Friday 2 August, 2002
Good morning.  With the endemic hot weather all around, a new service offered by a commuter train company in Japan seems almost sensible.  Customers on Fuji Kyuko's Friday night 'beer run' can sit back and enjoy a two hour trip while enjoying unlimited beer.  There is only one small problem - the train has no toilets on board!

This Week's Column :  Going it Alone? :  Almost one in three adult Americans is single, one in four of us has taken a vacation alone during the last three years, and, on average, the typical American will spend more of their life between 15-85 single than with a partner.  But few of us enjoy traveling alone, or welcome the dreaded 'single supplement' that is often imposed in such cases.  The good news is that specialty travel companies are springing up to provide interesting, affordable, and sometimes even romantic solutions for single travelers.  Read more in the column.

This Week's 'Wake up and come back to Planet Earth' award goes to Singapore Airlines pilots Captain Foong and First Officer Latiff, and the union they belong to.  They were in charge of the 747 that crashed in Taiwan in 2000, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.  They tried to take off on - ooops - the wrong runway and crashed into construction equipment.  After being stood down for flying duties since the event, and now that Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council ruled pilot error and bad weather as the causes for the accident, Singapore Airlines fired the two pilots.  And so, in response to this, and earning the award, a spokesman for the Pilots Union said that the terminations came as 'a shock'.  And, to make certain of winning the award, the spokesman added 'As to why they are terminated, it confounds us'.

And, talking about Planet Earth, military officials confirm that two F-16 jets were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday after radar detected an unknown aircraft in the Washington area airspace.  But what was the unknown aircraft?  A NORAD spokesman said 'Everything was fine in the sky, so they returned home'.  Other military officials say they don't know what the jets were chasing, because whatever it was just disappeared - a startling circumstance that they seem curiously uninterested in!  But some area residents think they know what it is that the Air Force is not disclosing.  They sighted a light-blue object, traveling at a phenomenal rate of speed, with the F-16s unable to catch it, and described it variously as a UFO or 'a shooting star without any trailing tail', and traveling silently.  Is it possible that al Qaida may have added UFO's to their arsenal?  ☺

Perhaps it was concerns such as these that caused a Williamsburg, VA man to open fire with his rifle at a helicopter landing in a residential neighborhood.  The man became alarmed when he saw the chopper swoop down over his garage as it proceeded to land a block away, where it was to collect a passenger.  He explained to the police 'Maybe I overreacted, but I did feel this was terrorism at its utmost', and described his shooting at the helicopter as 'a natural reaction' after having watched the events of 11 Sept.  He was subsequently charged with interfering with an aircraft, discharging a firearm in a public place, reckless handling of a firearm and assaulting the pilot.  He faces up to eight years in prison and $10,000 in fines if convicted.

130 passengers in Nice also took direct action, but in a less deadly manner.  They were passengers on an Easyjet flight returning to Britain.  As the flight was about to take off, they were told that their flight was being cancelled so that the plane could be reassigned to a different flight, replacing a plane that had developed a problem.  The passengers were asked to deplane and await a replacement aircraft, some hours later.  130 of the 140 passengers simply refused to move and staged a sit-in on their plane!  Accepting the inevitable, Easyjet capitulated and allowed them to fly on their original flight back home.

Which reminds me of last week's story about the delays a passenger experienced flying with United.  Reader Jim wondered if there wasn't another side to the story, and wrote

In the interests of fairness re the UA incident, it's the pilots who make the calculations and decisions. I suspect most people think it's the ground staff who are jerking them around and that there's some hidden agenda. I, for one, would not want to be a passenger on an overloaded plane attempting to take off on a hot day from a high-altitude airport surrounded by mountains. While I'd admit the constantly-changing story must have been hard to swallow, it might have been that weather conditions were changing rather rapidly. I really think it's important that your readers get the other side of the story in cases like this one. Since you're not the writer (in the case of this story) it's hard to say how much information your reader chose NOT to share about the situation (how much was shared by the ground staff and crew while the situation was unfolding) but then it would have lacked the impact that frequent-flyers seem to relish when telling a "can-you-believe-this-crap" story.

I asked these questions of the hapless passenger, who replied

The pilot did his best to keep us informed. We sat on the runway for about 1/2 hour "waiting for a headwind" that he said we would need to take off, then we headed back to the terminal.

The point was that no one doubted that it was unsafe to try to take off, it was United's bumbling after that....they seemed unable to make a decision and kept changing their story.

One thing I neglected to include: the gate representative who first got on the plane and told us either 30 had to get off or your baggage all goes off, said (and I quote): "so you guys decide what you want to do. It's up to you." We were incredulous.....people said, we are voting on this? Then a few minutes later, she said, well, since no one is getting off (again, no incentive) I guess your luggage goes off. Then the pilot came on and talked about the fuel download option......United appeared to have no plan.

I'll let you form your own conclusions.

Another drunken pilot? A pilot employed by a wholly owned regional commuter subsidiary of Delta was stopped and tested after airport security agents smelled alcohol on his breath immediately before he was to fly as first officer on a flight between Wilmington, NC and Atlanta.  The FAA are investigating.  Two days later (Wednesday) the pilot announced his resignation.  Again, I'll let you form your own conclusions.

Airbus scores again.  This time, a sale of 18 planes, mainly A320s, to Aeroflot.  Well done Airbus.  The NY Times had a good article on the state of the aircraft building industry last week.

And, at the Farnborough Airshow, Airbus scored yet again, when Virgin Atlantic showcased its newest aircraft, the A340-600.  Virgin is the launch customer for the new Airbus, which is the longest aircraft in the world at 247 ft, 16 feet longer than any other commercial plane.  The aircraft was named 'Claudia Nine' by supermodel Claudia Schiffer at a newly built hanger at Heathrow and then flown to Farnborough to go on display.  The plane features many onboard improvements including a redesigned onboard bar and inflight beauty therapy area in Upper Class and new ergonomically designed seats for both Premium economy and economy passengers.  The aircraft has the most advanced inflight entertainment system in the world which provides passengers with up to 300 hours of video on demand, 14 audio on demand channels and 15 computer games.  Each passenger's personal screen is 9" in economy and 10.4" in Upper Class, the largest in the industry.  The new aircraft will be used  between Heathrow and JFK.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  Is there anyone reading this that hasn't already heard of the woman suing Delta airlines for negligence, intentional infliction of distress and gender discrimination?  A Delta security agent paged her over the airport PA in Dallas, to tell her that there was something vibrating in one of her bags, and required her to remove and hold up, in a public area, the offending item - ahem, a vibrator.  But, no, amusing as it is, this doesn't really win a horror story award.  I am reminded of a person I know who deliberately packs the most embarrassing 'marital aid' he can think of on top in his carry-on bag - he reports that most times, when security people sight this object, they immediately stop searching and close the bag up!  (And perhaps this should be a security horror story.)

Instead, this week's horror story is a simple comment on a simple fact.  The airlines themselves estimate that security inconveniences are causing them to lose $3.8 billion in revenue this year alone.  And the horror of this is - if their figure is correct, why aren't the airlines spending some reasonable percentage of this sum to help improve conditions and to make air travel bearable once more.  It is impossible to understand the stupidity of the airline executives when they say 'the inconvenience of travel is costing us $3.8 billion in revenue this year' and then do nothing substantial to help solve the problem!  Here's a good story on the subject.

Lastly, have you noticed how these days public survey results are used to justify the actions and opinions of companies, politicians, and just about everyone else.  If you're like me, you hopefully have a great dose of healthy skepticism about such surveys (my classic example being the various sex surveys that claim to 'prove' that heterosexual men have twice as much sex as heterosexual women - the unanswered question being 'so who are they having all that extra sex with?'!  Here's an amusing newspaper column that takes a look at many such surveys, including the survey sponsored by Immodium that claims the number one stress factor for Americans on their vacations is, ummm,  the lack of clean bathrooms!

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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