Sunday, April 29, 2012

Heads Up in Southwest: Killer Bees

There appear to be more reports in the Southwest this spring of swarming "Africanized bees," also known as killer bees. But the bee and honey industry would just as soon you not think about that.

Because the noble honey bee, you see, is Our Friend.  No argument there.

Nevertheless, beware when traveling outdoors in places where populations of not-so-noble killer bee are growing. They're becoming more of an issue with climate change.

The nasty, dangerous pests are extremely aggressive, and attack without warning. People are encountering them more often these days on desert and mountain trails.  The bees are very similar to honeybees except that they are monstrously aggressive and attack in  big swarms, sometimes numbering in the thousands. Once they attack, they tend not to relent. Also, in parts of the country, the common European honeybee is disappearing and being replaced by the Africanized killer bee.

An unfortunate encounter with a swarm -- and they'll chase a person for a half mile -- can lead to the hospital or .... bzzzzzzz .. the morgue.

They came to our Southwest originally thanks to some nitwits who imported them from Africa and bred them in Brazil (no further comment, vide), and then the pests made their way up through South America and Central American, through Mexico, and then into Texas. In parts of the south and Southwest, they've decimated native populations of docile European honeybees, mostly through mating with them.

Best advice to avoid Africanized bees: Ask the locals (or Park Rangers, if appropriate) where the known hives and nests are. Trust me, they'll know.

I love this advice on on what to do if you encounter a swarm:

"-- Do not jump into the pool. The bees will wait until you surface for air to attack

--If you are attacked by bees, run away. Don't play dead or swat at the bees. Most people can outrun the bees, but you might have to run a few blocks...."

Even more amusing is this advice on WikiHow (epmhasis mine):

"...Hollywood hype came up with the `killer bee' term, owing to the ferocity of the bees when riled. While Africanized honey bees are very defensive and easily provoked,   they are generally not a threat to humans provided they are not riled. ..."

Oh, swell. Do not rile the "easily provoked" bees! It's well known that killer bees define provocation in somewhat extreme terms, such as someone accidentally wandering within 100 yards or so of what they regard as their turf. These bees would not make good urban citizens.

ABC News, which often exhibits the amazing ability to be both unreliably alarmist and unreliably reassuring at the same time, quotes a bee expert here in a story about the threat of killer bees. The bee expert calls being swarmed and stung a "bee encounter," rather than an attack, and dismisses the danger, saying that only about 40 people a year die from bee stings.  (The survivors, I assume, merely suffer miserably, but without creating inconveniently high mortality statistics for the bee lobby).

One note to consider on ABC's "bee expert," an etymologist at  the University of Illinois named May Berenbaum. ABC and others who quote Dr. Berenbaum being so reassuring about bees and the people they kill never note that she is also the author of a book extolling the virtues of honey, "Honey, I'm Homemade! Sweet Treats from the Beehive Across the Centuries and Around the World."

The publisher's blurb says: "More than a cookbook, Honey, I'm Homemade is a tribute to the remarkable work of Apis mellifera, the humble honey bee whose pollination services allow three-quarters of all flowering plant species to reproduce and flourish. ..."

The bee world manifestly has an interest in extolling the virtues of European honey bees, and does not like to discuss killer bees and how to guard against them, though. Instead, the bee lobby has a tendency to ridicule concerns about Africanized bees.

This is an issue, because the problem of eradicating them, or at least minimizing their danger in various places, thus does not get addressed openly and honestly. 

Here, by the way, is some actually well-informed and useful advice from Saguaro National Park in Tucson about killer bee attacks: Basically, if swarmed and attacked with multiple stings, run away, don't flail arms, cover head, seek medical attention, and report the attack and location to park rangers.

By the way, homeowners who encounter them on their property and try to find remedies in the stores will run into a dilemma. The beekeeper world, it appears, has a lobby that discourages stores from selling insecticide that might deal with bees. Instead, what you'll find is a nice selection of wasp, horney and yellowjacket killing agents, but none labeled for killing bees. Most of the products -- bien pensant -- advise you that honeybees are beneficial.

The bee-keepers lobby advises us, citing no evidence at all, that "deaths by bee sting are extremely rare." Note the bee expert's figure of 40 deaths a year from bee stings, but the lack of sourcing for same. Still. imagine if there were 40 deaths a year from killer wolves. We'd sure be talking about how to handle that problem!

Actually, hospitalizations and even  deaths from swarming killer-bee stings are not so rare these days  -- and docile European honey-bee populations are disappearing as the killer bees take over in the Southwest and parts of the South.

Killer bees are basically the same as European honey bees, except for their murderous Einsatzgruppen behavioral patterns of attacking relentlessly, en masse.  

Evidently, the bee lobby, which is closely tied to the artisnal honey business, thinks we all can live with Africanized killer bees. Even in places like deserts where large populations of bees don't really belong.

Me, I can more easily live without honey, thank you very much.

Which is why I'm in the market for a flamethrower.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Does this Poll Include Responses From People Who Have Actually Been Anywhere?

No, I didn't think so.

Here's another of those "most popular" travel polls, this one purportedly a ranking of the 25 most popular U.S. cities, in the Huffington Post, that would leave you smacking your forehead. That is, if you didn't realize that these things are served up half-baked in various media by 24-year-olds who have never actually been anywhere -- but sure do know their urban stereotypes because, you know, they're intense watchers of television.

And by "polling" outfits that don't disclose their shaky, vague "methodology," if any.

Los Angeles almost dead-last at No. 22, far below Baltimore (13)? Philadelphia (11) over San Francisco (12)?!! New York (7), demonstrably the most popular travel city in terms of, uh, numbers of people who flock there, bested by Dallas (6) and Atlanta (4)?

Dallas and Atlanta?


Friday, April 20, 2012

With US Air in Pursuit, American Airlines Posts $1.7 Billion Loss for 1st Quarter

Wonder just how eager American Airlines is to find someone to buy the joint? Not clear, especially with such decisions now in the hands of bankruptcy court, but US Airways is in pursuit anyway.

Meanwhile, AMR, the airline's parent company, says it lost $1.7 billion in the first quarter of this year -- though it says most of that was due to costs of its bankruptcy filing and reorganization and various "special items."

Otherwise the net loss would have been $248 million. In last year's first quarter American had a loss of $405 million.

Revenue in the most recent quarter was up 9.1 percent to about $6 billion, and yields (read: fares) were up 7.3 percent, which are good signs to a potential buyer like US Airways.  On the other hand, operating expenses were up 6.6 percent. That's the first place a buyer will be looking to cut, along with capacity, which was up slightly, with a relatively low (by industry standards these days) load factor of 79 percent.

US Air, while not yet announcing any official move to buy American, said today that it has in its pocket an agreement from American's pilots, flight attendants and mechanics unions that greenlights a merger with American.

But I also would point to an e-mail alert that Joe Brancatelli sent this afternoon to his members at  "American management has approximately ZERO interest in doing business with US Airways, just as US Airways management was rebuffed when it tried to do a deal with both Delta and United," he said, noting also that the bankruptcy court has exclusive jurisdiction over AA matters and that the unions' agreement appears to be a tactical move as the bankruptcy court takes up American's petition to void its union contracts.

"Today's news does not mean that we have agreed to merge with American Airlines,"  Doug Parker, the US Air CEO, said in a letter today to US Air employees.  "It only means that we have reached agreements with these three unions on what their collective bargaining agreements would look like after a merger, and that they would like to work with us to make a merger a reality."

A merger, of course, would need the approval of the bankruptcy court.

In a statement today, Laura Glading, the president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American's flight attendants, said: "I was approached by members of the US Airways management team who were interested in discussing a potential merger." Along with the other two major unions, "each of us individually came to the conclusion that a merger would be the best plan for our membership and the most successful reorganization of our company."


For Those in Peril On the Sea ...

Interesting that on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, a tragedy that was marked by a profound disregard for the plight of the poor on board while the first-class passengers had a much greater chance of scrambling to safety in lifeboats [*see below], we have an allegation that a Carnival Cruise ship ignored a fishing boat and its crew in distress last month.

This is the case of Adrian Vasquez, an 18-year-old fisherman from Panama, who was found alive after being lost at sea near the Galapagos Islands for 26 days, according to this account in Eturbonews. The two other men in the fishing boat died of dehydration and heat stroke.

Passengers on the Star Princess, a Carnival luxury ship sailing from Ecuador to Costa Rica, claim they alerted crewmembers after seeing three men in distress in the fishing boat. The cruise ship ignored the plight of the fishermen, the passengers say. International law, in this case known as the law of the sea, requires that a ship stop to assist any vessel in distress on the high seas.

The captain of the Star Princess is reported to be saying that he never got the word about the distressed vessel.  Here's the account in the Guardian newspaper.

Here's Carnival's statement on the incident:

"Princess Cruises deeply regrets that two Panamanian men perished at sea after their boat became disabled in early March. Since we became aware of this incident, we have been investigating circumstances surrounding the claim that Star Princess failed to come to the aid of the disabled boat, after a crew member was alerted by passengers.

The preliminary results of our investigation have shown that there appeared to be a breakdown in communication in relaying the passenger's concern. Neither Captain Edward Perrin nor the officer of the watch were notified. Understandably, Captain Perrin is devastated that he is being accused of knowingly turning his back on people in distress. Had the Captain received this information, he would have had the opportunity to respond. 

We all understand that it is our responsibility and also the law of the sea to provide assistance to any vessel in distress, and it is not an uncommon occurrence for our ships to be involved in a rescue at sea. In fact, we have done so more than 30 times in the last ten years. We deeply regret this incident and are continuing our investigation to fully understand the circumstances." 

*Of the 2,224 on board the Titanic, more than 1,500 perished. Of those saved, 62.2 percent were in first class (including 97.2 percent of the first-class female passengers), 58.6 percent were in second class and a mere 25.2 percent of those who survived were in third class (steerage).

The official list of those who perished issued by the White Star Line, owner of the Titanic, includes the New York tycoon John Jacob Astor, who died while his wife was saved.

Here's how he's listed:

"ASTOR, Colonel J.J., and Manservant."

The actual name of the "manservant" never appeared.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Dallas Flights Being Canceled, Diverted Because of Tornadoes

Heads-up for anyone traveling to, from or anywhere near North Texas today.

A wicked string of tornadoes is seriously disrupting flights (not to mention normal life on the ground) at Dallas-Fort Worth airport this afternoon.

Delays are running two to four hours. Lots of arriving flights are being diverted to other airports. Cancellations are mounting. As of early afternoon, all inbound flights to DFW were being held at their originating airports till 4.30 p.m. Central time. [UPDATE: By early evening, more than 1,000 flights had been canceled at DFW, most of them on American Airlines and American Eagle.]

[UPDATE: American Airlines has scrubbed all flights to and from DFW for the rest of the day -- which means that it will take days for American to get its schedules back to normal. Meanwhile, the Dallas News is reporting that Love Field, the Southwest Airlines hub, has been evacuated. I'm not totally confident in that report, though, because Love Field was evacuated yesterday on false reports of a bomb, and the Dallas News Web site is not useful on breaking news. I won't even link to the Dallas News site because it's a jumble of unconnected text links, disjointed tweets and video snippets, with no cogent overview. Come on, folks, this is what editors and words are for!]

This is a lot more than normal early spring weather disruption. Tornadoes are touching down in various places, with significant destruction on the ground.

For fliers, it's an unholy mess -- so do check with your airline if you're flying west of the Mississippi today and tomorrow. Given the fact that the airlines have no slack built into their schedules these days, it may take a while to get flight operations back to normal -- not just at Dallas but elsewhere in any system in which Dallas is a hub.

By the way, as of right now (mid-afternoon Dallas time), the Web site of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is ridiculously devoid of any information whatsoever on this major disruption. Why even have a Web site if you treat it like a brochure?

The American Airlines web site, also, is doing a disgraceful job. There is no notice of the disruptions at DFW, and if you click on the AA "weather conditions" for DFW, you get only this profoundly useless information: "Mostly Cloudy."

Gives you some idea of why some pilots deride operations at DFW as "Different F------ World."

Incidentally, I never cease to be amazed at how inept reporters are in reporting air-travel disruptions. One local report in Fort Worth quotes the DFW airport flack as saying that flights "may be delayed or diverted" -- long after a very large number of flights were in fact diverted.

When will they learn that the guy on their Rolodex under "airport" who they've been calling since like 1997 doesn't know jack? You get real-time flight information from or

Really, you could look it up., for example, has the number of American Airlines and American Eagle flight cancelled today: 794.


Monday, April 02, 2012

With Pinnacle Airlines Filing for Bankruptcy, New Questions About Declining Air Service in Small and Mid-Size Markets

Pinnacle Airlines filed for bankruptcy Sunday night, raising new questions about the viability of regional-airline service to many small and mid-sized markets.

Pinnacle, with its subsidiary Colgan Air, flies regional jets and turbo-props as a contractor for major airlines, including Delta Connection flights and other flights operating as United Express and U.S. Airways Express.

About a month ago, United PR reps insisted to me that the United Express flights operated by Colgan from Washington Dulles International were viable, blaming ongoing serious disruptions on weather -- even as it was clear to anyone outside the PR loop that other problems besides weather were at work in flight cancellations and disruptions to the southern tier and central regions of New York state and upstate Pennsylvania in particular.

Regional airlines like Pinnacle account for more than 50 percent of the daily flights in the U.S., operating as subcontractors on major airline routes and flying under those major airlines' colors.

In a statement today, Pinnacle said it hopes to "restructure" its most important contract, with Delta. It said it is "winding down its operations with United Airlines [and] completing the wind-down of its Essential Air Service (EAS) flying with US Airways." And it said it would further increase efforts in "achieving cost-savings from its workforce."

Pinnacle and Colgan fly 199 regional jets and 62 turbo-props on more than 1,540 daily flights to 188 cities and towns. The turbo-prop [Note: correcting typo, originally said turbo-jet] planes had already been scheduled for imminent retirement.

Look for disruptions ahead in the already badly disrupted air-travel service system in small and mid-sized cities that are totally dependent on regional airline flights operated for the major carriers.

By the way, aviation reporters always misunderstand what "regional airline" means. Basically, a regional airline is not really an airline, but rather a subcontractor that operates regional jets and turbo-prop planes, at lower cost and service levels, to supply "lift" to and from major hubs for the major carriers.

In keeping with that grand airline-company tradition of stiffing the workers while dumping cash into the pockets of the executives, Pinnacle disclosed in an SEC filing just last week that it had rewarded two of its top executives with hefty salary increased. The top guy, Sean Menke, got a 60 percent raise from $425,000 to $675,000, according to the Memphis Business Journal.