Monthly Archives: June 2008

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted

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Yee haw. This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted. For those of you lucky folks who are subscribers, you can access this week’s issue here.

For those of you who are not subscribers, you can check out the headlines from this week’s issue here.

And then you can subscribe!


Every industry has it’s own set of language quirks; three letter acronyms (TLAs, if you will) that become part of the language of that business. Traversing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) web site it’s hard to read an article without a decoder ring. They’ve got TLAs, FLAs, and at least one FILA on their site. tsa_logo.gif I read a story on their web site that announced more random screening at gates this summer. They describe TSOs (Transportation Security Officers) being supervised by STSOs (Supervising Transportation Security Officers) working with BDOs (Behavior Detection Officers) and BAOs (Bomb Appraiser Officers) to detect IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), along with VIPRs (Visual Intermodal Prevention and Response teams), to enhance the ADASP (Aviation Direct Access Screening Program). That’s right, I SYN.
While the airline industry bathes in red ink and airports are being asked to cut their costs or lose airline service, the Department of Homeland Security is looking for a 6.8% INCREASE in their FY2009 budget to $50.5 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B. You can check out the highlights here, but it includes an increase of $55 million for “deploying the Transportation Security Administration’s Travel Document Checking program to airports nationwide”. I looked for any reference to automation being developed for this purpose, but could find none. In TSA Administrator Kip Hawley’s testimony to the Commerce Committee last May, he referred to “Travel Document Checkers”, which sounds like those people who check your ID and boarding pass before you get to security. An extra $55 million for those folks (I guess we can call them TDCs)??
The TSA is pushing ahead with its CAPPS derivative called Secure Flight, and with an increase of $32 million (who knows how much they’ve already dumped down this hole), they feel like TSA will be able to take over passenger vetting by the end of 2009. I can’t wait.
Earlier this month the Washington Times reported that an independent audit of the TSA produced by KPMG revealed, among other problems, that TSA was unable to provide documentation to back up $585 million listed in its financial documents due to weak accounting practices. Oh, heck, what’s half a billion anyway? Besides, they are a security administration; they don’t do accounting. But evidently they don’t have all the bugs worked out in employee screening either. The same audit found TSA didn’t consistently conduct background checks on new employees and contractors who provide IT security to the Coast Guard’s financial center. DHS didn’t argue with the report and said it is “taking aggressive action to implement the recommendations provided in the report,” according to a letter written by David R. Nicholson, assistant administrator and chief financial officer at TSA.
Why on God’s Green Earth (GGE) should we provide additional funding to an agency that has problems figuring out where the money goes? An agency that dumped who knows how many millions down a dry hole once called CAPPS II, now called Secure Flight (it needs one more word in the name for an official TLA), got its butt kicked by privacy groups, and now is trying this? They’ve been found lacking in screening employees who provide IT security and the KPMG report showed TSA has been allowing new employees “too much access to the computer systems immediately after employment”. Let’s spend $100 million on a passenger vetting system that requires a passenger provide name, address, and date of birth. What can possibly go wrong? GMAFB.
I am all for using airline reservations data to enhance security, but Secure Flight ain’t it. It’s virtually impossible to verify someone’s identity with the information contained in a reservation without impinging on privacy, not to mention the gazillion dollars it will cost for the hardware and throughput required if the system is supposed to be even close to real time. Reservations can be an investigative tool. Time of booking, route, booking source, form of payment, telephone or email contacts, and of course name, are all present in a reservation and can assist intelligence folks tracking bad guys.
The real issue here however is that TSA doesn’t seem be reading the news. The cost of travel is going up, there will be significantly fewer seats offered for sale from significantly fewer airports. And it doesn’t appear to be a short term blip. What airlines and their passengers do not need is additional upward pressure on fees associated with air travel. Even in the name of “security”. Godzilla.jpg

$130 Do I hear $130. $140, do I hear $140, $142, Do I hear $142? Uh-Oh


Another Friday. Another record breaking oil price notched in the record books.

While at one point today, oil traded as high as $142.60/barrel — when all the excitement was over, oil closed at “only” $140.21.

I guess this is what they mean when they say, “Be thankful for small favors.”

Another rotten day for most of the airline sector on Wall Street as well. For those few airline stocks that posted gains on the day, the gains were quite small.

The Dog Ate My Keyboard

Not really. Just my keycap.

This is the result of one overly excited dog who decided to jump on top of the bed, even though I informed her quite clearly that no, not with the laptop on my lap.

Unfortunately, her big paw, or rather, one particular nail on that one big paw caught the “A” key and ripppp.

The Crime:


The Guilty:


Never fear. I went online, found an appropriate YouTube instruction video, and presto, back in business. Yes, I do wear out my laptop keys pretty quickly as you can see. My E, R, I, L, N, D, F, E, S, A, M, B, and C keys need replacing.

Something for my next trip to civilization and its accompanying Apple Store.

No, there is no Apple Store in New Orleans. As I said, something for me to do on my next trip to civilization.

$120, do I hear $120. $130, do I hear $130? $140? Do I hear…Uh-Oh

Archive- Donkey449

Another day, another horrible milestone in terms of oil prices as the price of a barrel of crude shot up today more than $5 a barrel. In intraday trading the price hit $140.39, but when the markets closed here in the U.S., oil futures closed at $139.64, up a whopping $5.09 for the day.

The news comes as we hear of 8% cuts in management employees at American Airlines, in addition to flight cuts at both American Airlines and United Airlines.

And not too long after these cuts were announced, Southwest Airlines came out and said it had modified their fall schedule — picking up a lot of the pieces that were just discarded by the legacy airline pair.

American said Wednesday that it plans to eliminate 62 flights at Chicago O’Hare: 28 departures on mainline American Airlines flights and 34 flights on American Eagle.

By November, American’s presence at Chicago O’Hare will be down 13%, year over year.

The airline is also pulling back flights out of St. Louis, Dallas-Ft.Worth, and New York’s LaGuardia.

American is ending service completely to Albany, N.Y.; Providence, R.I.; Harrisburg, Pa.; San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Samana, Dominican Republic; and Barranquilla, Colombia.

Meanwhile, United announced that it was ending service to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Today, Southwest Airlines followed-up on these announcements by announcing that it will eliminate 31 flights from its existing schedule and add 40 flights to growth markets. This will see the airline not retiring two aircraft that it had said previously it was going to retire.

Big winners in the new schedule? Denver and ….Ft. Lauderdale.

It’s Thursday….Am I Home Yet?


One of the more unusual things I get to do when I go out of town to talk about the airline industry and its financial problems is that I also get to go to these events as a ….passenger.

So yes, there is a lot of “hat switching” that goes on. First I am talking airlines from an economic perspective. Then from an investment perspective. Then from a passenger perspective. Then — I fly a plane to get there to talk about all this.

And, if I am lucky, I get to fly one back too.

It’s almost like shooting a movie, only from the perspective of at least three different cameras.

Wednesday morning I had a great time speaking at the Midwest Business Travel Association, which officially, as homage to my presence, changed their name yesterday to the Chicago Business Travel Association. (No, I really had nothing to do with it, but I agree wholeheartedly with the change.)

I flew to Chicago on American Airlines. I returned on American Airlines.

Both flights were noteworthy, but for very different reasons.

Know that old less-than-flattering American descriptor — SkyNazis?

Yes, well, I hate to say this, but my flight attendants on my flight to Chicago were solidly in that camp. “Surly” would have been a good alternative adjective. Three men, and not one smile, not even one hint of a smile as I watched the two in the back of the bus work the crowd. I was in an aisle seat so I had a good view. And nope — never. Nothing close. In fact, they also managed to leave off the last sentence of the what now seems to be the set statement regarding the new buy on board food choices. That’s right. I was deliberately paying attention because, you know me, always adventuresome, I wanted to try something.

But after they announced the beverage service, they forgot a line that I DID catch on the flight home. The one about letting your flight attendant know during the drink service if you were interested.

After they made their humorless (or humanless) trip up the aisle with the beverage cart, I assumed they would make a second pass asking about food. Nada.

At that point I figured it was probably not worth the trouble. I would add that no one around me was enticed to order anything either. They were probably afraid to ask.

But yes, in reflecting back on the flight later — there is no question that the attitude of the inflight crew on this flight was probably one of the worst I have experienced in a very long time.

So yesterday, I arrive at O’Hare in plenty of time for my 1:40 scheduled departure for New Orleans. Aside from one TSA agent who probably should have stayed in bed yesterday, my trek to the gate at K17 (yes, at the very end of the concourse) was uneventful.

The American Airlines person handing me my bag tag was reasonably friendly. Good.

Flight coming into ORD was delayed. No problem.

Flight finally arrives. Good.

Flight now had maintenance folks on it. I don’t like where this is heading.

We get an update from the gate agent. She is not sure now when we are going to depart.

And then it got kind of  interesting.

Because at one point our gate agent, who I have observed going down the jetway and coming back more than once, gets on the intercom and informs us that maintenance will not tell her what the problem is, nor will they give her any indication of what is going to happen to the airplane, no timetable, etc.

She then says she is going to call some other sources and she would be back in touch with us.


Now, for those of you who have not heard, there is a little problem going on right now between American and the TWU.

The other night one of our American friends forwarded me a copy of a letter from the JFK local that represents the American mechanics. It seems the airline just fired a few mechanics there for “sleeping on the job.”

To sum up the rest of the letter, the union was advising members that if the airline was going to start enforcing certain rules and regs by the book, then they should too.

Yes, we in the industry know what this is — it’s called “code.”

So I don’t know exactly what was going on with my flight yesterday. Maybe the mechanic working on it was just not sure how much more time it was going to take to fix the problem. Maybe the gate agent was being pushy. Maybe she was being pushy because the mechanic was being too vague. Maybe she was pissed off because he was being a jerk. Maybe she was assuming that he was being a jerk.

Whatever — I thought it unusual that our gate agent would come out of the jetway, obviously not happy, and then proceed to tell us that she was going to try and get us some more information from other sources (tower, dispatch) as to what was going to happen to us. Which she then did.

I got home. Finally. About 4 hours late.

The good part? The flight attendants on my flight home were very friendly and made a big point of pushing the buy on board option. They did their job, and they did it well.

Then again, as my seat mate noted, “You know it would have been nice if at some point onboard the Captain or someone would have just said, “We apologize for the delay coming out of Chicago” instead of reading the usual script about thanking us for flying American Airlines.”

Sometimes the obvious things are those that are the simplest.

Speaking of, to my American Airlines‘ gate agent, Darnell Law, a huge thank you. I was not the only passenger who personally thanked her for doing such a great job at keeping us informed as to what the delay was, how long it would be before we got an update, and why it was that we were not getting any updates.

An Early Look at Airline Stocks, Oil Prices, and Wall Street Enough to Send One Under the Covers

Home prices post record 15.3% drop

Stocks tank along with confidence

Consumer confidence tumbles to 16-year low

Crude rises in volatile trading

Okay…..just went to check on where oil was trading, and those were the financial headlines that hit me in the face. Kind of makes you want to get back in bed and pull up the covers.

Don’t think it’s going to be a good day for the airline stocks — as oil futures were up before trading began and prices are up, as of this posting. Currently oil is up a little more than 50 cents, trading at 137.25.

Parting the red sea of losses that are stacking up already in the airline sector, ExpressJet is leading the pack. The airline’s shares continue to get just hammered. Shares here are now down 13% already, trading at 88 cents. And how much was that offer that SkyWest had on the table earlier this spring for ExpressJet? Yeah. It was for a lot more than 88 cents.

By the way, lost in all the hubbub of rising oil prices, I know it is June, and we are looking at record heat across much of the country — but just a little peek at what will begin to affect some of you just a scant three months from now.

Know where a gallon of heating oil is trading today? 3.83/gallon.

Hello Windy City: Wings On the Road


Last speaking gig for a while tomorrow, as yours truly travels to Chicago today. I’ll be speaking at the continuing education conference for the Midwest Business Travel Association bright and early tomorrow.

And what chariots of the air do I get to fly on today?

The much-maligned Maddogs of American Airlines.

Yep. I’m on the silver birds today. But luckily my reservation was made before the baggage charge cut-off. Yippee. So I can still fly with one bag checked at no charge.

I look forward to meeting some of our PlaneBusiness Banter subscribers while there.

However, with this new metal in my mouth, I don’t think a deep dish Chicago pie is on the agenda.

Maybe some Eli’s Cheesecake though.

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