Airlines Scaling Back U.S. Capcity

4 Dec 2007

USA Today carried this story on the front page, Tuesday, (2007/12/04). It’s interesting that the headline for this story in the print edition and the online version are not identical.

The crux of the story is that the major U.S. airlines are shifting their schedules a little so that there will be fewer overall seats available throughout the U.S., despite stronger demand than last year. Such changes are not being made in their International schedules.

Part of the numbers come from switches to smaller aircraft, some are from schedule changes that will have a smaller total number of flights on some routes and other routes may be eliminated.

I also found it interesting that Delta Airlines, which I fly more often than all others combined, is the only major airline that is leaving their capacity and schedules virtually unchanged, with only a 0.6% overall U.S. routes capacity decrease planned for January 2008.

The biggest problem that could occur, whether you are flying with an airline that is making large changes or small, is that hiccups could take a day or two, rather than hours, to resolve. Such issues could bleed into other airlines, as cross-pollination can and does quickly fill the few available seats still open on all the other airlines. Given all of the problems that Northwest Airlines has been experiencing this year, I would hope that they don’t cut back too far. Granted, things are better at Northwest than they were in June of 2007, but the end of November continued to show larger numbers of cancellations than should normally be expected.

Gun Shapped Notebook Battery

18 Aug 2007

Poor Ben Forta. The fact that he’s actually struggled to get through airports for a while before figuring this out seems rather strange to me. How could he be the only one? Why have none of my co-workers (at least, to my knowledge) not had similar troubles with their ThinkPad notebooks?

It seems that several TSA inspectors at several different airports were mistaking the laptop battery for a possible gun in Ben’s notebook bag as it went through X-Ray scanners.

Massive Flight Cancellations

29 Jun 2007

Flight cancellations are never fun, but when they force over a dozen other people’s plans to change, a canceled flight can spell real trouble for a business traveler. When I arrived at the airport on Sunday (2007/06/24) to board my flight (BOI to MSP to BWI) with Northwest Airlines, I was told that the flight from MSP to BWI had been canceled. After 25 minutes of searching for alternatives, the soonest available flight was on Northwest the next morning but wouldn’t get me into BWI until 1:44pm. After consulting with my boss, I had them “book” me on that flight. At this point, there were several people at the counter all experiencing the same joy-of-re-booking as I.

It was obvious that there were a lot of cancellations on Northwest. Fearing that my newly re-booked flight might also be canceled, I asked if this was a likely possibility. “We have no reason to think that there will be any cancellations tomorrow,” was the response. Not quite fully reassured, I prompted them for details about the cancellations. Over 300 Northwest flights had been canceled so far that day (it was not yet 1pm MDT) due to “Lack of crew availability” (which they read directly from their screen concerning my flight, and others’ around me). I asked why they had such large crew shortages. “Because of the weather on the east coast; so many flights out of there had to be cancelled that we now haven’t got crews where they need to be. All flights out of MSP that head east are cancelled for today at this point.” I hadn’t heard about any serious weather, but I hadn’t really been looking in the past few days either.

Then the next problem hit. They were unable to print anything, it seems. They couldn’t print boarding passes for people who were going to be flying, they couldn’t print an itinerary for me (or other people, either). Finally, they hand wrote my flight numbers and departure times and gave that to me on a scrap of paper. While they were working that out, I called my ride (I had been dropped at the Boise airport this time) to get them turned around to come back and get me. While waiting for my ride to return, I made a couple of other calls to people who needed to know that I would not be there to start my class Monday morning.

After returning to the house, I phoned the hotel and rental car agency to push my reservations back for the next day. The hotel was no trouble at all, and I even got the 1 night refunded without any hassles (Marriott properties are great that way). But the rental car agency said that the price for changing my reservation would be an additional $200 for the (less than a) week. I phoned Expedia Corporate Travel, which had been used to book the trip in the first place. That’s when things really came apart.

Expedia’s agent was able to help me reschedule the rental car with Hertz (my first ever time renting from them, but I’m 100% convinced that they are the best now), which turned out to be a few dollars cheaper than the other alternatives now, though the price still did go up. They also double-checked with the hotel for me and things were fine there, but there were problems with the flights. Mainly, their systems now showed that I didn’t have any. They phoned the airline and called me back a couple of times and eventually got us all on a conference call together, where the airline representative told me that my flights were not canceled, that they were almost no flights canceled anywhere and that my flight was about to land at BWI. She also said that their system did not indicate that I was booked for the new Monday flights but that they showed that I had never shown up at the airport at all. This despite the fact that the BIO counter and kisok systems both had pulled up my information, which I pointed out and she said that their systems did, indeed, log such lookups and there were no entries showing that I had been there. I asked if they had any data about anyone being queried from Boise today, which she “couldn’t answer”. She tried to make sound like she couldn’t perform a query to find out, but it really sounded like she knew that I was right and their systems were currently partitioned. In any case, that was the triger that got her to lock me in for the next flight (the one the counter agents at BOI had given me) despite the fact that she had told me earlier in the conversation there were no seats available at all.

After all that conversation (which took about 25 minutes) it looked like I was solidly set to travel Monday morning. Still, Expedia’s computers couldn’t see the flights. After a few minutes asking the Expedia rep some questions, I ascertained that the flights were booked (originally) through Delta Airlines‘s systems despite the fact that every single leg was with Northwest. So, I called the special Medalion Members only service line (gotta love some of the perks) and they were able to reconnect the dots, though they were very perplexed that Expedia had booked the flights through them to begin with.

But just for my own sanity, I spoke with the counter agents at both BOI and BWI on Monday. They both said that the flights had been canceled. When the agent in Boise looked up the flight I had been originally scheduled on, that system showed that it had been canceled and still showed the same reason. The same occured at the ticket counter in BWI. This left me feeling like Northwest’s “customer service” center wasn’t really trying to serve the customer but instead trying to cover up the whole thing.

Then, on Tuesday morning as I left my hotel room to head for the classroom I was teaching at, I had a copy of USA Today outside my door. I picked it up but didn’t look at it until lunch. The topmost story on the Money section for Tuesday, June 26, 2007 was titled “Northwest’s flight cancellations surge“. Basically, Northwest’s management is blaming weather from several days earlier for canceling 14.2% of their flights on Sunday alone. Their pilots are blaming it on bad planning by management.

It looks like Northwest is burning all of their pilot’s legal limit of flight hours (some on activies other than flying) so quickly that they can’t fly them towards the end of each month. In addition, Northwest’s management has reportedly refused to rehire furlowed pilots, despite the fact that they know there is heavier demand coming. The USA Today article goes into a little more detail regarding the situation.

The long and the short of it is, if you travel much, I would recommend avoiding Northwest flights in the last 7-10 days of the month, for now. We’ll see if management gets it together in the next couple of months or not. Until then, I know I’ll do my best to avoid a repeat.

BTW: I normally fly out of SLC, but am visiting family in Weiser, Idaho for three weeks centered around the 4th of July holiday. did check and found that I would have had the exact same experience if I had been flying out of SLC, as there were no flights available on Delta either (those Medalion Member Service Center folks are very helpful and answer all sorts of questions). Apparently, due to Northwest’s high cancellation rates over the whole weekend, all the other airlines seats had been filled as Northwest moved them to other flights and Delta’s had all been filled the day before.

TSA Gets Part of Their Brain Back

25 Sep 2006

According to a TSA press release, the existing ban on an entire state of matter (liquids) and gels is partially lifted, effective as of today. Many (including myself) have previously written about how this particular move was useless security theater.

It’s about time! Too bad they are trying to tiptoe their way back to sanity. Like we’re not going to notice? But, that’s OK. as long as they continue to move in the right direction. Keep it up.

P.S. Nice timing; I’m in Massachusetts this week, without my toothpaste. Don’t worry, I bought some here, but it would have been nice to travel with mine.

Too Many Checked Bags

24 Aug 2006

In today’s issue of USA Today, there is a story about how the surge in quantity of checked lunggage to be processed in U.S. airports is overwhelming the TSA baggage screening systems.

I am not the least bit surprised; I (and many others) predicted that this overload would result from the rule changes “prohibiting an entire state of matter” (liquids) and prohibitting gels in carry-on luggage. For me, I have to now check my suitcase instead of just carrying it on because of toothpaste and the particular deodorant I was traveling with when these new rules were put into effect (I’ve since switched back to my usual traveling solid).

I don’t want to leave my toothpaste at home, but if these new and useless rules stick for long, I may just ditch it, instead making sure that all of my hotels can provide me with some. That way, I would again be able to take my suitcase carry-on and skip the check-in and baggage carousel entirely. However, when I travel, I prefer to have everything I need with me.

Travel Challenges

12 Aug 2006

As I am sure everyone has heard by now, on Monday, Brittish authorities arrested nearly 2 dozen suspected terrorists and raided their homes. It is believed that this action foiled an Al Qaeda plot to blow up as many as 6-12 trans-Atlantic airliners as they reached U.S. soil.

Because of the methods these individuals planned to use for smuggling explosives aboard, security restrictions on what passengers may carry-on commercial airlines in England are very stringent. Basically, you get to keep your wallet, keys, some money and the clothes you are wearing. No cell phones, computers, DVD players, audio devices or any other electrical apparatus are allowed.

I happened to be in Los Angeles at the time this happened. As the week wore on, I read and heard that some U.S. airports had adopted the same extra security restrictions now found at London Heathrow & Gatwick. On Thursday & Friday, I was told by several people that they had heard that LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) was not permitting any carry-on luggage at all. This worried me only because I have no desire to find out just how well this notebook would survive the tender, caring baggage handlers’ grasp. In other words, I never check my computer bag or the computer.

However, there was nothing to fear. When I arrived at the airport, it turned out to take longer to walk from the ticket counter to the security checkpoint leading to my gate than it took to get my boarding pass, check my 1 bag (suitcase with a week’s worth of clothes) and get through security, combined. I’m sure the fact that I have nearly three hundred thousand miles of flights with Delta didn’t hurt either. As it turned out, if I had been willing to throw away my deodorant and the little traveling tube of toothpaste I was carrying in my suitcase, I wouldn’t have had to check that bag, either.

For me, the “extra” security measures only amounted to my having to wait for my bag when I got to Salt Lake.

As I was at the airport at 3:45pm for a 6:08pm flight, I ended up standing around at my gate for just over 2 hours before boarding. I try to not spend too much time sitting in airports, since I’m going to be spending so much time sitting on the planes.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

The worst part was that there was a 4:50pm flight and they “couldn’t” put me on it. Was I there in plenty of time to switch to the earlier flight? Yes. Were there seats available? Yes. But only in First Class, there were no Coach seats left, so she couldn’t switch me to that flight. Given as much as I travel, I almost always get upgraded for free to First Class. In fact, I was upgraded for the flight there this trip. The agent was kind, she said they really should have a way to let me take one of those seats, which I would have gotten anyway (she could already tell by looking at her screen that no one else was going to get upgraded).

How ironic is that? Oh, well; I made it home that night and to me, that’s the most important part of these travels.

Lazy Travels

6 Aug 2006

This morning, I flew from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles (LAX). I arrived before 9am PDT and was driving off in my rental car by 9:30. It only took me about 12 minutes to drive to my hotel in Manhattan Beach, California. Unfortunately, 9:45am is a little early for checking in (officially, this hotel’s check-in time is 3pm). They didn’t have any rooms cleaned, yet.

I knew that I was very close to the beaches and the ocean, though I hadn’t seen them on the flight in (I was sleeping until just before we pulled into our gate) or during my drive to the hotel. But, hey, all I had to do was head west, right? So, I did.

At about 11:45am I finally found a parking place. It turns out that there are two local events going on at Manhattan Beach this weekend, so all the street parking was full. I simply slipped off my Mephisto sandals, walked 1 block west and I was on the sand. By the way, for those of you reading this from Utah, that’s not 1 Utah block (6-8/mile), it’s 1 block like most of the rest of world has them (12-13/mile).

I walked slowly north along the water’s edge, letting the inbound tide lap over my feet & around my ankles, listening to the sounds of the surf and wind. It was only about 73 degrees Faranheit (approximately 22 degrees Centigrade) with a lightly filtered Sun playing it’s light over the land and sea. The water felt as though it were only 5 or 6 degrees cooler. There were very few people among the sands in this direction, affording a peaceful, easy stroll with little distraction.

After about a mile of almost pristine beach, I turned back south, retracing my already vanished footprints. The tide continued to lull it’s way in, a little further with every other attempt. I walked a little faster on the return trip, as I had no sunscreen on and I do not wish to inflict a lobster impression on my students this week. The whole walk took merely 45 well-spent minutes. It was really quite relaxing.

I drove off to head back to the hotel and see if I could check-in, yet. However, a Fry’s Electronics caught me, instead. I spent about an hour perusing through all the wonderful treasures (and even more stuff I don’t really want). This has to be the smallest Fry’s there is. From there, I made it to the hotel, got into my room, unpacked my suitcase for the week and this notebook. A moment before I began writing this post, I awoke from a quick nap. This room is basically a studio apartment, with a full kitchen. I think I’ll have to do a little grocery shopping and cook all (well, at least most of) my meals for the week.

Though it occasionally happens, ’tis not often I have time for relaxation in my business travels.

Ah … lazy days.

Camera Batteries Didn’t Last

24 Jun 2006

In my recent post, I said that I would try to get better pictures of the commemorative plaques at the U.S. Patent & Tradmark Office‘s training rooms. When I went to start making the attempt, the camera reported to me that there was insufficient power remaining to take pictures. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare set (2xAA) of batteries with me.

When I bought the camera, I read in it’s manual that it should last much longer on lithium AA batteries that it will on alkaline, so I guess I’ll have to go get some and try it out. Either way, I should carry a spare set when I’m traveling. I already keep AAA batteries for my headphones and my bluetooth earpiece.

‘Trusted Traveler’ Program Knocked

22 Jun 2006

Also in today’s issue of USA Today was this story about the ill conceived, so-called “SecureFlight” program that the U.S. Congres suggested following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Oh, yeah, the House of Representatives is just the place to find a plethora of individuals who you would want designing security systems. Not!

Let me boil it down for everyone:

If you have two pathways to enter a secure area (in this case, the airports), one high security path (what passengers go through today) and one low security path (what SecureFlight and other registered traveler programs would do), which do you think terrorists are going to attack? If you said the low security path, you’re right.

It’s that simple. These programs will, if allowed to launch, completely undermine the rest of the security operations at airports.

Frequent Business Travelers Pack Guilt

22 Jun 2006

Today’s USA Today caries a cover story titled, “Frequent business travelers pack guilt“. Some of it is common sense, but as the author, Gary Stoller, points out, almost no studies have been done to show the impact of frequent business travel.

As a frequent business traveler myself, I can relate to some of the things in the article. There are certainly times that all the traveling has left me feeling drained of all my energy. That’s when it’s not fun. However, as I have no children (yet), it’s (usually) not so bad.