Category Archives: Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – November 2013

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Hello Kitty Takes to the Skies 

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

In 1974 the “Hello Kitty” character appeared in Japan on a vinyl change purse targeted to young girls, and it crossed the Pacific to the U.S. two years later. Today it is a multi-billion dollar phenomenon with over 50,000 products ranging from dolls and stickers to products aimed at more mature audiences such as debit cards, electric guitars and wines. But Taiwan-based EVA Air took it to a whole new level in 2005 when it premiered a “Hello Kitty” themed jetliner, used on domestic and intra-Asia flights. The experiment ended in 2009, but due to pressure from the public, EVA dedicated three new wide-body Airbus A330-300s with the theme.  But even that wasn’t enough, and the plane took off more than anyone expected. Today EVA Air has no fewer than five Hello Kitties, specially-painted and appointed Airbus A330s, both -200s and the larger -300s, flying on its system, including trans-Pacific, to Los Angeles. The theme extends well beyond the livery.  Flight attendants wear Hello Kitty aprons (even the male attendants?) and serve themed meals.  The variety of Hello Kitty items aboard defies imagination, from boarding passes and baggage tags to headrest covers, pillows, soap dispensers; even toilet paper and air sickness bags bear the Hello Kitty emblem. Oh yes, the Business Class cabin also follows the theme, although instead of the bright pink and other colors used throughout, it’s more discreetly appointed in a neutral gray. See for yourself: http://evakitty.evaair.com/en/

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. EVA Air Boeing 777-35E ER B-16703 (msn 32643) in the new Hello Kitty – Sanrio Family scheme lands in Los Angeles.

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Ten, now Eleven?

The original Boeing 747 jumbos had eight seats across the economy class cabin. I recall a 2-4-2 configuration, much like many airlines have today on their slightly narrower, but still twin-aisle Airbus 330s and some Boeing 777s. But times have changed.  Emirates was the first airline to install ten seats across on its Boeing 777s, and many other airlines followed. At this past November’s Dubai Air Show, Tim Clark, the President of Emirates, told the media he would favor an eleven seat across version, if it could be worked out. Emirates is by no means alone, since it’s understood that the more seats filled, the more revenue an airline brings in. Consider Russia’s Transaero, which has opted to put 652 seats on its new twin-deck Airbus A380s, which normally hold 470-520 passengers.  Most of those seats, 616 to be exact, will be dedicated to economy class, to be used on long haul flights like Moscow to Bangkok or the Dominican Republic.  Talk about a long, long ride with over 600 of your closest friends! Air Austral, a French airline that flies between Paris and Reunion in the Indian Ocean, announced plans in 2008 to buy two all-economy A380s with an astounding 840 seats, but they reversed that plan more recently, and it’s questionable if they will take the airplane at all.

Wonderful Copenhagen

Speaking of Russia, passengers tend to imbibe quite a bit more when flying. Over the years there have been many stories in the media about drunken passengers and even crews on some of the Russian airlines, yes, the ones in the cockpit, occasionally taking nips, or a bit more.  A recent easyJet flight carrying enthusiastic football fans from Moscow to Manchester diverted to Copenhagen to offload not one, but seven drunken passengers. They probably got to enjoy Copenhagen, but I’m sure they’d rather have been at the game.

Inflight Entertainment, to Some

To the delight of, or dismay to some, passengers flying over the holidays will get to view some of the more creative inflight safety videos.  As long as the required safety information is delivered, whether by flight attendants doing it personally over a PA, an audio recording or a video, the regulatory agencies are satisfied.  Some airlines have been getting more and more creative and light-hearted in designing these. American uses a diverse group of actual employees.  Delta has a new holiday-themed video, which features everything from Santa, elves, a yule log, an ugly Christmas sweater, mistletoe and even a dreydel in the aisle. Air New Zealand has had a tradition of creating some of the more unusual ones such as with Richard Simmons, a hobbit-themed video (“Welcome aboard Air Middle Earth”) and one that featured flight crew with clothing painted on their bodies (“The Bare Essentials of Safety”). The most recent additions, depending on the aircraft, can be found starring TV host and survival expert Bear Grylls or the ageless Betty White whose slow-paced version is aimed at seniors. But Virgin America has the glitziest with the “Safety Dance”, featuring a high tempo montage of music and dancing, clearly aimed at a hip, younger audience.  They’re all available for your viewing, whether you’re flying or not, online.  Look ‘em up and decide for yourself if you’d be entertained or turned off.  I enjoyed them all… the first time.

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Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – September 2013

 

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Animal Sightings

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Airplanes and wild animals don’t mix well, no matter what size. From the tiny critter side, airline travelers flying out of Kansas City Airport one Saturday a few weeks ago can attribute spiders to their tardy departures. Three employees in the Olathe, Kansas air traffic center were bitten by baby spiders which spewed forth from a hatched nest; causing a brief evacuation of the area to a safer part of the building.  While the delays were minimal, passengers were three hours late on US Airways Express flight 2690 from Charlotte to Indianapolis last July when bees swarmed a tug that was needed to push the airplane away from the gate. A beekeeper had to be called to remove the little buzzers. A slightly larger animal sighting took place on American Airlines when fellow crew members claimed to have seen a flight attendant feeding a rat in flight.  They report she had the animal, supposedly a pet, hidden in her underwear. The story is bizarre, indeed, and there are no photos, but the flight attendant felt harassed by the airline and it’s gone to court. Lion Air flight 892, a Boeing 737-900 flying from Ujung Padang to Garontalo, Indonesia with 117 people encountered a much larger animal, three of them in fact. The landing plane struck one of the cows after it touched down, causing it to skid off the runway. Luckily there were no serious injuries, but the airplane, well, it’s sort of equivalent to your car running into a deer on the highway. Not pretty.

Hard Times in Venice

About 140 people got to spend the night on the floor in Venice’s Marco Polo Airport after the cabin crew on their British Airways flight to London Gatwick “ran out of time”. Such incidents can happen when a flight is delayed, in this case a mechanical reason which delayed the inbound flight, and the crew has duty time limits that cannot be exceeded for safety reasons.  What was unusual here is that the pilots did not exceed their time, so they were able to fly the airplane back to Gatwick empty. The passengers were locked up in the terminal without their baggage or food for the night as the airline claimed there were no available hotel rooms in Venice, although comments from online readers dispute that. If it was any consolation, the cabin crew was also relegated to the floor.

Captains Going Above and Beyond

On a brighter note, two recent stories surfaced that show that airline captains really do more than just fly the plane.  On Easyjet flight 8365 from London Gatwick to Bari, Italy, the captain had to negotiate with passengers to get four of them to give up their seats as the plane was too heavy for takeoff.  Now, this is not that unusual, although it is the ground crew’s responsibility to solicit volunteers. From my own experience, there are usually willing volunteers and in this case, it was a €400 compensation payment per volunteer plus a hotel. The flight endured a fifty minute delay, but once the captain threatened to remove the last four people who checked in, four volunteers came forth. But it was the captain on an El Al flight departing from Tel Aviv for New York who wins the compassion award this time.  On August 8, 36 excited children, including 11-year old Inbar Chomsky, boarded the flight headed for summer camp, having checked in and gone through all the formalities including medical exams. This was no ordinary summer camp, but a non-profit special program designed for children with cancer and other hematologic illnesses.  After the children were seated, an adult collected passports, which is not unusual for a group of minors traveling internationally, but the young girl’s passport was missing. A frantic search of the aircraft ensued, and with passengers getting restless and annoyed, the girl was told she would have to deplane and her mother would have to come pick her up and take her home. The devastated child got off, and the plane taxied to the runway for takeoff.  Suddenly her passport was discovered in another child’s backpack. The crew was alerted, but it’s extremely rare for planes, let alone one assigned to an international route, to return to the gate after departure. The captain altered and negotiated with the control tower, airline and ground crew for thirty minutes, and finally it was allowed to return to the gate to pick up the distressed child. This is one time where compassion trumped schedule.

Sorry, No Change

On most flights nowadays, flight attendants can only accept debit or credit cards for food or duty free purchases.  Irish low cost carrier Ryanair apparently still accepts cash.  The ultra-low cost carrier recently took some flak in the media recently when a training document was made public that instructed cabin crews to avoid giving passengers change from their purchases. The document encouraged flight attendants to “boost passenger spending” by saying they had no change and suggesting customers buy something else from the cart, including scratch cards. When the news hit, Ryanair claimed the training document had been subsequently amended, and that it was an instruction that had been developed by a third party. Ryanair has a reputation for squeezing out ancillary revenue in a variety of creative ways, with one of the most recent announcements being it would offer advertising space on the nose, winglet and fuselage of its 303 airplanes to companies for a fraction of the cost of a newspaper ad.

 

 

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner – June 2013

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Just a couple of keystrokes can make a world of difference

In the airline business, there are misboardings and misbookings. Due to increased security, boarding the wrong flight is not quite as common anymore, although it does happen. But there’s nothing to stop a passenger from being booked to the wrong destination as a result of an incorrect city code or similar sounding destinations. Unfortunately many people are handicapped in their geographic knowledge which only adds insult to injury.  Take the recent case of a California couple who booked a vacation in Dakar, Senegal on Turkish Airlines. The city code for Dakar is DKR. But they were booked to DAC. Now, it is natural to expect to change planes in Istanbul when flying Turkish, so the first part flight was uneventful. Then they boarded the second flight, and while watching the inflight video map, it seemed strange to be flying over the Middle East enroute to West Africa. Only then they realized something was amiss; they were bound for Dacca, Bangladesh, and that’s what their tickets read, only it was 7000 miles from their intended destination. From my own experience, there are undoubtedly hundreds of cases annually of people arriving in the wrong Georgetown (Bahamas or Guyana?), Santiago (Chile, Spain or Cuba?), Springfield (Illinois or Missouri?) and similar same name places. I recall one freezing winter day some years back a French family, in tropical attire, arrived in Providence, Rhode Island, got into a taxi and asked to be taken to Club Med. The problem was they were bound for Club Med in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. Oops! Right hemisphere, wrong “Island”!

Meet at the Airport

What did we do at airports before smart phones? Although you may have missed it, late last year the mass media reported on a new website, www.meetattheairport.com, where registered members could hook up with another traveler to pass the time on layovers, have coffee or drinks, even dinner or more, especially during extended delays.  While the site’s home page tends to focus on the romantic aspect of this, it acknowledges that the idea fosters friendship, networking and travel companionship.  Our friends at USAToday did a little update on the site a couple of months ago and reported there are now over 60,000 members (there were 1,546 online as I write this), with more concentrated on the East Coast. The site recently did a survey and discovered the most popular airports for hooking up. Orlando came in first, due to its 54 restaurants and bars.  Miami was second, for an “interesting international crowd”, followed by Newark, due to its propensity for incurring delays.  Fourth was Boston Logan, supposedly for its chilly weather and fifth, Philadelphia for a plethora of amenities at the terminal. If you’re a social butterfly, this might be the way to spread your wings while on the ground.

BYO  

Years ago it was rare to bring your own food, blanket, pillow or even reading material on board, let alone a carry-on suitcase. After all, airlines provided everything from drinks and hot meals, magazines, pillows and blankets – of course, and even little bars of soap in the lavatories.  Bags were checked for free. Now, in addition to their rolling bag and overstuffed backpacks, you can see travelers carrying everything for their comfort, including all sorts of pillows, throws and plenty of bottles of water and brown bags full of sandwiches, pizza, garlicky salads, reading material and more. This is by no means limited to budget carriers either.  A recent incident on board a United Airlines 11-hour flight from San Francisco to London made big news when it wasn’t sufficiently stocked with toilet paper, bringing a new meaning to “BYO”.  The airline claimed it would have caused a delay to have stocked it, and I might venture, even worse if they had to land to pick up some in Greenland. So the flight attendants got creative by placing cocktail napkins in the loos, ironically with the slogan “Fly by the tips of your fingers”. With Ryanair’s CEO now suggesting they might venture into the transatlantic market, you’ll want to be sure to BYO in case they start charging by the sheet. Stretching your legs with that 29-inch legroom is going to be tough. Maybe their new venture will be called Air DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)! Be warned!

Calling Not Free Either

Many airlines charge you to make a reservation over the phone now.  Spirit has gone one step further. Now the toll-free number has gone the way of free meals on airliners. The “800” number has been replaced by “801” (Utah!). While most cellphones have free domestic long distance, some land lines don’t – another reason to book online if you can.

Maids, Butlers and Facebook

Spring Airlines, a Chinese airline, recently raised the ire of social media netizens when it proposed the controversial idea of outfitting its flight attendants in rather risqué maid and butler uniforms on “theme flights”.  Responding to the criticism on numerous social media sites about this, and the airline, which also flies to Thailand and Japan claimed the idea came from its own flight attendants. The airline, which also has several prolific Facebook pages, also claimed to have surveyed its followers on Facebook and received overwhelming approval on the subservient maid and butler uniforms, as well as suggestions for superheroes and villains or even school uniforms.  Really?

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Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (May 2013)

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Low Cost Goes Upscale

It’s pretty rare when an LCC (industry terminology for “low cost carrier”) adds frills, but airBaltic is trying something new starting this month. The Riga-based Latvian airline allows passengers to pre-order one of 20 tempting meals from their online website. Those who do place orders will be served on board first.  We’re not talking pre-wrapped sandwiches, folks.  Hot meals such as fish souvlaki over rice with a smoked trout starter, chocolate cake and wine are available on flights of more than 90 minutes, and on shorter flights, cold meals such as shrimp salad with cherry tomatoes and quail eggs with white wine and dessert. For breakfast, there are omelets and pancakes. The selections range from Latvian cuisine to seasonal and children’s offerings and a chef’s special, and there are additional options available for those with special dietary needs. Should you forget to order before you get to the airport, you can still order lasagna up to forty minutes before departure. Take a look at their 14-page menu online here: http://www.airbaltic.com/upload_file/Pre-order-menu.pdf.  You can customize your meal by clicking and dragging your choices on to a virtual tray. Pre-ordering meals isn’t new, but this may be a first for an LCC. I do remember the days of yore when people could order the seafood platter on American Airlines in advance for free, and in coach!  US Airways has been offering a similar advance pre-order service to selected overseas markets for the past year.

Leave it to Branson

The airline industry has been home to many colorful personalities, but Sir Richard Branson is arguably the most daring and certainly good natured.  Two years ago, Branson, the CEO of Virgin, bet Tony Fernandes, the owner of AirAsia X on which of their racing teams would win, and Branson lost. The loser had to agree to don the bright crimson female uniform, complete with makeup and heels, of a flight attendant at the other’s airline and work a flight. Well, Branson lost the wager, and on May 12 he “worked” AirAsia X’s flight 237 from Perth to Kuala Lumpur. Tickets were sold for $400 one way with $100 going to the Starlight Foundation. Branson was required to meet the airline’s grooming standards, which means shaving his legs, but, at this writing, I hadn’t yet heard if the beard was a casualty!

Taking Golf to New Heights

As “The Official Airline of Golf Lovers”, leave it to Southwest to do something crazy. On March 31 they held a putting contest down the aisle!

Canine Misconnect

One Thanksgiving eve some years ago, on my way from DFW to San Diego, I witnessed a passenger who had mistakenly boarded the flight in error. They discovered this on the runway takeoff queue, and there was no way that plane was going back to the gate. The worst part is the passenger had originated in San Diego and had planned to board the flight at the adjacent gate to Atlanta; instead he got to go back home. This was a real Thanksgiving turkey! And there are stories, albeit fairly infrequent, of airline personnel boarding unaccompanied children on the wrong plane. Well, this past March United accepted Hendrix, an English springer spaniel, as an unaccompanied pet, at Newark bound for Phoenix. Ten minutes before the flight was due to land in Phoenix, a United employee called Edith Albach and informed her that Hendrix was on his way to Ireland in error!  Upon arrival at Dublin, Hendrix was walked and fed and then put back on the plane to Newark where he was reunited with his owner, on a stopover, before continuing on to Phoenix.  The poor pup was on three flights for over 24 hours!

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Turkish Airlines, one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, made it into the news when their flight attendants were told they could no longer wear red or dark pink lipstick or nail polish so as to not impair the “visual integrity” of its staff. This sparked an outcry on social media, and the union got involved. Just a few days later, the CEO reversed the order, blaming the misguided rule on overzealous junior managers.

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Now you can stay and now dine on a Boeing 747 in Stockholm (story with photos and video): CLICK HERE

Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (February 2013)

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Water, Water Everywhere…Except on the Plane!

Flying from Honolulu to Melbourne is a mostly over-water trip taking close to twelve hours. But one day earlier this month, three hours short of its destination, Jetstar flight 2, an Airbus 330-200, ran out of water. No water to flush toilets or wash hands and no drinking water for hundreds of passengers…except if you wanted to “buy” a bottle of water.  According to passenger reports to the media, the plane smelled “nauseating”.  After landing in Melbourne, passengers had to endure an additional thirty minute “quarantine inspection” because a number of passengers claimed to have been sickened. Indeed, this kind of situation is rare. But as Jetstar is a budget airline that is a subsidiary of QANTAS, online bloggers speculated the airline did not fully provision the aircraft with enough water to reduce weight and save on fuel costs.  At press time, the airline acknowledged the incident and was investigating.

Taking Tea to a New Altitude

Leave it to the British to perfect the taste of its tea aloft. British Airways, which serves 35 million cups of tea onboard annually, partnered with Twinings to develop a special blend of tea that is designed to be the “best cuppa” in the air. Did you know that water boils on an airplane at 89 degrees (centigrade) whereas on the ground it does so at 100 degrees? Taste is reduced by 30% according to researchers due to the lower humidity and air pressure at altitude. The specially designed blend, from Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas, was tested both in the air and on the ground to achieve the optimal tea.  The new altitude teas are available to passengers in all cabins. Nice touch.

No More Bottles

Speaking of beverages, will those little mini liquor bottles soon go the way of the buggy whip? German company Skymax’s “Skytender Trolley” is being marketed to airlines and can serve 235 hot and cold drinks from an assortment of 100 flavors. It was tested on a commercial flight from Cologne to Palma de Majorca and reportedly met expectations.  Is the future already here?

A Lot of Miles

Road warrior and automotive sales consultant Tom Stuker hit a milestone when he flew United flight 949 between London and Chicago on December 6, 2012. He became the first customer on United Airlines and United Express to reach one million miles within a calendar year. In July 2011 he hit ten million miles with United, a first for the airline. In 2012, he flew more than 400 flights, an average of more than one per day. What’s a million miles in a year? Here’s an illustration. A single flight cruising at 570 miles per hour would land 73 days after takeoff.  What’s his method for dealing with jetlag?

Flying without Bags

Many airlines charge for checked bags these days, and some even charge for carry-ons.  Spirit’s $100 charge for a carry-on, not prepaid in advance, can add plenty to your airfare.  Starting this February, Air France is testing “MiNi” fares where, as long as you plan ahead, you just pay for yourself and whatever you can carry on board – no checked bags. The fares start at about $64 and are on 58 medium haul routes in Europe.  You don’t get frequent flyer miles, but this didn’t seem to dissuade bargain-hunting travelers. When the fares went on sale, it knocked down the Air France website for a while!

Hobbit in the Skies

As if Air New Zealand’s Richard Simmons’ safety briefing video wasn’t wild enough, they’ve gone a step further with “The Hobbit”.  In addition to a Hobbit-themed livery on one Boeing 777, the self-proclaimed “Airline of Middle Earth” provides an entertaining and quirky safety video featuring characters from the popular movie. And if that weren’t enough, a friend of mine who just flew them reported that premium class passengers are offered “furry” slippers! See the safety video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCbPFHu3OOc

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Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (December 2012)

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Healthy & Unhealthy Food Aloft

Free economy class airline food has all but disappeared on U.S. domestic flights, although it’s possible to buy snacks and meals on board these days. In some parts of the globe, free meals still are the rule. At least one Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Charles Platkin, at the City University of New York, says airline food is getting healthier. Having tested and ranked it since 2000, he praises Virgin America for having low calorie (like roasted pear and arugula salad), fiber-rich (oatmeal) and high protein choices (think hummus and whole wheat pita bread). He gives the carrier 4 ¼ stars for their execution. Just what you’d expect from a California-based airline, right? At the other end of the spectrum, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air comes in with just 1 ½ stars, with mainly high-caloric candies, cookies and chips, something you’d find in a movie theatre or, I suppose, a tourist destination like Las Vegas. But Japan Airlines has taken economy class meals to a whole new level, although which level is debatable. Starting in December, they’ll offer “Air Yoshinoya” on their new Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights between San Diego and Tokyo. A Japanese fast food chain with its origins dating back to 1899, Yoshinoya is well known on the U.S. west coast. The beef vegetable bowl will be served to economy class – and premium economy – as the second meal service so customers can have a “taste of Japan” before they land. But it’s another offering that actually made Jay Leno’s monologue one night. JAL announced they’ll offer Kentucky Fried Chicken to economy and premium economy passengers starting in December on flights to destinations in the U.S. and Europe from Tokyo. I guess that’s a “taste of globalization” before landing.

No Free Lunch, but Free Phone Calls

The free lunches may be gone from airliners, but free phone calls have come to Denver’s airport. Granted, most people have cell phones, but this is for free calls worldwide. Denver International Airport has partnered with ClearChannel and RMES Communications to offer free global calls from 200 landlines located at the airport. When was the last time you saw a landline at an airport? Do you know how much they charge for a local call? At Denver you’re limited to ten minutes and can pay to extend the call, and there is some advertising you’re exposed to on a 17 inch screen in front of you, but it’s free, and a boon if your cellphone battery dies or you’re a visitor from abroad without a local phone.

Social Seating is Coming

You’ve heard of social media, so here’s the next step. A couple of airlines have begun tinkering with this, but Israeli startup SeatID is going a step further. How would you like to know who’s on the flight you’re going to take? You could avoid sitting next to some smelly, undesirable type or, on a positive note, next to someone with the same interests. Using a patented approach and taking clues from your social media sites, without a passenger list, they claim to be able to do this, assuming you opt-in. It doesn’t matter where the ticket was purchased from. The SeatID website claims to be available on selected airlines and sites. So far, only AeroSvit Ukrainian Airlines has opted in.  Read more at www.seatid.com.  Considering the blossoming of new apps and social media, this isn’t that way out, but it sounds weird and creepy to me.

Odorless Pilots

While the social seating phenomenon won’t help you choose your airline crew at this time, at least your pilot will have been screened for offensive body odor on one demanding airline.  The media has widely reported that a certain large Chinese airline requires its recruiters to sniff a pilot candidate’s armpits as part of the interview. Those who fail to meet the standard are disqualified. With China going through a pilot shortage, this is an amazingly tough requirement in addition to the usual other strict certifications in terms of safety and flying proficiency. But at least you can rest assured that your flight crew will have a nice aroma.

Sweaters and Blankets

Airliners can be chilly for some passengers, although I know from experience that Chinese airlines tend to keep the cabin a little warmer than usual, which is how I have found buildings in China in wintertime. For some reason, Chinese feel a chill more readily than Westerners. Blankets have all but disappeared from most airlines. So you bring a sweater, or two, on your flight. Better be careful on Ryanair! Consumer watchdog site “Budget Airline Watch” (www.budgetairlinewatch.com), which keeps an eye on British low fare airlines, reports how passengers, in an effort to avoid the carrier’s strict rules and hefty excess baggage rates, have been asked to refrain from bringing on “excess jumpers and jackets”  and actually been banned from boarding. Reports of being charged for excess weight of 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) have made the rounds. One woman was ejected off a plane in Valencia, Spain for carrying a scroll and a book outside of her carry-on bag, and the video filmed by stunned passengers went viral on youtube.com.  Ryanair continues to look for ways to shed weight and add what airlines endearingly call “ancillary revenue”. Hence its colorful CEO Michael O’Leary commented that “seat belts don’t matter” as he has a vision to a get a standing-room only section on his airplanes. O’Leary says that there is not that much turbulence over Europe and that he would install handles for people to hang on to.  Thanks to aviation regulators and lawmakers, this hasn’t got a big chance to become reality.  Another airline CEO, Richard Branson, is more compassionate.  Not only does Virgin Atlantic Airways still provide blankets, but they admonish passengers with “weep warnings” to get their hankies ready before showing emotional movies like “Billy Elliott”.  In a survey, 41% of men admitted they hid under blankets when watching sad movies on airplanes. Really?

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Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (October 2012)

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Flight Attendants Make Headlines

The media loves sensational stories about flight attendants. One of the most notable was Steven Slater’s tirade and beer-fisted slide off of a jetBlue flight arriving from Pittsburgh at JFK two years ago when he snapped due to a supposed altercation with a passenger. Then, much more recently, also at JFK, two female American Eagle flight attendants got into a sensational verbal battle on a delayed flight to Washington, D.C, when one of them refused to stop using her cell phone and the other proceeded to make comments about it over the PA. The Captain couldn’t even break them up. The scheduled forty-minute flight ended up delaying passengers four hours, and the media went wild. The New York Post headlines proclaimed “Jet Gal Jabber Wacky – Call Stewar’diss”. But the good stories get far less attention. This past August, United Airlines flight attendant Ron Akana retired. What was unusual was he had the distinction of being the oldest working flight attendant and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. At age 83, he had chalked up 63 years of flying, equivalent to 20 million miles. He had started at United, which later merged with Continental, as one of the industry’s first male flight attendants, in 1949 after responding to a newspaper ad in Honolulu. One of his memories: mixing martinis for Frank Sinatra! Congrats, Ron. Well done.

Nostalgic for Inflight Meals?

Remember hot meals on domestic flights in coach? How about any (complimentary) meals at all? I recall flying on an early morning Braniff Boeing 727 from Newark to Washington, D.C. and getting French toast, fresh fruit, juice, freshly brewed Colombian coffee and a bun, served on china with flatware, all in under an hour – in coach.  Those days are long gone, and even eight-hour flights to Hawaii require a purchase on board or a brown bag. Some airlines in Europe, South America and even in China and Africa still do a full meal service, even on short haul flights. But those meals of yore live on, at least virtually, on www.airlinemeals.net. The site features over 26,000 pictures of airline meals on no less than 630 airlines. US Airways recently started testing a new product they’ve monikered “DineFresh” – for $19.99 economy passengers can order, on 24-hours’ notice, a “first class-style” meal on flights to Europe, Tel Aviv or South America instead of the complimentary hot meal. The meals, albeit “chilled” can be vegetarian or chicken, are rotated monthly and include free wine. Pictures on their website:

http://www.usairways.com/en-US/traveltools/intheair/foodandbeverages/economy.html

Seats that are Climate Controlled…

While the free meals won’t be coming back, here’s something to look forward to.  Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP in Germany have been working with nine partners at universities and the aviation industry to produce the first climate controlled seat. Unveiled at the Berlin Air Show in September, the seat would permit passengers to adjust temperatures and air flows to their individual comfort, much as you could do in a luxury car. Airflow would come from the seat in front, the armrests, and gooseneck cables in the headrest as opposed to in the ceiling panel above. I remember airflow vents on headrests on the old Douglas DC-8s of old, but this is a far cry from that.  This technology, while currently available, won’t likely happen on board your flight that soon, but once it is, you can expect it might be available for a small ancillary fee!

…or that are Sliders?

While the Germans work on ways to make your seat more comfortable, a company in Denver, Molon Labe Designs, has found a way for seats to slide from side to side to allow airlines to board planes faster. The “Slider Seat” is a row of three that has an aisle seat that is designed to slide halfway over the middle seat to increase the aisle size from 19 to an astounding 43 inches. This can cut the boarding time in half, resulting in an estimated $30 savings per flight which can add to airlines’ bottom lines.  A prototype is being built to be marketed to airlines. There is a tradeoff, however. The seats have far less padding and are harder and do not recline – that’ll be in line with the plans of some airlines I can think of, most notably Ryanair, which must be drooling over this. Have a look at http://molonlabedesigns.com/the_slider_seat.

Speaking of Colorado

My friend Karen Gray dropped me a note of her experience on a flight from Denver to Montrose, Colorado on the dreadful summer day that United’s computers went down.  Thousands of people endured aggravating delays and frayed tempers along with Karen whose trauma started in Los Angeles with exceptionally long lines that caused her to almost miss the flight, and the resulting delay repeating the near miss with her connection to United Express in Denver. But it was the arrival at Montrose, only 20 minutes late. which was more memorable. It seems the United Express employees and TSA went home for the night. (I myself am not sure why TSA would have been there for the arrival, but this is what they were told.) The pilot announced the crew could be arrested if they tried to deplane without a ground crew. Passengers fumed, and eventually help arrived in the form of a lone firefighter followed later, by a couple of the ground crew who must have gotten word of the unexpected arrival which, according to Karen, was showing on the airport’s arrival board. Someone obviously had their wires crossed.

It Happens

Concourses or entire airports are sometimes shut down due to security breaches or related events. Remember the guy at Newark Liberty Airport in January 2010 who slipped past security to kiss his girlfriend goodbye which inadvertently resulted in a three hour shutdown that caused disruptions to passenger travel worldwide. But these kinds of shutdowns are routine.  Less routine, but not totally isolated, are the shutdowns in Europe that sometimes happen when an “old” bomb is discovered such as what happened at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on August 29. At the fifth busiest airport in the world, the heavily-used Terminal C was shut down for several hours while experts removed an unearthed bomb from World War II. Berlin’s Tegel International Airport was shut down for the same reason two years ago. Munitions like this in Europe are still regularly found, especially at airports and railway stations. Hard to believe these are from a war that ended 67 years ago.

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