Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Airlines in Defensive Crouch Over Blizzard Flight Chaos

Airlines assumed their familiar defensive crouch over massive flight cancellations and excessive delays that still are buckling airports in New York.

Though part of the blame was aimed accurately at the severity of the blizzard and its high winds, not to mention the incompetence and outright laziness of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which runs the airports), the airlines are now also in the public-opinion cross-hairs.

The reasons:

1. Failure to ensure even a modicum of customer service and responsiveness, as over 1 million passengers got stranded by cancellations, and even more by delays. There was an obvious initiative to preemptively cancel flights, even before the weather conditions deteriorated to the point where flying was impossible. Customers are livid about not being able to get through to airlines as the chaos built.

2. As airlines shank capacity and parked planes to shave operating costs in the last 18 months, and as airline mergers further constricted the system, there is no slack to handle even minor disruptions. Especially in a peak holiday travel season, all the planes were already full, so there was no way (especially because backup equipment and crews are pretty much a thing of the past) to handle the extra demand from passengers who were bumped off those 8,000-plus canceled flights.

Flights continue to be canceled today at the New York airports, though in far fewer numbers than recent days. Excessive delays (45 minutes and up) are also occurring. At the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport, 121 flights have been scrubbed as of mid-morning. At Kennedy, the number is 142. At La Guardia, it's 51.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nearly 1,500 Flights Canceled Today in New York, As Some Airlines Warn Passengers That Conditions in the Big Apple Still Blow

[UPDATED, 7 p.m. EST]
One might assume that long after the snowstorm has ended, the airlines at least would no longer be canceling flights in large numbers at the New York airports.

Ah, but one would assume wrongly.

This "one" -- that is, me, -- I assumed that all is vastly improved in New York, now that the frozen debris (which is how I now regard snow: debris) has all accumulated and is, presumably, under control. This is easy for me to assume, from my perch across the country in the sunny southern Arizona desert.

But no: Almost 1,500 flights were canceled today in New York, which remains pretty snowbound if not snowy. The frigid gusts of winds still blow, I am informed by my pal Joe Brancatelli in New York. "This was a classic blizzard, man, and it doesn't go away in a day and a half," he says. Public fury is rising in New York as many streets remain impassable, and reports come in about failures of city services like 911 systems. New York's sarcastic billionaire mayor isn't, evidently, helping matters much.

Major flight cancellations continue (along with severe delays). Across the river from Manhattan, at the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport, so far today there were 718 departures and arrivals canceled as of 7 p.m. EST. At Kennedy, the number was 577 canceled flights for today. At La Guardia, it's 202. Also, they're even already canceling some flights for tomorrow at Newark, Kennedy and La Guardia. [Departures and arrivals count equally in these data because no flight that leaves any of the New York airports arrives at another New York airport]

As usual, the flight-operations data are from the absolutely invaluable

The Web site of Continental Airlines right now sounds like this ain't no fooling around: The hilarious named Newark Liberty International Airport has "limited operations," the Continental notice said at 7 p.m. Of flights that were even departing, the average delay at 7 p.m. was 4 hours and 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, some dopes in the media are credulously reporting airline assurances that passengers stranded by the cancellations that started Saturday will be easily accommodated within days. Trust me, this is not so. There are x-number of seats and airplanes available, and especially in a holiday travel period, these were almost all already booked before the blizzard hit. Then a total of more than 8,000 flights got canceled nationwide, from Saturday through today.

Maybe grandma could fit 20 pounds of stuffing into a 15-pound turkey, but the physics doesn't work out that way in air travel.

But here is a good summary today of the airline capacity-and-demand equation from Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog on

Meanwhile, do not -- repeat not -- use the totally worthless F.A.A. Web site link for flight delays and cancellations. It's utterly unreliable, although some of the national media (yeah, I'm talking to you, CNN) still bafflingly refer to it.

Incidentally, from this perch in the sunny Arizona desert, you know what I do not miss even a tiny little bit? Waking up early in the morning after a storm and hearing that horrifying scraape, scraape noise from some invincibly perky neighbor's snow-shovel.


Timing! Airlines Impose Across-the-Board Fare Hike

OK, now that the air-travel system looks like the Fall of Saigon, what do the airlines do? Yes, they impose an across-the-board baseline fare increase of $20 round-trip!


This just in from the folks who run the invaluable Web site, where Rick Seaney meticulously follows airline fare-change activity:

"In the midst of one of the worst travel disruptions of the year that saw thousands of passengers stranded at airports along the Eastern seaboard due to blizzard conditions, airfare prices are on the rise.

... United Airlines and Continental Airlines added a new $10 one-way "peak travel day" surcharge for the majority of their domestic routes ($20 roundtrip). These surcharges have been added to all future travel dates.

A couple of hours later, American Airlines launched a $20 roundtrip airfare hike for the bulk of its domestic route system, a hike that was soon matched by Delta Air Lines.

It's worth noting that these increases come on a day in which oil prices soared to a 26-month high, which impacts the airlines' jet fuel costs."

So far, says Farecompare's Graeme Wallace, filling in for the vacationing Seaney, Southwest has resisted joining-in in the fare hike.

With flight cancellations now exceeding 6,000 since Saturday, with New York airports barely struggling back to life as stranded passengers sleep on the floors, some geniuses at the airlines are obviously thinking: Hey, how many great chances like this do we get to totally alienate the public?

And oh, by the way, the airlines always say they are not acting in collusion on fixing prices when these fare increases get adopted all at the same time by supposedly competing carriers. No way! That would be, like, wrong -- right?


Monday, December 27, 2010

Flight Cancellations Mount, Big Mess Ahead

[Battlefield, Gone With the Wind. "Tomorrow is another day"?]

How many flights were canceled over the weekend and today?

The media are all over the board on this one, but there's a very easy place to do the math:, which is always right on top of these things.

According to FlightStats data on individual airports, there were more than 2,500 departures canceled today at the New York airports, plus Philly, Boston, Atlanta, BWI, Reagan, Dulles, O'Hare and Detroit. I didn't do the math for other airports, but it's safe to say that hundreds of additional departure cancellations were logged. Let's call it an even 3,000 departures that were canceled.

I'm not including figures for arrival cancellations, because some of the departure cancellations at any given airport also can turn up as arrival cancellations at another. Some, but not even close to most. But anyway, in all yesterday, there were more than 2,200 arrivals canceled at those airports.

On Sunday, there were just over 1,900 departures scrubbed at the same airports, with almost the same number of canceled departures. And on Saturday, Atlanta had more than 1,000 departure and arrival cancellations.

Rough guess is well over 5,000 flights that were scheduled from Saturday to Monday did not leave. Nearly each one was booked at or close to capacity, as are most of the existing flights on the schedule for this week and into the busy travel weekend.

It all adds up to one big fat serious disruption for air travel in the coming week, because there is no slack in the system to accommodate passengers who got canceled out.

Today some airports, with stranded passengers and crews camped out in despair, look like the battlefield-aftermath scene in "Gone With the Wind."

Tomorrow, as Scarlett O'Hare, I mean O'Hara, famously vowed, is another day. But frankly, Scarlett, it will just be another damn mess.


New York Airports Closed, Will Not Resume Flights Till Tonight

Kennedy, Newark and La Guardia airports are closed, and it isn't yet clear when flights will resume into and out of New York City and Newark. Airlines are guessing around 4 p.m. -- but that's a guess.

We haven't even begun to see the tales of woe that will be coming out of the air-travel system from the disruptions of the weekend, today and (undoubtedly) tomorrow. With flight cancellations exceeding 5,000 since Saturday, in a domestic system that has no slack built into schedules, it will take literally the rest of this year, at least, for air travel to get sorted out.

There were, for example, about 1,600 departures scheduled for today at Kennedy, Newark and La Guardia. (Plus more than 1,400 arrivals).

Most of those will be scrubbed from schedules, and displaced would-be passengers will have to scramble to find seats on other flights later in the week. This will occur as the final wave of 2010 holiday travel builds.

Meanwhile, I personally will lead a brigade of citizens with pitchforks to tar and feather the next reporter, photographer or editor who even thinks of commissioning a lighthearted ode, whether in words or pictures, by whatever media known or unknown, to a winter's day's snow.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Big Air-Travel Mess Today, and a Bigger One Tomorrow; JFK and Newark Shut As Blizzard Causes Cancellations and Delays

Flight cancellations piled up as a blizzard moved along the eastern seaboard and into New York City this afternoon and tonight. Kennedy and Newark airports shut shortly after 8 p.m. EST tonight, with plans to reopen early tomorrow.

As expected, airlines canceled large numbers of flights at East Coast airports today, one day after more than 1,000 flights were canceled at Atlanta, merely on the possibility of a snowstorm.

As of 6 p.m. EST, nearly 3,000 arrivals and departures had been canceled at airports in the New York City and Washington areas, and in Philadelphia and Boston.

And airlines have begun preemptively canceling flights for Monday. At the three New York airports alone, nearly 700 departures and arrivals scheduled for tomorrow had already been scrubbed by 9 p.m. tonight.

On flights that remained scheduled today, some delays of well over three hours were being reported at airports.

Meanwhile, severe delays rippled through the air-traffic system far away from the storm, from Miami, where delays continued into the night, and Los Angeles, where things finally eased up early in the evening.

Overall, air travel today was, in short, a huge mess -- and it will be a huge mess (and possibly a worse one) tomorrow.

If you are flying, it is very important to check before leaving for the airport to ensure that your flight is even still on the board, let alone on time. Most affected airlines have put weather-related policies into effect, meaning that, assuming you're not already stuck in the mess, you can opt out -- cancel your plans and choose another travel date, within their guidelines, without paying the dread change-penalty fee

Hey, it's the least airlines can do, considering that they've been whacking away at their operations, and obviously canceling many flights preemptively, for fear of having airplanes stuck on tarmacs and triggering big federal fines that took effect in April to discourage tarmac strandings.

From, here as of 6 p.m. EST today are the major cancellations (of course, some will count twice, since a canceled departure at one airport can sometimes also be a canceled arrival at another on this list):

Reagan National -- Canceled: 148 departures, 132 arrivals -- of 759 total arrivals/departures scheduled.

Baltimore-Washington -- 146 departures and 161 arrivals (total 687 flights scheduled)

Dulles --69 departures, 62 arrivals (849 total)

Philadelphia -- 304 departures; 241 arrivals (of 1,265 flights scheduled)

Newark -- 292 departures, 349 arrivals (of 1,002 total)

JFK -- 282 departures, 296 arrivals (of 1,193 total)

La Guardia -- 256 departures, 283 arrivals (of 869 total)

Boston: 148 arrivals, 196 departures (857 total).

Meanwhile, these airports were reporting significant delays Sunday night: Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Detroit. Also, excessive delays are being reported at Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa -- obviously as a result of the commotion rippling through the system from delays and cancellations (including those preemptive Atlanta ones) elsewhere.

And Palm Beach is also reporting excessive delays. That airport, by the way, handles a lot of private jets (NetJets accounted for most of the takeoffs and arrivals there today) -- and the swells were evidently trying to make it home before the blizzard.

This is a very big travel mess that won't go away for days.

Courage, as the man used to say.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Half of Atlanta Flights Canceled Today; Cancellations May Spread to East Coast Airports As Snowstorm Looms

Well I guess we now have a clear answer on whether airlines will preemptively cancel large numbers of flights to avoid new penalties for stranding passengers on planes awaiting takeoff as the weather forecast turns bad.

You betcha they will. Look at what's happened in Atlanta.

At the Atlanta airport today, half of the 2,100 scheduled departures and arrivals have been canceled. Ignore current media reports saying that "hundreds" of flights have been canceled at Atlanta. The number is over 1,000.

And the weather isn't even expected to turn bad there till tonight. After sunset, it will be icy, but not very snowy, according to this update in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this morning: "Snow accumulations up to an inch may stick in Atlanta ..." [As of Saturday mid-afternoon, incidentally, the same Atlanta Journal-Constitution is evidently unaware of the rather alarming number of preemptive cancellations at the local airport, and instead dishes up a figure from yesterday. What, you want local reporting on a holiday?]

Incidentally, Delta Air Lines accounts for the vast majority of the cancellations today in Atlanta, its main hub. Delta itself scrubbed about 650 of its flights (including 328 of its 495 scheduled departures), and Atlantic Southeast Airlines, the regional carrier that operates most of the Delta Connection flights out of Atlanta, canceled 252 departures and arrivals. [My information comes from the always-invaluable Web site]

In April, new federal rules took effect to address the problem of airlines stranding passengers for long periods of time on idled planes on runways and aprons waiting to take off (or diverted from elsewhere) in bad weather. The rules set a fine of up to $27,500 per passenger for airlines that strand passengers without a very defensible reason for over three hours.

Problem solved. Tarmac delays exceeding three hours, which once numbered in the hundreds per month, have now just about disappeared. Problem introduced: Airlines have hair-triggers on the cancellation gun when even the threat of bad weather appears.

Meanwhile, a big storm is in fact looming for the East Coast. Some media weather reporters are dizzy with the usual hysteria, tossing out words like "monster storm" and "nightmare." (That's usin' them action words, AccuWeather!) But yep, it sure does look like it's gonna snow and blow on the eastern seaboard tomorrow. Here's a CNN report.

If you're flying, check ahead and be prepared for flight cancellations from Philly to Boston. Right now, flight cancellations are minimal at the airports on the Washington-to-Boston seaboard, but that could change in a hurry later today. We'll see if the Delta-Atlanta precedent is followed elsewhere.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Story From Arizona

I live in Tucson, in southern Arizona. Tucson is the anti-Phoenix in many ways -- not that there is anything especially bad about Phoenix except the state politicians and the developers. Tucson has its rapacious developers, but they don't always get their way. Tucson is good on things like water use (it isn't covered with golf courses and a lot of people resist the impulse to plaster the Sonoran desert with grass). Tucson keeps the streetlamps and other outdoor lights down low at night so you can see the stars in the sky.

Tucson still has an Old West feel to it, and retains the best of an old Mexican culture. Basically, people in Tucson are laid-back, friendly, overtly courteous. Men here hold doors in stores ... even for other men. Strangers speak nicely to one another. Except when the snowbirds arrive, drivers are kind. In general, it's the kind of culture where someone might shoot you, but only assuming you actually need shootin'; otherwise, people here generally give others a lot of slack and the benefit of the doubt. Civility is a civic virtue here.

That said, here's the story. Having grown up in a big city (Philadelphia) and having worked for 25 years in another (New York), I remain a little wary of lunatics you might encounter on the street. But you seldom see them in Tucson.

Yesterday, I drove to the library out here in my end of town by the Rincon Mountains. As I was turning off my ignition, I noticed striding across the parking lot a tall man wearing a flowing white gown that came down to his ankles, sandals, and a long white turban. He was carrying a big walking stick and (red-alert for lunatic-sightings), a shopping bag. He was walking with great purpose toward the library building.

This oughta be good, I thought. I waited till he passed before getting out of my car so I could keep my eye on him. I stayed about 30 feet behind him. As I said, you don't see a lot of street-nuts here, but street-nuts are usually harmless. This guy seemed a lot more focused in his stride than your typical street schizophrenic.

It was a warm day here in the desert, so the gown and turban seemed especially excessive. I'm not someone who over-reacts to perceived threats, but I do have an old street-reporter's cop-like sense of potential trouble. This character and his shopping bag seemed to warrant at least some observation.

He passed into the shaded plaza by the library, where there are two drop-bins to return library materials. I came up next to him and as I was sliding my books into the return chute I noticed that he was putting things that were not books into the adjacent bin.

So I turned and gave him a very good look-over that would be considered rude in most places. What he was sliding into the chute were childrens' DVDs. One, I saw, was "Shrek."

The man caught my eye, smiled, and said, "How are ya?"

"Good, how are you?" I replied. Oops, I could now see that he was a perfectly pleasant and decent fellow.

But why the get-up and the big walking stick? He obviously read my mind.

"Oh," he said, "I play one of the three kings every year at the Living Nativity Scene over at the Baptist church. It's my lunch hour and I thought I'd run over to the library and return my kids' movies."

Assumptions dashed, privately chastised, I wished the man a very Merry Christmas. And I say the same to you.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Heathrow Operations Curtailed Into Wednesday; Backups and Delays Will Continue Through Christmas

There's mounting outrage in Britain over the way passengers have been treated while stranded at airports during the severe winter weather that has disrupted air travel in Western Europe. Heathrow Airport, with massive route connections that span the world, was basically shut all weekend and still has not been able to resume anything close to normal operations.

The media are starting to catch up with the story of the misery passengers are encountering and the anger that's building as airports like Heathrow struggle, evidently not very successfully, to accommodate stranded people. Here's a report in the Telegraph newspaper today in London.

And here's a timely and comprehensive report datelined Paris in the New York Times. Also, showing its growing online savvy, the Times has this Internet roundup of reports and videos being posted by air travelers.

The Guardian newspaper in London, meanwhile, is doing a great job live-blogging the crisis.

And here is the latest update from Heathrow as snow and freezing temperatures continue in Europe:

"We have agreed a reduced flying schedule until 0600 on Wednesday 22nd December. A maximum one-third of flights are likely to operate during this period, and passengers should anticipate further delays and cancellations in the following days and potentially beyond Christmas Day.

Passengers should not travel to Heathrow without a confirmed booking. If passengers can travel at another time then they should do so.

This limited schedule provides airlines and passengers with more clarity in order to plan which flights are taking off and which are canceled. We aim to provide passengers with better and more timely information. Airlines are currently updating which flights have been canceled and the flight information board below shows the latest available flight information. If the flight status shows 'contact airline', the flight will not be operating today. Passengers must not travel to the airport unless they have confirmed that their flight is leaving today – airline contact numbers are available here.

The government has decided to permit extra flights throughout the night at Heathrow. The northern runway at Heathrow is open and handling a limited number of arrivals and departures. Earlier in the day, we prioritized aircraft that had previously been diverted, in order to bring passengers to Heathrow and get airline crews and aircraft in the right place.

Heathrow Airport was closed over the weekend following a 5-inch snowfall in around one hour on Saturday. There have been subsequent swings in temperature, to the extent that ice built up around the aircraft parked on the ground. Heathrow is currently using every available member of staff and several hundred additional contractors have been brought in to clear the situation. BAA has also deployed additional staff ..."

Meanwhile, other major European airports are also being hard hit, with delays accumulating. Few have been as responsive as Heathrow in at least addressing the situation on their Web sites. In Paris, De Gaulle Airport (of course) is pretending that nothing amiss has occurred, with its Web page full of smiling faces. Frankfurt, at least, has a notice that the weather is causing delays, along with a real-time posting of arrivals and departures.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Latest From Heathrow As Europe Air Mess Continues

Heathrow expects to have limited service restored tomorrow. Other airports in Europe have been operating all weekend, but are also severely hampered by snow and ice that has created huge delays and a lot of cancellations.

Here is the latest notice from Heathrow as of Sunday evening:

"Heathrow Airport will be open and operating a limited schedule of arrivals and departures from 0600 on Monday morning, but we expect further cancellations and delays in the coming days, as airlines move diverted aircraft and crew back to their normal positions and we continue to manage the impacts of the poor weather over the weekend and in the days ahead.

Passengers should not come to the airport without a confirmed booking and, if in any doubt, must consult their airlines before traveling."

And here's a BBC report on airport conditions throughout the UK.

By the way, I'd try to link to useful reports on current air-travel conditions in the rest of Europe, but the U.S. media have become so malfeasant in covering this kind of news that nothing timely or useful is available that I can find online. (CNN chooses to cover the story as a Christmas feature on some guy in Europe who's struck and wishes to be home for the holidays.) Hey, editors: We don't need your stinkin' fables. We need accurate travel-weather information, in detail, by airport, by country. This stuff is getable.

Increasingly, frustrated by the infantile trivialization of the mainstream news, many of us rely on a kind of post-modern samizdat to get relevant news. Here in the Sonoran desert, where I spent the day at a rodeo in the sun, I heard from friends -- who do in fact have a world view, with a worldwide social network -- that Geneva is a mess; the Paris airports are open but flights are badly delayed; Frankfurt is struggling back. It would be nice if the media caught onto the story, too. I mean, the roping event in Casa Grande, Arizona, is where I got at least some timely news on European travel problems this afternoon.

[UPDATE: Oh, here's a somewhat more comprehensive Reuters report from the IHT Web site, though it was posted nine hours ago.]


Snow and Ice Create Travel Chaos in Europe; Heathrow Shut Today to Arrivals

The air-train-road travel mess continues this weekend in Britain and the rest of western and northern Europe, which has been whacked by snow and freezing temperatures. Airports are a mess, and getting an alternate flight out this week is going to be a challenge if you've had a flight canceled.

Heathrow Airport, which was shut yesterday, said it will not accept arriving flights today. Backups are spreading throughout the air-travel system. There are reports that many aircraft are stranded on tarmacs at some regional airports.

Here's the report in the Guardian newspaper on conditions in Britain.

My Sunday newspapers seemed to be full of airy-fairy warmth-of-the-season holiday stories, limp features that have been sitting in some editor's drawer for months, and the usual incremental process news, and had nothing substantive on this remarkable crisis in Europe.

CNN did have a report, which began:

"On Saturday, frigid temperatures and extreme conditions pummeled Europe. From Northern Ireland to Bulgaria, blizzard conditions left airports with heavy delays or shut them entirely. Snow, ice and fog have caused travel chaos ahead of a busy holiday travel week. And severe weather could continue on Monday as another series of weather systems move in, said Met Office special forecaster Tony Burgess."

On Monday, more snow is expected in England, including some more possible accumulation in London. Below-normal temperatures are expected to continue in northern Europe.

Meanwhile, here is the statement in full from Heathrow:

"Heathrow Airport will not be accepting arrivals on Sunday, and will only manage a handful of departures as our airfield team continues to deal with the impacts of yesterday's bad weather.

No flights will operate from Terminals 1 or 4 and a limited number of departures will leave from Terminals 3 and 5. We are extremely sorry for the disruption this will cause to passengers and airlines and we stress that passengers must check with their airlines before traveling to the airport. We will provide regular updates and you can contact your airline here.

This morning, we listened carefully to the advice of our airside operations team and reluctantly judged that while Heathrow's northern runway remains clear, the change in temperature overnight led to a significant build up of ice on parking stands around the planes and this requires the airfield to remain closed until it is safe to move planes around.

We have 200 aircraft parking stands and have a team of several hundred people working to treat these airside areas and to keep passengers in the terminal as warm and as comfortable as possible while we do everything we can to get Heathrow moving.

We are removing 30 tons of snow from each stand, but the temperature remains firmly below zero and Heathrow's capacity is limited to the extent that all parking stands are occupied by aircraft, making the job of clearing and treating them more difficult.

Safety is our first priority and we hope this course of action will allow us to offer a fuller service to passengers and airlines using Heathrow tomorrow."


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pious of Penzance

Mile for mile, Britain probably has more truly crappy hotels with bad attitudes (outside of London) than any country in the developed world, but this one stands out for audacity. (And remember, there was a reason that Fawlty Towers was a TV hit).

A gay couple is suing a hotel near Penzance in Cornwall because said hotel, whose owners claim to be devout Christians, refused to allow them to stay.

One of the owners of the hotel, called the Chymorvah, a Mrs. Bull, said: "We accept that the Bible is the holy living word of God and we endeavor to follow that." Luckily, Mrs. Bull and the mister did not stone the sinners.

By the way, the reader-generated reviews of this joint on the always useful site are telling.
"Sad, outdated, unfriendly," says the headline on one. Another complains about "the religious fanatics who run the place."


Friday, December 10, 2010

International Growth Leads Air Travel Rebound; Load-Factors Were Highest Ever For September

Air travel has definitely rebounded as the economy improves. U.S. airlines carried 57.3 million domestic and international passengers in September, up 4.9 percent over Sept. 2009, according to the latest data from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

The September jump was the largest monthly year-over-year increase since September 2007. The September 2010 passenger total was also 5.7 percent above that of two years ago in September 2008 -- but still remained 3.2 percent below the pre-recession level of September 2007, the BTS said.

The breakdown: U.S. airlines carried 4.3 percent more domestic passengers in September 2010 than in September 2009. International passengers on U.S. carriers in September 2010 increased 9.4 percent. The September 2010 load factors, 81.0 percent systemwide (79.9 percent domestic and 83.5 percent international) were the highest recorded for any September.

The top airlines in terms of traffic were Delta, which carried more domestic and international passengers than any other U.S. airline. But Southwest Airlines carried the most domestic passengers.


Choice Hotels to Offer Wall Street Journal

In another bit of bad news for USA Today, which was once ubiquitous outside hotel-room doorways, Choice Hotels says it's chosen the Wall Street Journal as the "preferred newspaper" to offer at its 3,700 properties in North America. Choice's brands include Clarion, Cambria Suites, Comfort, Quality Inn, MainStay Suites, and Sleep Inn.

According to a statement from Dow Jones, the Journal will be delivered free to Choice Hotels guests starting New Year's Day. There was no mention of the financial arrangements or any barter deals Dow Jones might have made with Choice to get the newspapers into that pipeline, but Dow Jones has been expanding distribution of the Journal at domestic hotels over the last two years.

For decades, USA Today has been the standard free newspaper at hotels. But slippage became apparent in April 2009, when Marriott decided to stop distributing USA Today (almost always offered for free) at 2,600 Marriott-brand hotels in North America. This came after Marriott's chairman, Bill Marriott, decided that way too many of the brightly colored newspapers were being left untouched outside room doors, littering the corridors.

USA Today's parent company, Gannett, responded by claiming that only a small percentage of its circulation would be affected, like 1 percent. The media of course swallowed that.

By the way, I have nothing against Gannett's golden child USA Today, though I do still feel a slight residual pain from way back, when I was the editor in charge of investigative reporting at what was at the time a very aggressive Gannett newspaper. Aggressive, that is, until the then-fledgling USA Today began draining resources from all of the local Gannett newspapers, which were ordered to pay up and shut up.

I presciently resigned from that job after one glorious year (a few days, in fact, after Gannett had swopped down one night and fired the executive editor and the publisher, for spending too much money covering news).

OK, so a little professional residual resentment about USA Today, though I will concede that the paper aggressively covers travel-industry and travel consumer news, as well as sports. Anyway, I've always had some knowledge and a lot of interest in what I regard as the wild circulation claims that have always been made by USA Today. For one thing, I know no one who actually buys the paper, which claims to have a circulation of about 1.9 million on the five days a week on which it is published. I have always got it for free, usually from a hotel.

The gaudy founder of USA Today is a media buccaneer named Al Neuharth, who molded the Gannett company into a model of cost-efficiency, while at the same time ruining the journalistic reputations of more than a few regionally important local newspapers that had the misfortune of being acquired by Gannett. Neuharth is also the godfather of the much-hyped "Newseum" in Washington, which is positioned as a museum of journalism but which actually strikes me as a very pretty, essentially vacuous space near the Capitol, one noticable function of which seems to be serving as a venue for fancy cocktail parties tossed by media panjandra who rent the joint for regular celebrations of one another.

Neuharth, by the way, was also the cunning genius who got the whole newspaper industry to go along with his scheme to allow newspapers that are not sold at or near the cover price to be counted as paid circulation. As a result, even newspapers whose circulation claims are bolstered by a vast number of so-called bulk-sales copies that are essentially given away free (or as part of promotional barter deals with hotels and airlines) can make inflated claims about their circulation, which claims are always swallowed whole by media writers. (In the case of the Journal, which also counts a lot of bulk sales but with nowhere the egregiousness of USA Today, the rules also allow paid online subscribers to be counted as circulation.)

Since the days of Hearst and Pulitzer's battles, there have been, of course, many creative ways to hype circulation claims, by the way. For example, my local newspaper in Tucson amazes me each morning by proclaiming, on the top of its front page, that it has "238,700 readers weekdays." It escapes my comprehension how that remarkably precise number is arrived at, especially since the newspaper actually sells a mere 70,000 or so copies a day, and does not, to my knowledge, have any free circulation in the few hotels in town. I suspect this weird kind of arithmetic is still another legacy of Al Neuharth.

But I digress. The interesting news, to repeat, is that Choice Hotels has affirmed a commitment to a print newspaper, and chosen the Wall Street Journal to do so.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tourist Alert NYC: King Tut Exhibit Ain't What You Probably Think It Is, for $27.50 a Ticket

The famed King Tut's tomb relics got a lot of exposure when they toured the world in 1972 through 1979 in an acclaimed museum exhibit called Treasures of Tutankhamun. More than 8 million visitors saw it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City alone from 1976 through 1979.

Heads-up for tourists coming to New York this holiday season. The King Tut exhibit that's now on display in Times Square (there's a clue for you right there) is a commercial show, heavy on reproductions and glitz and light on actual Tut artifacts, that's not at all what the museum exhibit was.

In fact, despite credulous media reviews, the show is generating some blow-back from disappointed people who pay $27.50 expecting to see a spectacular array of treasures from Tut's tomb, which was discovered in 1922.

As one unhappy visitor put it on Fodor' "This exhibit is completely different from the original back in the 1970s. That one was magnificient, this one is made up of a bunch of essentially cast-offs and minor artifacts, few having anything to do with Tut. I was wondering if it was anything like the original. I saw it at the Met back then. It really was magnificent."

The exhibit has also generated a lot of publicity recently on Stephen Colbert's Colbert Nation show, in a joke segment called "Mysteries of the Unknown: Pursuit of the Pharaoh's Phallus," that's based on reports that Tut's penis disappeared from his mummified remains in recent years. Colbert visits the exhibit and interviews its director in a straight-faced manner that's very funny. That segment also makes it clear that the exhibit is commercial and the "mummy" on display is a replica. (The mummy was never a part of the museum exhibit.)

Anyway, as I said, heads-up. You may want to visit the show in New York, but you probably would like to know first actually what you'll be paying that $27.50 to see.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Good News: Free Inflight WiFi for Holiday; Bad News: Service Sucks

As I reported here Nov. 8, Delta, Virgin America and AirTran are offering free in-flight WiFi on the Aircell Gogo system, in a promotion with Google Chrome that runs through Jan 2.

Oops, according to this piece in Gizmodo, adding a lot of extra passengers per flight onto the system seems to have exposed its bandwidth weaknesses.

Not a good marketing initiative, if you want to build a base of loyal customers. The jury is still out on whether this is a viable business, given chronically low "take rates" by passengers who have actually paid full price for the service on the various airlines that offer it.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Airlines Slowly Adding Capacity; Wall Street Doesn't Like This

Airlines are slowly adding seat capacity. Delta, for example, said today that its systemwide capacity was up 7.5 percent in November compared with Nov. 2009. Traffic was also up 7.5 percent, Delta said.

That suggests that supply and demand, which airlines have massaged in the last year to a formula that enables them to be profitable, is still under control, even if supply is rising.

Wall Street, which understands nothing but the primal scream of fast money, does not approve. In the last month, on worries that airlines might be adding capacity to serve growing demand, Delta's stock has been driven down 4.72 percent.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Storm Snarls Air Travel in Northeast

[Above: Airport delays as of just before 5 p.m. Eastern time, via]

Wind and rain are creating an air-travel mess in the Northeast this afternoon, especially in the New York area, where almost 1,000 departures and arrivals had been canceled by late afternoon at La Guardia, Newark and JFK, according to


'We're Going Through a Little Turbulence, Folks ... Yaiiii!'

Not to worry about who's in charge in the secured cockpit of the next Air India Express 737 flight you're on. Why, it's a 25-year-old, reportedly inadequately trained co-pilot, panicking the jet into a spectacular 7,000 foot dive while the passengers were eating their dinner and the pilot was outside the cockpit on a bathroom break, reports CNN, which adds:

"The aviation agency report [in India] concluded that the 25-year-old co-pilot had not been trained in the specific scenario the jet encountered and 'probably had no clue to tackle this kind of emergency.'"