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Random Aviation Photo

14 Jun

Back in June 2008, I attended an airports conference in New Orleans.  It was my first trip back to the Big Easy since Hurricane Katrina.  I had some time to kill at the gate, so I took some random shots. Mexico’s Aladia was a low-cost charter carrier that went out of business in October 2008. Below is an Aladia Boeing 757.

Will $1 Million Help Improve Air Service Prospects At Delta’s Memphis Hub?

12 Jun

A Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 lands at Memphis International Airport. Photo courtesy of Scott Sherrin via Flickr.

At the beginning of my career, I wrote for a newsletter that covered economic development among other things.  I wrote regularly about the efforts of states, counties, regions and cities to bring new companies, which, in turn, bring in more jobs.

On some of those stories, airlines were included in presentations to show how well a new business could get to the places they needed to be as part of the business.  But it was inevitable that they’d want a piece of the action, either to expand existing flights or add new ones.

So I say all this to comment about an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal about the efforts of that city’s airport to keep the service they have and expand to more cities.  You may remember that Memphis was one of three hubs for Northwest Airlines (No Town, Snow Town (Minneapolis) and Motown (Detroit)).

But after the Minneapolis-based carrier merged with Delta Air Lines, it was no surprise when the carrier started balancing its combined route network, which included cutting one-third of its service out of Memphis.  The airport has also seen average fares rise to the point where locals are complaining – vociferously.

So the airport authority decided to hire DC-based INTERVistas, a firm that specializes in travel and tourism, to help it bring in new service and lower air fares.  In a report presented last month, the firm recommended creating a $1 million fund to offer incentives to airlines for new domestic and international service including free landing fees and terminal rent, along with cooperative advertising aid.

The Commercial Appeal article included quotes from airline consultant Mike Boyd of The Boyd Group that really hit a note with me.  He noted that while the incentives might speed up efforts by Southwest Airlines to expand or maybe JetBlue to start service out of Memphis, it wasn’t likely the city would get enough service to replace what Delta has cut.

According to the Commercial Appeal, the new incentives were called “the right response at the right time,” by airport president and CEO Larry Cox and “bold” by Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane.  But what else would they say? Their backs are up against the wall with locals getting angry about the service cuts, as outlined in this article.

I don’t entirely disagree with these new incentives.  I think targeted correctly, Memphis could see some new service — but it will never be at the levels it had when it was a Northwest hub. My recommendation is that they let go of the past and look at what other dehubbed airports — like Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham and San Jose — have done to survive when their major carriers — US Airways and American Airlines, respectively — have made cuts.

Random Aviation Photo

25 May

Back in November 2007, I took a trip to Chicago O’Hare to take an up-close-and-personal tour of the O’Hare Modernization Project, which included the construction of the Runway 9L/27R.  s part of that, I got to go into areas usually not open to the public.  In the shot below, we were over near the old cargo area, which was going to be moved to accommodate the new runway.  Enjoy!

A Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 cargo jet at Chicago O’Hare. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Travel + Leisure Rates Best & Worst Airports – Did They Get It Right?

21 May

The iconic TWA Terminal 5 at JFK Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Regular readers of this blog know that I covered the airports/security beat at Aviation Week for almost 4 years.  And my decades of travel have found me parked in the best and the worst airports around the globe.

So I always read these polls with great interest.  The last time I wrote about this was back on Jan. 17, when the Frommer’s travel website picked its 10 worst airport terminals.

So now one of my favorite travel magazines — Travel + Leisure — has done its first-ever look at American’s best and worst airports.  You can check out the sideshow here, but I just have to weigh in with my thoughts on some of their choices.  My overall impression is that you can’t judge some airports as a whole.

For example, a big pet peeve with me is when JFK Airport automatically makes the worse list (#4 according to Travel + Leisure). Regular travelers know the experience can be night  — Delta’s horrific Terminal 3 – the Third WorldPort — or day — JetBlue’s ubercool Terminal 5.  To be fair, Delta is building onto Terminal 4, and says it will provide a better experience for travelers.

I was surprised to see Washington Dulles (one of my personal favorites) on this list.  The airport has opened a new security check-in that is much faster in processing travelers.  And my beloved rolling jetbridges have mostly been replaced by a people mover.  And Boston Logan is another one where travelers can have different experiences (Terminal A great; Terminal B, meh).

I was  surprised to learn that Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport came in first.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice airport, but I  happen to think that Orlando should have rated higher than number four. And as much as I love my hometown airport, San Francisco International, I don’t think it rates number five — unless you’re judging it purely based on the International Terminal and the new-ish Terminal 2.

And I’m happy to see that my current hometown airport — BWI  — is number six on the list, despite Concourses B, C and D looking a little long in the tooth.  But the airport has announced a $100 million program to spruce up the facility.  But I was surprised to see Miami as number 10 on the list.  While the South Terminal is lovely, it is long and sprawled out.  The facility has been undergoing upgrades for years, and some concourses (G) are relics from an earlier age.

Some airports I would have added to the list, including: Portland; John Wayne; Jacksonville; Savannah; San Jose; and Nashville.  So what do you think? What airports — good or bad — should have been on this list?

Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of … Air Service?

14 May

Back on May 2, in my Rolling Aviation Thoughts post, one of the items was about how Toledo Express Airport is still looking for an airline to provide service.  The airport received a $750,000 Small Community Air Service grant seven months ago with the goal of bringing in a carrier, with no luck.  The problem is the city’s close proximity to Detroit Metro Airport, where folks can — and do — just drive from Toledo for lower fares.

In that article, air service consultant Mike Boyd was quoted saying that “it’s time for air-service hospice” at Express.  And I agreed with him 100%.  But in a letter to the editor of the Toledo Blade, Jerry Chabler, Chairman Airport Committee Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, took exception with Boyd’s blunt assessment about air service out of the airport.

“That kind of talk is reckless. Read by representatives of airlines with whom we are in talks, or by passengers flying into and out of Express, those words will not be helpful.” Chabler wrote.  He also took exception with Boyd’s comment that “the local airport is a lost cause.”

I can understand how Mr. Chabler feels.  It’s his job to try to get air service into Toledo Express.  But I also don’t think he’s being realistic about that facility’s chances of getting air service anytime soon. Even Toledo’s mayor — theoretically the facility’s biggest booster — was caught driving to Detroit.

Chabler needs to take a look at his airport’s own numbers.  The airport reached its peak traffic in 1997, when AirTran was offering direct service to Orlando.

Since then, it’s been a revolving door of airlines at Toledo Express, including Delta Connection, Continental Express, American Eagle, Northwest Airlink and Direct Air, which abruptly ended service in March.  Airlines have been cutting service to marginal and low-performing markets since 2001, and they have become very picky about where they put their resources.

The fact that despite receiving $1.3 million in federal Small Community Air Service grants in the past five years (giving back $750,000), the airport still can’t attract an airline.

When I worked at Mesa air back in 2001-2002, one of my jobs was to do presentations to communities for their Essential Air Service contracts (read about my thoughts on that program here). It was always interesting to meet with city officials, because they would make these outrageous service demands, knowing full well they could barely justify the service they had only because of the largess of the federal government.  They felt like it was their right to have air service in a post-deregulation world.

And Mr. Chabler seems to feel the same way about Toledo Express despite the reality of a new airline world order where smaller cities will continue to fight just to keep what little service they still have.  Travelers in the region have voted — they prefer to drive to Detroit and make their own connections to the global air transportation system.

Another letter to the editor applauded Boyd’s frank assessment and suggested that the Port Authority focus on providing a shuttle service to Detroit instead of chasing after airlines.  I agree, and a good model of how well it works is operating in my own back yard.

I was talking with John Presburg, an old friend from my regional airline days. He retired from US Airways Express carrier Piedmont Airlines and created a BayRunner Shuttle, a van service to Washington National, Washington Dulles and BWI Airport from Maryland cities, including several that no longer have air service.  I hope Toledo Express looks at doing something similar instead of chasing after something that will probably not be coming back.

Airport Concession Confessions: The Comfort Food Edition

1 May

It’s been awhile since I did a Confessions post.  Plus I’ve done some traveling, and have discovered some new places, so let’s get to it with five of my favorites.

  1. Praline Connection, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.  If you’ve never had a praline (a luscious candy made from cream, sugar and pecans), you are missing a treat.  If you find yourself at the airport, run — do not walk — to the connection and buy some to take home. You won’t regret it.
  2. Nuts on Clark, Chicago Midway Airport. A few years ago, I attended an airport concessions conference in Chicago.  At the end of the conference, we were given a tour — and samples — of the airport’s best. I had the popcorn here and fell in love. No lie – I actually will schedule a stopover at Midway if it works in my travel plans to get this popcorn. They have an outpost at O’Hare too.
  3. Northpoint, General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee.  I have a friend who lives in the area and recommended I try the custard at this local favorite.  I had the vanilla, and it was so good, I wanted to light up a cigarette — and I don’t even smoke!
  4. Boudin Bakery Cafe, San Francisco International Airport. Whenever I’m leaving the city of my birth, a loaf of Boudin (pronounce it Bo-DEEN) sourdough bread is in my carry-on. But if I have time to eat, I always get the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. De-LISH!
  5. Vino Volo, 12 airport locations.  This is one of my favorite airport concessions of all time.  And one of the reasons (besides the great wine selection) is their small snack plates.  I cannot get enough of the cured olives and the Marcona almonds, which have a lovely hint of rosemary.

There’s A (Profiling) App For That: FlyRights

30 Apr

Back in August 2006, a controversy ensued when FOX-TV conservative radio talk show host Mike Gallagher suggested that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) create separate screening lines for Muslims.

“It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line in America’s airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it, it’s time,” Gallagher said, garnering tepid audience applause.  You can read my original Aviation Daily on Airports blog post on this here.  This proposed action, to me, smacked of racial profiling.  I have found that the people who tend to be most in favor of racial profiling are the ones least likely to be profiled.

So we fast forward six years later, where today the FlyRights mobile app (on the iPhone and Android platforms), which offers an avenue of redress for those who suspect they have been profiled, reports NPR.  After downloading the app, those who feel they were profiled can answer 12 questions then submit their complaint directly to TSA.

The new app is the brainchild of the Sikh Coalition, whose members in the Silicon Valley felt they were being profiled for wearing the turbans required by their faith.  Back in 2007, TSA responded to the leaders of the Sikh community, expressing understanding about the sensitivity a nd importance of their head-dress screening. The agency began offering screeners more cultural awareness training and promised to continue a dialogue with Sikhs and other groups.

TSA says there is no racial profiling, just an emphasis on security.  But that’s cold comfort to folks like the Sikhs, or Muslims who wear head dresses, along with others who wear head wraps or loose/bulky clothing.

But the bigger point is — racial profiling doesn’t work, according to William Press, a professor of computer science and integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin.  In the December 2010 issue of Significance magazine, he writes that no matter what you do, the math doesn’t work.

“[A Middle Easterner] is not on any do-not-fly list, and it occurred to me it was exactly this phenomenon,” Press told the Pacific Standard blog. “Either explicitly or implicitly, there was some kind of profiling going on, and the same innocent individual was being screened over and over again. That draws resources away from the screening that  would find the bad guy. I realized those were basically the same problems.”

So I applaud the Sikh Coalition for creating this app.  Maybe TSA will get enough submissions, do their own numbers and train their screeners accordingly.  So now you weigh in — do you think this app is needed? Do you believe TSA screeners are involved in racial profiling? Have you been subjected to racial profiling?


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