if they were accurate?), predicts that holiday travel will be up 17 percent this July 4 weekend.

Meanwhile, a group that works to give motorists heads-up on tyrannical state law-enforcement fundraising tricks, like speed traps and those vile speed-surveillance cameras, has issued its survey of the states most and least likely to nail drivers for speeding.

This issue always draws letters-to-the-editor from the invincibly pious, who seem to believe that going a little bit over a posted speed limit is a reckless act, rather than a sensible response to road conditions that nearly every good driver takes. In general, endless studies have shown, highway traffic moves at a general consensus of what is a safe speed. The idiots are the obvious exception, but traffic cameras and speed traps tyrannize the rest of us.

Red-light intersection cameras demonstrably add to rear-end collision rates. And in state after state, it's been shown that speed traps and highway speed cameras don't affect safety -- and, in fact, those hidden speed cameras don't even have that much effect on revenue-generation, except for the profits of politically connected companies that manufacture and get the state contracts to install these hideous devices. (Arizona, bless its Wild West soul, recently dumped the company that was operating its despised speed cameras.)

Anyway, the National Motorists Association works against speed traps and other highway tricks that generate fines from what it calls "undeserved traffic tickets." The group issued a list of the best and worst states in terms of shotgunning speeding tickets to motorists.

The group says that getting precise numbers of tickets issued in each state is difficult because "most localities -- especially ticket-happy speed-trap towns -- are reluctant to publicize their ticketing prowess, and states typically don't have an agency responsible for gathering and summarizing ticket data from the
various jurisdictions."

The statement from the group says:

"Luckily, the National Motorists Association ( -- a motorists' rights group that has been helping drivers fight their traffic tickets (link is here) for over 25 years -- has come up with a way to give 4th of July travelers some insight on which states are most likely to ticket drivers.

"The rankings below were generated by analyzing ticket-related search queries such as "speeding ticket" and "traffic tickets" over time using Google's Search Insights -- a public tool that shows state-by-state search trends across the United States."

Here are the 10 states (and District) most likely to ticket motorists:

1) Florida
2 (tie) Georgia
2 (tie) Nevada
4) Texas
5) Alabama
6) Missouri
7) New York
8) North Carolina
9) District of Columbia
10) New Jersey

And here are the 10 states least likely to ticket motorists:

51) Montana
50) Wyoming
49) North Dakota
48) South Dakota
47) Alaska
46) Maine
45) West Virginia
44) Idaho
43) Nebraska
42) New Mexico

The group says, "Obviously, these rankings aren't perfect (search queries can be
impacted by a number of different factors), but the National Motorists Association has found that the list matches up well with their day-to-day experiences helping motorists fight traffic tickets.

The full list of state rankings and further information on how they were calculated can be found at


Gulf Spill: Stormy Weather

The usual suspects have been issuing assurances that the hurricane now brewing in the Gulf of Mexico won't exacerbate the oil-gusher disaster. The usual suspects claim that heavy seas will merely rough that bad old oil up real good, causing it to be absorbed.

Here's an Associated Press photo of some storm-tossed waves hitting shore, and it appears -- dang it: eureka! -- that oil and water do not mix.



Monday, June 28, 2010

A Bill to Combat the Foreign Threat to Free Speech in the U.S.

Rachel Ehrenfeld, the New York author and scholar who has been battling the threat posed by libel suits filed in foreign countries over speech in the U.S. that would be fully protected by the First Amendment, has a new and important article out today on the issue.

Federal legislation to prohibit foreign entities from enforcing these absurd libel judgments in the U.S. against American citizens is currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has widespread support. The Senate and especially the Judiciary Committee are busy places these days, but First Amendment experts are hopeful that the bill will soon be voted out of committee and will pass as law.

Here's a statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, describing that proposed legislation, which was introduced by Leahy and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

As Leahy's statement says, the bill "prevents a U.S. federal court from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the First Amendment. [to] ensure that our courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that undermine our First Amendment or due process rights."

Leahy added, "Over the past several years, the problem of libel tourism has grown. Today, countries whose weak libel laws impact American authors are no longer confined to a small number. England, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore are just a few of the countries whose weak libel protections have attracted libel lawsuits against American journalists and authors. This threat to American free speech must end, and the time to act is now.

"New accounts of libel tourism lawsuits emerge every day. This is because the dissemination of materials through the Internet, as well as the increased number of worldwide newspapers and periodicals, has compounded their threat. The likelihood that a book or story will have some contact with a foreign country is simply that much higher, as is the probability that a foreign court will determine that it has a basis for asserting jurisdiction over an American author or publisher. As we heard at a recent Judiciary Committee hearing, this has a dramatic chilling effect on Americans’ free speech."

And Sessions said, "this bill is a needed first step to ensure that weak free-speech protections and abusive legal practices in foreign countries do not prevent Americans from fully exercising their constitutional right to speak and debate freely."

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Joe Lieberman (DI-Conn.).

This foreign threat is not just to authors and journalists who (like me) have written things in the U.S. that a foreign government would like to suppress or punish American citizens for. It also affects academics, researchers, travel reviewers, speakers and users of social network sites in the U.S.

If somebody in another country doesn't like what you say in the U.S., they can sue you in that country and try to enforce the judgment in the U.S. This kind of action has become much more prevalent in recent years, as the Internet provides wide (and perpetual) dissemination of speech made in the U.S.

(In my own case, a lawsuit in Brazil claims that I somehow defamed the entire nation of Brazil in my reporting and commentary on Brazilian authorities coverup of, and scapegoating two American pilots for, a horrific 2006 mid-air collision at 37,000 feet over the Amazon. I was one of the seven survivors on an American business jet that was involved in the collision, in which all 154 on a Brazilian 737 airliner were killed. My reporting on the case has always been accurate, and the Brazilian lawsuit makes false and absurd claims that I insulted the nation by describing Brazil as the "idiot of all idiots" -- which I never said or wrote but which, even if I had, would not constitute libel in any court in the U.S.)

These kinds of lawsuits, over speech in the U.S. that would not ever be considered libel under U.S. law, pose the most direct, dire threat to free speech in my lifetime.

The federal government needs to act, as some individual states already have, to prevent this outrage. The states that have so far passed their own laws to prevent enforcement of spurious foreign libel judgments are New York, Illinois, Florida, California, Utah, Tennessee, and Maryland. A similar law passed the Arizona state Senate 30-0 in the winter, but has been unaccountably sidetracked in the state House since then.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gulf Coast Beaches Fouled By Oil (Continued)

A few days ago, I wrote about beautiful Pensacola Beach as I remember it from being stationed in Pensacola a long time ago, and as it is today, a fine summer's day ...

Via the Pensacola News-Journal, which has been doing first-rate work on this story, Here's a link to video shot by a Sheriff's Department crew. It's just sad.


Friday, June 25, 2010

After 17 Months Without One, the TSA Finally Has a Director

The Senate confirmed John Pistole today as the new director of the TSA, which has been floundering without a permanent director since George Bush left office.

Here's a news story that, alas, falls into the trap of regurgitating the Accepted Narrative on the mess of naming a new TSA head. That is, the first of two previous unsuccessful nominees by President Obama, Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and a well-respected law enforcement intelligence official, was scuttled because of some irregularities in the way he described doing a background check on a boyfriend of his ex-wife's. In fact, Southers' nomination really failed because South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint put a personal hold on it -- because DeMint considered Southers to be insufficiently opposed to unions.

Here's the White House announcement on John Pistole when the nomination was made last month

Meanwhile, there are calls for Pistole to move expeditiously to address longstanding problems at the TSA. Rep. John L. Mica, the ranking Republican member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that Pistole needed to get the "the bloated bureaucracy" at the "rudderless agency" back on track.

"It is difficult enough to get things done in a federal agency when someone is in charge, but it is nearly impossible in a headless bureaucracy of 60,000," Mica said, adding:

"Mr. Pistole will take over a top-heavy TSA, with more than 7,000 supervisors in the field and 3,526 staff at headquarters where the average salary tops $106,000."

He added, "TSA’s performance must be improved. Recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports highlight just the latest examples of the agency’s failures. In May, GAO found that TSA completely bungled the development and deployment of a behavior-detection program for the nation’s airports. GAO’s most recent report outlines TSA’s poor performance in all modes of transportation.

"Earlier airport screening penetration tests have repeatedly demonstrated TSA’s failure to detect threats to our aviation system. Unfortunately, penetration testing continues to show that even with new screening technology and the behavior detection program, the aviation screening system is not working."

He urged Pistole to "promptly begin a reevaluation and reorganization of this unwieldy and poorly performing bureaucracy."


American Offers 3x Elite Qualifying Miles on 2 Top Business Routes

[Above: Greetings from the Weimar Republic, 1923]

In an antique shop, I once bought a postcard featuring a pastoral scene in Bavaria that had been mailed in Germany in 1923, and which was affixed with 500-mark stamps, front and back, that totaled over 10 billion Reischmarks.

That was hyper-inflation. I was looking at that now-framed postcard this morning and considering the 13 trillion frequent-flier miles that are now reposing in airline customers' accounts, when here comes a statement from American Airlines saying that it is offering triple miles -- including the much-valued elite-status-qualifying miles -- on American or American Eagle flights between LaGuardia and O'Hare, or between LaGuardia and Boston Logan.

Here is American's press release today.

More details are at

Said Rob Friedman, president of American's AAdvantage marketing, "We're happy to offer our loyal customers the opportunity to build their mileage balance and to reach elite status at an accelerated rate."

Tickets need to be booked between June 14 and Aug. 31 and you need to register first at using promotion code NYTPL. Travel must be completed by Aug. 31.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

How Airlines View 'Courtesy' to Elite Members

Yo, to evoke my native Philadelphia patois, notify this, Continental.

Listen to how an airline feels free in addressing its most elite-status customers. Have a look at the snotty, officious tone of this note from Continental that elite-status fliers see when they sign in. It says it all about how airlines feel toward their customers, even the most loyal ones. Sounds like a martial law directive or an eviction notice. I highlighted some particularly snotty sections. This is what happens when you let the house lawyers address your customers directly. Better you should keep the house lawyers locked in the basement, without Internet access.

"Program Changes
Continental Airlines and all OnePass partners reserve the right to change any aspect of the OnePass program at any time within 30 days notice to active members. This right includes, but is not limited to, changes in partner affiliation, rules for earning mileage credit, rules on earning Elite status, Elite benefits and mileage redemption levels. However, rules for use of travel rewards, cities served, flight schedules, limited seating or space availability, restricted travel dates and specific features of promotional offers are subject to change with or without notice at the discretion of Continental Airlines or the OnePass partner. Continental Airlines is not responsible for unilateral actions taken by OnePass partners.

Official up-to-date information concerning the OnePass program is available throughout the Frequent Flyer section of Information about the OnePass program published through is the final authority with respect to the terms and conditions of membership in OnePass and supercedes any conflicting information contained in any previously published communications.

Continental Airlines reserves the right to discontinue the OnePass program with six months notice to members. This means that, regardless of your level of participation in the program, your right to accumulate mileage and claim rewards will be terminated six months after we give you notice.

Account Privacy
OnePass account information is proprietary to Continental Airlines. As a condition of OnePass membership, you consent and give permission for Continental to collect, use and transfer the personal data provided by you to Continental offices in the United States and around the world so that Continental may furnish you with our products and services.

At Continental's discretion, information regarding your OnePass account may be supplied to OnePass partners for promotions and also to certain government agencies for security reasons. If you choose to 'opt out' of Continental Airlines' promotions or our OnePass partners' promotions or have any changes made to your personal data, please visit My Account or contact your local OnePass Service Center. You may also access Continental's complete privacy policy.

You are authorized to access OnePass account information solely to obtain information regarding your OnePass account and for no other purpose. You may not delegate or grant any power of attorney or other authorization regarding any such access. Any other use of OnePass account information is strictly prohibited. You may reproduce information regarding your own account for personal use and, in consideration of this authorization, you agree that any copy of such information shall retain all copyright and other proprietary notices contained therein. Redistribution in any way requires the express written consent of Continental Airlines."


Inevitably and Horribly, Oil Is Now Fouling Gulf Coast Beaches

[Top: Oil fouls Pensacola Beach {Pensacola News-Journal}. Middle: Fish in oily waves off Alabama. {Mobile Press-Register}. Bottom: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour]

Some of the finest days of my youth were spent many years ago, when I was stationed for 18 months in Pensacola, Fla.

A friend and I rented a house on Pensacola Beach, back before it was discovered for Spring Break and other crowded diversions. It was quiet (well, till Saturday night) and so beautiful in the morning and at night that I can still see it and hear it and smell it.

Once in a while, for a change of pace (and for more excitement), we'd make the drive west to Biloxi, Miss., where the beach was also magnificent. This, too, was in the days before Biloxi got discovered.

These beautiful Gulf coast beaches are now, as we knew they would, being fouled by nasty oil from the BP-Deepwater Horizon disaster. Here's a report from the Pensacola News-Journal. and a sorrowful feature story that accompanies it. Here's one from the Biloxi Sun-Herald which states that "Mississippi's lucky streak appears to be ending." You can say that again, Skippy.

A week ago, Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi (and who remains deep deep in the pocket of the oil industry), ridiculed those who expressed concern about what he dismissed as "a few little tarballs."

Still laughing, Haley?

[UPDATE: For reasons utterly baffling to me, the national media continue to give credence to the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal commander in charge of the Gulf disaster operations, Admiral "Ribbons" Allen, who has been noticeably tight with BP.

Coast Guard press conferences with Admiral Ribbons in his gold braids and stars and splendid ribbons are one thing.

But to get a little feel for how this is actually playing out on the local level, where the press conferences don't mean diddly, look at this notice and update from the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. A Chamber of Commerce, of course, is not usually the place to be putting out dire news like this.]

And I just saw a news story saying that some people on Pensacola Beach have been throwing tar balls at BP clean-up crews, even though most of the workers are local hires.

The gods of journalism will judge the coverage of this story. It won't be pretty.

[UPDATE, June 25 -- I should add that the Pensacola chamber of commerce is doing a terrific job providing reliable, honest information, including to people who are inclined to visit Pensacola and deciding not to because of the oil. Also, the Pensacola News-Journal newspaper has been excellent. Here's a story from today saying that, while the beach looks like it was cleaned up fully Wednesday overnight, the oil yesterday was sill just an inch or two down in the sand.]


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Spirit Airlines: How Oily Can You Get?

Yup, that's the new ad campaign by Spirit Airlines, super-low-fare and super- low-class carrier. The ad features many beach places that Spirit flies to, including the Caribbean and the execrable Atlantic City, N.J.

(Not only is the ad a disgusting exploitation of the Gulf disaster, the word "beach" is also a repugnant sexist pun in the context used by Spirit).

Now, given the immediately bad reaction, Spirit is all, like, "It is unfortunate that some have misunderstood our intention with today’s beach promotion."

In a statement issued to try to counter the immediate revulsion the ad campaign generated, the airline adds, "We are merely addressing the false perception that we have oil on our beaches, and we are encouraging customers to support Florida and our other beach destinations by continuing to travel to these vacation hot spots."



As Fares Rise Sharply, Airline Revenues Are Booming

Anyone who has flown lately on relatively short notice has seen it: Fares are up significantly on most routes.

With demand up, supply down and oil prices stable, airlines are feeling the benefits, even if passengers paying more to travel in all of those cramped planes are not.

In May, says the Air Transport Association of America, airline revenues (including fares, all of those fees and other factors) rose 21 percent over May of 2009, based on a sampling of carriers. It was the fifth consecutive month of revenue growth, the airline trade group says.

About 2 percent more passengers traveled on U.S. airlines1 in May, while the average price to fly one mile rose 17 percent. Meanwhile, international passenger revenue rose 36 percent, led by a 51 percent gain in trans-Pacific markets.


Heads Up On Travel In Northern Arizona, Including Grand Canyon

Illustrating once again Bill Moyers' axiom that journalists are paid to explain things they don't understand, some news reports this morning say that the big wildfire just north of Flagstaff, Arizona, is blocking the main route to the Grand Canyon from the south.

Actually, the fire -- which has burned 10,000 acres so far near the San Francisco Peaks -- has only shut down a part of Rt. 89, which leads northeast from Flagstaff into the western edge of the vast Navajo reservation. Traffic to the Grand Canyon South Rim -- the main tourist spot -- is moving on Rt. 180. To the northwest.

[UPDATE: Rt. 89 reopened this morning, though that's subject to change.]

Here's the fire as seen by satellite.

Overall, there would be less confusion if the media didn't have such disdain for maps.

Anyway, Rt. 89 is the main road to two popular tourist spots, the Sunset Crater and Wupatki national monument areas.

Both Sunset Crater and Wupatki have been evacuated and are closed.

There are three fires in the Flagstaff area. The main one is called the Schultz fire, and it's burning out of control in the hills just outside Flagstaff along Rt. 89, where lots of development has occurred in recent years.

(But oh, the real-estate lure of those spectacular mountain views of 12,000-foot peaks. Yes, the Southern California mistake has been recreated on a smaller scale in Flagstaff.)

A very wet winter and a hot dry spring were the ideal combination for lots of brush to kindle fires like the Schultz fire, which started in a carelessly left campfire, officials said.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Advice From a Reformed Hotel Housekeeper

Recommended reading in Salon today -- advice from a former hotel housekeeper. I often wondered about using the coffee maker (even as I used it), but whoa ... (Not for the easily-queasied).


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Talk of 'Re-Regulating' Airline Industry

In the House of Representatives, there's been talk this week about re-regulating the airline industry if, as expected, the Justice Department ok's the merger of United and Continental airlines.

At a House hearing yesterday, James Oberstar, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Jerry Costello, chairman of the aviation subcommittee, broached the subject of some form of federal re-regulation.

There will be a lot of talk about this in coming months. One thing to keep solidly in mind, as air travelers: When the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, fares dropped sharply as new competition poured in.

Under regulation, airfares and routes were generally set and apportioned by the government among a small number of big carriers. After re-regulation came the free-for-all that we still see today.

Before de-regulation, airlines could make a (guaranteed) profit even running planes at 60 percent full. Air travel was profitable and way more pleasant -- for the airlines and for those fliers who could afford it.

So the airline industry, while it usually screams bloody murder about any federal intervention, is not uniformly opposed to some kinds of re-regulation.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spirit Airlines, Pilots Agree On Contract

Spirit Airlines will resume its usual terrible service on Friday after canceling all flights since last Saturday.

Spirit and its striking pilots have agreed on a contract.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Spirit Airlines Now Shut Through Thursday

Now Spirit Airlines has canceled flights through Thursday. The airline has stranded passengers since Saturday, when its pilots went on strike. The cancellations have been announced day by day, giving disgracefully short notice to passengers.

I don't want to sound like the Spirit Airlines blog here. The airline carries only about 16,500 passengers a day -- but Spirit is known for its very low fares, and has an avid following, especially to and from Fort Lauderdale, where it is the main carrier.

Again my advice: Do not call Spirit's 800 number for remediation. You'll be on hold till Labor Day. Instead, assuming you bought your ticket with a credit card, call your credit card company and ask for a refund because of service not delivered.

UPDATE: Thanks to Joe Brancatelli for the heads-up on the following. Spirit later today changed the notice on its Web site to say, essentially, if you choose a refund rather than a "future flight credit," you won't get that extra $100 voucher that Spirit has been touting all week. (Even though people can't get through on the Spirit phone anyway)

Here's Spirit's new policy, which could have been written by P.T. Barnum at his worst:

"If you are scheduled to fly Spirit on Saturday, June 12 – Thursday, June 17, 2010, we will process a future flight credit for the full amount of the unflown portion of your reservation plus an additional $100 future flight credit to thank you for your continued support.

Or, if you would prefer to receive a full refund for the unflown portion of your reservation instead, please call 1 (800) 772-7117 and one of our Customer Service Representatives will assist you. (Customers who prefer to receive a refund instead of a future flight credit will not receive the additional $100 future flight credit.)"


Patrick Smith, an international airline pilot who is a well-read and well-informed blogger and columnist for Salon, recently wrote this in his blog about Spirit and its pilots strike:

"Spirit is a larger carrier than you probably realize, operating a fleet of 30 Airbus A320-series planes from bases in Detroit and Fort Lauderdale throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. The strike is stranding some 17,000 travelers daily.

"Spirit bills itself not merely as a low-cost carrier, but an ultra-low-cost carrier. ... it was Spirit that touched off controversy back in April by announcing it would begin charging passengers not only for checked luggage, but carry-on bags as well. ... [As to striking pilots], a 10th-year first officer at Spirit earns as little as $65,000 annually."


Monday, June 14, 2010

That's the Spirit (Continued)

If you're one of the unlucky thousands stranded since Saturday by Spirit Airlines, which has canceled all flights through at least Wednesday because of a pilots' strike, please note that the current language on the Spirit Web site no longer mentions refunds. It says:

"If you are scheduled to fly Spirit on Saturday, June 12 – Wednesday, June 16, 2010, we would like to offer you a flight credit for the full amount of the unflown portion of your trip that is valid for one year from the original booking date. Spirit will also provide you a $100 voucher for future travel for your inconvenience and to thank you for your continued support."

Yessir, they sure would like to to offer you that flight credit for what you paid, valid for a year. This means, you see, that they get to keep your money.

Instead, get a refund. It's futile to call the Spirit 800 number to demand a refund, not a "flight credit." That's because the hold time is four hours plus.

But take my advice if you're stuck with a Spirit ticket, assuming you bought it with a credit card. Call your credit card company and ask them to refund your money based on the fact that the service was not provided by Spirit.

And never buy an airline ticket with a debit card, which doesn't have the same refund provisions that a credit card must by law have.


Spirit Airlines Cancels Wednesday Flights Too

Spirit Airlines has now canceled its flights through Wednesday, which will bring to five the number of days Spirit has scrubbed its schedule and stranded its 16,500 daily passengers since the airline's pilots went on strike Saturday morning.

Spirit continues to tell customers to call its customer service line for refunds or re-bookings, promising a $100 voucher as well. But people are spending hours on hold at the Spirit line, usually before giving up in disgust.

My strong advice continues to be: If you have a ticket on a canceled Spirit flight, call your credit card company for a refund for service not provided and forget about that $100 voucher of dubious value. (If you bought your ticket with a debit card, you're not covered by the fair-credit law, incidentally, so you're as much at Spirit's mercy as someone who paid cash.)

And my advice is, do not book on Spirit -- at least so long as this situation is unresolved. The airline has been giving very short notice on flight cancellations and, if and when it does return to its regular service, there will be a very large backlog of stranded customers to accommodate.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

That's the Spirit

Spirit Airlines, as reported here in an update earlier today, has canceled all of its flights through Tuesday because of a strike by pilots.

What are your options if you are stranded by Spirit? Not just in Fort Lauderdale but in other places Spirit flies to, like Cozumel, Jaco, Lima, Costa Rica ...

Well, if you are stranded, you're faced with booking alternate flights on another carrier, and probably paying full-fare walk-up coach.

Meanwhile, Spirit claims it will refund your money. All you have to do is call. Hah! I did call several times, and the telephone hold is endless. ("Extremely high call volume," it says). People are reporting waiting up toi four hours before giving on on calling Spirit.

In the phone announcement, Spirit actually has the nerve to suggest that you call your travel-insurance company, if you bought travel insurance. Sort of like calling the fire department when your house is afire and being advised to contact your State Farm agent.

From Spirit's Web site:

"If you would prefer to receive a full refund, please call 1 (800) 772-7117 and one of our Customer Service Representatives will assist you.

"Customers who made their reservation prior to May 11, 2010 directly with Spirit and purchased travel insurance should call Travel Guard at 866-877-3191 if their flight has been canceled."

"Spirit is the official airline of P.T. Barnum," says Joe Brancatelli, of the Web site

My advice, assuming you paid for your Spirit ticket with a credit card (and not, God forbid, with a debit card): Ignore Spirit and call your credit card company immediately for a full refund for service not delivered. And forget about that $100 "voucher" for future travel that Spirit offers, if you simply work through them on your canceled ticket.

And please, ignore lazy, asinine newspaper advice like this. It simply regurgitates a Spirit Airlines press release.

By the way, both Joe Brancatelli and I marveled at the media gullibility that Spirit benefited from in the walk-up to this strike, when the news media blithely reported that Spirit would continue flying, pilots strike or not. Here's an example.
. And here's another.

Spirit Airlines Cancels All Flights Through Tuesday

That mess at Spirit Airlines is getting worse. Spirit just announced that it has canceled all of its flights through Tuesday.

Here's the notice on the Spirit Web site as of noon EDT:

"UPDATE as of 6/13/10 at 12:00 pm EST:
--As a result of the pilots’ decision to strike, Spirit Airlines flights are canceled for Saturday, June 12 – Tuesday, June 15, 2010."

UPDATE 11 a.m. PDT: Here's the expanded Spirit notice today.

The biggest effect of the strike is at Spirit's hub in Fort Lauderdale, which has been chaotic all weekend as stranded passengers try to make alternate arrangements. As of 9:40 a.m. Pacific time (where I am) or 12:40 p.m. EDT, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper weirdly hadn't picked up the fact yet that flights are now canceled through Tuesday (hey, you expect a local newspaper to be working on a Sunday?) But here's their report on the way the first two days of the strike looked.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Spirit Airlines Cancels Flights As Pilots Strike

Spirit Airlines, known for cheap fares and bad service, canceled its flights today and Sunday after pilots struck this morning.

Here's the Spirit notice to customers. Spirit later updated its notice to say that Sunday's flights also are canceled.

Here's the article on the strike.


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Talk of Berlin Air Show: Emirates Orders Another 32 A380s

[Above: The bathroom in the first-class cabin of the Emirates A380 fleet. Yes, that is a shower, and each first-class cabin has two such bathrooms.]

As a further example of the rebound in international travel, Emirates created a great big stir today at the Berlin Air Show by announcing that it has ordered an additional 32 Airbus A380 super-jumbo planes, valued at $11.5 billion.

Emirates is already by far the biggest customer for the double-decker A380. The new order will bring to 90 the number of orders Emirates has for the Airbus airliner. Here's a link to the Emirates site describing its A380 service.

The deal for the new A380s was signed today by Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum and Tom Enders, the Airbus CEO.

I've flown A380s on several occasions (though not Emirates), and I like these planes very much. For one thing, they're exceptionally quiet, with engine noise barely noticeable at cruise speed in the cabin. For another, they're spacious and comfortable -- if they're configured, as all have been so far, at 500 to 550 seats in three cabins. The A380 is rated for nearly 900 passengers in a one-cabin configuration, but so far no one has done that or said they would.

In addition to the orders placed today, Emirates has 48 Airbus 380s (9 of them have been delivered and are flying and the 10th is being delivered this week); 70 Airbus 350s; 18 Boeing 777-300s and 7 Boeing air freighters on order totaling 143 wide-body aircraft worth more than $48 billion. In a tough economic year for the airline industry, Emirates recently reported its 22nd year of profit, up 416 percent to $964 million over its 2008-09 profit of $187 million.

With the new Emirates deal, Airbus now has 234 firm orders for the A380 (30 have been delivered) and a total of 17 customers.


Monday, June 07, 2010

British Airways: Flight Attendants' Strike a Failure

The British Airways' chief executive, Willie Walsh, calls the strike action by flight attendants a failure, despite the threat by the cabin crew union to cripple the airline.

The union, Unite, "failed to ground British Airways, and we are continuing to fly and we are continuing to work," Walsh says. Here's a report.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Delta Eliminates Fees for Redeeming Miles

Delta Air Lines says it's eliminating award ticket redemption fees for SkyMiles frequent flier members of up to $150 for award tickets redeemed within 20 days of departure.

Before this change, the fee to book an award ticket for travel within three days was $150 per ticket; for travel within four to seven days the fee was $100; and for travel within eight to 20 days the fee was $75. Award tickets booked 21 days or more before departure continue to have no redemption fee.

The move comes amid growing concern in the airline industry, and in the banking industry, about what I believe is a frequent-flier bubble that will inevitably burst as public faith in frequent-flier programs dissipates. The banking industry has paid literally billions to airlines to purchase miles that are then used as inducements for credit card marketing, creating a monster supply of miles as airlines cut back on the number of seats available for award travel. Way too many miles are chasing way too few seats.

Said Jeff Robertson, Delta's vice president for SkyMiles, "We are actively listening to customers' concerns about the SkyMiles program and are responding."


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

DOT Proposes Cracking Down Even Harder on Airlines, Wants Curtailing of Some Ticket-Change Penalties and Other Consumer Protections

The Department of Transportation is proposing to crack down even harder on airlines, now that its policy providing fines of up to $27,500 per passenger for most tarmac strandings over three hours is in effect.

The biggest kicker in the proposal, it seems to me, would affect airlines' lucrative revenues in collecting penalty fees for making changes on so-called nonrefundable tickets. Holy (cash) cow! The agency wants to require airlines to allow you to change a nonrefundable ticket within 24 hours after purchase without penalty. Right now, most airlines charge you a fee of $100 to $150 for making any change -- and then you're also subject to whatever new fare prevails when you make that change.

Today’s proposed rule also would expand the requirement for having contingency plans to include foreign airlines’ operations at U.S. airports, and would require carriers to adopt contingency plans for small- and non-hub airports. That rule extension would impact about 300 additional airports, said the Airports Council International- North America, the domestic airport trade group, which supports the DOT proposals. (See below)

Here's the full DOT announcement:


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today proposed new consumer protections for air travelers, building on the Department of Transportation’s recent rule banning carriers from subjecting passengers to long tarmac delays and other deceptive practices.

Specifically, the new proposed rule would:

--Increase compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped from flights

--Allow passengers to make and cancel reservations within 24 hours without penalty

--Require full and prominently displayed disclosure of baggage fees as well as refunds and expense reimbursement when bags are not delivered on time

--Require fair price advertising

--Prohibit price increases after a ticket is purchased. [My note: That's the proposal for allowing ticket changes without penalty for 24 hours after purchase.]

--Mandate timely notice of flight status changes

"Airline passengers have rights and should be able to expect fair and reasonable treatment when they fly," LaHood said. "With this rulemaking, we’re proposing to strengthen the consumer protections enacted last month and raise the bar for airlines when it comes to treating passengers fairly."

The rule published last December, which adopted a three-hour limit for airline tarmac delays for domestic flights, also required U.S. carriers to adopt contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays at large-hub and medium-hub airports and to publish those plans on their websites. Today’s proposed rule would expand the requirement for having contingency plans to include foreign airlines’ operations at U.S. airports and would require carriers to adopt contingency plans for small- and non-hub airports.

The rule also would require the reporting of additional tarmac delay data to DOT. The department would collect this data from all U.S. and foreign airlines operating aircraft of 30 or more seats on flights to and from the United States and charter flights. Currently, the department collects this data only for the domestic scheduled flights of the 18 largest U.S. airlines.

The proposed rule also would increase the potential compensation for being involuntarily bumped from oversold flights. Currently, airlines may limit compensation for involuntary bumping on flights to $400 if the carrier arranges substitute transportation scheduled to arrive at the passenger’s destination one to two hours after the passenger’s original scheduled arrival for domestic flights, or one to four hours for international flights, and to $800 if the substitute transportation is scheduled to arrive more than two hours later for domestic flights, or more than four hours later for international flights. The proposed rule would quickly increase these limits to $650 and $1,300, respectively, and thereafter adjust the amounts for inflation every two years.

The department also proposed a number of measures to make it easier for consumers to know how much they will have to pay for air transportation. Carriers would be required to provide special notice any time baggage fees are increased, and to notify passengers buying tickets whether they must pay to check up to two bags. It also asked for comment on several alternatives under consideration to provide greater access to air transportation to persons with severe peanut allergies.

To support President Obama’s open government initiative, the department has partnered with the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative in a pilot project, Regulation Room, designed to improve the public’s ability to understand and participate in this rulemaking through a web-based discussion format. Information on the Regulation Room can be found at ...

Comments on the proposal are due in 60 days. The text of the proposed rule and comments are available on the Internet at, docket DOT-OST-2010-0140.


Here's the DOT summary of the changes.

Here is the Airports Council International North America reaction in support of the new DOT proposal.

And here's a statement from James C. May, the head of the the airline trade group, the Air Transport Association, which says it is evaluating the new proposed rules:

The Air Transport Association of America (ATA), the trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, today issued the following statement regarding the passenger-protection notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) issued by the Department of Transportation:

"The ATA member airlines’ shared goal is to provide a safe, efficient, reliable and economically viable air transportation system consistent with the expectations of their customers, employees and shareholders. Today’s DOT notice of proposed rulemaking will be evaluated against that standard, with a focus on minimizing potential passenger inconvenience," said ATA President and CEO James C. May.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Airlines Keep Cramming Us In As Summer Looms

Airline domestic load factors -- the percentage of seats filled with paying customers -- continue to rise as travel demand rebounds while the industry cuts supply.

Continental, always the first to report its monthly operational performance, says that domestic load factors were 85.4 percent in May, while the number of available domestic seats fell 2.2 percent compared with last May.

All year, airlines have been filling about 85 percent of available domestic seats, which means that on most flights, there isn't a single empty seat. The airlines are absolutely determined to enforce what they call "capacity discipline," which means cutting seats and routes in order to keep the planes full at higher fares.

As I have been reporting for months, summer travel is going to be tough. You can't really fit many more people into the system. Planes are already full, fares are up, schedules have been cut and, as I reported, airlines are planning to preemptively cancel flights if the weather looks bad. As I said, that's to avoid the draconian Transportation Department fines (up to $27,500 per passenger) that can be levied if a plane sits on a tarmac for three or more hours waiting for weather to clear.

Any business traveler following bad advice I've been seeing around lately to book flights far in advance is probably making a mistake, by the way. If you change your plans, you're going to get socked with a $150 penalty, and you making new arrangements won't be easy. My advice: Pick your shots among airlines, wait and angle for short-term fare deals (hey, it could happen here and there), and forget about elite-status miles. The mileage programs, including the elite-status components, are a house of cards teetering on the edge of collapse.

Or drive when you can. Or stay home, which is what I plan to do as much as possible this summer.