Guest Editor Joel Chusid
Ryanair Ahead of the Game, Again
Whether it’s removing all but one lavatory, offering inflight porn entertainment or putting in standing-type seating, I could devote my entire column to the airline industry’s poster child for doing the most outrageous things, but I’ll limit myself to two paragraphs. The idea of only one toilet for up to nearly 200 passengers appears to be coming to fruition, and Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary is optimistic that this’ll allow him to squeeze six more seats on his airplanes. His idea to charge for toilet use has apparently been dropped, but there appears to be no legal obstacle to removing two of the three on board the 189-seat Boeing 737s the Irish carrier operates. O’Leary continues to press Boeing to have the aircraft type certified to carry 195 passengers, however, saying it would result in fare reductions of 5%. He also caused a stir by announcing his intention to offer inflight pornography for a fee, available on passengers’ own video devices, not on seatbacks. The idea is a year away, but on the weekend after Thanksgiving, a First Class passenger (and from the state with the largest Mormon population, Utah, no less) was arrested and criminally charged upon arrival in Boston when he was caught viewing child pornography on a flight from Salt Lake City to Boston. This is the same month Qantas was showing the sexually explicit French documentary “The Female Orgasm Explained” on its video on demand “Edge Channel”. So Ryanair won’t be the first.
Speaking of stand-up seating, it too made the news when passenger Arthur Berkowitz claimed he had to stand on a seven hour US Air flight from Anchorage to Philadephia recently. A 400+ pound passenger was assigned a seat next to him on the packed airplane and boarded at the last minute. There was simply no room for both. The flight attendants were apologetic, and the obese passenger agreed, saying “I’m your worst nightmare.” The flight took off, but Berkowitz, who paid $800+ for his ticket, said he had to stand for virtually the entire flight. He claims he was unable to even buckle his seat belt, in his telling the story to consumer website www.elliot.com. Well, Ryanair is just ahead of the game, but alas it’s profitable, having carried 75 million passengers last year. Now all this may seem amusing, but passengers were anything but tickled when a Riga-bound Ryanair flight had to return to London’s Stansted Airport because the cockpit window was loose. The crack Ryanair team patched it up with, what else, duct tape, and off it went. Ryanair claimed the patch-up was legal, but it sure caused concern among the passengers.
The Clampetts are Back
Many years ago in my previous life at American Airlines, we experienced what was called the Clampett summer. It was an especially good year for travelers since fares had plunged to record levels and frequent flyer bonuses were triple, as airlines scrambled to recover from a strike. As a result, many people flew for the first time. The stories about people unfamiliar with airplane sounds and equipment, to say nothing of etiquette, abounded. This all came to mind when I read about Vietnam Airlines passenger Nguyen Duc Duy who recently tried to open the window on the Airbus A321 while the Hanoi-bound plane was taxiing for takeoff from Ho Chi Minh City. Instead, he opened the emergency exit door, and the slide deployed. The aircraft had to be swapped out, causing a long delay. He’ll never do that again. The same thing happened last July with another passenger who claimed he “was curious”. Criminal charges were filed in the earlier case, and this one was expected to be treated the same. Like my mother used to say, “If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it!” So there!
Not a Happy Ending
American Airlines losing Jack the cat last summer caused a stir among social media netizens. On August 25, Jack, in his container, was checked in at New York’s JFK Airport for the flight to Los Angeles by his owner, Karen Pascoe. Before it could be loaded however, baggage handlers noticed the container was empty. The story went viral and the feline even had his own Facebook page: “Jack the Cat is Lost in AA Baggage at JFK”. The airline, forced to take increasingly proactive action, hired a pet detective (I had no idea they even existed), placed water and food in the cargo area and thoroughly searched for Jack while tens of thousands awaited Jack’s fate online. The cat was found on October 25 in poor health and reunited with his owner, but sadly Jack passed away from on November 7 from the trauma and exposure. He had fallen through the ceiling tiles in the customs area. The Facebook page has evolved into an everlasting memorial to Jack.
On a Lighter Note
Speaking of cats, meanwhile, Taiwanese carrier EVA Air, is introducing Hello Kitty jets, dedicated to the famous Japanese white female cat with a bow. The first of three Airbus A330-300s feline aircraft debuted on October 25. They will be used on flights between Taipei and Sapporo. The Hello Kitty jets were originally introduced in 2005, but this is a new generation. See pictures and more details here: http://worldairlinenews.com/2011/10/27/eva-air-introduces-a-new-generation-hello-kitty-logojet/
Extortion in the Air or on the Ground?
It was not so funny when Austrian airline Comtel Air landed at Vienna for fuel enroute from Amristar India to Birmingham, England, and passengers were forced to cough up enough money for the airline to buy fuel for the rest of the trip in sort of a jet age “holdup”- $31,000 worth. The choice was to pay up or get off. Initially passengers refused, causing a six hour standoff, and the flight episode drew out to more than 15 hours. Those without enough cash were escorted in small groups to airport ATM Machines to withdraw money. The story made worldwide news. Comtel Air shut down shortly thereafter, stranding many more. At least these people made it back. The airline claims the travel agent never sent them the money for the flight.
Crew Members Are Not Immune Either
Getting robbed on an airplane is not new. An Air France flight attendant was arrested a couple of years ago for regularly stealing business class passengers’ valuables and currency on overnight flights from Paris to Tokyo as they slept. But crew members can be victims too. Icelandair’s flight 631 was on its way from Reykjavik to Boston when a passenger decided to steal money from a flight attendants’ purse. Caught red handed, he bolted to the lavatory where he flushed the money, about $300, down the toilet. He was arrested upon arrival, pleaded innocent (“I was just using the bathroom”), but the airline was able to recover the currency when it drained the sewage tanks after landing. Not a pretty picture.
If the picture of the bluish money on the ramp at Boston did not make you squeamish, then consider the North Carolina couple who were horrified to discover cockroaches crawling out of air vents and overhead bins on their AirTrans flight from Charlotte to Houston last summer. They took movies (no doubt you can find them on YouTube) and filed a $100,000 law suit.
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