Friday 12 July, 2002
Good morning.  Last week's newsletter set a new record for 'I'm out of the office' automatic replies - I suspect a great many readers took Friday off and enjoyed a four day weekend!

One comment about 'I'm out of the office' autoresponders.  These can be very useful, but they can also be very dangerous.  A friend of mine returned after an absence to find her inbox overflowing with more than 50,000 messages!!!  While away, she had received an email newsletter, and so her autoresponder sent a message back saying 'I'm out of the office'.  The newsletter program then sent a message back to her saying 'you are not authorized to post messages to this newsletter', and her autoresponder sent a message back, and the two programs emailed each other continually for a week.

If you use an autoresponder, do one of two things - ensure that the autoresponder's 'reply to' address will not trigger another auto-response, or enable a 'send only one message to each person' option if available.  Otherwise, you too might find yourself with 50,000 messages!

This Week's Column :  Fixing Fares - A Do-It-Yourself Guide :  Thanks to everyone that wrote in with suggestions on improving airfares to make them more fair and to encourage people to travel more.  There was no room for all the excellent suggestions this week; I hope to feature more in another column on this topic in the future.

Now that we are starting to get a clearer perspective of last week's tragic mid-air collision in Europe, it is interesting to note that the 'talking heads' who were so quick to rush to judgment and blame either the Russian plane or its pilot have now all fallen silent.  Increasingly it seems that the only thing the Russian pilot did wrong was to follow the orders of the Swiss air controller!

At the time of the incident the Swiss control center's collision warning system was out of action for maintenance, a telephone network was not functioning, and one of the two duty controllers was absent.  The automatic cockpit warning systems in the two planes correctly instructed the DHL plane to descend and the Russian plane to climb, but the air traffic controller contradicted this and ordered the Russian plane to also descend!  After the Russian pilot did not respond, the controller repeated his order and the pilot complied.  Thirty seconds later the two planes collided.

A plane that flies twice as fast as Concorde, and carries three times as many people!  Wow.  I've reported several times on Boeing's less-than-revolutionary Sonic Cruiser concept, but this new plane will be five times faster than the Sonic Cruiser and carry twice as many people.  It will have low noise properties so it can fly anywhere (unlike Concorde), and commercial flights may start as soon as 2012.  Sounds amazing, doesn't it!

And who is developing this new super-plane?  No, not Boeing.  And neither is it Airbus.  A Japanese consortium, including Mitsubishi and Nissan are the developers.  Regular readers know I've been worrying about Boeing losing its market supremacy to Airbus, but perhaps the real threat, and to both established manufacturers, is from across the Pacific?  For now, I don't care who makes it; a plane that will fly up to 6350 miles with 300 passengers, and at 4.5 times the speed of sound will surely revolutionize air travel and represents the next major step forward subsequent to the 747's release in 1970.  Imagine - flying from just about anywhere in the US to most places in Europe in 2-3 hours!

Meanwhile, Boeing continues to come up with attempted responses to the Airbus A380 'super-jumbo'.  They've now blown the dust off an old concept that was revived for the B2 bomber and are offering it up as a passenger plane - an 'all wing' plane that could carry 480 passengers while using 32% less fuel than the A380.  But don't expect it anytime soon - the project is currently unfunded and my guess is that the Japanese supersonic plane will beat it into commercial service.

One drawback of the new plane concept is that, due to its shape, there would be no windows.  Boeing says that its research indicates that passengers would not mind being in a windowless space for hours at a time!  More details about this plane here.

While we're talking about airplane manufacturing, here's an interesting trivia question - which country used to manufacture and sell up to 2500 planes a year until about ten years ago, but now, last year, only sold four?  Answer next week.

Arming pilots takes a step further to becoming reality.  Congress approved legislation, 310-113, on Wednesday authorizing pilots to be armed.  The measure was passed in an expanded form - there is now no cap on the number of pilots that could be armed and the earlier limitation on the program of two years has been removed.  However, the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where key leaders do not support arming pilots.  The Bush administration also opposes it, saying stronger cockpit doors and undercover armed agents aboard aircraft were sufficient security steps and safer than arming pilots with deadly force.

Several readers wrote to me to ask why I didn't comment on the two drunk America West pilots in Miami last week.  My answer - I couldn't think of any additional expressions of outrage over and above those which all right-thinking people already had expressed.  But there seems to be something about Miami - it now transpires that two months ago, an AeroMexico pilot was also caught, drunk, while getting ready to fly a passenger flight out of Miami.  Screeners noticed alcohol on his breath.  Police were called and, after the pilot agreed, he was given a sobriety test. He failed and was not allowed on the plane, but was not arrested because he had not entered the plane (they should have waited until he did!).  An AeroMexico spokesman said the pilot, who lives in Mexico, was fired after the airline learned of the incident.

Makes you wonder how many other such incidents escape the spotlight of public attention, doesn't it!  One lady earlier this week either wondered this, or made a joke about it, which caused her to be featured in this week's horror story.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  A lady passenger on an America West flight leaving San Francisco jokingly asked a crew member if the pilots had been checked for sobriety.  Big mistake!  An airport spokesman said the incident occurred shortly after boarding and the crew made the decision to take the passenger off the plane after determining the remarks constituted a potential security problem. "While this passenger may have been joking it is difficult to determine if someone is joking or serious. We take any comment regarding safety seriously."  An America West spokesman subsequently said 'This kind of situation, in light of recent events, is new to us. I'm not sure if how we acted was harsh or not harsh. We thought at the time, it was the right thing to do.'

Let me help the America West spokesman resolve his uncertainty.  The actions of the airline and the airport authorities were not only harsh but also just plain dumb.  There was no security problem.  There is no suggestion that the woman did anything inappropriate other than make a quiet comment to a flight attendant about the sobriety of the pilots.  Many people are nervous travelers at the best of times, causing them to 'worry out loud' or to ineptly attempt to make a joke to relieve their tension.  Any organization that cares in the slightest about customer service would have tried to reassure the woman and make light of the situation; only an ignorant airline would deem this a 'potential security problem' and choose to 'escort' the woman off the plane and refuse to fly her.  And, if you don't want passengers making jokes about your pilots' sobriety, well - make sure your pilots are always 100% sober!  The unfortunate woman, who will probably never say anything again, to anyone, anywhere near an America West plane, subsequently flew to her destination on a different airline.

Last week's horror story was about the lady who was arrested when arguing about taking competition boomerangs onto a plane (while other people were being allowed to take tennis racquets onboard).  I said then that the lady was an attorney and guessed we hadn't heard the last of this story.  It now appears that the US Boomerang Association is hiring an aerodynamic expert to prove that boomerangs aren't dangerous (for those people that can't tell this obvious fact by looking at the small and very lightweight fragile objects).  Here's a good follow-up story.

This week's 'spin doctor of the week' award goes to beleaguered Air New Zealand.  What with a possible pilot strike next Friday and perhaps also a Qantas take-over in some form, they still haven't managed to work themselves free of the mess following the failure of their Ansett Airlines subsidiary in Australia, almost a year ago.  An investigation into the collapse of Ansett by the Australian equivalent of the SEC concluded this week with a decision not to prosecute Air NZ for any violations of Australian law.  Air NZ's chairman, in responding to this decision, said 'The company and its former and present directors and executives have believed throughout the process that during the difficult period under investigation, the company had endeavored in good faith to meet its obligations to the financial markets and the wider public'.

And what exactly did the Australian SEC say in their decision to win Air NZ's response a 'spin doctor of the week award'?  'We are unable to dismiss the possibility that Air New Zealand's level of disclosure concerning its own and/or Ansett's forecast losses for the 2000-2001 financial year may have been, at certain times during that year, misleading and deceptive within the meaning of the Trade Practices Act'!  (Ansett, Australia's former second largest airline, collapsed in September last year, owing its employees A$779 million ($439 million) and unsecured creditors more than A$2 billion.)

Lastly, thanks to reader Tom for submitting  this week's 'brilliant piece of deduction' awardDennis Lormel, the head of the FBI unit investigating the financing of the Sept. 11 plot, said the FBI had discovered direct financial connections between members of the four hijacking groups involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, providing 'some of the most concrete evidence yet uncovered that the 19 men involved closely coordinated their actions.'

Writes Tom :  Duh, let's think this one through :  Four aircraft hijacked on the same morning and crashed or intended to crash into four significant buildings in New York and Washington within 30 minutes of each other is NOT already concrete evidence that these people coordinated their actions?

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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