I had mildly commented on the computer system changeover for UA/CO last weekend, and suggested you keep on top of any issues that might be arising. I tried not to indulge in any greater fearmongering because I thought that surely this changeover would have been massively tested and trialed and would be routine and user-transparent.
Boy, was I wrong. But if you’re not a subscriber to Joe Brancatelli’s excellent newsletter, and/or if you weren’t traveling on UA/CO over the weekend, you’d probably not know this, because – according to the main stream media, who were thoughtlessly simply recycling glowing press releases from United – everything went as smoothly as possible, with no more than a few minor glitches.
Only Joe B, with his close to real-time updates, pointed out the ugly truth of what was going down on Saturday, especially at O’Hare. Cancellations galore, and massive delays, compounded by multi-hour waits on hold to get through to UA Customer Service – even to their elite level special phone service numbers, made for an ugly experience for tens of thousands of travelers. He also points out in his Friday newsletter that many of these problems continue, even now, nearly a week later.
The Main Stream Media Lets the Traveling Public Down – Again
I’m still not completely blaming UA for the messup, because that is secondary to the key message from the weekend’s events. The real culprit is the main stream media for passively believing what they were told by United, and not doing any research of their own.
That is why The Travel Insider was formed back in 2001 – to say the things that the main stream media chooses not to say, and to look in places where they’d rather not go, and to risk upsetting the advertisers and politically important connections that newspapers cherish and which The Travel Insider, alas, almost totally lacks.
An Example of Poor Main Stream Media Airline Coverage
It isn’t just a failing by the main stream media on this one case of United’s system switch. Here’s an example of an article that uncritically passes on nonsense commentary – a NY Times article that quotes an airline industry insider as saying
Airlines are going to do O.K., but doing O.K. means they’re going to be dropping a lot of places they now fly. Air travel is going to get accessed by fewer and fewer people,” as airlines continue to reduce service to many markets to cut costs, he said. “This is a mixed metaphor, but it’s going to be a sea change in air travel patterns,” he said.
I’m sorry, but unlike the article quoting this without comment, I have to call ‘bs’ on these claims. The airlines are going to drop service to a lot of places they now fly? Air travel is going to have fewer and fewer passengers? Those claims fly in the face of the steady but certain trend every year since the dawn of aviation; a trend towards more air travel, to more and more places, by more and more and more people. There is no reason put forward in the article to suspect a sudden reversal in these trends.
Of course, there’s a purpose for circulating these scare stories. It is an effort by the airlines, and through their proxies, to lobby for tax exemptions from the federal government. Oh, look – as if by coincidence, read on down a paragraph or two, where you’ll see mention of the latest attempt by the airline lobbyists to seek special reduced tax liability due to the airlines being so ‘special’, and claiming the sky will collapse on all our heads if they don’t get correspondingly special treatment.
There are only two things that might see a definite and long lasting contraction in air travel. The first is another oil price shock, and the accompanying economic collapse it would occasion. But as long as our economy muddles along more or less as it is, and as long as oil prices don’t skyrocket more than they are, that is no more than a remote possibility – and even if it were to occur, a reduction in the airlines’ federal tax liabilities is unlikely to change the dynamics of that problem anyway.
The other possibility that could cause problems is massive incompetence on the part of the airlines, running their businesses into the ground for no good or rational reason. How likely is that? Well, sadly, more likely that the massive economic disruption scenario. But, again, a reduction in taxes isn’t going to cure bad management.
The NY Times writer describes the airlines’ calls for more favorable federal assistance as credible. Needless to say, and even though I’ve yet to see a tax I liked, or didn’t want to see reduced, I disagree.
The problem with the airlines is all to do with bad management, not excessive taxation, which circles us back to the original point – United’s massive foulup with its computer system conversion. Would lower taxes have helped prevent that problem? Absolutely no. But how about more competent management – do you think that might have helped? Absolutely yes.
Main Stream Media Again Silent On an Important Issue
Now for another example of the main stream media’s failure to responsibly illuminate issues. Look at the subsequent article in today’s compendium of articles about the latest TSA security breach. Have you seen it prominently mentioned in headlines anywhere in the main stream media? Don’t you think it important that these very expensive – and possibly very dangerous – whole body radiation machines have been proven – again, and this time in a different way – not to work?
The TSA doesn’t even deny the security loophole in how the machines work (not that they could after the person announcing the problem successfully went through radiation machines at two different airports without having the metal object on his person detected). Instead, they simply say it doesn’t really matter if the Xray machines work or not, because there are still 19 other layers of their security (most of which are ridiculous fabrications).
But – here’s the biggest point of all, bigger even than wondering why, while most of the rest of the world is refusing to have anything to do with these scanners either because they are too dangerous or too useless, the TSA still continues to buy more and more of them. The biggest point is – if it doesn’t matter if the machines work or not, why does the TSA demand we go through them? Why can’t we repeat their own words back to them – ‘We don’t need to go through these machines (which, by the way, don’t work anyway) because Blogger Bob says you have 19 other layers of security to warn you if we are terrorists or not, and to ensure we can’t get onto a plane’.
How well would that be received, do you think?
Now you might roll your eyes at the idiocy of all of this, but then passively accept it as inevitable, and as an unavoidable part of living in the current times (whatever that means). But it shouldn’t be so. It needn’t be so. Isn’t this supposed to be a more enlightened age, a more scientific and rational age? Why is it that we waste money and are totally careless about and abusive of our civil rights, while ‘inferior’ countries all around the world do a better job than us at both ensuring their citizens’ safety and protecting their citizens’ rights?
How did the TSA become an alternate universe where normal rules of common sense, fairplay, financial prudence, and most of all – accountability – completely do not apply? Why do we passively allow this to continue?
And – back to my original point – where is the main stream media in all of this? Is this not an issue that is surely of interest to people across the country – not just the apparent reality that the machines expose us to dangerous levels of radiation, but the certainty that they can easily be defeated in at least two different ways by people wishing to smuggle explosives or other contraband past them.
Less Taxes = More Visitors
Here’s a country and city that ‘gets it’ in terms of taxing tourists. Wellington, my former home town and the capital city of New Zealand, has just decided to remove its International Departure Tax/fee that was formerly levied on all passengers flying out of NZ from Wellington’s Rongotai Airport.
It was not something they did lightly – it took a year of extensive consultation to agree to remove the tax. International fees will be reduced by a total of 39%, which the Wellingtonians believe will encourage airlines to bring additional services and additional visitors to the region.
The tax was NZ$25 (just over US$20). Not a huge amount, but the thing is that all these small amounts add up, and each extra small amount causes perceptible losses of visitors. But until other cities and countries understand this, Wellington and NZ will get more business and other countries will get less.
The Strange Semi-Response to the Strange EU ‘Save the World’ Tax on Airlines
Talking about taxes and the negative effect they have on passenger travel, there’s a strangely slow-motion storm brewing between the EU and the rest of the world. The EU has asserted its right to levy some sort of bizarre ‘global warming’ carbon tax thing on all airlines that either operate within the EU or which fly to or from the EU. Many airlines and many foreign governments say that the EU is exceeding its authority to levy taxes on an entire flight rather than just that part of the flight operating within (above) Europe. And ordinary people, the world over, wonder how paying taxes makes any difference to the temperature of the planet.
Airlines from 23 countries outside the EU got together to gripe and complain about this in Moscow recently. Various airlines have threated to cut back or cancel flights to/from the EU – a threat which basically delights the EU carriers, of course.
In addition, Russia’s deputy transport minister has threatened to limit flights by EU airlines that wish to fly over Russia. This would impact on many airlines going down to Asian and Australian/NZ countries, forcing the airlines to fly longer routes that would not only cost them more money, but force them to burn more fuel and emit more carbon, too.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Airlines is threatening to cancel its order for ten Airbus A380 planes, and the Chinese government is muttering about a blanket ban on buying any further Airbus planes at all. This would force the airlines to fly less fuel efficient planes, burning more fuel and, yes, you got it – again possibly making the world a hotter place in the process.
The Chinese government also banned all its airlines from participating in this carbon fee scheme without approval, but it is unclear if its airlines do or don’t have approval.
The strange part about all of this is that the EU instituted its fees in January, and had made its intention to do so well known, far in advance. But here we are in March, and all we are seeing is foreign airlines and governments talking about maybe doing something, sometime in the possible future.
Ryanair Sues Exxon Mobile – Six Years Later
Still on the subject of airline fuel and crazy things to do with it, Ryanair is suing Exxon Mobile for €9 million plus unspecified other damages to compensate Ryanair for lost profit as a result of what Ryanair says is being overcharged for fuel during the period 1999 – 2006.
In 2006 the Italian regulators fined Exxon and five other oil companies a total of €315 million for plotting together to control jet fuel prices, and it seems the Ryanair case is based on that earlier finding and fine. It is unclear why it took Ryanair almost six years to lodge their complaint, however.
The new new iPad
I also write at length this week in not just one but three different articles about Apple’s new new iPad. No, that’s not a typo. The device is actually called ‘new iPad’; which deserves some sort of a prize for the stupidest product name yet.
But, notwithstanding its really stupid name, the device itself seems to be a winner; so much so that within 24 hours of its release, it is pretty much completely sold out already for its next Friday (16 March) release. If you order one now, you’ll probably have to wait some time after then to get yours.
Justice Department To Sue Apple and Book Publishers? And a Class Action Lawsuit Too.
All is not completely rosy for Apple and its iPad, though. Welcome news this week also of continuing steady progress towards a Justice Department suit against Apple and five major book publishers; with the Justice Department claiming that Apple and the publishers conspired to work together to raise/fix prices on eBooks.
On the face of it, that truly seems to have been the case. Remember Amazon’s earlier promise that all eBooks would never cost over $9.99? That’s no longer the case, and not because of Amazon. It was and still is keen to continue the marketplace growth and acceptance of eBooks by trying to keep prices fair on eBook titles. But whereas prior to Apple getting together with the publishers, Amazon was free to sell eBooks at any price it wished, even if that meant selling them at a loss (as was formerly often the case!) apparently at Apple’s instigation, publishers now set the prices on their eBooks and won’t let Amazon sell below those fixed prices.
That’s why you’ll now sometimes see the ridiculous situation where eBooks cost more to download than regular paper/printed books cost to buy and have delivered to your door.
The Justice Department needs to hurry to court. There is also a class action being brought against Apple and the publishers by class action specialists, the law firm of Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro LLP.
More details here – and good luck to both the Justice Department and the class action litigants.
Almost Good News for Passengers with (too many) Carry Ons
There’s some very slight good news for those of us who like to travel with excessive carry on items. (ie most of us). Although the percentage of passengers bringing bags on board has remained more or less constant, at about 87%, there have been two other factors contributing to congestion in the overheads – first, people are bringing more and bigger bags on board (while the gate agents and flight attendants passively permit the flaunting of the official rules on the size and quantity of carry on bags) and there are more people on each flight than ever before.
Fortunately, it seems that overhead bins are growing in size. United is putting new bins on 152 of its planes, starting in April, with doors that curve out more, providing more internal space and allowing bags to go straight in rather than sideways. This is expected to increase capacity from 64 up to 106 roll-on bags per plane.
Delta is redesigning the bins on their 767s to allow them to hold 26 more bags than before (a 23% increase). American’s new 737s will be able to hold 48 more bags (as well as 24 more passengers, but still a net overall gain for bag space).
And US Airways has already increased the size of its overheads, also to allow roll-aboards to go straight in rather than sideways.
Methinks there’s some sort of Parkinson’s Law at work here, however. The amount of bags we bring on board will grow to fill any extra space on the plane!
2011 Safest Year Ever for Flying
It has been a good year in 2011 for flying, at least from a safety point of view. According to IATA, the accident rate for Western built jets was the lowest ever, and a 39% improvement on 2010, which was the best year ever prior to 2011.
In 2011 there was one hull loss per 2.7 million flights. In 2010 the rate was one per 1.6 million flights. In terms of numbers of actual hull losses (accidents which destroy the plane), there were 11 in 2011 compared to 17 in 2010. And in terms of fatalities, there were 486 compared to 786 the previous year.
More details here.
More Security Horror Stories This Week
As longer time readers know – and as is the case this week too – most weeks I usually end up sharing some disgraceful example of the nonsense which passes for ‘security’ at our airports (and, alas, elsewhere in the country too). But can I ask someone else to speak on my behalf this week (well, in addition to my piece about the Xray scanners).
Here’s an excellent article written by a lady in Canada about security nonsense. I couldn’t have put it any better myself.
About the only thing I could add is another event that occurred after Jen Savedra wrote her article – a woman ended up being detained for over ten hours in jail due to a misunderstanding about her painting her nails on a Southwest flight.
The story does have a happy ending, sort of : A judge dismissed the charges against the woman. But ask yourself, as you read the article – why did no-one show any common sense prior to that point? Ask yourself how you’d feel if you were in jail for ten hours, facing a criminal charge that could change your life forever?
The Mother of All Sea Disasters
The last year might have been a very safe one for airlines, but we’ve sure been reading a lot about cruise ship problems of late, and indeed some industry observers are suggesting the only thing for Costa to do is to change its company name so as to detach itself from its two recent embarrassments.
However, enough of recent problems. Let’s not forget the countdown to ‘the mother of all at sea disasters’ – the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, to fall on 14 April.
There’s something strangely resonant about the Titanic disaster that evokes a strong interest in the event by almost everyone. Although passenger vessels have sunk a-plenty, both before and after; indeed, passenger ferries sink with alarming regularity in South East Asia, often with great loss of life, but for some reason, at least in the English speaking western world, it is the Titanic which we all think of, to the exclusion of all other disasters at sea.
Although a definite disaster back then, the Titanic has become a money-spinner for people and places all around the world since that time. At present there are four Titanic Exhibitions open in the US (in Las Vegas, Orlando, San Diego and Kansas City – some of which have been open for many years), and with three more shortly to open (Detroit, Houston and Atlanta).
It isn’t just in the US that Titanic is big business. Belfast is looking forward to a record-breaking year for cruise ship arrivals thanks largely to the upcoming opening of Titanic Belfast, the largest Titanic experience in the world.
44 cruise ships are scheduled to visit Belfast during 2012 with over 50 already booked for 2013. Titanic Belfast is a $150m six-floor building featuring nine interpretive and interactive galleries that explore the sights, sounds, smells and stories of Titanic, as well as the city (ie Belfast) and people which made her.
The new visitor attraction will open on March 31, launching a three-week series of events marking the centenary of RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage on April 10 (and sinking on the night of 14/15 April).
Another event that seems tailormade for tourism is (was) the Harry Potter series of books and movies. There is already a very popular Harry Potter exhibit at Universal Studios in Florida, and now the Harry Potter Studio in Leavesden, just north of London, where the movies were in large part filmed, is to be made into a tourist attraction.
During a three hour tour, visitors will see a model of Hogwarts Castle, will visit Diagon Alley, the Gryffindor Common Room, Hagrid’s Hut and the Ministry of Magic. Also on display will be many of the better known props, costumes, and animatronics.
The tour – ‘Warner Bros The Making of Harry Potter’ – opens on 31 March.
Talking about tourist attractions, please note that I’ll be meeting with the Mouse next week. There’ll be little or no newsletter. My 7 year old daughter and I are off to Orlando for five days – but we’ll probably be too busy at the Disney complex to visit the excellent Titanic exhibit, or the Universal Studios Harry Potter attraction.
Until next week or the week after, please enjoy safe travels