Monthly Archives: February 2008

Do Not, Repeat, Do Not Get Drunk and Make Death Threats on a JetBlue Flight

A Texas man was sentenced to 10 months in prison after a drunken incident on a JetBlue flight from Houston to JFK.  Jose Roman, Jr, got drunk and was refused additional drinks when he asked flight attendants for them.  So far, so good.  He then got rather belligerent, freaked out on the flight attendants, and, in a drunken rage, made death threats.

Airlines generally don’t look too fondly on that type of behavior, so flight was diverted to Buffalo (Buffalo?  Is that on the way from Houston to New York?  I’m sure there’s a story there…) and he was arrested.  The moral?  When you get really drunk on a plane and freak out on the flight attendants, don’t threaten to kill them.

A Bit about Ping Pyongyang Diplomacy

This is admittedly a slightly off-topic note…(but it’ll come around to airlines. I think.)

I’ve been rather fascinated by the New York Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, to perform for the sheltered nation. If you watched any of the performance it’s pretty hard not to get a bit choked up when the crowd, which gave the performers a 5 minute ovation, started waving goodbye to them as they left the stage. It was an oddly emotional moment as I’m neither a particularly huge classical music fan nor Korean.

It was a very human moment that exemplifies why all of us care so much about travel (and since you’re reading this, I’ll assume you care about travel). Travel starts as dots on a map (or a routemap, if you’re an airline geek), and the names of the cities on those maps are loaded with significance. I think back to when I used to stare at Pan Am’s route map in the 1980s and saw it filled with dots at Zagreb and Dubrovnik and Bucharest, places that I assumed I would never have the chance to visit. The idea of the iron curtain shut off large swaths of the world to Westerners (and children, such as myself at the time), and the very names of those cities brought to mind images of greyness and depression.

I think back to watching Wide World of Sports during the same period and seeing gymnastics or figure skating coming from Prague or Leningrad or Budapest and thinking that they represented only bad things and that, certainly, no American would want to go and actually visit those places, filled with people who hate us.

But the world changed, and suddenly Prague doesn’t bring to mind Communism (in fact, it’s hard to even imagine that 20 years ago Prague was part of a Communist empire) – it’s been absorbed into the western travel psyche — just another place you go visit.

The list of places like those on my old Pan Am map have become fewer and farther between. The end of the cold war, the growing deregulation of airlines around the world, the free movement of immigrants around the globe have all opened up air routes to places that were closed just 20 years ago. Or places that conjured up images that were so disinviting that no westerner would want to visit.

Pyongyang represents the last of those places (nearly all places you wouldn’t visit now are simply unsafe, rather than unwelcoming. For Americans, Cuba is probably the other last safe place you would want to visit but can’t…) Seeing the video of the performance in North Korean (in high definition, of all things) coupled with the scenes from the city – empty wide boulevards, the ubiquitous images of Kim Jong Il, the overriding greyness of the whole place – brought me back to 1985, listening to ABC’s Chris Schenkel show us around Krakow (or wherever). The world has shrunk tremendously in those 20 years, but not entirely.

We are living in a time where we have the opportunity to see nearly all the world for a ticket that costs less than a 50 inch television. Seeing the North Koreans cheering the American performers shows that the differences between nations can, in so many cases, be bridged by traveling and meeting with others. I’ve been lucky enough to see this in Cuba, where people on the street couldn’t wait to chat with us or show us their houses, or take us around. And I’ve seen it in the Arab world where, as a Jewish American, I was brought up believing that the entire Arab world wanted to see me dead. But every person I came across was unfailingly polite. And on and on.

And, as I promised in the beginning, to bring it back to the airlines – we have the opportunity now to visit those places that seemed to horrible to us; to visit countries where our government tells us that people hate us; to break some of the long-held beliefs we were taught when we were raised during a time when the world was different. So spend those miles and get a ticket to Sarajevo, or South Africa, or Croatia and go see how history has changed in the past 20 years. It’ll be the best 50,000 miles you’ve ever spent.

Delta’s Pay With Miles Program: Really, Really Good News

Delta and American Express just announced their Pay with Miles program, and it’s actually quite good (assuming you have a Gold or Platinum American Express SkyMiles credit card*). In short: You can pay with flights using miles, with 10,000 miles knocking $100 off the flight’s cost. This isn’t great for business class tickets, but it can come in handy for coach tickets. There are plenty of times where, say a ticket to a European city would cost $500-600, but a reward seat isn’t available (on Delta, this would be most of the time). So you would just use 50,000 miles to “buy” the ticket. Voila, free seat.

This deal seems to make the most sense for tickets to Europe where their value (about $500-$600, at least in the non-summer months) is roughly in line with their miles cost (50-60,000 miles). This would also be good for an Asia flight with no reward seats – you’d pay in the $800/80k miles range, but you get the benefit of availability, which is priceless.

* (I had originally posted this information correctly.  This is now corrected)

Southwest: Those Girls Weren’t Too Pretty, They Were Too Bitchy

A follow-up from yesterday’s story from the passengers on the Southwest flight who said they were discriminated against because they were too pretty…

Southwest put out a great press release saying that they weren’t picked up by the FBI for being too pretty, they were picked up for harassing a passenger who took too long for their liking in the bathroom.  They reportedly swore at and threatened the passenger and were causing a general ruckus.

They added, “we would have gone out of business a long time ago if we discriminated against beautiful women…”  Gotta love Southwest.

Did Southwest Discriminate Against 2 Passengers Who Were Too Pretty? (Uh, Probably Not)

Two University of South Florida students claim they were discriminated against on a Southwest flight from Tampa to LA because they were too attractive. First, they say that a flight attendant wouldn’t give them a bottle of water. Then they swore at another passenger who took too long in the bathroom. (No, I understand why that’s discrimination either). Then when they left the plane in LA, they were escorted off by armed officers and interviewed by the FBI.

Said the two passengers (in the quote of the year): “I think they were just discriminating against because we were young decent-looking girls. I mean, nobody else on the plane looked like us except us,” she said. “[The flight attendants] were like older ladies. We were younger. Who knows, they could have been just jealous of us because we were younger.”

Hahahahahahahaha. Unfortunately, the FBI released them.

Pilot Dies During Flight to Cyprus

A 43-year old pilot for GB Airways died of a heart attack while flying from Manchester to Paphos, Cyprus, on Sunday.  Others onboard tried frantically to revive him, though even after an emergency landing in Turkey they were unsuccessful in their attempts.  First Officer Mike Warren flew during the first Gulf War and had been with the airline since 2005.

Cathay Pilot Fired for Unauthorized Stunt

Cathay Pacific’s chief 777 pilot was fired after scaring the living crap out of the airline’s chairman.  The pilot was flying a new 777 back from Seattle to Hong Kong with 50 passengers (staff members, primarily) on board, including the airline’s chairman.  After takeoff he circled back and flew about 30 feet over the runway without the landing gear down.  He had told the airport about the maneuver, but did not tell his passengers (which, as I mentioned, included  the airline’s chairman).  As I’m relatively certain they all thought they were going to crash,  passengers were not amused, and, upon return to Hong Kong, fired the $500,000-a-year pilot.

The linked article includes a photo of the plane a few feet off the ground with no landing gear down.

American Airlines Passenger Dies after Flight Attendant Refuses to Give Oxygen

A passenger died on an American Airlines flight from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, to JFK on Friday after she complained of feeling ill. She twice asked a flight attendant for oxygen, and twice she refused the passenger’s request. After other passengers began to get upset, they attempted to administer oxygen, only to find that the oxygen canisters were empty.

You might have guessed that her death was the worst part of the story. Well, close. The worst part is after she died when they dragged her body to the first class cabin, put her on the floor, and covered her with a blanket. Upgrade, my ass.

(Update: American Airlines says the oxygen worked just fine. Well, not fine enough to save the passenger, but they said that the canisters were not empty.)

(Update 2: Let me give a shout-out to AA’s PR department for keeping me/us updated on this.  Here’s their official position) :

American Airlines on Monday said it did administer oxygen and applied a defibrillator to a 44-year-old woman on a flight Friday from Haiti to New York who later died before the plane landed.

“We are investigating this incident…but American Airlines can say oxygen was administered and the Automatic External Defibrillator was applied,” the company said in a statement Monday. 

The airline didn’t say in its statement whether the medical equipment worked, only that they stood behind its functionality.

Air Canada: Fly to Shanghai for $150 with Purchase of Flight Pass

An interesting deal from Air Canada:  purchase one of their two-month airpasses, and they’ll give you a roundtrip flight to London, Paris or Shanghai for just $150 (and that includes taxes).  Two month passes start at $549/month for unlimited flying Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays in a single geographic region.  If you’re flying to Canada quite a bit, it’s a great deal, especially when you throw in the cheap flight to Shanghai…

10 Ways to Improve the Flying Experience

Many stories have been written recently about what the airline landscape might look like following the rumored mergers. These articles tend to note that travelers will face higher fares, fewer available flights, unhappy airline staff, and a general sense of miserableness once Northwelta and Continited jam themselves together.

That said, on a day-to-day (or flight-to-flight) basis, you may not notice much of a difference. And if you do, I’m fairly certain it won’t be for the better.

But all hope is not lost. Allow me to make 10 suggestions – 7 for us passengers, 3 for the airlines – that would make us all a bit more comfortable once we get to the airport. Most people tend to complain about their flights and blame the airlines for their woes. Since 70% of my suggestions are for passengers, I guess I’m saying that I place 70% of the blame for the generally poor flying experience on my fellow passengers and only 30% on the airline. In truth, it’s probably half-and-half, but I think that we passengers can do 7 simple things to make each flight a little more pleasant…

1) Don’t recline your seat on a full flight. I know your seat reclines. I know that the $49 you paid to fly from Detroit to Orlando gives you every right to recline it. I’m conceding that. But please don’t recline it into my lap. Sure, push it back an inch or two; no harm, no foul. But on many airlines (ie, Continental), if you recline your seat all the way, I can’t even use a laptop, let alone eat something comfortably. Which forces me to either recline my seat (which I won’t do, as it’s number 1 on my list), or sit with your seat in my lap. Both options are terrible. I have two exceptions to this rule. If you’re in the front section on JetBlue you can recline, as it won’t affect me in the least. And if you’re on a redeye, you can recline because everyone else will be reclining. Other than that, please forgo your God-given right to lean back to make everyone else a bit more comfortable.

2) Don’t congregate in front of the boarding area. I know that you are crowding the boarding area because you are afraid that your bag won’t fit in the overhead bin. That is a legitimate fear. But people are getting on before you, and you standing there while 5 other boarding groups get on the plane before you will not make the boarding process go any faster. Having to push by a group of antsy passengers standing around, especially when dragging children, is annoying. Let’s make the boarding process a bit more humane and listen to the gate agents for when your row is called. Which leads us to…

3) Don’t get angry with the flight attendants. We’ve all seen people get testy with flight attendants and roughly 100% of the time it’s neither their fault, nor is there anything they can do to rectify the situation which caused the schmuck to get mad in the first place. They don’t make the rules, they enforce them. Nor do flight attendants cater the plane. Nor store it with pillows. Or blankets. Or cook the food. You think you’d be pleasant 100% of the time after flying around for 9 hours for $13/hour? No? Then give them a break.

4) Step off the plane and keep walking. I’m the type of person who walks quickly. I walk especially quickly after I’ve been sitting on a plane for 4 hours and I’m late. You are the same way. But the people who step off the lip of the plane and stand there waiting for whatever are not those types of people. Please, step to the side. You’ll be happier without someone running into your with their roller bag, and we’ll be happier because we can get where we’re going.

5) Help put bags up in the overhead bins. You ever watch somebody struggle to lift a heavy carry on bag and jam it into the overhead bin? Yeah? Perhaps you should’ve just helped the person. Helping the person a) is nice; and b) gets everyone on board faster. We can all agree on that.

6) Don’t talk on the phone after they tell you not to. As noted above, the flight attendants don’t make the rules, they just enforce them. So don’t be that person who keeps trying to talk on the phone after they’ve made the announcement that you must turn off your phone. And don’t give the flight attendant attitude about it. And don’t make a snarky comment after she walks away. And don’t ignore her when she’s asks you to turn it off again.

7) Don’t hold on to my seat when you get up. Unless you are over the age of 90, you are likely capable of getting up from your seat without grabbing onto my seatback and catapulting me forward. It’s annoying when it happens once; it’s torture when you do it every 45 minutes (both when you get up and sit down). Have a bit of consideration and just stand up. Or use your own seat to prop yourself up.

And 3 for the airlines…

8 ) Clean up in the terminal. I was recently flying JetBlue and their terminal at JFK was absolutely filthy. I don’t mean that it was old; I mean it was dirty. Wrappers and newspapers and garbage all over. Yes, I should’ve included this in the first section about passengers cleaning up after themselves. Noted. But having to sit in a pile of filth for 2 hours is upsetting.

9) Tell us what food is after security/and when we make reservation, tell us if there’s a meal. These are two parts of the same issue: our problem isn’t that airlines don’t serve food anymore (how is it that passengers complained for years about airline food then complained when it was taken away?) – our problem is that we don’t know if there will be food, making it difficult to plan ahead. And when we get to the airport, it’s never well marked whether there is food available after security or not. Passengers have shown a willingness to provide their own nourishment. It would be helpful if airlines and airports gave us a bit more direction about whether we’ll need it.

10) Keep us informed about delays. I’ve mentioned this before on the OTR and someone complained that pilots have better things to do than to keep passengers updated on delays. I agree. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t ask a flight attendant to tell us. Or to make it a priority to let the 200 people who have been circling unknowingly over Cleveland for 45 minutes that they are not, in fact, on their final descent into Boston. Passengers accept that delays are part of the game. We would just like to be told what’s happening so we don’t feel held hostage.

I’d certainly be interested to hear any other ideas readers have about making flights a bit more comfortable. Note that none of my suggestions would cost a penny. If we all do our part, our next flight could be, gasp, enjoyable.