Sunday, September 20, 2009

5 Tips on How to Avoid Germs on Planes
How to Keep You and Your Family Healthy While Traveling
Sept. 17, 2009

A two-day meeting beginning today at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., will examine how diseases spread on planes and in airports.

With the spread of the H1N1 virus, airlines have taken notice and stocked up on supplies such as gloves, masks and alcohol wipes and increased their cleanings. Although they are preparing themselves for a flu outbreak, airlines insist that it is still safe to fly.

"Going on a plane is no less safe than going to church, going to work, going to school," said AirTran spokesman Christopher White.

The airflow systems in planes are designed to help minimize the risk of the H1N1 flu spreading because the air flows across the rows of seats instead of front to back. It is continually exchanged with a combination of fresh air and recirculated air that usually passes through a series of filters.

"One of the most persistent myths is that everybody on the plane is breathing the same air and that germs just endlessly recirculate within the cabin. In fact, air on the airplane is probably cleaner than in most indoor spaces," said Katherine Andrus, assistant general counsel for the Air Transport Association.

Yet passengers are still confined to an enclosed space where contagious diseases could spread. James Bennett, a research engineer for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, completed a study of how contaminants move inside a plane.

"Contaminants, such as the small droplets emitted by a cough, do move to other areas of the cabin," Bennett said.

According to Bennett's research, within seconds of one person coughing the droplets have spread outward and nearby passengers get the biggest dose. After 15 minutes those particles could have traveled as far as 10 rows away.

Although exposure does not mean you will get sick, some passengers aren't taking any chances.
"I always have hand sanitizer with me and I always wipe that on me and on surfaces that [my son's] touching a lot," said Sarah Smith, who was travelling with her toddler.

5 Tips on How to Stay Healthy In the Air

Here are five tips from ABC News chief medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson on how to cut down on exposure and help keep you and your family healthy while traveling. If the person next to you is coughing or sneezing, ask to switch seats. It might not always be possible, but it's worth asking.

  • Bring along a face mask.
  • Bring alcohol-based hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes.
  • "Constantly wash your hands," Johnson said, but not in the airplane's bathroom. "Those surfaces are typically going to be contaminated."
  • Bring your own pillow and blanket.
  • Drink bottled water. "Bring along water and hydrate yourself," Johnson said, because it will make you "less susceptible to viral infections in general." It's also helpful because airplane air is very dry and dehydrating.

"Mostly be alert to people who might be sick and really isolate yourself," Johnson said, "or insist they be isolated."

And if you're the one who is feeling under the weather, do your fellow travelers a favor and stay home.

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bumped Passengers Learn a Cruel Flying Lesson

Air travel has gotten a lot bumpier this year -- on the ground.

Passengers are getting bumped from flights at the highest rate in at least 14 years, even though the U.S. Department of Transportation last year doubled the penalties airlines have to pay passengers who have tickets but are denied seats. Among the reasons: Passengers are more reluctant to voluntarily give up seats when flights are oversold for fear of being stranded for a day or two. And some airlines have made their vouchers less generous to save money.

Bumping is still relatively rare, affecting fewer than two passengers out of every 10,000. But the rate at which passengers were bumped in the second quarter skyrocketed 40% compared with a year ago, and airlines say the higher rate will likely continue.

As carriers have slashed capacity, grounding airplanes and cutting flights from schedules, they have packed more people into their remaining flights -- sometimes too many people.

"It's pretty simple: It's just because planes are more full than last year," says Tom Trenga, vice president of revenue management at US Airways Group Inc., which had the highest bumping rate among major airlines, at 1.88 passengers per 10,000 in the second quarter.

This summer, the nine major airlines filled 85.5% of their seats, up from 84.1% last summer. The peak was July, with 86.7% of seats filled. This fall, airlines are aggressively cutting back capacity even further, worried that continued weak business travel could cripple them financially.

Is Bumping Passengers From Flights Right?

That means increased bumping will continue, Mr. Trenga says, until airlines see enough of a pickup in demand to begin bringing flights back into schedules, easing the logjam.
In the second quarter, the most recent reported by the DOT, 20,916 passengers, or 1.39 for every 10,000, were involuntarily denied boarding at major and regional airlines, up from 15,119, or 1.0 per 10,000, in the same period of 2008. (Ten times as many people gave up their seats voluntarily in return for airline vouchers toward future trips.)

If you do get bumped, you are entitled to cash compensation under the DOT's penalty rules, though the airline will likely offer you vouchers. You can insist that the airline pay you on the spot. Do it. Vouchers can have blackout dates, require you to purchase higher fares to use the voucher or even require you to cash in the voucher and buy a ticket in person at an airport rather than booking online.

Desperate for Revenue
Federal rules allow airlines to sell more tickets than there are seats on a plane because customers occasionally change flights or don't show up. Carriers have to balance the cost of compensating customers who get bumped with the cost of having an empty seat when a ticket could have been sold. With the economic downturn, airlines are desperate for any revenue and may be willing to take on more overbooking risk.

Several airlines say they have bumped more people from flights because they have had a harder time getting travelers to voluntarily give up seats. Because flights have been so full, a passenger who gives up a seat voluntarily in return for a voucher toward a future trip may have to wait a day or more to get a seat on another flight.

That means airlines end up refusing boarding to more ticketed passengers, Mr. Trenga says.
In addition, airlines often place heavy restrictions on vouchers. Sometimes vouchers worth $100 or $200 off a ticket can't be applied to the airline's cheapest fares, for example, or they have blackout dates or require customers to buy tickets in person at an airport instead of online.
Alaska Airlines, a unit of
Alaska Air Group Inc., tried to cut the value of vouchers in December and saw the rate at which it bumped passengers soar 269% in the second quarter to 1.66 per 10,000, from 0.45 per 10,000 in the same period of 2008.

Before the change, Alaska and its Horizon Air regional-airline unit gave a free ticket to anyone voluntarily giving up a seat when a flight was oversold. But Alaska switched to a two-tier voucher system passengers got a $200 voucher to apply to a future ticket for giving up a seat on a shorter flight and a $400 voucher for a longer flight.

"The perception among those customers on shorter flights was that $200 wasn't enough to offer up their seats as a volunteer," a spokeswoman says. In June, Alaska upped the offer for volunteers on shorter flights to a $300 voucher, "and we've seen a steady decline in the number of involuntary denied boardings since," she says.

UAL Corp.'s United Airlines saw its bumped-passenger rate climb 73% this year to 1.71 passengers per 10,000, second only to US Airways. United says bumping increased because a greater number of leisure passengers have been filling planes than in the past as a result of the downturn in business travel. "They show up for their flight much more often than a business traveler typically does," a spokeswoman says. "As a result, we had fewer no-shows than what we typically see."

The DOT says it isn't concerned about the rise in bumping because the rates are still lower than historical highs. During the 1970s and 1980s, bumping rates were routinely four times as high as today's rate.

Penalties Doubled
Still, the agency doubled compensation penalties for denied boarding last year, the first change in 30 years.

Passengers who are involuntarily bumped will receive compensation equal to their one-way fare up to $400 if they are rescheduled to reach their destination within two hours of their original arrival time for domestic flights and four hours for international flights. The mandatory compensation, depending on ticket price, doubles to $800 if passengers reach their destination later than the two-or four-hour limits.

The best way to avoid getting bumped from a flight is to buy tickets only for flights on which you can reserve a seat and to print your boarding pass early to lay claim to that seat. Passengers should be especially vigilant with regional airlines, which generally have the highest bumping rates in the industry.

And if you're not in a hurry and want to game the system--as many passengers do--you should book flights with few open seats at peak travel hours and tell gate agents early that you are willing to give up your seat if volunteers are needed. For some passengers, vouchers can cut the cost of future trips dramatically. Just make sure you know what you are getting from the airline, what strings are attached, and when your next flight out will be.

Write to Scott McCartney at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

British Airways May Join JAL Pursuit
09/15/09 - 03:13 PM EDT

TheStreet) -- As a strongly motivated AMR(AMR Quote) battles to ensure its continued partnership with Japan Air Lines, other partners in the Oneworld alliance are also considering investment in JAL.

Both British Airways and the Australian carrier Qantas are potential investors, said a person who is familiar with the negotiations between AMR's American Airlines and JAL.

In particular,
British Airways is "deeply preoccupied" that JAL could partner with the SkyTeam alliance, which includes its rival AirFrance as well as Delta(DAL Quote), the person said, noting, "All of the members of Oneworld, led by American, are profoundly interested in intensifying the relationship with JAL.

"American is extraordinarily motivated to maintain a successful partnership with JAL that is more than 10 years old, to keep them in Oneworld and to move forward with more intensive joint operations," the person said. "American will always make an offer superior to whatever Delta wants to do." A British
Airways spokeswoman declined to comment and a Qantas spokesperson was not immediately available.

Financially troubled JAL is seeking to restructure and to raise funding from banks,
investment funds and others including airlines. It wants about $300 million to $500 million from an airline partner or partners, as a share of the $2.7 billion it reportedly needs. The airline investment is viewed as an industry vote of confidence that would inspire other investors to participate.
JAL has the largest hub at Tokyo Narita, Asia's key airport because of its importance to Japan and its web of connections throughout the continent.

Friday, September 04, 2009

FAA investigating American's MD-80 repairs

Federal regulators investigating American Airlines over repairs to MD-80 series jets
By David Koenig, AP Airlines Writer
On Friday September 4, 2009,

1:48 pm EDT DALLAS (AP) -- U.S. regulators are investigating American Airlines over structural repairs to its aging fleet of MD-80 series aircraft.

A Federal Aviation Administration official said Friday that the investigation centered on 16 planes.

The Wall Street Journal reported FAA officials suspect American rushed to retire one of the planes to keep it away from inspectors.

A spokesman for American denied the accusation and said mothballing the aircraft wouldn't let it escape FAA scrutiny.

"We retired the plane for economic reasons, tied to our decision several months ago to reduce capacity," spokesman Roger Frizzell told The Associated Press. "Any other assertion is incorrect and misleading."

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford declined to say whether inspectors believed the airline had tried to hide the plane or whether they had examined it in the New Mexico desert, where it is now parked. He said inspectors examined "a number of planes."

Lunsford said the investigation centered on repairs to the rear bulkhead of the MD-80 series aircraft. As of May, American had 270 MD-80 series jets, or 44 percent of its fleet, according to the company's Web site.

Fort Worth-based American, a unit of AMR Corp., is slowly replacing the MD-80s with new, more fuel-efficient planes while it reduces capacity, or the number of flights, to deal with a decline in air travel.

Airplanes expand and contract as the cabin is pressurized for flight and then depressurized. That can lead to metal fatigue that requires close monitoring and sometimes repairs, especially around the rear bulkhead.

Improper rear bulkhead repairs were blamed for the 1985 crash of a Japan Airlines Boeing 747 that killed 520 people, still the worst single accident in aviation history.

The Journal reported that FAA inspectors believe at least 16 American jets may have flown for months or years with improper fasteners and poorly done repairs to structural cracks.

American spokesman Tim Wagner said the airline discovered the potentially improper fasteners used on the MD-80 bulkheads and told the FAA, identifying each aircraft with the questionable parts.

FAA investigations can lead to exoneration of the carrier or, as in recent cases involving American and Southwest Airlines Co., penalties that run into the millions of dollars.
Shares of American parent AMR Corp. rose 10 cents to $5.59 in afternoon trading Friday.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

American to cut 921 flight attendants' jobs, including 228 layoffs, others taking leave, (all furloughees are former TWA flight attendants, ed.)
By David Koenig, AP Airlines Writer
On Tuesday September 1, 2009, 6:13 pm EDT

DALLAS (AP) -- American Airlines is cutting 921 flight attendant jobs as it deals with an ongoing downturn in traffic and lower revenue.

The airline said Tuesday that the cuts will take effect Oct. 1 and reduce its flight-attendant ranks by about 6 percent.

American, the nation's second-largest airline, said 228 employees will be furloughed -- laid off but with rehiring rights -- and the company will put 244 more on leave for two months. Another 449 will take voluntary options such as leave.

Nearly half of the flight attendants to be furloughed are based at New York's LaGuardia Airport.
The airline said it planned to cut 1,200 flight attendant jobs but was able to reduce the number by adjusting staffing requirements for the winter.

The airline said in June that it would cut jobs as it reduced flights to meet lower travel demand.
American said Tuesday that of the 228 furloughs:

105 would be at LaGuardia

67 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport,

25 in Boston,

17 in St. Louis and

14 at Reagan National near Washington

The workers' union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said it had worked with the company to avoid even more layoffs by offering employees voluntary leave and the two-month forced absences.

"What was going to be 1,200 jobs lost has been limited to 228," said union President Laura Glading.

The 244 employees who will be placed on "involuntary overage leave" won't work in October and November, when air traffic is expected to be very weak. They will return to work in December, the union said.

While off the job for two months, those employees will have to pay for their own health insurance although they can get it at American's lower group rate, according to the airline.

Those on involuntary leave can apply for unemployment benefits without American contesting the claim, said American spokeswoman Missy Latham. The airline would contest a claim filed by someone who took voluntary leave, she said.

American has 14,936 active flight attendants, Latham said.

American's traffic plunged 10 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same period of 2008, as the recession grounded many travelers.

The airline's woes were compounded by a steep drop in high-paying business travelers. Second-quarter revenue at parent AMR Corp. tumbled 21 percent from a year ago.

Like other carriers, American has responded to declining traffic by cutting flights. American's capacity in the first six months of the year was nearly 8 percent lower than during the same time last year.

Airlines can cut capacity by operating fewer flights or using smaller aircraft that carry fewer passengers. With fewer flights, American doesn't need as many flight attendants, pilots and other workers.

Shares of Fort Worth-based AMR fell 23 cents, or 4.2 percent, to close at $5.23.