Friday 29 November, 2002
Good morning.  I hope that your Thanksgiving yesterday was as excellent as possible, and, if you're reading this from work on Friday morning, you have my sympathies and commiserations!

Did you eat too much?  Probably not, according to a CNN survey that suggests that most people only add one extra pound over the holiday.  Earlier studies had suggested a weight gain of as much as seven pounds!

And, as those of you who traveled for the holiday weekend already know, it appears that all went smoothly at airports with most security lines keeping to the TSA objective of no more than a 10 minute delay.  Some people still erred on the side of caution, including one person who arrived at our local airport the day before Thanksgiving, five hours prior to his flight to Los Angeles!

Talking about erring on the side of caution, now that we have the TSA reliably keeping screening delays down to ten minutes, plus automated checkin machines and even web checkin at home, can someone explain to me why it is that Alaska Airlines still require people to arrive two hours prior to departure?  I bought tickets from them last week and the reservationist insisted that I be at the airport two hours early.  At the most, ten minutes to check in (or zero minutes if I do a web check-in the previous day!), ten minutes to go through security, ten minutes to get to the gate - what am I going to do for the other hour and a half?

The airlines now concede that their loss of business is due, in significant part, to the ridiculous inconvenience they impose on their passengers.  So, now that two hour lead times are no longer necessary, why do they continue to damage their own business by insisting on such stupid requirements?

In view of the Thanksgiving Holiday there will be no feature column this week.  But the newsletter is a bit longer than normal.

My comments about pilots provoked several letters from the more mathematically minded of you who, observing that an increase from 570 to 1000 hours would be a lot more than a 50% increase in productivity.  (A 50% increase would take their duty time up to 855 hours a year, going to 1000 hours would be a 75% increase).  Whatever the number, it would seem that pilots can materially increase their flown hours before running afoul of the FAA 1000 hr/year maximum.

I also received a well reasoned and interesting email from Pilot Gregg.  I'm creating a new page that will contain a transcript of our discussion on pilot related issues - look for it next week.  If you have comments and opinions to share, please send them on in.

USA Today published an excellent article that breaks down airline operating costs as part of a general review of United Airlines' present problems.  The largest cost is for salaries and wages - 38.4% of the typical airline's costs go in this category.  Fuel costs - the number two expense - represent only 11.6%.  Interestingly, the pay rises UA gave its staff in 2000 cost more than the increase in jet fuel that year.  They were quick to add fuel surcharges to their ticket prices; I suppose we should be grateful that they didn't add 'pilot surcharges' also!

Have you noticed something slightly different about this newsletter?  I'm in the process of phasing out the former website and phasing in a new one ( - hopefully this will occur with both sets of urls working simultaneously, but if you notice any problems, please let me know.

There are interesting goings on beneath the surface of the airline alliances at present.  This article discusses the implications of a UA collapse for the Star Alliance.  They speculate that perhaps Star might then invite AA to join, which would disrupt the competing oneworld alliance, and also probably destroy AA's on-again off-again partnership with BA.

In addition, this week saw Qantas conclude a protracted negotiation to buy 22.5% of arch-rival Air New Zealand, with the two airlines introducing substantial code sharing on their routes.  Although still subject to government approval in both NZ and Australia, if/when the deal is approved (expected in early 2003) one wonders what will happen to the alliances they each belong to.  Qantas (which is in turn 25% owned by BA) is a member of oneworld, while Air NZ belongs to Star.

As ridiculous as it sounds, it is beginning to seem like there is not room for two mega-alliances in the industry!  At present, the various attempts by airlines to create a third or fourth alliance have never achieved the level of prominence of the big two, and at present the big two seem like they may implode into a bigger one and a smaller second alliance.

Some good news for both Qantas and Air New Zealand, and their passengers, too.  After negotiations involving 40 countries, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has developed more direct flying routes from Australia to the Middle East and Europe.  The new routes will cut 30 minutes off the London - Sydney flying time, and will save 25,000 tons of jetfuel per year.

Incidentally, Qantas just announced plans to fly its own planes to Chicago three times a week.  And it also (again!) won one of Business Traveler Magazine's 14th Annual Readers' Choice Awards, for the best airline to Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.  Overall airline winner was Singapore Airlines, and best airport went to Singapore Changi Airport.

Another set of winners comes from a travel management company, GetThere, who identified the top ten US cities in which to hold corporate meetings, based on cost.  Jacksonville, FL, came first, followed by Indianapolis, Atlanta, Tucson, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Chicago, New Orleans, Tampa, and Philadelphia.  The rankings were based on hotel room rates, estimated food and beverage expenses and meeting room rental rates, as well as more than 250,000 potential air fares.  I find the results surprising; and can think of plenty of cheaper seeming cities not mentioned (eg Orlando).

Delta is expanding its 'test' of lower business class fares that I wrote about last week.  It has added another 1550 city pairs that have reduced fares.  The fares are reduced, but not simplified - they have added nine new price points for each city pair!

Bad news for train buffs.  David Gunn, Amtrak's new president, said last week that high-speed service 'is years, if not decades, off'.  He said that the notion of 150mph trains - formerly a centerpiece of Amtrak's vision for the near future, was, at best, a fanciful daydream.  Such fantasies reached a fever pitch after the launch of Acela Express service in the Northeast when Amtrak rolled out a plan to use Chicago as a hub for high-speed service to several nearby cities.  But, Gunn said, it would cost billions to electrify tracks and to acquire the high-speed trains to establish such services.

Add the environmental studies that surely would proceed the service, and "it will be 10 years before you can even get on a train," Gunn said, adding that a better way would be to use existing "higher-speed" trains, which travel at 90 to 110 mph, and develop the service over time.

Canada's largest airline, Air Canada, is to be delisted from NASDAQ due to having too low a share price.  It will continue to be traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Third time (un)lucky?  An emergency directive was sent out by the FAA on Sunday, ordering airlines with 747s, 757s, and modern 737s to keep enough fuel in their tanks to cover the fuel pumps at the bottom, so as to prevent the possibility of a fire or explosion.  In August, the FAA had asked airlines to do this while they checked to see if some types of these pumps were likely to give off sparks that could create an explosion in a largely empty fuel tank.  And then in September, they repeated the request until the pumps could be X-rayed to check for possibly faulty wiring.  The latest development occurred after pumps in two 747s, which were proven to be correctly wired, overheated.

Although it is now over a month since I faxed to British Airways asking for compensation for my delayed luggage and flights (they have yet to reply); but at least I got my bags back.  In September 1989 a passenger lost his briefcase on a UA flight that has now - 13 years later - been found and returned.  The case was returned after it was found on a shelf in a security office in San Francisco.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  It is generally expected that terrorists will choose to take the easiest, rather than the most difficult, approach to their acts of terror.  And so, as we strengthen the security for airplane passengers and their baggage, it is time to think of the airplane's security in a broader context.  This was vividly demonstrated on Thursday when an Israeli 757 charter narrowly escaped destruction after two missiles were fired at it, immediately after take off from Mombasa.

While it appears that these missiles were probably SAM-7 or SAM-9 missiles, there are a large number of US Stinger missiles unaccounted for, dating back to when they were being given to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.  A Stinger missile has a 5 mile range and can hit planes at altitudes of up to 10,000 ft.  If used correctly against passenger planes at their point of maximum vulnerability (immediately after take off) they would have close to a 100% hit rate.  How can we protect against a missile attack against a plane?  Especially with so many airports being in the heart of a built up area that can not be cordoned off?  We can't protect against this type of threat at all.

If there's one thing that Thanksgiving always signifies, it is the start of the crazy Christmas shopping season.  And so, with that in mind, here is a list of the top ten shopping destinations, courtesy of travel research company DK Shifflet.

  • 10. Phoenix, Ariz. “Boutique malls attract over 10 million visitors annually to this Southwest mecca.”
  • 9. San Diego “Horton Plaza in the heart of the city’s Gaslamp District is an architectural maze that includes the Lyceum Theatre, a prominent live theater that features drama and musical comedy.”
  • 8. Minneapolis “Home to the Mall of America, the largest such shopping center in the U.S., children like the action at Knott’s Camp Snoopy, especially the indoor roller coaster”
  • 7. Gatlinburg, Tenn. “Smoky Mountains serve as a backdrop for quaint shops filled with wood carvings and folk art.”
  • 6. San Francisco “Ghiradelli Square is more than a miscellany of brick structures in a touristy part of the city, it is an enduring symbol of entrepreneurial success.”
  • 5. Atlanta “Lenox Square is the largest mall in the Southeast and the center for upscale shopping.”
  • 4. New York “From Madison Avenue to Soho, the Big Apple is still a hit.”
  • 3. Chicago “State Street is better than ever since Marshall Field’s and Carson’s underwent renovations.”
  • 2. Las Vegas, Nev. "The family-friendly Boulevard mall has the Big Paw Club for Kids."
  • 1. Orlando, Fla. “Walt Disney World’s Disney Village Marketplace has something for everyone, including on-the-premises boat rentals.”

Another thing for many people during November and December is more travel than normal.  Here's a fascinating article about a new type of personality test that predicts if you're likely to get in an accident or not.  They have a simplified sample test online as well.

Lastly, under the heading of things to be thankful for this holiday weekend, be thankful that you don't live in South Buffalo Township, PA.  Homeowner Nina Cadamore said that on Nov. 13 she found purple, blue and black clumps covering her South Buffalo Township home, sidewalk, swimming pool cover and her mother-in-law's car.  And what were the purple, blue and black clumps?  The FAA are attempting to determine if they may be lavatory waste from a passenger jet.

At higher altitudes, leaks sometimes form in jet lavatories and as the jet descends, the ice formed at high altitudes warms and begins to fall off the plane, said FAA spokeswoman Holly Baker. The FAA's Allegheny County flight standards office is investigating to determine if the material is in fact "blue ice," a term for airline lavatory waste, and whether it can be traced to a single plane.  US Airways sent a cleanup crew to Cadamore's house on Monday, but insisted it was not one of their planes.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.  And don't look up next time a plane flies overhead!

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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