Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's never been safer to fly; deaths at record low

The past 10 years have been the safest in American aviation history; deaths are at record low

By Joshua Freed, AP Airlines Writers
AP – 27 minutes ago

NEW YORK (AP) -- Boarding an airplane has never been safer.
The past 10 years have been the best in the country's aviation history with 153 fatalities. That's two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights, according to an Associated Press analysis of government accident data.

The improvement is remarkable. Just a decade earlier, at the time the safest, passengers were 10 times as likely to die when flying on an American plane. The risk of death was even greater during the start of the jet age, with 1,696 people dying — 133 out of every 100 million passengers — from 1962 to 1971. The figures exclude acts of terrorism.

Sitting in a pressurized, aluminum tube seven miles above the ground may never seem like the most-natural thing. But consider this: You are more likely to die driving to the airport than flying across the country. There are more than 30,000 motor-vehicle deaths each year, a mortality rate eight times greater than that in planes.

"I wouldn't say air crashes of passenger airliners are a thing of the past. They're simply a whole lot more rare than they used to be," says Todd Curtis, a former safety engineer with Boeing and director of the Foundation.

The improvements came even as the industry went through a miserable financial period, losing $54.5 billion in the past decade. Just to stay afloat, airlines eliminated meals and added fees for checked luggage.

But safety remained a priority. No advertisement of tropical beaches can supplant the image of charred metal scattered across a field.
There are still some corners of the world where flying is risky. Russia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia have particularly high rates of deadly crashes. Russia had several fatal crashes in the past year, including one that killed several prominent hockey players. Africa only accounts for 3 percent of world air traffic but had 14 percent of fatal crashes.

Still, 2011 was a good year to fly. It had the second-fewest number of fatalities worldwide, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, with 507 people dying in crashes. Seven out of 28 planes in fatal crashes were on airlines already prohibited from flying into European Union because of known safety problems. (There were fewer fatalities in 2004 — 323 — but there were also fewer people flying then.)

There are a number of reasons for the improvements.

— The industry has learned from the past. New planes and engines are designed with prior mistakes in mind. Investigations of accidents have led to changes in procedures to ensure the same missteps don't occur again.

— Better sharing of information. New databases allow pilots, airlines, plane manufactures and regulators to track incidents and near misses. Computers pick up subtle trends. For instance, a particular runway might have a higher rate of aborted landings when there is fog. Regulators noticing this could improve lighting and add more time between landings.

— Safety audits by outside firms. The International Air Transport Association, an industry trade group, started an audit program in 2003. Airlines prove to the industry and each other that they have proper maintenance and safety procedures. It's also a way for airlines to seek lower insurance premiums, which have also dropped over the past 10 years.

— An experienced workforce. Air traffic controllers, pilots and maintenance crews — particularly in North America and Europe — have been on the job for decades. Their experience is crucial when split-second decisions are made and for instilling a culture of safety in younger employees. Former US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger — who spent three decades as an airline pilot — was praised for his skill after safely ditching a plane in the Hudson River in 2009. Both engines died because of a bird strike but all 155 passengers and crew survived.
— Luck. Safety experts discount the effect of chance. However, it takes just one big accident — especially now with mega-jets such as the Airbus A380, which is able to carry up to 853 passengers — to ruin an otherwise good period for safety.

"Was Chesley Sullenberger lucky or skillful?" says Perry Flint, a spokesman with the International Air Transport Association. "It was luck that it was daylight, but how many geese do you know that are flying south in the pitch black of two in the morning? So it was also luck that he hit them. Bad luck."

The most recent fatal U.S. crash was Colgan Air Flight 3407, a regional flight operating under the name Continental Connection. The 2009 crash killed all 49 people on board and a man in the house the plane hit.

In fact, all fatal crashes in the U.S. in the past decade occurred on regional airlines, which are separate companies flying smaller planes under brands such as United Express, American Eagle and Delta Connection. The most recent deadly crash involving a larger airline was American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001. It crashed moments after taking off from New York, killing 265.

There have been some near misses.

In April, a Southwest Airlines aircraft had a rapid loss of cabin pressure after part of the fuselage ruptured, leaving a five-foot-long hole in the ceiling. There were no serious injuries.

The prior year, a Southwest jet came within 200 feet of colliding with a small Cessna at a California airport. In December 2009, an American Airlines jet landing in the rain in Jamaica was unable to stop on the runway, crashing through an airport fence, crossing a street, finally stopping on a beach. And in December 2005, a Southwest jet skidded off a Chicago runway. No passengers died, but a 9-year-old boy riding in a passing car was killed.

A poor economy might also have improved safety.
Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, says that during a boom period, airlines tend to quickly grow. That, he says, can mean weaker standards for safety and for pilots.
"We tend to see people being pushed forward perhaps a little too early, before they're ready," Voss says. "There's not as much time for captains to create new captains by tapping a guy on the shoulder and telling him when he's out of line." 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Smoke Screening

As you stand in endless lines this holiday season, here’s a comforting thought: all those security measures accomplish nothing, at enormous cost. That’s the conclusion of Charles C. Mann, who put the T.S.A. to the test with the help of one of America’s top security experts.

By Charles C. Mann

Not until I walked with Bruce Schneier toward the mass of people unloading their laptops did it occur to me that it might not be possible for us to hang around unnoticed near Reagan National Airport’s security line. Much as upscale restaurants hang mug shots of local food writers in their kitchens, I realized, the Transportation Security Administration might post photographs of Schneier, a 48-year-old cryptographer and security technologist who is probably its most relentless critic. In addition to writing books and articles, Schneier has a popular blog; a recent search for “TSA” in its archives elicited about 2,000 results, the vast majority of which refer to some aspect of the agency that he finds to be ineffective, invasive, incompetent, inexcusably costly, or all four.

As we came by the checkpoint line, Schneier described one of these aspects: the ease with which people can pass through airport security with fake boarding passes. First, scan an old boarding pass, he said—more loudly than necessary, it seemed to me. Alter it with Photoshop, then print the result with a laser printer. In his hand was an example, complete with the little squiggle the T.S.A. agent had drawn on it to indicate that it had been checked. “Feeling safer?” he asked.

Ten years ago, 19 men armed with utility knives hijacked four airplanes and within a few hours killed nearly 3,000 people. At a stroke, Americans were thrust into a menacing new world. “They are coming after us,” C.I.A. director George Tenet said of al-Qaeda. “They intend to strike this homeland again, and we better get about the business of putting the right structure in place as fast as we can.”

The United States tried to do just that. Federal and state governments embarked on a nationwide safety upgrade. Checkpoints proliferated in airports, train stations, and office buildings. A digital panopticon of radiation scanners, chemical sensors, and closed-circuit television cameras audited the movements of shipping containers, airborne chemicals, and ordinary Americans. None of this was or will be cheap. Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.

The first time I met Schneier, a few months after 9/11, he wanted to bet me a very expensive dinner that the United States would not be hit by a major terrorist attack in the next 10 years. We were in Washington, D.C., visiting one of the offices of Counterpane Internet Security, the company he had co-founded in 1999. (BT, the former British Telecom, bought Counterpane seven years later; officially, Schneier is now BT’s chief security technology officer.) The bet seemed foolhardy to me. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had just told The Washington Times that al-Qaeda was dispersing its killers all over the world.

From an airplane-hijacking point of view, Schneier said, al-Qaeda had used up its luck. Passengers on the first three 9/11 flights didn’t resist their captors, because in the past the typical consequence of a plane seizure had been “a week in Havana.” When the people on the fourth hijacked plane learned by cell phone that the previous flights had been turned into airborne bombs, they attacked their attackers. The hijackers were forced to crash Flight 93 into a field. “No big plane will ever be taken that way again, because the passengers will fight back,” Schneier said. Events have borne him out. The instigators of the two most serious post-9/11 incidents involving airplanes— the “shoe bomber” in 2001 and the “underwear bomber” in 2009, both of whom managed to get onto an airplane with explosives—were subdued by angry passengers.
Schneier’s sanguine views had little resonance at a time when the fall of the twin towers was being replayed nightly on the news. Two months after 9/11, the Bush administration created the Transportation Security Agency, ordering it to hire and train enough security officers to staff the nation’s 450 airports within a year. Six months after that, the government vastly expanded the federal sky-marshal program, sending thousands of armed lawmen to ride planes undercover. Meanwhile, the T.S.A. steadily ratcheted up the existing baggage-screening program, banning cigarette lighters from carry-on bags, then all liquids (even, briefly, breast milk from some nursing mothers). Signs were put up in airports warning passengers about specifically prohibited items: snow globes, printer cartridges. A color-coded alert system was devised; the nation was placed on “orange alert” for five consecutive years. Washington assembled a list of potential terror targets that soon swelled to 80,000 places, including local libraries and miniature-golf courses. Accompanying the target list was a watch list of potential suspects that had grown to 1.1 million names by 2008, the most recent date for which figures are available. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security, which absorbed the T.S.A. in 2003, began deploying full-body scanners, which peer through clothing to produce nearly nude images of air passengers.
Bruce Schneier’s exasperation is informed by his job-related need to spend a lot of time in Airportland. He has 10 million frequent-flier miles and takes about 170 flights a year; his average speed, he has calculated, is 32 miles and hour. “The only useful airport security measures since 9/11,” he says, “were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching”—ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them —“and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”

Remember the fake boarding pass that was in Schneier’s hand? Actually, it was mine. I had flown to meet Schneier at Reagan National Airport because I wanted to view the security there through his eyes. He landed on a Delta flight in the next terminal over. To reach him, I would have to pass through security. The day before, I had downloaded an image of a boarding pass from the Delta Web site, copied and pasted the letters with Photoshop, and printed the results with a laser printer. I am not a photo-doctoring expert, so the work took me nearly an hour. The T.S.A. agent waved me through without a word. A few minutes later, Schneier deplaned, compact and lithe, in a purple shirt and with a floppy cap drooping over a graying ponytail.

The boarding-pass problem is hardly the only problem with the checkpoints. Taking off your shoes is next to useless. “It’s like saying, Last time the terrorists wore red shirts, so now we’re going to ban red shirts,” Schneier says. If the T.S.A. focuses on shoes, terrorists will put their explosives elsewhere. “Focusing on specific threats like shoe bombs or snow-globe bombs simply induces the bad guys to do something else. You end up spending a lot on the screening and you haven’t reduced the total threat.”

As I waited at security with my fake boarding pass, a T.S.A. agent had darted out and swabbed my hands with a damp, chemically impregnated cloth: a test for explosives. Schneier said, “Apparently the idea is that al-Qaeda has never heard of latex gloves and wiping down with alcohol.” The uselessness of the swab, in his view, exemplifies why Americans should dismiss the T.S.A.’s frequent claim that it relies on “multiple levels” of security. For the extra levels of protection to be useful, each would have to test some factor that is independent of the others. But anyone with the intelligence and savvy to use a laser printer to forge a boarding pass can also pick up a stash of latex gloves to wear while making a bomb. From the standpoint of security, Schneier said, examining boarding passes and swabbing hands are tantamount to performing the same test twice because the person you miss with one test is the same person you'll miss with the other.

After a public outcry, T.S.A. officers began waving through medical supplies that happen to be liquid, including bottles of saline solution. “You fill one of them up with liquid explosive,” Schneier said, “then get a shrink-wrap gun and seal it. The T.S.A. doesn’t open shrink-wrapped packages.” I asked Schneier if he thought terrorists would in fact try this approach. Not really, he said. Quite likely, they wouldn’t go through the checkpoint at all. The security bottlenecks are regularly bypassed by large numbers of people—airport workers, concession-stand employees, airline personnel, and T.S.A. agents themselves (though in 2008 the T.S.A. launched an employee-screening pilot study at seven airports). “Almost all of those jobs are crappy, low-paid jobs,” Schneier says. “They have high turnover. If you’re a serious plotter, don’t you think you could get one of those jobs?”

The full-body-scanner program—some 1,800 scanners operating in every airport in the country—was launched in response to the “underwear bomber” incident on Christmas Day in 2009, when a Nigerian Muslim hid the plastic explosive petn in his briefs and tried to detonate it on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. It has an annual price tag of $1.2 billion. The scanners cannot detect petn directly; instead they look for suspicious bulges under clothing. Because petn is a Silly Putty–like material, it can be fashioned into a thin pancake. Taped flat to the stomach, the pancake is invisible to scanning machines. Alternatively, attackers could stick gum-size wads of the explosive in their mouths, then go through security enough times to accumulate the desired amount.

Staffing the airport checkpoints, at least in theory, are “behavioral detection officers,” supposedly trained in reading the “facial microexpressions” that give away terrorists. It is possible that they are effective, Schneier says—nobody knows exactly what they do. But U.S. airlines carried approximately 700 million passengers in 2010. In the last 10 years, there have been 20 known full-fledged al-Qaeda operatives who flew on U.S. planes (the 9/11 hijackers and the underwear bomber, who was given explosives by a Yemeni al-Qaeda affiliate). Picking the right 20 out of 700 million is simply not possible, Schneier says.

After the airport checkpoint, an additional layer of security is provided, in theory, by air marshals. At an annual cost of about $1.2 billion, as many as 4,000 plainclothes police ride the nation’s airways—usually in first class, so that they can monitor the cockpit. John Mueller, co-author of Terror, Security, and Money, a great book from which I drew much information for this article, says it's a horrible job. “You sit there and fly and you can’t even drink or listen to music, because you can’t have headphones on. You have to stay awake. You are basically just sitting there, day after day.” Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of turnover—“you’re constantly training people, which is expensive.” Worse, the program has had no measurable benefit. Air marshals have not saved a single life, although one of them did shoot a deranged passenger a few years ago.

Has the nation simply wasted a trillion dollars protecting itself against terror? Mostly, but perhaps not entirely. “Most of the time we assess risk through gut feelings,” says Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon who is also the president of Decision Research, a nonprofit R&D organization. “We’re not robots just looking at the numbers.” Confronted with a risk, people ask questions: Is this a risk that I benefit from taking, as when I get in a car? Is it forced on me by someone else, as when I am exposed to radiation? Are the potential consequences catastrophic? Is the impact immediate and observable, or will I not know the consequences until much later, as with cancer? Such questions, Slovic says, “reflect values that are sometimes left out of the experts’ calculations.”

Security theater, from this perspective, is an attempt to convey a message: “We are doing everything possible to protect you.” When 9/11 shattered the public’s confidence in flying, Slovic says, the handful of anti-terror measures that actually work—hardening the cockpit door, positive baggage matching, more-effective intelligence—would not have addressed the public’s dread, because the measures can’t really be seen. Relying on them would have been the equivalent of saying, “Have confidence in Uncle Sam,” when the problem was the very loss of confidence. So a certain amount of theater made sense. Over time, though, the value of the message changes. At first the policeman in the train station reassures you. Later, the uniform sends a message: train travel is dangerous. “The show gets less effective, and sometimes it becomes counterproductive.”
Terrorists will try to hit the United States again, Schneier says. One has to assume this. Terrorists can so easily switch from target to target and weapon to weapon that focusing on preventing any one type of attack is foolish. Even if the T.S.A. were somehow to make airports impregnable, this would simply divert terrorists to other, less heavily defended targets—shopping malls, movie theaters, churches, stadiums, museums. The terrorist’s goal isn’t to attack an airplane specifically; it’s to sow terror generally. “You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier says. “Congratulations!”

What the government should be doing is focusing on the terrorists when they are planning their plots. “That’s how the British caught the liquid bombers,” Schneier says. “They never got anywhere near the plane. That’s what you want—not catching them at the last minute as they try to board the flight.”
To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.)

During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. The best memorial to the victims of 9/11, in Schneier’s view, would be to forget most of the “lessons” of 9/11. “It’s infuriating,” he said, waving my fraudulent boarding pass to indicate the mass of waiting passengers, the humming X-ray machines, the piles of unloaded computers and cell phones on the conveyor belts, the uniformed T.S.A. officers instructing people to remove their shoes and take loose change from their pockets. “We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why fliers really do need to turn off electronic devices

By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY

Updated 1h 38m ago

"What part of 'please turn your cellphone off' do you feel does not apply to you?" Peter Juhren asked a fellow passenger as their New York-bound Delta Air Lines flight taxied for takeoff Dec. 7 at Tampa's airport.

Juhren, a frequent business traveler from Salem, Ore., says the woman on the phone gave "a disgruntled look" but stopped talking and turned it off — after three times ignoring a flight attendant's request to do so.

Passengers have blamed airlines and the government for safety problems for decades, but now they might have to share some blame.

A USA TODAY investigation shows that passengers are frequently disregarding flight attendants' instructions to turn off portable electronic devices during takeoff and landing — two critical flight phases when a mistake by a pilot could lead to an accident.

Many passengers question the rationale behind shutting off electronic devices in-flight, but the investigation's review of thousands of pages of technical documents shows the gadgets emit radio signals that can interfere with cockpit instruments and electronic equipment and systems on an aircraft.

"Any device with a battery — including cellphones, e-readers, laptops, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and Game Boys — has some level of emission that has the potential to interfere with cockpit instruments or navigational equipment," says Boeing engineer Dave Carson.

Technical committees have evaluated many portable electronic devices and found the margin of safety is not sufficient to allow passengers to use them during takeoff and landing, says Carson, co-chairman of an RTCA committee that studied portable electronic devices on aircraft.

RTCA is a non-profit corporation that develops communications and navigation recommendations for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Carson says most devices used "in aggregate or independently" by passengers would not meet the RTCA's DO-160 standard, which sets emission standards for airborne equipment.

Electronics experts say they do not have such electromagnetic interference (EMI) concerns about an increasing number of Wi-Fi and entertainment systems installed by aircraft manufacturers and airlines, because those systems are thoroughly tested to meet standards.

EMI-related documents reviewed by USA TODAY include more than 25 papers by electronics experts; presentations, papers and advisories by government aviation officials in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe; congressional testimony; and Boeing research and information for airlines.

Some findings:

•A 2008 RTCA study, considered the most recent definitive one on the subject, confirmed that spurious emissions from transmitting portable electronic devices onboard aircraft "could exceed interference thresholds for critical aircraft systems."
RTCA, which gave USA TODAY permission to access the study, says an aircraft's localizer and glide-slope systems — two systems used for landing — "show potential susceptibility to continuous wave interference," supporting the "prohibition on the use of portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet."
The operation of portable electronic devices "changes the electromagnetic environmentt" of aircraft radio receivers and "may introduce additional interference effects."

•A 2006 FAA study of 38 flights operated by two airlines observed that cellphone calls were made during all flight phases, and other wireless devices were used during landing approach "well after" flight crew instructions to shut them off.

The study said "considerable onboard radio frequency activity" from cellphones was observed, including some that could interfere with aircraft GPS equipment.

•In a March 2001 service letter to airlines, Boeing said it received "various reports of anomalies in airplane communication and navigation systems that operators suspected were caused by interference from passenger carry-on electronic devices."
Boeing said it sometimes acquired the suspected electronic device but couldn't repeat the anomaly in a lab or on an airplane.

USA TODAY's analsyis of NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, which lets airline employees report incidents confidentially, reveals that pilots and an air traffic controller reported 32 incidents of electronic device interference with aircraft systems from January 2001 through Dec. 2, 2011.

A pilot of a Canadair CRJ-200 regional jet reported compass system malfunctions after takeoff at an altitude of about 9,000 feet on a flight last May. The pilot says a passenger had an iPhone in standby mode; when the phone was turned off, the compass system operated properly.
A pilot of a Boeing 737 jet noticed that navigational radios were not updating after takeoff from San Francisco airport in August 2007. The radios started to update after a passenger shut off a handheld GPS.

USA TODAY surveyed more than 900 frequent fliers and asked them, among other questions, how often fellow passengers disregard flight announcements to shut off electronic devices.

Nearly half of 133 frequent fliers who responded to the question said they see fellow passengers disregarding the announcements on every flight or nearly every flight. More than three-quarters of respondents said they often, or always, see such disregard.

Frequent fliers report various tactics fellow passengers use to operate their electronic devices after being told to shut them off. Among others, they turn devices over so the screens aren't visible, and they operate the gadgets under blankets or after flight attendants sit down for takeoff or landing.
Many fliers refuse to turn off electronic gadgets

By Gary Stoller, USA TODAYUpdated 1h 37m ago

Gadget-dependent fliers are turning a deaf ear to flight attendants' instructions to turn off their devices during takeoff and landing, despite decades of government warnings, a USA TODAY investigation shows.

Investigation finds many passengers ignore the flight attendants' instructions to turn off electronic devices for takeoff and landing.

Investigation finds many passengers ignore the flight attendants' instructions to turn off electronic devices for takeoff and landing.

The investigation, which reviewed thousands of pages of technical documents and surveyed hundreds of frequent fliers, also confirms that the worry about electronics on planes is not baseless: The devices emit radio signals that can interfere with cockpit instruments and flight systems.

"We really need to get the technical findings out to the public and tell them it's dangerous to use their portable electronic devices in-flight," says Bill Strauss, an electrical engineer whose doctoral thesis at Carnegie Mellon University studied use of electronic devices in-flight.

Documents reviewed by USA TODAY include: more than 25 papers by electronics experts; presentations, papers and advisories by government aviation officials in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe; congressional testimony; and Boeing research and information for airlines. The investigation also included: a review of government accident reports and airline pilots' incident reports; a survey of more than 900 frequent fliers; and interviews with Boeing, NASA and independent electromagnetic interference (EMI) experts, flight attendants and pilots unions, and college electrical engineering professors.

Fortunately for air travelers, the probability of EMI is small, the technical papers say.

EMI has not been cited as the cause of any fatal U.S. airline accident, but pilots have reported incidents in which they suspected EMI caused cockpit instruments to go haywire.

Some electronics experts — including Douglas Hughes, an electrical engineer who worked for McDonnell Douglas and the Department of Defense— suspect it might have caused military aircraft accidents and been an undetected factor in some airline crashes.

Goverment accident investigators in New Zealand said a pilot used a cellphone in the cockpit before he and seven passengers were killed on a charter flight in 2003.

The New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission said the accident was probably caused by the pilot becoming distracted from monitoring altitude during landing. They noted in the accident report that cellphone use can cause "random interference to the proper functioning of aircraft avionics such as navigation equipment and autopilots."

Two recent events have caused frequent fliers to question why they're required to shut off their devices in flight.

On Dec. 6, actor Alec Baldwin was removed from an American Airlines plane for playing a game on his cellphone after a flight attendant told him to turn it off. On Dec. 1, the FAA gave approval to American's pilots — after months of tests — to use electronic tablets in cockpits.

American's pilots can use their own iPads any time during a flight to access aircraft and flight crew operating manuals and navigational charts, says the airline's spokeswoman, Andrea Huguely. The device's Wi-Fi must be turned off.

Pilots' iPad use "involves a significantly different scenario for potential interference than unlimited passenger use, which could involve dozens or even hundreds of devices at the same time," the FAA says.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Delta announces big LaGuardia expansion

Delta Air announces new flying schedule out of New York's LaGuardia, targeting competitors

By Joshua Freed, AP Airlines Writers
AP – 53 minutes ago
Delta Air Lines Inc. is boosting its flying out of New York's LaGuardia airport, adding routes that target American Airlines and put it in a better position to compete against United. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Delta Air Lines Inc. plans a massive flight expansion out of New York's LaGuardia airport, hoping to improve its competitive edge against its two biggest rivals in one of the nation's most important air travel markets.

Delta said Friday that the additions make it the biggest airline between the New York area and other cities in the U.S., as it adds routes that target American Airlines and put it in a better position to compete against United Continental. That should help it grab more high-paying business travelers, a critical passenger segment in major cities like New York.

The list of added cities reads like a map of the hubs of competing airlines. Delta is adding Miami and Dallas, both American Airlines hubs. It will also fly to Houston and Denver, which are United hubs, and Charlotte, N.C. — a hub for US Airways. In all, it will add more than 100 flights to 29 new destinations.
By next summer Delta expects to operate 264 daily flights from LaGuardia — the smallest of the New York area's three main airports. Those flights will go to more than 60 cities, which Delta says is more than any other airline. Currently Delta operates flights to 35 cities out of that airport.

United and Continental's merger into the world's largest airline put Delta in second-place by traffic. Expanding in a key business market like New York will help it compete against the larger airline.

"It's about increasing Delta's overall appeal and utility to the high-yield business traveler," said Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco. "Delta is going for scope of service, rather than always having the largest number of flights to a smaller network of cities."

Gail Grimmett, Delta's senior vice president of New York operations, thinks the convenience of LaGuardia will be a major deciding factor for business travelers debating between flying with Delta or United, which has a hub in nearby Newark, N.J

As it adds flights, Delta will expand into LaGuardia's Terminal C in addition to its existing operation at Terminal D. The Atlanta-based airline will spend $100 million on the expansion. Delta will continue its shuttle service to Chicago, Boston and Washington out of the airport's Marine Air Terminal.

Delta obtained the new flying rights in a deal with US Airways Group Inc. Delta gave up some of its flying rights at Washington's Reagan National airport, which US Airways wanted, in exchange for some of that airline's rights at LaGuardia. The exchange of flying rights happens in two rounds, on March 25 and July 11. As a result some of Delta's new LaGuardia flights start in May, the rest in July.
US Airways said it will announce its plans for expanded Washington flying in January.

Delta has said it will cut overall flying by as much as 3 percent next year. CEO Richard Anderson said the new flying at LaGuardia will be offset by reduced flying in Washington.

Shares of Atlanta-based Delta rose 43 cents, or 5 percent, to close at $9.02. Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc. rose 60 cents, or 2.9 percent, to close at $21.24. US Airways Group Inc. shares rose 47 cents, or 8.2 percent, to close at $6.18. ___

Freed reported from Minneapolis. AP Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Southwest Airlines' Stock Will Lag Peers
Does Charge For Oversize Bags

by: Adam Levine-Weinberg December 12, 2011

We are likely near the beginning of a long-term uptrend for airline stocks. The operating environment for airlines is improving due to capacity reductions and moderating jet fuel prices. All the major airlines are expected to see substantial profit improvement next year, in spite of a weak economic forecast. If the economy does continue to improve over the next few years, then airline stocks will have even more upside.

Southwest Airlines (LUV) has long been considered a leader in the airline sector, and for good reason. While competitors Delta (DAL), United (UAL), US Airways (LCC), and now American (AMR) have all declared bankruptcy over the past ten years, Southwest has enjoyed 38 consecutive years of profitability (and this year should be year 39, though just barely).
However, the bankruptcies of all of these competitors have allowed them to drastically reduce their cost structures. Southwest's CEO, Gary Kelly, told employees in a memo last week that competitors are finally catching up to Southwest. Kelly claimed that the cost gap between Southwest and the legacy carriers has been cut in half. This has pressured Southwest's profits in recent years.

Aside from the overall narrowing cost differential, there are two major reasons why Southwest shares are not likely to rise as quickly as those of United, Delta, and US Airways. First, Southwest has invested in offering better service than other carriers, yet has been unable to thereby achieve a revenue premium. The most important way in which Southwest has tried to differentiate itself from competitors has been in its "Bags Fly Free" campaign. All of the legacy carriers charge for the first and the second checked bag, while JetBlue (JBLU) charges for a second checked bag.

The legacy carriers earn about $60 each way for passengers who check two bags, while Southwest does not charge such passengers unless their bags exceed the size/weight limits. The result is that Southwest has less ancillary revenue than its competitors. Free checked baggage is essentially an amenity that Southwest offers. Southwest (like the other airlines) needs to support a baggage crew on the ground, but unlike other carriers, has to pay these costs out of the base airfares it charges, instead of baggage fees.

The problem is that most customers just look at the base airfare when choosing which ticket to purchase. Super low-cost carriers like Allegiant (ALGT) rely on this, as they sell base airfares at or below cost, and make their profit on fees and commissions. Sure, passengers might get angry when they feel like they are being nickel-and-dimed. But ultimately, they will pay up, and will do the same thing again the next time they fly. This idea is supported by comparing airline revenue statistics.

Last quarter, pro forma PRASM (the key airline revenue metric) grew 6.4% for Southwest, while the same figure grew 10.1% for United and 10.9% for Delta. Thus, Southwest cannot charge a higher base airfare than competitors, and since it has fewer ancillary revenue streams, it ends up taking in less revenue than competitors. Given the cost pressure that all airlines have felt this year due to high jet fuel prices, it is no wonder that Southwest's profits have been falling.

The second issue for Southwest is the integration of AirTran. Merger integration processes are traditionally difficult for airlines. One typical stumbling block is the integration of seniority lists between the two carriers. Fortunately, this issue has been resolved, after initial difficulties lead executives to float the idea of operating AirTran as a separate, wholly-owned subsidiary. However, it is still unclear how the integration will affect overall costs. AirTran pilots (and other employees) tend to be paid below the industry average, whereas Southwest employees have industry-leading compensation plans. For equivalent positions, Southwest pilots can make anywhere from 30-100% more than their colleagues at AirTran.

When the pilots sign a joint contract, don't expect them to meet in the middle; AirTran pilots will get a substantial salary bump that will cut into the "merger synergies" that Southwest expects to achieve. A second issue is the transition of AirTran's Atlanta hub into a Southwest "point-to-point" focus city. While Southwest expects this move to generate substantial additional revenue, it is not clear that the company will be able to replace all of AirTran's connecting traffic with nonstop customers immediately. While Southwest builds its presence in Atlanta, it will likely face an initial decrease in traffic, as connecting passengers from smaller markets (that Southwest is exiting) and those who want business-class seating defect to Delta.

I have no doubt that Southwest will sort through all of these issues over the long haul and will continue to be an industry leader in the airline sector. If you want exposure to the airline sector but can't tolerate the risk inherent in the legacy carriers' balance sheets, then Southwest may be worth a look. But until Southwest catches up with its peers on the revenue side, I think other airlines have better near term profit growth potential. I recommend United, US Airways, and Delta as better picks than Southwest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Boeing logs big order from Southwest

Reuters – 3 hours ago

(Reuters) - Boeing Co (NYSE:BA) bagged its first firm order for the new 737 MAX fuel-efficient, narrowbody plane, as part of a $19 billion deal with Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) that the jet maker calls its largest order ever.
The order for 208 narrowbody planes includes 150 MAX aircraft and puts Southwest, a loyal Boeing customer, first in line to take delivery of the upcoming revamp of the best-selling 737, which will feature a new energy-efficient engine.
The order reflects robust demand for fuel-efficient planes as the airline industry struggles to rebound from a painful downturn and cope with volatile oil prices. The Southwest deal is also one of the last major aircraft orders up for grabs from U.S. carriers looking to replace aging models.
"It's been a very good year for orders, really driven by the re-engined platforms for Airbus and Boeing," said Peter Arment, an aerospace and defense analyst with Sterne, Agee & Leach. "We do expect that to continue in 2012."

He said Boeing would likely garner more orders for its 737 MAX from existing customers, and noted the company was currently competing with chief rival Airbus (Paris:EAD.PA) for an order from United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL) , the world's largest carrier.

Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) ordered 737-900ER 100 Next-Generation extended-range 737 planes in August, following a giant order in July from now-bankrupt American Airlines (NYSE:AMR) for 460 single-aisle jets worth up to $40 billion, an order Boeing split with Airbus.

The MAX orders, combined with a strong existing backlog for other 737 models, will allow Boeing to raise production rates to record levels on one of its most profitable plane programs, Arment said.
"Longer term, it's going to help generate some additional earnings power for the company," Arment added.

Boeing reported commitments for 948 MAX airplanes and said the figure could climb to 1,500 by the end of next year. It said the Southwest deal was its largest firm order ever in dollar value and the number of airplanes.

"It truly is Christmas come early for the Boeing Co," Jim Albaugh, Boeing's chief executive for commercial planes, told a press briefing held in Dallas on Tuesday to announce the Southwest order.

Southwest also said it will buy 58 737 Next-Generation aircraft. The traditional discount carrier has a fleet of 699 planes, including 88 Boeing 717s acquired when it bought AirTran this year.

The planemaker said the MAX, which is competing with Airbus's re-engined A320neo family, cuts fuel burn by an additional 10 ercent to 12 percent over current single-aisle airplanes. CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric Co (NYSE:GE) and France's Safran (Paris:SAF.PA) , is providing the MAX engines.
Boeing on Tuesday also announced inaugural list prices for its 737 MAX aircraft. The 737 MAX 8 will sell for a catalogue price of $95.2 million, Boeing said on its website, while the larger 737 MAX 9 will sell for $101.7 million.
Things Your Flight Attendant Won’t Tell You

By Michelle Crouch from Reader's Digest

1. Do not poke or grab me. I mean it. No one likes to be poked, but it’s even worse on the plane because you’re sitting down and we’re not, so it’s usually in a very personal area. You would never grab a waitress if you wanted ketchup or a fork, would you?

2. We’re not just being lazy. Our rules really say we aren’t allowed to lift your luggage into the overhead bin for you, though we can “assist.”

3. Is it that difficult to say hello and goodbye? We say it 300 times on every flight, and only about 40 people respond.

4. I don’t care if you want to be in the mile-high club, keep your clothes on. Who decided the mile-high club was something that everyone wants to do anyway? It’s cramped and dirty in those bathrooms.

5. If you hear us paging for a doctor or see us running around with oxygen, defibrillators and first aid kits, that’s not the right time to ask for a blanket or a Diet Coke.

6. The only place you are allowed to pee on the airplane is in the lavatory. Period.

7. Don’t ask us if it’s okay to use the lavatories on the ground. The answer is always yes. Do you think what goes into the toilet just dumps out onto the tarmac?
8. You really expect me to take your soggy Kleenex? Or your kid’s fully loaded diaper? I’ll be right back with gloves.

9. Sure, I don’t mind waiting while you scour the seatback pocket and the floor for candy wrappers and other garbage, then place them in my bag one by one. I only have 150 other passengers to serve.

10. I’m sorry it’s taking forever to get you a wheelchair, but that’s one thing you can’t blame the airline for. The wheelchair service is subcontracted to the cities we fly into, and it’s obviously not a top priority for many of them

Friday, December 09, 2011

Ask Alec Baldwin: Ignore flight attendants at your peril

By Bart Jansen, USA TODAYUpdated 41m ago Comments

Ignoring directions from flight attendants, as actor Alec Baldwin did while awaiting takeoff last week, can be no laughing matter.
By Stephen Morton, Getty Images

Airlines can pursue civil fines against unruly passengers through the Federal Aviation Administration or, in the most egregious cases, even criminal charges.

"I think the lesson here is you've got to listen to the flight attendants," says Michael Krzak, a partner who practices aviation law at Clifford Law Offices in Chicago.
Baldwin was removed from an American Airlines flight Tuesday in Los Angeles after a confrontation with flight attendants over playing a cellphone game after being told to shut it down.

The incident became a social media sensation after the star of NBC's 30 Rock tweeted about the incident and American took to Facebook to respond, saying "an extremely vocal customer" was removed after being "extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language."

And Lonny Glover, the safety and security director for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union representing American crew members, told New York's Daily News that Baldwin should be fined, put on the airline's no-fly list and have his TV show removed from in-flight entertainment unless he apologized.

There's no indication Baldwin will face further punishment. The FAA wouldn't comment. But Tim Smith, an American spokesman, says the airline hasn't pursued any more action.

Others passengers have faced more. The FAA fines more than a hundred passengers each year for disobeying crew members after complaints are filed. Regulations state that "no person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crew member in the performance of the crew member's duties."
Common violations include assaulting a crew member or becoming drunk and belligerent. The potential fine for each violation is up to $25,000. Each incident can result in multiple violations.

In the worst cases, an airline can ask a federal prosecutor to pursue criminal charges. The criminal code prohibits "assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member" under penalty of fines and up to 20 years in prison. If a "dangerous weapon" is used, a life sentence is possible.

"That is typically not done unless there are pretty extreme circumstances, things like weapons or actual assaults," Krzak says.

Monday, December 05, 2011

FAA head Randy Babbitt placed on leave after drunk driving arrest in Fairfax

Posted at 12:52 PM ET, 12/05/2011
By Mary Pat Flaherty and Ashley Halsey III

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration is on administrative leave after being charged with drunk driving Saturday night by Fairfax City police, according to the Department of Transportation.
FAA Administrator Jerome Randolph “Randy” Babbitt, 65, was arrested after being spotted driving on the wrong side of Old Lee Highway, according to the arresting officer.

Babbitt requested the leave and DOT officials are in discussions with legal counsel about Babbitt’s employment status, according to an agency statement. Neither the White House nor the Department of Transportation learned of Babbitt’s arrest until Monday afternoon, administration officials said.
Police pulled him over in the 3900 block of Old Lee Highway, about nine miles from his home in Reston at about 10:30 p.m. He was driving alone and cooperated with police, authorities said. Babbitt, 65, was taken to the adult detention center, where he was charged before being released on his own recognizance.
Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will take command of the federal agency, according to a statement from the Department of Transportation early Monday afternoon. The statement said the department had learned of the arrest just an hour earlier. Fairfax City police issued a press release on the arrest Monday morning.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta - AP) Babbitt was alone in his vehicle and was not involved in any accident, police said.
Babbitt did not return a call left with the FAA press office.

Babbitt was sworn in as the FAA’s 16th administrator in June 2009. He is a veteran pilot and flew for 25 years for Eastern Airlines, according to his official biography.

Babitt’s arrest information was made public in accordance with a Fairfax City police general order that says the arrest of public officials, including federal officials, for “any criminal charge or serious traffic charge (e.g. driving under the influence, reckless driving)” will be released.
Babbitt faces a Feb. 2 court appearance, said Sgt. Joe Johnson, a Fairfax City police spokesman.
Faiirfax Police do not release the blood-alcohol level of those charged, or the results of roadside sobriety tests, said Johnson. State law defines DWI as a .08 blood alcohol concentration.

Staff writer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American Airlines parent seeks Ch. 11 protection

AP – 10 mins ago

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — American Airlines and its parent company are filing for bankruptcy protection as they seek to cut costs and unload massive debt built up by years of high jet fuel prices and labor struggles.

The third-largest U.S. airline also said Tuesday that CEO Gerard Arpey had stepped down and was replaced by company president Thomas W. Horton.

AMR Corp. has continued to lose money while other U.S. airlines returned to profitability in the last two years.

Horton said the board of directors unanimously decided to file for bankruptcy after meeting Monday in New York and again by conference call on Monday night.

American said it would operate normally while it reorganizes in bankruptcy. The airline said it would continue to operate flights, honor tickets and take reservations. It said the AAdvantage frequent-flier program would not be affected.

Horton said, however, that as the company goes through a restructuring it will probably reduce the flight schedule "modestly," with corresponding cuts in jobs.

The company will delay the spin-off of its regional airline operation, American Eagle, which was expected in early 2012. AMR Eagle Holding Corp. also filed for bankruptcy.

American was the only major U.S. airline that didn't file for bankruptcy protection in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered a deep slump in the airline industry. The last major airline to file for bankruptcy protection was Delta in 2005.

Speculation about an AMR bankruptcy grew in recent weeks, however, as negotiations with pilots and other workers over cost-saving labor contracts seemed to stall. The company said that labor-contract rules forced it to spend at least $600 million more per year than other airlines.

Horton said, however, that there was no single factor that led to the bankruptcy filing. He said the company needed to cut costs in view of the weak global economy and high, volatile fuel prices. The average price of jet fuel has risen more than 50 percent in the past five years.

American was the world's biggest airline as recently as 2008, but has fallen behind United and Delta after those two companies bought other airlines.

Fort Worth-based AMR lost $162 million in the third quarter and has posted losses in 14 of the last 16 quarters.
AMR has about $4 billion in cash and has announced plans to order 460 new narrow-body planes used primarily in the U.S., plus other jets for longer flights.

American was founded in 1930 from the combination of more than 80 smaller carriers. It now flies about 240,000 passengers per day and has about 78,000 employees.

The airline operates out of five major hubs in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, and Miami. It has major international partnerships with British Airways and Japan Airlines.
Bomkamp reported from New York.

Monday, November 28, 2011

NYPD cop intervenes in scuffle on JetBlue flight

AP – 8 hrs ago

Wed, Nov 23, 2011See latest photos »NEW YORK (AP) — An off-duty New York City police officer subdued and handcuffed an intoxicated passenger who attacked a flight attendant Sunday during a scuffle aboard a JetBlue plane.

Officer Anibal Mercado intervened after Antonio Ynoa of Brooklyn punched a flight attendant in the face early Sunday on JetBlue Flight 832 from the Dominican Republic to John F. Kennedy International Airport, the NYPD said.
About a half hour before the plane was scheduled to land at about 12:30 a.m., the flight attendant approached Ynoa and told him to stop drinking duty-free alcohol, police said. Ynoa became angry and punched the attendant in the face, police said.
Mercado, a patrol cop in the Bronx, told reporters that he felt compelled to intervene.

"Everybody was very alarmed," Mercado said. "I could see the fear in the passengers' faces."
Mercado told Ynoa that he was a police officer, then wrestled him to the ground and restrained him with a pair of plastic handcuffs stored on the aircraft, police said.

"He struck me a few times in the face as I was trying to restrain him," said Mercado, who is an 18-year veteran of the police force. "He was still yelling profanities. I was just telling him to calm down."

A JetBlue spokesman said the plane landed safely. When the flight landed, Ynoa was escorted off the plane by the FBI. The FBI says Ynoa, 22, will be arraigned Monday in federal court in Brooklyn on charges of assault and interference with a flight crew.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Delta cutting international routes
Monday, November 21, 2011

By Kelly Yamanouchi
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Just as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport prepares to open a gleaming new international terminal next year, its flagship carrier Delta Air Lines is cutting back on international routes.
It's unfortunate timing that Atlanta's Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal will open as international travel is on the decline, with Atlanta-based Delta trimming overseas routes amid high fuel prices and economic uncertainty.

Delta plans to discontinue several routes from Atlanta, including its route to Shanghai that garnered much attention when it launched with daily service in 2008. Since then, Delta has tried cutting back on the route and discontinued it in 2009. It then resumed the Atlanta-Shanghai route last year with just two flights a week, only to find that the route has still "performed poorly," according to Delta. That led to the decision to once again suspend the service as of Jan. 18.

The airline will also discontinue five other routes from Atlanta -- to Athens, Greece; Copenhagen, Denmark; Moscow; Prague; and Tel Aviv, Israel -- that it had earlier cut back to seasonal service but now will not resume next summer as previously planned.

The cuts are part of Delta's previously announced plan to cut its flight capacity by 2 percent next year, with much of the reduction concentrated in weak trans-Atlantic markets.

Delta said it will continue to fly to nearly 70 international destinations from Atlanta next summer and is "excited" about the new international terminal opening next year. The new terminal will "provide a great foundation for Delta's continued long-term international growth," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said.

Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Louis Miller said in a written statement that the international terminal is for expected "international growth for the Atlanta region over the next two decades," and airport management is confident Delta will grow in the future.

The airline also said travelers will still be able to reach all the cities by connecting through other hubs or on Delta's partner carriers, and it will assist passengers on the discontinued routes.

"We're hopeful that we'll be able to resume service in the future," Banstetter said in a written statement, "and we'll continue to look for opportunities to begin successful new international service from Atlanta in the future."

Several seasonal routes from New York will also be cut by Delta, including routes to Manchester, U.K.; Budapest, Hungary; and Berlin.
Meanwhile, Delta plans to start a new seasonal international route from Detroit to Paris next summer, and it is taking over a Seattle-Paris route previously operated by its joint venture partner Air France.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Travelers forget everything from passports to false teeth

By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
Updated 7h 37m ago

Frequent business traveler Joyce Gioia forgot more than $20,000 worth of jewelry in her hotel room in Italy last year.

Luckily for Gioia, the jewelry was in a room safe, and staff at the Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora shipped the items to her home in Austin.

"I had done such a dumb thing, and I was very happy to get the jewelry back," says Gioia, a management consultant.

Travelers annually leave millions of personally important items such as wallets, keys, cellphones and eyeglasses behind in hotels, airports, airplanes and rental cars. Fortunately for the forgetful, many belongings — including very valuable and unusual ones such as Gioia's jewelry — are returned.

Many, however, aren't, and they are given away or sold if their owners don't retrieve them or their owners cannot be found.

Gioia and other travelers scold themselves for their forgetfulness, but psychologists say it's commonplace even among the most veteran of travelers.

"When traveling, people tend to have lots on their minds, and there are often many unexpected distractions," says David Meyer, a University of Michigan psychology professor. "The combination of too much to keep track of, limited attention for doing so and being in relatively unusual circumstances outside familiar work and home locations promote forgetting about the small stuff being carried along the way."

Forgot something?

Travelers leave practically everything imaginable behind in airports, on planes and in hotel rooms, say airports, airlines and hotels. Among what they’ve found:

Dallas/Fort Worth airport: Bowling pins, bowling balls, a chain saw, a dog, a cooler full of frozen fish.

Detroit airport: Bicycles, a set of Eastern European dolls.

Las Vegas airport: Human ashes, a prosthetic leg.

Oregon’s Portland airport: A dog, a baked potato cooking in a crock pot, a stair climber and tools for a fire dancer.

Southwest Airlines: A cooked Thanksgiving turkey, human ashes in an urn, a pink marble sink, prosthetic limbs, a suitcase filled with boxes of cereal.

Hawaiian Airlines: A birth certificate, breast pump equipment.

Virgin America: An embalmed baby shark, bullhorns.

Candlewood Suites in Cleveland: French coins, human ashes.

Candlewood Suites Polaris in Columbus, Ohio: A saddle, a 2-foot-tall Buddha statue.

Country Inns & Suites in Brooklyn Center, Minn.: Huge Styrofoam lollipops.

Country Inns & Suites in Bloomington, Minn.: A litter of kittens.

Crowne Plaza in downtown Orlando: A pet snake.

Fearrington House Inn in Pittsboro, N.C.: One shoe, “strange” chargers for electronic devices.

Grand Hyatt San Francisco: Dentures, toupees.

Grand Hyatt Seattle: $16,000 in cash, two dogs, human ashes, a lizard.

Hotel St. Germain in Dallas: Sleep masks, small keys for handcuffs, a five-year sobriety coin from Alcoholics Anonymous left next to an empty champagne bottle, unusual lingerie, boxes of live sleeping butterflies, a mannequin head, a toupee.

Hyatt Regency Chicago: Adult toys, intimate apparel.

Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz.: Firearms.

New York Marriott Marquis: A prosthetic leg.

Radisson Plaza Minneapolis Hotel: A bloody ax costume prop.

The Surrey in New York: A coin collection.

USA TODAY contacted several airlines, airports, hotels and car-rental companies and, among other things, asked how many items are left behind by their customers yearly.

Southwest Airlines, which carried 88 million passengers last year, reported the largest number. The airline takes possession of up to 10,000 items a month that are left behind at airports and in planes, says spokeswoman Katie McDonald.

Books, cellphones, clothing and reading glasses are the most common items left behind, she says.

The most valuable items? A $10,000 diamond engagement ring, an NFL Super Bowl ring and professional video equipment — which all were returned to their owners.

Southwest stores items in a 4,000-square-foot area within a Dallas warehouse. Unclaimed items stay there 30 to 90 days, and the majority is then donated to the Salvation Army, McDonald says.

Most items left behind don't contain an owner's contact information and aren't reported lost, she says. Also, many electronic devices are locked, making it difficult to determine who owns them.

Airport security

American Airlines tries to reunite items with their owners "for several weeks," says airline spokesman Tim Smith. And, if that cannot be done, he says, items are sold to a salvage company.

The cost of returning items to owners is "significant," he says, much more than the income received from the salvage company. "Lost and found is a customer service — not a money maker," Smith says.

McCarran airport in Las Vegas says about 30,000 items — an average of 82 a day — are left behind each year.

Most are left at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints and turned over to the airport, says McCarran spokeswoman Candice Seeley. The most common forgotten items: cellphones, eyeglasses, belts, watches, wallets and other belongings that "travelers shed in preparation for screening," Seeley says.

Most of the 15,936 items logged into the lost-and-found office at Oregon's Portland International Airport last year also were left at TSA checkpoints, says airport spokesman Steve Johnson.
After 30 days, many unclaimed items are donated to charity, he says. Items valued at more than $100 are kept for 90 days, then auctioned at a state surplus website.

The airport employs a full-time worker to handle lost items and incurs mailing costs of $10,000 to $20,000 yearly to return items, Johnson says.

Many hotels told USA TODAY that at least one item a day is left behind by guests.

Many see more. The Hyatt Regency in Chicago reports about 7,300 items a year, or about 20 a day, are left, according to Shaheryar Adil, a manager at the hotel.

At Hyatt hotels generally, passports, credit cards, state ID cards, computers, wedding rings and other jewelry, MP3 players and cash are most often left behind, says Hyatt spokeswoman Lori Alexander.

Other hotels see other trends. Novotel last year surveyed its 31 hotels in Britain and found that more mobile phone chargers were left behind by guests than any other item.

Phone chargers apparently are easily forgotten. Matthew Humphreys, an assistant manager at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco, says he's worked at nine Hyatt hotels and the housekeeping staff in each had a large box of chargers.

"If you are traveling and find yourself in need of a phone charger, definitely call down and ask housekeeping," Humphreys says.

Next to chargers, Novotel found underwear was most forgotten, followed by false teeth and hearing aids, shoes and clothing, keys, toiletries, adult toys, electric toothbrushes, laptops and jewelry.

"We continue to be mystified by the random collection of items left in our rooms by guests," says Melissa Micallef, Novotel's marketing manager. "Our lost property departments really are treasure troves."

Respecting privacy

Many hotels say they respect guests' privacy and won't return an item unless the owner asks for it. That prevents them from getting caught in such sticky situations as a spouse learning that a mate may have spent the night with someone else.

Considering that "intimate apparel" and "adult toys," according to Adil, are some of the most unusual items left behind at the Chicago Hyatt Regency, the policy may make sense.

The Surrey hotel in New York reaches out to people who leave valuables behind, says Shan Kanagasingham, general manager of the hotel.

About 30% of the roughly 500 items left at the luxury hotel each year are returned, he says. Items are kept for three months. If they can't be returned, they're given to the people who found them.

The Ritz-Carlton, which only returns items requested by guests, keeps items up to 120 days, depending on value, and gives unclaimed items to the employees who found them, says Sandra Estornell, the chain's corporate director of rooms' development.

Many hotels charge guests for returning items because the costs of returning them can run high.

A mess contributes to forgetting  It's easy to understand why belongings are left.

Claire Heymann, owner of the small luxury Hotel St. Germain in Dallas, says some rooms are in "such disarray" that guests don't see an item before leaving and some items are hidden for "safekeeping" and then forgotten.

A guest once lost a $1 million earring in the courtyard during an evening cocktail reception, but it was found, Heymann says.

Among other items left there: sleep masks, keys for handcuffs, boxes of live sleeping butterflies, a mannequin head, a toupee and a five-year sobriety coin from Alcoholics Anonymous left next to an empty bottle of champagne.

Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera says "thousands" of items are left behind in Hertz cars annually, particularly mobile phones, laptops and cameras.

Every Hertz location has a person responsible for lost items, and about 75% are returned to their owners, she says. Unclaimed items are donated to charity.

Travel disrupts a person's habits at home or work, where a coat, keys and briefcase may regularly be placed in a particular place, says Robert Bjork, a UCLA psychology professor.
"We do things in a certain order as we depart from home or work," Bjork says. "Those habits protect us from forgetting things, and they are disrupted by travel."

Frequent business traveler Lori DeFurio of Jordan, N.Y., calls herself "the queen of leaving stuff behind."

In December, she left a new winter coat and leather gloves in the overhead bin on a Southwest jet.

"I remembered five minutes after I left the airport," says DeFurio, who works in the computer software industry. "I called the airline from the taxi and had the concierge at the hotel keep trying, but I never got it back."

Some frequent business travelers have formulated strategies, or routines, to prevent leaving things behind.

Flight attendant Jennifer Welch of Hillsborough, Calif., says her last actions before checking out are shutting off her computer and then conducting "a sweep" of the room.

"I've noticed that on the occasions when I forgot items, it happened when I was tired and did things in a different order than I normally would," she says.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Southwest Airlines Pilots Approve Seniority Integration Agreement

DALLAS, Nov. 7, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today pilots from Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways voted to approve an agreement that will merge the two carriers' pilot seniority lists into one. Southwest pilots approved this deal by 83.56 percent with 95.1 percent of their pilots voting. AirTran's pilots approved the new agreement by 83.58 percent with 93.99 percent voting. Southwest Airlines' purchase of AirTran was finalized on May 2, 2011.

"I am extremely proud of our negotiators' efforts to preserve and enhance the career value of every Southwest Airlines pilot and proud of our membership for demonstrating leadership by voting in favor of this negotiated list," said SWAPA President, Captain Steve Chase. "While SWAPA's preference will always be for fleet growth and not growth through acquisition, we trust that our company leaders will continue to take us in a profitable direction. Gary Kelly has stated that in combining these airlines 'one plus one should equal more than two.' Now with the certainty of an integrated seniority list, we are all looking forward to the continued success and growth of Southwest Airlines."

Airline acquisitions require the task of merging the seniority lists of work groups. The integration of the lists determines the order in which the pilots are placed. A pilot's position on a company's seniority list can determine career aspects such as earnings, city base and days worked. With an agreement finalized between the pilots, Southwest Airlines has one less roadblock toward full integration of the two airlines.

"The history of seniority list integrations is a contentious one and the combination of work groups brings with it significant challenges," continued Captain Chase. "The fact that these two pilot groups were able to set aside differences, dedicate themselves to this formidable task and come to an agreement that ensures the success of Southwest Airlines is remarkable and rare in our industry."

Pilots from AirTran will spend the next three years transitioning from AirTran operations to Southwest. Groups of pilots will be transitioned into Southwest training classes in a process expected to last through the end of 2014. Soon leaders from both pilot groups will begin work with the many transitional and union representational issues that are still required moving forward.

Located in Dallas, Texas, the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association (SWAPA) is a non-profit employee organization representing the more than 6,100 pilots of Southwest Airlines. SWAPA works to provide a secure and rewarding career for Southwest pilots and their families through negotiating contracts, defending contractual rights and actively promoting professionalism and safety. For more information on the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association, visit

Monday, October 31, 2011

Arrest Made in Death of Flight Attendant
Oct. 31, 2011

Police used hotel security cameras to identify and arrest a suspect in the murder of an American flight attendant who was found naked, bound with a belt and strangled in a Mexico City hotel room, his mother said.
Nicholas Aaronson, 27, of Phoenix, Ariz., was found dead in a hotel room early Saturday morning. His luggage was strewn about the room, and there was no sign of forced entry, according to a notice posted by Aaronson's union.

Aaronson's mother, Anita Aaronson, said she was alerted to an arrest on Sunday.

"The FBI called [other son] Jason at 2:30 a.m, and told him they have arrested Nick's killer," she wrote today on her Facebook page.

The mother told Phoenix news station KPHO that police had used surveillance video from the hotel to find and arrest the suspect.
"I wish they had the death penalty in Mexico. He took the bright light out of my life. He was only 27 and he had so much to live for and he was so charming and was just a really nice man," Anita Aaronson told the station.

Anita Aaronson wrote on her Facebook page that Jason Aaronson was greeted by many of his brother's co-workers as he went through Phoenix airport en route to Mexico City to bring the body back to the U.S.

"Jason was in Phoenix airport tonight to get the plane to fly to Mexico and he said flight attendants were lining up to give him condolences for Nick," she wrote. "He had an escort of 4 people taking him through the airport and the flight attendants were coming from everywhere to hug him, what wonderful friends my boy had."
Deborah Volpe, president of Association of Flight Attendants Council 66, remembered Aaronson fondly.
"This is so difficult. We all worked with him, we all knew him. He was just in my office a week ago," Volpe said. "And it's that smile, we all knew his smile. He was a very compassionate individual."

Aaronson's coworkers organized a Nov. 10 memorial at the airport chapel in Phoenix.
Aaronson also worked with gay rights advocacy groups in Phoenix, where he participated in the NOH8 campaign by posing for a campaign photo.

Aaronson graduated Rio Salado College in Tempe, and began working for U.S. Airways in 2006.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Qantas Airways grounds global fleet due to strikes

By ROD McGUIRK - Associated Press
AP – 6 mins ago

A Qantas Airbus A380 sits on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport, London Saturday Oct. …Brothers Kevin and Chris Crulley, sit on the floor at the Qantas check-in counter …

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Qantas Airways grounded its global fleet Saturday, suddenly locking out striking workers after weeks of flight disruptions an executive said could close down the world's 10th largest airline piece by piece.

The Australian government called for an emergency arbitration hearing, which was adjourned early Sunday morning after hearing evidence from the unions and airline. It will resume Sunday afternoon when the government will argue that the airline be ordered to fly in Australia's economic interests.

Planes in the air continued to their destinations, and at least one taxiing flight stopped on the runway, a flier said. Among the stranded passengers are 17 world leaders attending a Commonwealth summit in the western city of Perth.

When the grounding was announced, 36 international and 28 domestic Australian flights were in the air, said a Qantas spokeswoman, who declined to be named citing company policy.
Qantas said 108 airplanes were being grounded but did not say how many flights were involved. The spokeswoman could not confirm an Australian Broadcasting Corp. television report that 13,305 passengers were booked to fly Qantas international flights within 24 hours of the grounding.

The lockout was expected to have little impact in the United States. Only about 1,000 people fly daily between the United States and Australia, said aviation consultant Michael Boyd. "It's not a big deal," he said. Qantas is "not a huge player here."

Los Angeles International Airport spokeswoman Diana Sanchez said Saturday that she was not aware of any passengers stranded at the airport because of the strike. Five Los Angeles-bound Qantas flights were already in the air when the lockout began and were expected to arrive as scheduled, she said.
Sanchez said Qantas has indicated it plans to cancel the handful of flights scheduled to depart from Los Angeles on Saturday.
The real problems for travelers are more likely to be at far busier Qantas hubs in Singapore and London's Heathrow Airport, says another aviation consultant, Robert Mann.
Booked passengers were being rescheduled at Qantas' expense, chief executive Alan Joyce said. Bookings already had collapsed after unions warned travelers to fly other airlines through the busy Christmas-New Year period.

He told a news conference in Sydney the unions' actions have caused a crisis for Qantas.

"They are trashing our strategy and our brand," Joyce said. "They are deliberately destabilizing the company and there is no end in sight."
Union leaders criticized the action as extreme. Qantas is among the most profitable airlines in the world, but Joyce estimated the grounding will cost Qantas $20 million a day.

Qantas already had reduced and rescheduled flights for weeks after union workers struck and refused to work overtime out of worries a restructuring plan would move some of Qantas' 35,000 jobs overseas.

The grounding of the largest of Australia's four national domestic airlines will take a major economic toll and could disrupt the national Parliament, due to resume in Canberra on Tuesday after a two-week recess. Qantas' budget subsidiary Jetstar continues to fly.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said her government would help the Commonwealth leaders fly home after 17 were due to fly out of Perth on Qantas planes over the next couple of days.

"They took it in good spirits when I briefed them about it," Gillard told reporters.

British tourist Chris Crulley, 25, said the pilot on his Qantas flight informed passengers while taxiing down a Sydney runway that he had to return to the terminal "to take an important phone call." The flight was then grounded.

"We're all set for the flight and settled in and the next thing — I'm stunned. We're getting back off the plane," the firefighter told The Associated Press from Sydney Airport by phone.

Crulley was happy to be heading home to Newcastle after a five-week vacation when his flight was interrupted. "I've got to get back to the other side of the world by Wednesday for work. It's a nightmare," he added.

Qantas offered him up to 350 Australian dollars ($375) a day for food and accommodation, but Crulley expected to struggle to find a hotel at short notice in Sydney on a Saturday night.

Australians Len and Christie Dunlop were stranded at London's Heathrow Airport when their flight to Sydney was grounded.

The couple, who have lived in Leeds for four years, said they would have to catch up with fewer friends when they return to Perth for three weeks for a friend's wedding.

"We've got dinners and lunch booked every day, so now we've missed two or three days worth of catching up with friends," Len Dunlop told ABC television. "It just a lot of frustration."

Gillard said her center-left government, which is affiliated with the trade union movement, had "taken a rare decision" to seek an end to the strike action out of necessity.

"I believe it is warranted in the circumstances we now face with Qantas ... circumstances with this industrial dispute that could have implications for our national economy," Gillard told reporters.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese described the grounding as "disappointing" and "extraordinary." Albanese was angry that Qantas gave him only three hours' notice.

All 108 aircraft in as many as 22 countries will be grounded until unions representing pilots, mechanics, baggage handlers and caterers reach agreements with Qantas over pay and conditions, Joyce said.
"We are locking out until the unions withdraw their extreme claim and reach agreement with us," Joyce said, referring to shutting staff out of their work stations. Staff will not be paid starting Monday.

"This is a crisis for Qantas. If the action continues as the unions have promised, we will have no choice but to close down Qantas part by part," he added.

Richard Woodward, vice president of the pilot's union, the Australian and International Pilots Association, accused Qantas of "holding a knife to the nation's throat" and said Joyce had "gone mad."

Steve Purvinas, federal secretary of the mechanics' union, Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, described the grounding as "an extreme measure."

Long-haul, budget airline AirAsia tried stepping into the void with what it called "rescue fares" for Qantas passengers. The offer was valid for ticket-holders flying within 48 hours to AirAsia destinations, the airline statement said.

The recent strike action in which two unions have had rolling four-hour strikes on differing days has most severely affected Qantas domestic flights.
In mid-October, Qantas grounded five jets and reduced domestic flights by almost 100 flights a week because aircraft mechanics had reduced the hours they were prepared to work.

Qantas infuriated unions in August when it said it would improve its loss-making overseas business by creating an Asia-based airline with its own name and brand. The five-year restructure plan will cost 1,000 jobs.

Qantas announced in August that it had more than doubled annual profit to AU$250 million, but warned the business environment was too challenging to forecast earnings for the current fiscal year.
Associated Press writer Katie Oyan in Los Angeles and AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman in Washington contributed to this report.

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