Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘airlines’

The time for flyers’ rights is now.

Posted by sanityinjection on July 21, 2009

I’ve been beating up on Democrats a lot here lately. I feel that it’s important, though, to acknowledge them when they get something right. So the hero of this post is Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee which also covers transportation. His committee is set to vote on a budget bill to fund the Federal Avaiation Administration (FAA) for two years. Included as part of that bill is a measure which would require airlines to let passengers off of any plane that is delayed for more than three hours.

Naturally, the airlines are fighting that requirement because it will lead to more delays and cancellations and cost them money. And normally, I would be sympathetic to an industry opposing heavy-handed federal meddling.

However, in this particular case, what the airlines are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge is that this is a basic health and safety issue. Airplanes’ life safety systems – ventilation, sanitation, climate control –  are not designed to function for long periods of time sitting on the ground. We would not allow criminal prisoners to be restrained in a chamber the size of an airplane under similar conditions for three hours, yet the airlines can force paying customers to suffer those conditions to preserve their bottom line.

The only reason we do not already have such a regulation is that until recent years it never occurred to anyone that an airline could treat its paying customers in such barbaric fashion. That is, until the horror stories of 2006-2007 in which passengers were kept on board some flights for as long as 10 1/2 hours. (At that point, as a passenger I would happily create a disturbance in order to get arrested and be removed to more humane conditions such as a holding cell!)

According to the Department of Transportation, in the 8 month period from November through May, 578 flights sat on the tarmac for more than three hours. While that is a tiny percentage of the millions of flights over that period, that is small comfort to those who were passengers on one of those flights.

I commend Senator Rockefeller for including this provision in the budget bill and hope it will become law as soon as possible.


Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Interesting discrimination case

Posted by sanityinjection on January 6, 2009

The ACLU has announced that the federal TSA and JetBlue Airways have agreed to settle a lawsuit by Raed Jarrar for $240,000. Mr. Jarrar sued after he was asked to cover a T-shirt with Arabic writing in order to board the plane:

There are some interesting aspects to this case. First, Jarrar complied with the request and was allowed to fly. He therefore has no proof that the authorities intended to refuse to allow him to fly if he had declined. If he had wanted to sue, he should have refused, then he would have grounds.

Second, Jarrar had to know that as a Middle Eastern-appearing person with a goatee beard and an Arabic  name, wearing a T-shirt with Arabic writing to an airport is a little like waving a toy gun around. I do agree that the Arabic writing alone should not be grounds for being banned from a plane, but Jarrar should well have expected to be the absolute center of attention throughout his flying experience, including being moved to a seat where the flight crew could keep an eye on him (Airlines can move your seat at any time for any reason.)

So I think Jarrar probably would have lost the case had it gone to trial, but obviously the defendants had an interest in avoiding bad publicity. Now he can afford to fly all over the place on JetBlue’s and the taxpayers’ dimes.

What if Jarrar’s T-shirt had featured a photo of Osama Bin Laden? At what point does the airline’s concern about a possible disruption on board the flight outweigh an individual’s right to freedom of expression? I think there is a gray area here. Certainly we do not want to get to a point where “Flying while Arab” constitutes a crime, yet I also do not believe it is inherently discriminatory that people of obvious Arab origins be scrutinized.

There are some interesting comments on this story here:

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Why the airline industry has failed and how to fix it

Posted by sanityinjection on August 13, 2008

I thought readers might be interested in my recent e-mail to a BusinessWeek contributor regarding the problems facing the airline industry:

Twenty-five years ago, the airline industry made a decision to cater everything to the business traveler. That decision made sense because business travelers were making up a greater and greater percentage of fliers. Thus, we were introduced to the NYC shuttles, cattle car seating, “no-frills” airlines, and the disastrous investment in seat-back “AirPhones”.

The problem is that the industry has stubbornly stuck to this model even as the demographics of air travel have changed. The advent of the Internet has destroyed business travel as the basis of a successful airline. No company wants to pay to send its employees anywhere if the same results can be achieved through cheap videoconferencing and remote PC support. The oil price hikes of the last seven years have disguised this trend by creating an aritfical dip in leisure travel, but the trend is inescapable.

Any first-year B-school student can tell you that if your business model is based on customer behavior “A”, but customers are actually behaving like “B”, your business will fail. And that’s what’s happening to most airlines.

Instead, the airlines need to re-engineer their whole approach to focus on vacation travel. Americans today, despite the current economic slowdown, have more disposable income and more leisure time than any people in history. The Internet has acted in opposite fashion for personal travel – by bringing the sights of the world to their PCs, it has whetted their appetite to see them in person.

A good example of an airline that has grasped this is JetBlue. Wider seats and personal TVs in coach are amenities that appeal to leisure travelers as well as business travelers. In addition to these changes, the next step for JetBlue’s competitors is to adjust their routes to meet demand. Instead of running 100 flights from New York to DC every day, an increased focus on vacation destinations will pay dividends in the long run. USAirways’ vacations division and focus on destinations like Las Vegas and the Caribbean has been a key factor in that airline’s ability to keep its head above water.

Even more fundamentally, though, new technology is needed to change the economics of operating a commercial airline flight. Even today’s newest commercial planes are essentially based on 1960s technology with a bit of window dressing. Somebody’s got to start investing in radically different airplane engines and designs that will cost less to operate. To take one small example, airplanes expend a great deal of energy to takeoff compared to what they use in-flight. If someone can figure out a way to boost planes into the air more efficiently, it will have a ripple effect on the entire industry. Any cost savings that are achieved through technology will allow airlines to make money without having to cram more and more seats on each plane. The result will be a more pleasant flying experience that will encourage more leisure air travel.

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The time has come: Stop serving alcohol on planes

Posted by sanityinjection on July 28, 2008

We have all read the news blurbs about a plane flight that has to make an emergency landing because of an unruly passenger. When you get to the part about what set the passenger off, it’s almost *always* the same thing: “The rampage occurred when a flight attendant denied the women alcohol because they were visibly intoxicated, police said.”

Why do we continue to put up with this foolishness? Not only is it a safety issue, but the massive inconvenience to everyone if a plane has to be diverted must be considered. It should not be the job of a flight attendant to make decisions about whether someone is drunk or not. If we can ban smoking and a whole host of carry-on items for safety reasons, then we can stop serving alcohol on airplanes. Let people buy their own nip bottles from the duty-free shop if they are so desperate for a drink in the air.

Unfortunately, selling alcohol to the coach class passengers is profitable for the airlines, so they are in no hurry to take up my suggestion. I wonder if anyone has stopped to calculate how much of that profit is offset by the losses every time this stupidity occurs.

Here’s the latest example:

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »