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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

A note to readers: I'm not a blogger, so this idea of piling the latest-breaking item atop earlier reports about a topic reminds me of a bad Pinter play. So please read down to get the full flavor of this bizarre summer. Actually, I date the "summer" of our discontent back to December, 2006, when American Airlines stranded dozens of flights and hundreds of passengers at airports around Texas. It spawned the nascent "passenger's rights" movement and began the 2007 narrative of endless horror. I arbitrarily completed the chronicle on August 30, with the peculiar tale of Idaho Senator Larry Craig and his "wide stance" arrest at Minneapolis Airport. It seemed a fitting way to end things.

It's Good to Know That Airlines Don't Answer the Phones for Anyone
Thursday, August 30, 2007, 04:03 PM
The sordid tale of Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) has been all over the media in the past 48 hours. And it certainly told us more than most of us wanted to know about what goes on in airport bathrooms. If you want all of the details, surf to the special site put together by Craig's supposed nemesis, The Idaho Statesman. But you know what struck me as the most interesting part of the story? According to the police report of Craig's antics in a bathroom stall at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, the Idaho Senator was obsessed with making his connecting flight after he was arrested. "Craig was worried about missing his flight," according to the police record of the June arrest. "Detective Nelson tried to call the airline to hold the plane. The airline did not answer the phone." I guess it's reassuring in these confusing times to know that not even the police or a powerful U.S. Senator has a special hotline to the airlines. They get the same awful service that we do.

Rep. Filner Says He's Sorry for Being an A-Hole
Wednesday, August 29, 2007, 10:14 PM
Remember Bob Filner, last week's Unhappy Congressman in an airport? The California Democrat, who had his office deny that he bullied United Airlines employees at Washington/Dulles earlier this month, has had a change of heart. Today (August 29), his office issued a statement that says: "I was tired after a delayed flight and frustrated by the subsequent further delay of the entire flight's baggage. But I did not want things to turn out as they did, with offense obviously taken and much misunderstanding." And instead of scapegoating the police for its report or the media for covering the story, Filner's statement says that, "This is an episode that I regret and hope to move beyond." The eight-term incumbent is still due in court on October 2 to answer charges of misdemeanor assault and battery.

The Pizza Principle: Two A-List Columnists, No Waiting...
Tuesday, August 28, 2007, 03:44 PM
You know that the scribes who are covering this summer of our discontent are running out of gas. After all, day after day of air-travel horror stories--each one of which would have been a Page One tale in years past but now are relegated to the aviation equivalent of the police blotter--take their toll. That's probably why both Scott McCartney of The Wall Street Journal and Joe Sharkey of The New York Times filled their columns today with pizza. Specifically, the calmative power of pizza on travelers who have been screwed by their airline or the weather or both. The McCartney piece focused on a United Airlines pilot who writes thank you notes to customers and buys pizza for the plane when flights are excessively delayed. The Sharkey column focused on the airports in Syracuse and Albany, New York, which have taken to buying pizza for travelers stuck on delayed or diverted flights. I have no pizza tales to offer today. However, if any of you get stuck at Stewart/Newburgh, the closest airport to JoeSentMe's vast, worldwide headquarters, give me a call and I'll drive over with some fresh tomatoes from the garden. It's been a very good summer for tomatoes, if not for air travel.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to the Rails...
Sunday, August 26, 2007, 10:03 PM
As the airlines melt down this summer, Amtrak is all the rage. Rising revenues, full trains and even laudatory coverage in The Wall Street Journal this month. But never let it be said that Amtrak knows how to capitalize on the hot streak. Starting at about 7 a.m. Eastern time yesterday (August 25), a computer systems glitch blocked customers from purchasing Amtrak tickets on the Web or at station kiosks nationwide. The outage continued until about 2 p.m. today. Naturally, Amtrak's stations--especially those in the crowded Boston-Washington corridor--were jammed as customers were forced to wait for clerks to write their tickets.

In the Tank Across the Pond at US Airways
Friday, August 24, 2007, 02:53 AM
When the notoriously shifty bosses at US Airways started offering 20 percent off the price of its international business-class flights, I started poking around. Even your ever-skeptical columnist was shocked at what I found: a near-collapse of the day-to-day operations of US Airways' Philadelphia-based transatlantic service. Even by this summer's reduced standards, the operation that US Airways is running is shockingly bad. For the depressing details, surf to The Brancatelli File.

Why Is US Airways Running Late? Too Many Flyers, Says the CEO
Thursday, August 23, 2007, 09:04 AM
US Airways has been at the bottom of the national on-time ratings since March, when it arrogantly switched a computer-reservation system without proper preparation or training. But US Airways' bad management decisions are not the reason why the airline is hovering about 60 percent on-time systemwide, according to chief executive Doug Parker. The reason why its Charlotte hub has plummeted in on-time efficiency lately, Parker says, is us. We're flying US Airways too much. "A lot more people are beginning and ending their trips in Charlotte," Parker said to a reporter for the Charlotte Observer. "We're adapting to that." Well, gee, I can think of a remedy for US Airways' delay problems in Charlotte…

'Let Him Tell the World How Bad We Are'
Thursday, August 23, 2007, 08:53 AM
Spirit Airlines is run by the Killer Bs, a clique of former US Airways executives who specialized in offending loyal US Airways flyers. Now Ben Baldanza, Spirit's top Killer B, seems intent on driving customers from Spirit. As Chris Elliott explains on his blog, Spirit chief executive Baldanza was copied on a long and impassioned E-mail from a couple who had a bad experience on Spirit. Did Baldanza give a damn? Of course not. In fact, he once again displayed the astonishing contempt that airline executives have for airline customers. "Let him tell the world how bad we are," Baldanza said about the customer in an E-mail to an underling. "He's never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny."

Being a Congressman Means Never Waiting for Your Bags
Tuesday, August 21, 2007, 09:25 PM
It's not easy being a Congressman. Sure, you get your free parking at Washington area airports. Sure, you get preferential treatment from airlines and flight crews. But, hell, you still have to check your bags with the hoi polloi and that means you're likely to have your luggage delayed. On Sunday, August 19, that's exactly what happened to Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) after arriving at Washington/Dulles Airport on United Airlines. According to a statement from Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police, Filner "attempted to enter an area authorized for airline employees only" while in United's baggage-claim office. He "pushed aside the employee's outstretched arm and refused to leave the area when asked by an airline employee." Filner has now been charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. Filner's office says "the charges are ridiculous." Either way, he's due in court to answer the charges on October 2.

And Now, Exploding Planes...
Monday, August 20, 2007, 09:07 PM
It's hard to imagine what else can go wrong this summer now that we've got planes exploding on the runways. On Monday, August 20, a China Airlines Boeing 737-800 landed in Okinawa, Japan. Then the left engine promptly exploded. The flight, which originated in Taipei, was carrying 157 passengers and eight crew. Thankfully, they all evacuated the flight before the engine blew and the plane caught fire.

Paging Mr. Little! Mr. Chicken Little to the White Courtesy Phone...
Wednesday, August 15, 2007, 03:56 PM
You're forgiven if you've been checking your nursery rhymes, specifically the one about Chicken Little and the sky. The sky does seem to be falling this summer. Or at least plane parts are falling from the sky. Last Wednesday (August 8), a Northwest Airlines DC-9 lost a flap as it traveled from Detroit to Madison, Wisconsin. According to the Associated Press, the flap turned up in the back yard of a family in McFarland, Wisconsin. "I was coming out with the laundry basket to hang my laundry, and I noticed ... a large, large piece of metal in my yard," Judy St. Clair told WISC-TV in Madison. "I thought, 'Oh, my goodness. That looks like an airplane wing.' But I thought, 'How can that be?' " Northwest Airlines was gracious enough not to use the DC-9 on its return flight from Madison to Detroit. Then, on Saturday (August 11), United Express Flight 7350 dropped a landing-gear door as it flew from Hartford, Connecticut, to Washington/Dulles. The 25-pound chunk of the sky landed in a park in Boyds, Maryland. The plane was a Canadair regional-jet operated by Mesa Air. "Various things fall off airplanes from time to time, but it's fairly unusual to have one of these landing-gear doors fall off," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told The Washington Post. "Airplanes are designed not to shed parts." Well, not in normal summers, at least…

The Speed of E-Mail? 2 Minutes from JetBlue, 7 Days from US Airways
Tuesday, August 14, 2007, 04:04 PM
Just to show you that there is a difference between airlines, even in this summer of our discontents, consider these two E-mails that landed in my mailbox just moments apart today. "Choosing the only nonstop to Bermuda from Washington, I booked two US Airways roundtrips for late October," one JoeSentMe member told me. "When no E-ticket arrived by four days later, I was told by a telephone agent (at a call center in Mexico City, I think) that the MINIMUM time that it now takes for US Airways to 'send an E-Mail' confirming an e-ticket is SEVEN DAYS." Next E-mail from a JoeSentMe member headed to New York/Kennedy to catch a cruise on the Queen Mary 2. "I sent an E-mail to JetBlue customer service to inquire about the on-time departure statistics for the flight that I had booked. I told them that I had a critical deadline in New York and wondered what JetBlue would do if my flight were delayed or canceled," he wrote. "You may not believe this, but a real customer service rep called me within minutes. Against all expectations, she offered to change my flights [to one with an earlier arrival at JFK] without any penalty! And within two minutes, an E-mail with my revised itinerary arrived."

The Prisoners of Continental Flight 1669
Tuesday, August 14, 2007, 03:41 PM
So what happens when bad weather at your destination forces your aircraft to divert to an alternate airport? In this summer of our discontent, it's a recipe for another passengers-held-hostage drama. That's what happened on July 29 to the poor folks on Continental Flight 1669 from Caracas. It diverted to Baltimore-Washington just minutes before it reached Newark, its intended destination. Five hours later, with passengers clapping and drumming on overhead bins to express their displeasure, local police were called. When the plane finally reached Newark, Continental apparently had little or no staff available to help the travelers rebook their missed connections. Joe Sharkey has the details in his On the Road column in today's editions of The New York Times. And Chris Elliott reprints the letter of complaint that the outraged passengers wrote to Continental Airlines.

Cold as ICE: Customs Holds 20,000 Passengers Hostage at LAX
Monday, August 13, 2007, 06:26 AM
A faulty computer system operated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service caused a 13-hour nightmare at Los Angeles Airport. Starting at about 2:40 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, August, 11, more than 20,000 passengers arriving on international flights were denied speedy entrance into the United States. Thousands were held in small waiting areas and transit lounges and the rest were held on dozens of flights after they arrived at LAX. The last passenger wasn't screened and cleared until about 3:45 a.m. on Sunday, August 12. The situation was exacerbated by ICE's bad troubleshooting; the agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, thought that the computer problems would last about an hour. When it was clear that the situation was more complicated, ICE officials refused to process passengers by hand. "It only takes one" dangerous passenger to slip through, claimed Customs spokesman Michael D. Fleming. "A lot of innocent folks have been detained and it is regrettable." Of course, that logic is impeccably paranoid. All of the passengers arriving at LAX had been screened at least once before takeoff and all had their documents and passports checked by the airlines they were flying. Hand-checking them through customs and immigration hardly posed a risk. The ICE's decision to hold 20,000 passengers hostage for hours on the theory that one person might be a security threat just shows the agency's disregard for sanity and for people.

Another 'Mad as Hell' Traveler at CNBC.com
Friday, August 10, 2007, 09:57 PM
Mike Hegedus of CNBC.com is doing the "mad as hell/not gonna take it anymore" routine. Continental Airlines stranded him again, this time at T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island. "No more flights to Newark," he fumes. "No more accepting my 'fate' with a stoic smile. You want to cheat me out of high quality customer service, you want me to accept without question your explanation of what's going on? Fuggetaboutit." Click here to read his complete rant.

Go to Europe. Lose Your Luggage.
Friday, August 10, 2007, 12:54 PM
The skyrocketing rate of mishandled bags by U.S. carriers is awful--but only if you don't compare it to the efficiency of European airlines. According to the Association of European Airlines (AEA), the 30 member carriers delayed 16 pieces of luggage for every 1,000 passengers they carried. Worst in class Among the major Europe airlines: British Airways, which is delaying or losing 28 pieces per 1,000 flyers. TAP Portugal (23.5) is almost as bad. Alitalia (17.7 pieces per thousand) and KLM (17.8) are also below average. Lufthansa, SAS and Air France are around the AEA average. You'd be surprised at the best baggage handlers in Europe. First is Air Malta (3.2 delayed pieces per 1,000 flyers), followed by Turkish Airlines, Tarom Romanian, SN Brussels and Malev Hungarian.

The Nuance in the Numbers
Thursday, August 9, 2007, 08:48 PM
When the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report on Monday, August 6, my colleagues in the general media knocked out perfunctory stories on Tuesday that reported the bare minimum (things are as bad as they've been for more than a decade), then rushed off the next day on Virgin America's inaugural flight. For anyone who hung back and chose to report rather than revel, however, there are nuances in the numbers. I've outlined some of the most interesting in my column. The time you save and frustration you avoid will make your life on the road somewhat easier. Read the complete column at http://joe.biztravelife.com/07/080907.html.

Luggage! Teenagers! Put Them on US Airways, Watch Them Disappear!
Thursday, August 9, 2007, 06:00 PM
US Airways has been losing luggage at an appalling rate this year and in June it turned in the worst "mishandled luggage" performance of the Big Six. But now the carrier is losing customers, specifically unaccompanied minors, too. Today's edition of the Raleigh News & Observer has the story of a pair of teenagers that US Airways couldn't get from its Phoenix hub to Raleigh. Of course, I always ask the obvious questions: Why are parents trusting their kids to airlines? And why would airlines take on the responsibility?

No Monkeying Around. Things Are Weird at Spirit Airlines.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007, 05:44 PM
Okay, so I'm sure you've heard about the passenger who managed to slip a marmoset monkey past both security and Spirit Airlines employees. Cute as this week's story may be, more serious stuff is going on at Spirit. Run primarily by the so-called Killer Bs, executives who almost killed one of the earlier versions of US Airways, Spirit has been expanding recklessly in recent months from overcrowded Fort Lauderdale Airport. The expansion hit the fan over this past weekend. The carrier cancelled about 40 flights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That stranded hundreds of tired, hot and flightless flyers at the airport's small, outdated public areas.

Look! Up in the Sky! It Stinks! It Smells! It's...
Wednesday, August 8, 2007, 08:47 AM
The stinky, smelly, crowded conditions on flights this summer get their full, er, airing in a feature in today's editions of The Wall Street Journal. (Click here to read.) "Tales of sweaty waits on un-air-conditioned planes, smelly bathrooms, dirty seats and tray-tables smeared with mysterious schmutz abound this season," writes Darren Everson. "Travelers complain that the environment on packed planes can degenerate quickly -- and often long before the plane actually starts moving." What do you want me to say?

La Dolce Vita, Without the Luggage
Tuesday, August 7, 2007, 11:13 PM
All roads may lead to Rome, but you'd better be prepared to travel them without your luggage. A month-long baggage crisis at Rome's Fiumicino Airport came to a head over the weekend. Thousands of travelers were forced to wait hours for their bags to come off the plane. Thousands more didn't get their bags at all. Many travelers flying from Rome learned at their destination airport that their bags were never loaded onto the planes at Fiumicino. No one knows how many bags were delayed or lost and, in typical Italian fashion, everyone is blaming everyone. ENAC, the Italian civil-aviation agency, first blamed baggage handlers, claiming that they sabotaged Fiumicino's aging baggage-handling equipment. After an inspection turned up nothing, ENAC switched the blame to the subcontractors who employ the baggage handlers, the airlines that hire the subcontractors and ADR, which operates Fiumicino. ADR blames the airlines and ENAC. The airlines blame ENAC and ADR. Since it's August, however, and most everyone is on vacation, don't expect much clarity until the fall--if ever. Meanwhile, carry on if you're flying to Rome.

The Long and Winding Tarmac
Tuesday, August 7, 2007, 04:03 PM
If you want hard, statistical evidence of exactly how this summer is going, consider a new category of horror being compiled and publicized by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) division of the Department of Transportation. The BTS is now reporting "taxi-out time" delays on an airline-by-airline basis. What's taxi-out time? That is the minutes, sometimes hours, between the time when an aircraft pushes back from the gate and the time it goes "wheels up," which is industry jargon for takeoff. According to the BTS report released today, more than 1,500 flights sat on the tarmac between two and three hours in June, the last month for which statistics are available. More than 380 other flights were delayed between three and four hours. A total of 64 flights sat on the tarmac between four and five hours. And a dozen flights were abandoned somewhere between the gate and takeoff for more than five hours in June. The flight that sat the longest in June? Continental Flight 728 from Newark to Denver. On June 8, it sat on the ground, fully loaded, for six hours and 23 minutes before takeoff. You'll recall that June 8 was the day the air-traffic computers went down in much of the country. To read my column on that disaster--and doesn't it seem like forever ago now?--log in and then surf to The Brancatelli File.

Stews Gone Wild
Tuesday, August 7, 2007, 01:39 AM
Considering how bad things have been this summer, we're had relatively few reports of "air rage," the generic term for passengers verbally or physically assaulting flight crews and the airlines' airport personnel. But now we have our first case of what can only be called "stew rage." On Sunday (August 5), a flight attendant was removed from a Delta Connection flight scheduled to depart from Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky. Public safety officers at Blue Grass Airport reported that Sarah Mills, 26, threatened the flight's captain, yelling "You're Dead!" She was jailed after her arraignment on charges of terroristic threatening and public drunkeness. Court documents filed Monday said she smelled heavily of alcohol and admitted drinking whiskey onboard. Besides the criminal charges, Mills will face Federal Aviation Administration charges of being a crew member of an airplane while drunk. The flight from Lexington to Atlanta was cancelled.

One Night, One Flight, One 5-Hour Delay Explained
Sunday, August 5, 2007, 10:50 PM
No one is shocked anymore when they see a flight tracker report another 5-hour flight delay. But let's put a human face on the saga of one of these mega-delays. On Friday night, August 3, JoeSentMe member Gene Boe was booked on United Express Flight 7281, which is supposed to depart from Washington/Dulles at 6:48 p.m. and arrive in Austin at 9:04 p.m. The 1,290-mile flight is usually flown using a Mesa Air 70-seat EMB-170 regional jet (RJ). "The 330-minute delay doesn't tell the whole story," Boe wrote in an E-mail. "After waiting four hours for our plane to arrive, we were told that it had been hit by lightning inbound and the mechanics could not fix it. So they swapped the 70-seat RJ for a 50-seater. Two problems: We had more than 50 passengers and we couldn't even take 50, since the smaller RJs don't usually fly 1,300 miles. We had to give up some people weight to carry extra fuel for the trip. All of the passengers were very patient up until that announcement," Boe said. "Those that were told they were not going became unglued--and I don't blame them one bit. We all deserved better. One other goofy thing about this flight and its weight problem. My rolling bag, which normally gets put in the cargo hold, was not allowed to go in. Instead, they put it in a seat in the last row of the cabin!" For the record, FlightStats.com reports that UA 7281 eventually departed Dulles at 12:37 a.m. on Saturday and arrived in Austin at 2:23 a.m.

Stupid or Secret? Only the TSA Knows for Sure.
Saturday, August 4, 2007, 06:58 PM
So you never quite know if the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is being stupid or secretive when it makes a security change at the airport. The new rule on what gets separately screened (see below) is a perfect example. Apparently, the TSA began briefing airports early yesterday morning (August 3). (Only Seattle-Tacoma Airport thought it smart to alert travelers.) The airline trade group, the Air Transport Association, wasn't briefed by the TSA until late in the day and couldn't get out an alert to the airlines until about 6:45 p.m. yesterday. And as a TSA spokesperson told JoeSentMe columnist Chris Barnett, the TSA didn't announce the new rules publicly because it didn't think it affected all that many travelers. It also had no plans to put a notice on its Web site. Of course, that decision eventually changed. The screening changes are now, at least, listed on the TSA site. Oh, and check out what else is part of the new rules, which is buried under the rubric "Laptops, Full-size Video GAme Consoles and Other Large Electronics": CPAP breathing machines. Here's another stupid-or-secret irony: Several JoeSentMe readers E-mailed me to say that individual TSA agents had told them earlier in the week that their CPAP machines would have to be separately screened starting today. So if individual screeners knew days in advance about the new rules, why didn't the TSA alert airports and airlines until the day before? And why no alert to the media or the public at large? My vote is for stupid…

The TSA Makes Another Secret Switch at the Security Checkpoint
Friday, August 3, 2007, 09:15 PM
Effective at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, August 4, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will require travelers to remove the following items from their carry-on bags and submit them for separate screening: video gAmes, video cameras, DVD players and CD players. They will now be treated like laptop computers. You'll have to remove them from your carry-on and run them separately through the X-ray machines. But nothing is ever simple (or sane) when it comes to the TSA, so please be aware of the following realities: 1) Not everyone at the airports or the airlines will have been briefed on the specifics--or even the basics. Several carriers have contacted us in the last few hours to say they've just been notified themselves; 2) It seems as if many TSA stations are late getting the word, too. So expect lots of inconsistency at the checkpoint; 3) Worse of all, some early information from the TSA seemed to indicate that ALL electronics--MP3 players and iPods; PDAs and mobile phones; and all manner of other small personal items--would also have to be removed for separate screening. That is not true. But don't be shocked if a TSA screener insists that your music player must be screened separately. He or she probably thinks it's true.

McCain Gets a Taste of Our Lives on the Road
Wednesday, August 1, 2007, 09:15 AM
Regardless of whether you like him or his politics, Arizona Senator and one-time prisoner of war John McCain has had a lot worse things in his life than a fading presidential campaign and a flight delay. But McCain learned firsthand this week the perils of flying commercial. And flying commercial with US Airways, his home-state carrier. On Monday (July 30), McCain was scheduled to make a campaign fund-raising stop at the Marriott City Center in downtown Pittsburgh, which, coincidentally, is a former US Airways hub. But US Airways did to McCain was what it does to so many of its passengers: Screwed him big time. A long flight delay caused McCain to miss his fundraiser. McCain spoke to the crowd by speakerphone and former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge did an in-person stand-in. Ridge's explanation for McCain's absence: US Airways is unreliable. You think?

Once Again, Lightning Strikes Twice This Unlucky Summer
Monday, July 30, 2007, 12:36 PM
As we've said before, lightning can and does strike twice on the road in this miserable summer. Consider the case of Roxanne Rhodes Hoare and some of her fellow travelers. They were trying to fly home from London/Heathrow to Washington/Dulles on Friday, July 27. They were booked on British Airways Flight 293, an 8-hour flight with a scheduled departure time of 5:15 p.m. "A child was ill," she wrote to me. The "crew sought medical advice [and] the family was removed. Two different baggage-removal searches were required to get all their bags off. Then refueling [and] traffic delays and we finally pushed back at 8-ish." Okay, you're thinking, a three-hour delay and an ill passenger doesn't seem so bad given this summer's chaos. But that's when metaphorical lightning struck again. As the Boeing 777 pushed back from the gate, it reversed into the path of an Airbus A321, which had just arrived from Zurich. The wing of the Boeing clipped the tail of the Airbus. Some observers in London claim that the accident was caused by ground operations cost-cutting at BA, which the airline denies. What doesn't seem in dispute was that about US$2 million in damage was done to the aircraft. But back to Ms. Hoare on that Washington-bound Boeing 777. "We were kept on board for five hours, then placed in hotels overnight with vague instructions to phone BA customer service to rebook," she wrote. "Of course, flights from Heathrow to Washington and all surrounding cities were booked for days. My husband and I [took] a taxi to London/Gatwick for a 12:20 p.m. flight. It was a Gatwick-Tampa-Miami-Washington/National routing, a 17-hour journey, but we consider ourselves lucky." I guess a 17-hour two-stop flight and a 36-hour odyssey in place of an 8-hour nonstop does count as lucky this summer.

FlyGlobeSpan Is Sorry That It's Not Sorry
Sunday, July 29, 2007, 12:54 PM
So it turns out that FlyGlobeSpan is sorry that it's not sorry about the carrier's outrageous treatment of more than 200 passengers booked on a New York/Kennedy-Knock, Ireland, flight last month. After almost a month's worth of silence after the week-long travesty, FlyGlobeSpan finally got around to posting its "side" of the story. Of course, the nearly 1,500-word statement is only posted on its Irish Web site. You won't find it if you surf to FlyGlobeSpan's U.S. site. But no great loss. For all the shucking and jiving, it is clear that FlyGlobeSpan at no time ever considered the obvious: Putting its distressed and abandoned customers on Aer Lingus, Delta Air Lines or any of the other carriers that fly from New York to Shannon, just 80 miles from Knock. Go ahead: Read the entire FlyGlobeSpan statement and see for yourself. Helping its customers get home as soon as possible never entered into FlyGlobeSpan management's calculations.

The Air-Travel System in Brazil Collapses
Wednesday, July 25, 2007, 09:58 AM
We've been predicting it since last winter for the U.S. skies, but it has happened in Brazil first: The system has essentially collapsed. TAM, the nation's largest airline and the carrier whose Airbus crashed last week at São Paulo's Congonhas Airport, is telling customers not to fly until at least July 30. About half of all flights in Brazil have been cancelled or severely delayed this week after an unexplained outage of air-traffic radar last Friday (July 20). And now word filters out that Brazil's air-transportation czar, defense minister Waldir Pires, has been fired. Pires has been in deep denial over the cause of the mid-air crash in the Amazon last September, has ignored the deterioration of Brazil's air-traffic system and seemed almost oblivious to last week's TAM crash, the deadliest in Brazilian history. About 200 people on the plane and on the ground died. Pires, a hero of Brazil's left thanks to his implacable opposition to the country's former military dictatorship, is a close ally of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Brazil's air-traffic controllers, fearing they were being blamed for Brazil's travel chaos, have periodically held work slowdowns to protest outdated radar and radio equipment and poor salaries. For more details about Brazil's meltdown since the September crash, check Joe Sharkey's blogs. Sharkey was a survivor of the mid-air crash between a private corporate jet and a Gol Boeing 737. That crash killed all 154 on the Gol jet.

Summertime and the Heathrow Terminals Are Bursting...
Tuesday, July 24, 2007, 03:44 PM
Flooding in Great Britain created another weekend of havoc at London/Heathrow Airport, which this summer seems to be melting down in stages rather than all at once, the pattern during the last three years. Last Friday (July 20), about 140 flights were cancelled and that caused a cascade of delays and additional cancellations on the first weekend of the airport's busiest travel periods. (About 10 million travelers are expected to use Heathrow in the next eight weeks.) Heathrow's four terminals were so crowded over the weekend that travelers were made to wait outside to ease the congestion.

Check This Stuff Out...
Monday, July 23, 2007, 05:07 PM
The summer is going downhill so fast that it's hard to keep track of everything that's going wrong. Here's a capsule look at some stuff we've been too busy to cover in detail An American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to London was diverted to New York on July 12. A member of the flight crew reported that a passenger had bypassed security at LAX by traveling on a crew bus. It turns out that the passenger was an airline employee on private business. ... A Mesa Airlines pilot was accused of stealing a passenger's music player at the security checkpoint at Jacksonville International Airport in Florida. The pilot, Christopher Newton, was working United Express Flight 7332 on Thursday, July 12, when police boarded the plane and asked him to exit the cockpit. He was then shown security-checkpoint video of him putting a music player in his bag after taking it out of a container on the X-ray belt. Newton was allowed to return to the plane and fly after he returned the music player. ... A United Airlines nonstop plane from Boston to Chicago was diverted to Chicago/O'Hare on July 22. A couple was then removed from the plane, arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault for harassing another passenger on the flight. ... Our good friends at FlyGlobeSpan, the worst airline ever (at least so far), are at it again. Click here to read what The Telegraph newspaper says about a recent FlyGlobeSpan flight from London/Gatwick to Vancouver, Canada.

Northwest's Crisis of Cancellations, Chapter Two
Sunday, July 22, 2007, 11:31 PM
In a desperate attempt to avoid the massive end-of-month cancellations it dumped on passengers in June, Northwest Airlines management has been dumping 3-5 percent of its flights each day in July. But it doesn't seem to be working. Starting on Friday (July 21), cancellations are spiking again, and that augurs very badly for Northwest passengers booked in the coming nine days. For full details, check The Brancatelli File.

The Worst Airline Ever (at Least So Far) Strikes Again
Sunday, July 22, 2007, 08:25 PM
Well, those sterling folks at FlyGlobeSpan are at it again. Hundreds of travelers headed to Glasgow--presumably home to Glasgow--were stranded in Palma, Barcelona and Ibiza for at least 18 hours on Saturday. Why? Their FlyGlobeSpan planes never arrived. The airline's ground staff--all contract employees of other companies--refused to provide blankets and pillows or put the stranded travelers up in hotels. FlyGlobeSpan's excuse for this latest outrage? One of its plane was stranded by fog in Toronto and another had a breakdown in Edinburgh. "All we can do is apologize," the airline said. Of course, this comes after the airline stranded more than 200 passengers for a week in New York when it couldn't get a plane to fly them home to West Knock Airport in Ireland and refused to arrange for alternate transportation.

In The Summer of Our Discontent, Lightning Does Strike Twice
Sunday, July 22, 2007, 09:25 AM
Who says lightning--or the on-the-road equivalent of same--doesn't strike in the same place twice? As the unlucky passengers on American Airlines Flight 955 can attest, it certainly can. Two hundred and 36 passengers and crew departed New York/Kennedy on a Boeing 767 Thursday evening (July 19) headed for Buenos Aires, an itinerary listed as 10 hours and 19 minutes. The 10:10 p.m. departure left an hour and 40 minutes late, but that was the least of its trouble. The aircraft developed hydraulic troubles shortly after takeoff and was forced to land in Norfolk, Virginia, at 1:37 a.m. on Friday morning. American booked the weary travelers into hotel rooms for the night. It took until 6:02 p.m. for the plane and the passengers to depart again and this time the aircraft made it as far as American's Miami hub, landing at 7:59 p.m. After refueling, it departed from Miami at 9:25 p.m. and ran up against the mysterious radar blackout that wiped out air-traffic control over the Brazilian Amazon starting at about 11:15 p.m. Friday. The plane was rerouted and eventually made it to Buenos Aires at 7:29 a.m. on Saturday, July 21.

The Skybus Flight to Nowhere
Saturday, July 21, 2007, 09:55 PM
Skybus, the ultra-no-frills, unbundled-fare start-up that launched earlier this year, now has its very own summer horror story. On Thursday, July 19, 144 passengers boarded a Skybus jet at Columbus, Ohio, expecting a two-hour flight to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The plane, a 7:15 p.m. departure, left for Portsmouth, but was diverted to Hartford, Connecticut. Passengers stewed and the plane eventually returned to Columbus, landing at about 5 a.m. on Friday. When passengers disembarked back where they started in Columbus, they were greeted by long lines and no information about their status. Skybus eventually put some of the passengers on a special, unscheduled flight to Portsmouth about 26 hours after their originally scheduled departure. "If I had hindsight, I wouldn't have taken off in the first place," Skybus president Ken Gile told the Columbus Dispatch. Of course, Skybus charges more for hindsight…

They've Got an Awful Lot of Problems in Brazil
Saturday, July 21, 2007, 08:44 PM
Joe Sharkey has been tracking the chaos in Brazilian aviation since last September, when he was a passenger on a corporate jet involved in the fatal mid-air collision over the Amazon. The situation took another fatal turn on Tuesday, when the short runways at Congonhas Airport in São Paulo led to the crash of a TAM jet. And now an as-yet unexplained outage of radar over the Amazon has led to dozens of cancelled and diverted flights between the United States and South America. The outage, between 11:15 p.m. Friday and 2:30 a.m. Saturday, was most disruptive for American Airlines passengers. At least a dozen American flights to or from Brazil and Argentina were cancelled or diverted. Ten flights operated by Delta Air Lines and United Airlines were also affected.

The TSA Says You Appear to Be Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Friday, July 20, 2007, 05:16 PM
San Diego Airport was evacuated for two hours on Wednesday (July 18) and about 20 flights delayed. The reason: a perceived security breach when a passenger passed through the security checkpoint with a suspect bag. According to the Union-Tribune newspaper, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez said "the bag appeared to have exceeded the requirements governing the Amount of liquids that can be carried." The paper also reported: "Also in the bag was a tennis shoe that appeared to have a built-in pedometer device." The paper then quoted Melendez as saying: " 'If this passenger didn't have those liquids, none of this would have happened.' " But notice the wording: At no time did the TSA spokesman actually claim that the passenger really had too many liquids or violated any rules. Apparently, now the simple appearance of guilt is considered real guilt.

Employees? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Employees…
Thursday, July 19, 2007, 11:29 PM
Our summer of discontent continues apace and here's another reason: The Big Six carriers have slashed their workforces dramatically. As a result the Big Six don't have the boots on the ground to try to recover from the problems created by their egregious overscheduling with small aircraft. According to figures released on Tuesday (July 17) by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the Big Six and Alaska Airlines cumulatively operated with 17 percent fewer employees in May than they did in May, 2003. During that four-year period, Northwest slashed its full-time workforce by 24.9 percent. United, Delta and US Airways all were at least 20 percent below their respective 2003 levels. American's full-time employment declined 16.7 percent and Alaska Airlines' workforce dropped 6.4 percent. Only Continental, with a 3 percent increase in employees, bucked the four-year downsizing trend.

Another Terrible Tuesday on the Road
Tuesday, July 17, 2007, 11:55 PM
Tuesdays are becoming the worst day of the week to fly. Today started with a security evacuation at Burbank Airport. Then, for the second time in two days, Amtrak's Silver Star was involved in a fatal collision with a vehicle. (Yesterday, the Silver Star was heading northbound from Tampa when it struck a car that deliberately drove around the crossing gate in Lakeland, Florida. All four people in the car died.) In today's incident, the train partially derailed when it hit a truck in Plant City, Florida, just 12 miles from the site of yesterday's crash. The truck driver was killed and 19 train passengers were taken to the hospital for treatment, according to WTSP in Tampa. And this evening, a TAM Airlines Airbus A320 crashed at Congonhas Airport in São Paulo, Brazil. Early reports indicate that as many as 200 people--170 passengers and crew on the jet, the rest on the ground--have died.

Bring Out Your Dead! Bring Out Your Dead!
Monday, July 16, 2007, 08:30 PM
Terminal F at Miami International Airport was evacuated this morning when security screeners became suspicious of a box that contained a watch and other items. The screeners, who were X-raying checked luggage near the United Airlines ticket counter, thought that the box might have been an explosive device. So the Transportation Security Administration decided to call in the Miami-Dade police bomb squad. Six flights and about 2,000 passengers were delayed for about 90 minutes. What was in the box, you ask? A rectangular urn with human ashes.

Out of the Mouths of Babes--and Airline Flacks
Monday, July 16, 2007, 08:12 PM
By now you've heard ad nauseAM
about the mother and 19-month-old child tossed off a Continental Express flight last month because the chatty kid kept repeating "bye, bye plane." The mother, Kate Penland, and the son, Garron, were traveling from Atlanta to Oklahoma City via Houston Intercontinental Airport. After an 11-hour delay in Houston, the child kept repeating the mantra, "bye, bye plane," even during the safety instruction. According to print reports and Penland's comments on her obligatory television rounds, a flight attendant on the plane, operated for Continental by ExpressJet, suggested that Garron be medicated with baby Benadryl. She said she refused and Garron continued to chant. Then the flight attendant announced that she was ordering the plane returned to the gate. Penland also claimed that the flight attendant told the pilot she and Garron were a security risk and that other passengers stood up for her. Neither Continental nor ExpressJet have challenged Penland's endless retelling of the tale and neither the flight attendant nor the pilot involved have spoken publicly. All that you know. But what you may have missed was the reaction of David Castelveter, the public-relations man for the Air Transport Association (ATA), the airline trade association. When asked by a reporter about the incident, Castelveter went into the ozone: "Since 9/11 there is an extreme awareness by crew members that we still face a real threat of a terrorist attack," he said. "There is an overabundance of precaution to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of safety." Seriously, folks, that's what he said. Then he urged everyone within the sound of his voice to practice the duck-and-cover maneuver. (Okay, I made that last part up.)

Tom Dalrymple Gives You Permission to Read This...
Saturday, July 14, 2007, 03:45 PM
The FlyGlobeSpan incident last month really is turning into the quintessential example of management arrogance and cluelessness. As you'll recall, Scotland-based FlyGlobeSpan stranded almost 250 travelers at New York/Kennedy for a week when its June 28 flight to Knock, Ireland, was cancelled. FlyGlobeSpan management could not or would not send a replacement aircraft for the original Boeing 757, which had mechanical issues and may have been hit by lightning. Nor would it arrange for alternate transportation or reimburse passengers who paid their own way back to Ireland. Things are a little different in Europe, however, so FlyGlobeSpan's chief executive, the previously invisible Tom Dalrymple, was called on the carpet by Knock officials, who have sponsored and heavily promoted the New York-Knock flights since their launch earlier this year. Until the meeting on Thursday (July 12), FlyGlobeSpan has consistently blamed the June 30 terrorist attack at Glasgow Airport for its inability to supply a replacement plane. (No matter that the Glasgow incident happened two days after the JFK-Knock flight initially cancelled…). But pressed by Knock officials, Dalrymple blamed Swissport, FlyGlobeSpan's ground-services operator at JFK. (No matter that Swissport doesn't have planes, doesn't make decisions and was specifically instructed not to put passengers on alternate flights.) Then Dalrymple did what all venal CEOs do: He blamed the media. "We have taken a bit of pounding--some of it justified, some of it totally undeserved," he said. (No matter that the Irish media actually was slow to cover the story and that no New York media outlet covered the story at all.) Finally, Dalrymple said this: "We know we let our customers down in JFK, and we apologize for that. If they feel they have been let down they have every right to criticize us." (Nice of him to grant passengers leave to express their feelings, don't you think?) Dalrymple then grudgingly promised to refund the money of travelers who paid their own way home rather than wait the full week it took FlyGlobeSpan to get around to operating a flight.

Just Another Runway Incursion at FLL
Saturday, July 14, 2007, 07:11 AM
The Federal Aviation Administration says that it will investigate a runway incident on Wednesday (July 11) at Fort Lauderdale Airport. Two jets apparently came within 100 feet of each other. A United Airlines Airbus A320 was taxiing onto the runway when a Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 was about to land on the same runway. The Delta pilot pulled up at the last moment and the United pilot stopped, narrowly missing a collision. According to media reports, the United plane had missed an air traffic controller's instruction and had turned onto the wrong runway. There were three so-called "runway incursions" at FLL in the year ended May 31. The FAA says there is about one incursion per day at the nation's airports.

Redlining the Summer: Airports and Airlines to Avoid
Wednesday, July 11, 2007, 11:06 PM
I never tell business travelers not to fly, because only you know what is essential to your business. But I feel compelled to tell you this: I’ve just informed my own clients that I’m not flying anymore this summer, except in extraordinary and absolutely unavoidable circumstances. The reasons I’m redlining the summer are obvious. I’m no wimp. Three decades of business travel has made me tough and cynical and stoic about the road. But I’m not stupid either. I can do the math: Flying this summer simply isn’t an efficient or cost-effective use of my time or my clients’ money. But if you must fly this summer, I suggest that you do your best to avoid these guaranteed time-wasting, angst-inducing black holes. Click here to read my complete Seat 2B column at Portfolio.com.

Terrible Tuesday on the Road
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 11:59 PM
We're just three weeks into the summer and we've already got a candidate for worst flying day of the year. Tuesday, July 10, was just miserable. It started with a security breach at Oakland International that closed both terminals. A small plane crash killed five near Sanford, Florida. Then bad weather rolled in throughout much of the East Coast and virtually paralyzed the nation's busiest airports. For the day (at least those planes that have finally landed as of 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 11), American Airlines did just 51 percent on-time. United was at 50 percent, Delta 46 percent and Northwest 56 percent. The US Airways-coded portion of US Airways was at just 38 percent. JetBlue did just 47 percent, Alaska Airlines just 63 percent and AirTran only 45 percent. Among major carriers, only Continental (67 percent) and Southwest (69 percent) managed to keep at least two-thirds of their flights on schedule. The worst airport on Tuesday: Boston, where delays were unbelievably long. One Example: American Flight 1096 from Chicago/O'Hare arrived 4 hours and 44 minutes late. Another disaster: AirTran Flight 803 from Baltimore-Washington, which pulled in 4 hours and 35 minutes late. But I suppose it could have been worse: You could have been the idiot who ordered up a NetJets plane to fly between Westchester County Airport (HPN) and New York/Kennedy. That's a 29-mile flight and a drive of about two hours. Well, the plane sat on the runway for an hour and 47 minutes, then took off and was promptly diverted to Washington/Dulles. Including the runway hold, the flight consumed 2 hours and 30 minutes. And now the passenger is 198 flying miles further from JFK than when s/he started from Westchester County Airport.

June Was Breaking Down All Over
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 10:13 PM
The month of June on the road turned out to be about as bad as it seemed while we were living through it. According to a packet of statistics released today by FlightStats.com, June was breaking down all over. The number of cancelled flights jumped 133 percent over June, 2006. (Thank you, Northwest and American!) Excessively delayed flights (those arriving late 45 minutes or more) jumped 43 percent. And systemwide on-time performance skidded to 69.4 percent, down more than five points from June, 2006's on-time record of 75.7 percent

American Is Still the Nation's Least-Reliable Airline
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 10:05 PM
About a month ago I called American Airlines the nation's least-reliable carrier based on its bad on-time record, high cancellations and poor baggage-handing efficiency. I see no reason to change my call now. According to statistics just released by FlightStats.com, American ran just 58.7 percent on-time in June, a fraction of a percent better than US Airways, which has been at the bottom of the Big Six for four consecutive months. American's cancellations skyrocketed, too. It dumped more than 2,000 flights in June, compared to just 421 last year. Its percentage of excessively delayed flights (45 minutes or more off-schedule) more than doubled to 21.3 percent. American's average delay in June was 72 minutes, up from 59 minutes last year. American, of course, blames the lousy weather in North Texas in June and claims that the bad storms fouled up its crucial Dallas/Fort Worth hub. But weather isn't much of an answer: Southwest Airlines, which maintains a big operation at Dallas/Love Field, just a few miles from DFW, had only 100 systemwide cancellations in June. And bad weather in North Texas certainly wouldn't explain the miserable performance of Executive Airlines, one of American's wholly owned American Eagle commuter carriers. Executive is much less focused on DFW, but its June numbers were equally dreary: 60.8 percent on-time, 17.7 percent of flights excessively delayed and more than 2,700 cancellations, a 5.9 percent cancellation rate. That's actually worse than the cancellation percentage racked up by Northwest Airlines in June.

Worst Airline Executive. Ever. (At Least So Far...)
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 09:14 PM
You just can't make this stuff up, fellow travelers. For the 10 days in June when Northwest Airlines was enduring its crisis of cancellations and inconveniencing untold thousands of travelers, chief executive Douglas Steenland was nowhere to be found. He made no public appearances, issued no statements of regret or apology and certainly wasn't seen anywhere around Northwest's Minneapolis/St. Paul hub trying to help his overworked ground crews and displaced passengers. So where was Doug? In his office writing himself some new stock options. According to Dow Jones, a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Friday evening, June 30, said that Steenland received 159,071 options on Thursday, June 29. That award comes just two weeks after he received a similar Amount of options. Both sets of options vest in nine equal installments, says Dow Jones. To be fair, the options are "under water," which is financial jargon that means Steenland could buy NWA stock cheaper on the open market. But the point remains: Instead of stepping up and taking responsibility for his airline's operational collapse or reassuring customers that it would never happen again, Steenland was hunched over his desk at Northwest headquarters rewarding himself for his carrier's 1,200-plus cancellations. By the way, Steenland earned about $2.6 million last year and received stock and options worth ten times that much when Northwest exited bankruptcy last month. A 15-year flight attendant at Northwest earns about $36,000 a year.

Heathrow's Annual Summer Meltdown
Sunday, July 8, 2007, 09:53 PM
What's more reliable than Old Faithful? British Airways' annual summer meltdown at London/Heathrow Airport. Last year it was the lotions-and-potions scare in August. The year before that it was the Gate Gourmet foul-up. Back in 2004, it was the BA job action. And now we have British Airways drowning in at least 20,000 mishandled bags. Early in June, BA had two separate incidents where a total of about 12,000 bags went awry. The airline was trucking bags all over Europe in an attempt to reunite its unhappy customers with their belongings. Then, in late June, there were the attempted London bombings, the Glasgow Airport incident and the subsequent tightening of security at U.K. airports. Throw in the cutbacks in BA's ground staff, outsourcing of other jobs at outlying British airports and the end-of-school-year travel rush and you have about 22,000 bags piled up at Heathrow. Things are so bad that BA is rousting the desk jockeys at Waterside, the airline's world headquarters, and asking them to get their hands dirty to help clear the Heathrow backlog. It is also begging laid-off BA workers to take temporary gigs with Aviance, the company that BA hired to take over the ground work at its airport stations in Scotland.

The Forest, the Trees and the Rain in Dallas
Thursday, July 5, 2007, 11:02 PM
The leading newspapers in North Texas, The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, both have well-known and respected airline writers. Both papers sponsor air-travel blogs, too. But both have been comparatively silent about the sorry state of American Airlines' hub operations at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Both papers have run recent stories about the bad weather in North Texas and how it has hurt American's operations at DFW. But they've swallowed whole AA's it's-all-because-of-the-weather excuse, even though there is ample evidence that AA is deteriorating systemwide. And they failed to make the most obvious connection of all: Southwest Airlines at Dallas/Love Field is canceling far fewer flights than American at DFW. Of course, sometimes even good reporters can't see the forest for the trees, especially in the rain.

How Much Has JetBlue Learned?
Wednesday, July 4, 2007, 06:31 PM
There are so many bad news stories during this summer of our discontent that it takes a while to get to them all. Bad weather in New York late in June, for example, created havoc around the system of JetBlue Airways. And the inescapable conclusion is that the airline hasn't improved its crisis performance much since its Valentine's Day meltdown. On Thursday, June 28, for example, it cancelled 40 percent of its flights and 75 percent of the flights that did operate were late. The day before, it had cancelled 15 percent of its flights. On the day after, just 58 percent of its flights operated on-time. The bad-news JetBlue flight of the week: Flight 62 from Fort Lauderdale to New York/Kennedy on Wednesday, June 27. As the Sun-Sentinel newspaper of Florida explains, the 2.5-hour flight devolved into a 25-hour nightmare. It included a diversion to Atlantic City, a long hold on the runway and other typical summer problems. At the same time as New York was enduring the bad weather, a computer-industry trade show was in town. That means a lot of techies took to their blogs to denounce JetBlue. Among them are George Ou of ZDNet and Keith Cowing of SpaceRef.

Death on the Road, Airline Style
Wednesday, July 4, 2007, 01:01 PM
Busted connections, broken business itineraries and ruined vacations are one thing. But injury and death due to the airlines' infuriating insistence on pushing the system beyond the breaking point is another matter altogether. On Thursday night, June 28, a Delta Air Lines flight from Salt Lake City to Newark was diverted to Syracuse. Delta at first blamed bad weather for the diversion--and there was, in fact, bad weather in the New York Metropolitan area. But on landing at Syracuse, a Delta spokesman later claimed, mechanics discovered a hydraulic leak. The 170 or so passengers were eventually herded onto a series of minivans--Delta says that it couldn't locate hotel rooms for the exhausted and misdirected travelers--and pointed toward Newark. Shortly after 4 a.m. on Friday, June 29, the minivans exited Interstate 81 at New Milford, about 30 miles north of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, one of the buses took the turn too quickly, crashed into a concrete barrier and overturned. The driver was killed. Twelve of the 17 passengers on the bus were taken to hospitals with injuries.

Raymond Chandler and I Write Well About the Weather
Wednesday, July 4, 2007, 08:14 AM
There's a classic episode of Mary Tyler Moore where Lou Grant reads to Mary Richards from Raymond Chandler's Red Wind in an attempt to convince her that good writing is about passion. Ed Asner chews the scenery while reading as Lou Grant: "Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen." Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards character stiffens and she replies, primly: "He writes well about the weather." I couldn't help but think about that scene when I saw how the Air Transport Association (ATA), the airline trade group and official apology organ, reacted to my column about how the Big Six make the mistake of lying to their customers when things go wrong. On the JoeSentMe.com Web site, I headlined the column Why the Big Six Always Do the Wrong Thing. When USAToday.com reprinted the column several days later, the editors headlined it Big Six Airlines Fail Crisis Management 101. But when the ATA's daily newsletter linked to the column, the trade group's headline was Big Airlines Struggled Through Bad Weather. No matter that my column had nothing at all to do with the weather. I'm just honored that the ATA thinks I write so well about meteorology.

BA Gets Whacked by a Security Scare
Tuesday, July 3, 2007, 03:00 PM
Due to a security evacuation of Terminal 4 at London/Heathrow Airport this morning, London time, British Airways has cancelled about 100 flights, including many headed to the United States. That means BA has been forced to cancel outbound flights from the United States to Heathrow both today and tomorrow. BA says that its flights to London/Gatwick today and tomorrow will operate normally. That means its flights operating to and from Orlando, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Tampa and Houston should be unaffected. BA also says that its New York/Kennedy-Manchester flights are running without incident. And since BA's Los Angeles and San Francisco flights use Heathrow Terminal 1, those travelers are probably unaffected, too. One other note: A JoeSentMe member tells me that today's US Airways flight from London to Philadelphia was cancelled. (The plane is at Gatwick.) So that means US Airways' schedule from Philadelphia to Europe may be scrambled tonight and/or tomorrow. If you're on US Airways from Philadelphia to Europe, you'd be wise to double-check before leaving for the airport.

Worst Airline Outrage. Ever. (At Least So Far...)
Tuesday, July 3, 2007, 04:00 AM
I am sure that most of you have never heard of Glasgow-based FlyGlobeSpan airlines. But it is Scotland's largest carrier and it does fly several transatlantic routes to the United States and Canada from Glasgow; Liverpool, England; and Knock, Ireland. Last Thursday, June 28, a FlyGlobeSpan plane on the ground at New York/Kennedy Airport was apparently hit by lightning, so it could not fly its 240+ passengers on their scheduled flight from JFK to Knock, about 80 miles from Shannon. The plane's electrical system was severely damaged and did not operate on June 29, either. Rather than place its passengers on other carriers, however, FlyGlobeSpan put them up in a hotel for another night and was planning to ferry in a new plane from Glasgow to fly them back to Knock. On Saturday, June 30, of course, Glasgow Airport was attacked by the men who drove a flaming Jeep into the airport entrance. Several FlyGlobeSpan jets were grounded in the subsequent airport closure, so no plane was dispatched to pick up the passengers that were still at JFK. No plane arrived in New York to take them home on Sunday, July 1, either, and yet FlyGlobeSpan still refused to put the passengers on other flights to Shannon. According to Irish media reports, on Sunday night about 30 of the passengers flew to Shannon on Delta Air Lines. They arrived on Monday, July 2. FlyGlobeSpan said it will not reimburse those travelers for the expenses. And there is an even sadder sidebar to all of this: One of the passengers, a 71-year-old man, has had a stroke and was rushed to Jamaica Hospital near JFK. It wasn't until Wednesday, July 4, when the remaining FlyGlobeSpan passengers in New York were able to board one of the carrier's planes and fly home to Knock. They arrived on July 5, a week after they first went to JFK to fly home. One final note: The plane struck by lightning is decorated with a drawing of John Lennon on its tail. FlyGlobeSpan outfitted the plane with the drawing earlier this year to celebrate its launch of service between Liverpool, whose airport is named after Lennon, and New York. Imagine…

Oh, Right, Terrorism...
Saturday, June 30, 2007, 03:15 PM
An apparent terrorism attack unfolded at the airport at Glasgow, Scotland, in mid-afternoon Britain time. Although details are still incomplete and the story breaking as I write, it seems that two men crashed a flAM
ing SUV into the entrance of the airport. Both men have been arrested. One of the suspects, partially engulfed in flAmes, was apparently restrained by passengers until police could take custody of him. The airport has been closed and all flights into and out of Glasgow suspended. No injuries have been reported. Of course, this attack comes on the heels of two car bombs found in central London yesterday. Airports around the United States are ratcheting up their security procedures. Expect to see an increased armed police and military presence at major airports. Spot checks of vehicles heading onto airport grounds are also likely. You should also expect increased scrutiny at the security checkpoints. Please build in extra time to clear these security measures.

Northwest's Crisis of Cancellations
Sunday, June 24, 2007, 09:52 AM
Northwest Airlines' crisis of cancellations began on Friday, June 22, and, according to an internal Northwest memo, it was all supposed to be over, 240 cancellations later, on Monday, June 25. In fact, however, the crisis consumed the entire last week of June and more than 1,200 flights were eventually cancelled. Northwest management blamed everyone but itself for the crew shortages that caused the cancellations. Worse, the situation is likely to repeat itself late in July and August, too, unless Northwest tries to dodge the media by canceling 3-5 percent of its flights every day this summer. Read the complete Brancatelli File.

Self-Help for Passengers Held Hostage
Thursday, June 21, 2007, 11:23 PM
Years ago, on the old LA Law television show, one of the lawyers tried to get himself off a plane stuck on the runway by calling a judge and obtaining a restraining order. We're not all lucky enough to know a compliant judge, but the president of a company that makes miniature, wearable cameras found himself a hostage today on Delta Connection/Comair Flight 5637. It was stuck for hours on the ground at New York/Kennedy Airport. So he turned on the camera, began questioning the pilot and that led to a pair of visits by the police. That freed the passengers and the videographer, 37-year-old David Ollila, was subsequently questioned and released by the Transportation Security Administration. Joe Sharkey of The New York Times has followed up with an interview with Ollila.

Continental Goes Into the (Toilet) Tank
Thursday, June 21, 2007, 11:13 AM
Word is, er, leaking out about a Continental Airlines flight last week from Amsterdam to Newark that flew across the pond with a malfunctioning, overflowing toilet. The stinking, disgusting details are in a story cobbled together by MSNBC from the wire services. (Update: Joe Sharkey of The New York Times has more man-on-the-aisle eyewitness accounts in his July 3 column.)

A Dreadful Day for United Flyers
Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 11:59 PM
With almost all of United Airlines' daily schedule complete, the full picture of the carrier's computer-created meltdown is now clear. United managed to operate just 32 percent of its flights on-time today. Worse, an astonishing 749 flights--almost half of the carrier's schedule--arrived 45 minutes or more behind schedule. That all but guarantees that huge numbers of the airline's passengers missed connections and/or have had their luggage mishandled. The carrier also cancelled 80 flights today, nearly 5 percent of its schedule. Read the complete Brancatelli File.

So Much for a Northwest Passage to China
Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 11:25 PM
What would a week be without another planeload of passengers being held hostage by an airline? A Cathay Pacific flight spent about seven hours at the gate in San Francisco yesterday before being cancelled. The airline says the flight, which began boarding at midnight for a 1:20 a.m. departure to Hong Kong, was supplied with snacks, refreshments and a hot meal. Passengers, who were allowed off the plane at 7:30 a.m., insisted that they received neither information nor sustenance. To read the San Francisco Chronicle report on the incident, click here.

The Sippy Cup and the Hissy Fit at DCA
Tuesday, June 19, 2007, 10:37 PM
If you missed the video--perhaps you were watching the last five minutes of The Sopranos over and over?--the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says video tapes of a confrontation over a sippy cup at Washington/National Airport on June 11 proves that the passenger, not TSA officials, overreacted. The passenger was a former Secret Service agent. Neutral observers of the video--available here--find plenty of blame to go around.

Headed to the Cape? Think Again.
Thursday, June 14, 2007, 11:17 PM
Cape Cod-bound flyers take note: Maintenance issues this week grounded the fleets of sister carriers Cape Air and Nantucket Airlines. Service is slowly returning to normal, but if you're not already holding a ticket, you'll probably not get out this weekend.

ATC Meltdown: The 'Summer' Nightmare Begins
Saturday, June 9, 2007, 09:47 PM
If you were on the road in the East, South or Midwest yesterday, you not only know how bad it was, you may still be in an airport trying to get home. If you weren't on the road--or were lucky enough to be traveling in the West--you may have missed the brief news flashes that dared to interrupt the major media outlets' all-Paris-Hilton-all-the-time coverage. Either way, the dimensions of Friday's air-traffic computer meltdown are just becoming clear. June 8 goes down as the worst travel day of the summer so far--and the summer hasn't even started yet. Read the complete Brancatelli File column here.

Surviving the Summer of Our Discontent
Tuesday, May 29, 2007, 09:14 AM
I’ve been traveling on business for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen it this bad. Passengers are unhappy, airline rank-and-filers are overworked, and the chief executives are busy giving themselves lavish bonuses rather than improving their companies’ operations. Regardless of the routes you fly or the class in which you travel, it’s going to be ugly out there this summer, and you need to protect yourself. I don’t have a magic bullet, but I do have some practical tips to make your life on the road a little less bumpy. Click here to read my complete Seat 2B column at Portfolio.com.

How the Airlines Could Get Themselves Re-Regulated
Thursday, May 24, 2007, 10:01 AM
This Memorial Day weekend begins what we all expect to be a horrendous summer air-travel season. You know by now the toxic stew that will cause the chaos: Record traffic, rising fares, understaffed airlines, airports clogged with small planes, unhappy employees, declining service and, to top it off, predictions of a harsh season of hurricanes and thunderstorms. It seems to me this sorry state of affairs could lead to a rush to re-regulation in 2008. In 2000, after that summer meltdown, the traditional media hurriedly pulled up stakes to cover the Sydney Olympics and the 2000 Elections. But in 2007, the dynamics are quite different. The traditional media isn't facing the immediate press of other major events. Bloggers are now omnipresent, able to bring every local airline failing to national attention. And the Democratic and Republican hordes of presidential hopefuls are looking for an issue to separate themselves from their respective packs. Can't you see some opportunistic Republican calling for airline re-regulation based on a long summer of delays and outrages? Even better, he can blame the industry's 1978 deregulation on the Democrats in general--and conservative bête noir Ted Kennedy in particular. After all, it was Kennedy's Judiciary committee (led by its chief counsel, Stephen Breyer, who now sits on the Supreme Court) that cleared the way for deregulation. But an opportunistic Democratic candidate could jump on the issue with equal vigor. Democrats love to regulate stuff and what Democratic presidential candidate wouldn't look good beating on overpaid, arrogant airline chief executives like United's amoral Glenn Tilton, US Airways' boy wonder Doug Parker or American's tone-deaf Gerard Arpey?

United's Hostages in Brisbane
Thursday, May 17, 2007, 09:33 PM
We're getting used to tales of airlines holding passengers hostage on flights, but United Airlines is now specializing in particularly heinous strains of the outrage. During the Christmas rush, United flights headed to snowbound Denver were diverted elsewhere, the passengers dumped off the aircraft and the planes flown away empty. And earlier this week United invented a new wrinkle. Two United flights, one from San Francisco and one from Los Angeles, were diverted to Brisbane when their original destination, Sydney, was fogged in. The crews then departed the aircraft because they had reached their maximum duty time. But the passengers weren't so lucky: They were locked in and denied the right to leave the plane because, United claims, the customs and immigrations officials in Brisbane could not clear them. Passengers on the LAX-Sydney flight eventually reached Sydney about 22 hours after departure. Passengers on the flight from San Francisco endured a 27-hour odyssey before finally reaching Sydney.

Oops! American Did It Again.
Thursday, May 10, 2007, 07:29 AM
Oops! American Airlines did it again. After insisting that its meltdown in Austin last December--when hundreds of passengers were held on diverted planes for hours--would not happen again, it happened again. Two weeks ago, nearly 200 passengers sat for eight hours, stuck on a Boeing 757, after their flight was diverted from Dallas/Fort Worth to Midland, Texas. American's official excuse: The portable staircase in Midland didn't fit and it would have been unsafe to unload passengers. (In a column that posted on May 15, Joe Sharkey of The New York Times tells the story of some of the passengers held hostage

. Great Bankruptcy. Too Bad About the Customers.
Thursday, April 26, 2007, 09:14 PM
Delta Air Lines exits bankruptcy next week after a comparatively speedy 18 months of Chapter 11 protection. The milestone has already unleashed a spate of fawning media reports that naturally ignores the actual customer experience. As anyone who has flown Delta recently can attest, however, the airline is plagued by absurd delays, mounds of lost luggage and deteriorating facilities. Shortly after entering bankruptcy in September, 2005, Delta embarked on a breakneck international expansion and it turned massive Amounts of domestic flying over to commuter carriers. The results have been disastrous, according to Transportation Department figures. Comair, Delta's wholly owned commuter subsidiary, has the worst on-time performance in the nation and more than 10 percent of its scheduled flights don't even operate. More than 7 percent of its flights are "regularly delayed," which is twice the industry average. It also mishandles bags at about twice the industry average. Delta's other primary commuter carrier, a formerly owned subsidiary called Atlantic Southeast Airlines, is almost as bad. The fruit of this domestic chaos--a huge new international hub at New York/Kennedy--is also running poorly. The carrier's two terminals at JFK have endured decades of physical neglect and Delta has done little but patch the worst holes. And Mesa Airlines, which operates much of Delta's connecting service at JFK, is operating at about 43 percent on-time.

America's Checked Luggage Is Missing
Thursday, April 19, 2007, 01:11 PM
According to the latest Air Travel Consumer Report, the 20 largest U.S. carriers racked up more than 366,000 reports of "mishandled" luggage during the month of February. That's 110,000 more reports than in February, 2006. Or, to express it the way the Transportation Department does, that is 8.23 reports per 1,000 flyers. It represents an astonishing 35 percent jump in lost or misplaced luggage compared to the February, 2006, rate of 6.10 reports per 1,000 flyers. Want even more dreary news? As the major carriers turn more and more of their flying over to their commuter airlines, the regionals are collapsing under the weight of the bags that they are being asked to handle. In February, American Eagle racked up a mind-boggling 16.27 reports of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. At that rate, American and its wholly owned commuter carrier is losing the bag of about one person on each and every one of the regional jets its flies. Comair, the Delta Connection commuter carrier, is almost as bad at 16.03 reports per 1,000. Skywest, which flies for United, Delta and Midwest, is racking up 15.06 reports per 1,000 passengers.

Mr. Shakespeare to the White Courtesy Phone
Thursday, April 12, 2007, 04:00 PM
Shakespeare never did tell us what came after the winter of our discontent. But why do I think that the winter of our discontent on the road is going to be followed by a summer of disgust? I know it's hard to believe--what with airlines nearing record lows in on-time and baggage-handling performance and snow still falling from the skies a month into spring--but the summer travel season is shaping up to be even worse than this past winter and our dreadful spring. Read the complete Brancatelli File here.

Gee, We Hadn't Noticed...
Wednesday, April 11, 2007, 08:57 PM
Today's otherwise useless Senate Commerce Committee hearings on a passenger's bill of rights did reveal one interesting tidbit. Transportation Department inspector general Calvin Scovel told senators that the DOT hasn't been investigating service complaints against the airlines. Despite repeated warnings about declining airline standards, he said that DOT officials had other priorities and hadn't pursued reports of long delays, lost bags, misleading advertising and lackluster passenger communication. The agency "has not conducted on-site compliance reviews, relying instead on self-certifications and company-prepared reports submitted by the air carriers without supporting documentation," Scovel charged.

Employees? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Employees...
Thursday, March 29, 2007, 08:46 PM
The Transportation Department says that employment at the Big Six and Alaska Airlines fell by 26 percent between December, 2002, and December, 2006. And you were wondering why flying the big carriers has become such a dreadful experience…

It Never Snows in Tempe, Arizona
Thursday, March 22, 2007, 08:41 PM
After a 9-day, self-imposed computer meltdown earlier this month, you'd think that US Airways would be extra-careful not to offend any more customers. But never let it be said that the arrogant and incompetent fools who run the airline can't come up with new ways to infuriate passengers. The snow and ice storm that hit the East Coast last weekend apparently caught management off-guard because they must not have the Weather Channel at US Airways headquarters in balmy Tempe, Arizona. So while Delta, Northwest, JetBlue and American pre-cancelled much of their weekend schedules in the East, US Airways management blundered into another nightmare. More than 2,000 US Airways flights were cancelled after passengers left for their respective airports. Some travelers spent several nights in the airports in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. And they were the lucky ones. Travelers on several US Airways flights in Philadelphia spent up to eight hours stuck on their planes. (In fairness, it is also worth noting that some passengers were stuck on their planes for hours at New York/Kennedy; those isolated flights were operated by Cathay Pacific, Swiss and Royal Air Maroc.)

US Airways Blows Up Its Computers
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 08:36 PM
What is most absurd about this week's computer snafu at US Airways is how predictable it all was, how easily it could have been avoided and how completely it is the fault of US Airways management. The airline chose last weekend to migrate the airline to a single computer platform. As any of us who has ever switched laptops or desktops knows, this is no easy task. Something always goes wrong no matter how carefully you plan. But rather than warn flyers that the switch was coming, request their patience and ask in advance for cooperation from the folks who were traveling, US Airways management adopted its standard post-merger stance: Don't ask, don't tell, then lie. The result? Six days of brutally delayed flights, busted connections and long check-in lines at the airport. Read the complete Brancatelli File here.

United's Hostages at O'Hare
Saturday, February 24, 2007, 11:21 PM
If you thought that the airlines learned their lesson from the American Airlines meltdown in Austin and the JetBlue Airways fiasco in New York, better think again. United Airlines held a Boeing 757 on the runway at Chicago/O'Hare for eight hours today before canceling the flight. That incident follows four American and United commuter flights that were diverted from Denver to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. The passengers on all four flights were stranded at the airports when the aircraft flew away empty.

The High Cost We Pay for Airline Outsourcing
Thursday, February 22, 2007, 09:09 PM
If you've ever wondered whether airline outsourcing of jobs and basic tasks takes a toll on you, consider recent developments in Seattle and Chicago. In Seattle, police have arrested two baggage handlers and accused them of stealing from the checked bags of Alaska Airlines passengers. The baggage handlers work for Menzies, a subcontractor for Alaska. Menzies is the same company that dinged two Alaska Airlines jets in 2005 and the employer of six workers accused of stealing from passenger luggage at Houston Intercontinental in December. Alaska Airlines management hired Menzies after it fired hundreds of its own workers when they refused brutal wage and work-rules concessions. Meanwhile, United Airlines operations in Chicago slowed to a crawl on some sub-zero days this month because United wasn't able to fuel its jets. Aircraft fueling is one of the jobs that United farmed out in 2005 to a subcontractor, Penauille Servisair. The subcontractor pays fuelers about half of what United was paying its workers. But many Penauille employees simply didn't show up for work this month during the cold weather and thousands of United passengers were delayed.

'Sorry' Isn't in The Big Six Vocabulary
Thursday, February 22, 2007, 08:04 PM
JetBlue chief executive David Neeleman has now done everything but Jimmy Swaggart's I-have-sinned-against-you-my-lord routine after his airline's Valentine's Day meltdown. But if Neeleman has engaged in overkill, I challenge you to find a single apology by American Airlines chief executive Gerard Arpey for American's nightmare in Austin in December. In fact, try to find a single word of apology on the AA.com Web site from anyone. And did I miss Delta chief executive Gerry Grinstein's apology for all of the delays that Delta passengers endured in New York last week? Did I miss United chief executive Glenn Tilton's apology for the December incident when United dumped 110 Denver-bound passengers in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and then had the planes fly away empty?

JetBlue Bill of Rights: Let Them Eat Discount Coupons
Tuesday, February 20, 2007, 05:13 PM
So the exhausted and bedraggled braintrust of JetBlue Airways spent the weekend in the bunker and today unleashed its "Customer Bill of Rights." And, as you can see by its terms and conditions, it's very much ado about almost nothing. What good are flight coupons and discounts to people who are stranded for six or eight hours without food or water on a plane? What good is a coupon for future travel to a mom who has been delayed for nine hours and has run out of formula and diapers for her wailing child? But my favorite part is the intentionally eye-popping $1,000 payment to passengers who have been denied boarding. Well, do you know how many JetBlue flyers that may cover? How about 128, which is the number of flyers JetBlue left at the gate last year? I like JetBlue and like a lot of the folks who founded the airline seven years ago this month. But this half-baked, useless "bill of rights" is an insult to our intelligence. Most travelers aren't looking to score financially off an airline that has delayed or inconvenienced them. What they want is good information and timely assistance when their flight plans have been disrupted. This little bit of publicity fluff offers nothing practical. Want to hear more? I spent some time talking to Marketwatch Radio.

JetBlue Didn't Melt Down Alone
Monday, February 19, 2007, 04:29 PM
JetBlue Airways' ongoing crisis since its Valentine's Day meltdown in the ice at New York/Kennedy Airport is only part of the story. As Joe Sharkey explains on his blog, a quick look at the FlightStats.com numbers shows that the Big Six were also crippled in the Northeast on February 14. US Airways, for example, cancelled 60 of its 61 flights at Washington/National and 50 of 61 flights at Boston/Logan. It also cancelled about half of the flights at its Philadelphia hub. Want a more direct comparison? American Airlines dumped 52 of its 64 flights at New York/LaGuardia and 50 of its 61 flights at JFK.

Abandoned (Literally) by the Airlines
Monday, February 19, 2007, 10:31 AM
It's hard to tell exactly how bad life on the road is going to be in 2007, but Gary Stoller of USA Today has uncovered some truly appalling behavior by the airlines. In a story that posted today, Stoller reports on two United Express flights that were diverted from Denver during a December 20 snowstorm. They landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, then the planes flew away without their passengers. In a follow-up story, Stoller reports on two flights on February 8. The planes--one operated as United Express, the other as American Connection--were sent to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, when Denver was fogged in. Once again, passengers were abandoned when the planes then flew away empty. Worse, a spokesman for American Airlines said the incident had nothing to do with American because the flight was operated by one of its commuter carriers. (In a story that posted in April, Stoller reports that United Airlines had finally decided to reimburse the abandoned passengers, but only after United learned USA Today would write about the incident again.

Blogging the JetBlue Blues
Sunday, February 18, 2007, 11:15 PM
It didn't take long. JetBlue Airways' Valentine's Day meltdown and its subsequent spate of catch-up cancellations has spawned a blog. The JetBlue Hostage site has popped up and it mixes anger with an endless stream of media reports on JetBlue's problems. The blog's creator, Genevieve McCaw, says she and her boyfriend were passengers on JetBlue Flight 351 on Valentine's Day. She claims they spent 11 hours on the tarmac on New York/Kennedy. McCaw clearly doesn't like JetBlue now and doesn't seem to know that JetBlue's meltdown is an anomaly in seven years of great service, but it looks like she's committed to running all the media reports all in one place. (Message to Genevieve: Straight reprints are copyright infringement and if you think you're angry at JetBlue, wait until the reporters whose work you've lifted get wind of your blog...)

Scarborough's Steamed at Delta
Friday, February 16, 2007, 11:43 PM
JetBlue Airways is taking a lot of heat for its poor performance at New York/Kennedy on Valentine's Day and its raft of subsequent cancellations, but don't tell that to Joe Scarborough. The former Congressman and current host of Scarborough Country on MSNBC has a mad on for Delta Air Lines. On Valentine's Day, Scarborough spent nine hours at New York/LaGuardia Airport trapped aboard Delta Flight 693. Here's the link to the blow-by-blow of his incarceration . He said the pilot explained "that this was the worst day in his 19 years at Delta." That didn't placate Scarborough, though. No surprise, either. He was sitting in coach, which must be foreign territory for Congressmen-turned-TV-bloviators.

Making Business Travel Better
Thursday, February 15, 2007, 07:51 PM
Like the Claude Rains character in Casablanca, I AM
shocked-- shocked! --that the nation is shocked by airlines holding their passengers hostage on aircraft during storms. As business travelers, you and I know that the airlines do stuff like this all the time. JetBlue Airways' Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out in New York yesterday and American Airlines' Riders on the Storm act in Texas six weeks ago might be notable for the quantity of flights they abandoned and the duration for which they held customers in tubular prisons. But not a day goes by when some passengers somewhere aren't being screwed by a once-unimaginable airline atrocity or another. Airlines are as airlines do--and they'll do whatever is good for them regardless of the impact on their paying passengers. They are Sky Gods and you are serfs. They rule by divine right. You are expected to obey. But I think we can make business travel better with a few simple fixes that wouldn't require a "passenger's bill of rights." Read the complete Brancatelli File here.

Déjà Vu All Over Again
Thursday, January 4, 2007, 01:02 PM
When Northwest Airlines stranded thousands of flyers in the snow at Detroit/Metro Airport in 1999, the big airlines headed off Congressional "passenger rights" legislation with their voluntary Customer First initiatives. It took seven years for the Transportation Department's Inspector General to get around to auditing the airlines' compliance with their promises. Not surprisingly, the Transportation Department concluded that the airlines never did what they promised. But one thing you can count on the airlines doing is repeating their own heinous conduct. On the Friday before New Year, planes full of passengers were left sitting on the tarmac at Austin-Bergstrom Airport for seven or eight hours. Many of the flights had been diverted to Austin due to storms elsewhere in the country. One diverted flight, American 1348, spent more than eight hours in limbo in Austin. Passengers had no food, the toilets overflowed and travelers received no useful information about what was happening to them. The aircraft wasn't taken to a gate nor was a mobile staircase brought to the plane. Finally, almost 12 hours after the flight departed from San Francisco, the pilot took it upon himself to bring the aircraft to the terminal. The December 29, 2006, incident was well covered by Helen Anders, a travel writer for the I>Austin American-Statesman. Her blog's last item in December noted the diversions. Much of her January blog was filled with the tales of folks who sat on the runways in Austin. Joe Sharkey, the business-travel columnist of The New York Times also produced an excellent column about the victims.

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