Editor’s note: kids, I have a LOT of stuff going on this month, so I’ve invited a few of my favorite avgeek bloggers to do guest posts. First up is Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder. While I hate to praise him for anything, I do give him BIG props for writing this, considering he’s spending time with my nephew, who was born in January. Enjoy!!
It was a busy week, catching all the news from the Singapore Air Show and Heli-Expo. We also saw President Obama release his FY 2013 budget and FINALLY sign the $63 billion Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, which keeps the agency funded through 2015. So here’s what else went on.
- As American Airlines parent AMR Corp. continues its stay in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, its labor unions, which have a seat at the creditors table, are doing what they can to keep as many jobs as possible, despite the airline’s recent announcement of 13,000 job cuts. As an alternative to those cuts, two of the carrier’s largest unions — the Transport Workers Union and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants — has said the company should consider offering lump sum buy-outs, reports Aviation Week. TWU is proposing $75,000, with health insurance and other benefits retained for 9,000 employees facing the chopping blog. APFA is asking for a year’s salary and current health, travel and pension rights for members with more than 15 years’ seniority.
- Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog or who follows me on Twitter (@AvQueenBenet) knows that I think allowing cell phones during flight is another circle of hell. Do you hear the chatter that starts as soon as a plane lands? Can you imagine hearing that on a DC-San Francisco flight? One provision under the newly passed FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 is that Congress is requiring the FAA to study the impact of cell phones for voice communications on aircraft where such service is currently permitted by foreign governments, reports Mary Kirby (@APEXMary) in her APEX Editor’s Blog. Here’s hoping that the study will continue to uphold the inflight ban on cell phones.
- Back when I was in college in the 1980s, I was always trying to find the cheapest way to fly from D.C. home to San Francisco. My savior was PeoplExpress, also fondly known as People’s Distress. They had $99 fares, you paid to check bags and for food/drinks onboard. You even paid your air fare onboard. It wasn’t a luxury ride, but it got you from point A to point B at a pretty reasonable price. The airline shut down in February 1987 and it was folded into Continental Airlines. Fast forward 25 years later, and it may be coming back. Some of the folks from the original airline are proposing to bring back the low-cost carrier and headquarter it at Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport in Virginia, reports the Washington Post. The carrier plans to initially serve destinations in Florida, New England, the Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions, then expand to other cities, such as Pittsburgh, Providence, West Palm Beach and Newark, where airline consolidation over the past few years has led to a reduction of non-stop air service.
- Like most frequent travelers, I’ve been watching with interest as the Transportation Security Administration continues to expand its PreCheck trusted traveler program. I covered the airport security beat for four years, which gave me a front-row seat to the private sector operated registered traveler program. You can read my post on the APEX Editor’s Blog about how we got from a private RT program to an effort overseen and blessed by TSA.
- It’s Black History Month, and I’ve always had a particular fondness for those who were pioneers in the aviation/airline industry. My brother from another mother — Greg Gross from the I’m Black and I Travel blog — shared the amazing story of Norma Merrick Sklarek, who died this year at the age of 85. Ms. Sklarek’s claim to fame was that she was the first black woman in America to be licensed as an architect. But her place in aviation history was secured as the leader of the team that designed Terminal 1 at LAX, which received the millions of visitors for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She also designed the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Not bad for a woman who began her career designing bathrooms for the New York City building department.
I was a busy bee last week, with an APEX Editor’s Blog post about JetBlue’s food choices at its flagship Terminal 5 at JFK Airport, two stories in Aviation International News’ Singapore Air Show publication (on Enterprise Florida and Canada’s Manitoba Department of Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade) and a stint as guest host on episode 185 of the Airplane Geeks podcast. And last — but certainly not least — I got to be a judge, along with Henry Harteveldt and Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder in a 12th anniversary cake contest to celebrate JetBlue’s 12th anniversary, as retold on the carrier’s Blue Tales blog.
What a week it was! We saw the demise of another European carrier — Malev Hungarian; we saw American Airlines unveil its expected job cuts as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing; and a manufacturing issue forces Boeing to inspect its flagship 787. So let’s go onto the news!
- When I worked at Delta Air Lines, we worked on initiatives designed to avoid a Chapter 11 filing. One of those was a project I spearheaded — media outreach on our effort to have Congress enact pension reform. One of the highest cost legacy carriers faced was the pension obligations to retired workers. We wanted to stretch out our payments — kind of like refinancing a mortgage, and avoid ending those plans, which is what happened with United and US Airways in the 1990s. Those pensions were taken over by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Fast forward to last week, where NPR’s Planet Money blog posts about how PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum is urging American Airlines to look for every alternative before it decides to punt the pensions of 130,000 retirees and employees to the federal agency. According to the blog, if American does dump its pensions on PBGC, it will be the largest claim since United got rid of its pensions in 2005.
- Another day, another issue with the Boeing 787. Regular readers know my favorite aircraft of all time is the 747, but the 787 has faced more than its fair share of woes. In the latest issue, “Structural stiffeners were found to be improperly joined to the composite skin in the aft sections of the aircraft, causing parts of the aircraft’s carbon fibre structure to delaminate, confirms the airframer,” reports FlightGlobal.
- The week before last we saw the demise of Spain’s Spanair. Last week, flag carrier Malev Hungarian, which was created in 1946, was the latest to have the plug pulled. Regular aviation watchers knew this was only a matter of time after the European Union ruled that the troubled carrier had to pay back millions in loans given illegally between 2007 and 2010, reports Aviation International News. And when the government refused to offer any further aid, the decision was made to stop flying, on Feb. 3.
- Talk about balls. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Spirit Airlines, in protesting new Department of Transportation rules that requires transparency in fares and gives consumers 24 hours to change their mind on a ticket purchase and get a refund, according to USA Today’s Today In The Sky blog. The ultra low-cost carrier said in a statement the “regulation requiring airlines to hold fares for 24 hours after booking without penalty comes with unintended consequences and is costing consumers millions.” So what is Spirit’s solution? Charge passengers a $2 DOT unintended consequence fee. All I can say is — really?
- I know it’s their job, but I have to give a BIG shout out to the reporters at the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram for their blanket coverage of the American Airlines Chapter 11 filing on its SkyTalk blog. Last week alone reporter Andrea Ahles held a reader chat about the latest news, while the newspaper covered the announcement of the layoffs of 13,000 employees from the management and labor side and the reaction of North Texas officials and the Allied Pilots Union about the cuts. Oh — and they also covered the start of new service to Dubai by Emirates.
It was also a banner week for this blog. I had a post in CrankyFlier.com with my five picks on airports doing great things with concessions. I also had a post in the Airline Passenger Experience’s Editor’s Blog on the advent of mini airport hotels. I thank eidtors Brett Snyder and Mary Kirby, respectively, for the exposure.
My friend Aileen Cho of Engineering News Record did a great story on Chicago’s $6.6-billion O’Hare International Airport modernization program. Check out my Aviation Week Things With Wings blog post on the history of the project as of February.
- On the one hand, I like the fact that I can buy into Delta Air Lines’ Sky Clubs (my favorite U.S. airline lounge) for $50. And the airline did a deal on Groupon where it offered half-price day passes or five passes for $89. On the other, if I were a Diamond Medallion member or someone who had paid $450 for a year of access, I’d be a bit cranky (like Brett Snyder) too, as outlined in the Star-Tribune.
- @davesniadak of the HDHubby blog says: Gogo inflight Wi-Fi has absolutely revolutionized travel. I find I’m now extremely productive when I fly, even when I’m jammed in the middle seat between two other people (mind you, I’m 6’5″ and try my best to stay within my seat). Seeing as how I’ve never been good at sleeping on planes, airborne wi-fi helps the long legs go by faster.
- Smarter Travel has released its list of 10 destinations to watch in 2012. I’ve been to six of them, and most I’d return to in a heartbeat. One I haven’t been to is Cuba, and that’s near the top of my list of places I really want to visit. My frienemy Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder has been. He let me sip the rum, which was divine! Also check out Budget Travel’s top budget travel destinations in 2012.
- Back during the Christmas holidays in 1998, I went to Oberpfafenhofen, Germany, to work on a story about the now-defunct aircraft manufacturer Fairchild Dornier. As part of that trip, we got to go to Munich and visit the Christmas market on the Marienplotz. Some advice: when they ask if you want peppermint schnapps in your Glühwein, JUST SAY NO!! Lonely Planet offers five more great Christmas markets in Europe.
- I love airports almost as much as the writer of this blog post in the Irish Times. And my heart was warmed by one of my favorite travel writers, Christopher Elliott, who writes in the Washington Post about holiday travel kindnesses.
- I’m proud – but also kind of sad – that my six-year-old daughter goes through the airport security checkpoint better than most adults.
First, an apology. For some reason, Friday’s Strange But True Aviation News didn’t post (despite me writing it) thanks to some glitch I’m still trying to figure out. I’ll work out the kinks, and we’ll have it on Friday. Now, onto the news!
- Guy Norris of Aviation Week blogged about an uncontained engine failure on a Delta Air Lines Boeing 747 flying from Detroit to Tokyo. His Things with Wings post contains some dramatic pictures of the engine after the failure.
- I really enjoyed this CNN story — Nerve-racking ‘go-arounds’ routine for pilots — for two reasons. One, it’s a great primer on what happens when a plane has to do a go-around. Two, it was written by Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder, and quotes my friend Mark Rogers.
- Speaking of Mark, I thought of him when I read this story — O’Hare Worker Hurt in Baggage Incident — on the NBC Chicago website. The story is about how an industrial battery packed in checked luggage on a United Airlines flight from Lafayette, La., that stopped at Chicago O’Hare where the accident happened. Mark has done a lot of work on this particular issue.
- When Airbus announced back in December 2000 that it was launching the A380 double-decker jumbo jet, I remember hearing all kinds of possibilities for the plane, from bowling alleys (not yet) to showers (see Emirates). The Airbus website says the jumbo jet can “seat 525 passengers in a comfortable three-class configuration, and up to 853 in a single-class configuration.” Transero isn’t quite at 853 seats, but says it will put in 700 seats on its recently ordered A380s, reports Reuters.
- We’ve all done it (unless we fly Southwest Airlines) — start flocking toward the jetway when the gate agent announces boarding for a flight. We wait anxiously as they call the premium passengers, folks needed assistance, families with small children and travelers seated in exit rows. Then we make the mad dash onto the plane to get that valuable overhead bin space. The New York Times has an article about what airlines are doing to tame the boarding process. I, for one, am happy to pay a fee that allows me to board early in the process.
In other news, I’m now doing freelance work for Aviation International News, so please go over and check out what I’m doing. Again, I’m still trying to catch up on my Airplane Geek podcast episodes, and I really enjoyed Episode 170 — GE Aviation Looks to the Future.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a question. JetBlue recently got a rare PR black eye after stranding passengers for seven hours on a plane parked at Hartford, Conn.’s Bradley International Airport. Below is a 1:18-minute video from COO Rob Maruster on the incident. Was it enough or should the airline have done more? See my poll, below.