Joel Chusid, Guest Editor
Critters on Board
Birds can do serious damage to an airplane, but in this case the impact came from the inside. After 123 passengers had boarded a Korean Air domestic flight a few months ago, a sparrow entered the cabin through an open door and began fluttering about. Passengers had to deplane and change airplanes while the bird was captured and set free. Egyptair had a different problem when on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Cairo a baby crocodile escaped from a passenger’s carry-on bag. Passengers panicked until a crew member was able to retrieve the animal which no one would claim, since the transport of exotic fauna into Egypt would have landed someone in a heap of trouble. The croc was given to the Cairo Zoo. Don’t assume this only happens in Asia or Africa. Last December otters being unloaded from a Continental Express regional jet at Houston escaped their cages and caused the flight to be delayed. While it wasn’t funny at the time, passengers had a good story for their next cocktail party, although some reported that the otters had somehow managed to get into some of their luggage and do some rummaging. AP reported on a passenger bitten by a scorpion on a Southwest Airlines flight in Arizona which had somehow gotten into his carry-on bag. Luckily he wasn’t seriously hurt. Last summer, JFK’s Runway 4L/22R had to be briefly closed because of a swarm of turtles that emerged from the adjacent swamp, resulting in delays. Animals and airplanes are just going to have to learn how to coexist!
Face Lifts for Miles
One of the most coveted awards some airlines used to offer was a cockpit simulator ride for frequent flyers. The thrill of the cockpit was just so tantalizing for road warriors who are relegated to the passenger cabin. Leave it to the Finns, however, to come up with an innovative way to redeem frequent flyer miles. Members of Finnair Plus can now redeem miles for plastic surgery at a hospital in Helsinki. The award levels are steep, with a set of new breasts costing 3.18 million miles, which would take 120 Business Class round trips between New York and Helsinki. Hair replacement (3.2 million miles) and face lift (4.64 million miles) surgery are also offered, and the airline reports it is in discussion to offer other medical awards as well. Publicity stunt or for real? (https://pointshop.finnair.com/product_info.php?products_id=57&language=en) There are plenty of frequent flyers out there, mileage rich, looking for new ways to spend their flight currency rather than for another flight or even an upgrade. The Finnair site looks like an online shopping mall – or just take a look at www.points.com. The variety is endless.
The Tefillin Incident
In what has become known as “The Tefillin Incident” which sounds like the name of a spy thriller, a US Airways Express regional jet flight en route early one morning from New York’s La Guardia Airport to Louisville was diverted to Philadelphia when an alarmed passenger noticed a young man tying strange black boxes on his head and arm. The crew, and apparently none of the 15 passengers, having ever witnessed this before, became alarmed and chose to divert. Understandably with the shoe bomber and the more recent “underwear bomber” having made news, no one can fault the crew for being overly cautious. The Orthodox Jewish passenger was using tefillin, also called phylacteries, which contain holy scrolls and are attached by thin leather straps to the arm and forehead. Their use is a daily ritual with prayer to be accomplished within a few hours of sunrise. The flight had left in the dark early morning hours, was not very full, so the young man proceeded to fulfill his religious obligation. Upon arrival in Philadelphia, a brief handcuffing and interrogation by police occurred, and the flight and everyone was allowed to proceed. But it amazes me that no one on that airplane had ever seen this before.
Door to Nowhere
What is it of late, with passengers opening doors on airplanes on their own? A passenger on a Pinnacle Airlines flight tried to open a door as the regional jet was taxiing at the Lansing Airport in preparation for takeoff to Detroit, a flight of maybe 30 minutes or so. The airline reported the man had a panic attack, and while he was arrested, one can empathize with his situation. Still, passengers were delayed three hours. An American Airlines flight landed at DFW Airport from Charlotte, NC and during its taxi to the terminal, a passenger, concerned about his tight connection, bolted into First Class, opened the galley door, slid down the deployed slide and strode over to Terminal C where fleet service clerks were able to detain him. I doubt he made his connection.
Airport Makes the Big Time
Some years ago I shared the podium with the late Senator Edward Kennedy and Massachusetts officials at the Worcester Airport to announce American Eagle service to New York’s JFK Airport. At the time, Delta Connection was also flying to Atlanta, and the group was elated that someone had discovered an alternative to Boston’s busy Logan Airport, MASSPORT’s other airport, for regional air service. Unfortunately, the service never succeeded and Worcester was relegated to one of those airports that lost all scheduled air service. Well, Worcester Airport has found fame, although it’s in a Hollywood film, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, tentatively set to be released later this year. Filming was done last September. The movie was code-named “Wichita”, and alas, Worcester had to masquerade as the Mid-Continent Airport in the city of the same name.
Flying High, on Skis
In the sporting spirit of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Dusseldorf Airport claims to have opened the first airport ski jump, one week before the games. Eddie the Eagle, of Olympics past, was scheduled to open the jump, located right in the check-in hall as part of an industry travel show. Speaking of frozen matter, a couple in was stunned when a 40 pound chunk of ice from an unidentified airplane smashed through their roof. I just hope the ice wasn’t blue. The fact that the airplane was on its descent, as opposed to takeoff, leads me to believe it might have been. Yuk.
Joel Chusid has spent a lifetime in the world of airlines, as an executive at both an American domestic carrier and two Asian airlines. He is Chairman of the Association of Travel Marketing Executives. Joel’s perspectives on the industry reflect his experience and sense of humor. Enjoy this light look at an industry that’s forever changing.
Note: Joel welcomes articles in the same vein as the column! Send them to him at email@example.com.