Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – December 2015

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid surrounded by Alaska Airlines and Hainan Airlines Flight Attendants

Assistant Editor Joel Chusid surrounded by Alaska Airlines and Hainan Airlines Flight Attendants

By Assistant Editor Joel Chusid

Airplane Seats Never Die…

…they just upcycle! If you’ve not heard of “upcycling”, it’s the process of repurposing something to create an item of greater value, either financially or environmentally. Alaska Airlines has recently taken this to new heights, no pun intended. In the process of replacing seats on its Boeing 737-800 and -900 fleet, Alaska found itself with a lot of leather seat covers that it had no use for. But Alaska is a creative company and environmentally conscious. It found a willing partner, Mari Cla Ro, a Canadian manufacturer and retailer that was able to design a new line of stylish handbags, carry-ons, passport covers and more. It’s dubbed the Atlas Collection, with geographic names like Detroit and HAV (for Havana?). You won’t find these items at Wal-Mart, but Mari Cla Ro sells them at their boutique in Toronto or you can buy them at the Alaska Airlines Company Store if you happen to be in Seattle. These are handmade, and represent something really exclusive and unique. Prices, however, are moderate.

Now, to be sure, this is not the first time that airplanes and their contents have been upcycled. JetBlue partnered with Manhattan Portage, a New York City-based retailer to create a selection of backpacks and accessories made from employee uniforms. To name just a few more, Delta partnered with Skyebags for a line of bags and Southwest with Looptworks for their “LUV” line. Entire airplanes have been converted into restaurants, vacation homes and even, in Scandinavia, a youth hostel.

Cabin service items have a unique worldwide following where people collect and trade everything from cutlery, china and glassware, even swizzle sticks (when they had logos) and yes, air sickness bags. There are exhibitions of these around the US where fevered trading goes on between collectors. Naturally the rarer the item, the higher the value. With the airline industry going through consolidation, a lot of famous names from the past (think Pan Am, TWA, Eastern and dozens more) have become like vintage wine labels.

Document Delay

When traveling internationally, do not forget that all important document that opens doors, your passport. Pity the poor pilot due to fly Hong Kong Air’s flight one day in October from Shanghai to Hong Kong who suddenly realized before takeoff that he had forgotten his. Now if it were a passenger who forgot it, the flight would depart without them. But a crew member has to fly the plane, so everyone endured an hour and a half delay while he retrieved it. It can happen to any one of us. I travel internationally a lot, and I panic if I can’t find my passport at some point in my trip. Getting a replacement can be an enormous hassle, especially since consulates can be few and far between. On my very first trip to Argentina many years ago, I was so excited that I left mine at the airport bank when I exchanged money upon arrival. I was lucky, as I was able to get it back, despite that it meant a return trip to the airport immediately in a driving rainstorm that caused street flooding.

Nowadays my passport is usually in my trouser pocket, where I can feel it against my leg. But I don’t sleep with it, and there are times when that’s not convenient, i.e. going swimming. Some places you are advised not to carry a passport in the street, but a copy, which is what I do in most places. In other countries, you must carry it or risk being detained. (That trip to Argentina was during the military dictatorship, and that was one of the times you had to have your original passport if stopped.) It’s technically illegal for Americans to make a color copy of their passport, but I have done it and it’s accepted most places for identification or to exchange money – although not to cross a border. And now that I have a new passport, I have to carry the old one too, bulked up with two multi-page inserts, some of which still have valid visas, but this makes for a rather thick bundle. A copy of his passport wouldn’t have done the trick for our forgetful pilot, but chances are he’ll never do that again. Do you know where your passport is right now?

China’s No Fly List

No, it’s not what you think. This is a “list of uncivilized behavior” of Chinese tourists who have distinguished themselves by their bad behavior and have been punished by the government and can be refused service by airlines, hotels, travel agents and tourist sites for one to three years. A true no-fly ban is being considered. Think of it as the “Ugly American” of years ago. The offenses range from fighting over seats to throwing tea at flight attendants and some have occurred on the ground at tourist sites. Airline travel and overseas tourism have become more routine for today’s Chinese citizens as disposable incomes have risen and foreign visas are much easier to obtain and valid for longer periods. Airline routes have also dramatically increased. As such, many are first timers. The government was embarrassed by episodes of tourists reported in the press, and felt the list was needed to remind travelers that they represent the country abroad. Oh yes, the list is published so everyone knows who the scoundrels are.

Southwest Earns Its Heart

In the middle of Thanksgiving, Laura Genovich in Michigan got a call informing her that her mother in Florida had suffered a stroke and was comatose. She immediately bought a ticket, took her 3-month old daughter and boarded a flight at Grand Rapids connecting to Orlando. The flight sat on the runway for an hour and then was cancelled, returning to the gate. During the long wait, Mrs. Genovich had been talking to her husband on the phone and getting updates about her mother and frantically trying to figure out how to get to Florida. As the passengers deplaned, a woman in the seat in front of her, introduced herself as Mary and told Mrs. Genovich that she had overheard her conversation and had been praying for her, assuring her she would not leave her alone until she was on a flight to Florida. Mary and the panicked mother and infant set off to a gate, bags and all, where a flight was departing for Orlando in five minutes. In an empty waiting area, Gayle Mutschler, the Southwest gate agent, said there were seats but she was not allowed to sell a ticket so close to departure time. After hearing the story, she agreed to do so, but Mary insisted on buying the ticket. As a result, Mrs. Genovich was able to spend precious time before her mother was taken off life support a few days later. She posted her story on Facebook and was reunited with Mary, at least virtually, but she did meet Gayle Mutschler a few days later and had an emotional reunion. Southwest, whose company culture revolves around love (“LUV” as they say, as in Dallas’s Love Field, near where they are based), earned its heart that day in Grand Rapids thanks to Gayle and a stranger named Mary.

Speeding Up Your Amazon Delivery?

The Seattle Times reports that Amazon is in talks with cargo carriers to directly lease up to 20 Boeing 767 freighters to speed up deliveries and reduce dependency on third party carriers such as UPS, FedEx and the USPS. If this comes to fruition, considering Amazon’s well publicized plans for drones, this is just another step that deliveries are going to be faster than ever before. Brick and mortar shopping centers may be going the way of the buggy whip!

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