Weekly Roundup Friday 4 November 2011

A 767 landing in Poland with its undercarriage still up, earlier this week. All passengers and crew were unharmed.

Good morning

We’ve a huge amount to offer you this week, both in the roundup and the other articles that follow.



Travel Innovation Survey

I made a real ‘dog’s breakfast’ out of releasing the Travel Innovation Survey last week.  Apologies for the false starts.  Because of these errors, I’ve held the survey open another week.

If you haven’t voted in the survey yet, subsequent to its Saturday relaunch, can I ask you to please do so now.  If we can get a sufficiently large set of opinions, then ‘the wisdom of crowds’ – particularly a crowd of Travel Insiders – will make the results both interesting and meaningful.

Qantas Woes

On Saturday I wrote briefly about the unprecedented no-notice global shutdown sprung on an unsuspecting 100,000+ travelers by Qantas management over the weekend.  Amazingly some people posted comments to the blog article accusing me of showing a pro-union bias (that’s one for the record books!), and they supported the Qantas management in their actions.  I guess none of those people were among the masses of stranded passengers all around the world.

As was so ably said in my defense by other people in blog comments, I’m neither pro nor anti union, and I hope I’m seldom biased any which way.  But I am merciless in calling ‘foul’ when I see inexcusable airline behavior, and it is hard to think of a more inexcusable action than the gratuitous and totally unnecessary shutdown – with no prior notice – of all Qantas flights, everywhere.

As you probably know, I’m a New Zealander, so Qantas is close to a home airline for me to start with, and for the decade of the 1990s, Qantas was my best corporate friend and closest business partner while I established and operated an international travel company.  I gave Qantas its first ever (and award winning) website as a present, and they, for their part, were an invaluable and enormously appreciated key factor in my business growth and success.  I loved Qantas, and was so very thankful to have such an amazing partner to help me in my business activities.

But that was then.  This is now.  The ‘new’ Qantas of the last some years has become increasingly anti-Australian, and the things that most generated my respect have been downplayed, while other factors have been given greater importance.  I grieve for the loss of the Qantas I was privileged to be partnered with back then.

In part as a tribute to the great airline that Qantas once was, I’ve written a follow up article, which follows this item in tonight’s collection of items.  In particular, I hope you might enjoy the video clips I’ve included in the article, showcasing some of Qantas’ award winning wonderful advertising in past years.  It truly does make me misty eyed to watch the ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ video.

One more thing.  I made a brief reference in my Saturday blog post about Qantas’ eroding safety; one person disagreed with me about that while not citing anything to support his disagreement.

I find the diminishing safety margin in Qantas operations one of the most disappointing things of all, a diminishing safety margin to the point where I’d be slightly nervous of boarding one of their 747s these days.  If you’d told me, ten or more years ago, that I would ever, ever, hesitate before flying any Qantas plane anywhere, I’d have laughed in your face.

As I write this on Thursday evening, breaking accounts are surfacing of yet another Qantas near disaster, on flight QF31, an A380 scheduled to operate from Singapore to London, but diverted to Dubai for an emergency landing after an engine shutdown in flight.

This latest problem occurred exactly a year after the near total plane loss of the Qantas A380 that had an engine explode shortly after takeoff from Singapore.  That A380 suffered almost fatal damage from the uncontained explosion of one of its engines, and remains still under repair in Singapore, a year later.

A Qantas spokesman described today’s incident as ‘a one-off incident’.  But how many ‘one-off’ incidents is Qantas going to have?

Each of these near disasters, to me, is like a pull of the trigger in Russian roulette.  Sure, none of the way too many Qantas incidents over the last few years have resulted in a single casualty (except to planes), but how many times can Qantas pull the trigger and hope for merely a ‘click’ to eventuate?

Naughty Jetblue Imprisons Passengers

So we had a bit of bad weather the last weekend, and, unsurprisingly, this interfered with airline operations.  The worst affected flight was a Jetblue flight that diverted to Bradley Airport in Hartford.  Passengers were stuck on board for 7.5 hours.  The toilets overflowed, and the food and water ran out, and the plane’s power would occasionally die entirely.

Notwithstanding the Department of Transportation’s requirement that passengers must not be kept on board for more than three hours, they were not allowed to leave the plane.

This article quotes the pilot as calling over the radio for air stairs to be brought to the plane – but not so passengers could be deplaned.  He wanted the air stairs so that police could come onto the plane and coerce the passengers into stopping asking to be allowed off!

Jetblue is now offering passengers a refund of their tickets and two free roundtrip vouchers for future flights.

It will be interesting to see what the DoT does.  It has the power to fine airlines up to $27,500 per passenger if they fail to comply with the ‘must allow passengers off within three hours’ rule, but notwithstanding the airlines’ these days cancelling any flight at the drop of a hat, and citing their potential liability to these massive fines as the justification for the cancellation, for the several years this new rule has been in place, the DoT has yet to levy a single fine.

It is hard to imagine a more egregious example of an airline failing to observe that rule.

US Airways Shuts Overseas Call Centers

Welcome back.  US Airways.  The airline is closing its second to last international call center (in Manila); a move which sees 400 new jobs created in the US.  The new American employees will be based at call centers in Phoenix, Reno and Winston-Salem.

The airline will continue a call center in Liverpool, England.  That call center is to serve international calls coming in from non-US locations.

New Discount Airline from Singapore Airlines

Undoubtedly adding to Qantas’ woes is the announcement this week by Singapore Airlines giving details of its already hinted at low cost airline subsidiary.

The new airline is to be called Scoot, and will be managed independently from the main SQ operation.  It will start operations with four 777-200 planes, and be based in Singapore, with services initially around Australasia and to China.

The airline expects to commence operations by mid 2011, and hopes to add further planes and routes shortly thereafter.  It will have two class service, with fares ‘up to’ 40% lower than full service airlines (such as SQ and QF).  Meals, seat assignments and baggage will all be chargeable extra items.

Two Different Speeds for Cruise Liner Drydocking

Royal Caribbean’s ship, Splendour of the Seas, has just entered drydock in Cadiz, Spain, where it is to have an extensive five week $35 million overhaul.  550 workers will be involved in the overhaul, which will add a Chops Grille steakhouse and Izumi Japanese restaurant, a Boardwalk Dog House, a Chef’s Table and the deli-style Park Café.  Balconies will be added to 124 cabins, and various other upgrades include provisioning Wi-fi throughout the ship and upgraded flat screen televisions in cabins.  The ship was launched in 1996.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  And five weeks seems like a short period of time, even with a massive 550 people working on the overhaul, right?

Well, if you think that is impressive, how about the overhaul of the Queen Mary 2.  The QM2 is having not a five week, but a 14 day overhaul from 24 November through 7 December at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg.  All 1310 staterooms are receiving new carpeting, curtains and bedding, and some are getting new furniture too.  The Golden Lion pub is being completely redesigned, and various other restaurants and lounges are also being worked on.

In total, over 18 square miles of fabric are being made into 6,000 separate items to be replaced, and enough carpet to cover ten football fields is to be laid.

Cunard aren’t saying what their budget is for all this work, but they are disclosing that such a fast turn-around will involve ‘thousands of workers’.

Airport X-ray Scanners – Maybe Dangerous, Definitely Ineffective

I write in a separate article about the appalling situation where our checked baggage is given more FDA protection in terms of its exposure to X-rays than we are ourselves when passing through airport security.  How can that be?  You’ll have to read the article to appreciate the appalling nature of how we have untested and potentially dangerous technology being forced on us every time we fly.

But enough of the dangers of radiation.  Maybe you want to glow in the dark.  At least, you might tell yourself, that possibly having your life expectancy diminished by gratuitous doses of radiation is in a good cause – you’re being made safer for the flight you’re about to take.

How then to react to the words of John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the congressional body which oversees the TSA.

He is quoted in this article as saying

The failure rate (for body scanning equipment) is classified but it would absolutely knock your socks off

Actually, his comments are far from surprising.  These devices have already been banned in Europe, both because of possible health dangers, and also because they don’t actually work.

So why does the TSA insist on continuing to buy more and more of these possibly dangerous and definitely useless devices?

How Low Can You Go?

Lastly this week, maybe something to put on your bucket list?  A night at the world’s deepest underground hotel.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 4 November 2011”

  1. David:

    I usually don’t comment on your stories but I have to take issue with the JetBlue story – it’s a bit one-sided and there is enough blame to go around. Since I live in NYC, we may be getting more information about this than you get on the west coast. (Note – I could not access the embedded article – the link seems to be broken). There were, I believe, 7 planes stuck on the tarmac that day including an AA flight from overseas (which couldn’t deplane because of a lack of immigration personnel). Bradley Airport seems to have been totally overwhelmed by the influx of diverted flights and couldn’t handle them. They were also having intermittent power problems in the terminal which added to the confusion.

    No one has mentioned Air Traffic Control which allowed these flights to take off and head into what was a huge developing weather situation. I was looking at a weather maps constantly that day and I didn’t even want to be standing outside in that mess, let alone fly into it.

    My opinion is that this is a no win situation for everyone. I don’t think JetBlue should have to bear the total responsibiliy for this….they are refunding fares and giving customers vouchers. And I suspect that the DOT will weigh all of this before making any judgements. You seem to be in an airline bashing mood this week – but I think the story could have been better balanced.


  2. Hi, Lynne

    Thanks for taking the time to add some thoughtful comments.

    The problem with spreading blame around is that no-one then takes ownership of the problem. Just from your comments alone, it seems we could blame, variously, the weather, the airport, ATC, other airplanes, power problems, and of course, Jetblue itself. All six participants then point fingers at each other, while chanting in unison ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was everyone else’s fault’.

    None of that matters to people stuck on a plane with no food, no water, and no working toilet facilities for 7.5 hours. They don’t care who or what is at fault. They simply want to get off the plane. The issue is not who or what caused the situation to start with. The issue is that no-one is solving the problem, and the pilot is more concerned with summoning police to control the passengers than he is with getting them off the plane.

    The DoT needs to fine Jetblue the maximum for this offence (ie something over $3 million). If it doesn’t, it has conclusively demonstrated that its ability to levy fines is a hollow threat rather than a real sanction.

    If other parties contributed more than their fair share to the problem and/or its lack of satisfactory solution, Jetblue will now be motivated to go after them either for a share of the fine they have to pay, or to ensure they don’t get hit with a fine again in the future.

    But until there is some clear accountability established, we will continue to see utterly shameful acts like this in the future. Until there is a real possibility of $3 million fines, no-one is going to spend lesser amounts on bad weather contingency plans and equipment.

    The only way to motivate everyone involved in such disgraces is through their collective pocketbooks.

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