Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (May 2012)

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

“United Breaks Guitars” – Soon to be a Best Seller?

It’s common for books to be made into movies, but the video Canadian musician Dave Carroll and Sons of Maxwell created back in 2009 is now a book. Entitled “United Breaks Guitars – The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media”, the book relates his experience with United Airlines when O’Hare baggage handlers damaged his expensive Taylor guitar in as he looked in horror out the airplane window. After nine months of negotiating, the airline refused to compensate him, so he took to the Internet to make his case.  The video trilogy went viral, was (and still is) seen by millions people around the world on youtube.com. Dave was catapulted into celebrity status by the media, and now, into a new career as a speaker on consumer advocacy. United eventually relented, and the story became a classic on how social media has transformed customer service and the way companies approach it. United, for its part, said it would use the incident for customer service training. Did it?  At least take a look at the promo: http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/book/. If you haven’t seen the original videos, they’re a hoot and easily found online. The now legendary United Airlines incident has spawned dozens of other videos. For one of these (warning: mature audiences only due to language), see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEqvCktdSBM&feature=related .

A Full Moon?

When people do strange things at the airport, on the phone to an airline, or worst case, on the airplane, airline employees tend to comment how it must be a full moon. Who knows what got into these two people, in a single week in April, in two different places, where, in a fit of anger, they stripped down to their birthday suits in protest. At the Portland, Oregon Airport, John Brennan became annoyed at the TSA search process and promptly took it all off. While some parents covered their children’s’ eyes, others snapped pics with their cellphones. Brennan was arrested and missed his flight to San Jose. In Denver, an unidentified woman apparently went through nicotine withdrawal, lit a cigarette at the boarding gate and after being told she could not smoke at the gate, disrobed and calmly asked for the airline to reprint her boarding pass, turning this into a paparazzi moment. The airport has two smoking lounges, but officials said there were no plans for a clothing-optional zone.

Lose Weight or Else

Ryanair, the “Spirit Airlines of Ireland” (we’re not sure who’s emulating who) has told its flight attendants to lose weight to save on fuel costs. The airline’s fixation on cost saving has gone the extreme, removing seat pockets and window shades, charging for anything and everything, although some of its ideas have yet to be implemented, such as offering pay for porno movies, implementing a “fat tax” for overweight passengers, removing armrests and charging for lav use. Recently Irish safety watchdogs criticized Ryanair for keeping people out of exit rows unless they pay £10, even if it results in empty seats with no one seated next to the door in the event of an emergency. Since 2009, the airline has sold e-cigarettes on board (banned on most airlines) to keep nicotine addicts like the woman in Denver (see previous story) under control. There is an incentive to having cabin crew drop a few pounds – they can compete to be featured in the airline’s calendar, “The Girls of Ryanair”.

“Upper Class Red” Makes Its Debut

You can’t say that Virgin Atlantic isn’t a stylish airline. In tandem with the redesign of its “Upper Class” business cabin, it’s launching a lipstick of the same name, “Upper Class Red” that matches the color of its flight attendants’ uniforms. Female cabin crew will be wearing the shade, produced by bareMinerals®, and it will also be sold in Virgin Clubhouse spas. There’s more to it than color, however, as the manufacturer says it includes micronized freshwater pearl powder which hydrates the lips in the dry cabin environment. The product was to be launched onboard a special Airbus A330 flight from London to New York. Virgin introduced its own red high heels for its flight attendants, named them “Dorothy”, and featured them in a sexy TV ad last year, visible here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbib-A6NpW8&feature=player_embedded

“Mad Men” on Board

No, it’s not another flight with some crazies, but that other Virgin, Virgin America, also proves it has style. The airline partnered with retailer Banana Republic to introduce its new Limited Edition “Mad Men” line of clothing on a special liveried Airbus A320 (see below) flight from New York to Los Angeles on March 1. The vintage clothing line is derived from the popular “Mad Men” AMC TV show, now in its fourth season, which covers life at a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 1960s. For those of you that might remember, that was an era when women wore white gloves and dresses and gentlemen wore suits, ties and sometimes hats, when traveling by air.

Copyright Photo: Mark Durbin (click on the photo for the full screen view).

The Rapidly Disappearing Boeing 727

My first flight on a United Airlines Boeing 727-100 (see below) was as a teen, way back when. Since that time, I’ve flown that and its larger 200 series hundreds of times over the years, certainly on airlines long gone like Braniff and TWA in the US, and also on airlines like Ecuador’s TAME to the Galapagos or Domincana to Santo Domingo where I was amazed at the spacious and obviously original seating configuration with first class pitch in economy. But the 727 is now rarely seen except occasionally in cargo configurations or, if you’re lucky enough to be in one of the few countries in the world where it’s still in passenger use. The three-engine Boeing 727 first entered service with Eastern Airlines in 1964 and over 1800 were built until manufacturing ceased in 1984 favor of more efficient airplanes like the Boeing 737. The 727 was indeed a workhorse, globally flying short to medium-haul routes for hundreds of airlines. So where are they now? It’s believed only about twenty of them are still flying. If you’re a buff, the largest fleet is in Iran, where IranAir and Iran Aseman Airlines still fly the jet.  The second largest operator is Air Libya, followed by Ariana Afghan Airlines, Ecuador’s TAME and Bolivia’s AeroSur. I’m amazed TAME is still flying these to the Galapagos, and likely the plane I flew on, not new then, is still racking up cycles. If experiencing another 727 ride is on your bucket list, you better hurry. Aside from the difficulties in getting to Iran, Libya or Afghanistan, the 727s are disappearing at an increasing rate. AeroSur, at this writing, was about to be grounded due to financial difficulties, and Fly Congo, the successor to Hewa Bora Airways, decided to destroy its five 727s, since the country’s residents had lost faith in the safety-riddled airline’s fleet.   While not in the air, a Swiss artist has just announced plans, and received approval, to bury a 727 in the Mojave Desert outside of Bakersfield, 38 feet down, as part of an artistic exhibit called “The Terminal”. Visitors will be able to enter the 153-foot long airliner via a tunnel to see the art – as well as use the restrooms.

Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum.

Bad Way to Start a Vacation

How would you like to have flown from chilly, damp London and arrive in Barbados for a beach vacation minus your baggage? Well, imagine the problem magnified two hundred times. A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 in early March arrived at Grantley Adams International Airport with 288 sun-seeking passengers, but the rear baggage compartment couldn’t be opened, leaving 200 passengers baggage-less and quite dismayed at the prospect of only having winter clothes on the tropical island.  But it gets better. The airline could not open the compartment at all, and it was forced to fly the jumbo 4200 miles back to London to get it opened by technicians. Some passengers joked the airline had left the key back home. The bags were then flown back to Barbados again, having logged some 13,000 miles.  Find this hard to believe?  Something similar happened to me some years ago on an Air France Boeing 747 Combi from Paris to Houston. Upon arrival, one of the baggage doors was frozen shut, and a number of our bags could not be unloaded. To keep on schedule, the flight continued to Mexico City with the trapped luggage. The following day the plane returned with the bags which were then forwarded to the passengers.

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