Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Accor Hotels Embrace TripAdvisor

Instead of snorting and huffing and threatening to file libel suits, some hotels have wisely accepted the bad with the good on TripAdvisor and are doing the sensible thing: embracing the world's most popular travel-review source. (My post on Sept. 24 discusses the hotels in England that, outraged over negative reviews on TripAdvisor, are threatening to sue. England, as we all know, has more than its share of crappy hotels, especially outside London).

Anyway, now from Tnooz, a travel-tech site by Kevin Mays (the link to which I saw in today's USA Today), news that the hotel chain Accor, which has more than 4,000 properties around the world, is having its hotels embed TripAdvisor rewiews on their individual Web sites. Accor hotels include the Sofitel, Novitel, Ibis and pullman brands, among many others.

"It is difficult to determine how many hotel sites are included in the experiment at the moment, but essentially each individual property will have a module (like some other hotel sites) on the main landing page, inviting visitors to read a stream of the latest reviews (good or bad)," Mays writes. "The reviews are then served in a pop-up, with links to further information and reviews via the main TripAdvisor site."


Monday, September 27, 2010

Continental Introduces For-Sale Menu in Coach

No more free food in coach on Continental, but the airline hopes the new for-sale food will be a lot more popular than those dreaded little cheese pizzas that sat in your stomach like a wet horse-blanket.

Continental says today that its new menu will include freshly prepared hot and cold mealtime selections "similar to those served in casual-dining restaurants," such as Asian noodle salad, grilled chicken spinach salad, cheeseburgers, and a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. Snacksand desserts -- including a cheese & fresh fruit plate, several types of snack boxes, brand-name snacks and chocolate-covered Eli's Cheesecake on a stick -- will also be for sale. Prices will range from $1.50 for Pringles Original Potato Crisps to $8.25 for the grilled chicken spinach salad.

From the Continental press release:

"The new menu is a direct result of feedback from our customers, who told us they wanted more food choices on our flights," said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, Continental's vice president of food services. "With that in mind, Continental researched trends in the restaurant industry and tested and tasted a broad range of possible menu items in order to provide dining options that reflect today's customer preferences."


Southwest-AirTran: This Is a Game-Changer, As They Say

Barely six months of profitability and boom, the game has changed in the domestic airline business with Southwest's announcement today that it will buy AirTran.

I'll spare you the Wall Street equity jive. Suffice to say the deal is worth about $1.4 billion, which isn't real big money in finance these days. Hell, a good investment banker could steal that much before lunchtime today.

On the other hand, airlines are coming out of this summer on a roll, and Southwest is clearly leading the pack. Southwest, having already made things more interesting lately by deciding to enter the Newark/LaGuardia New York market with higher-capacity 737s, has now startled the industry with its plan to buy AirTran, which will give it more presence in key East Coast markets and even further strength in the New York market, adding AirTran's existing operations at LaGuardia to Southwest's recent foray there. It will put Southwest firmly into Atlanta.

A combined Southwest-AirTran will be by far the biggest domestic airline (which Southwest already is) -- and would put Southwest firmly into near-international markets in the Caribbean. It would have about 43,000 employees and serve more than 100 million customers annually from more than 100 different airports in the U.S. and near-international destinations.

Question that needs to be addressed at the Southwest press conference this morning: Will Southwest continue to avoid charging customers for checked bags once it buys AirTran, which of course does charge?

[UPDATE: Yes, no bag fees, Southwest says.]

The combined carriers' all-Boeing fleet will comprise 685 aircraft, including 401 Boeing 737-700s, 173 Boeing 737-300s, 25 Boeing 737-500s, and 86 Boeing 717s, with an average age of approximately 10 years, one of the youngest fleets in the industry.

"AirTran represents a near-perfect fit for Southwest. Including an Atlanta hub. Particularly including the 717 fleet," the airline forecaster Michael Boyd says today on his company's Web site.

Southwest Airlines also announced recently that it is evaluating the opportunity to introduce the higher-capacity (180 passengers) Boeing 737-800 into its domestic network, providing opportunities for longer-haul flying and service to high-demand, slot-controlled, or gate-restricted markets. [Read: New York]. "This acquisition supports Southwest Airlines' evaluation of the Boeing 737-800," said Southwest, whose friendly flight-crew unions have already green-lighted the idea of larger-capacity 737s.

Southwest said that its proposal to buy AirTran has been approved by both companies' boards. Closing will occur after regulatory approval, which is expected.

From the Southwest statement this morning:

"Today is an exciting day for our employees, our customers, the communities we serve, and our shareholders," said Gary C. Kelly, Chairman, President, and CEO of Southwest Airlines. "As we approach our 40th anniversary of providing exceptional customer service at everyday low fares, the acquisition of AirTran represents a unique opportunity to grow Southwest Airlines' presence in key markets we don't yet serve and takes a significant step towards positioning us for future growth.

"This acquisition creates more jobs and career opportunities for our combined employee groups, as a whole. It allows us to better respond to the economic and competitive challenges of our industry, and fits perfectly within our strategy for our fifth decade of service. It offers customers more low-fare destinations as we extend our network and diversify into new markets, including significant opportunities to and from Atlanta, the busiest airport in the U.S. and the largest domestic market we do not serve, as well as Washington, D.C. via Ronald Reagan National Airport. The acquisition also allows us to expand our presence in key markets, like New York LaGuardia, Boston Logan, and Baltimore/Washington. It presents us the opportunity to extend our service to many smaller domestic cities that we don't serve today, and provides access to key near-international leisure markets in the Caribbean and Mexico. Finally, this accelerates our goal to boost profits and achieve our financial targets."

The acquisition will significantly expand Southwest Airlines' low-fare service to many more customers in many more domestic markets, creating hundreds of additional low-fare itineraries for the traveling public. Moreover, the expansion of low fares should generate hundreds of millions in annual savings to consumers.

Based on an economic analysis by Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, Southwest Airlines' more expansive low-fare service at Atlanta, alone, has the potential to stimulate over two million new passengers and over $200 million in consumer savings, annually. These savings would be created from the new low-fare competition that Southwest Airlines would be able to provide as a result of the acquisition, expanding the well-known "Southwest Effect'" of reducing fares and stimulating new passenger traffic wherever it flies. ...

... Until closing, Southwest Airlines and AirTran will continue to operate as independent companies. After closing, Bob Fornaro [the AirTran CEO] will continue to be involved in the integration of the two companies. Southwest Airlines plans to integrate AirTran into the Southwest Airlines Brand by transitioning the AirTran fleet to the Southwest Airlines livery, developing a consistent customer experience, and consolidating corporate functions into its Dallas headquarters. Subject to receipt of necessary approvals, Southwest Airlines' integration plans include transitioning the operations of the two carriers to a single Operating Certificate. Plans for existing AirTran facilities will be developed by integration teams and decisions will be announced at appropriate times. The carriers' frequent-flyer programs will be combined over time as well."


Friday, September 24, 2010

Standup Seats

Lots of reaction to my column in the Times this week about the introduction of so-called stand-up seats being marketed by the Italian airline seat and cabin-fixture maker Aviointeriors.

Just in case you want to see what they look like all in a row. Above.

Proof of my historically proven axiom that all truly bad ideas eventually have their day.


English Hotels Angry Over TripAdvisor Reviews Say They May Sue

A bunch of hotels in England are making nattering noises about suing TripAdvisor for publishing negative user-generated reviews.

That this would happen in England should be no surprise. England has long had a reputation among the first-world nations of being on occasion unfriendly toward the nuances of what we in the United States understand as free speech. In England, if someone's ox gets gored in the media, that someone can run to a friendly court and sue. English libel law has it that a defendant in a libel or defamation suit must prove that the assertions in dispute are true, rather than the aggrieved plaintiff having to prove in court that they are false -- which is the way it works in the U.S.

Legal systems like England's (and English courts tend to be more severely disposed toward libel defendants than those in the rest of the United Kingdom) have long been bothersome to foreigners, like Americans, publishing in England. But the Internet has thrown a new wrench into the process, because it's been established that anything published online, say in the United States, is automatically also published everywhere else in the world, including, say, England.

Now, there are a lot of crappy hotels in England, outside of London. There is a reason that Fawlty Towers still resonates in TV reruns.

TripAdvisor has about a half-million reader-generated reviews of tens of thousands of hotels in the U.S. and around the world, including in England. And some of those reviews are harsh.

The hotel hubbub in England is important because TripAdvisor has become one of the most popular sources among travelers for hotel reviews. Most travelers I know, myself included, routinely check TripAdvisor hotel reviews because we trust them, by and large. If a given hotel has, say 50 reviews (and some have far more, such as the Belagio in Las Vegas, which has over 3,500), it's a quick job to scan them and get a very general idea of what's what.

Sure, you might spot an occasional review obviously written by a wackjob (loons have a notoriously difficult time disguising themselves), but in general, we all know enough to glean the gist off the TripAdvisor review data. We're all smart enough online to spot the occasional glowing review written by the hotelier's mother among the razzes written by customers who have found roaches in the sink and used condoms on the floor.

This kind of unregulated, freewheeling reviewing does not sit well among many people who operate hotels in which guests have had poor (or worse) experiences. So rather than fixing the problems and getting a hotel up to snuff, why not sue TripAdvisor, which is owned by Expedia, for defamation and shut up the critics?

According to the Independent newspaper in London, "more than 400 hotels are considering suing [TripAdvisor] for defamation, claiming the comments are damaging their businesses." In England as in the U.S., TripAdvisor is a hugely popular resource for hotel reviews.

The aggrieved hoteliers "have indicated they may join a `group defamation action' against TripAdvisor, which carries `unbiased' reviews, written by members of the public, of hotels and other businesses," says the Independent, whose reporter was unaccountably allowed to stick those snotty air-quotes around the word "unbiased."

Unless the negative reviews are removed, " proceedings could begin shortly, according to KwikChex, a Bournemouth-based reputation-management firm, which is canvassing support for a case." KwikChex tells the Independent that "many of its clients suspect disobliging reviews are invented or exaggerated, or posted by business rivals using online anonymity to damage successful competitors."


TripAdvisor told the Independent, "We believe our more than 35 million reviews and opinions are authentic and honest from real travelers, which is why we enjoy tremendous user loyalty and growth. If the reviews people read didn't paint an accurate picture, users would not keep coming back. Our advice when reading through the reviews of a property is to throw out the anomalies that appear overly critical or overly complimentary. What is left is the collective wisdom of the community."

Certainly abuses can occur in the melee that is crowd-sourcing of travel reviews. But the popularity of sites like TripAdvisor is a very definitive statement from travelers that they no longer particularly value, or trust, travel guidebooks -- which are often out of date before they're printed, and reflect only a very small body of opinion, even if that opinion is honest. (Which it sometimes is not.)

Earlier this year, I wrote about one of TripAdvisor's occasional publicity stunts, in this case the annual "Dirtiest Hotels" list. Some of the nastiest reviews of some hotels (from all over the world) included these harsh comments:

--"Cradle of filth: The worst, worst, worst hotel in the world!"

--"Slept in my clothes!"

--"Made me think of my own grave."

That list, which got tons of merry publicity in the media, did not go down well in Britain. Even back then the Independent was fretting, and reported that hotels in Europe wanted to persuade the European Union Commission to "overhaul the rules governing Web site reviews to ensure that they have been posted by genuine guests and not by rivals or people simply out to cause mischief."

Causing mischief will not do, of course.

The grief in England was not mitigated by the fact that TripAdvisor list also named some hotels in the United States. Sample comment: "Sleep in your car, not here!")

TripAdvisor's CEO, Stephen Kaufer, told me then that TripAdvisor goes to some trouble to weed out obvious ringers, not just among bad reviews but also among good ones. TripAdvisor, like most publishers in the U.S., operates under the solid assumption that the U.S. First Amendment's protections of free speech apply to online reviews. Hotels in the U.S. generally welcome robust reviewing, and take the bad with the good.

"In pretty much every country I can be sued for any reason, or no reason," he said in February. He added:

"We feel like we are regurgitating the truth as our travelers tell it. Please believe me, we are careful about the [dirtiest hotel] list so a hotel isn’t named just because there are four bad reviews. We dealing with someone’s reputation. It’s the ones that are consistently bad -- and I challenge any curious individual to check out one of these places and see whether they deserve to be on the list."

Is the list "lawyered?" I asked, meaning, was it given a legal review for potential libel? No, he said. The list is compiled under U.S. standards of free speech, including standards of what constitutes fair opinion. "If someone wants to challenge us, so be it," he said.

We'll see if the aggrieved English hoteliers are serious about suing.

One thing has changed in the equation. Last month, a new federal law went into effect in the U.S. that protects Americans from being subject to foreign libel and defamation judgments for speech made in the U.S. and fully protected by the First Amendment. That law, which passed unanimously in both houses of Congress before it was signed by President Obama, was largely driven by growing concerns about freewheeling libel abuses in England, where American authors, journalists and even scientists have been successfully sued in cases that would not stand up in a U.S. court. And in England, lawyers who make a living filing libel and defamation suits against Americans are still harrumphing about it.

[Disclosure: Having been sued for libel in Brazil on spurious charges of defaming the entire nation of Brazil by my accurate reporting and blogging in the U.S. after the horrific 2006 mid-air Amazon collision, I was among those who worked to support passage of this law. The main impetus, though, was the case of Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York scholar who lost a libel case in the notorious English High Court to a Saudi billionaire whose role in financially supporting terrorism she briefly, and accurately, described in her U.S.-published book, "Funding Evil."]


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

JetBlue Opts For Satellite-Based In-Flight WiFi in Deal With ViaSat

JetBlue said today it plans to install a new in-flight WiFi system on its fleet of 160 planes, using ViaSat's high-capacity satellite technology.

The proposed deal with ViaStat should be finalized by year's end, JetBlue said. ViaStat will then become the third player with deals in the domestic in-flight WiFi market, after Aircell, which has installed its land-based Gogo broadband service on more than 1,000 domestic airplanes, and Row 44, which is under contract to install its satellite-based system in Southwest Airlines' fleet.

The JetBlue press release/announcement quotes Dave Barger, the JetBlue CEO:

"In just the three years since we launched BetaBlue, the first commercial aircraft with simple messaging capability, technology has advanced by generations. Rather than invest in current technology, designed to transmit broadcast video and audio, we elected to partner with ViaSat to create broadband functionality worthy of today's interactive personal technology needs."

ViaStat will provide in-flight broadband access and other services for customers on JetBlue's fleet of more than 160 aircraft, using ViaSat advanced Ka-band satellites. ViaSat will provide Ka-band antenna components and SurfBeam(R)2 modems for installation on the airline's EMBRAER E190 and Airbus A320 aircraft types along with two-way transmission bandwidth services using the WildBlue-1 and high-capacity ViaSat-1 satellites. JetBlue subsidiary, LiveTV LLC, will manage the integration of the ViaSat broadband and related components onboard the aircraft as well as providing the Wi-Fi enabled services into the overall cabin experience.

LiveTV, a wholly owned subsidiary of JetBlue, will install and lead the certification process of the new system. Because the product will be the first of its kind for commercial aviation, the system must be tested, and certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration, before fleet-wide installation. JetBlue and ViaSat expect the first installations to occur by mid-2012.

ViaSat and LiveTV also plan to partner to bring the same advance Ka-band satellite broadband services to the airline industry, including to LiveTV's existing customer base of airlines.

"Combining LiveTV's expertise in entertainment and content management with ViaSat's satellite technology means we can create products and services for airline customers that are unparalleled in the industry today," said Glenn Latta, LiveTV's President.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Airlines' Bag-Fee Revenue Soared Again in 2Q

[UPDATED: With ATA report on 17 pct revenue growth, fare increases, in August]

Airlines made $892.8 million on charging for checked bags in the second quarter of this year. That's a 33.3 percent jump from the second quarter of last year, says the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

[And remember, the largest domestic carrier, Southwest, does not charge for checked bags, making the take of the others even more noteworthy.]

Airlines took in $594 million in penalty fees in the second quarter from customers who changed itineraries, the BTS said. That's down 2.1 percent from the 2009 second quarter -- though the two biggest network carriers, Delta and American, had gains of 80.5 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively, in that fee category.

Overall, so-called ancillary revenue, which includes bag and change-penalty fees as well as other sources such as the sale of frequent flier miles tocredit cards (but excludes revenue from things like in-flight food and drink), rose 15.8 percent to $2.1 billion in the second quarter, BTS said.

By all measures, airlines are now in the black, as positive financial trends continue.

According to the BTS second-quarter report, meanwhile, the network airlines' profit margin in the second quarter of 2010 (9 percent higher) was the largest since the second quarter of 2007, while the combined profit margin for the network, low-cost and regional carriers was the highest since the BTS began issuing quarterly airline financial numbers in 2002, the agency said today.

And more up to date, the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, today reported that passenger revenue, based on a sample group of carriers, rose 17 percent in August compared to the same month in 2009, marking the eighth consecutive month of revenue growth. The pace of improvement slowed from the 25 percent and 20 percent year-over-year gains realized in June and July, respectively.

About one percent more passengers traveled on a sample of U.S. airlines in August while the average price to fly one mile rose 14 percent. International passenger revenue rose 27 percent, led by a 44 percent gain in trans-Pacific markets.

"Spending on air travel remains well above last year’s depressed levels, but the industry is wary of a possible slowdown in the nation’s economic recovery as it enters the traditionally slower fall period," said ATA President and CEO James C. May.

According to the BTS second-quarter report, meanwhile, the network airlines' profit margin in the second quarter of 2010 (9 percent higher) was the largest since the second quarter of 2007, while the combined profit margin for the network, low-cost and regional carriers was the highest since the BTS began issuing quarterly airline financial numbers in 2002, the agency said today.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nickel and Dimed: A Postscript

The other day I was carping here about being relentlessly nickel-and-dimed at the Westin Hotel during my loooooong few days in Long Beach, Calif. Here's a postscript:

Delighted to be headed home today, from LAX, I stopped at a gas station at Century blvd. and LaCienega to fill up the rental car before returning it to Avis.

First thing that pops up on the gas-pump display screen when I swipe my credit card: "There is a service fee of 45 cents for this purchase."


Flight Delays Mounting in NY Area

[ map at 6:52 p.m. tonight]

Heads-up if you're traveling tonight: Big thunderstorms causing big delays in New York area airports, with ripples likely through the national system. Here's the current bulletin on JFK.

And here's the current departure board at Newark, via

The fast-moving storm swept through parts of New York with hurricane-force gales late in the afternoon.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nickel and Dimed in Long Beach

Well now, here at last comes the bill slipped under the door before dawn for three nights at the Westin Hotel in Long Beach, Calif., which can mean only one thing: Time to get out of this place before they figure a new way to charge me for something other than a room.

Not that it's a bad property per se, though Long Beach is not a place I would come to unless I had to, which I did. The rooms are pleasant enough, and the famous Westin bedding is just fine.

And yet I leave with the strong impression that I have been fleeced at every possible opportunity, while at the same time subjected to an endless in-room harangue from all those placards about my personal responsibility for Saving the Planet, which in this case seems to mean Saving the Hotel Some Trouble.

First, the charges. The Internet is $9.95 a day, and it's described as "Internet Lite," whatever that means. Hard to say, as the actual "light" in the room comes most dependably from the morning sun. Part of Westin's plan to save the planet, evidently, is to install low-wattage so-called energy saving bulbs in the lamps, making it difficult to read. Apparently, I am expected to Ruin My Eyesight as part of the hotel proprietor's drive to Save Some Dough ... er, I mean, Save the Planet.

While nickel and diming me all the way. I had to go down to the Business Center the other day to print out two pages of a document. Even though I had already paid the $9.95 for Internet service in my room, the Business Center required me to pay an additional $6.95 per 15-minute periods to use the Internet there. Plus 49 cents for each page printed.

I also forgot to bring my cellphone charger. The cost to make a toll-free phone call from my room? That'll be $2 please. Same for a calling-card or credit card call. Local call? $1.50. Long-distance call (what a quaint term, I thought): "Surcharge of $6.95 plus intrastate $1.25 per minute (plus) interstate $1.75 per minute."

Thank God I didn't have to make an international call ("surcharge of 130 % over operated-assisted day rates [plus] $2.25 per minute."

There was a coffee-maker in the room, with a placard instructing me to "Stir Up Your Senses." The small packet of coffee also gave me a lecture: "The coffee in this bag, like all our coffees, is of the highest quality and purchased with respect for farmers."

Celebrating the new respect bestowed upon them, the farmers evidently took a few days off, because after the first morning, there was no bag of coffee left in the room. A pot of room-service coffee, instead, was $9.95, plus various fees.

The room service menu made for interesting reading in the dim light: "Feed the Body Nourish the Soul," it was grandly titled. The text read: "These nutritious foods can help with your health span, the extent of time you have to be healthy." ... And:
"Our superfoods breakfast menu features revitalizing dishes made from powerhouse ingredients rich in nutrients, antitoxins and delicious taste ..."

It also said, "a delivery charge of $3 plus 20 pct gratuity and sales tax will be added to your order."

Among the various admonitions to save the planet strewn about the room was one I considered to be a real beaut. "You have the option to decline housekeeping service for the day," a card informed me.

But what fun lay ahead once you've got your expensive pot of coffee and your lifespan-enhancing scrambled eggs! Splashed across the front of the Guest Services booklet was the message: "Endless Possibilities!" ... It said, "We welcome you with sights and scents to stir your soul and replenish your spirit ... the Westin Long Beach's goal is to create a sense awakening experience that refreshes and de-stresses your mind and body."

The only newspaper available in the joint besides USA Today, which was strewn haphazardly in the halls outside rooms (not mine, I might add) was the local Long Beach Press-Telegram, an anemic, soul-less, boosterish and pretty much news-free undertaking with the words "239,335 Readers Daily" boldly printed under the front-page logo -- which is quite an amazingly precise statement, for a newspaper that actually has an audited circulation of about 73,000.

This morning, my final bill, slid only partially under the door (making it easy for any would-be hacker passing by in the hall to gain enough information about its recipient to successfully crack a point-of-sale computer system, which is one of the ways hackers break into hotel credit-card data) had some wonderful fees listed, too.

There's an "Occupation/Tourism tax" of $22.80 per night. There is also a "Long Beach Tourism Assessment" of $5.67 a night.

I guess that's to help finance the vast, empty, depressing retail development across Ocean Boulevard along the Long Beach waterfront, the one with all those vacant stores and a forlorn cineplex where, desperate to flee the hotel the other night, I sat through the new George Clooney movie, "The American," the only person in the entire theater. The movie was tedious -- it's what happens when you give an overpraised still-photographer a movie camera with film in it -- but at least the price was firm, and there was no extra fee for using the seat.


Monday, September 13, 2010

3-Hour-Plus Tarmac Delays in July: Three

[Tarmac delays over three hours. Chart by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics]

A picture is seldom actually worth a thousand words, but a good chart more often is. So I'll spare the words here.

In July, three months after very tough new Transportation Department rules took effect that would fine airlines up to $25,700 per passenger for stranding them on tarmac-parked planes for over three hours, the number of so-called tarmac delays was three.

I have no doubt that the DOT rule has had its effects. But so has the trend toward better on-time performance by the airlines, with overall flight delays down in the last year.

The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics also released data on airline on-time performance today. Here it is:

Airline On-Time Arrival Pct July 2010

Carrier On-Time Arrival Pct.
1 Hawaiian 94.71
2 Alaska 88.65
3 United 82.96
4 US Airways 82.07
5 Mesa 80.47
6 AirTran 79.65
7 SkyWest 79.48
8 Atlantic Southeast 78.46
9 Southwest 78.37
10 American 76.65
11 Frontier 76.42
12 Pinnacle 76.39
13 Continental 76.09
14 JetBlue 75.17
15 American Eagle 70.24
16 Delta 69.92
17 Comair 69.12
18 ExpressJet 68.58
All Airlines 76.69

Airline On-Time Arrival Pct Jan-July 2010

Carrier On-Time Arrival Pct.
1 Hawaiian 91.70
2 Alaska 88.55
3 United 83.28
4 US Airways 82.21
5 Mesa 81.90
6 AirTran 80.32
7 Southwest 80.24
8 Continental 80.07
9 Frontier 79.87
10 SkyWest 79.69
11 Atlantic Southeast 79.21
12 American 77.10
13 JetBlue 77.05
14 Pinnacle 76.85
15 Delta 76.49
16 ExpressJet 74.03
17 American Eagle 73.91
18 Comair 71.04
All Airlines 78.83
Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics


Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2010: Let's Stop Calling It 'Ground Zero'

I've always been offended by the term "Ground Zero" (usually rendered with cap G and Z) that the media too readily adopted nine years ago as shorthand for the eight-acre site of the World Trade Center ruins in Lower Manhattan.

Why? Mainly because "ground zero" is a term, coined by the military and popularized during the Cold War, that specifically referred to the target area for the blast of a nuclear bomb.

How did that term become the way we refer to the site of the World Trade Center catastrophe?

Is it because the precise words "World Trade Center site" somehow lack emotion and drama? Or does "World Trade Center site" contain too many syllables in a simplistic time, and have the media have become so uncouth that five syllables are too burdensome, and three are easier, or more useful for a slogan?

This isn't a complaint of one of those grammar-usage schoolmarms that so afflict the public discussion of written language, perpetually "separating flyshit from pepper" (in the immortal words of some unknown copy editor).

Rather it is just a plea to call things by their right names.

I knew the World Trade Center very well, and worked there during the second half of the 1980s at the Wall Street Journal building, which was just across the street from the towers. What joy was in that sprawling World Trade Center complex. No one ever really much admired the architecture of the towers themselves, which were often derided as "the boxes the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building came in." The twin towers gobbled the sky. But what life they had inside them (and in the surrounding buildings). What joy it was to spend a lunch hour outside in their immense psychic shadow, with tens of thousands of people on the streets, grabbing lunch or sitting outside on a spring day.

A year after the attacks, I stood in that vast ugly pit of dark ruins with thousands of others as the names of the dead were read out, one by one, while a single bell tolled with each. With me that day was a firefighter, a friend whose eyes looked to that vast and empty sky with such sorrow that I can barely stand to think about it.

The morning of the attacks, my neighbor in a small town in New Jersey in the near suburbs of New York was working out as usual in the rooftop gym of the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, which was situated right between the two towers and which also collapsed. He had gone off to work as usual that morning at his job in the World Trade Center, and his wife didn't know all day whether he was alive. When he finally wandered home that night, having staggered in a daze through Manhattan for many hours, he was covered in soot and his clothes were torn. He had no memory of that morning or of how he got home.

At the train station in this New Jersey town of 7,000 residents there was soon placed a small, unobtrusive brass marker inscribed with the names of the seven people from that town who died that day at the World Trade Center. For years afterward, whenever I walked by that marker I thought: In just this one small suburban town, seven people did not come home one day.

Calling the site of those attacks "Ground Zero" is an affront. It cheapens the memory of this place; it allows knaves and fools to scream nonsense about its location -- for example, it gives them traction when it becomes politically expedient for known-nothings to shriek about a plan to build an Islamic community center with a prayer room in some empty coat store that stands amid a jumble of small shops, blocks away from the actual site.

"Ground zero" has no meaning. More to the point, it has no boundaries.

The World Trade Center had boundaries. You could see them clearly -- before, in its glory, and after, in its ruin. I still picture that site on a glorious spring day, teeming with all those people in the sun.

Let's start calling this place what is, and give it the dignity it deserves. It is the World Trade Center site.


Friday, September 10, 2010

What Fresh Hell Is This? (Airplane Seating Division)

[Right: The SkyRider.]

If some dipsomaniacal loon in a preacher's suit can rile up all these national and worldwide passions with a stunt to burn some books in Florida, it's probably time for the "standing room only" airplane seat to make its return on the media screen.

The concept of a "standing room only" seat actually started some years ago as a practical joke by tricksters at Boeing having some fun with counterparts at Airbus who were about to introduce the huge new A380 superjumbo plane -- and managing in the process to fool some gullible media types.

But as anyone who looks at the news knows, practical jokes have a way of evolving. So I suppose attention must be paid to an announcement from the Italian airline-cabin equipment maker Avioninteriors that it has patented a standing-room-only airplane seat design.

"The passenger’s seating position is similar to that of a touring motor-scooter rider," the company says. --But hey, why am I thinking being strapped helplessly into an amusement-park terror ride, rather than zipping along the hilly highway over the Riviera in 1964 with Audrey Hepburn, her hair blowing, hugging me from the back of my sporty Vespa?

Travel Weekly has a story about the seat.

In its news release, Avionteriors says:

"From various media reporting we understand that some airline companies would even want to go for a Stand-Up Cabin. We are proposing a 23-inch pitch or less; the SkyRider.

Aviointeriors is one of the leading aircraft seat and cabin fixtures manufacturers with extensive R&D on the subject.

The SkyRider is an ultra-high density seat presently completely engineered and to be finally tested. The SkyRider has been designed and engineered to offer the possibility to even further reduce ticket prices while still maintaining sound profitability, which, even with a dual or three class seating arrangement, will allow maximum certified passenger capacity of the aircraft.

With a much reduced seat pitch, the SkyRider preserves a comfortable position for the low fare passengers.

The SkyRider is intended as a new basic class. The passenger’s seating position is similar to that of a touring motor-scooter rider. This posture permits that the overall longitudinal space occupied by the seat with the seated passenger is far less than that of a conventional, very high-density 28” economy class seat.

Furthermore, in the SkyRider arrangement, a partial overlapping of the passengers seating between rows is allowed, thus further increasing the cabin density.

The seat structure itself also provides space for personal baggage

As Roseanne Rosanadana used to say, "It's always somethin'."


If You're Flying Long on Business, They Owe You Comfort

I have been known to annoy those penurious persons who supervise spending on business travel at various corporations. That’s because I insist that a company which sends someone great distances on the road, far from kith and kin and exposed to the inevitable anxieties and occasional indignities of world travel, that company has an obligation, I say, to ensure that those employees travel with a measure of human comfort.

“Do you have any idea how much it costs to fly one of our people in the front of the plane?” one cranky corporate money-counter demanded after he corralled me in August at the annual convention of the National Business Travel Association in Houston.

Why, yes I do. In fact, my late parents in the 1960s purchased an entire fine brick house in Philadelphia for less than the current price of a unrestricted walk-up first-class ticket, return, between New York and London.

What is that actual walk-up fare now? Ah, it says here $18,228 to fly between Kennedy and Heathrow on short notice in British Airways’s highly regarded first-class. The price is similar on other top-quality airlines.

But does anyone actually pay this price? I asked the British Airways CEO Willie Walsh when I last spoke with him in New York.

“You’d be surprised. Some actually do,” he said.

“I wouldn’t,” I told him.

“Nor I,” he replied.

Well, some people simple have a lot of money. However, we all know that any corporate travel negotiator with the sense of a ball-peen hammer and with annual sufficient travel volume to lay on the table is able to negotiate first-class or business-class air fares, with any airline, that are substantially below that breathtaking walk-up price.

Airline executives always blanch when I ask them, as I always do, to tell me specifically how much of a discount I might expect if I were, say, Barclay’s Bank, dispatching thousands of fliers across the Atlantic each year.

Don’t tell anyone where you heard this, but the answer is: Major discount -- 40 percent, maybe more.

The New York-London premium market is, of course, the big enchilada. Still, one needn’t fly first-class. Business-class fares – I mean, Club World and its ilk ain’t a bad way to spend seven productive or restful hours – are significantly lower.

And most premium travel on routes other than New York-London is less costly. The Emirates Airline president, Tom Clark, made that point to me recently.

“We’re offering a world-class premium product at a far lower price,” he said, speaking of unnamed competitors, who should know who they are. The Emirates unrestricted first-class fare between Dubai and Toronto, on an A380 whose first-class cabins have private compartments and even showers in the lavatories, is $12,150. Of course, when you wake up in the morning you’re in Toronto, but never mind.

Business travelers who plan farther ahead and build some flexibility into their schedules, as many more now do, are often able to snag significant fare sales on premium travel. Look around, and you'll readily find business-class international fares in the $3,000-$4,000 round-trip range. A lot of dough, yes, but as I said, the company is asking a lot of you when it dispatches you halfway around the world. Let 'em provide for your comfort, I say.

Meanwhile, international premium travel is growing again. In June, reports the International Air Transport Association, international premium demand shot up 16.6 percent over the miserable level of June 2009.

Somebody’s listening, but I’ll continue importuning travel managers: If you are sending a valued employee on an airplane trip that takes over six hours, you owe it to them to put them in the premium cabin where they can arrive rested and ready to do your business upon arrival.

Or, if you insist (and so many do), where they can work constantly and productively the whole flight long, not wasting time on wonderful food, drink or sleep.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Southwest Airlines Moving Steadily Ahead on In-Flight WiFi

Southwest Airlines now has 13 of its 737s with WiFi installed and activated and says it expects to have more than 60 planes outfitted by the end of the year. After that the airline expects to continue rolling out WiFi throughout its entire fleet of 547 Boeing 737s.

Southwest has partnered with the tech company Row 44 on its WiFi venture. All of the other domestic airlines that have installed WiFi so far have used Aircell's Gogo branded system. As of last week, there were 1,000 domestic mainline aircraft in which the Gogo system had been installed.

Alaska Airlines tested Row 44 but decided earlier this year to go with Aircell's Gogo instead.

Oddly, Aircell's system is air to ground, meaning it depends on land towers and thus does not work on overseas flights. Row 44, the Southwest partner, has a satellite-based system that works over the ocean -- but Southwest does not fly overseas.

While there are competing claims, Row 44's executives have told me that their system simply provides better broadband service, and that's why the hard-nosed Southwest is going with it.

At the annual conference of the World Airline Entertainment Association in Long Beach, Calif., which starts on Sunday, I'll be eager to hear more about the state of this nascent industry from the people who know.

Meanwhile, I remain a skeptic about in-flight WiFi. To date, I have seen no evidence that more than about 7 percent of passengers, on average, have been opting to pay for the service on flights. (Virgin America, which flies a techie-heavy route between San Francisco and New York, says that up to 12 percent of passengers have opted for the Gogo service on that route.) And I wonder if Continental Airlines, the only major airline that hasn't signed on with either Aircell or Row 44, might have the right idea, in its plan to test a lower-level service that provides just e-mail and texting in-flight.

On the Southwest blog, the airline's marketing VP, Dave Ridley, says of the Row 44 choice: "Southwest bucked the in-flight WiFi trend when it chose Row 44’s satellite solution over the air-to-ground service selected by several of our competitors. Choosing this cutting-edge technology meant a delay in installation but, in doing so, we are in complete control over the customer experience and able to provide a robust service at a great value."

Southwest has not yet spelled out what that "value" is. The competing Aircell Gogo service has been heavily promoted with discounts and other offers from airlines and from third-party marketers.

Ridley says that pricing announcements will be coming in the fourth quarter, along with the "unveiling of a newly designed portal that all WiFi Customers will be able to access free of charge."

Uh, you can read that one as I do. The "newly designed portal" will be advertising and marketing. Free!


[UPDATE: On the other hand, I do think that in-flight WiFi has a viable market in business aviation, which Aircell has been assiduously courting in the last year or so. Flexjet, a division of Bombardier, said today that it will offer the Aircell Gogo Biz service on all of the planes in its fractional-share fleet at no additional charge. Installation of the Gogo Biz system will start on Flexjet's 25 Challenger 300s and seven Challenger 604/605 jets.]


Monday, September 06, 2010

Airline Seating Capacity Trending Upward

[Airline seating capacity within North America]

Airlines have been patting themselves on the back for their supposed discipline in keeping supply down while demand inches up -- all the better to jack up fares.

But in fact, seating capacity is trending upward. According to the air-travel data company OAG, in August, capacity within North America grew for the first time since 2007. The total number of seats available: 79.9 million, an increase of 617,870 or 1%, over that in August 2009; there will be 885,078 flights, or an increase of 1% or 6,084.

Meanwhile, with growth in Asia-Pacific markets and elsewhere overseas, global seating capacity was up 7 percent, and the number of flights increased 6 percent in August.

Here's the OAG list of the top world airports in terms of seat capacity in August:

Airports Ranked by Seats Seat Capacity
1. Atlanta Hartsfield (ATL) 9,528,836
2. Beijing (PEK) 8,463,305
3. London Heathrow (LHR) 8,188,598
4. Chicago O Hare (ORD) 7,564,308
5. Tokyo Haneda (HND) 7,581,648
6. Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) 6,743,636
7. Los Angeles (LAX) 6,662,856
8. Frankfurt (FRA) 6,522,171
9. Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) 6,084,870
10. Madrid (MAD) 5,759,170
11. Denver (DEN) 5,754,315
12. Hong Kong (HKG) 5,655,500
13. New York (JFK) 5,545,756
14. Dubai (DXB) 5,384,651
15. Bangkok (BKK) 4,984,655
16. Singapore Changi (SIN) 4,890,873
17. Amsterdam (AMS) 4,906,948
18. Guangzhou (CAN) 4,653,663
19. Rome (FCO) 4,507,675
20. Shanghai (PVG) 4,551,871


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Air Travel: No Delays. No Hurricane. The Only Heavy Wind Came From the Media Weather-Blowhards

[Web cam image this morning of beach at Eastham on Cape Cod, via Cape Cod Times]

Air travel throughout the country was operating without significant delays this morning, as it did yesterday. The hurricane that had the media hysterics at battle stations all week did not manifest itself. That it would not was obvious all day yesterday, though the hysterics remained at full cry with their disaster narratives despite evidence that this was a fizzled storm.

From this morning's toned-down Boston Globe, via the Cape Cod Times: "`That was just normal 'winter' weather,'" said Norm Frazee, as he patrolled the properties of a resort company for downed limbs and other storm-related debris. 'We get winds like that almost every day in the winter.' Once a mighty hurricane, Earl weakened into a tropical storm and merely grazed the Cape and islands overnight, causing no major damage or power outages ..."

Except for that "once a mighty hurricane" blather, that report has it about right. Yes, it was a real big hurricane ... in the Atlantic Ocean. But this was a tree that fell in the forest.

The trouble as I see it: the media, desperate for ever-new sensations by the hour, latched onto the hurricane-cataclysm narrative early in the week and wouldn't give it up once they hung out their logos and piled up their alarming feature stories and photos. The dereliction was not just confined to the usual television nitwits desperately drawing attention to themselves when the weather changes, as it is in the habit of doing.

The problem was the slavish adherence to a canned disaster narrative. The problem was media overreaction that was partly juiced, sad to say, by authorities with a lot of F.E.M.A. money burning holes in their pockets. The problem was the incessant violent weather language, especially when applied to an event that had not yet occurred: Slam, bearing down, slash, lash, barrel, flee, ferocity, monster. It was the media's stone determination to flog that narrative, even when it was obvious by yesterday that the storm was fizzling -- a fact that the airlines, to their credit, obviously appreciated. Did the airlines cancel hundreds or even thousands of flights preemptively, as would have been standard operating procedure on Thursday and yesterday if a large storm were about to hit their operations on the East Coast? No, they did not.

How many end-of-summer holiday plans got ruined because of the weather hype the media promulgated? How many picnics and gatherings and small-town parades, from the Carolinas to Nantucket, will not occur, as it's too late to re-schedule now that the world did not end? How many people, alarmed by the hysteria, canceled holiday trips? That's a story worth reporting.

Obviously, the coastal population needs to be prepared when a hurricane is on the way. Just as obvious to me, the authorities and the media need to exercise a lot more caution, especially when knowable facts assert themselves, as they had by Thursday morning, to argue for toning it way down and modifying that blasted (oops, the violent language again) narrative.

Oh, incidentally: Some streets in East Coast seashore towns, especially those on narrow barrier islands, routinely flood when it rains. It's mostly a matter of infrastructure -- inadequate storm-drains and the like. The media hate infrastructure reporting -- boooooring and time-consuming! But please, let's not make too much of those photos showing routine seashore-town flooding that's depicted as proof that this was the dramatic, direct impact of a ferocious (oops) hurricane.

By the way, I no longer live on the East Coast. I live in the Southwestern desert in Arizona. Last night, the waning monsoon season here brought a major thunderstorm that crashed down suddenly and dropped an inch of rain in an hour -- in a place that gets nine inches in an entire year. The lights flickered. The lightening slashed (an accurate use of the word here) at the darkening skies over the mountains. Our African gray parrot hollered in sheer delight: "It's raining! See!" Desert washes flooded and the usual handful of idiots got stuck in their cars and had to be rescued because they ventured into a wash despite the signs saying not to enter in a flood.

It was typical end-of-summer desert monsoon weather, and the usual precautions applied. And we didn't need a hysterical weatherman to tell us which way the wind blowed.


Friday, September 03, 2010

Hurricane Hysterics, Deflated, Steam Northward; Air Travel Remains Normal

[Map showing air-travel delays, indicating only minor routine delays in Philadelphia (it's at the start of a holiday travel weekend), as of 9.10 a.m. this morning. Via]

[UPDATED, 6:45 p.m. EDT]

I suppose Drudge, who nobody pays much attention to these days, made the worst job of it, as usual. The poor boy had this hurricane headline on his Web site for a pretty long time this week: MONSTER! And he wasn't even talking about Bill Clinton. He was just hyping another hurricane.

Other media tumbled over themselves with the usual turbocharged cliches. This was a major storm churning and blasting, bearing down on, steaming toward, pounding and slashing and ready to unleash its fury ... and so on. I was especially impressed by the NPR man in Nags Head yesterday afternoon, who dramatically reported that the ocean was white with foam and did not appear "welcoming."

Storm arrived last night. Um, headline in this morning's Greensboro (NC) News-Record, far from the epicenter of this purported cataclysm: "Some Flooding on Outer Banks As Earl Passes." Here's the story of the great disaster.

The hype brigades have now decamped for points farther north. I knew camp had been broken last night when Rachel Maddow was reverently interviewing some guy on a Coast Guard cutter near Virginia, to where the vessel had steamed to avoid unsettled waters. "Thank you for your service, sir," she told the Coast Guardsman, who was doing his best to suggest how the "calm" waters lay "before the storm." [Hey, Rache: He's in the freaking Coast Guard, not the Marines, for crying out loud.] Meanwhile, is the intrepid Coast Guard cutter even now steaming farther away, perhaps to a point off Sandy Hook, lest a rainstorm splash its gunwhales?

[Early this evening, the Boston papers were still dutifully pumping out words like "lash" and "churn" and "fury" as the poor, hobbled ex-hurricane headed far out to sea like a confused whale, with just a brush past Cape Cod. And the Weather Channel, evidently determined to wring every last ounce of hype out of this busted valise of a hurricane, was valiantly still speculating early tonight that "New England and Cape Cod could see the brunt of Earl's fury."

Thankfully, the Cape Cod Times, at least, has got ahold of itself. Its Web site currently reports that "officials in Chatham say they are relieved that Earl has weakened but are still warning residents and tourists not to `tempt fate' by venturing too close to the water at the height of the storm Friday night."]
[And finally, at 8 p.m. tonight, the Weather Channel runs down the hurricane flag and surrenders to the facts with a new, altered report: "Tonight, Earl will make its last brush with the U.S. as it passes by southeastern New England."

OK, then. Avoid plunging into the surf tonight off Old Cape Cod, and remember that it might get a little rainy in New England. Some East Coast flights could be delayed -- but it's also the start of a holiday travel period, so that alone could cause delays. And oh, must we brace ourselves (to borrow from hurricane-hysteria patois) to have to watch the usual suspects who choose to live in flood zones wailing, per usual, when their rugs get wet?

If there are any significant disruptions in air travel, I will let you know. Meanwhile, keep your gunwhales dry.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hurricane Hysteria Aside, Air Travel Is Still Operating Normally

[Map shortly after midnight Friday showing no delays at East Coast airports -- map via]


There must be a hurricane in the ocean because I'm getting all these urgent e-mails from PR people trying to entice me to interview one "expert" or another who will pontificate on the imminent, or possible, or potential ... hurricane disaster about to strike the East Coast. What should travelers do?!

Meanwhile, in the media, the Hurricane Hysterics are at full cry. But as you can see from the map above, air travel was still operating normally tonight (and into the earliest hours of Friday), despite predictions of massive delays.

[UPDATE: Just you wait, says the USA Today newspaper: Sometime later tonight, "conditions will deteriorate very quickly."] And here's a late-afternoon update from the AP out of North Carolina, where hurricane preparations are very serious.

That did not happen in North Carolina as of midnight. Now the hysterics are rushing to station themselves farther north.

So OK, so maybe a hurricane will brush the Northeast coast tomorrow and we'll all die. (Well, not me, as I am in the southwestern desert, where our local TV hysterics have lately been sagging under the mournful realization that the vastly overhyped annual "monsoon" season has been something of a bust this year. What will they be alarmed about next, as dry season looms?)

Maybe not. The day's narrative was that a Great Battle is about to occur between the Terrible Hurricane and a Powerful High Pressure Ridge loping eastward from the Midwest. Will it arrive in time to overpower the vile hurricane and force it far out into the Atlantic Ocean, where the only one who will have to worry is that 16-year-old girl whose parents let her sail around the world by herself? Will the Monster Storm break through and triumph? Oh, the drama. The conflict. The humanity. Media weatherpeople are wetting their pants. Again.

Massive air-travel delays?

Well, not so far, as that map above shows.

Airlines, unlike the usual desperate suspects in the cable and broadcast media, are being cautious and careful. So far, the airlines have not pulled the trigger on preemptive flight cancellations. Airlines also employ weather experts (you don't think they rely on that nitwit on the 11 o'clock news, do you?) -- and theirs don't panic and run around shrieking speculation into the breeze.

I'll watch the boards tomorrow, and if and when airline cancellations start mounting I'll let you know.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Labor Day Drivers: Where the Worst Speed Traps Are

The National Motorists Association (NMA) is a sensible group that works to oppose revenue-generating speed traps and phony "safety" measures like hidden highway speed cameras. (Credulous media always buy into anytyhing these phony Astroturf groups claim). And as the NMA points out, "ticket cameras" have never survived a public vote.

Says the group:

"For years, drivers from every U.S. state and Canadian province have reported
speed trap locations to the National Motorists Association's National
Speed Trap Exchange. ... With the combination of heavy holiday traffic, federally-funded ticketing campaigns, and financially-strapped local and state governments,
motorists have good reason to feel like they have dollar signs painted
on their vehicles. ... [T]he NMA has identified two cities in each state and
province using data directly from the National Speed Trap Exchange.
The first city listed has the most user-reported speed traps regardless
of population size, while the second has the most speed traps for cities
with populations of 100,000 or less.

To view information on over 60,000 specific speed trap reports by city,
state or province, you can visit the Exchange at
Cities With Most Speed Trap Reports (All Population Sizes,
Populations 100,000 or Less)

Alabama: Montgomery, Hoover
Alaska: Anchorage, Juneau
Arizona: Tucson, Flagstaff
Arkansas: Little Rock, Fayetteville
California: Los Angeles, Mission Viejo
Colorado: Colorado Springs, Littleton
Connecticut: Milford, Milford
Delaware: Newark, Newark
Florida: Jacksonville, Boca Raton
Georgia: Atlanta, Marietta
Hawaii: Honolulu, Aiea
Idaho: Boise, Idaho Falls
Illinois: Chicago, Elk Grove Village
Indiana: Indianapolis, Bloomington
Iowa: Des Moines, Iowa City
Kansas: Overland Park, Lawrence
Kentucky: Louisville, Bowling Green
Louisiana: Baton Rouge, Metairie
Maine: Portland, Biddeford
Maryland: Baltimore, Gaithersburg
Massachusetts: Boston, Lynn
Michigan: Livonia, Livonia
Minnesota: St. Paul, Edina
Mississippi: Jackson, Meridian
Missouri: Kansas City, O'Fallon
Montana: Missoula, Missoula
Nebraska: Omaha, Bellevue
Nevada: Las Vegas, Carson City
New Hampshire: Manchester, Nashua
New Jersey: Mahwah, Mahwah
New Mexico: Albuquerque, Las Cruces
New York: New York City, Troy
North Carolina: Raleigh, Asheville
North Dakota: Fargo, Grand Forks
Ohio: Cleveland, Millersburg
Oklahoma: Tulsa, Moore
Oregon: Portland, Beaverton
Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Reading
Rhode Island: Pawtucket, Pawtucket
South Carolina: Greenville, Greenville
South Dakota: Sioux Falls, Rapid City
Tennessee: Nashville, Smyrna
Texas: Houston, Tyler
Utah: Salt Lake City, Sandy
Vermont: Wilmington, Wilmington
Virginia: Virginia Beach, Fairfax
Washington: Seattle, Bellingham
West Virginia: Summersville, Summersville
Wisconsin: Milwaukee, Kenosha
Wyoming: Cheyenne, Cheyenne

Alberta: Calgary, Lethbridge
British Columbia: Vancouver, Victoria
Manitoba: Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie
New Brunswick: Moncton, Moncton
Newfoundland: St. John's, Corner Brook
Northwest Territories: no listings, no listings
Nova Scotia: Dartmouth, Dartmouth
Nunavut: no listings, no listings
Ontario: Toronto, Brantford
Prince Edward Island: no listings, no listings
Quebec: Montreal, Brossard
Saskatchewan: Saskatoon, Moose Jaw
Yukon: no listings


Union Demands Reinstatement of Regional Airline Flight Attendant Fired After She Told Media That She Qualifies for Food Stamps

Kirsten Arianejad was fired last week by Compass Airlines after she stated in a television news report that she makes so little that she qualifies for food stamps, even though she works a full-time schedule for that regional airline.

[By the way, I think (see below) that there's a free speech issue here that labor unions are in a unique position to address for their members.]

It is not clear to me exactly what specific reason Compass gave for firing the woman, and if in fact it was specifically stated that she was dismissed because of her comments about low pay and food stamps.

So I'll update when I have specifics.
[UPDATE: Please see reader comment below].
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents Compass flight attendants, is demanding that the airline reinstate her.

The union, which certainly has access to her termination letter, which would state the specific reason for dismissal, did not quote from that letter -- which strikes me as odd.

The union says that the starting wage for Compass flight attendants is between $13,842 and $15,453 a year. As the union points out, that salary does make Arianejad qualified to receive food stamps in Arizona, where she lives.

Regional airlines like Compass -- which operates flights for Delta Air Lines -- account for about half of all domestic flights, under contracts with major airlines.

The horrific crash early last year of a regional aircraft flown for Continental by Colgan Air, in which 50 died near Buffalo, brought attention to the poor wages and often difficult working conditions of flight crews for regional airlines.

Compass hasn't had any comment yet on the situation. Arianejad, however, is apparently no shrinking violet when it comes to stating her views. This page on appears to be hers, and indicates that she is active with an Arizona-based movement called Patriotic Resistance, which has views that can accurately be called Tea Party-views.

Today, the local representing 16,000 United Airlines flight attendants joined in the call for the reinstatement of Arianejad. In a letter to Compass Airlines officials, the United master executive council president, Greg Davidowitch, called the firing a "serious mistake" by the company, which is currently in labor negotiations with its flight attendants.

"It seems there are two problems to fix here," Davidowitch wrote. "First, Kirsten must be reinstated and her record cleared. Second, your labor relations [department] needs to get serious at the bargaining table to reach a tentative agreement that will be ratified by Compass Flight Attendants because it provides them with a living wage and fair compensation for their work at Compass."

It would also probably be a good idea, it seems to me, for the unions to get Compass (and other airlines, if necessary) to clearly state what their policies are about employees speaking to the media or otherwise saying something about their jobs in public.

Also, given the spread of online social networking, it might behoove the airline flight-crew unions to get airlines nailed down firmly on any sanctions they might consider levying against employees who state any views publicly, including political views, that the company does not feel comfortable with. While employees who are not represented by unions are effectively at the mercy of their employers on free-speech issues, unions can hold companies' feet to the fire on these things, and should. In specific contract language.

In general, it's been my experience that pilots and flight attendants are free to talk, on the condition that they not be identified by company. But if some company afraid of employees' public comments or views can violate that understanding with impunity, it will.

I would think a union has a responsibility to get that spelled out so there is no room for confusion when some executives get their knickers in a twist about something an employee says in the media -- or even some political views that employee might espouse in the social-networking realm.


Hurricane Flight Watch: Delta Customers Beware

With a hurricane moving uncertainly toward the East Coast, anyone planning to travel through potentially affected airports through the holiday weekend should make sure to check on flights and possible delays and cancellations.

Continental, always Johnny-on-the-spot in terms of getting information to the public in a timely manner, says it's waiving penalty fees and fare difference charges for anyone traveling through certain airports through Saturday who changes flights (with new travel to commence by Sept. 19). Here's the Continental notice to customers, with the list of affected airports.

Other airlines will be making similar announcements soon. Note that Continental is waiving not just the change fees but any fare differences, meaning they won't charge you extra to rebook, even if the new fare is different. All airlines might not offer the same thing, so check carefully.

UPDATE: Delta, for example, just announced its hurricane-change policy -- and Delta is charging the difference between the old fare and a new one for anyone who changes plans. Sez Delta (italics are mine):

"Flight delays are possible Sept. 3-4 as a result of Hurricane Earl, and Delta may proactively reduce flight schedules to minimize delays. ... Travel for changed itineraries must begin by Sept. 11, 2010, and changes to origin and destination may result in a fare increase. Any fare difference between the original ticket and the new ticket will be collected at the time of rebooking. Customers whose flights are canceled may request refunds."


U.S. Airport Retail Sales Off Sharply in 2009

Retail, food and beverage and gift and news shop and other sales at the top 50 airports in the U.S. last year dropped 7 percent, to $4.9 billion, says the trade publication Airport Revenue News (ARN). The retail sales shops had the sharpest decline, at 11 percent.

Part of the reason, obviously, is the 5-6 percent decrease in domestic passenger traffic last year. But in my opinion, another reason is that at least departing air travelers are less inclined than ever to do retail shopping at the airport, because who wants to carry extra stuff on airplanes where the overhead-bin stowage wars are at full pitch? And who, on destination arrival in the current high-hassle environment of air travel, wants to linger in an airport to shop?

That would explain why you see so many sales clerks standing around twiddling their thumbs at the retail shops that many airports and merchants made expensive bets on starting roughly 15 years ago.

Revenue figures include the combined sales at food and beverage, specialty retail and news and gifts outlets. Things like airport parking revenue aren't included.

In the overall pictures, the sharpest decline last year came in specialty retail sales, which dropped 11 percent to $887 million. Food and beverage was off 5 percent, to $3.02 billion. News and gifts sales were off 9 percent, to $971 million.

At the 37 airports that reported international-traffic duty-free sales, revenue was down 20 percent to $646 million, ARN said.

Kennedy International Airport had the highest sales per passenger enplanement, a 5 percent increase (not including duty-free) to $296 million, of $12.90 per passenger. Falling to second place for the first time since 2000 was Pittsburgh International, where US Airways has sharply reduced service in recent years, with sales of $48 million, or $11.90 per enplanement, a 20 percent downturn. In third place was San Francisco International, with total sales of $208 million, r $11.17 per enplanement, a 4% decline.