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The last book we recommended to you shed some light onto the dark side of the travel industry, showing that, for all the good it can bring, tourism has the capacity to become a virus that diminishes the cultures of destinations around the globe. This time, we're suggesting something a little more uplifting. And, believe it or not, it's about the airline industry.
Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections, written by commercial pilot Patrick Smith, attempts to unblur the line between fact and fiction when it comes to all things air travel.
Last March we posted a very neat little video tracing the paths of the roughly 30,000 flights that enter, leave, and just generally hang around European airspace on a summer day. It began in the early morning with the planes coming across the Atlantic, and then as the day wore on it developed into well-managed chaos. The emphasis here is on "well-managed": the visualization was produced by Britain's NATS, the country's biggest provider of air traffic control, and the organization responsible for keeping all those planes from colliding. They weren't exactly bragging, but they weren't exactly not bragging.
Then about three months ago NATS posted a new video. This one is all about the future and it is - bluntly - creepy as all hell. It's supposed to be a futuristic look at how commercial "air traffic control" is inevitably going to be subsumed by commercial "air traffic management," which is both a real airline industry thing and something that is actually kind of interesting for travel geeks.
Last week, a cute little puppy caused a whole airplane full of people to divert mid-flight due to some adverse potty issues. The US Airways flight from LA to Philly made that pit-stop in Kansas City after a passenger's pet proceeded to poop on the floor of the cabin not one, but two times, leaving the enclosed aircraft a stinky situation.
This got us thinking about how frequently we hear about flights diversions, which most often occur because of medial emergencies or belligerent passengers. Just as the unique situation above was on our thoughts, it was also on the lips of the execs at the International Air Transport Association's General Meeting in Qatar last week. The major trade association worked to outline measures to diminish diversions due to another kind of passengerthe drunkards, or "overserved."
As recently as a week ago, the consensus was that the coverage surrounding MH370 - though by turns saddening, horrifying, and infuriating - wasn't really damaging the reputation of Malaysia Airlines. The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed a bunch of analysts who went even further, saying that not only was there limited erosion right now, but that any negative impact in the future "was likely to be modest and short-lived." Things were obviously not going well, and most people expected the worst, but airline disasters are often treated far more as generic tragedies than airline-specific incompetence. That seemed to be happening here.
If that's how things end up - if MH finally emerges from this crash with its brand more or less intact - it won't be because they didn't make spectacular efforts to fuck it up. Instead, it's like the airline went out of its way to alienate people, from the victims' families to entire countries. This took some effort.
We do these visualizations from time to time - partly because they're awesome and partly because you guys seem to enjoy them - plus the last week and a half of airline news has been a real downer. We can all use a reminder that there's something kind of magic about how we move millions of people through the air every day.
Wired recently wrote up an explanation for this video, which shows the roughly 30,000 flights that "criss-cross Europe's airspace on a typical summer day." The UK-based data comes from June 21 of last year, while the tracks for the rest of Europe were compiled on July 28. As the day begins and progresses you see the early trans-Atlantic traffic merge in with the traffic coming from the south, and then the major hubs on the Continent begin to light up. Look how shiny!
Bad Ideas / Airline Safety / Lasers / Crimes / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Airline Industry / → All Tags
We did a full blog post about this issue in 2011, and even back then we felt a little torn about whether it was worth writing. There was a legitimate travel politics story at the time, since the FAA had just announced a dedicated system for reporting people who were aiming lasers at aircraft. But it didn't really seem like there was any there there. How stupid do you have to be to aim a laser at the eyes of a pilot who's trying to land a gigantic commercial jet? How many people could we really be talking about?
It turns out that there were almost 4,000 laser strikes reported in 2013, with the average being 11 reported incidents every day. The actual number is thought to be much higher because of under-reporting. Starting in September 2012 and going forward a year, which is how the relevant Justice Department records are kept, five people were convicted in federal court for aiming lasers at airplanes. Another 15 people have cases pending against them.
The FBI is getting very grumpy.
Aeroflot / Russia / Russia Travel / Airline Industry / Airlines / Travel News / → All Tags
You might know Russian airline Aeroflot as the super-tawdry airline that three years ago decided to take nude pictures of its flight attendants and put the photos in a VIP calendar. Or as the super-sketchy airline where the employees make their own bongs and smoke up in the galley. This is not a company known for its squeaky clean image, or its professionalism, or its squeaky clean professionalism.
So we were surprised to learn that the rest of Russia sees Aeroflot - and now we're quoting the New York Times - as "at the forefront of a broad and transformative trend in the Russian service industry." The idea is that the Russians have traditionally been staggeringly horrific at customer service. So Aeroflot began holding classes for its employees and reminding them, among other things, to say things out loud to customers. The classes worked, and other companies began to notice.
Social Media / Twitter / Airline Industry / British Airways / Lost Luggage / Bad Ideas / Travel Rants / → All Tags
The growth of Twitter has had an uneven effect on the airline industry and its relationship to travelers.
On one hand, it has enabled the development of a real-time concierge service that really does help customers. We've publicly tweeted about airline-driven mistakes, then gotten transfered to direct messages, and then gotten incoming mobile phone calls...and then gotten our problems resolved. There are articles and even studies about the effectiveness of airlines' Twitter war rooms.
On the other hand, there's something about Twitterand it's the same thing with Yelp and TripAdvisorthat transforms some people into gigantic douchebags. Or at the very least, it allows them to publicly highlight their douchebaggery in breathtaking ways. Let's take this gem of a userthe guy who paid $1,000 to promote a tweet attacking British Airways for temporarily misplacing his father's luggageas a case study.
Airline News / Airline Rebranding / Airline Industry / Air Serbia / Etihad / Rebranding / BEG / → All Tags
If you're traveling around Southeastern Europe soon, keep your eyes open for a new paint job taking the skies, thus saying "doviđenja" to Jat Airways and "zdravo" to Air Serbia. The name change not only comes with a refreshed paint job and corporate identity, but brand new owners with some deep, deep pockets.
The details go like this: Etihad has gone on an airline shopping spree lately and snatched up a portion of the formerly Yugoslavian carrier. In total, the Middle-Eastern behemoth now owns 49% of what we used to know as Jat Airways and, as part of the restructure, the 66-year old name will be no longer emblazon the side of planes. "Air Serbia" will.
Pilots / JetBlue / American Airlines / Aviation / Airline Industry / iPad / Apple / Travel Tech / Technology / → All Tags
From United to Alaska Airlines there’s been quite a few airlines that have received iPads in the cockpit, and it looks like the technology continues to flow into the front of the plane. Most recently it has been American Airlines making the most dramatic change, as they recently just completed getting rid of all the paper in the cabin—for the most part—as the carrier has completely switched over to electronic flight bags.
American Airlines has been quick to point out that they’re the first major carrier to completely ditch paper this and that in favor of documents that can be loaded onto an iPad, as they are now approved to use the electronics during all the different phases of the flight. Each and every one of their planes is good to go, as the entire fleet has been given the go ahead to move forward. They aren’t just stopping with the mainline fleet either, as July 10 will bring an electronic option to the American Eagle regional branch of the airline as well.
There are different ways of "making it" in the world of airline travel. You could gain lifetime elite status on your favorite airline. You could travel the world on miles you accumulated in all kinds of clever ways. Or you could write a complaint note about a miserable experience that's so damn elegant that no less than Richard Branson declares it to be "brilliant." So congratulations Arthur Hicks. We know nothing about you in terms of who you are or where you live, but you've made it.
Branson blogged Hicks's letter - which wasn't even sent to Virgin, but to LIAT - last Friday. We've blockquoted it below from what we think is the original online source so you can read it for yourself. It's among the more elegant, witty beat-downs we've read in a long time.
The experience itself sounds miserable but, very importantly, it happened to him, and not to us, and not to you. So no worries. The P.S. is what really makes it shine.
Today could be a rough day at the airport, so we recommend charging up those electronic doodads and maybe even grabbing a magazine. Lufthansa is having a little bit of a problem with their worker bees today, and as a result they’re canceling all kinds of flights.
In total it sounds like they are proactively canceling around 1,700 flights; however, most appear to be shorter flights in and around Europe, as well as domestic options. It’s all part of a one-day strike finalized late last week, as a group representing around 33,000 Lufthansa employees hopes to show the carrier that they need a little more cash in their paychecks.