I always used to dread the holidays when I was still a full-time aviation journalist. Why? Because the hunt for news always came to a dead stop as folks were more focused on their shopping than the aviation/aerospace industry. But there was plenty of news last week, so let’s get to it.
Every December, Aerospace Industries of America holds its annual industry forecast luncheon at the iconic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. It’s where all the players in aviation, aerospace and defense come together for cocktails, lunch and a forecast delivered by President and CEO Marion Blakey. U.S. aerospace and defense sales continued to grow in 2011 and will see only a modest decline in 2012, according to the Aviation Week story on the forecast.
When American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Nov. 19, I did a blog post on it over at the Reynolds Center blog. One of the things I mentioned was that we’d probably see layoffs and service cuts in the months ahead. What I didn’t mention was the re-start of chatter over further airline consolidation. In this Bloombergstory, Delta CEO Richard Anderson did mention the “C” word, becoming the second airline executive — after US Airways CFO Derek Kerr also mentioning consolidation in an interview in the Wall Street Journal.
Speaking of American Airlines, there have been a lot of analysts and pundits offering their two cents on what the Chapter 11 filing means. But none has done a better job of it than my friend Mike Boyd, founder of aviation consultancy Boyd Group International — and Terry Maxon of the Dallas Morning News’Airline Biz blog agrees. In the 11-page report, Boyd’s take on a possible merger is as follows: The potential for a merger with US Airways is no more or less likely (and no more attractive) than before the filing.
Congress has been obsessed lately with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). For example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced H.R. 3608, which would prohibit screeners from being called officers and stop them from wearing uniforms with badges. This isn’t really a big deal to me in the general scheme of things. But what IS a big deal is Rep. Chip Cravaack’s (R-Minn.) bill that gives expedited security checkpoint screening to military personnel traveling on orders has cleared the Senate and now goes to President Obama for his signature, according to Minnesota Public Radio. I am the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers, and I always thought it was ridiculous that soldiers who were putting their lives on the line for America should have to unlace their boots and go through the same screening as civilians. Kudos to Congress for this rare show of both common sense and bipartisanship.
Bill Swelbar is a Research Engineer in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s International Center for Air Transportation. He also writes the excellent Swelblog, and last week, he did a great post on the prospects for airlines and airports in 2012.
Be sure and go over to the Aviation Week website to see the winners of the magazine’s 20th annual photo contest. You can see some amazing photos from the winners and finalists in the Commercial, General, Defense and Space categories. And please help me with my new Wednesday column, Rolling Aviation Thoughts, which covers my crazy aviation/airline thoughts floating in my head or guides you, dear readers, to links to other random stuff that isn’t big enough for a full blog post, but is still worth pointing out.
We’ll end the week with a poll. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on TSA to create a passenger advocate position as reports of “inappropriate screenings” by two elderly passengers (both of whom are from New York), reports The Hill’s Transportation blog.
I was doing my regular Twitter search when I saw someone had posted this Aviation Week story — Airbus Expects United To Place A380 Order. Written by my former colleague Darren Shannon, I first thought it was a gag. I’ve never been quite sure about the economics of that plane, but there are people much smarter than me out there who have made it work.
Right after American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the chatter about it merging with US Airways began. Last week, I linked to a post from Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder, who gave his reasons on why he thought this was a good idea. And now, US Airways CFO Derek Kerr agrees with Brett, being quoted in the Wall Street Journalsaying that “there is possibly room for more.” (If you get the subscribers only link, just copy the headline, paste it in Google and click on the link that has online.wsj.com in the URL to see the full story.)
The Air Transport Association of America — the lobbying group for major U.S. carriers — recently changed its name to Airlines4America. When I first heard the name, I wasn’t impressed, thinking it was just too cute for words. And it looks like Scott McCartney, the Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat Terminal blog agrees with me in this post — Does Cutesy Name Change Limit Credibility of Airline Group?
Back when I worked at Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group, I still traveled regularly to the East Coast. I had my choice of flying America West to Los Angeles and catching a flight to Baltimore or flying US Airways to Pittsburgh, then Baltimore. Nine times out of 10, I chose the US Airways flight to go shopping in Pittsburgh, back when it still had hub status. But since it was dehubbed back in 2004, the airport has fallen on some tough times. So their solution? Try and attract new turboprop service, reports Pittsburgh Live.
I love it when airlines try to show the love to their very best customers. Check out my Aviation WeekThings With Wings blog post on how United Airlines showed the love to 10 million mile customer Tom Stuker in July. So I just loved this post from Chris McGinnis’ The Ticket travel news blog — Delta picking up pax in Porsches at ATL. So you get off your flight and a man in a suit waits in the jetway holding a card with your name. You’re taken out the side door and driven directly to your car — in a Porsche Cayenne SUV. How cool is that?
And those crazy Taiwanese animators are at it again. Below is a video with their thoughts on the situation with “30 Rock” star Alec Baldwin. And just ignore the fact that the “Alec” cartoon looks absolutely *nothing* like the actor!
It was just another interesting but busy week in aviation, so let’s get right to it.
I don’t think anyone was surprised with American Airlines’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing. You can read my quick take on that over at the Business Journalism blog. But every time there’s an airline bankruptcy filing, there’s the inevitable airline merger speculation. And in my humble opinion, no one did it better last week than Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder with his post — Why I Want US Airways to Buy American.
Regular readers know that my idea of the first circle of hell is travelers being allowed to chat on their cell phones while on a flight. But I do like to have my electronic toys — iPhone, iPod, iPad, Kindle and DVD player — available while flying. And I always wonder why we’re told we have to power down our electronic devices at take-off and landing. But the New York Times’ Bits blog says it’s not clear why we have to do this.
After covering airport security for four years, I still have a strange fascination with all the speculation on what the future is for the Transportation Security Administration in general and the traveling public specifically. This CNN story takes a look at what security checkpoints might look like in the future. But this speculation has been going on for quite a while. Check out my Aviation Week blog posts from 2008 on this topic here and here (the program has since been dismantled).
On the business/general aviation side of the house (which is now paying my mortgage), the industry won a major victory on maintaining the privacy of aircraft owners, reports AIN Online. After Congress restored the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, the Dept. of Transportation and FAA decided not to move ahead and respond to a lawsuit filed by organizations including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (my employer), the National Business Aviation Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association. For those critical of aircraft owners wanting their tail numbers blocked, I ask you this — would you want the government or anyone with a laptop to be able to track you by your license plate number? I’m just asking…
I’m one of those people who has a germ phobia. I keep hand sanitizer, baby wipes and a portable can of Lysol in my purse. And after reading this Budget Traveler article — 6 Places Germs Breed in a Plane — I want to encase myself in a hazmat suit on my next flight. Hint — I’ll never look at those tray tables the same again!
I also had a few media appearances last week. I was a guest on the Airplane Geeks podcast, talking about my new job at AOPA (if you join, tell them Aunt Benet sent you!). And I was also interviewed by the fine folks at National Geographic on the seven most extreme airports (although I’m sorry St. Maartin wasn’t included on the list).
We’ll end the week with two last items. First, my former Aviation Week colleague Madhu Unnikrishnan had an item about how the Air Transport Association’s name change — to Airlines 4 America — yielded some “interesting” results on a Google search. And last, the folks over at Taiwan’s NMA.tv have me on their mailing list, and sent this YouTube video on American Air’s Ch. 11 filing. Enjoy!
This is a rare weekend post where I’m going to link to some articles and ask what you think.
Jets at Boston Logan Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson
First, one of my aviation geek chat groups passed along this New York Times article entitled “A C.E.O.’s Moral Stand.” In a nutshell, the writer lauds American Airlines Chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey for announcing his departure on the same day his carrier decided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. His reasoning was “a belief that bankruptcy was morally wrong, and that he could not, in good conscience, lead an organization that followed this familiar path.” Arpey leaves the company after 30 years without receiving any cash severance or no long-term incentives, although he still gets his lifetime travel and Admirals Club benefits.
But it’s not like he’s being tossed out into the street. He has landed quite nicely as a partner at private equity firm Emerald Creek Group founded by former Continental Airlines CEO Larry Kellner, reports the New York Times. So here’s question number one for you to ponder: did Arpey really take a moral stand?
My non-airline friends are always asking me why airlines continue to lose money as they charge fares and fees up the ying yang. No matter how I try to explain it (passengers’ stubborn refusal to pay higher fares, rising labor costs and fluctuating fuels costs, to name a few), I can never get them to understand that most carriers operate on a shoestring. So I have to thank Joshua Freed of the Associated Press for his story on why it is so hard for airlines to make money. After reading his article, do you understand airline costs — and why it’s hard to make money?
So I managed to finish my first week on the new job. LOVED it!! Now, onto the week’s aviation news.
Ted Reed of The Street.com wrote two interesting airline pieces last week. In the first piece, he writes about how the lack of a deal between American Airlines and its pilots could cause the Dallas-based carrier to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the last of the legacy carriers who have avoided this fate. In his second piece, Reed notes that Phoenix-based US Airways has two goals for 2012: cut its presence at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and upgrade its aging fleet.
Plans for a supersonic business jet have been floating around for decades. The latest player to enter the market, U.K.-based HyperMach used last week’s Dubai Air Show to tell Aviation International News that its 20-seat SonicStar will be able to fly at speeds up to Mach 4.0, allowing to fly from New York to Dubai in only 2 hours 20 minutes.
Regular readers know I am a fan — and student — of all things dealing with first and business class travel, as witnessed by the Facebook group I created: I Love Sitting In 1st/Biz Class (my Dec. 15 blog post about the group is here). So I’m passing along Jaunted’sreview of Delta Air Lines’ Economy Comfort product. My view? I’d pay extra for the room.
My 6-year-old daughter has become addicted to video Skype. She loves chatting with her grandparents and her aunt. So I’m betting she’d love being able to check in for her flight via Skype, which you can now do at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Trust me, I am NOT a regular reader of Perez Hilton. But I could not resist when I saw his hysterical rant about Spirit Airlines pop up on my Google Alerts. He rambles on about all the fees charged by Spirit. You won’t see me flying on that airline — ever — but I admire their business model. They charge ultra low fares, but charge fees up the ying yang. Don’t like the fees? Don’t fly the airline.
I’m a bit behind on my Airplane Geeks episodes, but I thoroughly enjoyed Episode 171, which featured former Air Force pilot Mark Jones. He had some great stories about training at Edwards AFB. At one time, my dad was deputy base commander there, and my sister worked on the flight line, so I was reliving all that when Mark was chatting.
And finally, I am a sucker for aviation/airline commercials. When they come on, I stop and watch in rapt fascination. Recently I saw one featuring the folks who build GE Aviation engines, where they got the chance to fly to Boeing Field Seattle to see their product hung on the 787 Dreamliner and actually fly on the 747, my favorite plane. And yes, I got a tear in my eye as they watched the fruits of their labor in total awe. Enjoy!
Kids, I must confess — I was so busy with this week’s National Business Aviation Association annual conference that I barely had time to keep up with the rest of the industry. But I did manage to find five interesting stories I’d love to share with you.
Back on July 9, I got to take a day trip up to United Airlines’ Chicago O’Hare hub for a party being held for Tom Stuker, who accumulated 10 million (yes, million) Mileage Plus miles (my AvWeek blog post on that is here). One of the gifts given to Stuker was a Boeing 787 model. During his remarks at the festivities, United CEO Jeff Smisek said the 787 would be in the fleet by 2012. He also quipped about how he had been waiting four years for the delayed plane. And now, my Aviation Week colleague Darren Shannon writes abouthow another 787 production delay has caused United to cut its 787 delivery schedule from six to five of the type.
Are you one of those people who use websites to manage all of your frequent flyer miles (I’m not one of them)? if you’re using sites including AwardWallet, MileWise and GoMiles, you may be facing some trouble, according to the Wall Street Journal. Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have sent “cease and desist” letters to these companies over their activities.
SmarterTravel’s Ed Perkins gives us the skinny behind the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck trusted traveler program, which is quite similar to the old registered traveler programs (which were privately run). But he also asks some very good questions about the program, including cost, locations and enrollment.
My friend Sandra Gonzales, a multimedia journalist in New Orleans, shot this piece on how Louis Armstrong International Airport has become one of 8 American approved airports to fly to Cuba.
As you know, the nostalgic aviation geeks had been waiting with bated breath for the new ABC-TV series “Pan Am.” You can see my review of it in this Sept. 26 post. Which is why I enjoyed this post from travel expert Peter Greenberg’s thoughts on the real Pan Am.
DC-3 prop in Susan Elliott's Delta social media office Photo by Benet J. Wilson
I’m still catching up on my Airplane Geek podcast episodes. I just listened to Episode 166, featuring Delta Air Lines social media guru Susan Elliott. It was a great episode., and you have to love a woman who has a genuine DC-3 prop and a white leather sofa in her work space!! And I got to guest host Episode 168, with Lori Ranson, he America’s Air Transport Editor at Flightglobal. And don’t forget to read this week’s edition of Strange But True Aviation News!
I have one more week to go at Aviation Week. And I thank you all for your kind tweets and emails. But as a result, there will be some changes on my blog. Mondays will now be my top stories of the previous week. Tuesdays and Wednesdays will remain the same. Thursdays are for Random Aviation Photos and Friday will be Strange But True Aviation News. I hope you’ll continue to support me here!
First, in case you didn’t hear the news on Twitter, I was laid off from Aviation Week on Tuesday after a great five-year run. But it’s ALL good in the hood, kids. I’m grateful for my time there, and am very appreciative with how well I was treated during my tenure. Really — I got paid to write about my hobby, my passion, for five years. How many people do you know who can say the same?
So it’s on to the next aviation geek adventure! Meanwhile, if you hear of any full-time or part-time jobs, or if you’re looking for a great freelance writer/editor or an aviation consultant, I’m your girl. Drop me a line in the comments or at email@example.com. Now, on to the news!
As airlines continue to mull how they are going to handle inflight WiFi, I read with interest this story from my Aviation Week colleague Andy Compart on Delta Air Lines’ new options for passengers. Under the effort, the airline is offering free access to some partner websites, including shopping and news.
You need to look like you’re doing something, so it was interesting to read about the Chicago aviation summit, where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel met behind closed doors with executives from United, Boeing, AAR Corp., American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. A spokeswoman for Smisek declined to comment on the discussion beyond characterizing it as “productive,” reported the Chicago Sun-Times.
To me, there’s nothing better than doing an aviation geek behind-the-scenes tour of the world’s great airports. The LA Times has this great story on what goes on in the underbelly of Los Angeles International Airport (one of the airports I’ve been lucky enough to tour).
I’m a foodie and a keen observer of what airlines are serving on their planes, so it was nice to read this story from Pegasus News on the new food offerings on American Airlines. The DFW-based carrier has partnered with celebrity chefs Richard Sandoval and Marcus Samuelsson to handle the duties for international and domestic flights, respectively.
Finally, you all know what an airport geek I am. Which is why I loved this story from the Miami Herald about an airport design website. The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority – which operates Tampa International Airport – has opened a website asking customers to help redesign the facility’s main terminal.
Meanwhile, the latest issue of “Strange But True Aviation News” includes stories on TSA thievery, refunding a dead man’s tickets and smuggling birds in your pants. And I’ll be guest hosting next week’s podcast episode of the Airplane Geeks, which is always fun. So enjoy your weekend, kids! I know I will!!
This week’s big news was the massive American Airlines order split between rival manufacturers and the potential partial shut-down of the Federal Aviation Administration. But there were other things going on, below.
There were hundreds of stories on the American Air order, but I really liked this one in Aviation Week from my colleague, Darren Shannon. In this story, Shannon explains why the carrier had to split its order between Boeing and Airbus.
Aviation Weekhas been all over the potential shut-down of FAA because Congress can’t get it together and stop doing short-term reauthorizations over and over again.
Delta Air Lines and US Airways finally got approval from the Dept. of Transportation to do a swap that will give Delta more slots at LaGuardia Airport and US Airways more slots at Washington National Airport, reports USA Today’sToday in the Sky blog.
Back when I worked at Delta Air Lines, it was during a time when the carrier was struggling to make its pension fund more stable. With questions on what would happen to the fund in the long term, there were cases where pilots divorced their wives so their spouses could get a lump-sum payment, but they would still live together. The airlines caught on and Continental took nine of its pilots to court over what they called “sham” divorces. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling dismissing the lawsuit, reports the Houston Chronicle.
Anyone who’s ever flown on a plane knows the drill — when the boarding call is made, people start flocking to the boarding gate even though their row isn’t called. Sometimes it’s so bad you feel like a salmon spawning upstream when it’s time for you to board. Which is why I read Scott McCartney’s Middle Seat Terminal blog post on the boarding process with interest. In my humble opinion, I think Southwest Airlines has it right.
We have some really crazy stuff in this week’s edition of Strange But True Aviation News, including airline panty checks, the Octomom having a bit of kid trouble in business class and folks with TSA screener issues. Next week I’ll be in aviation geek heaven, covering the annual EAA AirVenture air show, the world’s largest. So I have to decide — will I try and post from the show or do a best-of next week? We’ll see. Meanwhile, enjoy your weekend!
I wish the Transportation Security Administration would make up its mind. First, it allowed airports to hire private screeners under the Screening Partnership Program. Then TSA Chief John Pistole put the kibosh on the program, saying he didn’t see an advantage to having the program, reports MSNBC’s Overhead Bin column. And now, writes Harriet Baskas, the agency is reversing itself again, asking airports to show “a clear and substantial advantage to TSA’s security operations.”
You all know about my fascination (OK-obsession) with airports. Which is why I enjoyed this article from our friends at AirFareWatchDog on the world’s most thrilling airports. I’ve actually flown into two of them — Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten and LaGuardia Airport, New York. I also loved flying into the old Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong.
A shout out to my friend @FieldSix for this Wall Street Journal guest column from Chef David Chang of Momofuku restaurant fame. Chang reveals what every one of us who have ever had the chance to fly in first class internationally — he’s become a travel snob.
And my friend Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig’s magazine shades features a profile of Ayesha Durrani is a Canadian-born woman of Pakistani descent who travels regularly to Central and South America.
I grew up as an Air Force brat, and one of my biggest thrills was attending military air shows, especially the one at Andrews AFB outside of DC. So I loved this Tchnologist blog post on the The Top Five Airshow Fly Overs. And it’s video!!
And of course, it wouldn’t be Friday without Aviation Week’sStrange But True Aviation News. We have passengers with bladder problems, turtles on the tarmac, scorpions on a plane and the usual “I didn’t know I had a gun!” Enjoy!!
Despite all the sweltering heat, the work still must go on, and we had another fun — and busy week in aviation. So let’s get started, shall we?
This is a classic case where social media forced an airline to change a bag fee policy. Delta Air Lines was left with egg on its face after two soldiers coming home from Afghanistan posted video on YouTube of 36 reservists being charged $2,800 in bag fees at BWI Airport. There were almost 1,000 stories came up on a Google search of the incident. Delta used its blog to apologize and change the policy, effectively immediately. As the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers, stories like this always hit close to home, and I’m glad that Delta has done the right thing. I also commend American Airlines, Continental Airlines and United Airlines for following suit.
When I travel, I’m always amazed at two things: one, why pilots and flight attendants on duty still have to go through security like the rest of us; and two, how I see passengers who get aggressive when crew members cut to the top of the line. Back in July 2008, the Transportation Security Administration started a pilot program called CrewPASS, a system to take properly credentialed pilots out of the regular line and into an expedited queue, via an airport’s exit lane. Three years later, my Aviation Week colleague Jim Ott blogs about how TSA is still “dithering” over easing security for flight crews. You can see my original Towers and Tarmacs blog post on the topic here.
As a student of the aviation industry, I enjoy reading articles and columns on the financial status of airlines. Good friend Bill Swelbar of Swelblog, has written an interesting post on the topic: In The Airline Business We Just Do Not Talk About Balance Sheets Enough. Before deregulation, it was all so easy. The Civil Aeronautics Board handled airline routes, fares and schedules, ensuring everyone could make a comfortable living. But now some 34 years after deregulation, airlines are still fighting over their balance sheets.
As airports continue to search for ways to bring in more non-airline revenue, several have looked to bringing slot machines into their facilities to bring in more cash. New Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is proposing just that for O’Hare and Midway airports, according to Jaunted. Back in February, I wrote a blog post over at Things With Wings on how my hometown airport — BWI — was considering a similar measure. Don’t laugh — slots brought in $25.7 million in FY 2009-10 at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
I have many dear friends who happen to be gay. I have been following columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign, created to help gay teens considering suicide after being bullied over their sexual orientation. No matter what a teen’s orientation, none of them should feel so desperate that they see suicide as their only option. So I was happy to see that American Airlines has become the first carrier to make a video contribution to the project via its GLEAM employee resource group.
We have a bumper crop of crazy in today’s Strange But True Aviation News, with rats on a plane, issues with Virgin Atlantic employees and more problems with TSA screeners. Enjoy!!