Upgraded: The notion of a contract in air travel
Downgraded: Airline logistics

The Department of Transportation has revealed sweeping new rules that govern airlines’ conduct, but implementation and enforcement will not be as easy as passing a new rule. Most headlines read that this is a big victory for passenger rights, with the bulk of the attention focused on a new 3-hour limit on time spent aboard a plane, pushed away from the gate. That’s something but this won’t please everybody. (If your flight would be able to take off 3 hours and 5 minutes after pushback, tough luck, you’re heading back to the gate at the 3 hour mark…) Ground delays suck. No doubt. But There will be unintended consequences, and airlines will find ways to address these logistical challenges.

More importantly, in my view, the rules include a provision that airlines can’t retroactively change the contract governing your ticket. This has always struck me as patently unfair: You buy your ticket in January for a March flight, and the airline changes its rules in February; until now, you’ve been stuck with the February contract. Now, the federal government has ruled that you’re covered by the original contract in effect when you made your purchase. Good.

Chris Elliott has pulled the highlights from the actual rules, if you want to review.

Downgraded: Globespan Airlines
Potentially Downgraded: Credit card processors

Scotland’s Globespan Airlines shut down abruptly over the weekend, stranding 4500 travelers mid-trip. For the time being, guidance from the company on rebookings, is available on the former airline’s website. But questions now turn to whether or not the airline’s credit card processor was to blame for the immediate death knell. The processor, E-clear, apparently held back between £30m and £35m due to Globespan. You may recall that Frontier Airlines blamed their credit card processor when they declared bankruptcy in 2008 (though they didn’t halt all operations at that point).

Upgraded, after days of being Downgraded: Eurostar
English Channel rail firm Eurostar had a miserable (and well-publicized) weekend, with a complete shutdown of all their trains, midway through the Channel crossing. And the company handled things rather poorly. For example:

When worried passengers [aboard the trains] challenged Eurostar officials they received a cursory shrug. Some became so desperate for information that they banged on the train driver’s door but could only hear him sobbing inside.

Awesome. That’s the kind of leadership in a crisis I look for… But the company is resuming service and has promised to make it up to the thousands of passengers it stranded, not just in the tunnels, but on both sides of the channel. They’ve vowed that “the company would reimburse them for expenses incurred while they were stranded.”

Upgraded: The number of stars in the Parisian hotel sky
Four stars? Not enough. Bring on the fifth star. At least they haven’t gone the way of the absurdist 6 and 7 star hotel…

Upgraded: Biofuels
A Seattle company has put in motion plans to create a large-scale biofuels operation aimed specifically at airlines. AltAir Fuels has signed up 14 airlines to be launch customers for jet fuel and diesel made from camelina, a mustard-like weed whose seeds can be refined.

airborne Upgrades and Downgrades    Airborne, maintenance, special luggage delivery, the rebirth of Skybus (sorta), and more

Downgraded: Airborne
I’ve always found the boxes of Airborne nutritional supplements to be silly (a healthcare product that proudly proclaims it’s “created by a schoolteacher!”). But now, they’ve been forced to change their packaging. Gone are the germs, the sick people, and the claim to prevent inflight illness.

Downgraded: Airline maintenance
A frightening report on outsourced aircraft maintenance companies, where some staff can’t read the instructions. Shudder… (via Consumerist)

Downgraded: First class on Qantas
Like everyone else, Australia’s Qantas is feeling the pinch. First class has been removed from flights to San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Melbourne-Hong Kong-London routes. Not much of a loss, really, since business class is where the action is.

Upgraded: the environment
A positive side effect of the economic slowdown: Fewer flights means less pollution.

Upgraded: US Airways luggage delivery
The passengers whose flight landed in the Hudson River have gotten their luggage and belongings back, including things left behind on the seats. Nice! I just hope that getting your stuff doesn’t always require such dramatic landings…

Upgraded: Momondo
Danish airfare aggregator (reviewed here previously) just got an upgrade, by including Ryanair fares in its searches. That’s a big change for the ultra-discounter, which has kept its fares exclusively on its own website until now.

Downgraded: Exit rows on Qantas
Qantas will start charging an extra fee for the exit rows. They’re not the first, but still, annoying. (Thanks, Rob!)

Downgraded: Business sense
If a business model failed miserably for Skybus, I’m sure it’ll work just fine a year later, in a significantly worse financial climate, right? Right? JetAmerica, a new startup, is trying out the Skybus model themselves, with 9 seats for $9 on every flight. Minneapolis and Newark are the biggest destinations, but the operations are run through Toledo. Cranky has the rundown. Who wants to start the bankruptcy countdown pool?

Downgraded: Hertz
Oh, Hertz… you were always a class act among car rental firms. But then you go and buy the remains of my least favorite US rental chain, Advantage Rent a Car, out of bankruptcy. Sure, Hertz gets a low-rent name that can appeal to downmarket customers. But don’t they know that when you lie with dogs, you get fleas?

Upgraded: Air
A bright side of the downturn: The recession means less travel. Which means less pollution. (Duh.) 8% lower carbon emissions by the industry as a whole, in fact.

Upgraded: The Race Card
Without any additional comment… video of Steven Colbert on the Visa Black Card:


Global warming has the residents of the Maldives worried. Their entire country has a maximum five feet elevation of over sea level. And their new government has a plan to fix it. But if you’re interested in experiencing the country’s pristine waters, you may want to make plans to visit now rather than later:

The Maldives will begin to divert a portion of the country’s billion-dollar annual tourist revenue into buying a new homeland – as an insurance policy against climate change that threatens to turn the 300,000 islanders into environmental refugees, the country’s first democratically elected president has told the Guardian.

…Sri Lanka and India were targets because they had similar cultures, cuisines and climates. Australia was also being considered because of the amount of unoccupied land available.

“We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades,” he said.

Environmentalists say the issue raises the question of what rights citizens have if their homeland no longer exists. “It’s an unprecedented wake-up call,” said Tom Picken, head of international climate change at Friends of the Earth. “The Maldives is left to fend for itself. It is a victim of climate change caused by rich countries.”

Most of the population of the Maldives is concentrated on one island — Male — which contrasts with the rest of the resort-studded archipelago. Check out this density:

male maldives Maldives looking for land for escape from rising seas

And for some scale, click here to see the island in context — next to the airport.

Categorized in: environmentalism

airplane tug Airports: More towing = less fuel burn

Carbon footprint measurers take note: Chicago O’Hare is taking steps to reduce the fuel burned by aircraft while they’re still on the ground.

It’s a worthy target: The jet fuel spent by commercial aircraft when taxiing can run in the hundreds of gallons if the plane idles long enough. For every minute the plane isn’t in the air, but the engines are on, it’s essentially wasted energy. That’s a lot of carbon — and a lot of money. Enter the entrepreneurs:

[Executives at UST Aviation Services, the company providing towing services at O'Hare,] think they have a better idea and hope the airlines will let the firm do the driving between O’Hare passenger terminals and maintenance hangars. [emphasis added]

UST has purchased a high-speed push tractor that lifts a plane’s nose gear off the tarmac and tows the jet with the plane’s engines off.

The German-made tractor burns less than a half-gallon of diesel fuel per minute, compared with almost 6 gallons of the more expensive jet fuel that a 757 burns each minute while taxiing, said Mayank Tripathi, president of UST.

This is similar to something Richard Branson was pitching to Chicago and other airports a couple years ago. But Branson wanted planes towed from the gate to the runway. Gate-to-runway towing is unfortunately laden with risk of delays. The fuel savings only actually happen if the plane is able to take off immediately. If there’s a line-up, you need a huge army of tugs (which isn’t economical) or the plane has to fire up the engines to inch forward, which negates any carbon benefit.

Towing a plane to the hangar isn’t nearly as impactful as towing to the runway would be, but still, it’s a good step!


Categorized in: airports, environmentalism
Posted by: Mark Ashley

dirty airplane exhaust A carbon negative airport?

Reader Michelle sends in a link about the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey’s plan to make the outlying Stewart Airport “carbon-negative.” Carbon-negative? So flying from Stewart actually HELPS the environment? Uhh, yeah.

In reality, the airport would offset the carbon dioxide produced on its premises by planting forests wholesale. All well and good. But is it realistic to expect an airport to counteract all of the fossil fuel burning machines that grace its pavement? And then some?

I don’t buy it. Airports aren’t exactly minty-fresh. Never have been, and as long as their tenants burn hydrocarbons, they won’t be. Offsetting the pollution they create is an honorable goal, but face it, that’s a lot of trees. Especially if the airport is expected to grow.

And it doesn’t help the local environment. “People who live around Stewart have concerns that expanded operations will exacerbate air and noise pollution and fuel sprawling development.” Indeed, I’m sure they will. And planting trees fifty, a hundred, or a thousand miles away won’t fix that.

This is a “greenwashing” PR stunt.


Categorized in: airlines, environmentalism