Guest Editor Joel Chusid
Bees on a Plane
Not snakes, otters or bats this time, but a few days ago passengers on a Delta flight getting ready to depart Pittsburgh International Airport for New York’s JFK were abuzz when it was suddenly discovered prior to fueling that thousands of honeybees had swarmed the right wing. Because honeybees are a protected species, a beekeeper had to be called to carefully remove the insects without harming them. Cell phones and cameras snapped pics, and passengers were more amused than concerned. The beekeeper pronounced the species docile, and he promptly and carefully removed them. Hopefully no one missed their connecting flight at JFK – but these folks now have a good cocktail party story. At the opposite end of the animal size spectrum, a couple of months ago, early morning passengers getting ready to depart Regina, Saskatchewan were startled when they looked out the airport windows to see a huge adult moose wandering on the runway. The huge animal was chased off the tarmac on to a golf course, but returned a second time by crashing a fence. Airport vehicles chased it, perhaps unintentionally onto a busy expressway, but was later caught and tranquilized in a nearby neighborhood.
Unfortunately, there can be thieves on a plane, too. The Air France flight attendant who helped herself to business class passengers’ valuables on no less than 26 flights between Paris and Tokyo a couple of years ago made international news when she was caught. But you need to be as careful on a plane as on a subway. Some years back a regular scam on Las Vegas-bound flights was to steal one single credit card from women who were foolish enough to put their purse under their seat, giving the person behind them access. Think about it, if someone managed to get one credit card from your wallet; how long would it take you to realize it? Advice: put your valuables under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin across from you in your line of sight, not over your head! And on long-haul late night flights when people go to sleep, take extra care. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a budget carrier or a five-star airline or in which class – although the premium cabins obviously are more likely to have bigger targets. Consider the case of passengers on a Singapore Airlines flight from Jakarta to Singapore recently. As they dozed or watched videos in a darkened cabin, two thieves rifled through the overhead bins and hit the jackpot, $5000 in cash in a carry-on bag. Luckily, they were spotted and arrested on arrival. But don’t find yourself to be a victim!
I remember a famous standup comedian telling an airplane joke many, many years ago about getting on a plane and a voice came across the PA saying “This is the Captain speaking; everything on board is automated about this flight; there aren’t even real pilots- the plane is totally automated; there is no need for concern; nothing can go wrong, can go wrong, can go wrong, can go wrong….” Well, something went wrong with Southwest Airlines’ website a couple of days ago, and it’s a good thing this glitch happened on the ground. In this case, it involved social media. In celebration of their reaching three million Facebook followers (or “likers” in Facebook lingo), Southwest offered a one day half-price promotion on their website. People pounced on the sale, but in this case, something did go wrong. The charges went through, but the tickets didn’t. As a result, many would be purchasers ended up getting charged double, triple or worse. One woman trying to buy a $69.60 ticket to Georgia from Virginia was charged twenty times. People hit their credit limits, and those using debit cards had their bank accounts drained of hundreds of dollars, even to overdraft levels. This happened on a Friday night and Southwest’s customer service lines were jammed with calls, while many resorted to airing their grievances on Facebook. Knowing Southwest, they’ll make it right, but it seems that it will take a week or more to sort out some of this, and those poor folks who used debit cards may have to deal with bank fees and at least a little inconvenience.
It’s Not Illegal, But…
I don’t mean to pick on Southwest, since their employees generally have a great sense of humor and the company even had the guts to do a season of reality shows. But they also take their jobs seriously. Ladies, be advised. It is not a wise idea to paint your nails on a flight. A Burbank, California woman flying from Las Vegas to Houston a few months back proceeded to do this and was told by a flight attendant to stop. With two nails to go, she proceeded to finish the job in the lavatory. The attendant was waiting outside the door, and a verbal altercation ensued. The incident resulted in her arrest upon arrival for interfering with a flight crew, and she spent ten hours in custody. Charges were later dismissed. Social media had a field day with this. No, it’s not illegal to do this, unless you’re using a flammable product, but most netizens agreed that the strong smell of polish is offensive and some people might be allergic to it. Best advice: do it before you leave or after you land.
A recent Boeing study on premium passengers reported an obvious but critical fact to airline profitability: 15% of their passengers generate 50% of an airline’s revenue. So it’s no surprise that airlines go to great lengths to cater to their most important customers: those buying seats in the front of the plane. Some carriers offer free limousine service, on board chefs, showers, standup bars (I haven’t heard of any on-board pianos coming back that were on American Airlines flights in the 70’s) and much, much more. Now here comes Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways who recently purchased three beehives and 200 free-range hens to produce their own exclusive organic honey and eggs to be used in meals for their first class passengers. The airline is also planning to produce its own signature pickles at an organic farm in Abu Dhabi. What’s next?
Taking Branding to New Heights
Some airlines, and now airports, are teaming up with companies to jointly develop their brands. Virgin America previously did a deal with Banana Republic to promote their Mad Men collection, complete with a special aircraft livery. Then they asked the retailer to design new flight attendant uniforms. An 18-month project between the two firms resulted in a fashionable yet functional wardrobe that complements the aircraft mood lighting for both flight and ground crews, due to debut August 8. But the airline went a step further, and Banana Republic will offer some of the items for sale. No, you won’t be able to buy the uniform for Halloween, but the men’s and women’s trench coats, aviator sunglasses and other travel accessories will be available. At Paris-Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport, Swedish retailer IKEA opened a 220 square meter lounge akin to walking through one of their stores. The lounge, open to all, includes nine bedrooms, sofas, TVs and even a secure children’s area where you can drop off your tykes for some supervised fun – just like in the store. The lounge opened in July, but it was due to close in early August. See photo below.
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Bottom Copyright Photo: Mark Durbin. Airbus A320-214 N847VA wears the special Banana Republic – Madmen Collection motif at the San Francisco base.