Monthly Archives: March 2009

JetBlue Employee Flies in Cargo Hold (By Accident)

A JetBlue employee fell asleep (?) in the cargo hold of a plane at JFK and woke up after the plane took off for Boston.  The employee said he called the airline when he realized the plane was no longer on the ground.  With airlines laying off thousands of workers, for some reason they hadn’t laid off this guy.

Pretty Amazing Re-Creation of US Airways Hudson River Crash

You may have seen (I hadn’t) this amazing re-creation of US Airways flight 1549.  Using some very powerful 3D animation and actual audio from the event, a company called SceneSystems has re-created the entire flight.  Worth 2 minutes of your time.

(Thanks, Jason…)

Northwest Brand to Disappear in 2010: 5 Things We Didn’t Fully Appreciate about Northwest

Delta announced that the Northwest Airlines brand will disappear by the end of 2010.  I’m fully aware that most airline brands become far more beloved once they’ve been gone for a while (Eastern?), but even so I always felt that Northwest was unfairly trashed.  Sure, they stranded those people on the tarmac for what, 7 hours, during a blizzard a few years back.  That wasn’t good.  But I think there are 5 things we didn’t fully appreciate about the airline:

1) Elite members always – always! – got upgraded.  I had silver or gold status with Continental for a few years and I frequently flew Northwest because I knew that I would absolutely always be upgraded.  While I was getting upgrades about 1/5 of the time on Continental, my butt was always in the not-particularly-comfy-but-certainly-better-than-coach first class section of a Northwest 757.  Those were good days.

2) They turned Detroit’s airport from a facility you’d expect in, oh, Tashkent into the best airport in North America.  For those of us who used to fly into, out of, or through Detroit, the transformation was like when I saw Mimi Doyle at my high school reunion.  I don’t remember her at all from high school, but damn did she get hot (that’s for you, Mike J).

3) The DC-9s.  I don’t know why everyone complained all the time about these ancient workhorses (maybe the 30″ pitch in coach?), but, since frequent flyers were always upgraded we were treated to a nearly silent flight up front, since the engines were about 35 rows behind us.

4) Cash and Miles.  They were the only airline in the US (that I’m aware of – feel free to correct…maybe Alaska had this?) that frequently offered a cash and miles deal for flights.  It was a nice way to get rid of orphaned miles you had in your account and get to Europe pretty cheaply.

5) Al Lenza.  This is completely inside baseball, so I know that just about no one will care:  When I worked for Jupiter writing about online distribution, I learned about Al — he headed up distribution for Northwest.  He was a constant thorn in the side of the GDSs (the technology that agencies use to sell airline tickets).  Why does this matter?  GDSs are slow to change, and they used to charge the airlines a fortune for their services.  Al was in many ways responsible for the shift to online sales, which is how you buy your tickets now.  Was he completely responsible?  No.  But his constant harassment and annoyance about distribution fees helped build the market for online distribution and changed how we buy airline tickets.

Anything you’ll miss about Northwest?

Pilot Who Prayed Instead of Trying to Save Crashing Plane Jailed in Italy

An Italian court has sentenced a Tunisian pilot to 10 years in prison for an incident in which 16 people were killed in a plane under his command.  The ATR flown by Tuninter (a division of Tunisair) crashed off Sicily in 2005 after the pilot, seeing an issue with a fuel gauge, decided to pray rather than following procedures to fix the problem.

He survived, so perhaps the prayers worked.

Another 5 Tuninter employees were also convicted in the incident.

US Airways: All Those Fees Will Bring Us Half a Billion in 2009

US Airways execs yesterday said that ancillary revenue will likely bring in about $500 million this year, enough to offset the effects of falling yields.  Consumers may grumble to each other about all of the additional costs, but for the most part they pony up the extra money when flying.  I think this is in part because consumers look at the fare as a separate cost from the fees, so they may feel good about getting a low fare even if they complain about the additional fees later.

US Airways said they’ll made a bit more than $100 million off of first bag fees last year, and if trends continue, that could be $300 million or more this year.  Consumers are checking 20% fewer bags than they used to, which is actually a very good thing since it makes it more likely that your luggage will make the connection in Charlotte with you.

The decision to stop charging for sodas will cost more than $20 million this year (quite impressive that they were selling 10 million cans of soda a year).

The most interesting fact was that they have seen no evidence of consumers defecting to Southwest on competing routes, even though Southwest does not charge any ancillary fees.  If I were a Southwest shareholder, I would be begging them to put the fees in.  While no fees makes for a nice marketing message, I’m not sure any airline is in the position to turn down $500 million in revenue with little-to-no effect on passenger loyalty.

Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Urge Followers to Fly US Airways (Because They Don’t Show Movies)

A group of ultra-orthodox rabbis in Israel has a serious beef (Hebrew National?) with El Al because the airline has dared to – gasp – show movies on its flights.  The Rabbinical Transportation Committee (?) has compiled a list of airlines that they recommend because they do not show movies, which may be considered too racy for the needs of Ultra-Orthodox Jews.  The list reads like a bizarro world Skytrax survey, with US Airways and Ukraine’s AeroSvit leading the way.

In case you were wondering if these people are for real, religious Jews make up about 25% of El Al’s passengers, which explains why the airline has made it a point not to fly on the Sabbath, despite the fact that that is an absolutely insane way to run an airline.

This same group of rabbis has convinced 35 bus companies in Israel to segregate buses, with men sitting in the front and women in the back.

Oh, you find that offensive?  Then you’ll be happy to know that the group did not succeed in convincing El Al to offer flights where flight attendants and passengers were segregated so that only male flight attendants interacted with male passengers.

For some reason this insanity is for excused because it falls under the rubric of religious beliefs.  I’d like to think that a group of rabbis has something better to worry about than perpetuating misogynist nonsense and the fear of catching a glimpse of Cheaper by the Dozen 3.  I guess not.

(Thanks IAH-PHX for the heads up)

Head of China’s Troubled East Star Airlines Disappears

China’s struggling East Star Airlines, which has suspended operations and is now a takeover target by Air China, is in disarray after its chairman has gone missing.  The airline had its operating license suspended on Sunday for financial reasons, and its chairman, Lan Shili, was placed under house detntion while the government sorted out the mess.  Since then, Shiil is reportedly missing.  This is an odd one.

Helicopter Pilot Loses License After Comingling with Porn Star While Flying

A Southern California helicopter pilot had his license suspended for the 5th time after a video of him surfaced in flagrante delicto with a porn actress while flying a helicopter (editor’s note:  for some reason all media use “porn star” to refer to anyone in the porn industry.  That’s a pretty low bar to set for a “star,” so the OTR editorial guide will refer to pornographic actors and actresses as just that, until someone with more knowledge than I deems them an actual “star.”).

Anyway, you may remember some idiot helicopter pilot picking up Tommy Lee in the middle of a street to take him to a concert a few years back.  That was the same moron.

(Thanks Doug for the heads up…)

Did Spirit Airlines Screw Me? I’m Not Sure… (Probably not?)

I try not to bore everyone here with personal stories (I’m more than aware that no one cares), but here’s a quick one I’d like your input on:

On a whim, I booked a flight yesterday at 2pm on Spirit Airlines to fly to Nicaragua for 3 days on the beach ($300 all-in with no advanced purchase – gotta love Spirit).  At 5pm I head to the bus stop outside my apartment to catch the bus from LaGuardia when I get a phone call from Spirit telling me that the first leg of my flight (LaGuardia to Ft Lauderdale) is delayed and, hence, I will miss my connection to Managua.  The airline was not going to hold the plane in FLL (which I was fine with).  They offered to refund my money, and, because the next flight isn’t for 3 days, I didn’t rebook.

I went home, confusing my kids whom I had just left 10 minutes earlier telling them I’d be home on Friday.

I felt like I had just bought myself 3 days of my life (10 minutes of which I’m using writing this).

To torture myself, however, I went and looked at Spirit’s website this morning to see how badly I would’ve missed the connection in FLL.  Answer?  I wouldn’t have missed it.  They ended up holding the plane in FLL.

So, the question of the day:  Did Spirit help me out by making sure I didn’t get stranded in Lauderdale?  Or did they screw me because they’re clueless?

What do you think?

February Airline Revenues: Worse Than January

I think we’ve reached the point where we’re all kidding ourselves if we think airlines are going to pull out of the current recession unscathed.  February airline revenue numbers are out (from ARC, which handles travel agency transactions), and they’re ugly.  Revenue collected from fares (in other words, airfares minus taxes & fees) was down more than 28% over last year.  International fare revenues were down 30% over last year.  And remember – these represent forward bookings.  Most of this hasn’t even shown up in airline financials yet.

To put this in a bit of perspective:

– Last February was a great month, so the huge decline perhaps isn’t as bad as it looks on first glance (but it’s not good).

– After 9/11, airfare revenues dropped 43%.

It could be worse.  But not much worse.