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Strikes & Hurricanes & Ebola, Oh My!
October 19, 2014 -- I wanted to bring you up-to-date on some good news--and bad--that has been breaking since we last gathered in this space on Friday morning.
First, good news. If you happened to be flying yesterday (Saturday, October 18), you were part of a rare occurrence: a nearly perfect travel day. Although the system was in its standard Saturday slowdown (only 18,000 flights compared to as many as 23,000 on weekdays), the folks at FlightStats reported a remarkable systemwide on-time performance of 90.7 percent. There were just 85 cancellations nationwide.
Southwest/AirTran claimed that more than 96 percent of its flights were on-time yesterday. As usual, United Airlines trailed the industry, although at 83.99 percent on-time, that's probably as good as it gets for them.
By the way, today is shaping up to be almost as good. As of 1:15 p.m. Eastern time, there have been just 52 cancellations and 885 delays, extraordinary for a busy autumn Sunday.
More good news: Air France and its pilots have reached a deal, which should end the strikes that have plagued the carrier this year. An honest-to-goodness compromise was apparently reached. Air France management will expand its low-cost units and pilots who move to those units will keep their existing perks.
The news is not so good out of Germany, however, where another Lufthansa pilot strike is due tomorrow (Monday, October 20). Pilots will strike for 35 hours starting at 1 p.m. local time. This will be the eighth job action this year as Lufthansa and the pilots wrangle over changes Lufthansa wants to make in retirement benefits. Transatlantic flights should not be affected this time, but much of Lufthansa's short-haul network will be disrupted.
That's especially bad news since Germany's national rail network (and its S-Bahn suburbs-to-city-center networks) have been hit by a driver's strike this weekend. The 50-hour strike isn't due to end until Monday morning local time. It's a holiday weekend in many parts of Germany, too. Millions have been stranded and Monday's Lufthansa action won't help. Needless to say, if your plans call for travel within Germany in the next few days, know your options.
Meanwhile, on the hurricane front. The Hawaiian Islands are being buffeted by heavy rains and high winds, but it looks like Tropical Storm Ana won't hit any of the main population centers directly. Hawaiian Airlines has cancelled some inter-islands flights. So has commuter carrier Island Air. Mokulele says it's running all of its flights. Carriers operating flights to or from the mainland all have travel waivers posted--some are for as late as Tuesday departures--so check your airline if you're scheduled for Hawaii travel.
Bermuda was less lucky. Hurricane Gonzalo made landfall on Friday afternoon with winds as high as 110 miles per hour. (That made it a Category 2 storm.) As many as 80 percent of the island's residents were without power at some point this weekend. But reports say that damage to the island has been lighter than expected and there have been no deaths.
Bermuda's airport in Hamilton closed before the storm hit. Its Web site is still down. Flights today remain problematical as of 2 p.m. local time. Many flights into and out of Bermuda have been cancelled and, if FlightStats.com data is accurate, no flights have departed from Hamilton so far today. Some flights from Britain en route to Bermuda, but no North America-originating flight has yet departed. Flights operated by American Airlines and Air Canada, due to depart for Hamilton earlier today, are still on the ground, showing delays of four hours or more.
Finally, I wanted to briefly revisit the Ebola topic. My coverage in this week's Tactical Traveler elicited a literal handful of complaints. A few said I wasn't covering the disruptions to travel fully and, to that, I say, not really. One Frontier aircraft has been taken out of service and one Air France flight in Europe was briefly quarantined. I am carefully watching the situation, however, and if travel disruptions actually impact our schedules, you can be sure I'll cover them.
Several others complained that I am not taking Ebola seriously enough. To that I say: Baloney! I believe I am covering it appropriately and most mainstream media outlets are whipping up hysteria in an attempt to gin up ratings. (And, of course, there is always the Conservative Entertainment Complex, which has decided Ebola is all Obama's fault and that you should buy some more "Impeach Obama" bumper stickers.)
Here are the actual facts: There have been exactly eight cases of Ebola in the United States. Five of those cases were flown here for treatment. That leaves Thomas Eric Duncan, who came from Liberia without symptoms and died in a Dallas hospital, and two of the nurses who treated him. That's it, folks. Eight cases, five of which were about special treatment and the other three all related in a direct way.
I don't think three cases of Ebola in the United States merits panic coverage, endless stories about how to "protect" yourself and hand-wringing essays about whether you should fly. You pay for JoeSentMe and, by extension, you payfor my news and business-travel judgment. In my best judgment, Ebola is not something that should be on your radar unless, of course, you're headed to West Africa. I won't fill your inbox with panicky notes just because CNN, Fox and your local newspaper are all grandstanding.
This column is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.