Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sermonette for last Sunday in July

When traveling, avoid any restaurant that has the word "Family" on the sign. For verily I say, the food will suck.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Caribbean Airlines 737 With 163 Aboard Breaks in 2 on Landing in Guyana; No Deaths Reported

A Caribbean Airlines 737-800 with 163 on board crashed and broke in half on landing in Guyana, injuring some people. No deaths were reported, according to the AP (which gets the number of people on board wrong).

The plane, which departed from Kennedy Airport in New York at 6:42 p.m. last night and had a connection in Trinidad, overshot the runway on landing at Cheddi Jagan airport in Guyana.

Caribbean Airlines issued this statement, in which it inexcusably refers to the crash as "an incident:"

"Port-of-Spain, 30 July 2011, 08.00HOURS (local time) – At 1.32am on Saturday 30 July, a Caribbean Airlines aircraft (Boeing 737-800), operating as flight # BW523, en route from Port of Spain, Trinidad, to Georgetown, Guyana was involved in an incident upon landing at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana.

Caribbean Airlines immediately activated its emergency response program and is in direct contact with the relevant authorities. The airline’s primary concern at this time is for those on board the aircraft and their families.

Emergency response teams at CJIA were activated at Airport and all passengers and crew have been evacuated. There were 157 passengers and six crew on-board. Up to press time, this is the update that we have:

--There have been no fatalities.

--Passengers are still receiving medical attention and we are working closely with the medical services in Guyana

The Guyana Civil Aviation Authority has closed the Cheddi Jagan Aerodrome until 10.00 hrs while an investigation is being conducted. Perimeter around aircraft has been secured and is being guarded by the Guyana Defence Force and Police Officials. ..."


Friday, July 29, 2011

$200 Million in Lost Aviation Tax Revenue, and Counting

While our pitiful legislative bodies dither, about $200 million in tax revenue has been forever lost from the suspension of federal tax-collection authority on airfares that followed Congress's failure one week ago to pass an extension of the bill to keep the Federal Aviation Administration running.

Here's a list of some of the capital projects that are also suspended because of the impasse. Each one, of course, is associated with jobs.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Q&A from IRS: Refunds for Airfare Taxes Paid During Expiry Period?

The IRS sends this useful Q&A for fliers wondering how they might get refunds for federal taxes on tickets purchased before July 23 for travel after that.

As of 12:01 Saturday morning, with the failure of Congress to pass another extension of the omnibus bill to keep the F.A.A. funded, various federal taxes on airline tickets expired until the funding reauthorization bill is reinstated.

At that point, airlines stopped collecting the federal taxes, which amount to a total of about $25 million a day. Here's my column on that in the Times yesterday. As noted, airlines then raised fares by roughly the same amount as the taxes would have totaled. (The notable exceptions were Spirit and Alaska airlines).

It was the seventh across-the-board airline fare hike of the year. No one would have taken great notice of still another incremental fare hike, except for the fact that this one clumsily was initiated to coincide with the federal tax expiration.

It's a sign of how worried the airlines really are about fuel prices and a slowing in revenue growth that they chose to take it on the chin from consumers by pushing this fare increase through this way.

Anyway, it isn't clear yet exactly how the airlines and IRS will address the issue of refunds for those who already paid taxes on tickets purchased before the expiration for travel during the tax holiday period.

For one thing, a lot depends on how Congress, may God help us, fixes the F.A.A. bill, assuming this pitiful Congress is capable of fixing anything.

But this IRS Q&A is a handy guide to where things stand today taxwise.


Woman Sues Over Underwear-Check on JetBlue

Another disturbing incident comes to light involving a male airline "supervisor" and a young female passenger who evidently offended said official by the way she dressed. This time on JetBlue.

A 27-year-old female financial consultant woman is suing the airline, claiming she was thrown off a flight last summer when a male check-in agent demanded to know whether she was wearing underwear under her long tee-shirt.

Here's a link to the story in the New York Daily News newspaper.

In her suit, which also alleges assault, she says this "supervisor" stuck his hand radio between her legs to somehow determine what she had on under the long tee-shirt.

Hey, on my old block in Philadelphia, that kind of thing gets the living shit beat out of a guy, followed by a more officially sanctioned trip to Holmesburg Prison assuming the perp is still breathing.

But maybe the protocols are different these days in commercial aviation, where piss-ant clerks and airport cops evidently think they have leave to behave like members of a Guatamalan militia. (This incident happened at LaGuardia airport, and the cops involved belong not to the actual NYPD but to its crack bus-station auxiliary, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police.)

According to the woman's account in the New York Daily News, "He said, 'I don't want to see your panties or anything, but do you have any on?'"

She added, "He asked me to come off the plane, but I didn't want to go anywhere with him." The police then were called to escort her off the plane, where she was then required -- by the cops, she says -- to lift her tee shirt to show that she was wearing shorts.

She then reboarded the flight, but was confronted by the same JetBlue employee. "He told her that the pilot was unwilling to fly the flight with her onboard and she'd have to exit."


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Today in F*%#*#g Stupid: Lesbian Couple Kicked Out of San Francisco Museum for Holding Hands

[Photo: Contemporary Jewish Museum's Gertrude Stein exhibit]

As Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid," but as I say, you sure can marvel at stupid, which exceeds terrorism and the cratering economy as the most grave national problem.

Here's a story about museum rent-a-cop guard kicking a lesbian couple out of the Contemporary Jewish Museum for holding hands. The exhibit they were there for was, get this, one on the relationships and lifestyle of Gertrude Stein.

The guard "told them they couldn't hold hands in the museum" and told them to leave when they declined to follow his orders, a witness told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

Let's guess that the couple is still holding hands today, but the guard is not holding a job. (The local paper, natch, failed to ask whether the latter was the case).


Thursday, July 21, 2011

What the The Vile Murdoch Press Thinks Is Appropriate

Any doubts left about how fundamentally vile, ugly and despicable the Rupert Murdoch news empire is?

Just to allay doubts, if any still persist, above is the editorial cartoon that appeared today in the Murdoch-owned Times of London.

Yes, the Times of London.

In this country, Murdoch also owns the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and, of course, Fox News.

Just sayin' ...


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TSA Upgrades Some Checkpoint Body-Scanners to Eliminate Showing Nekkid Images

The TSA appears to be following through on promises to deal more effectively with well-publicized (and sometimes hysterically publicized) concerns many people have about the "strip search" aspects of those whole-body imagers that the agency has been busily installing at airport checkpoints.

The TSA said today that it is installing major software upgrades on one type of the machines (the ones that use millimeter-wave technology), that will "enhance privacy by eliminating passenger-specific images" that a screener looks at.

Of the whole-body imaging machines now in use at 78 airports, about half use the millimeter wave technology, which works on radio waves. The others are so-called backscatter machines, which use X-ray technology.

The TSA said it's working on developing similar software upgrades for the backscatter machines. But the millimeter-wave machine upgrades have already been tested at the Reagan National, Atlanta and Las Vegas airports, and are being rolled out "in the coming months," the agency says.

How this works, according to the TSA:

Rather than generating a graphic naked-body image of the person being scanned, the machines, once they're upgraded, will detect any anomalous mass or item in a person's clothes or on the body -- as both types of machine do now.

But if nothing is detected on the upgraded machines, an "OK" appears on the monitor screen, with no body image produced at all. If something is detected, the screen shows a generic body outline that indicates the location of the object or objects. As is the case now, that will then require a physical patdown to "resolve the issue."

Eliminating the specific body image of the person being screened eliminates the need, driven by privacy concerns, to have a separate screener examine the images in a remote location and communicate with the screener at the checkpoint about what the image shows. Instead, both passenger and screener alike will see the image on the screen at the checkpoint.

Whole body imaging machines are now being used at checkpoints in 78 airports. Right now, 488 machines are in use at lanes at those airports, and the TSA is rolling more out, with plans to have them eventually entirely replace then old magnetometers at 2,000 total checkpoints in the roughly 450 commercial airports.

The magnetometers detect only metallic objects. While the whole-body imagers don't detect metal, per se, they show any object or mass on the body. They're being put in place basically to enhance the ability to detect not just metallic weapons but also mass that indicates the possibility of concealed non-metallic explosive material.

Here's the TSA's list of the airports where whole-body imaging machines, which the TSA now calls Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines, are being used.


The Cities Delta Says It Can No Longer Afford to Fly From...

Here's a piece I wrote in the Times yesterday about the small-town America losing air service, pegged to Delta's announcement last Friday (here) that it "can no longer afford" to serve these cities.

And here's a link to the list of "underperforming" cities Delta named, with the average load factors on the departing flights from those places.

As noted in my Times piece, Delta has a very strong presence in the markets operating under subsidies from the $200 million federal Essential Air Service program because it acquired Northwest, which dominated air service in the Midwest. Most of the airports on the Delta list are served by regional airlines flying very nice, if older airplanes, the 34-seat Saab 340 turboprops -- which no longer fit into Delta's fleet strategy.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Airlines Starting Another Fare Hike Attempt as Summer Peak Arrives?

[Chart: Rick Seaney,]

If it's Friday it might be time for another concerted fare-hike attempt by domestic airlines. Yup, the 13th this year, in which seven so far have been "wildly successful," says Rick Seaney of, who watches this stuff like a hawk.

United/Continental launched the first domestic airfare hike attempt since late April this morning, he says. "United increased prices by $4 to $10 roundtrip (loosely based on trip distance)," he adds.

However, "fortunately for the domestic air traveling public the new airline economy ushered in by high oil prices in late 2007 requires domestic airlines to fill every middle seat with price sensitive folks – effectively limiting an unchecked rise in ticket prices," Seaney says. So the airlines appear to be biting into fare hikes in small increments instead.

From Seaney:

"I suspect United is probing their competition’s appetite for a lift in ticket prices as airlines have some recent booking demand trend information after launching a couple of fall sales the past few weeks.

"Domestic airlines still have to operate within a competitive equilibrium of never being $1 more or less than their competition (except when they have a convenience advantage) simply because carriers that are $1 more than their competition end up on page 15 of popular comparison shopping sites."


U.S. Wants to Require Airlines to Report Fee Revenue in Detail

Trying to get a handle on just how much airlines take in each year in so-called ancillary revenue -- that is, fees added to fares -- the U.S. Transportation Department today proposed a new rule that will require airlines to report more information on the amount and types of fees collected from passengers.

The proposal would revise current reporting requirements "to improve data collection on the amount airlines receive from different, specific types of fees," the department said.

Airlines now submit quarterly reports on revenue from baggage fees and reservation change fees to the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Airlines received $3.4 billion from baggage fees and $2.3 billion from reservation change fees in 2010.

The airlines strongly oppose any move by the government to require them to be more specific in accounting for their various fee revenues.

Here's the gist of the issue:

Last year, the usual suspects in the media were falling over themselves reporting that domestic airlines pocketed $7.8 billion in "ancillary fee" revenue in 2009, according to Transportation Department data. For a year, that was the media benchmark number, endlessly repeated, for defining "fee revenue."

But last month, in the new, long-delayed report on annual ancillary fee revenue for 2010, the Transportation Department switched its procedure and reported the figure for 2010 at $5.7 billion. The usual media suspects rushed to report that, without noting the $2.1 billion discrepancy between the 2009 total and the 2010 total -- at a time when it's well known that ancillary fee revenue has been going up, not down.

The Transportation Department noted that the 2010 figure was just for bags and change fees, underlying its frustration with trying to get the airlines to break down their other fee revenues coherently.

The usual media suspects failed to show any curiosity about the difference between the 2009 and 2010 figures, though. The difference is explained by the fact that the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics had been scrambling, unsuccessfully, to try to find a way to more accurately report the wide range of ancillary fee revenue, not just checked bag fees and itinerary-change penalty fees (which were $5.7 billion in 2010), but the wide array of other fees, like charges for priority seating, in-flight meals, standby status, inflight entertainment and the like.

Adding to the confusion was the fact that the annual reported ancillary-fee number included revenue the airlines make from selling frequent-flier miles to credit card companies for resale to customers. That revenue does not reasonably belong in any useful "ancillary fee" category.

In previous years through 2009, some but not all of those fees were included in the "ancillary fee revenue" total along with the much firmer numbers for checked bags and reservations change penalties -- while other fee data were scattered (to the extent that airlines reported them at all) in different categories such as miscellaneous revenue.

Some estimates by industry analysts put the total actual fee-revenue number for 2010 at over $10 billion, once all of the fees are included, and the number for mileage sales is stripped out (and put in a different category).

"Our goal is to improve the quality of data we collect from airlines and make airline pricing more transparent," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today.

Today’s so-called Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is designed to require airlines to report 16 additional categories of fee revenue in addition to the baggage and reservation change fees.

The department said: "Identification of all ancillary fees and the amounts collected by each airline would improve information available to the public and help determine the impact of the increasing use of these fees on the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. Collection of data on fee revenue was recommended by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a July 2010 report."

All of which I have pointed out several times in the recent past, by the way.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Legionnaires Disease Outbreak at Vegas's Aria Hotel

The huge Aria hotel in Las Vegas is telling guests who stayed there between June 21 and July 4 that a "high level of Legionela bacteria" was found "in several of our guest rooms."

In a letter to customers who stayed there during that time, the hotel says it knows of "a few reported instances of people who visited Aria [and] were diagnosed with, treated for, and recovered from Legionnaires disease."

Here's the letter, via

Legionnaires Disease got its name from an outbreak of the disease at the old Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia during a convention of American Legion members in July of 1976. That outbreak killed 34 and caused illnesses in hundreds more.



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

At Least 16 Dead in Brazil Plane Crash

[Photo: An L-410]

A Czech-built L-410 commuter plane crashed after takeoff from the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, and at least 16 are dead. Here's the AP report.

The plane, flown by a Brazil airline, Noar Linhas Aereas has a capacity of 19 passengers and two crew.

This model of plane has been notable for fatal accidents worldwide in third-world countries over the years, including four crashes in Latin America. On September 10, 2001, a L-410 carrying 19 people, including University of Washington football fans and alumni association members, crashed into the jungle in Yucatán, Mexico, killing all on board. That disaster, of course, was largely overlooked in the media because of what occurred the very next day, which was 9/11.

One bizarre recent major L-410 crash (here) was in the very-dangerous-to-fly-in Congo, last Aug. 25. According to the single survivor, the L-410 crash occurred after a crocodile escaped from a duffel bag in the cabin and passengers stampeded to the front, throwing the plane off balance.

The most recent major crash was last February, when an L-410 operated by Central American Airways carrying 12 passengers and 2 crew members, crashed before landing at Toncontín International Airport. All passengers and crew were killed, according to the Wikipedia entry on the aircraft.


TSA: 'Say What?' Woman Arrested for 'Verbal Abuse' Over Patdown of Her Daughter

I don't know much about the details of the latest incident involving a parent's objection to the TSA patting down a female child, but I am seeing what appears to be a disturbing trend. That is, the notion that angry verbal reaction can be deemed a crime.

Look at this report in the Tennessean newspaper of Nashville about the arrest of a 41-year-old woman, Andrea Abbott, in such a case. In particular, note the comments from one Sabrina Birge, sloppily described (will local reporters ever learn specificity?) as "an airport security officer." The italics are mine. (And again, the incident involves a Southwest Airlines gate area)

"(She) told me in a very stern voice with quite a bit of attitude that they were not going through that X-ray,” Sabrina Birge, an airport security officer, told police.

"`No, it’s not an X-ray,' she told Abbott. `It is 10,000 times safer than your cell phone and uses the same type of radio waves as a sonogram.'

“`I still don’t want someone to see our bodies naked,'" Abbott said, according to the police report.

"At one point, Abbott tried unsuccessfully to take a video with her cellphone."

Let's leave aside the risible idea that anyone should have faith in the assurances of a TSA screener about the scientific properties of a whole-body scanner, whether one that uses X-ray or radio waves. The offenses for which the woman was arrested appear to be these: "Stern voice with quite a bit of attitude" and trying to take a video with her cellphone.

Again, we have a dispute that appears to center on an overreach of authority by security officers at an airport, who evidently are allowed to operate in the misguided notion that they are the speech police and that they can prevent someone from taking a video or a photograph as they go about their jobs.

Again, we have a local newspaper feebly regurgitating only what it has been informed by the authorities. The woman was "belligerent and verbally abusive," we are informed.

And how, exactly, is that defined? And where, exactly, is "verbally abusive" listed as a crime?

Obviously, "disorderly conduct" is the usual catch-all for a bad arrest in a dispute. Someone needs to ask the TSA, the reaction-inclined Southwest Airlines and the Nashville airport to explain themselves.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Clueless Media, the Clueless Sheryl Crow, and Wild Horses

[Photo: Wild horse rodeo event in Wyoming]

As a horseman, I always brace myself when I see another media story on horses in general, and wild horses in particular.

This particular story in the Washington Post, about the alleged "wild horses" of Assateague Island in Maryland, is one case in point. It's not inaccurate, or anything, and it's certainly interesting. But it's clueless about what a wild horse actually is.

For years, the kinds of cosy-moments newspaper travel editors who think the Cotswolds are the height of splendor published regular breathless stories on these famous "wild horses" of Assateague Island.

Now it seems the world famous Assateague "wild horses" are not only not wild (I coulda told you that a very long time ago), but they also behave like bears at Yellowstone, or like sideshow monkeys. That's because all the tourists keep flocking in and feeding them.

These horses not only are not wild -- they are not even normal like domesticated horses.

Time to put the kibosh on this particular tourist attraction, I say.

Meanwhile, out West, the media love romanticized stories about wild horses and the alleged need to accommodate them in their purportedly totally wild state -- heedless of the reality that for a horse, a life in the pure wild (assuming there is such a thing anymore) is usually short and brutish.

The performer Sheryl (I Never Met a Gig I Wouldn't Take the Dough For) Crow is currently one of the celebrity hucksters crusading against sensible federal policies regarding wild horses in the not-any-longer-very-wild West. These are generally people who do not know anything about horses, about how horses behave naturally, and about what horses require to thrive in safety and security (like vet care and adequate nutrition, for example.).

Still, Ms. Crow will be performing at the controversial rodeo at the Cheyenne Frontier Days festival in Wyoming later this month. Have a look at how that goes down, horsewise.

That rodeo also includes the notorious "wild horse race" in which horses are often injured, all part of the horseplay fun.

Responsible rodeos--and rodeoers--do not condone such spectacles.

But Sheryl Crow, the wild-horse crusader, evidently has no problem with it, and after horse people began complaining, her "people" said she would make a "generous donation" to the wild-horse cause. Long as the check clears.


At Least 74 Dead in Crash by Banned Congolese Airline

A 46-year-old Boeing 727 crashed while attempting to land at Kisangani airport in Congo, killing at least 74 of the 118 on board. Here's a news report on the crash.

The plane was flown on a domestic flight by Hewa Bora Airways, which is on a banned-airlines list maintained by the European Union to identify airlines that have severe problems. Here is that list.

The plane that crashed was listed variously by international safety sources as Boeing 727-030 or 727-022(WL). Registration: 9Q-COP, according to

No one who has any choice would fly an airline like Hewa Bora, but of course lots of people have no choice (and no access to reliable safety warnings) in a corrupt, wretched country like Congo where even roads are a novelty outside the cities.

One area of inquiry would be useful, as investigators start work. That is, what's the history of this particular aircraft? From whom did Hewa Bora Airways acquire the 727?


Goodbye to Space Shuttle Technology and All That

...And good riddance to this empty-science boondoggle that's based, essentially, on TNT strapped to a tin can with people inside -- while media weep lachrymose tears. Total cost of this program: $200 billion. Yield: Tang, some dramatic photos (including tragic ones), plus decades of mind-numbing purple prose from the Victorian Gentlemen of the Space Program Press Corps.

Time now to renew and rejuvenate our serious, scientifically thrilling efforts in exploring the actual universe -- you know, real outer space, unmanned, and not focus on a piece of junk barely in orbit, a mere 200 miles up?


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Big Spike in Long Tarmac Delays in May

They'll be spinning this like a weaver on crystal meth, but there was a very large spike in tarmac delays of over three hours in May, according to Transportation Department data released today.

The sharp May increase -- to 16 -- argues for asking the question: Have airlines begun to believe that the DOT rules, which set fines of up to $27,500 per passenger for tarmac delays exceeding three hours without very good reason, are toothless -- driven by agency publicity rather than by a serious commitment to enforcement? The current figures are by far the highest since the rules went into effect in April of 2010. At that point, three-hour-plus delays plunged sharply, but the number crept up to four in April (the DOT blamed bad weather in Atlanta for three of those), and then quadrupled in May. The trend is not encouraging.

The DOT has yet to fine a single airline since the rules went into effect, incidentally.


TSA: Is That a Bomb in Your Hair or Are You Just From South Jersey?

The TSA hits just keep on coming.

Here's a story about a woman who was hauled aside to have her hair pawed through because it was deemed to be poofed. "We're going to have to examine your hair," a TSA screener told her.

These kinds of incidents never fail to remind me of the time I saw a woman in a full head-to-foot burka, face totally covered, being given a breezy wave through security in Detroit, with no attempt to match her face to her ID, because the TSA policy is that religious "sensitivity" trumps security. Allahu akbar, as they say when they pull the pin.

Or as Ron White says, "Ya can't fix stupid."

Meanwhile, in Florida, a TSA agent was fired for stealing passengers electronics and putting them down his pants. Ya can't make this stuff up


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

TSA and Personal Hiding Places for Explosives

Uh, oh. all I'm sayin'


Feeling Cramped On That Flight?

Delta Air Lines today released its June traffic results, the first for the month reported by a major airline. They indicate that airlines are continuing to constrict, while planes were continuing to fly near record load-factors as the summer travel season commenced.

Delta flew 1.5 percent fewer seats domestically in June, compared with June 2010. Its domestic load factor, the percentage of seats filled by paying customers, was 86.5 percent -- a percentage that would have been considered astonishing in the industry only a few years ago, but is now routine. (Last June, the Delta domestic load factor was 87.6 percent. Load factors over 80 percent, though, indicate that most planes are flying totally full most of the time, as we all know).

We'll soon see what the other airlines report for June.