Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Clear airport security fast-lane program shuts down

Clear security system allowed passengers to use different security lines
Clear was operating in 18 airports and served 250,000 passengers
Air Transport Association said the program offered few benefits to travelers
"It's going to cost me time," says one traveler who relied on the Clear program

By Stephanie Chen CNN

(CNN) -- Verified Identity Pass Inc.'s Clear security system -- the program that expedited airport security line waits for paying customers -- ended operation Monday night because the company couldn't reach a consensus with its senior creditors, according to its Web site.

Clear promised to help passengers avoid security lines like this one at San Francisco International Airport.

The New York-based company founded by entrepreneur Stephen Brill targeted business flyers, promising passengers that they would whisk through tedious airport security lanes more rapidly by being placed in private lines.

Verified Identity Pass officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Clear's fast-lane program began at Orlando (Florida) International Airport in 2005. By the time the company shut down, it was operating in more than 18 locations, including major airports in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; and Washington. USA Today reported that the company had about 250,000 members.

With nearly 700 million passengers traveling domestically in 2006, Clear company officials touted their program as a way to help avoid bottlenecks and, in some instances, reduce the wait time in security lines to as little as five minutes.

Passengers using the Clear program doled out more than $200 a year. After announcing the shutdown, the company released no information on whether customers would receive refunds.
John Harrington, a freelance photographer in Washington, renewed his Clear membership for the next two years about a month ago. He said he was disappointed to receive an e-mail from Clear officials saying the program had been terminated.

Harrington relied on the quicker lanes when he traveled for assignments out of Reagan National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

"With Clear, I could get into my gate in less than 15 to 20 minutes," said Harrington, who is flying to San Francisco next week and will now have to arrive at the airport an hour earlier. "Try that with regular airport security. It's going to cost me time."

The Clear program required applicants like Harrington to provide information such as a Social Security number and previous address for a background check. The applicant's fingerprints and iris were scanned. The information was placed into a credit-card-size pass and for scanning at an airport Clear booth.

After checking in at the Clear booth, customers were shuttled into a separate line overseen by the Transportation Security Administration. In some airports, Clear members were taken to security lanes reserved for them. In other airports, they used employee security lanes.
Clear members went through the same security procedures; they had to take off their shoes and take out laptops.

Clear arrived at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the United States, last fall, officials said. At the same time, the airport added 12 security lanes, cutting the average security wait time to 10 minutes, airport spokeswoman Katena Carvajales said.

"Clear shutting down is not impacting our passengers at this airport," Carvajales said, adding that customer service officials are stationed near the Clear booths to instruct members on where to go.

Some critics argued that the Clear lines were no faster than regular security lines.
The Air Transport Association, the industry representing the major U.S. airlines, said the program didn't enhance security. Spokesman David A. Castelveter said airlines already offered frequent travelers and elite members separate lines with no charge.

In 2008, the TSA also began expanding its free Black Diamond Self-Select Lanes program to Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, Orlando and Spokane (Washington) International Airport.

The program features a series of lanes broken down into categories for expert business travelers who fly frequently, casual travelers who don't fly as often, and skiers or families with strollers who need special assistance.

The program has helped decrease wait times at pilot locations in Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, according to a TSA statement.

"Clear was a personal decision by travelers," Castelveter said. "If they could afford it, then they could buy it, but it didn't offer anything that wasn't already there."

Seven years ago, Congress approved the creation of a speedier airport clearance system that would make the skies safer after September 11 rattled the travel industry. Government officials wanted to vet passengers and put those with a clean history into a separate, quicker line. But government officials worried that potential terrorists could sneak onto the approved list.

The government program was handed off to private companies, like Verified Identity Pass, that saw the convenience factor as something they could sell.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Delta to cut capacity more than expected as declining revenue overtakes merger benefits
Harry R. Weber, AP Airlines Writer
On Thursday June 11, 2009, 12:29 pm EDT

ATLANTA (AP) -- Delta Air Lines Inc. will shave additional capacity later this year as it warns that more than $6 billion in benefits it expected from lower fuel prices, its merger with Northwest Airlines and previous capacity reductions will be overtaken by declining revenues.

The reduction in available seats could mean further job cuts at the world's largest airline operator.

Delta also said it projects it will take a $125 million to $150 million revenue hit in the second quarter because of the impact on air travel from the swine flu virus. The quarter ends June 30.

Delta executives told employees in a memo Thursday ahead of a presentation at an investor conference in New York that Delta will reduce system capacity by 10 percent this year compared to 2008. That is up from Delta's previous plan to cut system capacity by 6 percent to 8 percent.

Delta also will reduce international capacity 15 percent, up from a previous plan to cut it by 10 percent.

Delta said capacity reductions will begin in September. Some routes will be suspended, while the number of weekly flights to other destinations will be reduced.

"The additional capacity reductions mean we again must reassess staffing needs," Chief Executive Richard Anderson and President Ed Bastian said in the memo. "While the challenges of the current environment preclude us from making guarantees, our goal remains to avoid any involuntary furloughs of frontline employees."

Delta said staff levels will be down more than 8,000 jobs by the end of 2009 compared to spring 2008. It was not immediately clear if that was the total of previously announced cuts involving Delta and Northwest, or if it includes yet to be announced cuts.

Delta, which acquired Northwest in October, has already shed thousands of jobs over the last year in connection with previously announced capacity reductions.

The rise in unemployment and hits Americans have taken to the value of their homes, coupled with the meltdown in the financial markets, has caused a significant slowdown in air travel. Airlines also have lost business from the swine flu, which has caused some people to cancel travel plans to Mexico. The swine flu scare also has hurt Delta sales to customers in Asia, who may be worried following the global outbreak of SARS in 2003, executives said. The overall drop in demand has coincided with a recent increase in fuel prices.

The Delta executives said industry passenger revenues have declined nearly 20 percent in the first four months of the year compared to the same period in 2008. That trend is expected to continue in the near term, they said. Delta said in slides it prepared for Thursday's investor conference, which it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, that the airline has seen a significant reduction in demand for premium class seats. Corporate travel also is down significantly.

"On top of this, cost pressures from rising jet fuel prices up more than 20 percent since the start of the year -- coupled with softer travel demand due to the spread of the H1N1 virus, have created a difficult business environment," the executives said in their memo to employees.

At Thursday's Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Global Transportation Conference, Bastian said that if fuel prices continue to climb into the fall, airlines will be under pressure to raise prices or cut more capacity to cover their costs. He said Delta has made a decision not to "put seats out into the marketplace if we can't recover the cost of that seat."

Delta now expects to end the second quarter with $5.3 billion in total liquidity, compared to its previous projection of $5.6 billion.

Delta said its fall capacity reductions will target routes that have experienced losses in the current economic climate and with higher fuel prices.

Among the reductions, Delta will:
--suspend nonstop service from Atlanta to Seoul and Shanghai and instead route customers for those flights over Detroit or Tokyo, or on nonstop partner flights.
--suspend nonstop flights from Cincinnati to Frankfurt, Germany, and London-Gatwick.
--reduce weekly frequencies connecting Atlanta and Detroit to Mexico City and postpone some previously planned seasonal service between non-hub cities and Mexican beach destinations due to the impact of the swine flue virus on customers' travel plans.
Delta said it is still adding more than 20 new markets to its international network in 2009.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A330 airlines distance themselves from sensors
Airlines seek distance from speed sensors suspected in crash, others say working on retrofits
Adam Schreck, AP Business Writer
On Tuesday June 9, 2009, 1:45 pm EDT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Several airlines flying the type of plane involved in the Air France crash said Tuesday they use a different brand of airspeed sensor than those aboard the doomed flight, distancing themselves from instruments seen as a possible factor in last week's accident.

At the same time, other carriers that use probes similar to those on the flight -- including Delta Air Lines Inc. and the Middle East's Qatar Airways -- said they are working to upgrade the devices on dozens of Airbus planes.

The plane disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean while on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing 228 people on board.

Focus on the sensors known as Pitot tubes intensified after Air France issued a statement last week saying it was in the process of replacing the instruments on the Airbus A330 model.

The cause of Air France Flight 447's crash on May 31 remains unclear. But one theory is that the sensors became iced over and gave incorrect readings. That could have caused the plane to fly either too slow or too fast.

The sensors aboard the plane were made by France's Thales Group and had not yet been replaced. Thales spokeswoman Caroline Philips confirmed the company made the Pitot tubes on the jet that crashed. The defense and aerospace manufacturer did not provide details on the devices or say how many other planes use them.

Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline and one of the biggest A330 operators, said the Pitot tubes aboard its planes were made not by Thales but by U.S. manufacturer Goodrich Corp. of Charlotte, North Carolina.

"We have not experienced any issues with our probe units," said Adel al-Redha, Emirates executive vice president for engineering and operations. "Emirates is in full compliance with all standard operating procedure recommendations issued by aircraft manufacturers, as well as with requirements stipulated by international air safety and regulatory authorities."

The Dubai-based carrier operates 29 of the A330-200 variant, more than any other airline. The model is the same used on Air France Flight 447.

Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways and Australia's Qantas Airways said their A330s are also equipped with Goodrich speed sensors.

"We are not concerned because it's a different system in our aircraft," Qantas General Manager for Government and Corporate Affairs David Epstein said.

A Goodrich spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Pitot tubes and accompanying sensors feed crucial airspeed data and other information into cockpit computer systems. The sensors work in the same basic way, but may be designed differently depending on the plane type and manufacturer.

"It's like (aircraft) brakes. Some people use carbon, some people use steel," said independent airline consultant Bob Mann.

Concerns over the Thales sensors led an Air France union Monday to urge its pilots not to fly Airbus A330s and A340s unless at least two of the three Pitot sensors had been replaced. The Alter union represents about 12 percent of Air France pilots.

In a reflection of the growing concern surrounding the instruments, Qatar Airways posted a statement on its Web site Tuesday saying it is completing an "Airbus-approved modification" of Thales probes on all of its Airbus A319, A320, A321, A330 and A340 aircraft. The over 50 planes account form the bulk of the carrier's fleet.

Qatar Airways said the retrofit began last year, with 21 planes modified so far.
Atlanta-based Delta is currently installing new Pitot tubes from Thales on its A330 aircraft per the manufacturer's recommendation, spokeswoman Betsy Talton said.

"Until these installations are complete, we are communicating with our flight crews to reiterate the correct procedures to be used in the event of unreliable airspeed indications," Talton said.
Delta subsidiary Northwest Airlines also has installed new Pitot tubes on its A319/320 aircraft, Talton said.

Delta, the world's largest airline operator, owns 11 A330-200s and 21 A330-300s. It owns or leases 57 A319-100s and 69 A320-200s.

Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways, the other major U.S. A330 operator, has begun replacing the Pitot tube component on its A330s out of an abundance of caution, spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said, though she declined to identify the manufacturer. Nine of the carrier's 11 A330s are in regular service.

In Brazil, the private Agencia Estado news agency said the country's largest airline, TAM Linhas Aeras SA, has already replaced the Pitot tubes on its Airbus jets. TAM made the replacements after a 2007 recommendation from Airbus, Chief Executive David Barboni told Agencia Estado.
Brazil's air force, meanwhile, said that technicians would replace the Pitot tubes on an Airbus A319 used by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva because of a recommendation from the jet's manufacturer more than a month before the Air France crash.

Air force Col. Henry Munhoz said the tubes will be replaced during regular maintenance now under way, but insisted the work was not being performed because of the crash.

About 70 airlines operate versions of the 600 twin-engined A330s in use around the world.

Associated Press Writers Greg Keller in Paris, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo and Harry R. Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Airlines: Coach Class Becomes Cattle Class
Scott Reeves Jun 05, 2009 2:40 pm
Passengers given less space than average pig on the way to Baconland.

Suck in your hips, travelers, because some airlines are squeezing more seats into existing planes in an effort to boost revenue. But wedging your bovine butt into a smaller space on the redeye may be offset by another marketing trend: The size of many food products, such as candy bars, continue to shrink as the price rises. This may cause some to gobble fewer calories and, with luck, to leave their clothes untorn when squeezing into an airline seat in cattle class. American Airlines (
AMR) recently added 12 seats to its new jets, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Some airlines have removed galleys to install extra seats. This may mean that semi-putrid airline meals can no longer be microwaved; only a sociologist could crack the profound implications of that tactic. Here’s a guess: Cold airline food won’t taste any worse than warm airline food.

In fact, no taste probably beats any taste. In some instances, airlines have moved the rows of seats closer together to increase capacity. This means you’re in greater danger of being knee-capped if the 300-pound lummox in front of you suddenly reclines - assuming you’re not already sitting with your knees under your chin. Other airlines are installing slimmer seats.

The irony: many discount carriers now offer more space than some legacy airlines. JetBlue (JBLU) offers a whopping 34 inches of space in each row, including the seat, while Southwest (LUV) typically offers 32 to 33 inches in its Boeing 737s. It appears that United (UAUA), Delta (DAL) and Continental (CAL) are slimming down to 31 inches in domestic coach. Note: The American Meat Institute requires that every hog on its way to Bacon-land get at least 6 square feet of space. A 150-pound sheep must be given 5 square feet.

Your average interstate commuter? 31 inches is more than enough, says the FAA.Conspiracy buffs will say the great seat squeeze is part of an effort to encourage coach passengers to upgrade and get more space while dropping more moola in the airlines’ grubby mitts. This seems an odd bet in a downbeat economy, even for grassy knoll habitués.

Smaller seats for broader bottoms plays out against the proliferation of extra fees for checked bags, seat location, flight changes, blanket, pillow - you name it. If airlines keep nickel and dime-ing their customers -- well, $10 and $15-ing -- more people may decide to stay home. The upside: That would mean lot of folks will have more bucks to spend on those tiny little candy bars.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Air France jet likely broke apart above ocean
By FEDERICO ESCHER and BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press Writers Federico Escher And Bradley Brooks, Associated Press Writers – 24 mins ago

FERNANDO DE NORONHA, Brazil – Military planes located new debris from Air France Flight 447 Wednesday while investigators focused on a nightmarish ordeal in which the jetliner broke up over the Atlantic as it flew through a violent storm.

Heavy weather delayed until next week the arrival of deep-water submersibles considered key to finding the black box voice and data recorders that will help answer the question of what happened to the airliner, which disappeared Sunday with 228 people on board. But even with the equipment, the lead French investigator questioned whether the recorders would ever be found in such a deep and rugged part of the ocean.

As the first Brazilian military ships neared the search area, investigators were relying heavily on the plane's automated messages to help reconstruct what happened to the jet as it flew through towering thunderstorms. They detail a series of failures that end with its systems shutting down, suggesting the plane broke apart in the sky, according to an aviation industry official with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the crash.

The pilot sent a manual signal at 11 p.m. local time saying he was flying through an area of "CBs" — black, electrically charged cumulonimbus clouds that come with violent winds and lightning. Satellite data has shown that towering thunderheads were sending 100 mph (160 kph) updraft winds into the jet's flight path at the time.

Ten minutes later, a cascade of problems began: Automatic messages indicate the autopilot had disengaged, a key computer system switched to alternative power, and controls needed to keep the plane stable had been damaged. An alarm sounded indicating the deterioration of flight systems.

Three minutes after that, more automatic messages reported the failure of systems to monitor air speed, altitude and direction. Control of the main flight computer and wing spoilers failed as well.

The last automatic message, at 11:14 p.m., signaled loss of cabin pressure and complete electrical failure — catastrophic events in a plane that was likely already plunging toward the ocean.
"This clearly looks like the story of the airplane coming apart," the airline industry official told The Associated Press. "We just don't know why it did, but that is what the investigation will show."

French and Brazilian officials had already announced some of these details, but the more complete chronology was published Wednesday by Brazil's O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, citing an unidentified Air France source, and confirmed to the AP by the aviation industry source.

Air France spokesman Nicolas Petteau referred questions about the messages to the French accident investigation agency, BEA, whose spokesman Martine Del Bono said the agency won't comment. Brazil's Defense Minister Nelson Jobim also declined to comment, saying that the accident "investigation is being done by France; Brazil's only responsibility is to find and pick up the pieces."

Other experts agreed that the automatic reports of system failures on the plane strongly suggest it broke up in the air, perhaps due to fierce thunderstorms, turbulence, lightning or a catastrophic combination of events.

"These are telling us the story of the crash. They are not explaining what happened to cause the crash," said Bill Voss, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va. "This is the documentation of the seconds when control was lost and the aircraft started to break up in air."

Voss stressed that the messages alone were not enough to understand why the Air France jet went down, noting that the black boxes will have far more information to help determine the cause.

One fear — terrorism — was dismissed Wednesday by all three countries involved in the search and recovery effort. France's defense minister and the Pentagon said there were no signs that terrorism was involved, and Jobim said "that possibility hasn't even been considered."

A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane, a French AWACS radar plane and two other French military planes joined Brazil's Air Force in trying to spot debris and narrow the search zone.
Brazil's Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said debris discovered so far was spread over a wide area, with some 230 kilometers (140 miles) separating pieces of wreckage they have spotted.

The floating debris includes a 23-foot (seven-meter) chunk of plane and a 12-mile-long (20-kilometer-long) oil slick, but pilots have spotted no signs of survivors, Air Force spokesman Col. Jorge Amaral said.

"Oil stains on the water might exclude the possibility of an explosion, because there was no fire," Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told reporters Wednesday.

The new debris was discovered about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of where searchers a day earlier found an airplane seat, a fuel slick, an orange life vest and pieces of white debris. The original debris was found roughly 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast, an area where the ocean floor drops as low as 22,950 feet (7,000 meters) below sea level.

Brazil lacks the equipment needed to reach the ocean floor. If the black boxes are at the bottom of the sea, their recovery will have to wait for the arrival early next week of a French research ship with remotely controlled submersibles that can explore as deeply as 19,600 feet (6,000 meters).

The sturdy black boxes — voice and data recorders — are built to give off signals for at least 30 days, even underwater, and could keep their contents indefinitely.

But the head of France's accident investigation agency, Paul-Louis Arslanian, said in Paris that he is "not optimistic" about recovering the recorders — and that investigators should be prepared to continue the probe without them.

"It is not only deep, it is also mountainous," he said. "We might find ourselves blocked at some point by the lack of material elements."

Arslanian said investigators didn't have enough information to determine whether the plane broke up in the air or upon impact with the sea, and that in the absence of black box data, they are studying maintenance and other records.

"For the moment, there is no sign that would lead us to believe that the aircraft had a problem before it took off," Arslanian said.

He said investigators did not know the exact time of the accident or whether the chief pilot was at the controls when the plane went down. Pilots on long-haul flights often take turns at the controls to remain alert.

If no survivors are found, it would be the deadliest crash in Air France's history, and the world's worst civil aviation disaster since the November 2001 crash of an American Airlines jetliner in the New York City borough of Queens that killed 265 people.
Bradley Brooks wrote from Rio de Janeiro. Associated Press writers Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo; Marco Sibaja in Brasilia; Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Belgium; Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin; Emma Vandore in Bourget, France; and Angela Charlton in Paris also contributed to this report.