Friday, November 28, 2008

Comair Employee Sneaks Guns And Drugs Past Security

A security breach at Orlando International Airport last year that led to increased scrutiny of airport workers nationwide was mishandled by officials, possibly in violation of security rules, a federal report says.

The incident on March 5, 2007, in which an airline worker for Delta subsidiary Comair sneaked 14 guns on board an Orlando-to-Puerto Rico flight, prompted calls for the Transportation Security Administration to screen everyone working at an airport.

The plane, Delta Flight 933, landed safely at the San Juan airport where the worker, Thomas Anthony Munoz, was arrested. A Homeland Security Department inspector general report says the mishandling raises broader concerns.

"Delta might have failed" to follow a security procedure requiring airlines to immediately notify the TSA of a possible security threat, the report says.

TSA chief Kip Hawley blamed the Orlando Police Department, which protects the airport.

The report is the first accounting of apparent errors that day after Orlando police got a tip that a worker was on Flight 933 "with a weapon." Police took Zabdiel Santiago Balaguer, who worked for Delta subsidiary Comair, off the plane while it was at the airport gate.

A Delta manager at Orlando cleared Flight 933 to leave after the captain said he was comfortable flying, according to the report.

Police did not tell the TSA until shortly after Flight 933 took off, the report says, though Orlando police dispute that account.

Munoz remained on the plane with the guns and 8 pounds of marijuana.

Airport and TSA officials realized Munoz was a passenger when the flight was halfway to Puerto Rico. Munoz evaded airport security by carrying the duffel bag through an employee entrance that leads to airplanes, the report said. He and Balaguer were trying to smuggle the guns and drugs to Puerto Rico.

Aviation-security consultant Douglas Laird said Delta should have told the TSA as soon as it heard from Orlando police. "They never should have left the gate," he said. The TSA probably would have emptied the plane, screened passengers for a second time and searched the cabin, Laird said.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Delta Airlines Whines About Continental Alliance With United

Delta Airlines, which is now the largest airlines in the U.S. after it's merger with Northwest, started off it's new business model by throwing a temper tantrum over Continental Airlines plan to join the Star Alliance.

Delta, which has always been a little jealous of Continental and it's ability to actually provide customer service, took it's toys and went crying to the Justice Department this week as Continental filed a request for antitrust approval on its alliance stating it would be unfair to them, the largest airline in the U.S.

For those of you looking for an interpretation of what Delta was talking about, they are the worlds largest airline and even then people would rather fly Continental Airline, a constant winner of customer service awards, then fly on Delta. Delta claims it would be unfair because they would actually have to start providing customer service to lure people back which they are incapable of.

Continental is seeking immunity from antitrust rules so it can partner with United and Lufthansa on transatlantic flights, and eventually on trips to Latin America and Asia. Without clearance from the Department of Transportation, Continental would be breaking U.S. laws that forbid airlines from sharing information on schedules, costs or the prices they plan to charge.

Delta is complaining that Continental's application would allow unfair dominance on routes to Brazil and China, where Continental and its partners are already strong players and that they are entirely too stupid to come up with a business plan that would allow them to compete.

Delta has sought and won similar clearances in the past. In May, the Transportation Department granted Delta similar immunity with European airline partners on transatlantic routes. Delta last month also won U.S. government approval for its merger with Northwest Airlines, a deal that created the largest airline in the world.

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Air New Zealand Airbus Crashes in France


An Air New Zealand Airbus A320 on a test flight crashed into the Mediterranean sea off France's southwest coast on Thursday, killing at least two people with a further five still missing, authorities said.

France's BEA civil aviation safety authority said the crash took place at 4:46 p.m. (1546 GMT) when the aircraft was approaching the airport at Perpignan, a city in southwestern France after a flight that had lasted about an hour.

A witness told French radio said he saw the Airbus dive abruptly and plunge into the sea.

"I could see it was an airliner because I saw two large engines. There was no fire, nothing," the witness, a local policeman, told France Info radio.

"It was flying straight, then it turned brutally toward the ground. I said to myself it will never pull out and there was a big spray of water," he said.

Local authorities said recovery teams with five boats, two diving teams and a helicopter were on site but conditions were difficult with bad weather and darkness.

A navy vessel had been dispatched to search for the aircraft's flight recorder, they said.

Two bodies had been recovered but there was no hope that the others on board had survived and no official word on the reasons for the crash.

"At this stage we have no detail as to the likely cause of the accident," Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe told a news conference in Auckland.

He said five New Zealanders and two Germans were aboard the aircraft which had been leased to German carrier XL Airways and was being tested after a refit prior to return to New Zealand next month.

The crash occurred exactly 29 years since New Zealand's worst-ever air crash when an Air New Zealand plane on a sightseeing trip in Antarctica hit the side of Mount Erebus, killing all 257 people on board.

"To have this incident occur on the same day just adds to the sense of tragedy," Fyfe said.

The A320, a twin-engine, single aisle aircraft that normally seats around 150 passengers, is manufactured by Airbus, a unit of European aerospace group EADS. Around 1,960 A320 aircraft are in service with 155 operators around the world.

Airbus said the aircraft, powered by IAE V2500 engines, was delivered in July 2005 and had accumulated approximately 7000 flight hours in some 2800 flight cycles.

It said it would assist authorities investigating the crash and had sent five specialists to the site but it added it would be inappropriate to speculate on the causes.

"At this stage no further factual information is available," it said in a statement.

The Pyrenees-Orientales prefecture, the regional authority, said the plane was on a "technical flight" and was being serviced by a company based in Perpignan.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sex Offenders Checking Into Hotels and Motels

With few other options, convicted sex offenders sometimes settle into motels and hotels. And Florida's Web site (http://offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender/homepage.do) will show you whether a predator is checked into the room next door.

Reader Cameron Cahill was "stunned" to see that a sex offender lives in an extended-visit hotel in Melbourne where relatives often stay.

"They have never been told when they checked in that there was a sex offender staying just a few doors away," Cahill told me by e-mail. "I asked the hotel what their policy was, and they said that they 'respect the privacy of their patrons, and don't ask.' Perhaps they should be respecting the safety of the patrons as well."

Turns out, the hotel is within its rights.

"There is not a requirement to notify guests," said Kristen Perezluha, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which monitors offenders and maintains the registry.

I won't name the establishments -- you can check for yourself -- but I ran the addresses for a dozen Brevard County hotels, and found offenders living at three of them, including the one Cahill mentioned and two independent motels that let guests rent by the week or month.

Florida's database -- online at offender.fdle.state.fl.us -- includes background details on the type of crime the offender committed and how long it has been since the offense.

Neighboring states have similar databases.

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American Airlines Trying To Crawl Out Of Customer Service Celler


American has been struggling with performance issues for several years and may have hit bottom this spring. In March and April, the Federal Aviation Administration twice ordered the airline to ground its fleet of MD-80 jets for inspections.

The second grounding lasted more than a week and resulted in 3,000 canceled flights. Thousands of passengers were affected, with many stuck for days waiting for available seats.

"We were not at a very good place in the first part of the year," Mitchell said. "It was a low point."

But initiatives were already in place that executives hoped would start to improve the airline’s performance. More have been added, and others are being planned, Mitchell said.

For example, the airline had reduced the cruising speed of its airplanes to save fuel. But the slower flights had been increasing delays, so in July pilots began flying faster to get to destinations on time.

The airline began adding more ground time into schedules to account for high passenger loads during peak travel times. Time was also added to routes that were chronically delayed because of bad weather or air traffic control issues.

New technology was installed to help employees better track luggage. Airport upgrades helped during bad weather, such as a docking system that helps bring planes quickly to the gate at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport during lightning storms.

And the airline has also worked to improve the cleanliness of aircraft cabins as well as customer service at gates and during flights, Mitchell said.

Those efforts appear to be paying off. American received 54 percent fewer complaints about the condition of airplane cabins in October compared with the previous year. Customers lodged 32 percent fewer complaints about employee service during flights.

And the airline received 60 percent fewer complaints about how lost-baggage cases were resolved.

The airline is also planning further steps to keep the momentum going. Three teams are studying how to get planes quickly out of the gate during the morning rush, how to get aircraft to the proper airport for maintenance and how to reduce delays from mechanical issues.

The goal, Mitchell said, is to return American to dominance in operations and service.

"We want to be best in class again," he said.

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Airports Empty For Holidays


Travelers breezed through airport terminals Wednesday and drivers cruised open roads, the effects of a sour economy blamed for keeping people closer to home at the start of the annual Thanksgiving rush.

Even though gas prices fell and airlines offered last-minute deals, many Americans appeared to be skipping trips this year. San Francisco resident Sharon McKellar called the Miami airport "shockingly quiet" after flying in overnight to visit family.

At Boston's Logan International Airport, Alicia Kelly, 47, traveling with her husband and two children to Miami to spend the holidays with her family, said it was the lightest Thanksgiving travel day she's ever seen. "We have waited in no lines so far," she said.

The FAA's flight delay Web site showed no significant holdups at major airports at midday Wednesday. Security lines moved along briskly at under 10 minutes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport. At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, travelers found parking spots in the front row of the lot and no wait for check-in and security. The Delta terminal was nearly empty.

"This is crazy. There's no one here. It's quieter than on most weekdays," said Ryan Sullivan, who was flying to New York with his wife and two kids.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Continental Airlines Top In Customer Service From Zagat


Continental Airlines topped the rest of the country’s "big six" airline carriers in most measures of customer satisfaction, according to a new study from Zagat Survey.

Among other carriers, Virgin America and Southwest Airlines won accolades.

Zagat Survey says Continental (NYSE: CAL) was the best of the big six airlines – the others are American Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and the just-merged Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines – in terms of customer satisfaction on premium-class flights. The airline also was named the best value among all carriers for international flights.

JetBlue took top honors for customer satisfaction in economy class.

Upstart Virgin America and Southwest Airlines also won honors. Southwest was honored for offering the best value on domestic flights as well as its frequent-flier program, luggage policy and on-time performance.

Southwest (NYSE: LUV) is the No. 1 major carrier at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, with 4,622 departures in September — more than half of the airport's 8,279 total. Continental had 164 departures at BWI that month.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Baggage Handlers At LAX Arrested

Two baggage handlers at Los Angeles International Airport pilfered cameras, jewelry, MP3 players and other property from passengers' luggage for as long as a year, police said Friday.

The loot, 280 pieces of property, was recovered Oct. 30 when Los Angeles and Airport police officers arrested the men.

"They had wire cutters and they were cutting any type of security device from the luggage and removing items," Los Angeles police Lt. Peter Whittingham said.

"During the briefing of the suspects, we found they were doing this for quite some time. One admitted to doing it for a year."

The suspects, whose names were not immediately available, worked for a contractor that handles baggage for the airlines. They were assigned to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, Whittingham said.

Airline officials contacted Los Angeles police when they received reports from passengers that items had been taken from their luggage.

Police began investigating and determined the crimes occurred between check-in and the loading of luggage onto planes.

Officers developed information about two employees who might have been involved and watched them.

"The employees concerned were actually seen removing items from luggage as they processed the luggage just prior to loading it in the bottom of the airplanes," Whittingham said.

Police searched their homes and found jewelry, laptop computers, digital cameras, cell phones, iPods, a variety of handbags and purses, and other items.

Some of the property has been returned to its owners, but officers will attempt today to find more victims.

The property will be displayed at the LAPD's Ahmanson Recruit Training Center at 5651 W. Manchester Ave. in Westchester. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"Our intent is to, as much as possible, return the valuables to their rightful owners," Whittingham said.

Victims must bring something to identify the property, such as a crime report or receipt, or must be able to describe their property to officers before viewing it.

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Virgin Airlines Creates WiFi Hotspots In The Air

Virgin America, the California-based airline, today announced live from its first Wi-Fi enabled plane, the successful beta launch of Gogo(r) Inflight Internet and the first ever ``air-to-ground'' video stream to YouTube Live -- YouTube's first official real-world user event.

At the time of this release, filed from 35,000 feet, the carrier's first Wi-Fi enabled plane is circling the skies above San Francisco with special guests, media, and all-star bloggers testing out Gogo on laptops, smartphones and PDAs. Also onboard, YouTube's highest viewed users are joining NBC 30 Rock stars Katrina Bowden and Keith Powell for a live ``YouTube Air'' skit streamed to the YouTube Live audience on the ground and on-line.

``As San Francisco's only hometown airline, we couldn't do less than offer Wi-Fi as a standard option for our tech-savvy guests. With power outlets at every seat, Gogo will turn our planes into Wi-Fi hotspots and home offices in the air,'' said Virgin America President and CEO David Cush. ``We're proud to team up with two innovative companies -- Aircell and YouTube -- to launch this service with the latest technology, a sense of humor, and of course, an inflight party.''

The Wi-Fi enabled aircraft will be flying all over the U.S. as a Thanksgiving surprise to guests starting on Nov. 24. Following the beta period, Gogo will be quickly added to additional aircraft and pricing will be set at $12.95 for flights over 3 hours and $9.95 for flights of 3 hours or fewer. By the second quarter of 2009, Virgin America will be the first U.S. carrier to offer inflight internet fleet-wide.

The first Wi-Fi enabled plane (N638VA, ``My Other Ride is a Spaceship'') can be tracked in real time via Google Maps at: http://wifitracker.virginamerica.com. During the beta period, the airline is encouraging its frequent fliers and Wi-Fi advisory board members to provide feedback on the service.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

TSA And The Airlines Loosing Less Bags

The netherworld of lost, damaged, delayed, pilfered and stolen baggage is a strange, complex and exasperating place, but odds are good that you won't end up there this week.


Five of every 1,000 passengers have filed luggage complaints with the airlines so far this year, down from 7 per 1,000 during the same time last year. The Transportation and Security Administration - the inspectors who sometimes open your luggage - have even fewer complaints - just 5 claims per 100,000 passengers.

Although encouraging, these statistics mean nothing if you are one of them. Your biggest concern, besides finding something to wear, is finding who is responsible - the airline or the baggage inspectors.

"Sometimes TSA may forget to place a personal item back into your baggage or may damage an item while repacking your baggage," the authority warns travelers on its web site. "Most of the time, there is no way of determining fault."

If it was the airline, the most you can get for your lost luggage is $3,000 - regardless of the contents. On Dec. 1 that amount goes up to $3,300.

Although the TSA has settled claims for as much as $9,000, the average settlement is $76.67. Only half the claims end with a payment.

"All I can say is that it is an imperfect system," said David Rowell, publisher of thetravelinsider.com, which monitors travel and travel technology.

"There are a lot of hands that touch your bag between the time you check it at the curb and pick it up at the luggage carousel," Koshetz said.

More than 125,000 claims have been filed with the authority since the agency began screening baggage in 2002. The claims - from losses at security checkpoints and in the TSA's baggage inspection area - range from a watch worth $18,250 to greeting cards valued at $700 and a $450 wig.

Theft by TSA employees has been a concern. As of February 2008, the agency had fired and sought prosecution for about 200 employees accused of stealing, either from checked bags, passengers' carry-ons or fellow employees. That is out of more than 100,000 people employed by the TSA.

In one case, a TSA baggage screener at Los Angeles International Airport attempted to lift a high-priced watch from Paris Hilton, then had second thoughts and put it back. A co-worker reported it and the employee was fired and prosecuted.

"If theft is found we move to end that employee's federal career," Koshetz said.

The TSA is installing so-called "in line" systems in many airports that move the majority of checked bags through security without requiring they be opened.

"Unless an alert goes off that there is something hazardous in the bag," Koshetz said, "we don't even touch your bags."

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America's Best and Worst Airlines for 2008

For some airlines, the departure and arrival times listed on your ticket are more of a ballpark figure than an actual departure or arrival time. And travelers have been spending huge amounts of time just waiting -- waiting for your bags to be checked, waiting for your flight to depart, waiting for your plane to get to an open gate....

With their December issue, Travel + Leisure Magazine has put together a list of the best and worst airlines for delays. They say list has seen some changes since the 2007 edition. Some individual airlines have put into place incentives for employees to check that things are moving smoothly. And the entire industry is working on improving on-time performance.

Here are Travel + Leisure's best and worst airlines in terms of delays for 2008:

America's Best Airlines 2008
#1 Hawaiian
#2 Southwest
#3 US Airways
#5 (tie) Frontier
#5 (tie) Skywest

America's Worst Airlines 2008
#1 American
#2 United
#3 Comair
#4 American Eagle
#5 Atlantic Southeast

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Canada's Court Rules Obese People Must Be Given Extra Seat


Canada's two largest airlines must give disabled and morbidly obese passengers an extra free seat on domestic flights, beginning in January, after the Supreme Court of Canada refused Thursday to consider the carriers' appeal to a federal order.

The Supreme Court, by convention, gave no reason for declining to intervene in the case.

The decision ended a six-year battle by disabled travellers to secure two seats for the price of one if they need inflight attendants. Obese people can also qualify if they are too big to fit in a single seat.

Air Canada and WestJet failed in their pitch for the Supreme Court to consider a January 2008 decision from the Canadian Transportation Agency, which gave them one year to implement new policies in the absence of being able to show that a "one-person, one-fare" structure would cause undue hardship.

"This means I'm equal now," said Joanne Neubauer, a Victoria woman whose severe rheumatoid arthritis confines her to a wheelchair. "I'm just so excited and happy that justice prevailed."

The agency said the airlines must develop procedures to assess eligibility. The free seats need not be provided to obese people who are merely uncomfortable in their seats or are not disabled by their size, said the ruling.

The airlines also do not have to make allowances for disabled people who prefer to travel with a companion for personal reasons or those who require care on the ground but not in the air.

"The agency is leaving it up to Air Canada and WestJet to develop their own screening policies," said CTA spokesman Marc Comeau.

A potential sticking point is how to determine when obesity is a disability. The agency has recommended that the airlines adopt a policy used by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which gives a free seat to people who are too big to lower their armrest.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Air Canada Co-Pilot Has Nervous Breakdown In Flight

An Air Canada co-pilot having a mental breakdown had to be forcibly removed from the cockpit, restrained and sedated, and a flight attendant with flying experience helped the pilot safely make an emergency landing, an Irish investigation concluded Wednesday.

The report by the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit into an incident in January applauded the decision-making of the pilot and the cockpit skills of the flight attendant, who stepped into the co-pilot's seat for the emergency diversion to Shannon Airport in western Ireland.

None of the 146 passengers or other nine crew members on board the Boeing 767 bound from Toronto to London was injured after the 58-year-old co-pilot had to be removed by attendants and sedated by two doctors on board.

The report did not identify the crew by name, nor specify the psychiatric diagnosis for the co-pilot, who was hospitalized for 11 days in Irish mental wards before being flown by air ambulance back to Canada.

It said the co-pilot was a licensed veteran with more than 6,500 hours' flying time, about half on board Boeing 767s, and recently had passed a medical examination.

But it said the pilot noticed immediately that his co-pilot was not in good professional shape on the day of the flight, arriving late. He reported the co-pilot's behavior worsened once they were airborne and advised him to take a break.

As the aircraft reached the middle of the Atlantic, the report said, the co-pilot began talking in a "rambling and disjointed" manner, and then refused to buckle his seat belt or observe other safety procedures. The pilot concluded his colleague was now so "belligerent and uncooperative" he couldn't do his job.

The report said the pilot summoned several flight attendants to remove the co-pilot from the cockpit, and one flight attendant suffered an injured wrist in the struggle. Doctors from Britain and Canada on board determined the co-pilot was confused and disoriented.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Retarded Passenger Arrested For Silence Of The Lambs Reinactment


An Austin man faces felony charges after he was arrested for making a terroristic threat during a recent Southwest Airlines flight.

John Peter Flack, 26, was traveling from Dallas to Austin on Saturday when flight attendants reported he'd become intoxicated, cursed them and was trying to scare them.

They say Flack put on a ski mask and repeatedly used the word "kill" while quoting lines from the movie Silence of the Lambs.

Flack is also accused of making sexual gestures and staring at a 15-year-old female passenger.

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Airline Employees Go Through Course In Dealing With Irate Passengers

While they are mostly the cause of passengers getting irate, airline workers are taking a class to learn how to deal with the very people they have managed to piss off.

An irate traveler once raised his hand threateningly at Kaisy Belfon when told a flight was overbooked. Another petulant passenger tossed a piece of luggage at her.

Such stressful moments can happen anytime at an airport, but they're never more likely than when people are trying to get home for the holidays. So Belfon and hundreds of other workers at Newark Liberty Airport are getting a crash course in keeping their cool.

"Pressure causes people to do a lot of things," said Belfon, a 27-year-old customer service representative for US Airways. "Afterward they can't believe they acted that way, but under pressure they just tend to react, and then later they say they're sorry."

Stress may be higher than usual at airports this Thanksgiving, with 24 million passengers expected in the air and many airlines cutting back on numbers of flights due to the weak economy. To help employees cope, Newark Liberty is offering a customer service program with roots in the aftermath of 9/11.

"Resiliency Edge" was developed by Tom Murphy, a longtime aviation trainer and head of the Human Resiliency Institute in Fordham University's Graduate School of Education. About two dozen people got a first look at his presentation Wednesday on the concourse inside Terminal B as travelers hurried past to their gates.

"Understand where they're coming from, so you can put yourself in their place," Murphy told the group. "Understand that they're basically not bad people."

About 500 employees at Newark are scheduled to undergo the 90-minute training program, which received high marks when it was introduced at New York's JFK Airport in May.

Murphy is the author of "Reclaiming the Sky," a book recounting the stories of aviation workers who returned to work in the weeks and months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His program borrows from the book's themes and cites four traits of effective airline customer service workers: adaptability, optimism, engagement and proactivity.

Sounds easy in theory, but imagine doing it with a line of 20 people seething over missed connections and misplaced luggage.

In a role-play sequence, one employee played a man who needed to make a connection in Chicago to meet his family, whom he hadn't seen in six weeks, while another played a ticket agent whose shift was nearing an end and who had an after-hours appointment to get to.

The conversation was played two ways, first with the agent putting her needs before the customer and shunting him off to another agent — causing him to get even more angry — and the second with her calmly offering him a list of options to consider.

Murphy illustrated the contrast with a drawing of an empty box between the customer and the employee, symbolizing the choice of whose point of view the interaction will reflect.

"Get the need met," he said. "The minute the customer feels that you're putting them in the box, they begin to calm down."

Abusive behavior isn't confined to the terminal or to peak travel times, said Emma Nikoi, who works as a cashier for Five Star Parking on the airport grounds.

"People don't read the signs, and then you tell them the fee and they yell at you and call you names you wouldn't want to print," she said. "You have to stay calm, but you're also human."

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Business and First Class Seat Sales Down Dramatically

The number of passengers traveling on premium airline tickets dropped 8 percent in September, reflecting the severity of the global financial crisis and a slump in the confidence of manufacturers in the U.S., Japan and Europe, an industry trade group said Wednesday.

The International Air Transport Association, which culled data about passenger traffic in first and business class on routes around the world, said business confidence fell sharply in October, and with the economic downturn worsening there likely will be a further decline in premium travel.

The September decline followed a 1.5 percent drop in August and was the third consecutive month of shrinking premium traffic, after growth of 1.5 percent during the first half of the year, according to IATA.

The slump is a bad sign because business travel helps drive airline profitability.

The number of passengers traveling on economy tickets fell 4 percent in September, IATA said, and total passenger numbers fell 4.4 percent in the month.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two Qantas Jets Collide While Being Towed


Two Qantas passenger jets have collided on the tarmac at an Australian airport in the latest accident to blight the airline.

Qantas Calamity: Two Jets Collide

Both Boeing 747 planes were damaged as they ran into each other while being towed at the airline's maintenance base at Avalon airport, outside Melbourne.

One of the aircraft involved had already been damaged in a mid-air explosion in July when a gaping hole was ripped open in the jet's fuselage.

Local television news footage showed the nose of one jet had caved in after hitting the left wing of the other, leaving a large dent.

"Both aircraft sustained some damage, and the extent of this is being assessed," said Qantas general manager of engineering David Cox.

The maintenance staff involved have been suspended from duty pending a full inquiry, he said.

Qantas has not said how many personnel were involved but confirmed no passengers were on board at the time of the incident.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Top Hotels In The World For Business


W Hotel, Kowloon Hong Kong
Known for: laid-back vibe and business center

Each one of the 393 rooms at this "colonial cool" W outpost offers skyline views. That means if you're bogged down by business meetings, you can sightsee from your bed. The lounge-like business center is a relaxing place to e-mail home. The rooms are fully wired, there's a Bliss Spa and W's signature "Whatever/Whenever" service™ is available 24/7. Don't be surprised if your concierge calls you "dude."


The Palace Westin Madrid

Known for: modern conveniences in an old castle

King Alfonso XIII had this palace built in 1912 to host Europe's royalty. There wasn't wi-fi back then, but there is now. The hotel was recently restored to its original over-the-top elegance. The main lobby is crowned by a glass dome, and the 400-plus rooms are done up in artful antiques. But the spa/gym and business center are all state of the art. The property is two minutes from the Prado and the shopping quarter. And, should you need one, it's home to the biggest ballroom in Spain. JPMorgan, Ernst & Young and PWC are corporate regulars.

Okura, Tokyo

Known for: cultural correctness

This older hotel offers more traditional refinement than some of the newer modern counterparts that have opened up nearby. Located less than two miles from Tokyo Tower and the Roppongi nightlife district, the Okura boasts 833 rooms with ample writing desks, city views, Internet access and Japanese style robes. The hushed staff wear kimonos.

The Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

Known for: large rooms

"We want to impress you so that you can impress your client" is the mantra at this legendary hotel where stunning Zen guest rooms double as personal retreats from Hong Kong's business bustle. Wi-fi is available throughout the property, and if you're having trouble with your Mac, an IT butler is on hand to get you up and running again. How convenient: The Mandarin Grill is a local power dining spot.

The Peninsula Hotel, Chicago

Known for: gym/spa

The 339 guest rooms and suites at this Magnificent Mile hotel are spacious and swank with all sorts of cool electronics. But the spa and fitness center that occupy the top two floors (and 14,000 square feet) are what sets this hotel apart from the pack. When you do get back to work, a professional meeting consultant is on hand to ensure every detail is taken care of for business meetings large and small.

The Widder Hotel, Zurich

Known for: design

For business travelers who know there's more to a chair than ergonomics, it's hard to beat this unusual hotel where 50 guest rooms were literally carved into the framework of nine medieval homes dating to the 12th century. Most rooms boast separate office areas and feature furnishings by Eames and Le Corbusier. The meeting rooms are visual stunners. The pro-forma "gym," however, disappoints.

The Fullerton, Singapore

Known for: writing desks and stationery kits

This relative newcomer to the luxury hotel scene is turning heads for its panoramic views, residential design and small details like the mini-Stairmasters and Philippe Starck fixtures in the bathrooms. Rooms boast spacious writing desks and elegant stationery kits--a nod, perhaps, to the building's former incarnation as Singapore's general post office. For road warriors who like to go underwater to unwind, the outdoor pool, flanked by 20-foot Doric columns, is touted as one of the world's best infinity pools.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Top 10 Tastiest Hotels In The U.S.

Hotels.com has come up with its Top 10 Tasty Trips for travelers searching for hotels with fine cuisine and delicious treats.

1. Boston Omni Park House Hotel, creator of Boston Cream Pie. www.omnihotels.com

2. Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, rumored to have made the first chocolate brownie. www.hilton.com

3. Halekulani in Honolulu, known for its orchid cake filled with coconut-flavored custard in a pool of chocolate sauce. www.halekulani.com

4. The London NYC in New York, famous for its terrines. www.thelondonnyc.com

5. MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, with chef Wolfgang Puck's signature Caesar chicken pizza. www.MGMGrand.com

6. Doubletree Hotel Atlanta, with a secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies. www.Doubletree.com

7. Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, famous for its mussels and green curry soufflé. www.mansiononturtlecreek.com

8. Mandarin Oriental in Washington, featuring the popular Cheesecake Chiboust. www.MandarinOriental.com

9. Argonaut Hotel at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, serving house-made chowder. www.ArgonautHotel.com

10. The Waldorf Astoria in New York City, originator of the Waldorf salad. waldorfastoria.hilton.com

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Gun Fight At The Waldorf Astoria In New York


Gunfire erupted in the storied Waldorf-Astoria hotel during a brazen robbery attempt Saturday at a lobby jewelry store, wounding a security guard and sending guests diving for cover.

The 54-year-old guard, Gregory J. Boyle, was shot in the chest but was expected to survive. A suspect was arrested on charges including attempted murder and assault.

Hotel guest Christine Cataldo said she was looking at a display of engagement rings near the entrance to the store, Cellini Jewelers, when she heard the first shot.

"It sounded like a bomb. One big boom. And then people started running," said Cataldo, of East Moriches on Long Island. "I looked up, and I saw a man in a suit with silver hair grabbing another guy."

The mayhem began when the black-garbed suspect, identified as Rafael Rabinovich-Ardans, 20, pulled out a gun in the jewelry store and used the weapon to smash two display cases full of expensive rings and necklaces, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because detectives were still investigating.

Boyle, a retired New York Police Department detective, confronted the man. About three gunshots rang out as the two wrestled and fell to the floor, though it wasn't clear who fired, the official said. Both were armed.

One bullet hit Boyle in the left upper chest, the official said.

Another hotel employee then tackled Rabinovich-Ardans, the police official said. The suspect's gun went off again as they grappled, but that bullet apparently struck no one. Hotel security staffers arrived and took Rabinovich-Ardans into custody.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Delta and Alaska Airlines Announce Code Share Agreement


Alaska Airlines passengers may gain more direct flights to more international destinations in what the airline is calling “a major marketing alliance” to be announced Monday.

The new agreement is with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which merged with rival Northwest Airlines after getting antitrust approval Oct. 29. Both Delta and Northwest already had code sharing agreements with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which meant flights could be booked for either of the carriers through Alaska. and vice versa.

One benefit for Alaska is that Delta is now moving some aircraft from redundant routes within the U.S., into less-served and more lucrative international routes, said Steve Danishek, president of TMA Inc., a Seattle-based industry consultant and agent.

These will include Valencia, Spain; Monrovia, Liberia; Cape Town, South Africa, and direct flights to Tokyo from Atlanta, New York and Salt Lake City, he said.

“What it means for Alaska is good news on the feed side, because they can now feed to many more destinations,” Danishek said. “It’s just more options for Alaska, for the mileage holders here.”

Danishek said he doesn’t expect a huge investment into marketing the revamped code share deal.

“This is just jumping on the notoriety of the merger and saying we’re part of that too,” he said of the Monday press conference. “It’s a low-cost way for Alaska Airlines saying there’s more stuff coming for Alaska Airlines passengers.”

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Drunk Brittish Passenger Not Being Thrown In Slammer

A drunken airline passenger from Cumbria who threatened to kick an air stewardess has been spared jail.

Derek Kirkwood downed 12 miniature bottles of brandy to cope with his fear of flying during the journey from Gran Canaria to Manchester in April.

The 58-year-old, of Askam in Furness, then verbally abused a passenger and a flight attended.

He admitted being drunk on an aircraft and was given a four-month sentence suspended for a year.

Appearing at Manchester Crown Court, the charity worker was also given a 12-month supervision order and 180 hours community work.

The hearing was told how Kirkwood took a tablet to combat his fear of flying and washed it down with alcohol during the four-hour flight.

He then threatened to kick a stewardess "up the bottom" because she would not take away one of his empty bottles.

He also said to another passenger: "You're a big man up here - let's see if you are a big man on the ground."

He was arrested on touch down at Manchester and told police: "I'm a nervous flyer but I wasn't drunk," the hearing heard.

David Abbott, defending, said Kirkwood was a "pillar of the community" who had done a lot of work for charity and was full of remorse for his actions.

Passing sentence Judge Andrew Lowcock said: "Your behaviour was loutish, rude and unpleasant.

"You made threats - you were abusive, pushing and prodding another passenger.

"What you did made the flight a very uncomfortable experience."

Kirkwood of, Dekland Saves Lane, was also ordered to pay £700 costs.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

AAA Crowns Five Diamond Hotels on Friday


For 2009, three of six lodgings added to AAA's prestigious Five Diamond list are in California: The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows; Montage Laguna Beach; and Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village. (The other new Five Diamonds for 2009 are The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach, Manalapan, Fla.; InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta; and Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis.

California has the most five diamonds (19), almost double the number for the No. 2 state, Florida (10). Georgia has six.

A record 103 hotels plus 59 restaurants achieved Five Diamond status. The four restaurant additions are Addison, San Diego; Chef Mavro, Honolulu; Restaurant Guy Savoy, Las Vegas; and The Pavilion Antigua, New Winthorpes, Antigua. Antigua scored its first-ever Five Diamond restaurant.

Three Five Diamond veterans remained for 2009. The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs; The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.; and Camelback Inn, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., have held a Five Diamond Rating for 33 consecutive years — since the hotel Diamond Ratings were first published in AAA TourBook guides.

The Inn at Little Washington dining room in Washington, Va., is the sole eatery to maintain Five Diamond status for 21 straight years — since the ratings were extended to restaurants.

Lodgings slipping from Five Diamonds to four: The Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa, Carefree, Ariz.; The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago (A Four Seasons Hotel), which is under renovation; and The St. Regis, New York City.

The non-profit travel organization, which anointed 100 five-diamond lodgings last year, does unannounced inspections of properties and rates them on a scale of one to five diamonds based on hundreds of criteria, including public areas, rooms, amenities and service.

The complete list of winners will be available at AAA.com/news on Friday morning.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Federal Task Force On Tarmac Delays Does Nothing

The federal government, showing all the wisdom of an airline CEO, put together a task force paid for with tax payer dollars, to address the problem of people stuck on the tarmac for hours on end.

The task force, ironically made up of people from the airline industry, which is the equivalent of putting together a board of cats to address how to protect mice, spent two years and came up with no solutions to the problem. This should come as no surprise since no one in the airline industry has ever come up with any solution to any problem that ever made any sense.

Passengers who had hoped for stronger protections were left empty-handed by the guidelines.

"You have to admit that the game is still heavily weighted to business as usual," Kate Hanni, a passenger rights advocate, told her fellow task force members before voting against adoption of the report.

Passenger rights advocates said the report of the tarmac task force, as it is informally known, reflected demands by airline members that they have the flexibility to design their own response plans and not be pinned to a time limit for holding passengers on tarmacs.

Task force member Daniel Rutenberg of the International Airline Passengers Association also expressed disappointment at the lack of "time-specific triggers" for allowing passengers to return to gates and appealed to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to address the issue.

Transportation Department Assistant General Council Sam Podberesky, the task force's chairman, said the department is working separately on a rule that will require airlines and airports to have contingency plans and include a time limit.

Federal rulemaking is a lengthy process, guaranteeing the issue will be among those waiting for the Obama administration.

The report "is a set of best practices, but there's nothing enforceable where a passenger can say, 'I won't be held up for more than three hours or five hours or eight hours, or without a glass of water or a sandwich,"' said Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.

The task force report recommends that:

* Airlines update passengers delayed on tarmacs every 15 minutes even if there is nothing new to report.

* A secure room be provided for passengers from diverted overseas flights so they can avoid having to go through security checks when reboarding an aircraft to their final destination.

* When practical, refreshments and entertainment should be made available to passengers confined aboard aircraft awaiting takeoff.

* Airlines should make reasonable efforts to be keep airplane restrooms usable.

The Transportation Department's inspector general last fall recommended setting a limit for how long airlines can force passengers to wait on planes that have been delayed taking off.

The 36-member task force was created in December by Peters to develop model plans for after several incidents in which passengers were stuck for hours before their flight took off or before they were allowed to get off the plane.

Task force members said it quickly became apparent that the group -- dominated by airline industry and airport representatives -- would be unable to come up with a model plan acceptable to a majority of members.

"The airlines don't want it, and the airports -- several of them major airports -- believe they already have plans" to deal with passengers stuck aboard aircraft, said task force member Paul Ruden, a senior vice president at the American Society of Travel Agents.

The smartest thing the government could have done to save everyone time instead of putting together a task force made up of people who are the problem is to just set fire to the money on the capital steps and be done with it.

An alternate plan would have been to put the task force members on a regional jet in the middle of summer sitting on the tarmac without an water and an overflowing toilet until they come up with a solution, I am betting it wouldn't have taken a year.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Travel Tips For A Long Flight

Travel columnist James Wysong composed a list of 11 travel tips for a long flight

Here are a 11 trivial tips that, once you are aboard a multi-hour flight, could make the difference between a smile and a frown:

1. Cushion the blow. Bring a soft fluffy jacket every time you fly, whatever the season. It’s not considered carry-on baggage, the deep pockets could be extra storage, and now that the airlines are stripping both blankets and pillows from the seats, your jacket can be used as both. We all know that the temperature in the cabin can fluctuate quite drastically and even though it may be summer, many times the pilots will over-compensate and make it feel like the arctic.

2. Make some space. Take out all the junk like magazines, headphones, etc. from the seat-back pocket in front of you and give your knees a little more wiggle room. OK, it may seem like only a puny inch and a half, but as we all know, that could make all the difference in the world.

3. Save yourself. If you are in business or first class and someone offers you a pre-departure glass of champagne, give it a miss and wait for the good stuff in-flight. The sparkling wine they offer to you on the ground is usually the low quality stuff and served in plastic glasses. If you ration the number of drinks as I do, resist immediate gratification and drink out of a proper wine glass with some better wine.

4. Feel the warmth. Don’t throw away that bottle of water when it’s empty. Take it to the back of the airplane and fill it with hot water and you have an instant hot water bottle. The flight crew won’t look at you strangely, as we do it all the time. When you get cold feet, this is a life-saver or at least a foot-saver.

5. Play the hygiene game. With a positive frame of mind, hygiene can be fun. When using the lavatory, first thing you should do is to grab a paper towel, then use that as your barrier. Try to avoid touching anything directly, including the door lock on the way out. Look on it as a challenge. It’s not as easy as you think.

6. Time your water. We all know that it is important to keep hydrated during the flight, but this doesn’t mean you have to drink gallons at the beginning of the flight. Pace yourself, or you will find yourself in the line for the lavatory for the entire flight. Also, make a habit out of using the lavatory in the airport before you board the airplane. It’s roomier, tidier, and you will avoid the onboard traffic confusion.

7. Meal choice. Whether you have to buy it onboard, or if it comes as part of the service and you don’t know which choice is better, ask. Flight attendants eat those meals too, and know exactly which is the better choice, and which to avoid. Remarkably, the least popular selection is generally the tastier meal.

8. Hang loose. Wear clothing that is one or two sizes on the big side, or apparel that can comfortably stretch. I mean everything from shirt, pants, belt, shoes, and especially under-garments. I won’t go into detail but there was one 12 hour hell flight where I was riding uncomfortably high the entire journey. Fashion and comfort are often two completely separate things.

9. Trail-blazing. Always carry a bag of your favorite trail-mix with you. Whether stuck on a runway, airport, or a flight with no catering, you never know when you’ll get caught ready to devour your seat cushion. The number of times that I have been saved by this tip is countless. Also, be sure to replenish it as soon as possible so you have it available for the next time.

10. Book it. Keep a book somewhere on you at all times, otherwise you may be stuck reading the dreaded in-flight magazine over and over again. Technology is great but your book will never run out of batteries or suffer a mechanical breakdown.

11. Plug’em up. I am sure you expected me to include earplugs as my favorite travel item. They are small and cheap but will make the world of difference. I never leave home without them. A word of warning to all you frequent fliers out there who fly business class and expect to find earplugs in the amenity kits: some airlines are getting cheap and omitting them, so bring an extra pair just in case.

I hope these tips they can make a difference on your next flight. Now it’s time to send me yours. I will print them in a future column and top entries win a signed copy of my newest book

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Airport Scanners Reveal Everything !


Travelers beware; your full blown image, private parts and all, could soon be visible to security officers on-screen, at an airport near you!

Within the next 60 days, some airports nationwide are scheduled to install and use full body-imaging devices. But not everyone believes they're a good idea.

And before we continue a word of warning - this story does contain images that may not be appropriate for everyone.

It's afternoon rush-hour at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. As the masses make their way through the metal detectors, a random few are pulled from line and sent into a different machine, one of glass & steel, called a Millimeter Wave Passenger Imaging Screener.

The machine takes a circular, head to toe scan of your entire body in less than a minute, and amazingly, the energy emitted is 10,000 times less than a cell phone.

But make no mistake about what it does. The technology is using radio waves to look under your clothes.

In another part of the airport far from the scanner, a TSA officer sits in front of a monitor and examines the image, with the face blurred out. The scanner shows one passenger who apparently forgot to put her cell phone in the bin. It's visible in her back pocket.

In fact, any item under your clothes, regardless of what its made of, would be detectable by these machines.

"This technology uses harmless electromagnetic waves to produce an image of the body that allows the security officer to ensure there are no items or threat items concealed on that person," said TSA Spokesperson Lauren Gaches.

This isn't the only passenger imaging technology TSA has deployed. In a test of a Backscatter Machine at the Phoenix airport, a TSA employee tries to sneak a weapon through the gate.

While the pistol she's carrying is clearly visible, so is everything else.

Another test with a male TSA employee showed a bag of narcotics taped to his chest, which the backscatter did detect. The contrast and clarity of these pictures can be diffused somewhat - through a filter attached to the machine.

The Millimeter Wave Screener will soon be in Richmond and 21 other cities around the country within the next 60 days.

At the Richmond Airport, when you show passengers a photos of these images, it's not uncommon to hear: "Oh my! That's a little more invasive than I think I would like," said passenger Rosemary Sloan.

She is certainly not alone. The American Civil Liberties Union has been vocal in it's opposition to the deployment of these machines.

"This is the ultimate government invasion of your privacy. It literally is a camera that strips you nude for government employees," said UCLA Spokesperson Kent Willis.

But passenger Stacey Zabel takes a more pragmatic approach to going through these screeners. He's a frequent business flyer. Day-to-day, time and security are his two biggest concerns. Modesty isn't even on the list.

"I have no doubt that it's more time efficient and it's less invasive, in my opinion, than being wanded," he said.

These machines are clearly marked and no one is forced to go through. TSA allows the passenger to decide if this is an acceptable loss of privacy, a trade-off of sorts, for piece of mind when traveling by air.

The European Union is considering these machines, but several countries have already publicly stated the scanners are too invasive and won't be used.

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United Scraps Plan For Baggage Fee Increase

United Airlines says it has withdrawn a planned fee hike for second checked bags after other airlines failed to match it.

The nation's No. 3 airline, based in Chicago, announced earlier it would raise its fee for a second checked bag from $25 to $50 each way as of Nov. 10. But when no other carriers reciprocated the move, the airline canceled its plans, the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday.

Instead, United is offering a 20 percent discount for the first checked bag for passengers who pay for their tickets online.

The airline's move is being seen as part of a move by carriers to rein in the imposition of new fees as the hard-hit traveling public is showing signs of rebellion by defecting to discount carriers such as Southwest Airlines
, analysts told the Tribune.

Southwest is heavily advertising its no-fee policy and has set up "No-Fee Zones" around its airport ticket counters in advance of the holiday travel season, the newspaper said, noting Southwest's October passenger traffic increased slightly while United's traffic fell 10 percent.

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US Air Carrier Performance Increases in September

The air carriers in the United States have figured out how to improve on time performance, drive your customers away so fewer people are flying.

On time performance increased in September for U.S. Carriers to 84.9%, up almost 10% since August. Of course the number of passengers willing to put with U.S. carriers dropped about 20% in the past six months. Airlines doing their absolute best to make air travel as miserable as it possibly can be have succeeded in proving you can run a more efficient airline if you can just do away with the passengers.

It appears to be working well, for everyone except Comair and Mesa who continually prove they can be the most miserable, poorly run airlines no matter what the economic climate is. Both the regional carriers are on the bottom of on-time performance, no big suprise there, they have been there since airline deregulation in the 70s.

The big disappointment for this month was Continental Airlines which had the highest cancellation rate of any airlines. Here are this months stats:

Overall

84.9 percent on-time arrivals

Highest On-Time Arrival Rates

1. Hawaiian Airlines – 95.1 percent

2. Frontier Airlines – 91.4 percent

3. Pinnacle Airlines – 90.6 percent

Lowest On-Time Arrival Rates

1. Comair – 77.4 percent

2. Mesa Airlines – 78.1 percent

3. United Airlines – 79.8 percent

Most Frequently Delayed Flights

1. American Airlines flight 1267 from Miami to San Juan, PR – late 86.67 percent of the time

2. Comair flight 6273 from Cleveland to Atlanta – late 82.76 percent of the time

(There were only two flights in this category in September)

Highest Rates of Canceled Flights

1. Continental Airlines – 6.1 percent

2. ExpressJet Airlines – 5.9 percent

3. American Eagle Airlines – 2.5 percent

Lowest Rates of Canceled Flights

1. Hawaiian Airlines – 0.2 percent

2. Frontier Airlines – 0.4 percent

3. Northwest Airlines – 0.5 percent

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Delta Adds New Fees As It Becomes The Biggest US Carrier

Delta Air Lines, the world's biggest carrier, said Wednesday it will impose a $15 fee to check a first bag, becoming the last of the six legacy airlines to impose such a fee.
The carrier also said it is cutting certain other fees as it aligns its policies with those of Northwest Airlines, which it acquired last week.

Atlanta-based Delta said that effective immediately, for traffic on or after Dec. 5, customers flying within the U.S. will be charged $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second checked bag when traveling domestically, consistent with Northwest's existing policies.

Customers who purchased Delta tickets on or before Wednesday, and who are traveling on or after Dec. 5, will be charged $50 for a second bag, but will be permitted to check their first bag without charge based on Delta's previous policy. Customers flying in first or business class, including SkyMiles Medallion members and WorldPerks Elite members, will be able to check up to three bags, up to 70 pounds each, for free, Delta said.

Delta also said it is eliminating SkyMiles and WorldPerks award ticket surcharges, reducing reservation sales direct ticketing charges and eliminating curbside check-in administrative fees.

Effective immediately, Delta will eliminate the $25 to $100 fuel surcharges assessed for SkyMiles and WorldPerks award ticket travel originating from the U.S. and Canada. The surcharges were instituted earlier this year by both airlines due to high fuel prices, which have declined significantly since their record level in July.

As of Thursday, Delta will reduce the fee assessed for tickets purchased over the phone from a reservations sales representative from $25 to $20, consistent with Northwest's policy. Delta will also reduce the fee collected when customers redeem either SkyMiles or WorldPerks award travel over the phone with a reservations sales representative from $25 to $20. There is no charge for customers who book tickets and redeem award travel online at Delta's website or Northwest's website.

As for curbside check-in, Delta said that, effective Dec. 5, it will drop the $3 fee it has been charging.

Delta also said that last week it began offering coach customers on certain flights the ability to purchase a better seat assignment in their cabin for $5 to $25, depending on distance traveled and seat location. The so-called "coach choice seats" represent less than 10% of all seat assignments available on Delta-operated flights, the airline said.

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Airline Crew Hog Ties Unruly Passenger With Duck Tape

You have always been told there are 1001 things you can fix with duck tape, well make that 1002

Authorities say a flight crew used duct tape to restrain an unruly passenger on a flight from Puerto Rico to Chicago.

The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday that the FBI said the woman slapped a crewmember on the buttocks and pulled a blind passenger's hair. The flight was diverted Saturday to Charlotte, where the passenger fought with police officers who came aboard the plane.

FBI Agent Peter Carricato said the passenger also used profanity and was touching and jabbing other passengers.

Authorities said 45-year-old Maria Esther Castillo of Oswego, N.Y., has been charged with resisting arrest and interfering with the operations of a flight crew. She faces a detention hearing on Thursday.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

United Airlines Makes Changes To Frequent Flyer Program

United Airlines sent me an email today outlining the changes to it's frequent flyer program for 2009. There are some positives, they are restoring the 500 mile minimum accrual for elite members and also making it possible to use miles for upgrades to business and first on international flight, something that was previously only available for full economy fares although there will be a service charge.

Below outlines all the changes for 2009:

The changes to the Mileage Plus program for 2009 will reward our premium customers with highly competitive benefits, while responding to increased demand for United's new international first- and business-class cabins.

Please keep reading for a brief overview of each program change, then visit united.com for FAQs and details.

Restoration of 500-mile minimum accrual for elite members

Our elite members are the cornerstone of the Mileage Plus program. To reward these members and allow them to requalify for their benefits more quickly, the 500-mile minimum accrual on United flights will be restored for elite members effective January 1, 2009.

This policy change will be applied retroactively to flights between July 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008. For elite members who flew United flights of less than 500 miles during that timeframe, all affected mileage balances and bonuses and earned upgrades will be adjusted by the end of the year to ensure that your elite status is correct for 2009. Please see united.com for full details.

Mileage awards

Mileage Plus continues to offer members more awards to popular destinations. In fact, through August members redeemed 12% more awards in 2008 than in 2007. Also, United continues its policy of no fuel surcharges on award tickets. However, changes will be made to award levels on January 1, 2009. Note that our most popular Saver and Standard awards within the continental United States will stay the same, but other routes and classes will change.
View revised Saver, Standard and partner award charts.

Upgrade awards

As United continues to introduce the new international first and business class, which include lie-flat seats and other enhancements, demand has increased. To ensure that the upgrades adequately reflect the value of a first- or business-class seat, we are generally reducing the mileage requirements and will be collecting a co-pay when miles are redeemed to upgrade an Economy ticket. This change will be effective for upgrade awards requested on or after July 1, 2009.

The co-pay amount will depend on the origin and destination cities, as well as the type of ticket purchased. If you upgrade from a higher fare class, your co-pay will be lower or even non-existent. Upgrade awards from Business to First will not require a co-pay.

And to ensure that all Mileage Plus members have a chance to experience the new international first and business class, beginning July 1, 2009, all paid international Economy-class tickets can be upgraded with miles and a co-pay. Currently, only select Economy classes can be upgraded internationally.

Please visit united.com for details about these changes, including helpful FAQs and examples.

Thank you for choosing United and Mileage Plus.

Sincerely,

Graham Atkinson
President, Mileage Plus

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Monday, November 3, 2008

UK's House of Commons Calls Heathrow's Terminal Opening "National Embarrassment"


The shambolic opening of London Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 was a "national embarrassment", MPs said in a report published Monday.

The House of Commons Transport Committee slammed British Airways and airports operator BAA for "serious failings" that led to flight cancellations, tens of thousands of lost bags, and long queues when the 4.3 billion pound complex opened on March 27.

"What should have been an occasion of national pride was in fact an occasion of national embarrassment," said committee chairman Louise Ellman.

The committee said more than 36,000 passengers were hit by the chaos and more than 23,000 bags had to be manually sorted before being returned to their owners.

There were problems immediately after the terminal opened, mostly with its baggage handling system.

It was not until April 8 that BA was able to offer a full short-haul flight schedule in and out of the terminal, with the chaos costing the airline at least 16 million pounds, according to its own estimates.

The report principally blamed poor communication between BA and BAA, noting that joint meetings between the two companies were not held over Terminal 5 until after the complex opened.

Noting a competition watchdog report in August that recommended Spanish-owned BAA sell three of its seven British airports, the committee said Terminal 5's opening "reinforces the view we have previously expressed, that BAA is a monopoly that needs to be broken up."

Heathrow, the world's biggest airport in terms of international passenger traffic, is the jewel in the crown of BAA's British portfolio.

"The opening of T5 revealed serious failings on the part of both BAA and BA," the report concluded.

"Like both organisations, we acknowledge the inevitability of 'teething problems' but deeply regret that so many were allowed to bring the operation of Heathrow's newest terminal to a halt."

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Philippine Airlines Scrapping First Class For More Econ Room


Philippine Airlines (PAL) will do away with the first-class seats in its flagship fleet of aircraft to maximize cabin space and improve margins, reports said on Monday.

The flag carrier's Boeing 747-400 fleet will be reconfigured and have only two classes, Business or Mabuhay class and Fiesta or Economy class, Philippine newspaper Business World reported.

"That's part of our strategy to give more passengers the chance to experience higher seat classes," Business World reported, quoting PAL Vice-President for Corporate Communications Rolando Estabillo.

The renovation of the four B747 aircraft, which started in late September, is expected to be finished by the second half of next year. It is the first major renovation of the fleet since the aircraft were bought in 1993.

The company uses its B747s on transpacific flights between Manila and destinations in the United States West Coast, including Los Angeles and San Francisco in California.

The new cabin will have 42 business class seats, or 10 seats more than before. The economy class remains at 383 seats. First-class roundtrip tickets cost about 3,000 U.S. dollars each. Business-class tickets are under 2,000 dollars, while economy seats go for about 1,000 dollars.

"The first-class area is rarely ever filled. Who can afford first class?" Estabillo said.

Other international airlines like Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific have done the same, trying to attract more passengers with a bigger business class, he added.

Airlines have been trying to cut costs and attract passengers in the face of rising oil prices for the most part of the year and shrinking margins. PAL posted a 74-percent decline in profits to 30 million dollars in the fiscal year ending in March 2008, according to the report.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

United Teams With FedEx to Ship Bags

United Airlines, who finds it pretty hard to handle luggage all on its own, has teamed with FedEx to ship passengers luggage ahead of them.

United Airlines is teaming with FedEx Corp. to ship a passenger's bag overnight for as much as $358 round trip, betting that some customers will pay the higher cost to avoid taking luggage to the airport.

Travelers would get door-to-door baggage handling and avoid the wait at airport luggage carousels as well as the airline's fee of $30 to check one bag round trip. The new option's cost exceeds the $130 round-trip fee to check two bags with United, a unit of Chicago-based UAL Corp.

The service, announced in a statement today by United, extends efforts by airlines to boost revenue from sources other than tickets. Most U.S. carriers this year have added fees to check bags, and some are charging to reserve select seats, for coffee and soda on board and for pillows and blankets.

"This whole industry is headed in the self-service direction,'' Robert Mann of consulting firm R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, N.Y., said in an interview. "Whether it's bookings or boarding passes or seat selection or meal choices or baggage, it's all your decision to make and your work to get done.''

United expects about 1 percent of passengers to use the baggage service, said Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for the carrier. They may be "motivated by the convenience of not having to carry a bag to, from and through the airport,'' she said.

The service is available to passengers on United flights in the 48 contiguous U.S. states. The cost is $149 a bag each way for flights of less than 1,000 miles and $179 on longer routes.

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Cheetah Gets Loose In Cargo Hold Of Delta Plane

A Delta baggage worker got a bit of a fright before Halloween when she opened a jetliner's cargo door and found a cheetah running loose amid the luggage.

Two cheetahs were being flown in the cargo area of a Boeing 757 passenger flight from Portland, Ore., to Atlanta on Thursday when one escaped from its cage, Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said Friday.

"They told us a large animal had gotten out of a container in the cargo hold and they were having to send someone to tranquilize it," said one passenger, Lee Sentell of Montgomery, Ala.

He said luggage was delayed, but baggage handlers promised to send his bags to him in Alabama.

The good news for passengers: The escaped cheetah didn't damage any of their luggage.

The airline summoned help from Zoo Atlanta, and experts rushed to a closed airport hangar and tranquilized the escaped animal and took both big cats to the zoo.

Both 1-year-old female cheetahs were on their way from the Wildlife Safari Park in Winston, Ore., to the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee, Memphis Zoo spokesman Drew Smith said in an e-mail. He said the two cheetahs will stay a few days at the zoo in Atlanta until the Memphis Zoo gets a team together to fetch them.

The cheetahs are on loan to the Memphis Zoo, but Smith said he wasn't sure how long they would stay there

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