Monthly Archives: August 2009

View from the Hammock: When Your Car is Officially Classified As a Clunker


Hello all.

Holly here.

I figured I’d take a minute away from my vacation mindset to drop in and say hello.

Yes, yours truly is “officially” on my usual August publishing hiatus, although with all the work I had put off doing until I had a break from publishing, I’m not sure what a real vacation looks like anymore.

One of the more distressing issues I faced in the last week or so was the fact that I am driving an official “clunker.”

Yes, that’s right. My “vintage” automobile as I prefer to call the Black Beauty, was on the government’s official list of clunkers. Not only that, but the $4500 I would have been entitled to — had I opted to go deeper into debt for an automobile that I am convinced would not be built nearly as well as mine is — is probably $1500 more than what I would get today if I tried to sell her on my own.

Let those numbers sink in and then think about what I am driving.

A 1991 Lexus LS400. In its day, a revolutionary car. Today? The damn thing still holds up very well to whatever competition you want to throw at it.

Yes, my car has all the usual 1991 LS400 quirks — a power steering pump that is going bad, brakes that have that unmistakable “soft” early Lexus feel to them, an a/c compressor that costs as much as a down payment on a small house to replace when it decides to stop working, and speakers that have finally, for the exception of two sets on the driver’s side, seen their seals rot out from old age.

But it also rides great, gets good gas mileage for its class, only has 130K miles on it — yes, after 18 years — and still looks great, both on the inside and the outside. Just two days ago, someone came up to me and starting raving about how great that particular year was. And how he wishes he still had his. (He now owns one of the much more young and nubile models. Oh, and much more expensive.) Yet, for all of these “improvements,” he told me he wished he had never traded in his 1991. “Too much crap on these new ones that can go wrong,” was one comment he muttered as he walked around the back end of the car, gazing at it as one would a prized painting. Or horse.

Unfortunately, the Black Beauty goes in tomorrow for a thorough “20 point” evaluation by a garage that has been recommended to me here in Dallas. They specialize in taking care of prized possessions such as mine. I say unfortunately because I suspect I am looking at some expensive maintenance repairs here shortly. I know the front brakes need repair. It’s time for an oil change. But then there is the power steering pump that I have continued to nurse through its dying days. Not to mention more than one “import” car center that knew nothing about the care of feeding of elder Lexii.

But back to my anticipated outlays. There is also a front suspension that needs some care and feeding. You know. Control arms. Ball joints. Bushings. Struts. The kind of things that when they need to be replaced, dollar signs begin to ring up like a pinball machine gone wild.

Then there are those speakers.

Do I pay to replace them? Or do I not?

Do I pay to repair the car? Or not?

Worse yet — do I call one of the ads I saw in Craigslist for “parted-out” LS 400s? Could I bear to go see one in pieces? Much less pick my way through the carcass to pull out the parts I need?

Is it time, finally, to bite the bullet and start looking for a new “used” car? (I long ago stopped buying new vehicles. It’s just too much money lost from the get-go in my opinion.)

The problem is — I don’t know of any new “used” cars that I would like better than this one.

While I contemplate my clunker dilemma, I suddenly realize that I am thinking about airlines again. Specifically, I am thinking about MD-80s. (I know, I’m supposed to be on vacation.)

But I would be crazy not to see the similarities to my situation and the Allegiant business model. You know — the airline that defies conventional wisdom and flies aging, maintenance-heavy MD-80s. The same MD-80s that cost next-to-nothing, resulting in ownership costs that are also next-to-nothing.

When I look at my “clunker” in that respect, while I may be looking at some hefty maintenance expenses on the horizon, and while I may pay more for gas then someone who gets 30 miles to the gallon, I have no car payments. And I haven’t had any in 10 years. (Yes, I am the Black Beauty’s second owner.)

For my purposes, the Black Beauty gets me from point A to point B quite well. Quietly. And in style.

Taking this “Allegiant” approach, the answer is obvious. I think I’ll keep her. Then again, I haven’t seen the results of the “20 point check list” I’m going to get tomorrow.

Nah, I still think I’ll keep her.

Heck, maybe I’ll even call one of these guys back who are parting out some of her siblings. Yank out a few tweeters and woofers. Oh, and an instrument cluster as well. (Another legendary weak point.) And maybe a power lock switch for the driver’s door. (I broke the top off mine a few months ago.) Maybe I need to look at the process as the equivalent of performing an “organ transplant.” Or stem cell renewal. As opposed to picking the carcass of similar vehicles in an effort to keep my official “clunker” on the road.

Yep, I’m game. Better yet, I’ll still be much better off, financially, than had I sent her off to the equivalent of the automobile slaughter house. Even if I do have to spend a few bucks on getting her back into shape.

Thank you Allegiant. You’ve helped me make my decision.

Fie on the “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Dave Carroll’s “Truly Inspired” ‘United Breaks Guitars’ Sequel

As one of our readers said in a note to me today, “A truly inspired sequel, with higher production values!”

Yes, Dave Carroll is back.

You know Dave. The man who grabbed more than five million sets of eyeballs to YouTube with his original hit, “United Breaks Guitars.”

Yes, well, Dave’s back.

This time with the promised part two of this his three part trilogy thrashing United Airlines for first, damaging his beloved guitar, 2) the airline’s subsequent refusal to pay for the damage.

This second effort takes a pot shot directly at the United Airlines employee who Dave dealt directly with as he tried to get the airline to do the right thing — Ms. Irlweg.

He serenades the caustic United supervisor who denied his claim back in 2008 by singing, “Oh, Ms. Irlweg, we don’t need to fight. We could be best buddies, but our relationship has been muddied by a flawed United Airlines policy.”

Dave’s second effort is not as catchy as the first, but as our reader noted, “Be sure to watch for special guests Glenn Tilton, Miss Almighty Dollar and their body guards. Also, watch to the very end (after the song ends)!”

I think the tuba is the best part.

Here you go!

Mac Users: Need a Recommendation for a Blog Editor


For those of you out there who use a Mac, and who also blog, I need a recommendation for a new blog editor.

I’ve had it with Ecto.

That last post was about twice as long as it now appears on screen. The rest of it? Simply disappeared. Gone. Poof.

This is exactly what happened with our July 4th “Ode to a Hot Dog” column that I slaved over this year.

So that’s it. No more lost missives for me.

Drop me a note at hhegeman at and let me know what you use.

The only other one I have used in the past was Mars Edit, and frankly, I wasn’t that impressed with it at all.


Slow Monday

Hello all. I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs, waiting for this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter to be posted. I’m done with my part. Just waiting for the editor person to give me the all clear to hit the “post” button.

Actually it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

Was just nosing around the airline news from this weekend and today. That certainly didn’t take long.

After last week’s news-a-minute pace — today seems slower than a herd of turtles.

For those of you who are PlaneBusiness Banter subscribers, (and if you aren’t you should be), this is our final earnings issue for the quarter as this week I take a long look at the earnings announced by our two Canadian things with wings — WestJet and Air Canada.

One thing I have to say for Sean Durfy, CEO of WestJet. He sure knows how to get your attention. He opened up the airline’s earnings call by saying, “Our focus right now is navigating the short-term environment to achieve our long-term plans of becoming one of the five most successful international airlines in the world.”

Southwest Airlines’ Bid Not Accepted for Frontier Airlines

We said all along that we would only move forward on this deal if it proved to be the right decision for our Employees and financially prudent for our Company,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO. “We have a mission to preserve and protect our Culture and the best interests of our Employees, Customers, and Shareholders. This was a great opportunity that required us to act fast. A lot of people worked very hard with every intention of making this work. We were fortunate to be in a position to examine the acquisition to see if it was the right decision for Southwest Airlines. We chose not to amend our bid to remove the labor requirement, a key reason our bid was not selected. Our congratulations to Republic Airways and Frontier Airlines.”

There you go.

Go talk amongst yourselves about this turn of events. I’m going to go read some of your email pelts.

Latest SWAPA Update on Pilot Negotiations Regarding Southwest Airlines Bid for Frontier Airlines

Here’s the latest missive from the Southwest Airlines’ pilot group, SWAPA, to its members. FAPA is the Frontier Airlines Pilot Association, the union that represents the Frontier Airlines’ pilots.

“It has been a whirlwind week for your M&A Committee. We have been in meetings with our M&A counsel in Washington Monday and Tuesday and quickly returned to Dallas on Wednesday for a pressing meeting with FAPA. We would like to bring you up to date on the Frontier transaction.

Weeks ago, the Company approached SWAPA for ideas on how to complete the Frontier transaction with our pilots’ support. We expressed our concerns about new federal legislation on the books (McCaskill/Bond) and its potential effect on pilot seniority at Southwest. The Company, at SWAPA’s request, included a “labor contingency clause” requiring labor agreements in place prior to the closing of the Frontier acquisition. This action took the possibility of binding arbitration out of play and protected our pilots from a harmful arbitrated seniority integration.

As the Company was developing their formal binding proposal to acquire Frontier out of bankruptcy, Southwest bankruptcy counsel expressed concern that the Southwest bid could be excluded from the auction process because Frontier legal counsel deemed the proposal “not qualified” for the auction process due to the labor contingency clause. However, the labor contingency clause would be deemed acceptable and the bid deemed qualified if SWAPA and FAPA reached an Agreement in Principle for seniority integration. That triggered negotiations Thursday between SWAPA and FAPA.

SWAPA’s concerns throughout this process have been to protect our seniority list and our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The only way to adequately protect our entire pilot group was to place the FAPA pilots below the SWAPA pilots on our new Master Seniority List.

FAPA’s concerns are:

  • Job Protection
  • Seat Protection
  • Pay Protection
  • Domicile Protection

FAPA’s position was for relative seniority with a “variable” for the ratio for integration. Clearly, meeting all of FAPA’s concerns would be an enormous windfall for Frontier pilots at the expense of Southwest pilots.”

Oh boy. Here we go. All of these concepts sound very familiar don’t they? Relative seniority. “Stapling” the Frontier pilots to the bottom of the list.

And this is supposed to be finalized with both groups signing off on it today??


Well, there you have it. Either there is an agreement in principle with both pilot groups as to the question of seniority, or it appears that the bid by Southwest will not be considered to be a “qualified” bid.

Do you suppose that Southwest knew this all along, and this is merely an anticipated ‘squeeze play’ made by the company, assuming that the “urgency” of the situation would prod both groups to an agreement before the clock strikes twelve? Or was this a surprise at the last minute to all parties concerned?

Stay tuned.

Southwest Airlines’ Bid for Frontier: Did They Really Think It Was Going to Be Easy?


Today is the big day. Or it’s supposed to be the big day.

After all the preliminary table setting over the last several days, today was or is supposed to be the day that Frontier Airlines is actually auctioned off.

But, as I wrote about this week in PBB — I think the assumption that this thing was a done deal for Southwest was a bit premature. In addition, yes, I think that if Republic were to be awarded Frontier — that Frontier could continue to operate and it could be profitable. This is not a case where the bankrupt company is on death’s door. Quite the contrary, Frontier has been posting good operational numbers of late, and they have actually used the bankruptcy process to do what a company is supposed to do while in bankruptcy — they’ve restructured themselves quite nicely.

Therefore, I am not surprised at all that reports last night and this morning say that all is not well on the labor front. Specifically in the negotiations between the Frontier pilots and the Southwest Airlines’ pilots.

Remember that Southwest said going into this that their pilots would have to sign off on a deal with the Frontier pilots or the airline would not go through with the deal.

Not sure if Southwest realized that this, coupled with the fact that the Frontier pilots are taking the position that Frontier does not HAVE to go with Southwest for it to remain a viable business — and you’ve got a pretty strong negotiating position for the pilots at Frontier.

We’ll keep you posted.