Archive for November, 2011

Air travel tax could pinch small cities

November 22nd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) – It’s the holiday season, and that means air travelers across the United States have shelled out good money to spend time with their families. With record fuel prices squeezing airline margins, travelers may have paid more than they expected this year. And if the government has its way, you might be paying even more next year for less frequent flights, especially to small cities.

As we all know, the federal government is short on revenue, and it has been trying to find a way to reduce costs as well as increase money coming in the door. A small part of that plan involves the airlines.

The plan being put forth has two tax changes. One would see the security fee increase from $2.50 per segment to a flat $5 each way. With proposed yearly increases, it will hit $7.50 each way by 2017 and may climb from there. (The rule only specifies that it can’t go below $7.50, but the Department of Homeland Security can continue to bump the tax up).

Would this help pay for better security? Not so much. About 60% of the revenue from this would be directed solely toward deficit reduction and not toward security at all.

The other tax would slap a $100 fee on every single airline departure. That might sound like peanuts in the scheme of things, but it could have some pretty negative impacts, especially on small cities that are already hurting for service. Small cities are served by small aircraft, so a $100 fee per airplane has a much higher impact per passenger on smaller planes.

Unsurprisingly, there are multiple sides to this issue. On the one hand, we have the anti-tax people saying taxes should never be raised on anything. They don’t like this plan. On another side, we have those arguing for shared sacrifice, saying that every person and every industry needs to do its part to improve the financial situation in this country.

There also are many more nuanced positions that don’t automatically oppose taxes but do oppose these. One of those groups, supported by the airlines themselves, isStopAirTaxNow.com. The argument here is that the airline industry provides a very large number of jobs, and this would help kill a large chunk of them.

Another, the American Aviation Institute, just completed a study showing that the annual impact of this tax increase would be $9 billion, because of an expected drop in air travel when the cost of travel goes up.

So what’s the right stance here? Air transportation is tied to economic growth, so lower fares and more flights are certainly a good thing. High fuel prices have already pushed airlines to increase fares significantly, so the last thing travelers need is another increase in the cost of a flight.

Even worse than an increase in cost, however, is the disappearance of flights altogether. This new $100 per departure tax proposal has me particularly concerned about small city service. Small cities have already suffered a great reduction in service over the years.

Think about a community that’s served by a 19-seat aircraft. This tax would add more than $5 per seat to the cost. If it’s only half full, which is often the case on these routes, then it’s more than $10 per passenger.

So while an argument can be made for increasing taxes on any industry, the way this is set up isn’t pretty. If you have to travel to small towns, you can look forward to fewer flights where flights are already pretty sparse. Some cities might lose service altogether. Good luck getting home for the holidays then.

Pilot stuck in lavatory prompts terror scare

November 22nd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) – A pilot stuck in the lavatory may sound like the opening line of a joke, but it triggered a terror scare on a flight from Asheville, North Carolina, to New York on Wednesday evening.

Delta 6132 — operated by Chautauqua Airlines — was about 30 minutes from LaGuardia Airport when the pilot went to use the bathroom.

Unbeknownst to the crew, he became trapped in the lavatory because of a broken door latch.

(The sole flight attendant on the plane couldn’t help him because she had entered the flight deck when he left, per security protocols that require two people to be in the cockpit at all times.)

“After trying unsuccessfully for several minutes to open the door, a nearby passenger heard the noise of the efforts and tried to help,” said Peter Kowalchuk, a spokesman for the airline.

“When the passenger was not able to open the door from the outside, the captain told him how to notify the flight deck of his situation.”

The passenger dutifully complied, but apparently had a heavy accent, which combined with the suddenly-missing pilot spooked the first officer.

The tense conversation between the crew and air traffic control was posted on LiveATC.net, a website that shares live air traffic communications.

“The captain has disappeared in the back, and uh, I have someone with a thick foreign accent trying to access the cockpit,” the co-pilot says in the recording.

“The captain disappeared in the back, went to use the restroom. By all indications, what I’m being told is he’s stuck in the lav and someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit and I’m not about to let him in.”

Air traffic control responds by saying: “You guys ought to declare an emergency and just get on the ground.”

But later, the pilot suddenly reappears at the controls.

“This is the captain. I’m back in the cockpit. Lavatory door malfunction,” he says.

The controller on the ground is cautious: “I just want to make sure: Was there any disturbance in the airplane?”

“Negative,” the pilot responds. “The captain — myself — was in the lavatory and the door latch broke and had to fight my way out of it with my body to get the door open.”

The first officer did the right thing in securing the flight deck when he was not able to personally confirm the status of the captain, Kowalchuk said.

“No one was ever in danger and everyone, including the good Samaritan who tried to help the (captain) as well as the crew, are to be commended for their actions,” he added.

The plane, with 14 passengers and three crew members on board, made an emergency landing at LaGuardia with the pilot at the controls.

The FBI was on hand just to make sure everything was all right.

Anthony Bourdain

November 22nd, 2011 by Mariah

If the décor at your local mall hasn’t given it away, the long lines at the airport certainly will. Yes, the holiday season is upon us.

Thankfully “No Reservations’” Anthony Bourdain, who has spent a fair amount of time with the TSA, is willing to share his airport strategy:

“I’m very good at going through security,” he said. “I don’t get cranky. I’m ready for the worst. I always wear a particular set of shoes. By the time I’m even near the machine I’ve got my belt off, my wristwatch in my pocket. I’m not approaching that thing with any liquids or gels. I’ve got my [expletive] together. I don’t want to be that guy.”

And the advice doesn’t stop there. Having taken viewers around the globe with “No Reservations” since 2005, Bourdain says he’s finally giving fans something they can use.

The new Travel Channel show “The Layover” follows Bourdain through some of the major hubs a traveler might touch down in during a layover.

“Unlike ‘No Reservations,’ it is our hope that this will be actually useful,” Bourdain said. “‘No Reservations’ is all about me, me, me … and less about whether anyone in the audience will be able to replicate the experience.”

“It’s not about the museums or the Eiffel Tower or the major sightseeing spots,” he added. “We assume that you know about those things already.”

Instead, “The Layover” features local joints that make each major city unique.

And with only 24 to 48 hours to spend, Bourdain’s got you covered.

“I hate the idea of changing planes in Hong Kong and not running in to town and grabbing some roast goose,” says Bourdain, noting that he deliberately plans layovers when he travels.

“The Layover” premieres today at 9 p.m. ET.