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.

@yahoonews on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Friday, October 28, 2011

American-US Air Merger Would Bolster The Industry

Vaughn Cordle Seeking Alpha
October 27, 2011

Apparently, my short note on the potential for bankruptcy at American Airlines (AMR) struck a nerve, given the volume of emails and calls received. As a follow-up and to encourage debate, it may be useful to throw out a few thoughts about a post-bankruptcy scenario.

AMR management appears to be using the bankruptcy scare as a means of influencing labor contract negotiations. Analysts are discussing the potential for bankruptcy because of liquidity concerns.

If the company ultimately files for bankruptcy protection and emerges successfully, its creditworthiness and ability to secure new aircraft improve. However, the airline will likely continue to be one of the weakest competitors with too much debt, unhappy employees, and a route network with revenue-generating potential that has been surpassed by larger competitors.
A merger with another airline, after or during bankruptcy, would produce valuable cost and revenue synergies, and further increase industry market concentration. This is an important consideration, as the Obama administration wants to dump $36 billion in higher security and user fees upon the industry, and it appears that neither political party can be counted on to understand the impact those higher costs will have on the industry's size and structure.
Our recent market concentration work shows that industry concentration has increased 40% from its historic nadir, since the rash of recent mergers, which includes Southwest and AirTran. However, it's still too low in my estimation to allow the industry to earn its cost of capital over a full business cycle. Stated differently, more consolidation and mergers are needed.

A cross-border merger between American Airlines and one of its alliance partners makes the most sense, but current laws of foreign ownership are a major barrier. This restriction is a rule that doesn't make sense in a global economy, especially for the overleveraged U.S. network airlines that are not cost- (or service-quality) competitive.
Of the six non-merged U.S. airlines we have examined, a combination of US Airways and American Airlines produces the most value post-bankruptcy and -merger. Labor benefits in this scenario because the synergies produced can be shared with all stakeholders, including the airlines' passengers. An important benefit is that with the merger there is an increased industry market concentration that increases pricing power for all airlines.

The industry has underinvested for the last decade, and it's hard to justify next-gen investment when paying down debt and higher government-imposed costs are the greater priority. Both the merger and higher industry concentration from the merger allow the restructured airlines to pay higher wages than would be the case otherwise. And just as important, this is something capital providers will support, because share prices and market values will soar. Hence my suggestion that AMR pilots, as well as other employees, negotiate an equity stake in the new airline before it emerges from bankruptcy.

Of course, this assumes that American eventually files. Without a filing, the company can continue to muddle through with a business that is not fit for longer-term investment. In fact, the company has been in a slow liquidation for over a decade. This is reflected on the balance sheet with the large negative net worth and 15-year-old, on average, aircraft fleet.

The real problem for AMR is the $13 billion in defined benefit pension plan obligations and $3 billion in health care benefit obligations. Pension plan assets are $7.7 billion, and the funding status, the difference between plan assets and obligations, is a negative $5.5 billion. Unfortunately, and given a more current discount rate and using actual returns on plan assets, the funding status is understated by approximately $1.5 billion.

With the updated pension plan accounting, the company will be required to increase plan cash contributions, which will result in lower earnings and a more negative net worth in 2012. The final numbers will not be known until the end of the year. AMR’s pension plan assets and obligations would be taken over by the PBGC if the company files bankruptcy.
In terms of magnitude, it’s the pension and health care liabilities and costs that get to the heart of AMR’s inability to earn its capital cost, invest in competitive resources, restore lost wages and grow the airline.

Key Points

Post-bankruptcy, AMR's new, less leveraged capital structure could better handle higher capex and new aircraft. Throw in a merger with U.S. Airways, and it's a win/win/win scenario -- for the two airlines, labor, as well as the industry and its capital providers.

Of course, what looks good on paper may be impossible to implement because of various pockets of resistance, especially from labor. The devil is in the details, and I'm simply making the case that from a strategic fit perspective, the merger scenario makes the most sense. It meets the various tests of consistency for all stakeholders. Moreover, it improves the industry’s ability to absorb the massive new costs that are likely imposed upon it by a government that must reduce an unsustainable federal deficit.

AMR management will obviously want to remain in control in any merger scenario. This may not be the best outcome. Many, at least on Wall Street, believe that the best candidate to run the combined company would be US Airways’ Doug Parker. He is a realist who has nothing invested in maintaining American's self-image that it is the leading airline in the industry. This was once correct, but is no longer so, with the industry's competitive evolution. In my view, Parker would manage American for an optimal outcome for all stakeholders, not attempt to achieve a standing that is no longer achievable.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
Transaero to fly A380 superjumbo with 700 seats

By Tim Hepher and John Bowker
Reuters – 2 hrs 44 mins ago
PARIS/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Airbus unveiled a provisional deal on Friday to sell four A380s worth $1.5 billion at list prices to Transaero Airlines, marking the first sale of Europe's superjumbo to a Russian airline.

The country's second-biggest carrier plans to introduce the double-decker jetliner on long-distance flights seating 700 people in three classes, Airbus said.

It will be the second airline to opt for a high-density layout after France's Air Austral, which has said it will use close to the maximum capacity of 853 seats.
The world's largest airliner, which entered service four years ago, has the capacity to carry 525 passengers in a standard three-class layout.

It was initially branded as a cruiseliner with open areas and space for first-class suites, but a market is also opening up for high-density travel to offset high fuel prices while creating some uncertainty over how this should be marketed.
"The passenger is still getting a wider and more comfortable seat than on another plane," an Airbus spokeswoman said.
Airbus said the economy seat on its A380 is 5 cm wider than on a Boeing 747 using similar cabin layouts.

Boeing disputes this and says the latest version of its most recognized aircraft, the 747-8, will use an airy design with softer LED lighting, more spacious bins and a redesigned entry-way comarable to its all-new 787 Dreamliner.

"Seat widths on the 747-8 are comparable to the A380, within 2 cm," company spokesman Jim Proulx said.
As well as the A380, Transaero is also considering buying the 747-8, which is due for first delivery in 2012.

"We are in deep talks with Boeing about a potential order for the 747-8. The order for A380s is a separate order and does not have an impact on the talks," an airline spokesman said.
The 747-8 Intercontinental will be the world's longest passenger jet and is designed to seat 467 people in a standard three-class layout. Boeing has applied to have the plane certified to seat 605 people in high-density mode.
It has sold 36 of the passenger aircraft with another 15 committed provisionally to an unidentified customer.
Transaero carried 6.65 million passengers last year, 32.3 percent more than in 2009. It has a fleet of 64 aircraft, almost all of them Boeing.
It will now be considered the launch customer for the A380 in Russia, the CIS and eastern Europe, Airbus said.

Its Domodedovo base outside Moscow is the only Russian airport currently capable of handling the huge plane.

Airbus believes traffic in the region will increase at an average rate of 5.6 per cent per year over the next 20 years.

Transaero will announce its choice of engines for the A380s in the near future, Airbus said. The two rival suppliers are Rolls-Royce and Engine Alliance, a joint venture between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney .
Airbus has sold a total of 236 A380s worldwide.

Industry sources said last month it would sell another 5 aircraft to Qatar Airways, doubling that airline's A380 order, at the Dubai Air Show next month, when the same airline would also opt for Engine Alliance engines.

(Editing by David Holmes, Greg Mahlich)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

First Dreamliner passengers sing new jet's praises

By Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAYUpdated 3h 26m ago

 – Boeing's much-ballyhooed but long-delayed 787 Dreamliner finally entered commercial service this week, flying paying passengers for the first time on an All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The ultramodern 787 is being hailed in the aviation industry for its technological innovations, including the carbon fiber construction that makes it the first jetliner not made of traditional aluminum and steel.

But while the 787 is drawing acclaim from industry observers, how will it go over with ordinary passengers?

The Dreamliner — which Boeing designed with passenger comfort as a priority — drew nearly unanimous positive reviews from the roughly 240 passengers lucky enough to secure a seat on its inaugural flight.
Those passengers, however, might not be a good barometer for how the jet is received by the average traveler. Nearly all of them were on board because they enthusiastically sought it out.

Only 100 seats on the 264-seat jet were made available to the general public, and ANA received more than 25,000 applications for those. The other 140 on board were a mix of journalists, airline officials and other industry workers.

Also among those 140: six business-class fliers who bid for their seats on Flight 7871 via auction. One passenger — Gino Bertuccio of Miami — paid more than $33,000 via that auction to get his spot on the inaugural flight. He also flew on the inaugural flight of the Airbus A380 in 2007.

So will the glowing reviews of the 787 hold up as the Dreamliner's passenger counts soar and as more airlines begin to fly the jet — possibly in less customer-friendly configurations than Boeing had envisioned?

"I think the 787's benefits will be appreciated mostly by frequent travelers and aviation enthusiasts," says Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of San Francisco-based travel research firm Atmosphere Research Group. "Passengers may have a better flight but may not know why, since some of these benefits are somewhat subtle."

Among the potentially "subtle" passenger-experience upgrades that were put before fliers on the 787 inaugural:

•Bigger windows. In what was hands-down the top new feature cited by passengers on the inaugural flight, the Boeing 787's windows are now the biggest of any commercial passenger airliner. Boeing says the 787's windows are 30% bigger than those on a Boeing 767. The windows also are now positioned closer to eye level for most passengers, meaning fewer strained necks from looking out the window.

"The windows," said Flight 7871 passenger Stephanie Wood of Davie, Fla., when asked about her favorite feature on the 787.

"You really notice it and it makes the plane feel so bright and like you're not shut in," added Wood, who also joined the flight via the charity auction after she and her husband, Dean, successfully bid on a pair of business-class tickets. The couple would not divulge the price they paid.

In addition to the well-received larger size, the windows on the 787 do not have manual shades. Instead, they are darkened by a button control that can electronically dim the light partially or entirely.

•Storage bins. Boeing says they were designed to accommodate the wheeled roller bags that have become ubiquitous. The bins on ANA's 787 — which are about 30% bigger than on Boeing 777 aircraft — easily accommodated even large roller bags, though irregularly sized luggage could mean a less-than-optimal fit.

In addition to making it easier for customers to fit their bags into the bins, Boeing thinks that will help more flights take off on time, because — in theory — passengers won't need as long to hoist their bags into the overhead bins.

•Cabin environment. Thanks to new technology on the Dreamliner, flights are pressured to the equivalent of 6,000 feet in elevation, lower than the 8,000-foot mark that's typical for commercial passenger aircraft. Boeing says that — coupled with the higher humidity levels possible on the 787 — should alleviate headaches, fatigue and reduce the general wear and tear travelers often feel from flying.

•Protected lap space.Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and columnist, wasn't on the inaugural flight but says he's intrigued by "ANA's shell-style economy-class seats. They have double-wide armrests and recline by sliding forward, not by hinging backward, meaning you never impinge on the legroom of the person behind you, even in the full recline position."

•Cabin aesthetics. Vaulted ceilings between luggage bins and over galley areas help play off the larger windows to make the cabin feel more spacious. Despite that, the aisles on the 787's inaugural flight still felt clogged when passengers got up in bunches.

•Gadget friendliness. ANA's configuration offered USB ports and electric outlets at every seat, allowing customers to charge a cellphone or access music or movie files via the in-flight entertainment console. Power outlets mean laptops now can stay charged for an entire flight.

•Quieter cabin. Boeing has said cabin noise on the Dreamliner will be lower than on other jets that typically fly on long-haul routes. While that was hard to quantify on the inaugural 787 flight to Hong Kong, most passenger conversations seemed to flow easily.

Another advantage for airlines (and environmentally concerned passengers): The Dreamliner's reduced weight and aerodynamic profile will increase fuel efficiency up to 20%.

Still, Smith of warns that even with all of those perks, not all Dreamliners will be created equal.

"In the end, though, how the plane is received will mostly come down to the way its operators tailor and customize the experience," Smith says.

Chris Sloan, another inaugural flight passenger, suggests the Dreamliner has been subject to overhyped expectations lingering from the 2007 debut of the Airbus A380 — now the world's biggest passenger jet. During that rollout, the A380's selling point was obvious: size. Sloan says the 787's significance is just as important, albeit it more subtle.

"Superficially, the windows are great. The high ceilings are great. And the bins," Sloan says of the 787. But, speaking about possibly inflated expectations, Sloan adds, "Do people really think all of a sudden economy class is going to become first class? No, it's not."

Sloan and others say the 787's strengths will get a chance to shine once the carrier begins flying the ultra-long-haul flights it was designed for — flights of more than 10 hours that will be significantly longer than the Dreamliner's four-hour debut flight between Tokyo and Hong Kong.

"We'll really see those advantages on a 14-hour flight," Sloan say. "A lot of these features will be much more apparent on ultra-long-haul flights. When you're exposed to those sort of conditions for 13 or 14 hours, that's when the Dreamliner will be at its best."

The first such service for the Dreamliner will start in January, when ANA will deploy the aircraft on a route between Tokyo and Frankfurt. Starting next year, United hopes to put its first Dreamliner on a long route of its own: Houston to Auckland, New Zealand.

Until then, however, that leaves the question of whether ordinary travelers will be savvy enough to notice the 787's differences — such as the double armrests that will keep middle-seat customers from fighting over a single armrest.

Stephanie Woods says she isn't sure.

"Will people notice those things? I don't know," she says. They're nice features, but — for some — they may not."
Is Delta Air Lines Hiding Weakness?

By Rex Moore
October 27, 2011 

Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL ) carries $14.5 billion of goodwill and other intangibles on its balance sheet. Sometimes goodwill, especially when it's excessive, can foreshadow problems down the road. Could this be the case with Delta Air Lines?

Before we answer that, let's look at what could go wrong.

AOL blows up

In early 2002, AOL Time Warner was trading for $66.27 per share. It had $209 billion of assets on its balance sheet, and $128 billion of that was in the form of goodwill and other intangible assets. Goodwill is simply the difference between the price paid for a company during an acquisition and the net assets of the acquired company. The $128 billion of goodwill in this case was created when AOL and Time Warner merged in 2000.

The problem with inflating your net assets with goodwill is that it can -- being intangible, after all -- go away if the acquisition or merger doesn't create the amount of value that was expected. That's what happened in AOL Time Warner's case. It had to write off most of the goodwill over the next few months, and one year later that line item had shrunk to $37 billion. Investors punished the stock along the way, sending it down to $27.04 -- or nearly a 60% loss.

In his fine book It's Earnings That Count, Hewitt Heiserman explains the AOL situation and how two simple metrics can help minimize your risk of owning a company that may blow up like this. Let's see how Delta Air Lines holds up using his two metrics.
Intangible assets ratio

This ratio shows us the percentage of total assets made up by goodwill and other intangibles. Heiserman says he views anything over 20% as worrisome, "because management might be overpaying for the acquisition or acquisitions that gave rise to the goodwill."

Delta Air Lines has an intangible assets ratio of 33%. This is well above Heiserman's threshold, and you should keep a close eye on just how the company is fueling its growth. It's also useful to compare it to tangible book value.

Tangible book value

Tangible book value is simply what remains after subtracting goodwill and other intangibles from shareholders' equity (also known as book value). If this is not a positive value, Heiserman advises you to run away because such companies may "lack the balance sheet muscle to protect themselves in a recession or from better-financed competitors."

Delta Air Lines' tangible book value is -$13.7 billion, so we have another yellow flag.

By the way, I asked Heiserman about the tendency for some large-cap blue chips -- names like Procter & Gamble, IBM, and Altria -- to have a high intangible assets ratio and negative tangible book value. He says this can be OK, provided the company has (1) modest or no net debt, (2) persistent and rising levels of free cash flow, and (3) stock buybacks at a discount to intrinsic value.

Foolish bottom line

To recap, here are Delta Air Lines' numbers, as well as a bonus look at a few other companies in its industry.

Delta Air Lines 33% ($13,723)

US Airways Group (NYSE: LCC ) 6% ($403)

Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV ) 5% $5,515

United Continental Holdings (NYSE: UAL ) 24% ($7,396)

Data provided by S&P Capital IQ.

If you own Delta Air Lines, or any other company that fails one of these checks, make sure you understand the business model and management's objectives. You can never base an entire investment thesis on one or two metrics, but there is a yellow flag here. I'll help you keep a close eye on these ratios over the next few quarters by updating them soon after each earnings report.
(T)hey (S)tand (A)round And...

By Ed O'Keefe
The Washington Post

 TSA screener removed for inappropriate note

A Transportation Security Administration screener who wrote a personal message on the back of a formal inspection slip placed in a female passenger’s bag is no longer checking luggage, the agency said Wednesday.

The screener at Newark Liberty International Airport wrote the message on the back of a Notice of Inspection slip that TSA places in bags that require a physical search.

“Get your freak on girl,” the message said, allegedly in response to a sex toy packed in the luggage of Jill Filipovic, a Manhattan blogger and lawyer.

Filipovic discovered the personal message on the back of the inspection slip when she unpacked her bags after arriving in Ireland last Sunday. In response, she tweeted the photo and blogged about it: “Total violation of privacy, wildly inappropriate and clearly not ok, but I also just died laughing in my hotel room.”

Amid media inquiries, TSA initially questioned the allegations, but Wednesday announced it had identified the employee responsible for the message.

“That individual was immediately removed from screening operations and appropriate disciplinary action has been initiated,” the agency said in a message posted on its blog. “The handwritten note was highly inappropriate and unprofessional, and TSA has zero tolerance for this type of behavior,” the agency added.

TSA said it has reached out to Filipovic to apologize for the incident.

An agency spokesman could not say whether the screener had been reassigned, put on leave or fired, citing federal personnel privacy rules.
The incident is just the latest in a series of unrelated episodes involving inappropriate or criminal behavior committed by TSA screeners. Here’s a sampling:
Oct. 4, 2011: TSA apologizes to a breast cancer survivor subjected to a public patdown at New York’s Kennedy Airport even though she offered to produce documentation about her medical implants.

Jan. 3, 2010: A TSA agent was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for behaving erratically. The guard had just gotten off duty and was heard saying, “I am god, I’m in charge.”

Jan. 6, 2010: An internal investigation discovered that four LAX TSA agents used drugs at an after-hours party. All four were tested for drugs and one came back positive. That employee was fired.

Jan. 22, 2010: A screener lost his job after pretending to plant a plastic bag of white powder in the carry-on luggage of a passenger at the Philadelphia International Airport. A spokeswoman called the behavior “highly inappropriate and unprofessional.”

Jan. 28, 2010: A screener was put on desk duty after she was photographed sleeping in plain sight at LaGuardia Airport.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

JetBlue to ‘Aggressively’ Bid for LaGuardia, Reagan Slots

By Mary Schlangenstein - Oct 26, 2011 2:50 PM MT

JetBlue Airways Corp. will bid for takeoff and landing slots being auctioned at New York LaGuardia and Washington Reagan airports, possibly tapping its $1.24 billion cash balance in the effort.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to auction 16 pairs of slots at LaGuardia and eight at Reagan under a plan by Delta Air Lines Inc. and US Airways Group Inc. to swap assets at the airports. JetBlue wants to expand at both facilities.

“We have a plan to aggressively bid and win those slots,” Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger said today in an interview. “We’re interested in both airports.”

JetBlue is based in New York and has the most daily domestic departures from the city’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. It operates as many as 11 daily flights from LaGuardia and nine from Reagan. The airline likely would face competition for the slots from Southwest Airlines Co., the largest discount carrier, which has said it’s studying whether to bid for them.

“JetBlue is concerned about Southwest’s further incursions into what it views, in a geographical sense, as its turf,” said George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Virginia. Even with additional slots, JetBlue would “end up with such a small market footprint that they’re not going to get much traction.”

Bidding Process

Barger declined to comment on how many slots it will seek at each airport. Because takeoffs and landings are limited at both airports, airlines must buy or trade slots in order to expand. In the pending auction, the slots are being sold in bundles instead of individually.

“With how the bidding is taking place and our balance sheet strength, we do not believe we’ll have an issue at all in terms of actively participating in the bidding process at both airports,” Barger said. The airline had $1.24 billion in cash and short-term investments at Sept. 30.

Barger commented as JetBlue reported that third-quarter net income tumbled 41 percent to $35 million as increased spending for fuel eclipsed higher fares and passenger traffic. Profit of 11 cents a share fell from 18 cents a year earlier.

Excluding the cost of retiring some debt early, the per- share profit was 12 cents, missing the 13-cent average of 15 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Embraer Cancellations

JetBlue canceled the deliveries of 12 Embraer SA E190 aircraft that had been scheduled for delivery in 2014, 2017 and 2018 under a previously announced plan to limit its E190 fleet to no more than 75 planes, the airline said today on a conference call. JetBlue said in June it was working with Embraer to remarket 25 remaining E190s it had ordered.

The airline also deferred the delivery of seven E190s to 2018 instead of 2013 and 2014 as previously planned. JetBlue will take two E190s in 2013 and two in 2014. The changes will reduce JetBlue’s aircraft obligations by about $200 million, the company said.

JetBlue’s fuel expense climbed 55 percent to $454 million in the third quarter and was the company’s largest cost, the company said in statement. The average price JetBlue paid for each gallon of jet fuel rose 44 percent from a year earlier to $3.25.

The airline managed a sixth straight quarterly profit as it bucked the industry trend by adding capacity while other carriers trimmed seating and flights to help reduce operating costs.

Sales rose 16 percent to $1.2 billion on an 8.2 percent increase in traffic. Yield, or average fare per mile, gained 7.7 percent. JetBlue has focused its growth on Boston, where the company is trying to win more business travelers, and in the Caribbean.

JetBlue rose 1.4 percent to $4.42 at the close in New York. The shares have tumbled 33 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at
Return of Pan Am, for a Weekend


Flight attendant Lola Torres used to pack seven pairs of white gloves on trips so she never wore one soiled. Carmen Reyes met airline-imposed weight limits with a "caviar diet"—four servings a day of the delicacy acquired cheaply on layovers in Tehran.

Scott McCartney on Lunch Break discusses a reunion of Pan Am employees last weekend in Miami, where they reminisced about the glam days of travel as a new TV show glorifies it "Mad Men" style and debated about why Pan Am died.

.At a reunion of 600 Pan American Airlines alumni last weekend in Miami, former employees got together to share stories of glamour and history, from the Beatles, kings and presidents to Vietnam orphan airlifts and hijackings. The memories flowed as freely as the Dom Pérignon they used to pour. And they can still do a perfect "clipper dip," where a flight attendant royally bends at the knees to pour beverages rather than leaning over passengers.

"We were shoehorned into history just by showing up to work," said Rebecca Sprecher, who became a stewardess in 1972 two weeks after graduating from college. "You never knew who you were going to meet or what was going to happen."

A stroll down the Pan Am memory runway highlights the dramatic changes in air travel since the airline was founded in 1927 by Juan Trippe to carry mail to South America. Within a year, he realized that putting wicker chairs and passengers on planes would improve the finances, paving the way for carriers around the world. Pan Am crossed oceans with flying boats and launched the jumbo-jet Boeing 747 in 1970.

Bonnie Hinck, a Pan Am flight engineer and pilot from 1987 to 1991, and Mario Baldatti, a Pan Am pilot from 1964 to 1991, posed for a friend at the Pan Am reunion in Miami Saturday. The two met at a dive shop in Key Largo, Fla., and were married in 2004.

In its heyday, the airline served seven-course meals cooked on board and sported perfectly coiffed flight attendants assisting passengers in suits and ties. The era is depicted on TV with ABC's "Pan Am," a Sunday night drama that had a promising start this fall but has slipped to about 5.7 million viewers in its most-recent episode, according to Nielsen ratings.

Pan Am, which ceased operations in bankruptcy in 1991, represents an era of sky-high fares that made flying available only to the well-to-do. A ticket from New York to Buenos Aires on Pan Am cost $1,000 in 1974, and today costs about $1,000, notes Zsolt Monostory, who met his wife, a flight attendant, on a Pan Am flight in 1978. "I'm not surprised things have gone downhill," he said. "First class now is not the same as first class then. Don't fool yourself."

The market does still exist for grace in the sky, but it's very small. Singapore Airlines, which still maintains strict grooming standards for flight attendants, offers private first-class cabins on its A380 jumbo jets. Lufthansa has a first-class terminal in Frankfurt with white-tablecloth dining, bathtubs with rubber duckies and luxury-car rides right out to airplane stairs.

The Pan Am Worldwide Family Reunion was organized by Pan Amigo News, a newsletter that has operated since the airline folded. The gathering was held in Pan Am's original seaplane terminal in Miami and included tours of city hall led by Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado. The event, one of several periodic Pan Am reunions, culminated in a gala held in a former Coast Guard hangar.

Carmen Ongay, who started working for Pan Am in 1962 and learned tricks like fluffing scrambled eggs with soda water for coach passengers, put off a scholarship offer to the London School of Economics after college in Puerto Rico to take an offer from Pan Am. She thought it might be fun to be a flight attendant for six months, but once she got a taste, she couldn't give it up. She's been a flight attendant for 50 years, now flying for Delta Air Lines.

"It was a way of life," she said. "There were flights where you would take your long gown because we were always getting invited to the passengers' parties—and even a coronation" for the shah of Iran.

But not all the memories were crowned with caviar. On one refugee charter flight out of Vietnam, a passenger unsuccessfully tried to give her baby away to Ms. Ongay or other crew members in hopes of giving the child a more stable upbringing. There were long stretches away from home when the airline sent employees on short notice around the world. And there were many uncomfortable flights where flight attendants deflected the sexual advances of passengers. "The nights got longer and longer," Ms. Ongay said.

Ken McAdams, Pan Am's chief pilot for many years, flew the last U.S. commercial flight out of Tehran in 1979 when the shah fled into exile, and the first U.S. commercial airline flight into China after President Nixon reopened relations in 1972.

He was on duty during two terrorism hijacking attempts. In 1970, pilots raced to land and evacuate a jet minutes before bombs rigged with timers exploded in Cairo. Another time, terrorists armed with machine guns attacked a Pan Am flight in Pakistan before it departed. Mr. McAdams, in contact with the crew by high-frequency radio, told the crew to escape out cockpit windows so the plane couldn't get airborne.

"No one realizes all that Pan Am did for this country."

Mr. Topping, who was Pan Am's station manager in Saigon, facilitated orphan airlifts from Vietnam with 747s fitted with 300 cardboard boxes on seats for diaperless babies. He also promised the airline's 61 Vietnamese workers that they and their immediate family members would be airlifted to the U.S. if Saigon fell. The 61 people turned in 700 names of "immediate" family members. On April 24, 1975, he put 463 people on a 747 that had 375 seats. People were put in bathrooms and galleys and on the floor for what would be the last U.S. flight out of Saigon.

Pan Am suffered a long, painful money drain and corporate death. It over-expanded with the Boeing 747, forcing it to discount prices just as oil prices skyrocketed with OPEC oil embargoes. It competed against subsidized foreign airlines and new low-cost start-ups and found itself ill-prepared for U.S. airline deregulation because it lacked a domestic network to feed passengers to its international flights. The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, caused bookings to evaporate. In 1991, what little was left of the airline was liquidated at bankruptcy auction.

To Jackie Knackstedt, who started as a Pan Am stewardess on the Boeing 707 in 1973 and currently works as a Delta flight attendant, the end of Pan Am meant younger passengers and airline workers will never know what travel once was or could be.

Instead of five-day layovers in Fiji and three-day layovers in Sydney, most of her stops now amount to only nine hours before returning to duty, Ms. Knackstedt said. Instead of cooking and serving gourmet meals, she now sells snacks and sandwiches.

"The other day a passenger said to me, 'You don't look like you're enjoying this,' " Ms. Knackstedt said. "If I wanted to sell food, I'd work in a supermarket."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Southwest to run AirTran separately if pilot vote fails         

By Mary Schlangenstein and Mary Jane Credeur Bloomberg News

Southwest Airlines Co. told pilots that it would keep operating newly acquired AirTran Holdings Inc. as a stand-alone carrier if union members don't agree to combine seniority lists.

Southwest briefed pilots on a "Plan B" for 'separate and unintegrated" operations after that union declined to hold a membership election on a seniority proposal, according to an AirTran union summary obtained by Bloomberg News. Pilots at both airlines are now voting until Nov. 7 on a new agreement.

Keeping AirTran flying on its own would run counter to the goal of folding the discount carrier into Southwest, the biggest low-fare airline. Dallas-based Southwest paid $1 billion in cash and stock in May to buy AirTran, winning access to fly into Atlanta, home of the world's busiest airport.

Winning pilots' approval of one seniority list would give Southwest a timeline to blend workforces and fleets, and set union members' rankings for pay, schedules and the types of aircraft they fly. For AirTran pilots, ratification will mean "certainty of integration," Southwest said in a Sept. 22 letter to union members.

Beth Harbin, an airline spokeswoman, declined to discuss the AirTran union summary or what options that Southwest would consider if pilots don't accept the new seniority agreement.

Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association at AirTran, declined to comment, as did Jacob North, a spokesman for the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association. AirTran has about 1,700 pilots, while Southwest has more than 6,000.
The seniority agreement now being voted on by pilots was crafted after AirTran's union decided against sending the original version to rank-and-file members. Under the new plan, current Southwest pilots' seniority rights would be protected, and AirTran pilots would get pay raises.

Pilots' failure to agree on an integration plan can scuttle mergers or keep airlines from operating as a single carrier after a tie-up.

Southwest's 2009 bid for Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc. faltered when the carriers' pilots couldn't agree on seniority.

Copyright 2011
How does the "Pan Am" television series compare with real life travel?

Overhead Bin MSNBC

If you watched the Sunday night premiere of "Pan Am," you might be wondering if the idyllic version of 1960s air travel matches the reality of those who worked for the iconic airline.

Overhead Bin wondered, too. So we asked two former Pan Am flight attendants to watch the show and tell us if their experiences were anything like those portrayed on-screen.

Bronwen Roberts was hired at Pan Am in 1958 shortly after graduating England's University of Leeds with a degree in French. She flew until 1989 and kept in a scrapbook the advertisement listing the 15 qualifications required of flight attendant applicants. "You had to have a pleasant personality and speaking voice, excellent health and you had to be single," said Roberts. "Really single. Not widowed, divorced or separated."

A weight between 110 and 135 pounds was another qualification. Roberts said the pre-flight weigh-ins and grooming inspections depicted on the show were true-to-life.

"When you checked in for a flight you'd go into the office and there'd be a grooming supervisor on duty all the time," said Roberts. "She could say, `Your hair is too long' or `You are overweight' and send you home until you fixed it. Just like the TV show, you could get grounded for uniform violations."

Helen Davey also found the on-screen grooming checks familiar. Now a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, she was hired as a Pan Am flight attendant in 1965 at age 21 and flew until 1986.

"Yes, we had to wear girdles," said Davey. "And if you were one minute late for a trip, they'd send you home."

In the first episode, a child is escorted into the cockpit mid-flight to visit the pilots. Passengers are also offered ashtrays so they can smoke. Roberts and Davey both said that those in-flight activities were once very common.

"We definitely took children into the cockpit so they could sit in the pilot's seat," said Roberts. "And in terms of smoking, we'd have little packets of cigarettes and matches that we'd go around with."

"Even flight attendants could smoke," added Davey. "But when they did, they had to be sitting down."

In the episode (spoiler alert), two of the flight attendants are shown doing work for the CIA. If this seems like the least plausible story line, Roberts and Davey both said it was realistic.

(Ed...Many CIA operatives were Pan Am station managers)
"That is definitely a true story," said Roberts, who during her tenure heard rumors that at least one flight attendant was involved with the CIA. "At one point she just disappeared. No one knew what happened to her."

Nancy Hult Ganis, an executive producer for the show and a former Pan Am flight attendant, told that her research turned up stories about the airline's involvement with State Department operations on behind-the-scene missions in dangerous locations.
The TV program also shows flight attendants with plenty of time to chit-chat, and at least one crew member involved in an off-duty affair with a passenger.

"Some of those flights were quite long – 15 or 20 hours – and there were fewer people, so you could get to know them," said Roberts. "People weren't glued to their laptops like they are now. And some people did end up marrying passengers they met on flights."

Roberts and Davey had only a few quibbles with the first episode. Both said their uniforms were a warmer, more subdued shade of blue than those worn by the TV actresses and that flight attendants in their day would never be allowed to have hair touching their shoulders.

But there's one moment that Davey said was spot on. "I liked the scene when they were ready for take-off and one flight attendant says to the new hire, `Buckle up. Adventure calls.' That's how it was. We all thought we had lucked into the best job into the world."
Enhanced by Zemanta