06
Sep
2010

airplane autopilot Upgrades and Downgrades: Labor Day edition
It’s Labor Day in the U.S. of A., so enjoy these nuggets, in celebration of employment:

Downgraded: Ryanair pilots and flight attendants
Downgraded: Traditional media’s fact-checking

Ryanair never shies away from publicity, even if it means floating a dumb idea that will never happen but will make it look wacky (and cheap). So it’s really no surprise that the airline’s camera-chasing CEO Michael O’Leary has declared that airlines should ditch the second pilot in the cockpit (“Why does every plane have two pilots? Really, you only need one pilot. [...] Let’s take out the second pilot. Let the bloody computer fly it.”) Instead, he proposes training a flight attendant to serve as co-pilot (“If the pilot has an emergency, he rings the bell, he calls her in. She could take over.”)

Ryanair pilots and flight attendants alike must be thrilled that their boss is rhetorically throwing them under the bus. But it’ll never happen. As Steven Frischling has pointed out, “The Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), a multi-national organization that oversees the common safety and regulatory standards for more than 40 nations in Europe, says that Ryanair cannot operate in this manner as per JAR-OPS Subpart N, 1.940(A)(1) & 1.940(A)(2) (Page 1-N-1 of the JAA Joint Aviation Requirements JAR-OPS 1, Commercial Air Transportation Aeroplanes).”

Nicely sleuthed, Steve! And thumbs down for the traditional media that served as stenographers for the “Duke of Discomfort,” rather than checking to see if any of these off-the-wall ideas were ever possible.

Upgraded: Pilots… elsewhere
Those Ryanair pilots who are offended by the comments of their CEO might consider applying for jobs in the Middle East and Asia. There are even bidding wars for pilots who can fly the international widebody planes at the heart of the expansion.

Upgraded: Job prospects for folk heroes
Steven Slater, the now-famous JetBlue flight attendant who was pushed too far by a rude passenger, hurled invectives over the PA system, and finally grabbed two beers and escaped via the emergency slide, resigned from the airline just one week ago. (CNN reports the “separation”, but his publicist (!) says he wasn’t fired, but resigned.) I’m amazed he wasn’t “separated” from the company earlier. So… Anyone want to predict his next job? (Something tells me the fact that he has a publicist tells me he’s not looking to land in the transportation or service sector…)

Categorized in: Ryanair

inflight magazines Upgrades and Downgrades: Inflight magazines, Mexicana, luxury gimmicks, all you can fly
Upgraded: In-flight magazine verité
How about this headline for an inflight magazine: “Live Entertainment in Kabul: Dog Fighting.” Seriously. This is onboard Afghanistan’s Safi Airways, and as their recent WSJ profile makes clear, this is an airline run by realists. “In the seat pocket in front of you on Safi, you will find an article on Kabul heroin addicts, photos of bullet-pocked tourist sites and ads for mine-resistant sport-utility vehicles.”

Downgraded: All-You-Can-Fly
With much hoopla, and a great uptake by many media outlets, JetBlue recently re-launched their all-you-can-fly passes, which provided a month of travel for a $499 or $699, depending on whether you wanted to include weekends or not. Much smaller SunCountry Airlines followed suit days later. I remained silent, and the offers expired. Readers have asked me what I think, and why I didn’t mention this earlier, especially with much of the media is all agog about these deals. Perhaps there are some folks who have a bicoastal commute and could have made this work for a month. And this may be great for gap year tourists or retirees looking to duplicate the EurailPass experience at a higher altitude. But really, how many people can use this? Maybe it’s Europeans: Most Americans don’t have a month of vacation time to burn, and how much of that time do they want to spend flying? Mileage runners are out of luck, too, as you don’t earn miles for each flight on such a pass, but rather earn a fixed sum. So, for the most part, these passes are a non-starter. They’re great PR for the airlines that offer them, though, and perhaps that’s the goal all along.

Upgraded: Mexicana’s life chances
Mexicana, which declared bankruptcy just three weeks ago, has already been bought by an investment group and the airline’s pilots’ union. (Admittedly, the pilots only bought 5% of the airline.) Terms are still a secret, until August 25. But presumably this means that Mexicana will fly again.

Upgraded: Luxury gimmickry
Hotels, especially at the high end, are always looking for a gimmick: a way to distinguish themselves from the myriad luxury properties that are competing for guest dollars. But sometimes, the competition gets downright silly. The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay in California is offering a “fire and wine butler.” From the hotel’s pitch, which made me laugh out loud: “Thursday through Sunday evenings, The Fire & Wine Butler roves The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay on a specially-provisioned golf cart, providing on-the-spot fire and wine service to guests enjoying the out-of-doors.”

Categorized in: hotels, JetBlue
09
Aug
2010
Posted by: Mark Ashley

flight attendant Flight attendants on the edge
It seems that some flight attendants are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. And it’s happening on both sides of the pond.

In the UK, some representatives of the union representing British Airways flight attendants have apparently lost their marbles:

While I recognize that the phrase “other duties as assigned” is not typically part of the contracted job description of a unionized employee, the labor union Unite is taking a particularly belligerent approach to defining specific work tasks in its ongoing squabbles. The union is essentially telling management that its employees shouldn’t do anything that’s not part of the safety routine. To wit: Flight attendants were advised by union leadership not to distribute hot towels to passengers premium economy on 747s.

And now, a published-and-then-repudiated memo portending to be union-issued has instructed its members to “politely refuse” to close windowshades. The airline had asked flight attendants to close the shades after passengers deplaned; closed shades keep plane interiors from heating up while the plane is parked at the gate, thereby reducing air conditioning (and fuel burn). But the memo argues that the task hasn’t been vetted for health and safety concerns. Seriously. The health and safety argument might have worked for the hot towels, but windowshades?

I empathize with flight attendants’ low pay and anger at losing benefits over the years. Really, I do. But the spat between the flight attendants and management over at BA has simply gotten ridiculous.

Speaking of empathy, I can certainly feel for this guy, too:

A JetBlue flight attendant, apparently upset with an uncooperative passenger on a just-landed flight, on Monday unleashed a profanity-laden tirade on the public address system, pulled the emergency-exit chute, slid off the plane and fled Kennedy International Airport, a law enforcement official said.

That’s a great opening for an article. And really, it just keeps right on going:

One passenger got out of his seat to fetch his belongings from the overhead compartment before the crew had given permission. [The flight attendant, Steven Slater] instructed the man to remain seated. The passenger defied him. Mr. Slater approached and reached the passenger just as he pulled down his luggage, which struck Mr. Slater in the head.

Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public address system and cursed out all aboard. Then he activated the inflatable evacuation slide at service exit R1; launched himself off the plane, an Embraer 190; ran to the employee parking lot; and left the airport in a car he had parked there.

Frankly, I feel for the guy. I wouldn’t want to be the enforcer of the bins, and who knows, I might reach the point of having a Howard Beale moment. But if it’s gotten so bad at work, that you’re taking the emergency slide to make an escape, it’s time to look for another job. Which Mr. Slater probably is doing right now.

Unless they let him slide. (rimshot)

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Categorized in: British Airways, JetBlue

jetblue following american JetBlue and American Airlines to start selling each others flights
I sure didn’t see this one coming… American and Jet Blue have signed and interline agreement and will cross-sell each other’s flights in and out of Boston and New York-JFK. Notably, the airlines are not codesharing, and it’s a northeast operation, with no love for California or Florida.

The relevant quotes from the release:

The partnership will focus on routes into and out of JFK and Boston Logan International Airport that extend and complement each others’ networks. For example, it would provide seamless service for customers who wish to fly nonstop from Nantucket to JFK on JetBlue and from there to London on American. Likewise, customers can board American from Paris to JFK and connect to a nonstop flight on JetBlue to Burlington, Vt. JetBlue customers will be able to effortlessly connect on flights to 12 of American’s international destinations from JFK and Boston including Barcelona, Spain; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Tokyo, Japan.
[...]
Customers of both airlines are expected to benefit from improved connections, while each airline will see additional customers fed into their networks. None of the routes on which the airlines will cooperate overlap current flights served by the other. The agreement will provide connections for more passengers at JFK and Boston to American’s international destinations in Europe, Asia, and South America. It also will generate more traffic and support for American’s planned joint business with oneworld partners British Airways and Iberia between North America and Europe, and with Japan Airlines between North America and Asia.

What makes this especially unexpected is JetBlue’s recent moves toward Lufthansa (which is a part-owner of JetBlue) and AerLingus.

It appears that my early thinking — that JetBlue would start moving toward bigger partnerships and perhaps even alliance membership — may be wrong. It looks like JetBlue is willing to make ad hoc agreements with anyone, but it’s clear that they’re branching out to create more of a global network.

Will JetBlue flights count toward AAdvantage? Vice versa? If so, it will be an interesting question how the programs, which function very differently, reconcile.

Stay tuned.

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Categorized in: American Airlines, JetBlue

Every so often, a rant about travel comes across so wrong-headed that it deserves to be held under the microscope for scrutiny. Charles DeLaFuente, one of the New York Times’ in-house stable of journalist-bloggers, wins that honor thanks to a recent post. It’s notable for its misguided attempt to assign blame for a travel mishap to all parties other than himself. But nonetheless, travelers, airports, and airlines can all learn from his account, both before and after his flight.

DeLaFuente and his family missed a JetBlue flight at Newark Airport. He blamed the airport’s (and airline’s) lack of sufficient signage to help him find his gate:

Jet Blue has two gates in a concourse also used by Continental, but only Continental has signs at the security area that leads to its seven gates in Terminal A, along with monitors showing the departures from them. Jet Blue has nothing there to alert passengers that its gates lie in that concourse, too.

Granted, I would have seen the Jet Blue counter and the monitors showing gates 21 and 22 if I had entered the terminal on the upper level, where anyone dropped off by private car or taxi, or with bags to check, would normally arrive.

But many passengers enter at the terminal’s ground level, where shuttle buses stop. And if, like me, they have no bags to check, they go up the escalators and emerge at the security checkpoint without ever passing the Jet Blue check-in counter. That’s where it can get confusing. There are three concourses in the terminal. Behind which one do the Jet Blue gates lie?

When I read this, I thought, “You have to be kidding me.” Newark’s terminal A is divided like a split level house. The upper level is a short, half-level escalator ride from the level where you enter security. If there were no flight monitors immediately visible (…aren’t they also at security?), then a few steps up the escalator, and voila.

This photo appears to be from the C-terminal, if I’m not mistaken, but the basic architecture is the same, and should gives you a sense of the distance involved between the top (check-in) and middle (security/gates) levels at Newark:

newark airport escalator Taking some responsibility for a missed flight: A bad example from the NYT

And when you reach the top of the escalator on the check-in level, there are monitors listing the flights (this image is from Terminal A):

newark terminal a Taking some responsibility for a missed flight: A bad example from the NYT

So, I’m sorry, it’s really not that hard to find your flight’s gate at Newark.

But DeLaFuente’s rant gets worse:

I arrived at the terminal with my teenage son and daughter about 30 minutes before flight time, then spent about 10 minutes searching for the right concourse and maybe 10 minutes waiting in the security line.

Hold on: DeLaFuente left himself only 30 minutes from the moment of arrival to the moment of departure? At Newark? When he didn’t know where he was going?

Sure, the airlines will tell you to arrive early and to leave abundant time for your flight. And there are plenty of us who leave less time than the recommended 1 hour+ cushion, especially if we know the airport well. (The TSA’s security line wait time estimator is unfortunately down for the time being, though when it’s up, it can be of help in planning things, too.) But 30 minutes at Newark, one of America’s busiest airports, is begging for trouble. I’ve spent nearly that long in security lines there.

To his credit, DeLaFuente raises a few valid points. Jetblue could have been nice and let him standby for the next flight without charging him extra, instead of upcharging him. Their customer relations staff should have written back to him when he sent a certified letter of complaint to their CEO (which was the wrong way to escalate a complaint, but that’s another issue…). And Newark Airport and Jetblue should, yes, consider placing monitors differently, or in more places.

But I find it nearly impossible to show sympathy for someone who arrives 30 minutes before departure from Newark, isn’t capable of taking an escalator up a half flight of stairs, and won’t take any responsibility for his actions.

Categorized in: airports, travel

Downgraded: Continental and US Airways add international luggage fees
Following in the steps of American Airlines and British Airways, Continental and US Airways have now also added a fee for a second checked bag on international flights. US Airways also bumped up the fee for domestic luggage fees by $5 per bag.

Upgraded: Japanese car rentals
Travelers renting a car in Japan can now reserve a wireless enabled netbook for about $10 per day. The company, Oryx, includes the cost of the wireless service.

Downgraded: Blaming the victim
A Stamford, Connecticut franchisee operating under the Marriott name stupidly and offensively blamed one of its customers, saying she “‘failed to exercise due care’ before she was raped at gunpoint in front of her children in a hotel parking garage.” Stay classy, Stamford Marriott! Now, the Marriott mothership is distancing itself from the words (and legal strategy) of its franchisee.

Upgraded: JetBlue-Lufthansa partnership
It took a while — I blogged about the possibility of an alliance partnership back in December 2007 — but JetBlue and Lufthansa are finally talking about codesharing. The consequences will be interesting. I’m particularly interested to see if Lufthansa will be selling JetBlue segments on tickets to destinations served as well by Star Alliance members United and US Airways.

Downgraded: SkyEurope
SkyEurope, a European (duh) discount airline, has ceased all operations. This was the airline that at one point offered to pay its customers to fly with them. R.I.P.

Downgraded: Enterprise Rent-a-Car
Rental cars typically don’t have a great reputation, and this doesn’t help: Enterprise saved money on its rental fleet by requesting that GM delete safety features — features that were otherwise standard. The savings per vehicle: $175. 66,000 Chevrolet Impalas without side curtain airbags were rented out, and then subsequently sold as used vehicles.