Monthly Archives: August 2008

OTR on Vacation

The OTR is closing up shop and heading to the beach (and so should you).  We’ll be back after Labor Day (in need of a vacation after 8 days at the beach with two 2-year olds.)

A Quick Word on the Spanair Crash

One quick note on the tragic Spanair crash yesterday that killed more than 150 people.  As is the norm when a plane crashes, early news stories speculate about the cause of the crash and the age of the aircraft.  Unless two planes collide, early speculation is nearly always wrong.  Eyewitness reports are notoriously inaccurate, often suggesting an engine was on fire when it was not.  It will take a while to find out what happened, though since the black box has been recovered investigators should have the data they need.

Even more egregious is when stories suggest that a plane has gone down because of its age.  Planes do not crash because they are old (repeat that 3 times).  Your 1977 Honda Civic doesn’t break down because it is old; it breaks down because a part was not maintained correctly.  Airplanes throughout the world (even in countries you know little about) are meticulously maintained.  Yes, the European Union has produced a list of blacklisted airlines that are supposedly unsafe (though even those are far more safe than driving between the cities they fly.)  I cannot think of a single crash that was caused by the age of the plane – so ignore those reports when you read about them.

Salon’s Ask the Pilot column has spent quite a bit of space discussing poor aviation reporting, so I don’t need to re-hash, but when there’s an incident like the one yesterday, it’s best to remember that it’s just going to take a while to find out what happened.

United Service Changes: Guess What…Less Service

Cranky does a full overview of the changes United is now implmenting in its service, but here are the low…er…highlights:

– No more free food in coach on trans-Atlantic flights.

– Raised prices on buy-on-board meals.

– Removing pretzels and biscotti on flights up to 1149 miles.

– Basically eliminating business class on aircraft configured as 3-classes in the US.  You’ll get the good seat, but that’s it.  (if you fly United a lot, this will mean something to you; if not, keep moving, nothing to see here, please disperse)

– Removing pre-arrival snack in PS service.

More and more, Southwest is looking like a full service carrier.

United should change their musical theme from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to his “I Got Plenty O’ Nothing.”

TSA Employee Damages 9 American Eagle Aircraft, Delays 40 Flights…Inspector Clouseau: “Even I’m Not that Stupid”

For some reason a TSA inspector decided to check out 9 American Eagle aircraft on the ground a O’Hare overnight on Monday and in the process managed to damage 9 planes and cause 40 flight delays.  From reading this thread at Flyertalk, the TSA shouldn’t have been out there on the first place.  But they went, and decided to enter the airplanes by stepping on something that is clearly marked, “Don’t step.”  The inspector was reportedly ensuring that the planes “were secure from tampering,” which they were until the the TSA got there.

(Thanks to reader Mike for the heads up)…

Pssst…Wanna Buy Virgin’s Stake in Virgin Nigeria?

FROM: Dr Howgul Nyerere
Central Bank of Abuja
Abuja, Nigeria


Dear Sirs and Madams:

I have been requested by the Nigerian National Airline Company (DBA Virgin Nigeria) to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. Our parent company, Virgin Atlantic, has recently decided to sell its 49% (forty-nine percent) stake in our company.  We believe these business endeavours will generate moneys equaling US$42,350,000 (forty-two million, three hundred and fifty thousand).  The Nigerian National Airline Company is desirous of seeking new investors for its business.  However, because my father, the heralded General Michael Nyerere was murdered in a coup in 1993, we are unable to move the funds from the sale to another region.

You assistance is requested as a non-Nigerian citizen to assist the Nigerian National Airline Company, and also the Central Bank of Abuja, in moving these funds out of Nigeria. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your United States account, then we can forward the funds as directed. In exchange for your accommodating services,  we would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or US$4.235 million of this amount.

However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to Nigerian law, you must presently be a depositor of at least US$100,000 in a Nigerian bank which is regulated by the Central Bank of Abuja.

If it will be possible for you to assist us, we would be most grateful. We suggest that you meet with us in person in Lagos (we will fly you Business Class, so that you may earn 150% bonus miles), and that during your visit I introduce you to the representatives of the Nigerian National Airline Company, as well as with certain officials of the Central Bank of Abuja.

Godspeed, my new friend.

Yours truly,

Prince Howgul Nyerere

PS, Virgin Nigeria has been a drain on Virgin Atlantic’s earnings and Singapore Airlines, which is a minority partner in Virgin Atlantic, has been pressuring VA to dump its share in Virgin Nigeria.  In case you were wondering.

Car Rentals: Are You Offered SUVs More than Ever Before?

This is completely anecdotal, but a number of people have mentioned to me lately that they have rented a small car only to have the car rental company offer them an SUV for no additional fee when they get to the counter.  My wife had this happen last night at Enterprise and when she balked about the extra gas, they said she only needed to return it half full (well done, Enterprise).  I’m curious – has anyone else seen an increase in SUV upgrades?

Passenger Detained by Police After Filming During JetBlue Flight

(Via WSJ and Christopher Elliott)

On odd one:  A woman who filmed an altercation between two other passengers during a JetBlue flight to Las Vegas was hauled off the plane in handcuffs when they arrived.  It’s a long story (you can read it via the link), but in short, a passenger heard an argument breaking out among two other passengers, she filmed in on her video camera; for some reason JetBlue’s flight attendants kinda freaked about it and told her she had to delete the video.  She refused.  They told her that the captain demanded she delete the video (they were lying), and she refused.  She was handcuffed by police when she got to Vegas and, after she was roughed up a bit, released.  I’ll file this under I’m-Guessing-We-Don’t-Exactly-Know-the-Whole-Story.

Breaking News: Victoria Osteen Found Not Guilty

I have no idea why I care at all about Joel Osteen’s wife being sued by a Continental flight attendant but, in good news for her, me, and you readers, Victoria Osteen was found not guilty, so you’ll never have to hear about this nonsense again (I know, this is probably the 3rd or 4th time I’ve written about this.  I apologize.  Really, I do).

The Dangers of Fuel Hedging: Continental’s Hedges Under Water

Whenever there’s a story about Southwest Airlines’ much-publicized fuel hedging strategy, there are lots of questions about why other airlines don’t do it.  The answer?  It can be risky.  The example?  This Houston Chronicle report notes that Continental’s most recent fuel hedges have a price floor of about $121 – around $8 higher than the current market price.  They have the option not to exercise those options, so it won’t be a concern, but it just shows that while Southwest’s strategy is obvious when it’s working, today’s volatile oil market shows why hedging, while wise, can also be quite risky.

Should United Just Liquidate?

That’s the question this Business Week column asks and the answer they conclude is (of course) that United should be broken up and sold.  The reasons aren’t particularly compelling – in fact, it appears that the reasons given are:

1) The pilots aren’t happy;
2) One of the columnist’s co-workers had a delay last week.

I’m not sure if covering the airline industry brings out the worst in most reporters (the Dallas Morning News, the NY Times, and the WSJ excepted), but this is just another example of bandwagon jumping by a reporter who hasn’t really done his homework.

United may very well be in trouble – and God knows the forces in the industry are lined up against them.  But every article that mentions removing pillows as a reason why airlines are falling apart are way, way off the mark.  Charging for pillows (and sodas) are remedies for the problems they have – not the problems themselves.  After all the hand-wringing and complaining about pillows passes, we’ll all realize that charging for stuff was a smart move.  As Cranky Flier points out,  charging for this stuff is a good thing.  Free drinks and whatnot was a relic of the regulated system 30 years ago.  Fares have dropped considerably since then without (until recently) any drop in amenities.  After all this time, they’re starting to charge for food (which everyone used to complain about), drinks ($2? Get over it), and pillows (really…you slept better on a coach pillow?).  I’m thinking it’s about time that the backlash to the backlash kicks in.