Friday 30 August, 2002
Good morning.  One of the 'dangers' of writing about travel is that sometimes it seems to be the most important issue in the world.  I received a salient reminder of the priority of other concepts this last week, with first a complete internal reconfiguration of my network servers over the weekend, and then an external reconfiguration of IP addresses earlier this week, both of which were 'non-trivial' events!

And, continuing the computing challenges theme, there is no feature column this week, and the newsletter is somewhat truncated.  I'm now in Moscow and suffering from the triple challenges of a very slow data line, a very unreliable computer, and very little available time.  I bought a new 'state of the art' Dell laptop a couple of weeks ago, believing Dell to be the leading name brand for quality and service/support, but have had nothing but problems and disappointments with it.  As seasoned road warriors know, the worst possible time to buy a new laptop is just before an extended journey out of town.

Thanks to the readers, most notably Brett, who wrote to politely correct several of my comments about Vegas last week, which just goes to show that although taxi drivers can sometimes be valuable sources of information, they are not always 100% correct!  The largest hotel in the world is - and remains - the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, with a staggering 5005 rooms.  I'm also advised that other excellent buffet meals can be found at Bellagio, Paris, and the new Aladdin, and for those wanting a massive extravagance, apparently the $50 Sunday brunch at Bally's is highly recommended.  At that price, it would have to be!

Several readers also had comments about US Airways' analogy to theatre and sporting tickets.  US Airways said that because you can't change the date of performance on one of these tickets, and get no refund if not attending the game/concert, they were adopting the same policy with their airline tickets.

Alex wrote in to say

David, also to be fair, if US Airways wants to compare their new ticket policy to a theater ticket...the consumer can leave the show during the intermission without a penalty. Will US Airways allow the consumer to throw out the return portion of a round trip purchase? Also I would like your impression on the new rules to the dividend miles program. I will only fly USAir when it's to my benefit...from now on...no more loyalty from me!

Michael adds :  One other thing.  The theater doesn't overbook and deny you your seat because someone paid a higher price for it.  Chances are better than even that the flight you hold a ticket for will depart close to full.  So they've double dipped on your seat as well.  If they resell your seat shouldn't you be entitled to a refund?  I wonder if any traveler's will pursue this through the court system. 

And  Randy follows up this line : Theatres donít sell 2000 tickets to a 1500 seat performance figuring that some ticket holders just wonít show up, and leave stranded some ticket holders if the theatre guessed wrong.  Theatres also donít resell the empty seats just before show time.

There are, of course, a great many areas in which the airlines compare very poorly to concert promoters!  And, in additional commentary on the flurry of new 'nickel and diming' rules that the airlines are pursuing to try and trick or trap us with penalties or higher fares or extra surcharges, AA says that they will charge $100 for the privilege of standing by for another flight on the same day as the date of travel on the original ticket.  But suppose the passenger does not clear the standby list and is left at the departure point. What happens to the $100?  Is it refunded?  And if you try to clear the standby list the next day, do you pay another $100?  Or???  Plainly these policies have been very poorly developed and won't work at all well for anyone in the real world.

Airlines are starting to release statistics for August.  Continental advises that revenues are down 13%.  American reports a 9.3% drop in passengers, United a 12.9% drop, and US Airways had a stunning 17.3% drop.  But not all airlines had it so bad.  Southwest reported only a 1% drop in traffic (compared to Aug 01).  Airtran had a 10% increase in passengers, who on average flew longer flights making for a 19% increase in sold miles.  And JetBlue reported a stunning 104% increase in sold miles, with an incredible 90.5% load factor on their flights.  And internationally, Ryanair reported a 37% increase in passengers with an unbelievably high 95% load factor!  The triumph of the new breed of airlines and the matched disasters of the traditional carriers continues.

The trend to lower cost carriers was confirmed by a recent survey. Low-fair airlines had 10% of the market ten years ago, now they have 23%.  Major airlines have only 56% (the balance being charters).  And a survey of business travelers shows that 60% plan to cut back on their airfare expenditures this year.  The 'trick' new higher fares the airlines are trying to foist upon us will simply mean that we travel less rather than pay more.

And talking about new vs old, ASTA's complaint about Orbitz was decisively dismissed by the DoT yesterday.  The DoT described ASTA's case as speculative and said they provided no evidence to support their claims.  That is hardly deserves a 'well done' pat on the back to ASTA - a group that I have several times lambasted in the past as being ineffective.  Perhaps now that they have lost this case, they will have time to reply to my open letter to them that I sent to them way back in June!  I know they read this newsletter, but I don't know why, after initiating a correspondence with me, ASTA refuses to reply to my questions.

Thanks to reader David for passing on this fascinating website - go visit http://www4.passur.com/bos.html for an amazing display of what an Air Traffic Controller sees (choose the 90 mile scale).  Two other airports - Los Angeles and Louisville - are also available through the website home page.

Here is a fascinating interview with deposed head of the TSA, John Magaw.  While it includes some interesting background to his being fired, it seems that neither the reporter nor Magaw are uncovering the whole story.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  There have been a flood of articles this last week from journalists who have successfully smuggled weapons onto planes; and in some cases, they discovered it was easier to do such things than it was a year ago!  I think the thing we all hate the most when having to take our shoes off is the knowledge that while our shoes are being studied, someone else's carryon is going through the Xray machine unquestioned.

But here's a less well publicised horror story.  United sent out a press release proudly boasting of its new cockpit security doors that can withstand '300 joules' of energy.  It explained that this meant that a 220 lb man traveling at 5.5 mph would not be able to break the door down.  Sounds impressive, right?  Wrong!  If that same 220lb man travels at 5.6 mph, then presumably he could break it down.  And it is very easy to run at twice that speed, perhaps (which would deliver four times as much energy).  Bottom line :  These doors aren't at all secure!

Lastly, Air New Zealand seems to be having some problems with its planes.  Air New Zealand Ltd. said a five-foot wing panel of a Los Angeles-bound Boeing Co. 747 fell off shortly after the plane left Auckland, the second such incident in a week.

The incident occurred shortly after the aircraft departed.  "Investigation by engineers at Los Angeles showed that one section of the flaps was missing, there was damage to other sections of the flaps and the piece that had detached had also damaged the horizontal stabilizer on the tail,'' the company said.

Earlier today, an Auckland fisherman found a piece from an aircraft about 5 feet long by about 3 feet wide and other debris, the company said.

"It appears most likely to have come from the Los Angeles-bound plane,'' it said. Six days ago, a panel fell from the wing of an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 destined for Tokyo. The aircraft turned back soon after takeoff when people on the ground saw the panel fall into a parking lot and called police, who contacted the airline. No one was hurt.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and beware of falling aircraft bits.

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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