archivelogo
 The Brancatelli File

joe WHO COULD MAKE
THIS STUFF UP?


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

December 17, 1998 -- I know you've been busy, what with the Chanukah, Christmas, Kwaanza and Impeachment seasons upon us. So I know that maybe you've been too busy to keep up with the wonderful world of airlines.

As a public service, let me bring you up to speed. All facts are guaranteed true. Besides, who could make this stuff up?

HE'LL MAKE US A FARE OFFER WE CAN'T REFUSE
Gordon Bethune took over Continental several years ago, turned the airline around, got famous, wrote himself a book and now seems to specialize in making incredibly bizarre public statements. Earlier this year, for example, he told a trade magazine how he attacks and "pay[s] back" competing carriers who dare enter one of his fortress markets.

Now the Continental chief executive has told investors that the airlines need to raise prices. "We need a fare increase, and we haven't had one in 15 months," he explained.

How much is Continental suffering from the fares Bethune finds oppressively low? Consider Newark-Boston, a fortress route where Bethune boasts Continental "ran out" both USAir and United. Continental currently charges $203 for a one-way flight on the 191-mile route.

DR. MENGELE, PLEASE PICK UP THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE
A Finnish national named Mikaeinar Peterson was flying on a Malev Hungarian flight from Bangkok to Budapest when he allegedly became violent and unruly.

The flight crew's reaction? Stewardesses, helped by passengers, tied Peterson down to his seat and the pilot asked Istanbul airport for permission to make an emergency landing. Meanwhile, an unidentified doctor flying as a passenger aboard the flight gave the Finn an injection to calm him down.

By the time the Malev flight landed in Istanbul, Peterson was dead. An autopsy later showed he died because of the mixture of the tranquilizer administered by the doctor and some other drug or alcohol previously ingested by Peterson.

CLINTON PROBABLY DIDN'T READ THE LETTER ANYWAY
On December 8, TWA chairman Gerald Gitner wrote to President Bill Clinton and complained about the Department of Transportation's actions regarding alliances between U.S. carriers and foreign airlines. Gitner said that allowing the alliances has resulted in "the elimination of competition" in many markets.

Gitner also attached a "white paper" to the letter. It asked the President to "forbid code-sharing on transatlantic gateway routes" and prohibit joint frequent-flyer programs.

On December 15, TWA announced a marketing and code-sharing alliance with Kuwait Airways. The two airlines also expect to join each other's frequent-flyer plans. "With this new code-sharing agreement," said Gitner, "TWA customers will have more choices than ever."

HIS FURNITURE MUST FIT UNDER THE SEAT IN FRONT OF HIM
Bruce Campbell of Oregon paid a salvage company $100,000 for a Boeing 727 built in 1969. Then the 49-year-old electrical engineer paid $25,000 to move the aircraft to a field across the street from Portland Airport. He estimates he'll spend another $45,000 to haul the plane to its ultimate home: a 10-acre plot about 14 miles from downtown.

What is Campbell's plan for the aircraft, which has flown 43,000 cycles for Olympic Airways? He's going to turn the self-described "fixer-upper" into his home. When completed, the 727 will have about a thousand square feet of living space with an open-plan living room and bedroom. He'll use the cockpit as his office, transform one of the two lavatories into a laundry room and use the galley as his kitchen.

Campbell has already spent several nights in the plane, sleeping on a row of seats under a pile of blankets. He says he got the idea for the conversion from a retired Mississippi hair dresser. She bought a vintage 1971 Continental Airlines jet for $2,000 and turned it into a three-bedroom home.

C'EST LA GUERRE
When Swissair announced several years ago that it would switch most of its international flights from Geneva to its hub in Zurich, the French-speaking regions around Geneva were incensed. Sensing an ethnic and linguistic slight from the national carrier, the governments of several western Swiss cantons vowed to launch their own airline.

After several false starts--and more than one slick blocking maneuver on the part of Swissair--Swiss World Airways took to the air on September 10 with flights between Geneva and Newark. The airline's president even piloted the flight personally. French pride was served.

On December 2, however, Swiss World applied for receivership, essentially declaring itself bankrupt. It suspended service and grounded its plane, a leased Boeing 767.

There was no word on when the aircraft might be sold to a zany Genevan looking for a more spacious home.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.