Thursday, June 30, 2011

Business Jet Politics: Time to Round Up the Usual Suspects?

President Obama mentioned the "corporate jet tax break" several times in his comments about tax loopholes for the rich this week.

Beating up on private jets is always good for scoring political points. People who don't fly in them hate corporate jets. (Personally, I am quoted in the current issue of Business Jet Traveler magazine as saying that the very first thing I would do if I acquired an extremely large sum of money is "order a G-650." But I would also not squawk about paying a fair tax on it, either, as I headed to the Cannes Film Festival with my entourage. Hell, I'd be rich.)

Anyway, as usual, the private jet industry responds to an attack by huffing and puffing -- and missing the opportunity to deliberately argue the sensible case for business aviation.

Incidentally, how significant is the "corporate jet tax break" in the overall context of potential revenue for the federal government?

Negligible, is the answer.

But instead of making a reasoned case based on this, the industry and its assembled amen choruses are wasting their breath insulting the president and sending what they risibly describe as "strongly worded" letters to the White House.

As the old joke-telegram went: "F--- you. Strong letter follows."

Business aviation needs to smarten its head as we brace for hitting the economic wall in tax policy. And that collision will be followed quickly by the presidential election season.

Trust me, no one in politics will be standing up to defend some hump of a CEO taking the corporate jet to Nantucket with the wife, kids, nanny, and poodle all aboard. And thanks to some hump CEOs, that is what the public sees when they think of corporate jets.

Why is it so easy to pick on the corporate jet? Well, I'd merely refer you to recent stories in the Wall Street Journal, which has been hammering away at the business aviation world. I've always thought of the Journal as being like the wise old veteran sheriff trying to maintain law and order in an invincibly crooked town. Once in a while, the sheriff and his deputies have to ride around town with six-shooters drawn, raiding the whore houses and rousting some of the girls. Commotion ensues, but in a few days the girls are all out of jail and all returns to normal for a long spell. It's all a matter of optics, you see.

(I was an editor and reporter at the Journal for about seven years, incidentally, and I say the above with a degree of insight).

Anyway, the Journal has been doing bang-up work on corporate jets, with a serious focus on abuses. The best argument for business aviation is that a private jet is a very sensible business tool whose utility goes right to the bottom line as a plus, given that business needs to get done and our commercial air-travel system makes it very difficult to get quickly from Point A to Point B, without stops at Points C-D and sometimes E along the way.

But as the Journal has been pointing out, at many companies, the CEO has first dibs on the company plane or planes, and treats them like glorified limousines, including using them for personal trips. Hilariously, the Journal has reported on some CEOs who claim they need to travel on a heavy-metal luxury Gulfstream because of "security." That is, some pant-load of a CEO at some company claims, ridiculously, that he or she is such a great world personage that there is a need to avoid the public -- who overwhelmingly have never ever heard of this person or in many cases even the company.

In ignoring these clowns, the business-aviation industry whistles past the graveyard when these abuses are discussed in public, as they increasingly are. Every time the public outrage about business jets rises, as it has begun to rise once again, the opportunity is lost to make the viable case for business aviation, if the stance is to ignore the obvious abuses and send a message of support to the CEO with the poodle.

David Kashdan, a Journal reader, wrote a letter to the editor recently that made some very good points.

"Your article nicely details management abuse of corporate jets, at significant cost to shareholders," he wrote. "This abuse also causes corporate jets to be less available for use by middle managers who do much of the company's business. Twenty years ago it was common for a broad spectrum of managers to use corporate jets, but now the "privilege" is reserved largely for the top echelon, who view the plane as a personal perk rather than a corporate asset. ..."

The public back in row 18 on that 737 senses this. Public disdain for the fat-cat abusing the company jet will grow.

The crowds in Paris sensed that there was nothing in the Bastille except some lunatics and some lightly guarded ammunition stores.

They stormed the hell out of it anyway. The anniversary, by the way, is coming up.



Sunday, June 26, 2011

TSA Pats Down 95-Year-Old Woman, Orders Her to Remove Adult Diaper

A 95-year-old Florida woman in a wheelchair was strip-searched by TSA screeners and made to remove her adult diaper because it was "soiled," her daughter says in a complaint filed with the Homeland Security department.

The incident occurred last week at the Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Panama City. Here's the report in the Panama City News-Herald newspaper. Here is a later and more detailed report from CNN.

The TSA comment on diaper-desperadoes: "TSA cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability."


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sharkey's Law: Every Truly Bad Idea Eventually Has Its Day

Yes, you can buy this toy and let your kid grope along as a junior T.S.A. agent. What's that you're hiding there?

Here's the link.

Sharkey's Immutable Law: Every truly bad idea eventually has its day.


Monday, June 13, 2011

WTF? Flight Attendant Turns Around Flight After Hearing a Bad Word

[Photo: She can send you to Hell, but an Atlantic Southeast flight attendant can send you to Detroit.]

Most flight attendants are hard-working and courteous -- and you can be sure that any column that begins that way is a story about another report of another dumb hump of a flight attendant who thinks he (and it is usually a 'he,' for some reason) has the power of a nun in charge of the school detention hall.

Yup, here it is.

A 37-year-old passenger was tossed off his Delta flight in Detroit on Sunday after a flight attendant heard him use the word "fuck" -- in a casual comment to a passenger beside him.

Robert Sayegh, of Brooklyn, tells the Detroit Free Press newspaper that he was returning from a trip to Kansas City when he said a flight attendant overheard him use the word in complaining to a fellow passenger about a 45-minute delay.

"I was just kind of talking to the guy sitting next to me. I said 'What is taking so long?' I said “What the 'F' is going on?'" Sayegh told the newspaper.

The (male) flight attendant with the virgin ears pulled the panic button and the flight, operated for Delta by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, stopped taxiing on the runway and returned to the gate, where Detroit Metro Airport police boarded the plane to escort the brazen malefactor off.

The Detroit newspaper reporter, evidently unaware that the word that gave the flight attendant the vapors is used all the time in Detroit as well, helpfully explains that using the f-word is "part of the Brooklyn vernacular."

The passenger from Brooklyn says he's suing. I mean, he's f---king suing the f---king stupid f--ks.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fireworks in Arizona

The headline isn't a joke. Six months ago, it became legal to sell fireworks in Arizona, and businesses, churches and nonprofit organizations in various cities and towns are busily peddling them now.

In a state where desert areas haven't had more than a half-inch of rain since Thanksgiving, I can head to a supermarket or a church and load up on fireworks. Here's the fireworks industry's Web site for Arizona.

I can't set them off in Tucson because Tucson, at least, has some brains. But hey, no prob -- I can head out of town and set them off legally -- in a desert region where fire-hazard conditions are so extreme that the Saguaro National Park on the east side of town, as well as all areas of the vast Coronado National Forest, not to mention all Pima County parks and trails -- have been closed indefinitely to almost all public use because the threat of wildfire is so high right now.

You can't take a hike or ride a bike or horse on a trail, but dang, if you aren't on government land you can set off fireworks -- in a state where large areas are currently aflame with massive wildfires, like this one in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. More than 3,400 firefighters are currently battling that one, which started on May 29 and has burned over 400,000 acres, and is the second-worst fire in the state since records were kept.

Or this one, which started May 8 in the Chiricahua Mountains southeast of Tucson, where 134,000 acres have been burned and the fire is still not even half-contained. Or this one, which firefighters have finally got nearly fully contained in desert terrain and dry grasslands south of Tucson near the towns of Arivaca and Tubac.

The local media are, naturally, solicitous of the churches and nonprofits peddling fireworks. After all, the thinking seems to go, despite the obvious threat to the public welfare posed by fireworks .... well, it's for a good cause. For some churches, it's a big bang for Jesus.

The local media are, naturally, utterly oblivious to another aspect of the fire danger crisis, which is that with the parks and wilderness areas closed to the public, there are whole lot more hikers, bikers and horses now forced onto more sections of public roads, and motorists need to be aware of the additional safety issues involved.

Meanwhile, some state officials have been criticizing the constantly reviled federal government for what they regard as an inadequate emergency response to the wildfires.

Seems that the nativists of Arizona understand that the federal government does have a job to do -- when their house is on fire.

If Amtrak were to run a long-distance train to Phoenix it would have to be called the Arizona Disconnect.


Friday, June 10, 2011

You Should've Seen Coney Island in Those Days

[Photos: Coney Island in the 1940s]

Today, there's a front-page photo in the Times showing Coney Island beach during yesterday's scorching temperatures on the East Coast. The picture is cropped in a way that makes the beach look totally jammed. Granted, the beach was very crowded yesterday, but when you look on the edges of the crop you can see that it's only a mid-section that's full, and there's a lot of space between some of those blankets.

But there was a time, before air conditioning and the Interstate Highway System and the suburbs, when a blazing hot day in New York brought a million people to Coney Island, nearly all by subway. Ah, you should've seen it in those days, to allude to Burt Lancaster's haunting line about the Atlantic Ocean in Louis Malle's movie "Atlantic City." (The actual line is: "The Atlantic Ocean was something then. Yes, you should've seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.")

In some of those vintage Coney Island photos from the 40s and 50s, the beach is so full it seems that another person couldn't fit in, even greased with a full bottle of Coppertone. And those old photos bring to mind another movie allusion, Woody Allen's crack that German submarines tried to invade Coney Island during WW2 but were destroyed by the pollution.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Alert for Tourism in E. Central and Southern Arizona

As a monster fire continues to burn out of control in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest 250 miles east of Phoenix, travelers in Arizona need to stay alert about highway closings.

Meanwhile, the media continue to focus almost exclusively on structures, while overlooking the profound environmental disaster on vast areas of Arizona wilderness and recreational lands.

Here's the update on that fire, called the Wallow fire, which now involves more than 3,000 firefighters and has burned nearly 400,000 acres.

Today, nearly 20 miles of U.S. 60 was closed from Springerville to the New Mexico state line. The closing stretches from milepost 384 to 401, the state highway department says, adding:

State Route 260 is closed in both directions east of the Hawley Lake turnoff (State Route 473 junction) and Eagar. SR 260 is closed between mileposts 372-398 near Eagar.

State Route 373, a 4.5 mile-long highway that connects the town of Greer in eastern Arizona with SR 260 west of Eagar, is closed.

U.S. 191 is closed between Alpine and north of Clifton (mileposts 176-253).

State routes 261 and 273, the main access roads to Big Lake and Crescent Lake in the White Mountains, are closed. SR 261 is closed starting approximately seven miles south of SR 260 to Crescent.

Lake (mileposts 395-413) and SR 273 is closed between the SR 260 junction and to the SR 261 junction (mileposts 378-394).

U.S. 180 is closed between the SR 260 junction near Eagar and the New Mexico state line (mileposts 403-433).

Besides the Wallow fire affecting the above closings, there is another large fire, the Horseshoe fire, burning in the Chiricahua Mountains east of the old cowboy town of Tombstone (a tourist spot) in the southern part of Arizona, where 116,000 acres have burned. Firefighters today are worried that the Horseshoe fire, which was thought to be on its way to containment, may now be spreading as dry grass and other brush pose extreme dangers.

Also in southern Arizona is another large fire, the Murphy fire, burning on grasslands and desert terrain between Arivaca and Tubac (a big tourist destination) just above the Mexican border, south of Tucson.

Roads and tourism in those areas are also affected.

In addition, as I noted yesterday, forest, mountain and desert recreational areas throughout the Tucson region and south are adversely affected by the extreme fire dangers in the region, where temperatures are high, relative humidity is very low, winds are breezy -- and where it hasn't really rained since last Thanksgiving.

The Tucson region is famed for hiking, biking and horseback riding -- and fire danger has put the kibosh on all of those. All of the trails and washes in Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson are now closed indefinitely, till the extreme fire danger passes, possibly not till monsoon season in July, when the Sonoran Desert gets most of its annual rainfall. All of Pima County's trails and washes are closed, as are all regions of Coronado National Forest.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

As Arizona Wildfires Burn, Saguaro National Park Shuts Its Trails; Pima County Also Closes Trails in Tucson and Southern Arizona

One of the ecological gems and major tourist attractions of southern Arizona, the Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson, is almost entirely closing to the public at noon tomorrow because of the extremely high danger of fire.

The park closing -- which includes all trails and washes -- is described as indefinite, until extreme fire hazard conditions lift. For the time being, the park's eight-mile-long scenic loop drive, the visitor center and a small nearby picnic area will remain open, however.

This afternoon, Pima County also closed all of its trails in the Tucson area, also indefinitely. Here's the county notice, which does not state whether the closings will begin at noon, like the Park Service closings, or early in the morning.

Basically, though, hiking and horse trails and related public recreation sites in Tucson and vicinity are now closed till the start of the monsoon season, which won't occur till July. Tucson is one of the leading centers in the country for mountain and trail biking, and that also will be sharply curtailed.

[Meanwhile, as wildfires rage elsewhere in the state, the media seem to be focusing entirely on a huge fire in mostly wilderness areas in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest 250 miles northeast of Tucson (and about the same distance east of Phoenix.)

[And that focus seems to be mostly on structures -- that is, the relatively few homes and cabins in the affected area around the town of Alpine and the people who live there, where evacuations are continuing.

[Myself, I think we've probably had enough stories along these lines now. We know folks become unhappy when a fire approaches their homes, and we've seen those wildfire photos a million times from many different places. Frankly, they all look alike, as dramatic as those flames and smoke plumes are.

[Wouldn't it be better to focus a bit more on the serious environmental disaster at hand, as hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine wilderness and back-country recreational areas are being rendered unusable -- for years if not a decade or more? Or maybe a little attention to the astonishing firefighting response, with thousands of firefighters toiling day and night in extreme heat and danger, and the rapidly mounting costs of all that? Or how about the fundamental reasons for such fires. Especially vis a vis the fires and fire hazards in the Sonoran Desert in the southern part of Arizona, it's probably time that reporters learned what buffel grass is and why it's an invasive fire-menace to the desert ecosystems. That's where this story goes from here, folks.]

Anyway, the biggest fire currently burning is the so-called Wallow fire in a wilderness area about 250 miles east of Phoenix, in Apache County, near the New Mexico border. That one is the second-worst in state history, and so far has burned 389,000 acres. It remains zero-percent contained, as of mid-afternoon today Arizona time.

There is another big one, called the Murphy fire, in rugged desert terrain between two towns, Arivaca and Tubac, near the Mexican border south of Tucson. Lots of people do live in that area, but so far evacuations haven't been called for. (And the media are all focused on the massive fire in the wilderness 250 miles east of Phoenix, meanwhile). Another big fire, called the Horseshoe fire, is burning farther east, in the Chiricahua Mountains that rise out of dry desert grasslands east of the old cowboy town of Tombstone. The latter two fires are in sections of the Coronado National Forest.

Meanwhile, back in Tucson, the Saguaro National Park closings come as the vast areas of Coronado National Forest, also in southern Arizona, also are closed because of the various fires and the extreme fire hazard conditions in areas that are not burning. In the various Coronado park districts, only the highway to the village of Summerhaven at the summit of 9,300-foot Mt. Lemmon overlooking Tucson remains open, and only during the day. That road has to be kept open because several hundred people live in the village.

Here's the National Park Service bulletin on the closing.

The local paper in Tucson, which I call the Daily Stupid (current main headline on Web site, and I am not making this up: "Is Tucson the Best Town Ever?") has run lots of dramatic photos of people gazing with alarm at smoke in the affected areas, but has been short on maps and useful reporting on the fires and their local ramifications. As the local paper had it, only the high mountain trails of Saguaro National Park East will be closed. (There is another, lesser section of the national park on the west side of Tucson. It's not covered by the closings.)

But in fact, all of the trails are being shut down, including the numerous horse and hiking trails and washes at lower levels. Besides tourists (and the Germans, for some reason, love the heat of southern Arizona this time of the year) local residents (like me) use these trails and washes, as do the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch and some other smaller neighborhood trail-riding operations.

The rangers tell us here (and would tell any local reporter who found the initiative to simply inquire) that because so much of the regional firefighting force is deployed in the big fires elsewhere, and because of staff cutbacks in the park service, keeping the horse and hiking trails open could be dangerous.

The temperatures in Tucson are in the high 90s, after about a week of temperatures over 100. Relative humidity remains around five percent. It's windy today, and has been breezy or windy for a week. It hasn't really rained in this part of Arizona since last Thanksgiving, and the monsoon season, when southern Arizona gets most of its annual rainfall, is a month away at best. These are extreme fire-hazard conditions.

So prudence prevails. A carelessly tossed cigarette or any kind of flame can ignite a major conflagration in these conditions.

It's probably futile to point out, but nevertheless of interest, that experienced people on horseback can be reliable observers who see more of the landscape from a horse -- which is why cities like New York have mounted cops. Also, the kind of horsepeople and hikers who are on these trails at this time of the year tend to be experienced in parksmanship, and hence could be used by the park service as an extra set of eyes.

But emergency conditions are at hand, and nuances can come later.


Soldiers Say Delta Overcharged Them on Checked-Bag Fees; Delta, Aghast, Rushes to Revise Bag Policy for Military

[Please see my personal note on Delta at the end of this post]

The AP reported this morning that soldiers returning from Afghanistan posted a video on YouTube about having to pay Delta Air Lines $2,800 out of pocket to check extra bags that their Army orders said they could check without charge.

Airline stupidity, please meet your PR emergency squad rushing in to do damage control. As news of the video spread, Delta rushed out a press release this afternoon saying it has increased its free checked baggage allotment for U.S. military traveling on orders in coach to four checked bags.

From Delta:

"Delta's revised baggage policy also allows U.S. military personnel traveling on orders in first and business class to check up to five bags at no charge. This change also adds dependents traveling with active military on orders. Each bag may weigh up to 70 lbs. (32 kg) and measure up to 80 linear inches (203 cm), which offers added flexibility over the standard 50 lbs. and 62 linear inches (157 cm) allotment. Because of weight, balance and space constraints, Delta Connection carriers accept up to four bags at no charge.

"For personal travel, active military presenting military identification may now check up to two bags weighing 50 pounds (23 kg) or less and measuring 62 inches (158 linear cm) or less in combined length, width and height without charge.

"Previously, Delta's policy allotted three free checked bags in economy class and four in first and business class for military members traveling on orders.

In the YouTube video, according to the AP, "the soldiers say their Army orders authorized them to bring up to four bags with them as they returned from Afghanistan to Fort Polk in Louisiana. They say when their 34-member unit checked in at Baltimore-Washington International Airport for Delta flight 1625 on Tuesday, the airline charged them $200 each if they had a fourth bag."

Personal note: As a veteran who spent four years in the service, including a year in Vietnam, I still remember how well Delta treated military personnel traveling on its planes in the second half of the 1960s. Everyone I knew in the service regarded Delta as a class act as regards the military, and many of us still remember it.


Monday, June 06, 2011

Row 44 Signs Lufthansa Technik for Satellite-Based Inflight Entertainment Platform Installations

Keep your eye on Row 44 and the inflight WiFi entertainment platform it is starting to roll out.

Row 44 is, of course, the competitor to inflight WiFi leader Aircell. Aircell has installed its land-antenna-based Gogo WiFi system on about 1,100 domestic planes, with nine airline customers. Row 44 is installing its satellite-based WiFi system on Southwest's fleet of about 540 Boeing 737s, and also has Norwegian Air Shuttle as a customer.

But Row 44's strategy is to boost value by introducing a wide range of inflight entertainment and other services in a platform specifically designed for each individual airline. I recently spent a day in Las Vegas and on a test flight with Row 44's Howard Lefkowitz, the savvy innovator who made into the leading purveyor of hotel, entertainment and other reservations services in Las Vegas.

More on that adventure tomorrow.

Meanwhile, here's the press release on the new link between Row 44 and Lufthansa Technik, the big German provider of aircraft maintenance and cabin design and modification services:

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif., June 6, 2011 -- Row 44 Inc., provider of the world's leading in-flight broadband entertainment platform, announced today it has formed a partnership with Lufthansa Technik, global provider of manufacturer-independent maintenance, repair, overhaul and modification services to civil aviation.

As a result of this partnership, commercial airlines that select Row 44's In-flight Broadband Entertainment Platform will be able to take advantage of Lufthansa Technik's extensive and globally available installation, certification and integration services. Row 44 will certify and work closely with Lufthansa Technik to reduce installation and maintenance time and costs, reduce overall project risks, and optimize the considerable passenger – facing and airline operational advantages of the Row 44 solution for each airline customer.

Lufthansa Technik will also leverage its global reputation as an innovative and trustworthy commercial-aviation engineering firm to support successful integration of Row 44's in-flight broadband entertainment platform to airlines around the world.

"Row 44 is extending our services globally," said Vice President of Sales Frederick St.Amour. "Working with such a highly respected and successful engineering services firm as Lufthansa Technik gives us tremendous confidence that Row 44's products and airline partnerships will be well supported and highly successful worldwide. We are honoured to be working with Lufthansa Technik, and look forward to developing our relationships with them."

"This partnership reinforces Row 44's commitment to excellence for our airline partners around the world," said Howard Lefkowitz, Row 44's Chief Commercial Officer. "Lufthansa Technik's reputation for excellence is known throughout the industry, and Row 44 is proud to be able to deliver airlines such a high level of engineering service as part of our offering."

Dr. Stephan Schulte, Product Manager for Aircraft Modification and Engineering Services in IFE added: "This partnership means an important milestone in our strategy for the expansion of our installation-design engineering and certification services in the IFE and IFC market. We are happy to be given the chance to bring in our wide ranging experience and knowledge which we could successfully gain from various related projects in the past. ..."

About Row 44 Inc.

Row 44, Inc. provides the world's leading in-flight broadband entertainment platform for commercial airlines. The company's flying Wi-Fi hotspot — which delivers the world's fastest aviation broadband speeds to passengers — provides airlines with an unmatched selection of revenue-generating and experience-enhancing entertainment, shopping and destination services. The company is partnering with airlines around the world, including world-renowned Southwest Airlines and 2009 Market Leadership Award recipient Norwegian Air Shuttle, to deliver a series of truly remarkable products to improve the commercial flying experience. For more information, visit

About Lufthansa Technik AG

Lufthansa Technik is one of the leading manufacturer-independent providers of maintenance, repair, overhaul and modification services in the civil aviation industry. With tailored maintenance programs and state-of-the-art repair methods, Lufthansa Technik ensures the unbroken reliability and availability of its customers' fleets. Lufthansa Technik is an internationally licensed maintenance, production and development organization. Lufthansa Technik is considered very well experienced in the integration design of IFE and IFC systems.


Friday, June 03, 2011

The Looming Showdown for the TSA (Oh, and TSA: Have You Met ACORN?)

I fully understand that the TSA screens about a million and a half passengers a day, and does so with professionalism and courtesy. For the most part.

On the other hand, the TSA is carrying a lot of baggage, and it's my guess that the agency is headed for a showdown in Washington and in the states, as complaints about these infernal body patdowns pile up along with all the other public misgivings about the agency, which range from excessive costs (about $8 billion a year) and the routine arbitrary and capricious invocations of "laws" that may or may not even exist.

The agency especially needs to get its act together on the latter. For example, what is the law about a citizen making making video of TSA agents who, arguably, might be seen to be overstepping their boundaries?

Who says you can't film them? Where does it say so? What is the reason, if so? If you're so proud of your professionalism, as you may well be, what's your problem with having the public see you do your jobs?

In this video, which is getting around this morning on the Internet, a woman at the Phoenix airport is obviously upset at a TSA checkpoint where she has just been patted down.

O.K. -- watch the video. For most reasonable people, their first reaction is likely to be: Whoa, this lady is hysterical. She is overreacting. What the hell is wrong with her behaving like this?

But here's your real problem, TSA at Phoenix. Why didn't you just calm the lady down, deal with the problem -- and move on?

But nooooo. Instead, the TSA agents on the scene turn their attention to a man who seems to be the woman's adult son, who is using his cellphone or a camera to record the incident. For whatever reason. And I would not rule out the possibility that some people are deliberately creating, or at least exploiting, checkpoint incidents to aid and abet the growing public sentiment demanding that the TSA be replaced by private security firms hired by airports (TSA, have you met ACORN? They, too, starred on a guerrilla form of "Candid Camera").

The TSA agents fix on the man taking pictures and, true to form, begin acting like small-town cops. And speaking of small-town cops, along comes some hump who works for Southwest Airlines. Suddenly, he's Officer Krupke, but without the badge and the legal authority (and the chorus singing to him in "West Side Story")

As the distraught woman shrieks ridiculously, while standing as ordered at the patdown area, the following, instead, becomes the narrative we focus on:

Man with camera insists that TSA agents, and then the bossy Southwest Airlines guy, tell him what authority they have to order him not to record the scene. Here's some excerpted dialogue:

"Put the camera down!"

"It's against regulations!"

"Escort him out for noncompliance!"

"I don't have to show you the law. We're here to carry out the law!"

Man with camera: "It's a public area."

"You do not have my permission to film me!"

Man with camera: "Then walk away."

This goes on, making security look more and more silly, until what appears to be an actual police officer enters the picture. The police officer, as cops are trained to do, assesses the situation, evidently determines that there is no danger, and then tries to calm things down -- without threats. The cop, obviously, knows or at least supposes that there is no "law" against using a camera.

The cop behaves professionally. The TSA people who take it upon themselves to demand that the man put the camera down behave like security guards at the post-party of a Lady Gaga concert. The Southwest guy behaves even worse, given that he's just some airline hump.

This does not help, TSA. And Southwest: You are developing a reputation -- once those smiley faces disappear, it can become Guatemala on your turf, really fast.

The TSA needs to get its house in order here. What, specifically, is the law, or the rule you seek to enforce, about taking pictures? Where, specifically, do you assert that rule applies?

TSA rules are often haphazard. For example, you need to restrict carry-on liquids and gels to 3.4 ounce containers that fit into a one-quart zip bag. O.K., I get it, I get it. But then, there are exemptions, like for those with medical reasons and even "cosmetic" reasons -- including gel-filled bras and gel-filled cushions for your butt.

I'm not suggesting a crackdown on those with medical and/or cosmetic needs, but what's the rationale here -- aside from the need to assuage medical lobbying and various organized political interests? What makes sense here?

Speaking of political interests, as we all know, various state legislatures are proposing a crackdown against the TSA's hated patdowns, and in Texas a bill was introduced in the state house of representatives that would apply criminal law to TSA agents in cases where patdowns are deemed to constitute sexual groping.

The TSA scoffs at this, citing the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents states from contravening federal law. And also, let us never forget the sainted columnist Molly Ivins' observation that "every time the Texas Legislature is in session, some village is missing its idiot."

Nevertheless, there's a storm brewing on the TSA (whose boss, and his boss at Homeland Security, usually travel by private jets, which allows them to avoid the TSA, like all private jet passengers). I hope the agency gets a handle on it with something other than blandishments from "Blogger Bob" on its Web site.

This morning, the House Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica will release an investigative report that, the committee says (with a disturbing neglect of basic grammar) "discloses the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ignores skyrocketing passenger screening costs in all-federal screening model, and dismisses benefits of the model utilizing private contact screeners."

Grammar aside, read that as a further movement to support privatization of airport security.

The committee's press release adds, "This report will refute the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) prior claims that screening under the private-federal model is more costly than the all-federal model.

"In creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after September 11, I2001, Congress provided in law the option for airports to 'opt out' and use private security screeners under TSA standards, supervision and oversight as an alternative to all-federal screening. Earlier this year, TSA pulled the plug on allowing more airports to opt out, citing cost concerns."

Mica will again call for the TSA to be required to allow airports to opt out and hire ... rent-a-cops. You know, like the ones who were on duty in Boston on September 11, 2001.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Big Jump in International Air Travel in April

Traffic data for April showed a rebound in international markets with, 16.5 percent growth over April 2010, the International Air Transport Association says today.

This jump is exaggerated by the fact that in April 2010 during which European airspace was closed due to the volcanic ash crisis, international travel markets in April still were 7 percent higher than the pre-recession peak of early 2008.

Meanwhile, capacity also grew in April, by 16.8 percent, IATA says. Passenger load factors remained roughly equal.

"Eliminating all distortions, we are growing at 3-4 percent. International traffic is now 7 percent above the early 2008 pre-recession levels; load factors are hovering around 77 percent and business confidence is high. Unfortunately two things are spoiling the party: Demand shocks and high jet fuel prices,” said Giovanni Bisignani, the CEO of the group. By "demand shocks," he evidently meant volatile demand impulses created by fare hikes and surcharges, and other factors.

U.S. carriers are seeing much stronger demand in international markets (up 11.9 percent) than in domestic (up 1.2 percent).