Monday, May 31, 2010

Union at British Airways Threatens Further Disruptions

A dispute over travel perks -- that is, the traditional free airplane rides for employees -- could mean continuous disruption at British Airways this summer, the union for striking B.A. flight attendants said. Here's a link.

At many airlines, including B.A., the reduction in availability of free travel has created serious morale problems for staff. At some airlines, they call the desk where flight attendants and pilots apply for free travel "the wailing wall."

British Airways flight attendants started their second five-day strike yesterday. Others are planned.

Unaccountably, British Airways has failed to update its online customer-service information on the situation for five days. What, nobody working today?


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another Strike Starts by Cabin Crews at British Airways

Two days after an earlier five-day strike ended, British Airways flight attendants began a second strike today. The union, Unite, said it would last for five days.

Here's a British Airways "update" on the situation which, unaccountably, is three days old.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Weather Forecast, Tucson

[Above: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer takes a well-deserved rest to catch up on her rays. Oh, wait, that not Brewer, that's actually Magda from "There's Something About Mary."]

Sunny. Highs 97 to 102. South wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west 15 to 20 mph this afternoon.


Ed Murrow Speaks From the Grave...


Monday, May 24, 2010

British Airways Flight Attendants Are On Strike

The on-again, off-again strike by British Airways flight attendants is on today, after the union action was upheld by a court ruling.

Here's an update by the Guardian newspaper.

Here's the British Airways customer-service announcement on the action.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jamaica Travel Heads-Up: Street Violence in Kingston

Anyone considering traveling to Jamaica really needs to listen up: There is trouble in the capital, Kingston. The violence is perpetrated by thugs supporting a popular gangster wanted by the police -- and by the Americans.

The Jamaican government today posted a state of emergency for some parts of Kingston.

And here's the New York Times update. The Times blog is reporting that the gangster. Christopher "Dudus" Coke, is barricaded in west Kingston.

There's gunfire in some streets, and several police stations in the capital have been attacked by roving bands of thugs.

There may be some element of anti-Americanism involved, since the gangster is wanted in the U.S., but that's just my speculation. The situation evidently has been deteriorating since the State Department issued an alert yesterday.

The wanted criminal in question is a charismatic Jamaican drug figure known locally as Christopher "Dudus" Coke. An article today in the Jamaica newspaper "the Gleaner" has some information on this foul character (once you get past the windy lead-in paragraphs).

The American media have not had this situation on the radar, so there's little context. My hunch: There are genuine anti-American aspects of this violence. The airlines, hotels and cruise companies have not yet caught on to the implications, and when they do, they'll be slow to react.

Americans should be very careful about travel to Jamaica.

The State Department alert says in part:

"The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens about developing security concerns in Jamaica, particularly the Kingston area. The possibility exists for violence and/or civil unrest in the greater Kingston metropolitan area. There are unconfirmed reports of criminal gang members amassing in the Kingston area, as well as mobilization of Jamaican defense forces. If the situation ignites, there is a possibility of severe disruptions of movement within Kingston, including blocking of access roads to the Norman Manley International Airport. The possibility exists that unrest could spread beyond the general Kingston area. U.S. Embassy Kingston is taking extra security precautions. This Travel Alert expires on June 21, 2010.

U.S citizens should consider the risks associated with travel to and within the greater Kingston metropolitan area. U.S. citizens are urged always to practice good security, maintain a heightened situational awareness and a low profile. U.S. citizens in Jamaica are advised to monitor local news reports and consider the level of security present when venturing outside their residence or hotel."


Saturday, May 22, 2010

American Airlines Flight Attendants Authorize Strike

American Airlines flight attendants have overwhelmingly authorized a strike. The strike vote count was announced to members today and, I am told by flight attendants, it was 96.8 percent yes.

More than 90 percent of American's over 18,000 flight attendants voted. The union is the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Stay tuned on this one.


Friday, May 21, 2010

160 Dead in Crash of Air India Express 737

At least 160 people died when an Air India Express 737-800 overshot the runway in Mangalore in southern India. The plane was arriving from Dubai.

Air India Express is a budget airline that flies a fleet of 24 737-800s.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

TSA a Bloated 'Bureaucratic Nightmare,' Says GOP Congressman Mica, Calling for "Immediate Reorganization" of the Agency

In advance of a new federal report today on the failures of the Transportation Security Administration’s vaunted "behavior detection," U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL) called for a reorganization of the TSA, which he called a "bloated, ineffective bureaucracy."

Mica also says that the TSA is top-heavy with highly paid supervisors. AT TSA headquarters, he says, over 30 percent of employees are supervisors, with an average salary of over $105,000.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the TSA’s behavior-detection program, known as SPOT ("Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques"), at Mica’s request. The public version of the report (GAO-10-763) is expected to be released later today.

[I'll post the link when it's available]

Says Mica, the ranking minority member on the House transportation committee, "GAO’s report confirms that TSA has bungled the development and deployment of a potentially important layer of aviation security. Other countries, such as Israel, successfully employ behavior-detection techniques at their airports, but the bloated, ineffective bureaucracy of TSA has produced another security failure for U.S. transportation systems.

"I have written to Secretary Napolitano to express the need for the immediate reevaluation and reorganization of the TSA, an agency teetering on the verge of disaster," he said, referring to a letter sent today to Napolitano.

The TSA, as I have noted repeatedly, has been without a permanent director for 16 months, and is still being run by the same Bush-era appointees and hires who have presided over its myriad operational and security failures and out-of-control budgets since the agency was started in 2003.

Mica's statement continues:

According to the GAO report, TSA spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on the SPOT program. TSA began pilot tests of SPOT in 2003, and began to significantly increase deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) in March 2007. Approximately 3,000 BDOs are now deployed to over 100 of 457 TSA-regulated U.S. airports.

However, according to the GAO, TSA never scientifically validated the list of behaviors underpinning the program, never determined whether the techniques could be applied for counter-terrorism or in an airport environment, and never conducted a cost-benefit analysis.

The program has also failed to identify known terrorists that have traveled through SPOT airports. Since the program’s inception, 17 known terrorists have traveled through eight SPOT airports on 23 different occasions. This includes Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber.

The GAO reports that between May 2004 and August 2008:

-- 2 billion passengers went through SPOT airports
-- 150,000 were selected for secondary screening
-- 14,000 were referred to law enforcement
-- 1,100 were arrested
-- 0 were arrested for terrorism.

Mica had urged the development of a behavior detection program, based on the highly successful Israeli model utilized by EL Al Airlines.

Unfortunately, the TSA’s SPOT Program is not like the Israeli behavior detection model. Unlike the Israeli program, SPOT is conducted from a distance, with no personal interaction between the passenger and the TSA employee performing the SPOT screening unless the passenger is identified for secondary screening,” Mica said. “El Al also trains all their staff in behavior detection techniques, not just the screening staff working the passenger checkpoints.

Earlier airport screening penetration tests have repeatedly demonstrated the TSA’s failure to detect threats. I sought a robust behavior detection program to address those failures. Unfortunately, penetration testing continues to show that even with new screening technology and the SPOT Program, the aviation screening system is not working.

TSA is a bureaucratic nightmare, with over 60,000 employees and top heavy with supervisory and administrative staff. At TSA headquarters, where 30 percent of employees are supervisors, the average salary is over $105,000. Thirteen percent of field employees are supervisors. This is a massive bureaucracy that cannot effectively ensure the safety of U.S. transportation systems, and something must be done to improve the agency’s performance." [End of Mica statement]

[MY COMMENT} And oh, while Mica is excoriating the TSA, maybe he might consider leaning on his own party, which blocked two of President Obama's nominees to head the agency on ideological grounds (one for not being sufficiently anti-union), to get out of the way and let the president appoint someone to get this "bloated bureaucracy" under control -- and start fixing the chronic security failures.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TSA Screener Accused of Stealing Cash From Woman in Wheelchair

A TSA agent has been arrested and arraigned on a federal charge of stealing more than $400 from a wheelchair-using passenger as she passed through a security checkpoint at the Newark airport, according to this report by WNBC-TV in New York City.

According to the criminal charge, Leroy Ray lifted cash from the woman's carry-on bag after she had placed it on the X-ray machine belt at the checkpoint. Ray was caught on surveillance video, the complaint said. The incident occurred on Feb. 3.

Here's a much more detailed report on the incident, in a somewhat windy article in the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper. Warning: You have to wade through a baloney journalistic sermon about the "social compact," etc., before you get to the actual news.

This is the latest theft scandal for the TSA, which always points out that nearly 2 million people a day pass through TSA checkpoints, and only a very tiny percentage of them are actually robbed.

And so on.

But let me add one more concern to the growing number of concerns about a security agency that has been troubled for many years, and without a permanent director for 16 months.

Once those whole-body imagers are all in place, you know, the ones the TSA hates it when someone calls them "strip-search machines," passengers will need to put all of their personal possessions onto the belt. Wallets, which we now carry in our pockets through the old-tech magnetometers, are not be allowed on one's person in the whole-body image scanners. Everything goes onto the belt.

Where it's available to the teeny, tiny percentage of TSA agents who might be thieves.

On its Web site, the TSA has a Q&A section in which a TSA person who goes by the name "Blogger Bob" addresses the query of whether one must "divest" onself of a wallet before entering the whole-body imager (WBI) machine -- which the TSA has lately begun calling "advanced imaging technology." The reason for the new name, I am informed, is that consultants suggested that "whole-body imager" had a bad connotation with the public, which is wary of strip-searching of their whole bodies.

Once divested, the wallet then goes on the belt along with your carry-on and shoes and other stuff.

Says Blogger Bob:

"Your wallet must be divested prior to WBI screening so we can screen its contents via the X-ray.

We also need to be able to determine you have nothing on your person while being screened in the WBI.

If you choose to keep your wallet on your person, you will be referred for additional screening and your wallet will receive a physical inspection. The additional screening is not a threat or a punishment for not divesting, it's just security protocol.

It's always a good idea to place your wallet in one of your bags or a coat pocket. It reduces the chances of it being separated from your belongings. Also, you can request to have your property stay in your view."


Airlines to European Airspace Regulators: Get Your Ash in Gear

As noted here the other day, the volcanic ash problem from that volcano in Iceland that nobody can pronounce and whose indecipherable spelling I am tired of looking up, the problem is not going away any time soon. We may be looking at a year or more of on-again, off-again volcanic ash-cloud drifts disrupting air traffic.

Yesterday alone, another 1,000 flights were canceled. Dealing with volcanic ash may well be the "new normal" in travel to and from western Europe.

Well now. The airlines are finally speaking with a unified voice, following incremental complaints by airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

The International Air Transport Association issued a statement today calling for European regulators to get their act together on this matter.

"This problem is not going away any time soon," it says. "The current European-wide system to decide on airspace closures is not working. We welcome the operational refinements made by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) in their theoretical model but we are still basically relying on one-dimensional information to make decisions on a four-dimensional problem."

The statement quotes the IATA director, Giovanni Bisignani: "The result is the unnecessary closure of airspace. Safety is always our number-one priority. But we must make decisions based on facts, not on uncorroborated theoretical models."

For those who want to see the full text, rather than some truncated paraphrase, here is the remainder of the statement from IATA:


Bisignani noted some successful exceptions which provide examples to follow. “France has been able to safely keep its airspace open by enhancing the VAAC data with operational expertise to more precisely determine safe fly zones. Today, the UK Civil Aviation, working with the UK NATS (the air navigation service provider), announced another step forward by working with airlines and manufacturers to more accurately define tolerance levels while taking into account special operational procedures. Both are examples for other European governments to follow,” said Bisignani.

Bisignani called for (1) more robust data collection and analysis (2) a change in the decision making process and (3) urgency in addressing the issues.

"Numbers show that the current system is flawed. Over 200,000 flights have operated in European airspace identified by the VAAC as having the potential presence of ash. Not one aircraft has reported significant ash presence and this is verified by post-flight aircraft and engine inspections. We must back the theory with facts gathered by aircraft to test ash concentration. France and the UK are showing that this is possible. If European civil aviation does not have the resources, it should look to borrow the test aircraft from other countries or military sources," said Bisignani [who added]:

"We have lost confidence in the ability of Europe’s governments to make effective and consistent decisions. Using the same data, different countries have come to different conclusions on opening or closing airspace.

“Ultimately the industry needs a decision-making process for ash clouds similar to the one used for all other operational disruptions. Every day airlines make decisions whether to fly or not to fly in various weather conditions. Airlines collate the information available and make informed decisions placing safety first and with full access to all the latest weather reporting. Why should volcanic ash be any different?

"In the U.S., which has a lot of experience with volcanic activity, the government identifies a no-fly zone where ash concentration is the highest. For all other areas, it is the responsibility of the airline to decide to fly or not based on the various data sources available. “The U.S. has well-established, safe and effective procedures for tracking the hazards of volcanic ash. In recent years, the industry had no recorded safety incidents from volcanic activity in US airspace. Europe has a lot to learn.

"Volcanic ash is a new challenge for European aviation. We can understand that systems need to be developed to cope. But what is absolutely inexcusable is the failure of Europe’s governments to act urgently and collectively to provide real leadership in a crisis. We have vast amounts of data from over 200,000 safe flights ready for analysis to support an urgent review of the current processes. The UK is finally moving in the right direction. But what about the other affected European governments? The next transport ministers meeting is scheduled for June 24. What kind of leadership waits more than a month to make crisis decisions? European businesses are dependent on air travel and passengers certainly cannot wait that long for initiatives like the UK’s to be implemented continent-wide."

Bisignani said he is traveling to Montreal for urgent meetings with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). "IATA and ICAO have been working intensely on this issue since the crisis first struck in April. IATA is strongly supporting the ICAO task force which is reviewing ash tolerance thresholds with operators and manufacturers. The responsibility of manufacturers is critical in providing performance information to back decisions," he said.

Tomorrow Bisignani will meet Roberto Kobeh-Gonzales, President of the ICAO Council and Raymond Benjamin, ICAO Secretary-General.


Monday, May 17, 2010

British Airways Strike Blocked by Court

A strike that was to have begun Tuesday at British Airways was blocked today by a British court, which ruled against the flight attendants union planning the action.

The court objected to technicalities in the strike vote, which set a series of four five-day strikes starting this week.

It is expected that the union will eventually take a new strike vote to overcome the court's objections, but there is no indication yet of when.


Big Jump in Premium Air-Traffic As Business Travel Picks Up

The number of passengers flying in first-class or business-class seats rose 10.8 percent in March compared with March 2009, the International Air Transport Association reported today.

"In fact, the number of people traveling on premium seats was expanding at a very strong annualized rate of 25 percent in the first quarter," said IATA, the trade group for world airlines.

That's more than two times the growth rate for coach-class travel.

Of course, those comparisons are to a very poor year in 2009. Premium travel is still about 15 percent below pre-recession levels, IATA said.

Still, the acceleration in demand is exceeding forecasts.

Growth in all segments is being driven by a rebound in business travel. "As business confidence and world trade have turned up sharply, business travelers have returned," IATA said.

But they aren't paying the kinds of premium fares they used to pay. It's apparent to me that this "new normal" we keep hearing about includes a structural change in premium-class fares, which I think are going to settle in at about an average of 30 percent or more below levels of three years ago.

Airlines, like hotels, have simply lost pricing-power ground at the top levels.


Heathrow, Other Big UK Airports Reopen

Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports in Britain reopened at 7 a.m. London time after being closed all night by volcanic ash in the skies.

Here's the current update from the British air traffic control system company NATS.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Much of UK Airspace Closes Again, Including Heathrow and Gatwick; Another BA Strike Looms This Week

[UPDATE 4.25 pm PDT: Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports are closing at 1 a.m. local time on Monday, and will remain shut at least till 7 a.m. Stansted and Luton remained open. Manchester and Birmingham reopened. Schiphol Amsterdam is closed till at least 2 p.m. Monday.]

The latest no-fly zone created by volcanic ash from Iceland was extended from Northern Ireland to the west coast of England and into Scotland today. According to the London Times today, airports in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds Bradford, East Midlands and Glasgow-Prestwick "have all been forced to close." [UPDATE: As noted above, Manchester later reopened while Heathrow, Gatwick and London City closed].

These new developments come as British Airways faces a five-day strike this week by flight attendants, who have said they will be off the job starting Tuesday. The strike action plans for four separate increments of five-day-long strikes starting Tuesday.

Here's the British Airways customer notice on the expected strike disruptions.

As to the new airspace closings, Richard Branson, for one, is hopping mad at what he sees as another overreaction by the privatized companies that operate British airspace and national weather services. Branson, the Virgin Atlantic president and founder, said that closing Manchester was "beyond a joke," and that there was no evidence that aircraft could not continue to fly safely, according to British news reports.

Who knows? But have a look at the current NATS bulletin to see how private corporations can blithely obfuscate information that the public needs. I thought these people spoke English.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

As Britain Weighs More Airspace Closings, Are Volcanic Ash Disruptions in Skies of Europe the 'New Normal'?

Heads-up for anyone bound to or from Britain in the next few days.

The British government says that UK airspace may be subject to more closings starting tomorrow, thanks to the ash cloud from continuing volcanic eruption in Iceland.

Flights at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports would be affected, possibly through Tuesday, says the Department of Transport.

However, according to this report in the London Times, the agency says that the situation is "fluid" and forecasts could change.

[UPDATE: Here's a better story in today's Telegraph, WHICH REPORTS:

"The prediction of closures from Sunday until Tuesday morning is based on continuing volcanic activity in Iceland and prevailing weather conditions.

The Department of Transport said: `Within this time frame, different parts of UK airspace – including airspace in the South East – are likely to be closed at different times.'"]


Friday, May 14, 2010

Lonely Planet

The big story in travel is that it's picking up robustly. Finally.

The rebound follows some grim times -- as this photo of top travel editors gathered for a lunch at the Plaza Hotel in New York earlier this year inadvertently underscored.

The photo appears in Travel Weekly, the very lively weekly trade publication for travel agents. Travel Weekly had invited leading editors in the travel-media biz to a roundtable lunch to discuss the state of the industry, including "emerging trends, destinations and global travelers."

Thank God the emerging trends are looking better since that event -- and hopefully for the Plaza as well.

At the roundtable, according to this article in Travel Weekly last month, were "the chief editors of Afar, Budget Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure and the travel editor of USA Today," who all "convened in New York earlier this year for the fifth annual Travel Weekly Consumer Travel Editors Roundtable."

Added Travel Weekly, "The event was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel, which recently completed a three-year, $450 million restoration. Lunch was provided by Plaza partner CPS Events' Liz Neumark."

OK then. Onward and upward!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hotel Industry Recovery Continuing With Luxury Hotels Leading the Way

[Above: Revenue per available room for the week ended May 8, pct. increase over corresponding week in 2009. Chart by Smith Travel Research]

As business travel picks up, U.S. hotels are starting to recover from the worst slump in hotel industry history.

For the week ended May 8, the overall domestic hotel industry reported a 5.6 percent gain, compared with the corresponding week in 2009, in revenue per available room. RevPAR is the standard measurement of a hotel's operating performance.

The data are from Smith Travel Research.

As has been the case for over a month, the luxury hotel segment far outperformed the rest of the industry, as travelers are feeling a little less anxious about high-end spending.

Luxury hotels reported a 14.6 percent increase in RevPAR for the week and an 11.8 percent increase in occupancy. (Overall, the hotel industry reported a 5.6 percent increase in occupancy).


Anchors Aweigh and the Goatf*** in the Gulf

Hey, no disrespect to the United States Coast Guard, which does a heckuva job patrolling for drunks in speedboats and rescuing those in peril on the ... um, still waters.

But somebody please tell me, as I am watching grandly uniformed Coast Guard officers testify about the Goatf*** in the Gulf: What are all those splendid ribbons on their chests for?

I mean, the Coast Guard is a branch of the Homeland Security Department, not a military outfit per se. So are these combat ribbons? Are they merit badges for rope-tying and seamanship? I really want to know.

It probably wouldn't have occurred to me to be so rude as to pose the question -- if these grandees didn't have so many ribbons festooned across their chests. I mean, the last time I saw the genuine war hero General Petraeus on the TV I counted eight rows of ribbons on his chest, many of them representing medals for valor in mortal combat.

Shown above: Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who was all over the TV in the initial stages of the Goatf*** in the Gulf, seems to have six rows of ribbons. Coast Guard Capt. Verne Gifford (above, left), who has been all over the TV lately, seems to be sporting seven.

Just askin' ... As I say, no disrespect to the Coast Guard, but maybe they should consider toning down the comic-opera regalia till this catastrophe settles down.

OK, I spent four years in the Navy, so I do get to repeat the joke:

Why do Coast Guard officers all have to be over six feet tall? So they can walk to shore if their boat sinks, of course.

I kid, I kid.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Airline Crash in Libya Kills 103

An Afriqiyah Airways A330-200 crashed in Libya, killing 103 on board during landing at Tripoli. A 10 year old boy survived.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on Afriqiyah Airways, which is based in Libya.

Here is the Afriqiyah Airways notice on the crash.

This is the second fatal crash of an Airbus A330-200 within a year. Last June, an Air France A330 bound from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in the Atlantic, killing 228.

It's great that a child survived today's crash -- but news accounts that focus on the "miracle" of the survivor (how I hate that word, having once survived an air crash that killed 154) and not on the central catastrophe represent the continuing trivialization of journalism that has been wrought by cable news, it seems to me.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Report: Antitrust Issues Small in United-Continental Merger, But Potential Market Domination at 17 Airports, Many in California, Needs Attention

A report from Cambridge Aviation Research today has some interesting analysis on the consumer and antitrust effects on the proposed United-Continental merger. Here's a summary of the report.

"With relatively little overlap in their route structures, the proposed merger of United and Continental raises red flags at only 17 domestic airports," says Jeffrey Breen, president of Cambridge Aviation Research and primary author of the report.

Last month, Cambridge said, a study of a then-proposed merger of United and US Airways identified 26 red-flagged airports.

In the proposed United-Continental combination, the 17 airports red-flagged as at risk for increases in market concentration that exceed federal antitrust guidelines are (from most-affected to least): the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport; San Francisco; Vail; the preposterously named Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport; Los Angeles International; Yampa Valley Colorado; New Orleans; Cleveland; Denver; Chicago O'Hare; San Diego; Orange County; Honolulu; Ontario California; Las Vegas; Tampa; Sacramento.

More than a third of the red-flagged airports are in California, and management of the airlines should "address these markets proactively and publicly," Breen says.


Mishandled Bags By the Numbers

Some reporters make a big deal out of two airline operations metrics that really are not that big a deal, mishandled bags and, especially, overbookings. It's another symptom of innumeracy in journalism when anyone gets breathless about these numbers in general, though it is useful to compare individual airlines and note that the worst performers are always regional airlines.

For the record:

In March, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data released today:

--Airlines "mishandled" (that is, lost, damaged or temporarily misplaced) 3.7 checked bags per 1,000 bags checked. That's an improvement over the 4.23 rate in March of 2009.

--The five worst performers on bag-handling were Atlantic Southeast (8 per 1,000, versus 10.34 in March of 09); American Eagle (7.25), Pinnacle (6.21), Skywest (4.95) and Comair (4.62).

--In the first quarter of 2010, airlines overbooked, that is, bumped, at the rate of 1.73 per 10,000 passengers. Doing the math, that amounts to the sum of teenie-tiny. But watch some dope make a big deal out of it.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Thinking Airline Future? Think Alliances, Not Mergers

I'm a sucker for Mike Boyd's grouchy but always incisive weekly commentary at the Web site of his airline forecasting company, Boyd Group International.

Today, Boyd points out something that pilots and even travelers are seeing more of. Airlines branded by international alliance, rather than airline company. If you've looked out an airplane window and seen a widebody on the apron with livery that says oneworld, rather than an actual airline name, that's what I'm talking about.

From the Boyd commentary today:

"It seems every law firm and one-man consulting shop in America is now confidently pontificating on the outcomes of the Continental/United merger.

The combined entity will cut capacity by 5%. Or was it 8%? Or was it none? The merged carriers have too many hubs. Or, not enough. We only need three US airlines, is the new mantra. Low cost carriers will find a bonanza in the routes that the new merged airline will drop. Regional airlines - a term defined differently by various sources, sometimes dumping SkyWest and Southwest in the same category - will see a resurgence. Or, maybe a financial Waterloo. Or, they're all headed for the 'loo. Fares will go up. Or, was that down?

... For example, back in the day, [Boyd Group told Pittsburgh International Airport] that if US Airways pulled its hub, it would drop to under 40 nonstop destinations. Nonsense! was the response from the usual suspects. It'll never happen... other carriers will rush in to fill the gap. Today, it's about 36 nonstop destinations. And all those airlines that were supposed to rush in and replace the US Airways hub never arrived.

So in regard to mergers, here's a bit of heresy: tomorrow's airline context will not be anywhere near what we have today. Fact: in the long run (roughly five to seven years out) it may not mean diddly if carrier A gets merged into carrier B.

More Anathema Thinking: Ignore the Peanut Gallery mantras. US Airways, for example, isn't "left at the altar." American isn't the Ugly Betty of the industry, replete with corporate zits and unable to get a date. They don't need partners, because they may be filling a very different market role from that of today. As for the latest merger, it could ultimately be consumer-neutral - whether the combined new entity is named "United" or "Continental" or "Air Fred" may not make any difference.

One word, Benjamin: Alliances. Read the AA/BA/IB Joint Business Agreement (or at least skim it - it's lethally boring). What comes out are buzz-terms like "metal neutrality" and "brand indifference" - all of which indicates that individual airline brand will increasingly be subordinated to the global alliance system identity. It may well gravitate to the point where AA, UA, US, et al are lift providers to their respective global (note: not US) alliances.

This is part of a global airline trend - in ten years, it may not make much difference whether it's UA or AA flying the airplane - it will be competition between Star, oneworld, or SkyTeam. So, if UA and CO combine, all it ultimately may mean is that there is one less corporate lift provider to the Star Alliance. In today's context, it would be like a merger between Pinnacle and Mesaba. The corporation would change, but to the consumer, they'd still be booking on Delta. That's the future for independent international carriers - just on a global scale. Consumers book on Star, and the airplane might be operated by (depending on how the system develops) United, or US Airways, or for international travel, Lufthansa or China Eastern.

It's a global business world. And it's going to be connected by global alliance systems, not individual international airlines. So, for the long term, prognostications on how to deal with the UA/CO merger are the equivalent of planning arrival festivities for the Titanic. ..."

Thanks to Mike Boyd for looking beyond Wall Street baloney and the usual knee-jerking about mergers.


OAG Analysis of United-Continental Merger and Affect on Airports

OAG, in a report today on the proposed merger between United and Continental:

"The new United Airlines will be second to Delta in terms of worldwide seat departures, and third behind Delta and Southwest Airlines in domestic seats. American Airlines will move from second to third in U.S. and worldwide ASMs, and from third to fourth in total and domestic seats. 'Merger assessments usually focus on shares of the partners in a variety of differently-defined markets, ranging from a single airport pair, to dominance of one or more hubs to a set of traffic flows through hubs," said Sanford (Sandy) Rederer, Senior Consultant, OAG Aviation Consulting Services. "This information is of great interest to the communities whose air service will be impacted by the merger.'"


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Trans-Atlantic Flights Canceled or Slowed by More Volcanic Ash

Here we go again?

Hundreds of trans-Atlantic flights are being delayed today for re-routing, and in many cases canceled, after a cloud of volcanic ash flowed into the North Atlantic skies between Iceland and northern Spain.

Here's the initial report from NPR. It says in part: "Until Eyjafjallajokul, the volcano in southern Iceland, stops its emissions, the key to the future course of Europe's ash crisis will be the prevailing winds. The eruption of the glacier-capped volcano has shown no signs of stopping since it began belching ash April 13."

There had been predictions during the 6-day shutdown of air traffic in Europe by volcanic ash last month that sporadic disruptions might occur in the future as more volcanic eruptions and aftershocks occurred in Iceland.

Here's the AP report.

By the way, the beast is spelled with either two "l's" or one at the end. AP style is one L.

Otherwise, to quote the "Volcano Song" per Mr. Jimmy Buffett:

Now I don't know
I don't know
I don't know where I'm a gonna go
When the volcano blow


Friday, May 07, 2010

TSA Objection to Strip-Search-Scanner Photo

The TSA objects to the photo in my previous post (see below) purporting to show a young woman's body as seen in a whole body imager.

It is, evidently, a photo-shopped image, a fake. Here's the link to the TSA "myth-buster" post debunking that particular image.

However, the image shown above left, of an older woman, is genuine. It shows a female TSA research official in a test of one of the backscatter versions of the whole body imaging machines. Backscatter machines are one of two technologies used in whole body images. The other is millimeter-wave technology. Here is the TSA's explanation of the differences between the two.

The TSA maintains that images as detailed as the one shown above won't be routinely used during airport security operations. The agency says the above image, from several years ago when the technology was first being tested, is out of date. Software was later developed to enable the screener viewing the body images to blur or pixelate private body areas.

In Miami, where a fight among TSA officers followed training on the machines, a supervisor allegedly ridiculed a screener's allegedly small penis as it appeared on the image. Evidently the blurring or pixelating was not sufficient to obscure the area in dispute, whatever its size.

Via, here is the police report on the Miami incident.

Hey, you in the back row: Cut out that laughing!

Meanwhile, as security critics have pointed out, any smart terrorist, reassured that private body parts will be blurred in the image, probably figures it's a good idea to tuck contraband where the sun don't shine. So the blurring, image-pixelating rationale needs some work.

Incidentally, the TSA has also said repeatedly that the whole-body imagers cannot store images. In fact the machines can store images, as the TSA told me 18 months ago. It's just that they will be configured not to store them. This is, however, in dispute.

As to the Three Stooges-like incident in Miami, TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee sent the following via e-mail:

"TSA has a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence. Per our normal
procedures, TSA is moving quickly to act on the security officer charged
with assault. At the same time, we are investigating to determine
whether other officers may have violated procedures during a training
session with coworkers and committed professional misconduct. The
training was internal and at no time was anyone from the traveling
public involved."

Incidentally, Michael Chertoff, the former head of the Homeland Security department, of which the TSA is a part, now runs a security company that has done consulting work for companies vying to sell whole-body image machines to the TSA. When he ran Homeland Security, Chertoff was a prominent advocate of using the machines.

The TSA has been operating without a permanent director in charge for 16 months.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

More Fun & Games at the TSA

[UPDATE: See correction in post above about the image of the woman.]

Hey, not to worry about those strip-search machines the TSA is busily awarding contracts for. They can't be abused, the TSA insists. Also, they don't show "detail," the agency says, sticking its fingers in its ears and singing "la-la-la" about that official image above from a TSA body scanner.

So pay no attention to this smirky local TV report about an incident at the Miami airport where a TSA supervisor ridiculed a co-worker's genitalia during a training session on body scanners. A Three Stooges style incident ensued. Your tax dollars at work!

The TSA, of course, has been without a permanent director for 16 months and is still being run by the same people who have run it through all of the past embarrassments,


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

That No-Fly List and the Times Square Bomber

There's a lot of baloney being peddled today again about the "no fly list," which manifestly did not work when the flea-brained Times Square would-be bomber managed to get onto an airplane for Dubai the other day with the cops hot on his tail.

Again, it appears to me that the TSA, which has been operating without a permanent director for 16 months, has failed another major security test.

It's being dutifully reported that the TSA was not responsible here. Technically true. My question: Why not?

Yes, for international flights, the responsibility for enforcing the terrorist watch lists still rests with airlines, rather than with the TSA. Late last year, the TSA began taking responsibility for domestic enforcement of the lists from the airlines, in a move to reduce the number of infuriating false-positives on the so-called "selectee" portion of the lists.

Incidentally, reporters keep confusing the selectee portion of the lists with the no-fly portion. This is an egregious error.

The selectee list, the one that drives innocent people nuts, consists of hundreds of thousands of "identities" that correspond to about 30,000 actual people who are considered by various law-enforcement agencies to be worth having a second look at before they fly. The trouble with the selectee list is that airline enforcement cast a very wide net, and upstanding citizens whose names are even similar to someone on the list were routinely hassled at airports.

The TSA's new so-called Secure Flight program is supposed to be addressing that problem by taking the enforcement from the airlines to the TSA itself, and by requiring fliers to provide additional personal information on booking, allowing the TSA to more accurately check them off the selectee list.

The no-fly list is a whole other kettle of fish. If you're on it, you do not fly. Period. It is a deadly serious list. The Times Square would-be bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was placed on the no-fly list hours before he bought his ticket and boarded that plane.

TSA responsibility for enforcing the lists on international flights is scheduled to commence later this year. That includes the no-fly portion.

How come? How come after seven years and tens of billions of dollars spent by the TSA on security theater, on patting down infants, people in wheelchairs and -- I can personally attest -- parrots, some would-be terrorist whose name is on the no-fly list manages to 1. Buy a one-way ticket, for cash, for Pakistan from New York and 2. Get onto the airplane. His escape was averted only when the cops and FBI rushed onto the plane and hauled him off.

The New York Police Department did spectacular work, as usual, finding this bozo. The FBI did great work, too, although unaccountably the suspect slipped from surveillance for a couple of hours before turning back up on the radar.

The half-assed bomb he constructed failed to go off in Times Square. The perpetrator -- and this Faisal Shahzad looks to be a malcontent Islamist U.S. citizen who went looking for terrorist cred in Pakistan only after his American Dream went sour during the mortgage crisis in Connecticut -- is behind bars and singing like Sinatra. Nancy Sinatra.

But it ended without catastrophe.

That was no thanks to the TSA, which again drops the ball in a crisis.

Yes, the responsibility for red-flagging this nitwit was technically the airline's. The question is: Why? Where was the TSA?

And again, I need to point this out: The TSA has been operating without a permanent director for 16 months. The agency is still being run by Bush political appointees and Civil Service hires who have been on duty through every single TSA screw-up in the history of the agency.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Arresting the Times Square Would-Be Bomber

Great police work by the NPYD and FBI in nabbing the flea-brained would-be terrorist who planted the car bomb in Times Square Saturday night. While Drudge, Fox News, Pete King and other hysterics were near fainting from the terror-vapors, the cops did their job calmly and deliberately.

There was an interesting situation just before the guy was arrested on that Emirates flight to Dubai at JFK. The plane almost took off. See this, via Politico, via ABC News reporting on the ATC transmission on the very useful Web site, which monitors live air-traffic control chatter.

On the other hand, let's not make too much of this being a "close call." Had the plane taken off, it certainly still would have been called back to Kennedy, and the pilots without question would have complied.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Phoenix Paper: 'Arizona, Our Time for Excuses Is Over.'

Sometimes a newspaper makes you proud. Today, the Arizona Republic, a conservative newspaper that's part of the Gannett chain, is a moment of journalistic greatness -- not just for this terrific article rebutting conventional wisdom on Arizona border-town safety, but for this thundering editorial holding elected officials' feet to the fire over immigration clownishness.

The editorial is actually today's front page, a special sheet wrapped around the traditional front page, which is shown to the right.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Travel Warning for New Delhi

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is warning that "there are increased indications that terrorists are planning imminent attacks in New Delhi."

Here is the alert. And I have no idea what a "warden message" means.

Could someone please instruct the State Department in India, where English has been spoken and written for over a century, to communicate in standard English?