Monday, February 23, 2009

New Cleaning Challenge For Housekeeping, Meth Labs

Illegal methamphetamine "cooks" are traipsing undetected through an unknown number of motels and hotels with covert drug-making labs — leaving a toxic mess behind for unsuspecting customers and housekeeping crews.

They are places where drug-makers can go unnoticed, mixing the chemicals needed for the highly addictive stimulant in a matter of hours before slipping out the next morning. The dangerous contaminants can lurk on countertops, carpets and bathtubs, and the sickening smells produced can be masked by tobacco smoke and other scents.

Motels can be an attractive alternative for drug makers seeking to avoid a police bust in their own homes.

"They can seize the trailer or seize your house but they can't seize a motel room," said Dr. Sullivan Smith, director of emergency services at Cookeville Regional Medical Center in north-central Tennessee.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration records obtained by The Associated Press show that states reported finding drug-making in 1,789 motel and hotel rooms in the past five years — and that's just what authorities found.

Some cleanup professionals hired to make the travelers' havens livable again say most of their work is done on properties where a meth lab was discovered long afterward.

The number of clandestine labs that are never found is difficult to pin down. There was a slight uptick in hotel and motel lab busts reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008 from the previous year, with 149 in 2006, 87 in 2007 and 127 in 2008. The tally was 461 in 2005 and 965 in 2004, before there were restrictions on purchasing over-the-counter decongestants often used as ingredients. The DEA count is based on states that reported labs.

The toxins can linger for days if meth lab hygienists wearing hazmat suits don't clean living areas.

The cleanups cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. Even short-term exposure to vapors and residue where the drug is smoked or cooked can cause eye and skin irritation, vomiting, rashes, asthma problems and other respiratory issues.

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US Airways Starts Offering Up Free Sodas Again

After realizing that charging for soft drinks was a little too chintzy even for an airline, US Airways is changing its tune.

The soda’s on the house—when on the plane. US Airways is going back to giving free soft drinks and coffee to passengers. In a memo to employees, Chief Executive Doug Parker says the free drink service will resume in March. The airline is planning to announce the change today.

Last summer, US Airways started charging $2 for soda, juice, coffee and bottled water in coach cabins on domestic flights. Other airlines have instituted new fees for things like checked bags and pillows. But US Airways was the only carrier to charge for non-alcoholic beverages.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

FAA Tells Pilots To Get Off The Phone

The US Federal Aviation Authority has issued an alert to airlines reminding them that its not just passengers who should keep their phones switched off, but pilots too.

The alert follows an incident where an air-safety inspector was observing take-off, moments prior to which the crew heard a "warbling sound" which turned out to be the First Officer's phone ringing.

Worse still, the Airline's General Operations Manual - the bible of procedures - contained no prohibition on crew leaving their phones switched on, unlike passengers who can't even use an MP3 player during take off and landing.

Flight Global, who reported the story, points out that FAA guidelines state explicitly that mobile phones "will not be authorized for use while the aircraft is being taxied for departure after leaving the gate", making no distinction between crew and passengers.

The alert to airlines recommends the director of operations for each company review the General Operations Manual and ensure that crew are required to switch off their mobile phones, at least until proper in-flight connectivity is available to everyone.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Interesting Confessions Of A Housekeeper

The best guests sleep in

Three simple letters could inspire the "Hallelujah" chorus: DND, or do not disturb. One sign hanging on a doorknob, and the day's work was shortened by half an hour. Two signs? Pure heaven, but only if they remained there until my eight-hour shift ended—otherwise I'd have to circle back and clean the rooms. My daily list of 15 rooms (out of 325 in the hotel) consisted of DOs (due out) and Os (occupied), which in housekeeping lingo meant the guests were scheduled to check out or were staying another night. An occupied room was less labor-intensive (making the beds rather than changing the sheets saved me 20 minutes), but there was always the possibility the guest would stay in the room while you worked. One man watched me clean his entire room, from scrubbing the toilet to emptying the trash—and told me at the end that I was "building character." Condescension is not nearly as encouraging to a maid as a couple of dollars.

As long as it looked clean

I cut corners everywhere I could. Instead of vacuuming, I found that just picking up the larger crumbs from the carpet would do. Rather than scrub the tub with hot water, sometimes it was just a spray-and-wipe kind of day. After several weeks on the job, I discovered that the staff leader who inspected the rooms couldn't tell the difference between a clean sink and one that was simply dry, so I would often just run a rag over the wet spots. But I never skipped changing the sheets. I wouldn't sink that low, no matter how lazy I was feeling.

A bacterial wonderland

I was disgusted by the many guests I came in contact with through the things they left behind: the hairs on the pillow, the urine on the toilet seat, the half-eaten cookie, the stained sheets. One woman had soiled her sheets so thoroughly that we had to toss them in a biohazard bag—they could never be used again. Rooms where young kids stayed were the worst, with food ground into the carpet and piles of used diapers in the trash. That kind of demoralizing mess could take 45 minutes to clean up. Most maids wore rubber gloves when they worked, but mine were too big, so I discarded them. Unsurprisingly, I got the flu twice.

Not for love — or money

I didn't know maids received tips, so it took me weeks to realize that the coins left in rooms were an intentional gift. My tips were paltry: I almost never received more than $1, and at times guests left religious pamphlets. One day, however, I was shocked to find a crisp $100 bill lying on a table. Although the generous tip put a little spring in my step and compelled me to do a better job that day, it didn't change my work ethic for long. I apologize to you now if you ever stayed in one of my rooms. You deserved better. But if housekeepers were paid more than minimum wage—and the tips were a bit better—I might have cleaned your toilet rather than just flushed it.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Trip Advisor Announces It's Best For 2009

Trip Advisor has published their yearly best picks for 2009.

Starting with the top 5 luxury hotels in the world, there were some changes this year:

1. Aria Hotel in Prague, Czech Republic

2. Layana Resort and Spa, Ko Lanta Thiland

3. Villa Marsili Hotel, Cortona Italy

4. Los Altos De Eros, Tamarindo, Costa Rica

5. The Caves, Negril Jamica (this one by far is my favorite !)

As far as hotel chains go, the best hotel chains in the world based on reviews of travelers on Trip Advisor are:

1. Ritz Carlton
2. 4 Seasons
3. Iberostar
4. Sofitel
5. Westin

In the U.S., the top luxury hotel award went to Dunton Hot Spring in Dolores Colorado. The runner up is a hotel that I have stayed at before, the Libaray in New York City.

Dunton Hot Springs is a unique, exclusive mountain resort deep in the San Juan range of the Colorado Rockies. At first glance it looks like something from a Western - a collection of picturesque wood cabins set against stunning scenery. However, it soon becomes clear that this is a resort that thrives on contradiction, and that fuses history, nature and luxury into one, unforgettable experience. You can choose from four cabins, each with its own personality, each fitted to the highest standards, and each offering wonderful views. From here you can take part in any number of outdoor pursuits: hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, rafting, skiing... the list is almost endless. And after a day in the mountains, you can enjoy a superb meal in the converted saloon, indulge yourself with a treatment in the spa, or - best of all - have a long soak in one of the hot springs themselves, said to have therapeutic qualities.

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Passengers Stuck on Tarmac Sue For False Imprisonment

Taca airline passengers stuck on the ground for hours in Ontario last November have filed suit claiming negligence and false imprisonment.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of 75 plaintiffs, and is seeking $5 million in damages.

The suit claims that 192 passengers on board Taca flight 670 from El Salvador suffered inhumane treatment by being forced to stay on board the plane without enough food, water or fresh air.

The flight was headed to LAX but was diverted to Ontario International Airport due to heavy fog.

The passengers were reportedly held inside the plane because Ontario airport lacked sufficient U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffers to process the passengers.

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Pilots Of Regional Carriers Far From Being Experianced

Pilots and co-pilots for smaller, feeder airlines such as Colgan Air generally earn lower salaries and start with less experience than their counterparts at the bigger mainline carriers.

The captain of Colgan Air Flight 3407 had 31/2 years of experience and nearly 3,400 flight hours at the regional airline; his co-pilot had been on the job barely a year.

By contrast, the average pilot at American Airlines has been there 18 years, according to, a financial-planning company for pilots.

Chesley Sullenberger, who guided his crippled US Airways jet to a safe landing on the Hudson River last month, has spent 28 years and logged nearly 20,000 flight hours at his airline.

It's unclear what role, if any, the Colgan crew's experience level played in Thursday night's crash near Buffalo, N.Y., which killed all 49 people on board and one on the ground. The cause of the crash had not been determined by Friday evening, although speculation centered on ice building up on the plane's wings.

But what is clear, experts say, is that flying for regional airlines can be a grueling existence and a sacrifice that many pilots make in hopes of moving up to a major airline where the pay and hours are better.

Beginning pay for a co-captain on a regional airline can be as low as $18,000 a year, according to Louis Smith, president of

"You won't make a livable income until you get in the left (captain's) seat," Smith said. "Pilots accept this as part of the game, and the companies do it because they can."

Captains on regional airlines may earn far less than the passengers they ferry around the country every day, linking major airline hubs with smaller cities.

According to IAG, an airline industry research firm, Colgan captains make about $58,000 per year and first officers or co-pilots about $27,000.

Starting pay, however, can be much lower. Colgan advertised in late 2007 for a captain's job that paid $40 per flight hour for a guaranteed 75 hours a month -- or about $36,000 a year.

The average pilot at American Airlines makes more than $138,000 a year, according to American.

At regional carriers, "The pay is not as high, the planes are smaller, and they typically have some younger pilots who have less experience when they're hired," said Kit Darby, a former United Airlines captain.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Airline Industries Latest Reason For No Passenger Bill Of Rights

In Canada, which is the first country to have a fighting chance of passing of passenger bill of rights before any other country in the free world, is under attack from the airline industry.

The latest argument against the passenger bill of rights being raised by the airline industry, is that it will raise the cost of travel.

Yes, apparently it is more economical to treat passengers like crap and the airline industry is incapable of increasing customer service, on time rates and lost baggage without raising the cost of air travel.

Airfares will soar if a passenger bill of rights, proposed by Winnipeg MP Jim Maloway, is approved, Canada's airline industry has warned.

Maloway tabled his private member's bill in the House of Commons Tuesday. It proposes significant financial penalties to airlines for delayed or cancelled flights, even if it's due to poor weather, as happened to many Canadians during the Christmas holidays.

Travellers would also be protected when bumped from a flight or if they experience baggage problems. Maloway, who represents the Elmwood-Transcona riding of Winnipeg, is also demanding full disclosure of advertised airfares. The bill would penalize airlines with fines of $10,000 every time the full cost of a flight isn't advertised.

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Now Thats The Way To Decorate A Plane

Southwest Airlines, one of the last airlines to come up with good ideas, has delivered again. They have an exclusive deal with Sports Illustrated to put a swim suit model on the side of one of their planes. That should boost frequent flier moral!

You’ve seen Shamu drop out of the sky before. Why not a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model? Southwest Airlines, in a deal with SI, has plastered a gigantic picture of this year’s cover model, Bar Refaeli, on the side of one of its planes

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Airsick's Douchebag of the Week Winner

An airline passenger whose flight was diverted to Raleigh-Durham International Airport after he was caught smoking in a lavatory pleaded guilty this week to a federal charge of interfering with a flight attendant and crew.

Henry Raymond McDowell Jr., 34, of Coram, N.Y., was on a Nov. 19 Comair flight from New York to Savannah, Ga., when he entered the lavatory, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh said in a news release. The smoke detector went off, and the pilot smelled smoke.

McDowell eventually admitted he had been smoking and had put the cigarette in the toilet, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The pilot decided to divert the plane to RDU, prompting a passenger to make a derogatory comment to McDowell. Prosecutors said McDowell then threatened to kill the passenger and his family.

A flight attendant tried to intervene and was struck twice by McDowell. After other passengers helped get McDowell under control, he was seated near the front of the plane, away from his companion, whom he had been verbally abusing.

McDowell pleaded guilty Tuesday in Greenville before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Daniel. His sentencing is set for the May 4 term of court.

Lawyers in the Federal Public Defender's Office who represented McDowell declined to comment while his case is still pending.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Canadian Parlament Passing Passenger Bill of Rights

While the U.S. can't pass any legislation to address anything meaningful, even in the middle of a recession, Canada is passing a passenger bill of rights.

Airlines that lose your baggage could be fined under a private member's bill proposed by a New Democrat MP to punish the companies for bad customer service.

Manitoba MP Jim Maloway plans to introduce his Passenger's Bill of Rights next week.

The main thrust of it is to force airlines to compensate passengers between $500 and $1,200 each if their flight is cancelled, if they are bumped off their flight because it was overbooked, or if they spend more than an hour in the plane on the tarmac.

But after hearing from colleagues and members of the public since speaking out about his plans, Maloway has added ticket prices and baggage to the list of punishable offences as well.

It would require airlines to advertise ticket prices with the appropriate taxes and fees included. Right now, most airline fares are advertised without those added in, and the extra dollars can sometimes add significantly to the total price of a ticket.

Maloway said he believes airlines should be fined if they don't provide passengers with specific and timely information about the whereabouts of their bags if they do not arrive on the passenger's flight.

Maloway said airlines can do a lot to make passengers happy simply by keeping them informed of delays, cancellations and baggage issues.

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United Starts Cleaning Up Their Act....And Their Planes

The United Airlines jumbo jet was on the ground at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after a flight from Hong Kong, looking as bedraggled as you would imagine, having been inhabited for 13 hours by hundreds of people crammed into close quarters.

Cleaning crews were on the job, but Paul Sanders leaned into a freshly sanitized lavatory, sniffing loudly, his head tilted back for full nasal intake. Beneath a blast of floral-scented disinfectant, he picked up a faint foul odor.

"I'm just not pleased with this bathroom," declared Sanders, eyeing the seemingly spotless lavatory. "Lucy! Lucy!" he bellowed to the supervisor in charge.

If only it had always been this way for the airline industry: a fastidious United manager like Sanders, nicknamed Mr. Clean, charged with ensuring that the glamour of flying was regularly scrubbed and spritzed back into the fleet.

For much of this decade, that had not been the case. Along with flight delays, passengers trapped onboard U.S. airlines were forced to sit amid other people's filth: crumbs, coffee stains, dirty Kleenex in seat back pockets and often far worse detritus in bathrooms as carriers skimped on cleaning to save money.

But airlines now are cleaning up their act and their planes as passengers travel less and become more sought-after customers due to the recession, finally acknowledging gaping service shortfalls that have made flying in the U.S. such a misery in recent years.

Among them, United Airlines is starting to pay greater attention to its planes, after scoring last in a J.D. Power and Associates survey of airline customer service in 2008 and tying with Northwest Airlines for the lowest consumer ranking of its aircraft interiors.

Starting last fall at Chicago's O'Hare, United overhauled both how it tackles dirt and stains on its jets and how often it does so, a process it has since rolled out to 13 other cities.

United used to let each of its airports determine how planes would be cleaned. Now, headquarters sets the tone and the standards, using a process that is broken into simple steps with clear goals that crews can follow, no matter where they are based.

"We want to make sure we use each cleaning agent in the right place, use the right wipes in the right place," said Sanders, whom United hired last year as general manager for cabin appearance. "The last thing we want is for someone to wipe the (lavatories), then use the same wipe on tray tables."

The main reason why United's planes lagged other carriers was because they were cleaned far less frequently than the industry standard, a practice the nation's third-largest carrier adopted during its bankruptcy, when it was conserving cash to survive.

United's aircraft typically would languish for six months between "heavy" cleans, and sometimes as long as every 18 months. That is an intensive scrubbing of the passenger cabin, done every 30 days at many carriers, in which every surface is swabbed, carpet shampooed, nooks and crannies scoured and seat cushion removed and searched for stains.

Now, the intensive cleans are done every 30 days for the smaller United jets that fly within the U.S. and every 15 days for the wide-body aircraft that cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enduring wear and tear during the long flights that can cause planes to become rundown more quickly.

All 409 of United's planes have undergone deep cleaning since the fall, and the aircraft are starting to shed the patina of grime that built up over years of neglect.

The results were visible on a Boeing 747 jumbo jet as a cleaning crew scoured it at O'Hare following the flight from Hong Kong in mid-January. Plastic armrests that had taken on an olive-colored sheen from oil rubbed off of passengers' arms and hands over decades of use are starting to return to the original blue-gray tone they bore when they arrived from the factory.

"A clean armrest after five or six (heavy clean) cycles will look brand new," Sanders said. "You just have to get the grime off."

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Monday, February 2, 2009

A First For Downtown New York Traffic, An Airplane

New York City traffic is famous, but here is something I bet they thought would never be in the mix, an Airbus airplane.

After its miraculous crash landing on the Hudson River last month, the strange journey of US Airways flight 1549 continues. On Saturday the wreckage of the Airbus A320 was plucked from a barge at a marina in Jersey City, placed on a trailer, and driven through the streets of New Jersey to a salvage yard.

New Jersey's Hudson Reporter says "the plane wreckage including the wings and the horizontal and vertical stabilizers were transported by flatbed truck to Supor Industries, a salvage facility, in Harrison where they will be stored for up to 18 months."

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