Tuesday, February 28, 2012

United Flight in Emergency Landing Temporarily Shuts Newark; No Injuries Reported As Plane's Landing Gear Fails

The hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport was shut down for a while last night after a United Airlines flight had to make an emergency landing, skidding on its belly after landing gear failed, as this excellent story in the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper reports. Passengers were terrified, naturally.

The 71 people on board were evacuated safely via the emergency chute.

The flight -- from Atlanta to that somewhat abrupt landing in Newark -- was operated for United by Shuttle America, a subsidiary of Republic Airways. The plane was an Embraer 170.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Latest Airline Fare Hikes Stall as Travelers Push Back, But Expect More to Come With Oil Prices Soaring

[Charts: Rick Seaney, CEO FareCompare.com]

Airlines are getting very anxious about rising fuel prices, and you probably should too. That's because the domestic system, which is already strained to the breaking point, will suffer even more if air fares shoot up.

And that's what is likely to occur. Remember, the cost of fuel represents more than a third of operational costs for major airlines (36 percent for United, for example).

It's still early in the 29012 airfare game, but airlines keep banging away at it, trying to boost fares. They don't collaborate on setting fares (that would be wrong. don;t you know). Buyt they do like it when competitors fall in line and match the fare hikes.

Today, the indefatigable Rick Seaney, the CEO of FareCompare.com, says that last week's latest domestic $4-$10 round-trip fare-hike attempt, the second in two weeks, "is collapsing as signs of weakness over the weekend set off a series rollbacks after several days of tenuously holding on without low-cost airline support."

United, which had initiated the latest round last week, started partially peeling back prices on some routes on Saturday, and then on Sunday rolled back even more, "accompanied by US Airways," Seaney says.

Then today, "American, Delta, Frontier and Virgin America began rollbacks [of last week's fare increases] across their route systems as well," he says, adding:

"Ahead of this collapse..., Southwest raised some routes for travelers buying tickets at the last minute (under 7 days in advance) by $10 round-trip. Typically, these seats are sold to business travelers who pay more than twice the rate of leisure passengers.

"Air travelers are likely to experience a more gradual increase in domestic airline ticket prices than [drivers] at the pump -- at least for the next few months until summer buying frenzy hits -- as carriers continue to meet fairly stiff resistance to higher fares in their quest to recoup fuel costs."

As usual, Rick is on the case.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Our Fellow Citizens ...

...You know, the hopeless bozos whose vote on election day counts exactly the same as yours and mine?

This is what some of them attempted to bring onto airplanes last week, according to the well-done TSA blog.

That's 35 guns, incidentally. Ten of them loaded.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

El Paso Stray Bullet: Who Struck John (or Maria)?

Dueling press conferences along the border following that weird incident where a woman in El Paso, Texas, was injured by a bullet that seems to have been fired in drug-war-torn Cuidad Juarez, two miles away in Mexico.

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen says the bullet likely came from Juarez, because the woman, Maria Romero, was struck in the leg in downtown El Paso at the same time that Juarez cops were involved in a shootout (ho-hum, so common, these shootouts) with two carjackers. That's according to this story in today's El Paso Times.

No way, Jose, counters the mayor of Juarez, Hector Murguia, who asserts that "the bullet came from a Fast and Furious operation." The reference is to the notorious clusterf*** federal sting operation that stupidly sought to track drug smugglers by supplying a bunch of American guns to desperadoes south of the border.

I'm guessing both sides have a point here.


No. 1 On List of Things You Really Don't Want to Hear Shouted On an Airplane: "Allah Is Great!"

Many years ago, some editor got his knickers in a twist when I wrote that the last thing you want to overhear on an airplane is somebody shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is great!") -- the Moslem religious phrase that is also commonly used as a war cry by Islamic terrorists.

It's true, though, political correctness aside. The last thing those doomed innocent passengers on those planes that crashed in horrific fury on 9/11 heard was their murderers screaming that phrase.

So it's understandable that people are a little, shall we say, wary of anyone on an airplane who hollers it, in Arabic or in English. Let's just say that, in flight, it isn't interpreted as an expression of simple piety.

So have a look at this situation yesterday on a Houston-bound Continental flight that had to return to Portland after an unruly passenger, upset that he couldn't have a seat beside his friend, began acting out after being told to settle down. Here's a link to an excellent video report on KHOU-TV in Houston.

A female passenger says of the disruptive passenger, who was identified in a federal indictment today as a 19-year-old Saudi citizen in the U.S. as a tourist: "He was screaming, "Allah is great! Allah is great! And it kind of worries you when all of that happens. But there were enough men [among fellow passengers] to hold him down."

Passengers assisted flight attendants in subduing the troublemaker. A male passenger explained, "Every guy in my area was ready to go."

To which I add, "And thank God for that."

UPDATE -- A federal indictment today charged the passenger, Yazeed Mohammed A. Abunayyan, 19, with a felony count of interfering with a flight crew member.

On the plane, he engaged in "yelling profanities and swinging his fist at the flight attendant, hitting or attempting to hit several passengers and speaking or singing about Usama [sic] Bin Laden and his hatred for women," according to the indictment.

[UPDATE -- The plot thickens. According to The Smoking Gun, the bozo who disrupted that flight, a Saudi citizen, had just got out of jail on bail after a nasty, drunken run-in with the police in Oregon the other day. He's said to have been in the U.S. as a tourist, visiting relatives.]


Friday, February 17, 2012

News Update: Drunk Pilot Barred From Frontier/Chautauqua Flight; Air Australia Suspends Operations, Stranding Thousands

News you can use:

A pilot due to fly a Frontier Airlines flight operated by Chautauqua Airlines was kept off a flight from Omaha to Milwaukee yesterday after he failed a blood-alcohol test. A hotel shuttle-bus driver reported smelling alcohol on the pilot, and the test was administered before he boarded the plane. Here's a link to that.

Elsewhere, more than 4,000 overseas travelers on the budget carrier Air Australia are stranded abroad after the airline suspended operations. Ran out of money for gas and other operating necessities, is the reason why.

Here's the link from Eturbonews.

[UPDATE FEB. 21 -- India's Kingfisher Airlines slashes flights, out of money. Story here.]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mexico Travel Warning

[Photo: Downtown Nogales, bereft of tourists]

My mother-in-law is visiting us in Tucson, and just this morning I was discussing with her the question of whether she wanted to visit Nogales, the Mexican border town that's an easy 60-mile drive from our home.

Nogales used to be a very popular spot for people in southern Arizona, but no more. There are two main reasons.

One is a basic fear of violence, though lots of people still think that Nogales is relatively safe, provided you don't wander off too far from downtown, or plan to spend the night bar-hopping.

But two, and perhaps the strongest: Given widespread concern about travel to Mexico by Americans, downtown Nogales -- once bustling with life and with vibrant shops and restaurants -- has become just plain sad. The friendly shopkeepers, those still in business, put a brave face on it, but the fact is that downtown Nogales looks dead and forlorn. Most of the joy has gone out of the place.

So we won't visit today, and that's a reason. It's just too damn sad.

But frankly, it's also just too damn dangerous. (If you're thinking about Nogales, ignore clueless happy-talk travel reviews like this one. In fact, according to the State Department, Nogales has become one of the new centers of border-town violence, with increasing incidents of daytime street shootouts. And if you want Mexican pottery and the other sort of stuff people buy there, here's a clue: You get a better price at Mexican pottery, furniture and curio shops in Tucson and in Tubac, Az. And you don't have to schlep your stuff through Customs.)

The violence has affected U.S. tourism in Mexico (and especially in the border regions), though cheap prices and desperate marketing have drawn lots of new tourists from Brazil and other places where street violence and other crime is a lot more common than it is in the U.S.

The safety situation in mexico is not getting any better, judging from a new travel warning issued by the U.S. state Department.

[UPDATE FEB. 21 -- A woman in El Paso, Texas, was injured by a bullet apparently fired during a shootout in Juarez, Mexico, which is 2 miles away. Only high-powered assault rifles can do that.]

Alarmed by the growing violence caused by drug-traffic gangs in Mexico, the State Department has issued the strongest warning to date to discourage Americans from visiting Mexico.

Here's the full text of the current State Department travel warning for Mexico.

The Mexican government, incidentally, reacted strongly to this. The AP reports that Mexico's top domestic security official called the warning, which covers almost half of the states of Mexico, "ridiculous" and "out of proportion."

[UPDATE FEB. 26 -- 22 passengers on a Carnival Cruise shore excursion were robbed at gunpoint on Thursday in Puerto Vallarta. Here's a link.)

The new State Department warning is definitely harsh.

"According to the most recent homicide figures published by the Mexican government, 47,515 people were killed in narcotics-related violence in Mexico between December 1, 2006 and September 30, 2011, with 12,903 narcotics-related homicides in the first nine months of 2011 alone," it says. "While most of those killed in narcotics-related violence have been members of TCOs [transnational criminal organizations], innocent persons have also been killed. The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011.

"Gun battles between rival TCOs or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico, especially in the border region. Gun battles have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. TCOs use stolen cars and trucks to create roadblocks on major thoroughfares, preventing the military and police from responding to criminal activity. The location and timing of future armed engagements is unpredictable. We recommend that you defer travel to the areas indicated in this Travel Warning and to exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the northern border region."

Here is the text of the warning's section on the Mexican border towns and other northern regions:

Baja California (north): Tijuana is a major city/travel destination in the Northern portion of Baja California -see attached map to identify its exact location: You should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. Targeted TCO assassinations continue to take place in Baja California. Turf battles between criminal groups proliferated and resulted in numerous assassinations in areas of Tijuana frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours throughout the city. In one such incident, an U.S. citizen was shot and seriously wounded. According to the Government of Mexico, as of August 2011, the city’s murder rate was approximately 20 per 100,000. During 2011, 34 U.S. citizens were the victims of homicide in the state. In the majority of these cases, the killings appeared to be related to narcotics trafficking.

Baja California (South): Cabo San Lucas is a major city/travel destination in the Southern portion of Baja California -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify its exact location: No advisory is in effect.

Chihuahua: Juarez and Chihuahua are the major cities/travel destinations in Chihuahua -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify their exact locations: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Chihuahua. The situation in the state of Chihuahua, specifically Ciudad Juarez, is of special concern. Ciudad Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in Mexico. The Mexican government reports that more than 3,100 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez in 2010 and 1,933 were killed in 2011. Three persons associated with the Consulate General were murdered in March 2010. The state of Chihuahua is normally entered through Columbus, NM, and the El Paso, Fabens and Fort Hancock, TX, ports-of-entry. There have been incidents of narcotics-related violence in the vicinity of the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua.

Coahuila: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Coahuila. The State of Coahuila continues to experience high rates of violent crimes and narcotics-related murders. TCOs continue to compete for territory and coveted border crossings to the United States. In August 2011, suspected members of TCOs and police exchange fire near a crowded soccer stadium in Torreón causing panic. The city of Torreón had a murder rate of more than 40 per 100,000 population between January and August of 2011. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments.

Durango: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Durango. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of narcotics-related murders in the State of Durango increased dramatically. In 2011 several areas in the state continue to experience high rates of violence and remained volatile and unpredictable. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments.

Nuevo Leon: Monterrey is a major city/travel destination in Nuevo Leon -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify its exact location: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Nuevo Leon, except the metropolitan area of Monterrey where you should exercise caution. The level of violence and insecurity in Monterrey has increased, illustrated by an attack on a popular local casino in August that resulted in 52 deaths. One U.S. citizen was injured in that incident. Local police and private patrols do not have the capacity to deter criminal elements or respond effectively to security incidents. As a result of a Department of State assessment of the overall security situation, on September 10, 2010, the Consulate General in Monterrey became a partially unaccompanied post with no minor dependents of USG personnel permitted. USG personnel serving at the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and may not travel outside the San Pedro municipal boundaries between midnight and 6 a.m. Although there have been no such incidents in 2011, in 2010 TCOs kidnapped guests out of reputable hotels in the downtown Monterrey area, blocking off adjoining streets to prevent law enforcement response. TCOs have also regularly attacked local government facilities, prisons and police stations, and engaged in public shootouts with the military and between themselves. TCOs have used vehicle born improvised explosive devices against military and law enforcement units. Pedestrians and innocent bystanders have been killed in these incidents.

San Luis Potosi: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of San Luis Potosi, except the city of San Luis Potosi where you should exercise caution. The entire stretch of highway 57D in San Luis Potosi and portions of the state east of highway 57D towards Tamaulipas are particularly dangerous. In February 2011, one U.S. government employee was killed and another wounded when they were attacked in their U.S. government vehicle on Highway 57 near Santa Maria del Rio. Cartel violence and highway lawlessness are a continuing security concern. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments.

Sinaloa: Mazatlan is a major city/travel destination in Sinaloa -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify its exact location: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the city of Mazatlan where you should exercise caution particularly late at night and in the early morning. One of Mexico's most powerful TCOs is based in the state of Sinaloa. With the exception of Ciudad Juarez, since 2006 more homicides have occurred in the state's capital city of Culiacan than in any other city in Mexico. Travel off the toll roads in remote areas of Sinaloa is especially dangerous and should be avoided. In the last year, the city of Mazatlan has experienced a level of violence (primarily confrontations between TCOs) not seen before and incidents of violence are occurring more frequently in tourist areas. USG personnel are permitted to travel between the Mazatlan airport and the tourist areas only during daylight hours. We recommend that any other travel in Mazatlan be limited to the tourist areas (Zona Dorada and the historic town center). In 2010 there were over 300 narcotics-related murders within the city, compared to fewer than 100 in 2009. In the first seven months of 2011, there were 300 narcotics-related murders.

Sonora: Nogales and Puerto Peñasco are the major cities/travel destinations in Sonora -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify their exact locations: You should defer non-essential travel between the city of Nogales and the cities of Sonoyta and Caborca (which area also includes the smaller cities of Saric, Tubutama, and Altar), defer non-essential travel to the eastern edge of the State of Sonora which borders the State of Chihuahua (all points along that border east of the northern city of Agua Prieta and the southern town of Alamos), defer non-essential travel within the state south of the city of Ciudad Obregon with the exception of travel to Alamos (traveling only during daylight hours and using only the Highway 15 toll road, aka cuota, and Sonora State Road 162), and exercise caution when visiting the coastal town of Puerto Peñasco. Sonora is a key region in the international drug and human trafficking trades, and can be extremely dangerous for travelers. The region west of Nogales, east of Sonoyta, and from Caborca north, including the towns of Saric, Tubutama and Altar, and the eastern edge of Sonora bordering Chihuahua, are known centers of illegal activity. U.S. citizens visiting Puerto Peñasco are urged to use the Lukeville, Arizona/Sonoyta, Sonora border crossing, in order to limit driving through Mexico, and to limit travel to main roads during daylight hours.

Tamaulipas: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Tampico are the major cities/travel destinations in Tamaulipas -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify their exact locations: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas. All USG employees are: prohibited from personal travel on Tamaulipas highways outside of Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo due to the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking; may not frequent casinos and adult entertainment establishments within these cities; and in Matamoros are subject to a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew. Be aware of the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking on state highways throughout Tamaulipas. In January 2011, a U.S. citizen was murdered in what appears to have been a failed carjacking attempt. While no highway routes through Tamaulipas are considered safe, many of the crimes reported to the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros have taken place along the Matamoros-Tampico highway, particularly around San Fernando and the area north of Tampico.

Zacatecas:You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Zacatecas except the city of Zacatecas where you should exercise caution. The regions of the state bordering Durango and Coahuila as well as the cities of Fresnillo and Fresnillo-Sombrete and surrounding area are particularly dangerous. The northwestern portion of the state of Zacatecas has become notably dangerous and insecure. Robberies and carjackings are occurring with increased frequency and both local authorities and residents have reported a surge in observed TCO activity. This area is remote, and local authorities are unable to regularly patrol it or quickly respond to incidents that occur there. Gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur in the area of the state bordering the state of Jalisco. There have also been reports of roadblocks and false checkpoints on highways between the states of Zacatecas and Jalisco. The city of Fresnillo, the area extending northwest from Fresnillo along Highway 45 (Fresnillo-Sombrete) between Highways 44 and 49, and highway 49 northwards from Fresnillo through Durango and in to Chihuahua are considered dangerous. Extreme caution should be taken when traveling in the remainder of the state. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments. USG personnel may not travel outside the City of Zacatecas after dark and must abide by a curfew of midnight to 6 a.m. within a secured venue."


Monday, February 13, 2012

Defining 'Tragedy' Downward With Whitney Houston

The world was full of tragedy this week, but Whitney Houston's death had nothing to do with it.

Sorry to have to say this, but here's what I see: Another arrogant, entitled rich singer who wrecked her talent, constantly abused drugs and flaunted the laws, and went out on a reckless, berserk binge. Another dead singer carried out of another hotel on an EMS gurney.

Call me callous, but I'm unaffected by the ongoing mournfest and the pious hand-wringing. What, this was a surprise to these people? To me, a death like this was less of a tragedy than an inevitability.

[UPDATE FEB. 16 -- The mother of a Marine killed in Afghanistan has a salient point here, noting the asinine order by New Jersey Gov. Chris ('Thar She Blows') Christie to fly the state flags at half-mast in honor of Houston.)

Let's ignore the ridiculous claims being made for this woman's talent, like one I heard on NPR the other day where a guy was saying that Whitney Houston "could hit notes that only 3 or 4 other women on the planet could." WTF? Caterwauling is certainly a popular trade these days, but I think, music-wise, there are still a pretty fair number of sopranos around who can nail that string of high F's in Queen of the Night aria in "The Magic Flute," or even, for that matter, the C's in "O Wandering One" from "Penzance." Let's not get carried away here like we just lost Renee Fleming or Jessye Norman or Emmylou Harris. Not to sound heartless, but screeching the occasional high A doesn't even get you into the chorus at the Met, and Houston basically trashed her youthful Gospel-music training as she caterwauled her way onto the pop charts.

I think what annoys me fundamentally in the piety-fest, as awful as her death was, is that the pop-music-realm, Grammy-attending singers and guitar players (why do they all insist on calling themselves "artists"?) weep those crocodile tears over a fellow druggie/"artist" while ignoring the intrinsic irony:

Rich people who recklessly abuse drugs get teary-eyed eulogies and reverential treatment in the press.

Poor people who do that go to prison and get ignored. That's what makes this country the world's biggest jailer.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Super Bowl, the Sports Event for the 1 Percent; Price-Gouging Indy Hotels Had 907% Revenue Boost for Weekend

How about that weird sit-down in the end-zone with less than a minute to go?

And how about that even weirder halftime show? You know, with Madonna stomping around like her knees were on fire and she was just too tired to go get the extinguisher, with all of those marching, stomping chorus boys and drummers, all of those abstract electric patterns -- dang, it looked to me like Leni Reifenstahl and Busby Berkeley got drunk together in Hell and, cackling, choreographed that atrocious spectacle to annoy the Righteous in Super Bowl TV Land.

Another Super Bowl on the record books, and as usual, the well-fed, well-tended national sports media fail to note the absolutely obvious: The event is a television show that's broadcast from a corporate extravaganza in which the general public is not actually welcome.

If regular people actually attended this extravaganza, you'd be hearing all about the shocking price-gouging in Indianapolis last weekend. Hmmm, nary a peep, because most of the people who came to Indy last weekend were traveling on somebody else's corporate dime, not to mention the taxpayer's nickel. And the media in attendance were the usual mob of kept poodles.

Indianapolis really set a new standard for Super Bowl price-gouging, by the way. Data from Smith Travel Research, for Friday and Saturday nights of Super Bowl weekend, show that Indy hotels reported a 907 percent increase in revenue for those nights, compared with the Friday and Saturday of the previous week. Here's the Smith Travel report.

In Dallas last year during Super Bowl weekend there, by comparison, hotel revenue jumped a mere 127 percent, Smith travel reported.

So with $1,000 a night rooms in hotels that usually cost $55 a night, and red-carpet entree for only the select, with $3,000+ game tickets in the nosebleed sections and lavish parties tossed for the swells by giant companies that get to write it all off as a business expense tax deduction, with 1,100 private jets zooming in on a city that only has 135 scheduled commercial flights a day -- this was, again, an extravaganza played out for the richest 1 percent. For the rest of us, it was an interesting football game on television filled with sometimes lavish but often inexplicable or indefensible commercials.

Still, I did like those gigantic Budweiser Clydesdales, as usual. What horses! Did you see the two in front of the team do that in-unison levade -- while harnessed. Amazing. On the other hand, nice horses aside, I won't drink Budweiser beer, because it's swill.

I saw the Budweiser Clydesdales once in a barn in Montclair, N.J., where my wife used to board her horse. They were being boarded there temporarily while on call for a TV commercial location-shot before a previous Super Bowl. Jayzus those are giant, magnificent horses, almost too big to fit into the wash stalls.

Did you know that a lot of TV commercials featuring bucolic small-town scenes evoking the American Heartland are actually shot in the New York suburb of Montclair, N.J., or the neighboring small town, Glen Ridge, which lights its streets with gas lamps, which have been there since the 1920s? That's where a lot of iconic TV images of your small-town America come from, in reality.

Anyway, I digress. The point I wanted to underscore is that, all the phony hype (and bush-league boosterism in Indianapolis) aside, the Super Bowl is not a game for the average American to actually attend.

Most of the tickets are gone many months in advance, taken by the NFL, its sponsors and those in favor with corporate America. (Some of whom in turn re-sell said tickets to glorified scalpers who jack the prices up to stratospheric levels online).

Not to mention the 2,500 media, all of whom are covering the same damned football game and the same damned two dozen sidebar stories, and acting as if they're covering D-Day instead of wandering around from one party to the next, getting handouts like kept poodles. Semper fi!

None of whom are paying their own way, incidentally (though the corporations that employ them usually are paying.)

I'll prove my point about the Super Bowl being only for the privileged. Watching the game on TV, did you notice that there was not a single camera shot of "fans" in the stadium? Not one! Usually, the fan-in-the-stands shot is a kind of visual punctuation for TV sports directors -- but not at the Super Bowl, where the only such shots were of the grandees in the two teams' luxury owners suites (though we must relish that accidental shot of big fat Rush Limbaugh in the Patriots' suite, picking his nose).

You don't see the fan shots because few regular fans are present in the stadium. Many of the privileged who are there, on taxpayer subsidized corporate junkets, do not wish to be seen by the general public, for various reasons that include the fact that some are in attendance with people they do not wish a spouse or co-worker to see them with.

The regular public isn't even allowed to engage in that great pasttime of party-tailgating outside the stadium before the game. The NFL, not wanting the riffraff to get in the way of the splendid on the scene, bans tailgating for the Super Bowl.

One notable fact, beyond the usual display of wretched corporate excess (tax-deductible, remember):

The hotshots are not making a big point of it, but this year's Super Bowl attracted the most private jets of any in history. In fact, as I noted in an earlier post this week, the Indianapolis region airspace was clogged Sunday night and Monday morning with corporate aircraft heading out.

The Indianapolis Star newspaper, which I worried was going to faint dead-away with booster fever during the run-up to the game, managed to focus on something other than how visitors loved Indy, which is really not such a hick burg at all, with a look at the air travel aftermath.

"A record-setting 30,000 passengers passed through Indianapolis International Airport on Monday as most Super Bowl visitors headed home," the newspaper said, though it failed to note how many passengers typically pass through on a Sunday. (Psst: around 11,000).

Much of that was commercial flights, for which the airlines, like all other businesses making dough on the Super Bowl, jacked prices way up for the weekend.

Some was private jet passengers, though. Indianapolis International handled a good number (around 530) of the estimated 1,100-plus private flights that arrived for the weekend, and general aviation airports in the far-flung region handled the rest.

The crush was such that Masters of the Universe were landing at private airports elsewhere in Indiana and adjoining states, and taking limousines to Indy.

I will say this: despite the price-gouging that accompanies all Super Bowls (though it was more extreme in Indy hotels because of the relatively small supply), Indianapolis did handle the event, and especially the crowds, with elan.

But let's remember, that was not a sports event for regular people, like the Indianapolis 500 is.

Instead, the Super Bowl was a sports event for the one percent, and a grand time was had by all, by all who could afford it or who were guests of those who could afford it.

Tax deductible, remember.


JFK's Cigars and the Cuban Embargo

I was in high school when the Kennedy brothers damned near blew up the world after their idiotic assaults and reckless policies on Cuba and Fidel Castro culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

History has shown that we were very close to nuclear catastrophe during those 14 harrowing days. That is, we were even closer than had been assumed at the time, which was plenty close, because (unknown to the White House at the time) there were a fair number of armed and ready-to-go tactical nuclear missiles already in Cuba at the time, and the signal to launch them could have been given by the chief Russian officer on site, without prior clearance from the Kremlin. One unsteady hand on a hair trigger, and it would have been off to the races with a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Those particular small tactical missiles, not to be confused with the crisis-precipitating medium-range ballistic missiles that were en-route to Cuba on Soviet ships that ultimately turned back with the blockade, had a range of 1,100 miles. You don't need Google Maps today to see that that put them within range of Washington D.C.

That crisis came eight months after the U.S. began a strict embargo on trade with and travel to Cuba and persists to this very day.

What has 50 years of the Kennedy-ordered Cuban embargo brought us? Absolutely nothing, unless you count the craven pandering to wily Cuban exiles in South Florida who manipulate (along with their children) U.S. presidential politics to this day from their cosseted position in the Miami area in a key electoral state.

It's well known that John Kennedy, he of the 19-year-old intern among his numerous mistresses, thought to secure himself a nice supply of Cuban cigars before signing the order that began the embargo against trade and travel with and to Cuba.

The full details, like the details on that poor 19-year-old intern who Kennedy abused, have been available for years, but the media tend to highlight them only sporadically. Like now, on the 50th anniversary of the embargo, which to date has (like the wily Fidel Castro himself) outlasted nine presidents (not counting President Obama) and four popes (not counting the present one).

John F. Kennedy, being a person who never let ethics, prudence, or even the law get in the way of his own personal gratification, made sure he was taken care of, as usual, before putting the embargo into effect.

Pierre Salinger, the Kennedy press secretary, originally told the story of the Cuban cigars to Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1992, and it resurfaces today in some detail on the Web site of the Daily Mail, the UK newspaper that is making major inroads in the U.S.

Salinger recounted that Kennedy called him into his office and said he needed help obtaining 1,000 Petit Upmanns, which are premium Cuban cigars. He said he needed them by "tomorrow morning," wrote Salinger, who died in 2004.

Salinger dutifully set to work cornering as many Cuban cigars (which were at that moment still legally available in the U.S.) as he could get. As usual, the Kennedy aide delivered. He obtained 1,200 cigars.

The next morning, Kennedy was delighted when his lackey delivered the goods to the Oval Office. Wrote Salinger, "Kennedy smiled and opened up his desk. He took out a long paper which he immediately signed. It was the decree banning all Cuban products from the United States. Cuban cigars were now illegal in our country."

They remain illegal, another legacy of the very strange time of the early 1960s.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Business Jet Jam-Up in Super Bowl Getaway

[Maps from Flightview.com, showing current conditions at Indianapolis airport and in regional airspace. Those jams aren't caused by normal Monday morning departures, but rather by the huge number of corporate jets trying to leave]

The several thousand houseboys and housegirls in the media who have been covering the same 25 stories in Indianapolis won't take note of this, but the anticipated jam-up is occurring at Indianapolis-area airports as the Masters of the Universe and their corporate clients leave town in their private jets.

The forecasts had been that the Super Bowl this year would see a record number (700 or more) of private aircraft arriving -- and, more to the point today, trying to depart.

That appears to have occurred.

More later today on the Super Bowl and another story the houseboyus and housegirls won't cover -- the fact that on the scene, it's strictly a corporate event, with lavish tax write-offs driving the wretched excess in game, party-event and hotel spending.

Right, on the scene, it's an event for the one percent.


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Viral Outbreak Sickens Passengers on 2 Princess Cruise Ships

More than 200 passengers on two cruise ships headed to south Florida have been stricken with a gastrointestinal illness, the AP reports.

The norovirus outbreaks occurred on Princess Cruise Lines Crown Princess and Ruby Princess.

Here's more detail from the Cruisecritic.com site.


Friday, February 03, 2012

Spirit Airlines Adds a Pique Fee

Spirit Airlines (suggested motto: "Quite Often Beats Hitchhiking") has slapped on a weird new fee that seems to be a kind of flip-off sign to the federal government's initiatives requiring airlines to be more up-front about fees.

Here, by the way, are some customer reviews of Spirit on Yelp.

And here's the amazing statement from the airline, which already charges for carry-on bags:

MIRAMAR, Fla., Jan. 31, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The U.S. Department of Transportation's new supposedly "consumer friendly" regulation requiring airlines to hold fares for 24 hours after booking without penalty comes with unintended consequences and is costing consumers millions.

To cover the costs of this misguided and expensive regulation, Spirit (Nasdaq:SAVE) is introducing the $2 DOTUC fee. The $2 fee to cover the unintended consequences of government regulations goes into effect on Tuesday, January 31, 2012.

While this may appear to be a consumer-friendly rule at first, the USDOT has ignored the cost impact to consumers. As the transparency leader, Spirit believes that consumers have a right to know that this misguided regulation is expensive and is hitting consumers directly in their pocket books. Spirit believes low fares are what help consumers most.

"People love the idea of not having to commit to a reservation, but this regulation, like most, imposes costs on consumers," says Spirit President and CEO Ben Baldanza. "Wouldn't we all like to eat all we want and not get fat? Regulators like to try to sell the idea of this rule, but have ignored the cost impact to consumers. You simply can't eat all you want without consequences."

This rule mandates that we take out seat inventory for those who may or may not decide to pay for it. This prevents us from selling these seats to someone who definitively wants to book their reservation and leads to seats not being filled. The consequence is that we must spread costs over fewer customers, thus raising the cost for all passengers.

This 'tax' on consumers ripples through all aspects of the economy and costs Americans jobs. Spirit is urging Americans to take action and hold our elected officials and their appointees accountable to their promise to reduce regulations.

As a reminder, last year Spirit walked the walk while most other airlines gouged their consumers when Congress failed to reauthorize the FAA's funding. During this FAA shutdown airlines could not collect federal taxes. Spirit passed along all of the tax rollback savings to its customers while nearly all other carriers pocketed the difference in taxes in the form of higher fares."


Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Artful Dodgers of TSA Strike Again

Here's another report of theft by a TSA screener.

This particular TSA screener was charged with stealing $5,000 from a passenger's jacket on the X-ray conveyor belt at Kennedy airport.

Not noted in the story, though, is a salient issue: Passengers who are taken aside for those ridiculous whole-body machine scans are required to part with all of their possessions, including wallets, which are then pl;aced on the conveyor belt (out of sight of the passenger, who stands with arms raised being treated like a common criminal inside that machine unit) -- while the opportunity presents itself for an actual criminal to steal from things on the belt.


Media Still Can't Get the 'No Fly List' Straight

Bill Moyers once said this: "Reporters are people who are paid to explain things they don't understand."

That's invincibly true with reporting on not-so-hard-to-understand things like the government's no-fly and selectee lists that the airlines and the TSA use at airport checkpoints.

Here's a story that starts out reasonably well-informed on the no-fly part of the list, saying that the number of names on it has doubled in a year -- to 20,000. That sounds about right to me.

The no fly list, compiled by the FBI with input from various intelligence and law-enforcement sources, has the names and detailed identities of specific people around the world who are simply not cleared to fly. That is, they do not get on an airplane if they are identified as being on that list. Period.

So far, from what I know, not a single person on that list has been identified as attempting to board a plane.

The other part of the watch list is where reporters always get confused. It contains several hundred thousand names, and partial identities, including aliases and partial names, that automatically trigger a small alarm when a reservation is made by someone who has a name that's on that list, or in most cases a name or identity characteristics that are similar to that of someone who has been placed on that list.

That person -- who usually is on the list for no reason other than sharing a similarity in ID with a person who in fact did get put on the list -- gets to fly, usually after a brief inconvenience at the checkpoint.

This so-called selectee list is cumbersome and often ridiculous -- but it is not a "no fly" list.

A few years ago, I wrote about a 7-year-old boy, Jack Anderson, who was routinely flagged every time his mother tried to take him on an airplane to places like Disney World -- merely because someone named Jack Anderson was on the selectee list. Why "Jack Anderson?" I can only guess, but it seems to me that the late Jack Anderson, muckraking Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and prominent occupant of the old Nixon White House Enemies List, absurdly was placed on the selectee list by some nitwit in federal law enforcement, evidently unaware that columnist Jack Anderson was dead.

After much derision and complaint, the TSA and FBI have successfully addressed most of the more egregious absurdities of the selectee list (I haven't heard from Jack Anderson's mom in a while) with a program that narrows down the "false positives" by requiring that everyone who books an airline reservation provide a few extra points of personal information, namely age and gender. Hence a 7-year-old Jack Anderson is no longer presumed to be the same person as the aged Jack Anderson who died in 2005.

OK -- I've explained this ad infinitum. So why do reporters consistently get the distinctions wrong, encouraging multitudes of people to believe incorrectly that they are on a "no fly" list?

Example from the Huffington Post story (based on AP reporting) linked to above: "The no-fly list has swelled to 20,000 people before, such as in 2004. At the time, people like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy were getting stopped before flying – causing constant angst and aggravation for innocent travelers. But much has changed since then. ..."

Ted Kennedy, like tens of thousands of others, was "stopped" because he shared some points of identity with a person who had been placed on the "selectee" list.

Arguably, Kennedy should have been on a "no drive" list. But he -- and tens of thousands of others who routinely got flagged, inconvenienced and then waved on -- was not on a "no fly list."


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

American Airlines Slashing Work Force

American Airlines plans to cut 13,000 jobs and terminate workers’ pension plans as part of a $2 billion cost savings while it operates in bankruptcy.

But not to worry, American says cheerily! The airline is going to "move forward on a decisive path," its CEO, Tom Horton, tells stunned employees in a letter.

Here's a link to that merry missive, and good for Ben Mutzabaugh at USA Today for actually supplying the text, rather than just paraphrasing it like most other reporters do.

American plans to "renew and optimize our fleet," Horton says. Read between the lines there and the message is that smaller planes, you know, the ones that provide connections in mid-sized and small markets, are headed for a permanent parking spot in the desert. Meaning, less service for you!

Let me venture a guess. This does not end well for American Airlines, and for America's rapidly deteriorating air-service network -- though of course the top bosses will be sure to be taken care of.


Another TSA Artful Dodger

Another case of a TSA screener stealing electronics from passengers' bags, at DFW.

"The action of one individual in no way reflects on the outstanding job our more than 50,000 security officers do every day," the TSA says.

Now as the airline pilots say, DFW stands for Different Fucking World, but ain't nothing different about DFW in this matter. This isn't the "action of one individual," it's a part of a recurring pattern.