Friday, February 25, 2011

Latest Fashion Fad from Libya

Stuck in Tripoli, Libya, and unable to flee because Gaddafi's maundering mercenaries have shut the airport and are shooting down people in the streets, and the Mediterranean is just too dang rough this time of the year to escape by boat, even to make it to Malta?

While you're waiting, buy a Gaddafi loony-tyrant fur-flap hat!

Not stuck in Tripoli? Not to worry, the loony-tyrant fur-flap hat is available at all the finest Korean War Army-Navy stores (tin-foil lining extra)!

The loony-tyrant fur-flap ushkana-chic hat fad comes just a little bit too late to make it on the runways at Fashion Week in New York.

Next year!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Air Travel Booming in Asia

China plans to build at least 45 new airports in the next five years as air gtravel booms throughout Asia and India. Here's the AP story via

The cost for the new Chinese airports: $230 billion.

One interesting aspect of new airport-building in Asia is that when you build an airport from scratch, you get to work in all of the modern design and engineering innovations that existing airports, like those in the U.S. and Europe, struggle to accommodate.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Separated at Birth?

Little Richard and Qaddafi?


A Note For E-Mail Messages

To those who have been e-mailing me using the address linked to in my profile: Sorry! I plumb forgot about that e-mail and haven't checked it in months.

Now am linking to it on my desktop so I'll remember to check it.


Now I remember.

Joe Sharkey


Hawaii Bill Would Punish Travel Writers for Tourists Who Trespass

Today's Prayer:

"Dear Lord, please spare us from the folly of legislators."

This time, the focus is on the state house in Hawaii. (Whew, they're saying at the statehouse in Phoenix, where there is always a full menu of crazy on tap. And hold on, Texas legislature, we know you're still in the loon-race).

There's legislation making its way through the Hawaii state legislature that will hold travel writers and publishers of things like print and online travel guides, including Web sites, liable for damages suffered by readers who might trespass on private land while visiting the state.

Here's a copy of the House version of the legislation.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) is strongly protesting this nutty proposed legislation. A committee of the Hawaii House of Representatives has already given unanimous approval to the measure.

In a letter to the Hawaii Senate Economic Development and Technology Committee, the publishers association called the legislation "ill-conceived." Pointing out that such a statute would inevitably be struck down on First Amendment grounds, the association urged the legislature to find alternative ways to address whatever it is the state house worthies think needs addressing ... oh, "trespassing."

The association's freedom to read director, Judy Platt, said: "The approach taken by this legislation would have a profound and unacceptable chilling effect not only on AAP members who publish travel guides, but on the robust free marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is intended to protect. The courts have simply not allowed this to happen, and the Hawaii legislature needs to be reminded of that."

Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-Lihu‘e-Koloa, a sponsor of the House bill, said the law would target writers and publications that encourage people to go to dangerous places such as Kipu Falls, in Puhi, knowing that to get there the readers will have to walk through private property, according to this account in The GardenIsland of Kaua'i.

The publication quoted Sen. Ron Kouchi, D-Kaua‘i, saying that some travel publications encourage tourists to break the trespassing laws. "Some of the guide books say that all of the locals disregard the no-trespassing signs," said Kouchi, who co-introduced the Senate bill.

The bill is moving along. It's a great overreach, an insult to the First Amendment.

How much of an overreach? Well, take these examples from the bill's text (italics are mine): "The legislature finds that visitor Web sites and visitor guide publications may invite potential visitors to trespass ..." ... "The representations made by these visitor Web sites and visitor guide publications may put potential visitors at risk by describing attractions or activities that are located on remote private properties or that are only accessible through remote private property, without adequately describing the inherent dangers associated with these attractions and activities. ..."

Imagine what a First Amendment lawyer could do to that language in a legal challenge. Wait, that language wouldn't even stand up in traffic court.

The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP’s approximately 280 members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies.

Hawaii, by the way, has been struggling with a sharp decline in tourism, a decline that has only recently apparently bottomed out. As Arizona has found out, stupid and unconstitutional laws create an image problem and discourage tourism and meetings business, which Hawaii can scarcely afford to do.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

More Wierdness From Wasilla As Palin Biographies Loom


[UPDATED 2-24]

Joe McGinniss wrote a terrific book about Alaska, "Going to Extremes," which was published in 1980 and is still an excellent travel memoir, full of wonderfully observed insights.
More recently, McGinniss returned to Alaska, renting a house next door to the Palin family lakefront residence in Wasilla for a few months last year while he was doing research on his biography of Sarah Palin, which will be published sometime this year by Broadway Books. (The publication date hasn't been announced yet).

Palin famously yowled in protest about McGinniss's proximity to the homestead, implying that he was a peeping tom. McGinniss's proximity to the people in Wasilla who are familiar with Palin's dirty laundry was, of course, more to the point. Obviously, the much-anticipated McGinniss biography won't be favorable toward the former part-term Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate.

But while we await McGinniss's book, here comes a new wave of weirdness from Wasilla, with reports that one Frank Bailey, a former top aide to Palin, has written a 500-page biography/expose of her that, interestingly, does not yet have an actual publisher. This would-be book, with the unwieldy working title "Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Memoir Of Our Tumultuous Years," has also acquired two co-authors (read: rewrite doctors) in its long quest to find a publisher. Bailey, incidentally, describes himself as a "Fox News conservative," whatever that is supposed to convey.

But now, suddenly, the mystery manuscript has been leaked and is getting publicity. The authors and the literary agent shopping the manuscript to publishers profess to be shocked and horrified at the disclosure. The Anchorage Daily News has the most detailed account of this latest set of Alaska shenanigans, as currently understood, that is.

Two things:

1. I haven't seen the leaked manuscript, but the excerpts and bullet points that have been noted by the Alaska newspaper and other media that have the manuscript seem to suggest why publishers have not jumped to sign up this book. Basically, the excerpts rehash some Alaska campaign violation charges and that long-ago-digested scandal over the firing of a state trooper who had run afoul of the Palin clan. And, oh yeah, it seems that Sarah Palin can become very, very cross when she feels she has been slighted or denied a benefit.

[UPDATE, 2-24]: On the other hand, the Anchorage Daily News seems to have done a lousy job of excerpting the manuscript it had in its hands. Subsequent reports on the manuscript are a little juicier and could in fact persuade a publisher to go with it.

2. The Anchorage Daily News strangely discloses that one copy of several copies of the manuscript it obtained had been sent to it by none other than McGinniss himself. The newspaper says, "The Daily News received copies from multiple sources, the first from author Joe McGinniss, who is working on his own Palin book. McGinniss didn't respond to a message asking where he obtained the manuscript and the reason he circulated it."

(Nor has the Anchorage Daily News addressed under which specific conditions it obtained the various leaked copies, whether the newspaper has violated any conditions in identifying McGinniss as a source, or whether it might feel a journalistic imperative to publicly disclose who else leaked the goods to the paper -- but that's another matter entirely.)

What to make of all this? Well, as usual, those who are suspicious must ask cui bono? To whose benefit does this accrue?

I have admired Joe McGinniss since he was a merrily provocative city columnist on the old Annenberg-owned Philadelphia Inquirer, driving poor Walter Annenberg nuts while Walter was trying to stifle dissent, punish enemies, sell his discredited newspaper, and get himself taken seriously as the new Nixon-appointed ambassador to Britain. Happily, Annenberg did sell the Inquirer to quality new owners in 1970, a few years after McGinniss left to write his first book, "The Selling of the President 1968."

By the way, I also have had some very minor personal experience as an author of a timely and carefully researched non-fiction book who has suddenly become aware that a cheap, quickie competitive book is likely to be on the market first. This has in fact happened to me twice, and in both cases my books' prospects were seriously damaged by the sudden appearance of quickie clip-jobs on the same newsy topic that hit the market a few months before mine did.

As regards the marketing of the McGinniss book, it also has to be a consideration by author and/or editor and/or publisher alike that Sarah Palin's popularity is on the wane, that a once potentially formidable candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 has been fast losing steam, while derision directed toward her grows even in conservative ranks.

Incidentally, there's no mystery to me about how the Bailey manuscript got out. When a manuscript on a timely, probably marketable topic is shopped around, agent to publisher to publisher, copies are made and dispersed by insiders with varying motives.

My guess here is we have colliding dynamics. An inferior, limp Palin book is being shopped (and hyped, through clever media-stunt placement), to obtain a publisher and then get the book into play fast, even as interest in Palin may be waning. Coming the other way is McGinniss' superior, serious Palin book, with no publication date yet announced -- a book whose marketability is potentially affected by a competitor in a specific time frame. And waiting round the corner, maybe, is the wreck of the Palin phenomenon itself.

Among many questions: Does the leaked manuscript of a junk Palin bio also have the effect of jump-starting publication and/or marketing of the quality McGinniss bio sooner this year, rather than later?

[UPDATE: The McGinniss book now has a publication date: It's being rushed out for September.]

Meanwhile, here's a post on the leak situation by one of the putative co-authors of the Bailey book, Jeanne Devon, who writes The Mudflats, an Alaska-based blog that is often critical of Palin. And here's a post describing himself by the other putative co-author, Ken Morris.

So many possible agendas, you could write a mystery novel.


Separated At Birth?

...Or did Eddie Munster grow up to actually run for Congress under the name Paul Ryan?


At the Vietnam Memorial

Forty-three years ago this month, I arrived in Saigon to start a one-year tour of duty in what would turn out to be the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War.

Not long ago a young woman in the travel industry was telling me with great enthusiasm how much she had enjoyed a recent trip to Vietnam, where cities like Saigon have new names and new amenities like five-star hotels.

"Have you ever been to Vietnam?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said.

"Have you been to Hue?" she asked.

"Yes," I told her.

"What did you think?" she said brightly.

"Well, it was still on fire at the time."

Her uncomprehending expression told me that Vietnam was a very, very long time ago.
I was in Washington D.C. last week and visited the beautiful Vietnam memorial for the first time.

The young men in the picture above were asking the volunteer at the memorial to rub a name onto a paper -- as a favor, one said, for a grandfather, whose best friend it was.

A very long time ago.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Egypt: Heroics Hide Problems for Women Travelers

Within all media euphoria about the heroic triumph of freedom (or at least the deposing of a despot) in Egypt lies the awful story of Lara Logan, American reporter, who was savagely sexually assaulted by a joyous mob of Egyptian men celebrating their victory over the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Ms. Logan's sins, evidently, were being blond and beautiful, and being in public in a place like that.

Spare me the stirring freedom narrative for a moment. It's time to look harder at the hideous sexual culture of a part of the world where the local women are considered property, and foreign women on the street by themselves are deemed fair game for assault, from verbal harassment to casual groping to worse, by the local male populace.

The fact is, I do not know any woman who feels comfortable traveling alone anywhere in the Islamic Middle East, including those who have to do so for business reasons. This is something you hear all the time about Egypt in particular from female travelers, incidentally, but it's also true throughout the region.

Maybe in their triumph, the celebrants in Egypt can make a new revolution. One that teaches their pious sons, and their sanctimonious mullahs, fundamental respect for the rights and dignity of women, including the fundamental right to be in public and not to be assaulted.

Till then, spare me the heroics. Spare me the piety, Egypt, till your sons and brothers and husbands and fathers learn how to behave in a civilized manner with women. Friday prayers would be a good place to start this discussion.


Saturday, February 05, 2011

N . Texas Weather a Super Bowl Party-Pooper, But the Private Jets Are Still Arriving En Masse

The snowy, icy weather this week in North Texas has put a damper on some of the usual high-end Super Bowl parties and other expensive festivities. [Still, the local media always manage to look giddy when the Super Bowl is in their territory, come rain or snow or sleet.]

Meanwhile, some airlines still have travel alerts in effect for Dallas/Fort Worth as well as Houston and elsewhere.

But man, the private jets are arriving, sortie after sortie into North Texas. Super Bowl weekend is always one of the big events for private-jet parties. In recent years, many companies with their own jets have either managed to conceal their flights, thanks to a deal that the business-jet industry cooked up with the FAA under the guise of security. Or, as is often the case, companies have sold the plane(s) and depend instead on much-less-public charter leasing.

Big sports weekends like this also attract a lot of private social parties, including packages arranged by tour operators who supply private jet transportation, luxury hotel accommodations and invitations to glitzy parties.

There are about 15 general aviation airports in the Dallas area, and the private jets are using them all. Also, many are using Love Field, the secondary airport in Dallas.

Hey, if you've got the dough and you're not stiffing shareholders or taxpayers, why not spend it and let roll whatever good times it might buy, is my attitude.

Incidentally, in a cursory check of the private-flight tracking service on, I see an unusual number of private jet flights taking off today from the University of Oklahoma Airport. What's up with that?


Friday, February 04, 2011

Out of Gas in Arizona

For the past two nights the overnight temperatures in Tucson have been at record-breaking lows -- last night was as cold as it's been since the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral days, 15 degrees.

Water pipes burst all over town, but even worse, the gas-pipeline distribution system in south Texas, New Mexico and southern Arizona has been unable to keep up with a surge in demand since Wednesday. Whole sections of Tucson have been without gas heat for days -- at a time when the annual Gem Show is in full swing and all of the hotels are full.

The Loews Ventana Canyon resort, among others, is full right now of very unhappy campers. 400 guests are huddled around without heat. Even hotel kitchens are shut down, as least for cooking.

Oddly, the national media have entirely missed this interesting story. Well, not so oddly, actually.



Super Bowl Travel Delays Mount As Snow and Ice Cause More Flight Cancellations in Texas

A big mess is underway for Super Bowl travelers to Dallas as large numbers of flights are being canceled once again today and tomorrow.

And the statistics below don't even take into account the hundreds of private-jet flights that will be affected, Super Bowl being one of the biggest annual events for high-flying private jet parties.

This today on commercial airline flights, from

"The fallout from the storm is continuing to cause more cancellations in Texas, which is really unfortunate timing considering the Super Bowl is in Dallas on Sunday. 885 flights have been cancelled to/from Houston today and 543 to/from Dallas. Total cancellations so far today are 1,726.

Houston IAH is the primary hub for Continental Airlines. Dallas DFW is the primary hub for American Airlines. Southwest Airlines has hubs at both Dallas Love (DAL) and Houston Hobby (HOU). Temperatures are forecast to get above freezing in Houston in the next few hours, which will allow the roads, ramps, and planes to thaw out so that normal operations can resume this afternoon. However, Dallas is forecast to stay below freezing until tomorrow afternoon.

FlightAware is estimating the total number of affected passengers to be between 700K and 800K.

Yesterday's total is 2,594 and the total for this week is 19,906 -- just shy of 20K.

Real-time cancellation stats:

We expect the traffic levels in Chicago to decline as heavy snow falls for the rest of the evening, and East Coast from D.C. to Boston to seize up due to freezing rain and ice overnight.

Even flights in areas that are largely unaffected are seeing extensive delays due to routings around weather."


TSA OK's Some Union Bargaining for Screeners, But With Very Big Restrictions

The TSA will allow a labor union to engage in collective bargaining for its workforce of about 50,000 screeners and other security officers, but things like pay, pensions, job qualifications and employee disciplinary actions won't be on the table. And they won't be allowed to strike, engage in work-slowdown protests or take other collective job actions.

Those are mighty big "buts" for any union to swallow. TSA screeners have long pressed for collective bargaining rights, and two separate unions are vying for the right to represent them, with votes coming up in March. Currently, the TSA said, more than 13,000 screeners are paying dues to either one of the two unions that are seeking to represent them in collective bargaining.

In setting narrow limits, the TSA would allow national (not local) collective bargaining on some matters such as priority on work schedules and vacation time, and various procedural matters. The unions have not yet weighed in on their responses to this kind of deal.

No matter how the unions play it, the move will intensify a looming battle with anti-union Republicans in Congress, such as John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who earlier today lobbed a warning shot at the TSA over this issue. (See previous post)

The TSA head, John Pistole, said today that the agency will provide "a framework to protect TSA’s ability to respond to evolving threats, while allowing Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to vote on whether or not they wish to be represented by a union for the purposes of engaging in limited, clearly defined collective bargaining at the national level only on non-security employment issues. If a union is chosen, each security officer will retain the right to choose whether or not to join the union."

Pistole said: "The safety of the traveling public is our top priority and we will not negotiate on security. But morale and employee engagement cannot be separated from achieving superior security. If security officers vote to move forward with collective bargaining, this framework will ensure that TSA retains the capability and flexibility necessary to respond to evolving threats, and continue improving employee engagement, performance and professional development."

The framework allows for bargaining at the national level only -– while prohibiting local-level bargaining at individual airports –- on certain employment issues such as shift bids, transfers and awards. Pistole’s order, which is officially called a "determination," prohibits bargaining on any topics that might affect security, such as:

--Security policies, procedures or the deployment of security personnel or equipment
--Pay, pensions and any form of compensation
--Proficiency testing
--Job qualifications-
--Discipline standards

Additionally, the TSA move strictly prohibits officers from striking or engaging in work slowdowns of any kind.

Last November, the Federal Labor Relations Authority issued a decision that called for an election among TSOs to determine whether a majority of officers wished to have exclusive union representation for purposes other than collective bargaining.

The TSA statement said:

Pistole’s determination allows this election to move forward, consistent with TSA's security mission and conducted under his Determination’s carefully defined framework.
Under the legislation that created TSA, Congress expressly granted the TSA administrator sole authority to establish the terms and conditions of employment for security officers at airports.

Pistole pledged during his confirmation hearings that he would complete a thorough assessment of the impact collective bargaining might have on the safety and security of the traveling public. The recently completed assessment included a review of employee data, a broad range of conversations, input from employees, TSA management and from the two union presidents, as well as interviews with the present and former leaders of a variety of security and law enforcement agencies and organizations. These included federal, state, and local government agencies such as the NYPD and Customs and Border Protection and employers of unionized guards at a number of national security facilities such as secure nuclear weapon and Department of Defense facilities, as well as experts on labor relations in high performance organizations. Interviews were also conducted with management at two airports that are part of TSA’s Screening Partnership Program that have unionized contracted screeners.

During TSA’s formative years, collective bargaining was prohibited, although membership in a union was not.


'Collective Bargaining' Ahead for TSA Screeners?

...well, not if Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has anything to say about it. Which, of course, he does.

Mica's office sends out this statement today, "regarding an expected announcement from the Administration and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on collective bargaining for TSA airport security screeners."

It follows a move last week by the TSA head, John Pistole, to halt any further expansion of a program, popular with anti-union politicians, that allowed airports to not use TSA screeners and instead hire private security-firm screeners who work under TSA rules. Only about 16 airports have opted for that program, which was put in place by anti-union politicians at the start of the TSA in 2003. Critics of the program say that it allows airports and local airport authorities to reward their own cronies in the rent-a-cop security industry with lucrative contracts -- a throwback to the way airport security worked before the TSA was started.

Mica says: "This turnover of airport screening to the Administration’s union cronies comes on the heels of last week’s decision to kill the successful TSA contract screening program, all bad news for the traveler, the taxpayer and aviation security. With the airport screening force mushrooming from 16,500 in 2001 to now nearly 63,000, this will be President Obama’s biggest gift to organized labor."

TSA screeners currently have the right to unionize, but not the ability to collectively bargain. Mica says, "Conceding collective-bargaining rights and the ability to negotiate over workplace issues could further jeopardize the nation’s transportation and passenger security system," Mica asserts, without addressing how that might be.

Mica invokes a statement made in 2003 by the former Coast Guard admiral James Loy, whose tenure as head of the TSA is widely regarded as having been feckless. "In 2003, TSA Administrator Admiral James Loy appropriately stated, 'Mandatory collective bargaining is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war against terrorism. Fighting terrorism demands a flexible workforce that can rapidly respond to threats. That can mean changes in work assignments and other conditions of employment that are not compatible with the duty to bargain with labor unions.'"

[Loy is currently on the board of a company, L-1 Identity Solutions, that sells biometric and other technology-based security-identification systems to airports and other enterprises.]

Mica: "Last week, TSA also announced it would halt expansion of the Screening Partnership Program (SPP). This screening program, established by Congress in the original TSA law, allows airports to opt to use certified private security screeners under TSA supervision and oversight. In previous reviews, this private-federal security model has performed as well as or better than the all-federal model. Chairman Mica has launched an investigation and review of this TSA policy decision to contradict the spirit and intent of the law."


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Reporters, Foreign Observers Under Attack in Cairo

Attacks against foreigners in Cairo are widening. Many are trying to flee the country. This is not an easy thing to do right now, with the airport in chaos.

The very important free-press group Committee to Protect Journalists has a heads-up summary on the new tactic by pro-government forces in Cairo to single out journalists for attack. Here's the current report. The major news media like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, CNN, etc. are also on top of this, as is Al Jazeera, which has firmly reinforced its reputation as a very solid international news organization in this crisis. Fox News, meanwhile, shows that it is reckless and wildly inaccurate even in a story it hasn't yet figured out a way to fully spin into a condemnation of the Democrats or proof that global warming is a hoax. For hours yesterday, Fox was reporting, ridiculously, that there were widespread "lynchings" in Cairo yesterday.

ABC News, which is not always reliable (for example, they love rushing out, usually right before holidays, with breathless reports on impending terrorist attacks that never seem to pend) has a list of journalists who have been arrested or attacked.

By the way, except for occasional gripping video that someone managed to shoot, this is a text and blog story. Example, from Al Jazeera:

"Al Jazeera's online producer in Cairo said: 'The battle for downtown Cairo on Thursday has taken on an almost medieval quality, with protesters erecting makeshift barricades and building homemade catapults to launch rocks at each other.'"

"Medieval" -- there's a case where a word is worth a thousand pictures.

In a situation like that, openly shooting video is difficult and dangerous and words supply the context. Myself, except for the occasional video, I actually prefer text on a story like this. Unless it's live video like that amazing stuff at about 4 a.m. Cairo time between Rachel Maddow and the invaluable NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, reporting from what had to be a dangerous spot on a hotel balcony right above the boundary of Tahrir Square. This was married, alas, when the NBC anchor Brian Williams muscled in on the balcony and began prattling on about stuff like the "barrage" of gunfire -- when in fact Engel had just accurately described it as "scattered small-arms fire." Engel also knew enough to distinguish between handgun fire and automatic rifle fire, which is a whole different kettle of fish in a riot. The MSNBC control room in New York also screwed up the amazing live video by plastering that annoying and ever-present and way too big "Breaking News" display across the bottom of the screen, where it covered up about 20 percent of the amazing live images. Why do they do that?]

Anyway, the usual suspects in the mighty journalism harrumph-brigade, including the Poynter Institute (the Dong Dong School of journalism academe), and the once-useful and now irrelevant Columbia Journalism Review, seem to be ineffective, per usual, when things get hot and current.


Update on Today's Airport Messes; Continental Shuttering IAH

Here's a live update on today's flight cancellations from

FlightAware, by the way, seems to be edging out as the basic news-media go-to site for flight delays and cancellations information, probably because its text summary of the day's flight operations makes it easy for reporters to review. On the other hand, I'm seeing a much more detailed account of flight cancellations at my own favorite source, For example, Flightstats reports the cancellations at 1,113 today at Chicago O'Hare; Flightaware seems to be lagging on the O'Hare data. And both seem to be sucking wind, as they say, on the most current information at Houston, where Continental has basically pulled the plug on operations starting late this afternoon.

Anyway, I am glad to see that I have finally shamed lazy reporters to at least make an attempt to get the numbers straight, and stop relying on those decades-old Rolodex contacts for the PR guy at the local airport who doesn't know a delay from a delicatessen. (Or worse, using the the FAA, whose supposedly live "flight delays" online map is simply a fiction).

Meanwhile, Continental Airlines intends to basically shut down its major hub at the amusingly named Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, better known among pilots as Houston Intergalactic. SO if you're flying today to Housoton, or with a a connection through Houston, be very aware.

Here is Continental's announcement this morning:


I watch this winter mess from warm and sunny Tuscon. Oh, wait a minute, it's sunny here but it sure ain't warm this morning. In fact, the last time southern Arizona had overnight temperatures as low as last night's (18 degrees in Tucson), Wyatt Earp was still a sheriff. But it's going to be in the 60s by noon, at least. And the usual warm weather will return this weekend. So yes, I will shut the heck up.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Airlines Hike Fares, Weigh Reviving Fuel Surcharges

Airlines are busily hiking fares again, even as they have canceled well over 13,000 flights during the awful snow and ice storms of the last few days.

Rick Seaney, the CEO of reports "significant fare and fuel-surcharge hike activity from several domestic U.S. airlines."

He adds, "Coinciding with Brent crude prices hitting a two-year high of $100/barrel, late [Monday] evening, American Airlines initiated an airfare hike between $4 and $10 roundtrip on the bulk of their domestic route system, while in the same filing United/Continental cautiously added a $6 roundtrip fuel surcharge on a significant number of routes, being careful to tiptoe around low cost airlines and the cheapest of sale fares.

"This is the third airfare hike attempt this year (two in December 2010). The four previous domestic hikes the past two months all met with varying degrees of success."

[UPDATE: Seaney says this afternoon: "In a flurry of activity the past 18 hours several airlines have matched the American-initiated domestic airfare hike of $4 to $10 roundtrip -- including Continental, Delta, United, US Airways, JetBlue, Alaska, AirTran, Air Canada and WestJet leaving only Southwest and Frontier sitting on the sidelines. United/Continental as part of their matching of the American hike dropped the $6rt fuel surcharge in what appears to be related to domestic airlines motto of "never be $1 more or less than your competitor unless you have a scheduling advantage" fostered by consumers behavior to comparison shop."]

"Outside of peak travel 'miscellaneous' surcharges (charges for specific high volume travel periods), we haven’t seen domestic fuel surcharges since November 2008 when U.S. airlines dropped them from domestic airfares as fuel prices plummeted from summer highs of $140+/barrel that year.

"Additionally, JetBlue added a fuel surcharge to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean between $70 and $90 roundtrip, while American also increased prices to Canada by $22 roundtrip (matched by Air Canada) and Hawaii by $21 roundtrip.

"During the day [Tuesday], both US Airways and Alaska Airlines (on Canadian routes) began matching American's hike with Delta matching a smattering of the fuel surcharge increases. Staying out of the fray for the moment are Southwest, AirTran and Frontier."

Separately, a report today from the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that average domestic air fares rose to $340 in the third quarter of 2010, up 10.7 percent from the average fare of $307 in the third quarter of 2009.

The hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport had the highest average fare, $469, while Atlantic City, N.J., had the lowest, $153, according to the BTS report.

Third-quarter fares decreased 0.3 percent from the second quarter, after four consecutive quarterly increases. During those four quarters ending in the second quarter of 2010, fares increased 12.9 percent after falling to a recent low of $302 in the second quarter of 2009.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

'sno Joke: Horrible, Terrible Snow and Hideous Ice

OK, the main thing you need to know right now is that horrible icy weather has canceled nearly 1,200 departures and arrivals flights as of early afternoon in ... Dallas-Fort Worth. The airport was closed for hours this morning and is only now getting some flight operations back.

It's also hideous as you look north and east. Chicago O'Hare had 1,023 canceled flights as of mid-morning. Even where the weather hasn't yet deteriorated severely yet, airlines are preemptively scrubbing flights. The hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport has 678 cancellations so far; Kennedy has 445; La Guardia has 611. The numbers come as usual from, and I have only begun to count.

A truly miserable, hideous, dangerous, awful snow-and-ice storm hit a significant portion of the United States today. (Hey, this climate change stuff is a liberal-Nazi-socialist-Trilateral Commission-lamestream-media-Commie hoax, right?).

The worst air-travel week of the year is upon us.

By the way: If, like me, you live in a nice sunny place where the only snow you ever see is high, high on a mountaintop where in my opinion it belongs -- here is some friendly advice. Do not, repeat not, kid around with anyone in the snowbound regions, whether Chicago, New York, Boston or elsewhere, about their miserable, cold, snow-plagued winter.

I did that, very lightly, yesterday with a usually cheerful, optimistic young woman from New York who I was speaking with on the phone about a column I was writing. I made a little joke about snow.

"How's the weather in Tucson?" she asked me glumly.

"Beautiful, sunny and warm as usual," I said.

She considered this and then said darkly, "Yeah, but you could get shot in the f---ing head there, of course."

Whoa, first time I ever heard her curse.