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Friday 14 November, 2008  

Good morning

It is lovely to be home again.  It was a productive time away, but jetlag, horrible hotels, and flight frustrations invariably take the gloss off the potential pleasure of international travel.  Besides which, as nice as the rest of the world is, home is always best.

I flew out of Heathrow's new Terminal 5, so have now experienced it both coming and going.  The check-in hall was vast and uncrowded, with no lines for checking in, which seems to now be exclusively via computer self-check-in terminals, but with no apparent special facilities for business or first class passengers (I subsequently discovered these were down the far end of the terminal - to the right when you enter - but there didn't seem to be any signage to point premium passengers that way).

Although there were no lines to check in, when I went to go through security, I was turned away, being told that the security area was too congested.  I asked about the priority lane, and was told that was congested too, so had to go down to the other end of the terminal through the other security area, which was also slow - the priority lane took ten minutes.

BA has several different lounges at both ends of the terminal once you get into the secure area, and I visited the South lounge for business class passengers.  It was a nice enough lounge although as close to full as you'd wish it to be, but it has its limitations.  The food being served was very limited and unappealing (only two hot dishes - pasta and sauce, or chicken curry and rice).  There was no champagne on offer, not even 'available on request' as has become their habit in other lounges.

And, worst of all, there were no work stations for people with laptops.  There were a generous number of computer terminals for people traveling without a computer, but there was absolutely nowhere for people with laptops to work, other than uncomfortably seated in an easy chair with the computer perched on one's lap.  Some of the chairs had power plugs alongside, but most didn't.

How can BA have overlooked this essential part of a lounge's services?

I go to an international lounge expecting three things, and to a domestic lounge hoping for the same three things - a place to work with my computer (ie desk, chair, internet and power); some food to eat, and, ahem, something nice to drink.  BA's latest lounge at Terminal 5 - the flagship lounge of their entire network - scores an F on the first point, a D on the second point, and C- on the third point.

It is a sad thought this is the best BA can do.

At least they had a selection of still white wines on offer in their lounge, because, yet again, on the flight back to Seattle, although the wine list promised two white wines, they only had one of them on the flight.  Both my flight over and my flight back had only one of the two white wines on the menu available.  It wasn't as though they ran out of the other wine, they just didn't have any on board to start with.

You don't get much for a $10,000 or thereabouts business class ticket these days, do you.

There was a large range of stores, and some good food choices in the secure area of the terminal, which was just as well, because I ended up buying and eating food (and even buying my own drink - ginger beer, also not available in the lounge) in the public area rather than in the lounge.  I particularly liked a restaurant operated by celebrated Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsay (Plane Food) that promised a two course meal within 25 minutes and three courses within 35 minutes, both at very reasonable prices.

Lovers of fine whisky are pointed to an excellent value at the 'World of Whisky' sub-store part of the large duty free shop area; a Lagavulin Distiller's Edition Double Matured single malt, distilled in 1991 and bottled in 2008.  A liter costs only 43, and with Michael Jackson rating it 95/100, you're getting one of the dozen or so finest whiskies in existence for only 43.  The plunging pound (Yay!  London almost seemed good value this visit) makes this less than $65.

As whisky devotees know, those ridiculously expensive bottles of sometimes much older whisky, costing ten or even one hundred times more, are often given low ratings by Michael Jackson and the leading whisky guides.  Believe it or not, older whisky is seldom better whisky.

The last part of my Terminal 5 experience is arguably the most important - getting to the plane and departing on time.  Unfortunately, that wasn't a very positive experience, with us having to bus from the main terminal to a remote location where the plane was parked, and then suffering a 30 minute delay before pushing back.

The reason for the delay was a bit of a mystery.  It was explained to us over the PA system by the pilot, but no-one on the plane, including the flight attendants, could hear/understand what he said.  After complaints, he then re-announced the issue, starting off by rather testily complaining that we hadn't heard him the first time, but after the first sentence being clear, it then lapsed back into unintelligibility again.

I don't understand why a very highly trained pilot, on a $200 million airplane, can't manage to make a simple PA announcement.  The flight attendants have no difficulty making themselves heard - why can't the pilots also master the art of talking into a microphone intelligibly, the same as they presumably do when communicating with Air Traffic Control?

It seems the delay was something to do with not being able to move the stairs away from the plane - how difficult can that be?  The 30 minute push back delay magnified and became a one hour delay arriving into Seatac.

Now, experienced passengers know that what counts is not when the plane lands, but when you leave the airport.  After having to bully the luggage guy at Heathrow to put the priority tags on my bags that I was entitled to, I was hoping to have an advantage that would get me out of the airport quickly and still allow me to be in time for an evening meeting.

No such luck.  It took 21 minutes for the first bag to arrive on the carousel - this at a time when there were no other international flights and the customs/baggage hall was completely empty.  The plane was parked less than 100 yds from the luggage carousel - what took 21 minutes to get the containers of bags from the plane to the carousel?

It then took another 18 minutes from when the first bag arrived on the carousel until my 'priority' bags turned up.  The first 15 minutes or so saw bags arriving, but not a single one had a priority tag on them.

This gives BA a perfect record of failure for mis-managing their priority bag promise - the flight to London had priority bags delayed, and the flight back similarly had the priority bags coming off towards the end rather than beginning of the bag delivery process.  Shame on BA.

Anyway, enough about the flights.  I was actually feeling a bit sorry for BA, because I do focus on them more than other airlines for the simple reason that they provide the most convenient services on the international routes I fly from Seattle, and resolved to next try out the new Northwest flights from Seattle to Heathrow, except this week they announced they were discontinuing them, only a few months after they started them.

I had been very surprised when NW announced their plans to use one of their very rare, very precious and very expensive Heathrow 'slots' for flights to/from Seattle, and my guess is their decision to end this service isn't so much a reflection on the Seattle flights as it is a belated realization on their part that they could make more money with the slot by between Heathrow and a more major US market.  But maybe I'll still try and use a different airline for my flights to Europe in December for the Christmas Markets cruise!

Talking about the Christmas Markets cruise, I've been giving some thought to touring options to offer you in 2009.  There will be a Christmas Markets cruise, and I'd like to offer one other tour too.  The two choices I'm currently looking at are both 'trans' tours - a Trans-Siberian rail tour and/or a Trans-Atlantic sea crossing.  A possible third choice would be a one week tour to the United Arab Emirates.  All three have been recently and regularly requested by readers, and promise to be memorable and enjoyable.

The Trans-Siberian Express tour would feature our own private carriages, complete with showers and toilets, that we'd couple on to scheduled trains to go between cities, then we'd leave the scheduled train and go to a hotel in the major stops along the way for a night or two before continuing on again.  It would run about two weeks for travel from home to Vladivostok, then through Russia to Moscow, and home again.  Adding a cruise to St Petersburg would add almost another two weeks to the total schedule.  I can only very roughly guesstimate the costs at this stage - more than $5000 per person for the tour, plus airfare.  Adding the cruise to St Petersburg would be another $3000.  This would be from mid/late June through to early July (in my opinion, the best time of year to be in Russia).

The QM2 Trans-Atlantic crossing would be a six night cruise from Southampton to New York, and would probably be on 13 or 25 June, with several pre-cruise touring options offered beforehand in London and/or in Cornwall and Devon in the southwest of England (or anything else you wanted to do yourself of course).  The cruise itself would be from about $1250, depending on your cabin choice, and then you'd need to add airfare etc to this.

The UAE tour would visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as going into the desert to see places such as Al Ain and the Musandam Peninsula in Oman.  It would probably run about a week in length and be about $2000, plus airfare.  This would be later in the year (perhaps November).

My question to you is would you be interested in any (or all!) of these?  Could I ask you to quickly click the link below that describes your interest; this will create an email with your answer coded into the subject line.  If you have additional thoughts, requests, suggestions, please add them to the email - all emails will of course be carefully read and responded to.  If none of the ideas have appeal, there's no need to reply.

Interested in the Trans-Siberian tour without cruise extension
Interested in the Trans-Siberian tour with cruise extension
Interested in a Russian cruise but not the Trans-Siberian tour
Interested in the QM2 cruise but will make own arrangements for pre-cruise touring
Interested in the QM2 cruise with touring before the cruise included too
Interested in the UAE tour
Interested in both the UAE tour and the Trans-Siberian tour
Interested in both the UAE and the QM2 tours
Interested in both the Trans-Sib and the QM2 tours
Interested in all three tours

Back to my time in London.  I wrote last week about my unfortunate stay in an appalling hotel in London with a room that was too small to open a suitcase on the floor, and a desk that you couldn't sit at because there was literally no space between it and the bed.  I should add that I paid extra to book a double room so as to get a larger room with more space, even though I was traveling alone.  I can't start to imagine how two people with maybe three suitcases could fit in this room.

You may recall I was reduced to working naked due to the stifling heat in the room.  But contrast my experience with how the hotel is described on Lastminute.com's site :

Chic hotel close to Hyde Park & Paddington - 4* - London.  This chic hotel has been fully refurbished as a 4-star hotel complete with luxurious features.  Each room has been newly refurbished with the emphasis on comfort and relaxation. With a variety of room types to choose from this hotel is an ideal place to stay for business or pleasure.

Needless to say, I couldn't detect a single luxurious feature, and don't consider it ideal for business or pleasure.  Comfort and relaxation?  There isn't even a chair to sit on in the room, other than the uncomfortable and inaccessable one wedged between the desk and bed.

And when I asked to change rooms due to the small size and oppressive heat, rather than being overwhelmed by the claimed variety of room types to choose from, I was told that although they had other rooms free, they were not authorized to change me to another room.  Perhaps my lastminute.com reservation entitled me only to the worst room in the hotel?

There's an interesting extra aspect to my hotel booking experience with Lastminute.  I had two London stays - I spent two nights in London, then two nights out of London, then three nights back in London again.  I booked the hotel I wrote about last week for the first two nights, at a very good seeming rate of 85/night.  Then I booked one of Lastminute's 'Top Secret' hotels for the second stay.  Top Secret hotels are described as being hotels offering rates so low the hotels don't want to put their names alongside them.  We can all understand that concept and I was pleased to be getting a bargain as a result of some hotel finding itself with too many unsold rooms and wanting to discreetly sell them off cheaply.  I spent 126 a night for the top secret hotel stay.

Now, get this.  My top secret hotel, costing 126/night, turned out to be none other than the same hotel that I'd booked, under its own name, for only 85/night!  Rather than being a hotel that was embarrassed by the low rate it was selling its rooms for, it turned out to be, instead, a hotel that was embarrassed by the high rate it was selling its rooms for!  Rather than getting a bargain, I got a rip-off.  To compound this unpleasant surprise, I ended up back in the identical room, even though I asked for any other room - maybe indeed a Lastminute booking gets allocated the least desirable rooms.

A common experience when booking hotels through Lastminute.com is that they are rated with more stars than the hotel deserves.

For example, I've compared the different features of two hotels I stayed at while in England last week.  One hotel is rated three stars by the UK AA, the other hotel is rated four stars by lastminute.com.  See if you can guess which is which :

 

Hotel 1

Hotel 2

Room size

Microscopic, no space to even open a suitcase on the floor

Large, plenty of room for everything

Bathroom size

Can barely turn around inside - the small bathmat covers almost the entire free floor space!

Large - you'd need a dozen bath mats to cover the free floor space

Shower

Barely dribbles out water

Huge flow of water

Wash cloth

Not provided

Yes

Breakfast

Extra

Included

Lunch and Dinner

Not available - restaurant closed

Both provided with choice of restaurant or bar meals

Bar

None

Yes - fully stocked bar with good range of 'real ales', spirits and wine, and friendly bar staff

Convention facilities

No

Yes

Work Desk

Tiny, wedged against bed so impossible to sit at

Large, lots of room to sit at

Easy chair

None

Two large comfortable easy chairs

Bed size

Small standard double

Large king

Blanket size

For twin bed - it is too small and doesn't fit/tuck in to the double bed

Good and appropriately sized

Pillows

Four lumpy uncomfortable ones

Four of various types - there's one to please everyone among the four

Phones

Two

Three

Parking

None

Plenty, and free

Newspaper provided

No

Yes

Trouser Press

No

Yes

Room Temperature

Stiflingly hot, day and night

Normal

Alarm Clock in Room

No

Yes


Yes, of course, Hotel 1 is the so called 'four star chic hotel with luxurious features' by Lastminute.com, whereas the vastly superior in every respect Hotel 2 - the lovely Forest & Vale in Pickering where I spent the weekend - gets three stars by the UK AA.  Clearly, something is massively wrong when a markedly inferior in all respects hotel is rated four star while a good hotel and better than the four star hotel gets only three stars.

I shared the preceding comments with Lastminute's Customer Relations Manager, Elaine Gould on Tuesday.  She has passed them on to the company's Hotel Management team, but hasn't replied yet.  I'll let you know their responses when they are received.

And now, after that lengthy preamble, on to the feature column for the week.  It is a massive offering, spanning five pages, and I was tempted to spoon feed it to you, week by week, but I think better to run the risk of overwhelming you now - those of you who are interested can then read through as much of it as you want, and those of you who are not interested won't have the next five weeks full of irrelevant content!

This week's offering comes from years of working with many thousands of travelers when I owned a travel company in the 1990s.  It would frustrate me to see how some people were adopting a very dysfunctional approach to planning and budgeting for their vacation, and my ability to advise them was constrained by their perception that I had a vested interest in the outcome.

They were both correct and incorrect in their perception - I did have a vested interest.  But that interest was not to simply sell more travel and make more commission, but rather to help ensure they had a positive travel experience so they would return from their vacation happy and content, and be more likely then to recommend other people to my company.

So, and now offered in a situation where clearly I can have no vested interest at all, is :

This Week's Feature Column :  How Much to Spend on a Vacation :  I attempt to answer the unanswerable in this extensive article series on how to budget and plan for a vacation, with ideas about when it makes sense to spend more - and when it makes sense to spend less - on a vacation.

A note to the many travel agent readers - You might find it helpful to refer potential clients to this article series. :)

Blast from the Past :  In 2001 I wrote about Ryanair and wondered if its business model could apply to the US as well.  Today, with almost all airlines including fewer amenities with their fares, and charging extra for everything else, it seems the Ryanair model has taken root with a vengeance.

Now if only the US carriers could complete the last part of Ryanair's business model - low and often free airfares!

In 2002 I reviewed BA's Business Class cabin, and I'd make that the featured blast from the past today, but for the need to now update the review to reflect the new business class seat offered by BA.  Look for that in the next week or two.  In 2003, I wrote about something that was then still a novelty - using the internet for phone calls via VoIP.

I think on balance, the most interesting column is the 2001 Ryanair column.  And note at the bottom of it a still working link to a Forbes article predicting which US carriers would go broke.  Being as how they didn't specify a time frame for their predictions to come true, it is hard to judge their accuracy, but the only two carriers they gave a greater than 50% likelihood of going broke to were US Airways (80%) and America West (90%), which of course subsequently merged into one airline.  As for newly merged NW/DL, they rated those two carriers as 20% and 25% respectively likely to go broke.

Dinosaur watching :  Talking about newly merged NW/DL, there are some contradictory stories floating around out there.

On the one hand, their EVP of network planning and revenue management, Glen Hauenstein, was quoted in a Wednesday conference call to reporters as saying that the merged airline intends to keep all current hubs from both NW and DL operating as hubs, which he said would create 'a stronger platform to take customers from all over the United States to destinations around the globe' (whatever that means).

On the other hand, this article reports that Delta is shrinking its Cincinnati hub by 12% in January 09, and is restructuring the hub to make it sustainable through at least next year (whatever that means, and it sure doesn't sound very positive about the future).  Delta will be offering 33% fewer flights in Jan 09 than in Jan 08.  That doesn't sound as confident as Mr Hauenstein's bravado, does it.

My view is that it is ridiculous to expect the merged carrier to operate six hubs.  While the airline might play games with what its calls its airports, expect to see at least two of the hubs with steadily reducing traffic and being de-emphasized on their route network.

In more Delta(Northwest) news, here's an article that suggests that our 'enemy' - when it comes to airline charges - is none other than ourselves.

In a manner reminiscent of American Airlines discontinuing its 'More Room in Coach' program some years back (ie because it wasn't shifting market share from carriers with cramped coach class seating to AA with much more leg room), Delta says it is now going to charge a fee for the first checked bag (as well as the second), because most of its passengers thought it was already charging a fee.

If there's no benefit in not charging a fee; if there's no benefit in providing a superior service, even the least visionary of airline executives can work out that it is better to add the fee and discontinue the service.

As I regularly plead with you, we must, as consumers, reward good behavior and penalize bad behavior among the airlines.  If there's no accountability or negative consequence of bad service and high fees, then of course airlines will continue to add fees and withdraw services.

One more thing about the DL/NW merger.  Here's Delta's home town paper belatedly discovering that airline mergers may hurt consumers.

Gosh!  Who'd a thunk it?  Certainly not the Justice Department....

A shame the Atlanta Journal-Constitution didn't have this epiphany a few weeks earlier, although I doubt it would have influenced the Justice Dept's eyes wide shut whitewash of the DL/NW merger.

The unfriendly skies :  If you're flying on Air France or Alitalia any time soon, check ahead for the status of your flight.

Air France pilots are going on strike from Friday through Monday, and some Alitalia unions are 'working to rule' - a curious concept that you'd think might threaten to make its staff more rather than less productive, but apparently that will not be the case.

And Aer Lingus workers have voted to strike later this month, protesting the airline's plans to cut jobs, hire outside workers for some jobs, and freeze pay levels.

Congratulations to United for coming last in a survey on customer satisfaction.  United had a rate of customer complains seven times greater than that of the best airline in the survey, Southwest.  Scoring seven times more customer complaints than Southwest is a surprising achievement, and one which would seem to be difficult to do.

In general, the low cost carriers came tops in all categories for customer satisfaction, while the dinosaurs came bottom.

Apparently, with airlines, there's an exception to the general rule 'you get what you pay for'.

Congratulations also to Virgin Atlantic (VS) - but this time, sincerely offered.  The airline won awards for Best Airline Business Class, Best Airline Economy Class and Best Scheduled Airline Long Haul at the recent British Travel Awards.

VS also reports an 11% increase in business travelers using their services from Heathrow in the last 12 months, which it attributes to superior service and a better quality product for its passengers.

By a strange coincidence, BA admits to a 'double digit decline' in its corporate traffic as part of reporting a $66 million loss for the last six months (April - September), and certainly my two recent flights showed their business class cabin to be emptier than I've ever noticed it before.

Now, if VS is enjoying a double digit increase in its business class passengers due to superior service and a better quality product, and if BA is suffering an 11% decline in its business class traffic, what do you think the reason for BA's misfortune might be?  Do you think BA attributes its loss of traffic to inferior service and a poorer quality product?

Ummm, no.  It blames it on 'economic concerns' and problems in its financial sector clients.

Talking about BA, I had a reader telephone me on Thursday afternoon this week in a panic.  He was at JFK and couldn't find their new subsidiary airline, OpenSkies.  According to this frequent international traveler, no-one at the airport had heard of it or knew which terminal it operated from (answer = terminal 7, the BA terminal).

In fairness, he'd been calling it, incorrectly, 'Fly Open Skies' (its web url) rather than OpenSkies, so I guess airline staff were looking for it under the letter F rather than O in their directories.

I also heard from another reader who reported having his OpenSkies flight cancelled.  The reason given was a vague reference to 'winter schedule changes' rather than 'we're sorry, but there's just not enough people booked to make the flight worthwhile'.

Talking more about OpenSkies, I reported two weeks ago that the new airline was experiencing light passenger loads and was putting its growth plans on hold.  But in a nonsense article on Wednesday this week, the NY Times claims that OpenSkies is expanding.  No details of its expansion are offered, for truly there are none pending.

Perhaps the most delightful line in this article is the one that follows its exposition about the decline in business class traffic.  The article goes on to say that OpenSkies has adapted to the tougher times by eliminating its coach class.

While it is true that its Premium Economy cabin is a good alternative to business class, eliminating coach class is a strange way of responding to reduced business class traffic.  Perhaps the airline might have been better advised to have eliminated its very average business class entirely in favor of its Prem+ class and perhaps retained some coach setting too, or gone all Prem+.

My picks for OpenSkies remain as I've earlier said - an uncertain future on any basis, and a continued de-emphasis on its Biz class in favor of Prem+.

It is surprising that BA isn't using OpenSkies for its new all business class service that will operate between London City Airport and New York next year, particularly because the BA planes (A318s) can't fly the route to New York without stopping to refuel in Ireland on the way.  It would be an ideal route for an OpenSkies 757 and a logical extension of the OpenSkies business model.

More about the new BA route at the bottom of this article.

Talking about cancellations, a reader received the following email :

Dear MANGO Guest,

Due to changes to MANGO's scheduled aircraft maintenance program it has become necessary to reschedule flight JE154 operating from CPT to JNB on 3 December. The new schedule for this flight will be as set out below. Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact the call center at 0861 162646, and they will be delighted to assist you.

We apologize for any inconvenience thus caused, but this was necessary to ensure your safety, and we trust you will accept the change in that spirit.

With kind regards,

Mango Airlines

He wants to know how it is possible for an airline to hide behind a maintenance related cancellation when the notice was sent out on 11 November, almost four weeks in advance, and disputes the suggestion that he should feel good about this because it is being done for his safety.

The headlines of a recent press release sounded very positive, just as press releases are supposed to do. 

EMIRATES ANNOUNCES HALF-YEAR PROFITS

Strong business growth continues operating revenues up 31%, passenger traffic up 11%, cargo tons up 13%

Positive outlook for next six months

So imagine the surprise then when reading on, to discover that Emirates actually suffered a plunge in profit for its first half year of 2009, with net profit dropping from US$643 million last year to US$77 million this year.

But perhaps this will quieten the airline's critics who continue to allege, with nothing to substantiate their claims and plenty to refute them, that Emirates in some strange way enjoys unique advantages unlike any other airline.  A large part of the reason for the drop in profits was the impact of fuel prices during the April - September period.

Yes, Emirates too suffers from the same challenges as all other airlines, it just manages them better than most.  See my article on 'Does Emirates Enjoy an Unfair Advantage' for more discussion on this.

And, all joking aside, it is very impressive to see an 11% increase in passenger numbers and a huge 31% increase in revenue at a time when most airlines were struggling to stay the same size.

I interviewed the UK country manager of Emirates' competitor, Etihad, at World Travel Market on Monday this week, with a view to writing an article comparing and contrasting the two UAE airlines.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a very satisfactory interview - to my astonishment, he didn't even know any of his airline's financial results and couldn't even tell me if they were profitable or not.

A far cry from Emirates and their excellent management, both in the US, and everywhere else.

Here's a most dismaying article about the collapse and non-outcome of a federal task force that spent a year trying to work out guidelines and requirements for passengers stranded for hours on parked planes.

One wonders how people get appointed to such task forces - in this case, 36 people strong - and apparently dominated by airline representatives, which surely doomed the task force to failure right from the get-go.

No-one invited me!

I mentioned some rather overly optimistic plans to power airplanes with nuclear reactors.  Hopefully that will not come to pass, but here's a much more appealing idea - mini nuclear reactors the size of garden sheds, and each able to power 20,000 homes.

The top ten mobile gadgets of all time?  I'm not so sure, but it is interesting to see the items chosen in this article.

Good news - an enhancement to lithium ion batteries - the rechargeable batteries commonly used to power cell phones and laptop computers - might increase the power capacity of a battery eight-fold, according to this article.  Confusingly the article's URL says 'team.doubles.battery.life', and the article both says an eight-fold increase in life and that they will be 90% more efficient than current batteries.

Whatever the gain in performance, they should hit the market in about four years.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  In order for a pilot to possess a firearm in a plane's cockpit he has to be first highly trained as a pilot, then secondly, highly trained in firearms usage.  He also has to undergo evaluation and screening for his suitability to pilot a plane, and then a second full series of psychological tests to determine his suitability to carry a firearm, which he is only allowed to have in the cockpit.

Maybe that is fair and reasonable.  But now think about what is required for a Federal Air Marshal to take a loaded pistol into the passenger compartment of a plane, and possibly to make a shoot/don't shoot decision in a cabin full of passengers :  These days, the Homeland Security Department will recruit pretty much anyone off the street, no matter what their background, and even if they have no prior law enforcement experience.  A Federal Air Marshal (FAM) doesn't need to undergo any screening or evaluation, and goes through a training program that some consider to be insufficiently rigorous these days.

So why is it that a highly trained and highly skilled pilot, being given a firearm as a weapon of last resort to be used only when terrorists have broken into the cockpit, has to undergo such extraordinarily extensive training and screening (and on their own dime, and on their own time), whereas Federal Air Marshals are trusted with loaded weapons and given the discretion to use them in the plane's passenger cabin (with their minimal training fully paid for)?

Now think about this :  If a pilot resigns, then joins the FAM service, gets qualified and serves for a period on flights, then leaves the FAM service and rejoins an airline, he'll then have to go through all sorts of psychological tests in order to have more restricted access and powers with a firearm than he formerly had as a FAM.

Does that seem logical or sensible to you?  Why are we doing all we can to make it difficult for pilots to protect their planes and passengers (to say nothing of potentially saving buildings on the ground, too) as a last ditch measure, when we trust less skilled less qualified people with broader powers in the cabin?

More details here.

Reader Bryan writes to report a 'serious security issue' with Virgin Atlantic.  :)  After my disclosing last week that BA refuses to take pictures of passengers on its flights, or allow passengers to take pictures themselves due to 'security concerns', he reports that he was alarmed when a flight attendant ran over to him (his words) upon seeing him taking photos in the VS Upper Class cabin.  Was his camera about to be impounded?  Was he about to be arrested?

Actually, neither.  Instead the VS flight attendant offered to help, and proceeded to take a nice picture of Bryan looking very relaxed in his seat.

Could this be part of the reason why VS is reporting an 11% increase in its business class passenger numbers, while BA is experiencing what it coyly describes as a 'double digit decline' it its own premium cabin traffic?  Or is VS being alarmingly lax about this serious security issue?

Flight delays contribute to drinking and espionage?  To say nothing of kissing strangers.  More details here.

It seems that if you complain vociferously about Ryanair's calendars, they'll send you one for free the next year.  Ryanair is again issuing a calendar this year featuring some members of its, ahem, female staff, with all proceeds going to charity.

And, in a gesture of some sort (an upraised digit leaps to mind) it is sending free copies to people who complained about the good taste (or alleged lack thereof) of last year's calendar.

If you'd like to view the calendar (purely for, ahem, researching the days and dates in 2009), you can see it generously displayed here.  Which will be your favorite month in 2009?

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and if your flights are delayed, well, read the article immediately above the calendar article for ideas of how to pass the time.....

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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