Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

Rolling Aviation Thoughts

18 Apr
  • Have you seen the April issue of Airline Passenger Experience magazine?  Editor Mary Kirby has been hitting it out of the park with great content, with stories on the science of aircraft boarding, the fun of onboard retail therapy and the ongoing debate on paid versus free WiFi.  Full disclosure — I have a ball writing a regular column for the magazine (this month, I review the food offerings in JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK Airport).
  • Former FlightGlobal reporter Jon Ostrower hit the ground running in his new gig as the aerospace beat reporter for the Wall Street Journal a day early, writing about how tornadoes in Wichita affected aircraft and aerospace manufacturers.
  • My flight instructor, Alyssa Miller, has a great job.  She spent this week writing for the AOPA Pilot Blog about a major photo shoot of the timed departure of 20 B-25 World War II bombers.
  • Was everyone else geeking out over the last “flight” of the space orbiter Discovery as it made its way to the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space museum yesterday?  I saw a lot of great photos, but the one shot by Steve Trimble of FlightGlobal (from his office in Old Town Alexandria, Va.) was by far the best I saw.
  • I know we all have to get paid, but one has to question the timing of Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines.  Weeks before the carrier filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection on April 2, its board gave two top executives healthy pay raises even as it was asking for employee paycuts, reports USA Today.  Maybe the raises were justified, but the timing was not good.
  • I had to take a flight out of my hometown BWI Airport on Saturday at the crack of dawn.  I was surprised at how crowded both security checkpoints were in Concourse A.  But I saw a small sign posting about a new security line on the baggage claim level.  I scooted down, and the line was practically empty.  I had a good laugh with four other folks who saw me leave and followed me downstairs.  So check and see if your airport has lower level security lines!

I’ll end this rant with the video clip, below.  Mary “Runway Girl” Kirby left FlightGlobal in December and Jon “Flightblogger” Ostrower left last week.  But I always enjoyed their videos from the major air shows.  So enjoy their last one, from the Paris Air Show in 2011.

WSJ Report: Airlines Crack Down On Crime In The Skies

28 Feb

Back in the 1980s, I was a poor college student going to school at American University while almost all of my family was scattered around California.  Back then, the old PeoplExpress was my savior, giving me a cheap way to fly from Washington National, via Newark, to Oakland.

One of many unique things about PeoplExpress was that you actually paid for your ticket onboard. Flight attendants would come down the aisle and take cash or credit cards.  I saw my first air crime on PeoplExpress.  A passenger didn’t have the money to pay for the flight, so he was moved to the back and the police were waiting when we landed.

And having worked for two airlines, I’ve seen more than my fair share of reports generated when passengers act up on planes.  So I read this Wall Street Journal Middle Seat blog post — Cracking Down on Crime in the Skies — with interest.  “Increased fines and zero-tolerance policies have reduced `air rage” on planes, government statistics show. But dozens of passengers are denied boarding or kicked off planes every day, according to reports from airlines and flight-attendant unions,” says WSJ.  In my experience the vast majority of incidents reported during my tenure were alcohol-related. Some of the reports I saw included:

  • Inflight porn: I’m amazed at how many people had no problem watching porn on their laptops;
  • Peanuts: we’d get reports from passengers who were upset that peanuts were being served on their flight (if you ask an airline for a peanut-free flight when you book it, the request is almost always accommodated);
  • Alcohol: don’t try to tell a drunk that you’re cutting them off mid-flight. Ugly…
  • Seatbacks: some passengers took the lowering of their neighbor’s seatback very personally;
  • Overhead bins: some people felt the overhead bin over their head was their personal space, so removed items already in said bin. Hilarity (NOT) ensues;
  • Seats, in general: folks getting into fights because someone is sitting in their assigned seat and refuses to move; and
  • Food: airline runs out of buy-onboard food, passenger gets upset.

Aviation Thoughts…

25 Jan
  • Back in 1994, I had to fly from Washington, D.C. to Singapore. I decided to take the east coast route: DCA-JFK-FRA-SIN.  I thought that was the longest flight ever, despite how comfortable it was because I was on Singapore Airlines.  But it looks like Qantas’ Sydney-Dallas/Fort Worth flight is even longer, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • I admit it — I’m one of those people who does mileage runs to keep my elite status.  One year, I made a 24-hour trip from Washington Dulles to San Jose, Calif.  I rented a donut-wheel rental car and drove up to Oakland to have lunch with my cousins. On the way up, I was mesmerized when I saw Hangar One at Moffett Field.  So check out this post on CheapFlightsFinder.com covering 7 Awe Inspiring Aircraft Hangars.
  • I’m a regular listener of NPR’s Planet Money podcast.  On Jan. 9, they took a look at how airlines manage to stay in business despite losing hundreds of billions of dollars.  And they brought in none other than retired American Airlines Chairman and CEO Bob Crandall to explain it to us.  Nice to see that Mr. Crandall is as charming as ever!
  • Normally this story of a Transportation Security Administration officer being caught stealing two iPads from a passengers’ checked luggage, from a story reported by WMC-TV, would have been included in Strange But True Aviation News.  But I included it here because of the obvious question — WHY would anyone put an iPad in their checked luggage?
  • San Francisco International Airport is one of my most favorite on the planet, not to mention my original hometown airport.  One of the things that makes it so great is the world-class museum that just happens to reside on the premises.  Check out this profile of the airport’s museum in the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • The View From The Wing blog waxes poetic about the benefits of having an American Express platinum card.  It does look nice, but not everyone can spring for the $450 yearly fee.  I get treated very well with my Amex Zync card, at only $25 a year.  Read about my treatment, here.

Top Five Most Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

21 Nov

So I managed to finish my first week on the new job. LOVED it!!  Now, onto the week’s aviation news.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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’s review of Delta Air Lines’ Economy Comfort product.  My view? I’d pay extra for the room.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Five Interesting Aviation Stories

14 Oct

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.

  1. 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 about how another 787 production delay has caused United to cut its 787 delivery schedule from six to five of the type.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Top Five Aviation Stories Of The Week

30 Sep

It has been a busy week for me.  I started out recovering from two journalism conventions where I had the chance to speak (and raise my aviation geek flag), and it ended with me cranking out stories for my day job.  So here are my picks for the week.

  1. I’m giving props to my Aviation Week colleagues Guy Norris and Mike Mecham, who led our team coverage of Boeing’s first 787 delivery, to Japan’s ANA.
  2. Speaking of 787s, I was at United’s Houston hub on Tuesday (a separate post is coming out about that) and I saw a mock-up of the 787  in the E Concourse.  CEO Jeff Smisek tells the Chicago Tribune that his carrier’s first 787s are coming into the fleet by the second half of next year. He couldn’t resist a dig a Boeing, noting he’s been waiting for the plane since Continental ordered it in 2004.
  3. JetBlue CEO David Barger used an appearance on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley to call the partial shutdown of FAA earlier this summer “criminal.”
  4. I was intrigued by Scott McCartney’s Wall Street Journal story on kids attaining elite status on the world’s airlines.  My daughter, 5, started flying when she was 10 days old. She was one of the youngest children to earn a Rapid Rewards ticket on Southwest Airlines.
  5. I’m a bit behind with this story (Sept. 19), but I wanted to share this Marketwatch story on what the Transportation Security Administration is doing to speed passengers through airport checkpoints.  TSA fought the registered/trusted traveler concept for so long, it fascinates me how now they’re going in that direction.

My beloved Airplane Geeks were smart enough to interview one of my favorite social media peeps, Susan Chana Elliott of Delta Air Lines, in the latest episode.   And we have the usual basket of crazy over at AvWeek’s Things With Wings blog with Strange But True Aviation News.   I’m going to watch episode two of ABC-TV’s “Pan Am” this Sunday, but three strikes and they’re out!

My Top Five Aviation Stories This Week

9 Sep

It was a rainy, dreary week, but the news marched on.   And so will I, with my picks for my top stories.

  1. Surprise! The Boeing 737 MAX was not a surprise to Airbus, writes my Aviation Week colleague Guy Norris.  “Airbus says Boeing’s decision to develop a re-engined 737 rather than an all-new aircraft was a predictable lower-risk move, but believes the European manufacturer’s head start with the A320NEO puts it in pole position for market dominance,” he writes.
  2. 10 years after the 9/11 attacks and nearly 10 years after Richard Reid attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami using a shoe bomb, we are still required to take off our shoes at airport security checkpoints.  But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, with Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano telling NPR that airline passengers in the future will no longer be instructed to remove their shoes at airport security checkpoints. I’ve traveled the world, and only the USA still requires shoe removal.
  3. The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney looks at 10 years of airport security, noting that “the costs of increased transportation security run to tens of billions of dollars a year world-wide, and authorities still are groping to close obvious vulnerabilities a decade after the 2001 terrorist attacks.”
  4. In airline WiFi news, Delta Air Lines used its blog to announce that it was putting Gogo inflight WiFi on all 250 of its Delta Connection regional jets.  And in related news. Gogo released this cool infographic on mobile WiFi usage in the air.
  5. And finally, US Airways CEO Doug Parker chats with TheStreet.com’s Ted Reed on how his airline has changed since 9/11. Parker had just become CEO 10 days earlier.  And the Dallas Morning News’ Airline Biz Blog published my 9/11 story, here.

Do you live in Chicago or will be there by September 25? I encourage you to go to the DuSable Museum of African American History to check out the exhibit Black Wings: American Wings of Flight.   The exhibit uses a narrative arch that uses the Tuskegee Airmen as a jumping off point to tell the untold story of African American aviation in the last 65 years.

I hope you all have a great weekend!!

If You Build It, They Might Not Come

16 Aug

Having covered the airports beat for four years, I found them to be fascinating.  They are like small cities (or large, depending on where they are).  They are a symbol of a community’s ties to the global transportation system.  They are seen as economic development engines and even points of pride.

Sioux Gateway Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson

So it was with great interest that I read Susan Carey’s Wall Street Journal article, “Small Airports Struggle to Get Off Ground.”  I worked a great deal with smaller airports during my tenure at Mesa Air Group, chasing after Essential Air Service program markets.  I also covered them as editor of Commuter/Regional Airline News.

Smaller airports were always looking for that magic formula to bring in that all-important air service.  One of those formulas was always something like “if we build a bigger terminal” or “it we lengthen the runway” we can get more airline service.

But the hard truth that many of these airports don’t want to face is that no matter what you do, you’re not going to get the service you believe you deserve.  Airlines are a lot more picky about where they fly, and even if you get them, it doesn’t mean they’ll stay.

It was always interesting to meet with city officials when you were going after their EAS business.  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.

I love Carey’s example of San Bernardino, Calif.  At the beginning of my journalism career, I wrote about economic development.  At the time,  Congress had decided to close a slew of military bases, many of which had airports, San Bernardino being one of them.  So almost 20 years after Norton AFB closed, they have still not managed to attract an airline, despite having spent $142.7 million since 2007 on a passenger terminal, a  general aviation terminal and a building for U.S. Customs. One issue is there’s too many other alternative airports — including Los Angeles International — in the region.  Ontario Airport has that same issue.

Another example is Ohio’s Toledo Express Airport.  I’m sure it’s a lovely airport, but most of its potential customers drive to Detroit Metro for the selection that a hub airport gives you.  Even Toledo’s mayor — theoretically the facility’s biggest booster — was caught driving to Detroit.

And yet another example is Pennsylvania’s John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, about 2 hours away from Pittsburgh.  The late Rep. Murtha guided $150 million in federal dollars for a facility that has been empty at times, although it currently has United Express service to Washington Dulles International Airport.  So it will be interesting to see what stops smaller airports will pull out in the future to attract that new service.


Top Aviation Stories Of The Week

12 Aug

First, thanks again for sticking with me last week as I ran another best-of while I attended the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia.  While I didn’t do any writing, I did keep up with the news.  But I couldn’t be constrained to only five stories, so check out my list of the most interesting aviation/airline news, below.

  • My Aug. 10 post about the Tuskegee Airmen prompted Ernie Nackord (@WWIIPilots) to post a comment with a link to a 47:10 minute video interview with Airman Adolph Moret and his wife Eline.  I plan on watching it this weekend, and I hope you take the time to do the same.
  • Scott McCartney posts at the Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat Terminal blog on how despite airlines offering better food choices, you guys insist on going for the junk food.  My July 19 post offers my own view on inflight food.
  • Cranky Flier (aka Brett Snyder) says why the airlines were correct in NOT passing along a temporary FAA tax cut along to passengers.
  • Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is chairman of the House Transportation Committee and loves to shoot out sound bites about parts of the air transportation system that catches his attention.  This week he targeted the Essential Air Service (EAS) program in the Sunshine News, saying he wants to shut the program down.  But those are fighting words to rural lawmakers, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce committee.  I covered my feelings on EAS in a Feb. 9 post.
  • The Los Angeles Times writes about how the new ABC-TV television show Pan Am has sparked a nostalgia for the airline’s logo line. (There’s more after the video, kids)

We’ll end the week with two things that are perfect bookends — a post on Up Up And A Gay on flight attendants talking about gross things passengers do on planes (snot-covered blankets, dripping breast milk) and Aviation Week’s Strange But True Aviation News (urinating passengers, bats on a plane). Enjoy the weekend, kids!!

Top Five Most Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

22 Jul

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Aviation Week has 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.
  3. 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’s Today in the Sky blog.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!


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