Friday 8 November, 2002
Good morning.  Several people wrote in reply to my baggage horror story last week, passing on their own equal (or worse!) horror stories.  And other people suggested that the only solution is to carry on all luggage and not check any items.  Yes, in theory I agree with that, but I always travel with a Swiss Army Knife, and both its miniature scissors and 2" knife blade cause it to be a prohibited carryon item.  I'm forced to check my bags.

Talking about carry-on items, the TSA has again slightly liberalized its list of prohibited and permitted items in carry-on.  You can now take corkscrews and butter knives into the cabin with you, for example.  I've updated my page that lists all banned items.

This Week's Column :  Your Rights with Bankrupt Airlines :  National Airlines abruptly ceased operation on Wednesday night.  The last time there were airline bankruptcies (in July) most other airlines failed to follow their legal obligations to help stranded passengers.  What exactly must other airlines do, and what are your rights?  Read this week's column to find out.

The European Court of 'Justice' has just ruled that eight 'open skies' agreements between various EU countries and the US are illegal.  Why?  Because each of these agreements gives advantages to one of the EU countries which the other EU countries don't also get to equally share in!  The court said that these deals discriminated against other airlines and countries that did not sign such deals.  Well - hello - isn't that the whole idea of such agreements - to secure an advantage that your competitors don't have?

Their decision to void these agreements is complicated by the Court not declaring who in the EU is empowered to renegotiate such agreements (presumably for the entire EU).  Additionally, it fails to recognize the bilateral nature of these negotiations - if it thinks the US government is going to just cave in and allow all European carriers to have unrestricted access to the US market (this being the EU's ultimate objective) then they are completely dreaming - after all, the relatively simple UK-US negotiations remain obstinately unresolved after countless years of arguing. 

More nonsense from Boeing.  This article describes Boeing as having to confront a choice between developing either a plane that flies faster (the much hyped Sonic Cruiser concept) or a more fuel efficient plane.  The article describes a more fuel efficient plane as offering potentially a 17%-20% saving in fuel, which it says would result in 'dramatic cuts in airline ticket prices'.  This is, alas, utter nonsense.  Fuel costs represent 15% of an airfare, so if fuel costs were reduced by Boeing's best case 20% scenario, this would result in an imperceptible 3% saving in airfare - always assuming that the airline chose to pass this saving on.  And, in today's environment of money losing airlines, just how much of that 3% do you think you'd ever see as a reduction in your ticket price!

Talking about money losing airlines, American Airlines has extended its new 'rolling hub' scheduling (already in place at ORD) to DFW.  Basically, the 'rolling hub' means that instead of a wave of flights all arriving at about the same time, then all departing again at about the same time (making it convenient for passengers to make short connections), flights arrive and depart on a more staggered basis, evenly throughout the day.  This allows the airline to get better use of its planes and gates and staff, but it also means that the average connect time for passengers lengthens.  What a surprise - what is good for the airline is also bad for its customers.

American claims to believe that, for its business travelers, the most important thing is the cost of the airfare, not the total travel time, and so doesn't think it will lose any business as a result.  Some studies suggest that there could be an increase of as much as 30 minutes in the average connect time between flights.  I don't know about you, but, for me, total flying time is always a factor, and another 30 minutes on top of the extra time already involved in changing planes compared to a nonstop is sufficient as to encourage me to pay a premium for a faster nonstop.  For this reason, some industry analysts fear that AA's cost savings may be offset by equal losses of passenger revenues, a fear confirmed by anecdotal data suggesting that UA has picked up business at AA's expense at ORD, where AA started its rolling hub concept some six months earlier.

And, still talking about money losing airlines, this article suggests that a UA bankruptcy is still likely; one analyst saying that it is 80% probable to occur.  However, UA's share price has soared over the last month, almost trebling in value from its low of $1.42 only a few weeks ago.  Wow - I never thought I'd find myself saying 'I wish I owned some UA shares'!

Let's change the topic and talk about money making airlines.  Conde Nast Traveler just announced that JetBlue won its Best Domestic Airline award based on a reader survey of 28,896 readers.  74% of readers rated JetBlue as Excellent or Very Good.  Second place went to MidWest Express, with a 68% rating, then an enormous drop down to a 44% rating for third placed Alaska Airlines.  Other major airlines were all very closely grouped - AA (39%), CO (38%), UA (35%) and DL (32%).  JetBlue also won the 'Best Airline-Coach' and the 'Best Value' awards.

JetBlue also announced its third quarter operating results.  Revenues doubled compared to the same quarter in 2001, and net income increased slightly from $10.1 million to $12.2 million.  Well done - no-one begrudges any airline making a profit when they provide a fine service at a fair price.

Passenger numbers for the industry as a whole show an increase in Sept 2002 compared to Sept 2001, but of course this is not very meaningful due to the circumstances last September.  A more relevant comparison is to compare 2002 to 2000 - which shows a massive drop of 18%.

This overall loss in passenger traffic explains why DoT figures show that flight delays are at an eight-year low, lost and delayed baggage is at a 15-year low, and flight cancellations and passenger complaints also down compared to last year.

What do you hate most about flying?  Surprisingly, a recent survey on reported that the number one annoyance is having the person behind you kick your seat!  40% of women and 34% of men claimed this was their most bothersome thing.  The lowest scoring annoyance was lack of space in the overheads - only 4% of people referred to this.

Six Continents Hotels - the holding company for Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Holiday Inn Express - discovered on Oct. 29 that its credit processing company accidentally overcharged the credit cards of approximately 26,000 guests for stays between Oct. 24 and Oct. 27.  In many cases, the decimal point was ignored, so, eg, a $250.00 hotel bill became a $25,000 hotel bill.  The good news - not only have almost all the charges already been corrected, but the company is giving complimentary two free night vouchers to people so affected.  Call (800)621-0555 and ask for operator 28 if you were affected.  Kudos to Six Continents for a very fair, prompt and generous settlement.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  Three planes were evacuated, at least 56 flights were delayed and hundreds of people were cleared out of San Jose Airport after what was described as a 'security breach' on Sunday afternoon.  Although the situation was described as a suspicious bag 'slipping past the screeners' the reality is quite different.  A carry on bag was randomly tested for explosives and gave a positive result.  The bag was retested, and this time the test showed negative, so the screener allowed the passenger to take the bag and continue on to the gate.  Some 30 minutes later, a supervisor decided that this wasn't good enough, and so evacuated the airport to rescreen everyone and every bag.  It took six hours for operations to return to normal.  Oh - needless to say, no explosives were found!

What is it about the French?  In my 19 July newsletter I reported on a French man who dropped his trousers during a security search.  Now, a 56 yr old French woman was arrested after stripping to the waist after becoming upset while being wanded at Evansville Airport, IN.  She was initially arrested on a felony (!) count of disorderly conduct, but subsequently charged with two misdemeanors, and has now been fined $1 for each misdemeanor.  I'll not comment on why the fines were so small!

How many times have you been told 'don't drink the water when you go there' when planning a trip to some exotic location.  But how about 'don't drink the water while you're getting there' as well!  A Wall St Journal article resurrected what travel insiders have known for a long time - the water that comes out of the taps on planes is absolutely not drinkable.  They took water samples from different airlines which showed fecal type bacteria levels as much as 8,000 times higher than US Government safety levels!  Other samples contained salmonella and eggs that quickly hatched into maggots.

Don't ever drink water from a tap on a plane, and if you're asking for a glass of water, be aware that, frequently, when the bottled water runs out, the flight attendants will just refill the water jug from a tap.

Lastly, bad news for Sioux City, Iowa.  The FAA denied their request to change their airport's three letter code.  It will remain as SUX.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.  And, 'don't drink the water'.

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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