Version of Newsletter] [Newsletter
Archives] [Advertising Info] [Website Home Page] [Please Donate Here]
Friday 23 January, 2009
What a lovely week it has been, with
continuing good news and video clips flowing onto the internet, all
about the amazing water landing in the Hudson River last Thursday.
It is an unusual experience to read about the NTSB investigation into
the accident, which will be focusing on all the things that were done
right, rather than looking for the things that went wrong.
Actually, it should be a short investigation
either which way. There were little more than a couple of minutes
between the birdstrike and the landing. The two pilots were very
busy, first trying to restart the engines, then preparing for a water
landing. Events proceeded so quickly that they had landed before
working their way through the three page checklist for a water landing.
It was interesting to read the results of a
Tripadvisor survey done between last Friday and Tuesday this week in
which website visitors were asked if they pay attention to the in-flight
safety briefings or not.
You might be surprised to learn that 38% of
respondents said they frequently pay attention to the in-flight safety
announcement and another 30% said they always do. These figures are
greater than what I'd have expected, so let's do our own instant
reader survey and see whether Travel Insiders are attentive or not
(I'll confess to paying little attention myself, so don't feel the need
to over-state your own degree of interest in the flight safety
So, would you please click on the link
below that best describes how you pay attention to the in-flight
safety briefings. This will create an empty email with your answer
coded into the subject line :
listen attentively to the briefing all the time
listen attentively to some of the briefing all of the time, or all
of the briefing some of the time
listen to the briefing, more or less, some of the time
really listen to much of the briefing at all
the briefing out and don't pay any attention
Results will be shared next week.
The Tripadvisor survey also found that 15%
of the respondents said they have experienced an emergency landing, 5%
have been on flights where the oxygen masks deployed, and 2% have been
required to put on life jackets.
These numbers are way greater than I'd have
guessed, and provide a great intro to - and raison d'ętre for - my
feature column this week.
If you're like me, you've probably been a
bit more sensitive to aviation safety issues this last week, and several
readers, prompted by the comment last week about keeping my shoes on in
a plane until it reaches altitude, sent in some of their own thoughts
about personal flight safety.
So I decided to offer, for this week, an
article on how to survive an airplane crash. And then, the article
grew and grew, ending up sprawling over several parts and taking nearly
10,000 words in its current glorious totality. I'll feed it to you
in more manageable bite sized pieces, and encourage you to send in your
thoughts, comments, and suggestions, so as to ensure that the final
piece is complete and as useful as possible. And so :
This Week's Feature Column :
How to Survive
an Airplane Crash : Happily, most crashes - even really
bad ones - have a surprisingly high rate of survivorship. But
people do die, and experts estimate that 30% of airplane deaths could be
avoided. The information in this series will hopefully help you
stay out of this 30% category.
Dinosaur watching :
American, United and Southwest have all reported losses for their
fourth quarter last year, and all largely due to misjudging their fuel
hedges. American ended up reporting a $340 billion loss, United
lost $1.3 billion, and Southwest had a relatively mild $56 million loss.
As a result, American says it will cut its
mainline capacity by a further 8.5% in the first quarter of this year,
and United expects a deeper 11.5% - 12.5% cut in its services.
Southwest's loss was actually a profit
(and one which significantly exceeded analysts' expectations - the
airline is doing very well, if only it had the vision to see it).
Let me explain. They showed a $61 million profit before taking a
$117 million one-time charge to enable them to zero out their fuel hedge
losses, both for 2008 and for much of 2009 too. They ended up the
full year also with a profit, even after the one-off charges they took
in Q's 3 and 4; leaving a nice $178 million net profit.
But showing their increasing similarity
to dinosaurs, Southwest decided that - annual profit notwithstanding
- their best approach to 2009 is to reverse the heritage of almost their
entire past and shrink rather than grow.
Their last year-on-year shrinkage was a mere
0.1% in 1988; the 20 years following have all seen expansions. But
Bloomberg is predicting a 4% reduction in capacity for 2009 and
quotes Southwest's CEO, Gary Kelly, as telling them 'Now is not the
time to be growing. Passenger traffic is declining. We're
slowing our growth at just the right time'.
Kelly is completely wrong. A
cornerstone of Southwest's past successes has been to exploit the
weaknesses of the dinosaur carriers, and to grow at their expense.
But here they are, facing another opportunity to pick up the 'slack' in
the system that is being created by the cutbacks in the dinosaur
services, and instead of swooping in, they're stepping back and playing
at being a dinosaur too.
Here's a lesson for Mr Kelly to take
careful note of. One airline has just reported its Q4 results, and
is showing a 32% leap up in sales. Passenger numbers were
up 10%, and revenue per seat was up by nearly 25%.
The airline enjoying this amazing result?
Easyjet, in the UK. They say their success has come from business
travelers switching to Easyjet, and long haul leisure travelers looking
for better value.
In theory, Southwest these days is much
keener on attracting business travelers than it used to be, and it also
offers much longer flights than it used to. So why can't
Southwest copy Easyjet's success, rather than emulate the dinosaur's
Talking about Easyjet makes me think of its
similar low cost competitor, Ryanair, who have just come up with
their latest customer-unfriendly policy, although this is one I
wholeheartedly approve of and would love to see adopted as standard by
all US carriers too.
Ryanair says it will fine passengers €30
if they try to take more than one piece of carry-on into the plane with
them. Anyone refusing to pay will not be allowed to travel, and
the airline says the policy will be strictly enforced on all flights.
The airline says there has been a big rise in passengers taking more
than one bag on board recently.
Checking a bag costs €15.
Typing the Euro currency symbol (if you have
a PC, you will probably find it appears if you hold down the Alt key and
type the four digits 0128 before releasing the Alt key) just now
reminded me of the continued glorious strength of the dollar, although
who knows how long it may last.
A Euro is back under $1.30 again, much nicer
than the $1.60 of last summer. Equally nice are the likely
continued deals to be had on trans-Atlantic airfares, and more great
deals on hotels and tours once you get to Europe. Low costs, a low
exchange rate, and probably reduced visitor numbers in total all combine
to make for the 2009 season to be the best for quite a few years.
If you're thinking 'Should I/shouldn't I', you might want to give
yourselves the benefit of the doubt and head to Europe this year.
Don't forget the great deals on the
Amawaterways cruises - save up to $650 per person off their full
brochure price on a wide range of
cruises listed here.
It is happening very slowly, but A380
flights are becoming more prevalent, with the latest milestone being
a few days ago when three different airlines all had A380s flying in to
Heathrow on the same day.
All three A380 equipped airlines now have
service to Heathrow (Emirates, Singapore and Qantas), and continue to
add to their A380 fleets and services just as quickly as they can get
planes from Airbus.
Talking about Heathrow, the opponents of
the decision to build a third runway there have started what
promises to be an ongoing campaign of active and disruptive protests
(or, more accurately, continued - they've been at it for some years
already), albeit in a
slightly unusual form last week that, ahem, revealed their
Atlanta would probably love to have
Heathrow's problems. At Heathrow, airlines are lined up,
begging for permission to fly in and out of LHR. In Atlanta, its
two major carriers (Delta and Airtran, which between them control 93% of
ATL's traffic) have started renegotiating their lease terms in public,
threatening to move flights away from ATL and to other airports instead.
For sure DL has way too many hubs now (with
the NW hubs added to its own), so perhaps their threat is a bluff
that ATL wouldn't want to call.
Their current leases remain good through
September 2010, so there's plenty of time for the rhetoric to cycle up
and then back down again between then and now.
Some interesting facts and figures from the
Cruise Line Industry Association. Their members added 17 new ships
to their fleets in 2008, will add another 14 in 2009, and 21 more
between 2010 and 2012 (it takes about three years to build/commission a
new cruise ship).
'Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead' seems
to be the attitude of the cruise lines to the economic slowdown.
Good for them. And good for us too with some very attractive
cruise pricing coming out, although note that it is nowadays
possible to double your cruise price after adding on the optional shore
excursions (which is one of the nice things about river cruising -
nearly all shore excursions are included in the price).
This Week's Security Horror Story :
thoughtful article about the abuse of Patriot Act legislation by
cabin crew, actively aided and abetted by willing law enforcement
agencies. Offenses that were added to the Patriot Act with the
intention of being used to counter terrorists about to hijack planes are
now being used to prosecute ordinary passengers who end up in arguments
with cabin crew. Simple disruptive behavior has been redefined as
I'm not seeking to defend passengers who
cause disruptions on planes, but am I the only one to think it a
ridiculous overkill to charge disgruntled passengers - people who
usually have an underlying genuine reason for their unhappiness and who
are then mishandled by uncaring airline staff and who then 'lose it' -
with federal felonies, to send them to jail for months at a time, and to
cause them to lose the custody of their children as a consequence?
Talking about threatening passengers, here's
distressing story about a flight from hell. Well,
actually, it was a roundtrip journey. A flight from Mexico City to
Seattle was unable to land in Seattle due to fog, and so landed at
Portland instead (about 160 miles south of Seattle airport). It is
far from unheard of for flights to divert to Portland and passengers
then either be flown on up to Seattle when the weather clears, or to be
bused from PDX up to SEA (an easy three hour journey).
But these passengers were forced to
remain on the plane for four hours while nothing happened.
Then the airline decided to return back to Mexico, so in total, the
passengers flew six hours up to Portland, stayed on the ground four
hours, then flew six hours back to Mexico, where, of course, they had to
fly another six hours to Seattle subsequently.
The reason for being trapped on the plane
for four hours? We are variously told that there either were
insufficient or no Customs/Immigration officers available to process the
Passengers grew unruly, so local police
boarded the plane and told passengers either to behave or be arrested.
The passengers chose to behave.
Big mistake. I'd have called the
police bluff and said 'Yes, please, arrest me'. How can the
police take someone off an international flight and arrest them if there
are no Customs officers available to allow the person to enter the
country? And these days, what jury is going to convict a person of
any offense for demanding to be let off a plane after being trapped on
it for a six hour flight and then four hours extra on the ground?
When faced with a four hour wait, couldn't a
couple of officers driven down from Seattle or any other
Customs/Immigration post to process the people on the plane? Or,
gasp, a few of the officers who actually work at PDX be brought back for
some overtime duty? One has to assume that the issue arose at
least half an hour before the plane actually landed - at some point on
the journey, the pilot would have been told about Seattle's weather
status, and so he would have been negotiating as to where to land his
flight and what to do with the passengers on board.
This is a total failure of our
Customs/Immigration people to service us, the taxpaying US public
who they are supposed to be working for.
One last thought - why couldn't passengers
at least have been taken off the plane and allowed to wait in an airport
holding area somewhere on the secure side of the terminal, whether they
'officially' enter the country or not at that point?
Talking about total failures, did you hear
about the VIA train that stalled while running a service between Toronto
and London (ONT) last week? The conductor went walking through the
train, asking passengers if anyone had a 9V battery, which apparently
was needed to restart the train. No-one did, so an engineer walked
to a nearby store to buy one.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels