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SOME TASTY THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS
By Joe Brancatelli
November 24, 2009 -- Wild horses--or Wild Turkey--couldn't force me to write a column on Thanksgiving Day, so this will be our last scheduled column until after our great national secular celebration of overeating.
And I already have leftovers. Well, more specifically, yummy stuff that I wanted to get to sooner but have to serve to you now, slightly warmed over but still delicious. Trust me. This column is just like a great turkey sandwich on Friday night. In fact, if you want to read this while you're chomping, go on ahead. Just don't smear any mayo on your monitor…
BEING RIGHT ON PASSENGER'S RIGHTS IS THE BEST REVENGE
When the mainstream talking heads assured you that Kate Hanni's well-meaning but meaningless "passenger's rights" bill would surely pass in 2009, I warned you that Congress would never get to it. And when the mainstream media went into rapture when Hanni's equally well-meaning Congressional allies tacked the bill onto the Federal Aviation Administration budget reauthorization, I alerted you that Congress hadn't passed an FAA reauthorization in two years. But when I told you this summer that the way to stop airlines from stranding us on tarmacs was to fine the stuffing out of them, I had no idea that the Transportation Department was listening. Today it slapped a total of $175,000 in fines on the three carriers involved in August's holding of 47 flyers overnight on the tarmac in Rochester, Minnesota. Continental Airlines, which put its computer code and a CO flight number on the woebegone service, agreed to a $50,000 fine. ExpressJet, which operated the regional-jet flight, also swallowed a $50,000 fine. And Mesaba, the airline in charge of airport operations when the flight was diverted to Rochester, was fined $75,000. I'm confident that a $3,700-a-flyer fine whenever an airline (or a group of them) conspires to let travelers stew on a tarmac will motivate them to change their ways long before any passenger's rights bill ever passes.
TSA CAN'T FINISH WHAT IT STARTS, SHOULDN'T START WHAT IT FINISHES
Having made American airports safe from the looming threat of terrorist snow globes several holidays ago, the Transportation Security Administration is standing guard this Thanksgiving Week by ensuring that 21st century Boris Badenovs can't attack commercial aviation with cranberry sauce. (Check the no-cranberry-sauce rule here.) But while the TSA is banging on travelers with verboten berry sauce, the Government Accountability Office notes that the agency has a nasty habit of blowing tax dollars on pie-in-the-sky security screening schemes. Since the TSA's creation two months after 9/11, the GAO said, "ten passenger screening technologies have been in various phases of research, development and deployment, but TSA has not deployed any of these technologies to airports nationwide." (You can read the tale of the TSA's lost causes here, but I warn you: The report contains more Tryptophan than turkey.) Meanwhile, after hemming, hawing, disassembling and defending the thugs who hassled a low-level political operative when he tried to carry $4,700 in cash through a security checkpoint at St. Louis' Lambert Airport, the TSA has folded in the face of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. The TSA now agrees to limit its snooping into our carry-on bags to matters directly related to flight security. In other words, no more asking why people are carrying combs or corduroy caps or Kindles or cash.
MR. HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN TO THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE...
The big airlines turned in their best on-time record in September in seven years. According to the DOT, the carriers' on-time average was 86.2 percent. That has led some airline apologists to suggest that the carriers are doing yeoman work and aren't getting credit for all the hard slogging they've done to get their flights back on their own schedules. Well, here's what the apologists forget: 1) Airlines are supposed to run on-time; and 2) They are running closer to on-time now because they have trimmed their flight schedules by 10-15 percent over the last 18 months. In recent years, airlines have blamed everything--lack of runways, bad air-traffic control, bad karma--but their own scheduling for their lousy on-time performance. Now that the emperor has no clothes and thinner schedules have largely cured the delay crisis, the airlines would like us to admire the cut and the line of their new togs.
SPEAKING OF STUFF THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN…
When Airbus unveiled the first prototype of the Airbus A380, the skeptics among us shuddered at the thought of a plane that could carry more than 800 people. But, as always, airline executives dismissed the idea that any carrier would ever stuff that many people on a single aircraft. They laughed when some of us pointed to the obvious precedent: specially configured Boeing 747s that Japanese carriers fitted out for more than 550 passengers. But here we are, ironically during the week that Air France launched its first A380 flights to New York, and the news is: Air Austral has ordered a "budget" version of the A380. The carrier, based on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, says that it will put 840 seats on its A380s.
A REMINDER: FREQUENT FLYER MILES YOU EARN DON'T BELONG TO YOU
Finally, in case you have forgotten: The frequent flyer miles you earn don't belong to you. A federal judge in Alaska ruled in favor of Alaska Airlines last week in a case the carrier brought against a travel agency that was buying and selling miles in its Mileage Plan program. As magistrates almost always have since frequent flyer programs were created, the federal district judge ruled that Alaska Airlines has the right to control how its flyers use the miles they've earned and can bar them from buying or selling the miles. The loser, a fellow named Brad Carey, was naturally bitter. "Consumers have to ask themselves the question: Do they own the miles or do they not?" Uh, Brad, like it or not, we don't. It's wrong that the pseudo-currency we earned somehow doesn't belong to us, but a bazillion judges can't be wrong. Well, they can be, but they get the last word…
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.