Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inflight Confidential Blog

We've changed our name and moved our blog to Inflight Confidential. A revised and updated paperback version of the book is coming out in March 2009.

Why not come over to our new site to see the latest from the weird and wonderful world of air travel.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

RyanAir Boss Demonstrates People Handling Skills

Our perennial favourite Michael O’Leary, head of RyanAir, has been at it again. Never a man to be fazed by a situation or lost for words, he handled the appearance of a semi-naked man with ‘Exposing O’Leary’s Lies’ scrawled over his torso at the airline’s AGM with characteristic aplomb.

After being confronted by the environmental protestor at the meeting and ushering him from the stage personally, Mr. O’Leary released a statement: “I hope next year instead of a semi-naked bloke, they’ll send a semi-naked girl to the AGM. She would probably make as little sense as this guy this morning, but at least she’d be more attractive.”

Joke Goes Down a Bomb

Everyone who has felt the urge to make some wisecracks about bombs on planes, and there are no doubt many of us who would like to make light of the serious security procedures in place at airports, take note of the plight of one passenger flying into Dubai on Emirates in July -08. Thirtyseven year old Briton Mark Winterbottom thought it would be a giggle to claim that ‘The bomb will go off in seven minutes’ and press buttons frantically on his mobile. Sadly for him nobody else got the joke and a full scale security event broke out, leaving him jailed for four months.

Claiming he was drunk at the time and only acting in self-defence, rather than assaulting crew and passengers while being restrained, Winterbottom did admit to the prank but said he couldn’t remember doing it. Not much of a defence, especially in a Muslim country, against charges of endangering the aircraft, assault and drunkenness. So if you must crack some terrorist gags on a flight, don’t expect anyone else to see the funny side.

Equal Opportunities

Chapter One of the book on workplace non-discrimination probably begins with ‘Don’t bring sexual orientation into it.’ Sadly a senior manager at BA hadn’t read it when she told a gay cabin crew manager who complained about harassment he was being a “drama queen” and went on to clarify “You know what I mean, your lot over dramatise everything.”

This obviously didn’t go down with the employee David Andersson-Wood, who had worked for BA 19 years, and ended up at a tribunal. He had earlier tried twice to secure equal pay to his peers, and allegedly been told by HR “If you want to achieve a market level of pay, go and work for a pharmaceutical company.” Text book stuff….

Cover-Up Exposes Naked Ambition

In an episode which has gripped South America the facts could simply not be made up; if it was fiction it would be dismissed as too implausible. On 4th August 2007 an Argentinian airport security officer, Maria del Lujan Telpuk, stopped asked a Venezuelan-American businessman, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, about the contents of his case. He had just disembarked from a flight chartered by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, to Buenos Aires.

The 28 year old security agent became suspicious when the man first said “books” then “just some papers” and then became very agitated when she asked him to open the case. It was stuffed to bursting with $50 bills. In a case being heard in the Florida courts prosecutors allege that the money was a clandestine payment from Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez to aid the election campaign of Cristina Kirchner. Both leaders have dismissed the allegation as an attempt by the US Government to smear two administrations which seek to break the ‘gringo hegemony’ in South America. The details of the case do not really concern us, but the airport security agent certainly does.

So what happens to the girl at the centre of what has been dubbed ‘Maletagate’ (maleta is Spanish for 'bag‘)? Well, she resigns from her job, gets breast augmentation surgery and becomes a cover girl for several magazines, most notably the Argentinian edition of Playboy, in which she appears naked with a suitcase under the headline ‘Corruption Laid Bare’. She’s also forging a career on TV and learning to ice skate for the show ‘Skating for a Dream’. Her busy schedule was interrupted for her testimony in court, but she was soon back on the ice. A far cry from the ‘Nothing to Declare’ aisle.

Air Pistol

Notorious punk icon and Sex Pistol’s bass player Sid Vicious had a short and dramatic life, the sort which would test even the most loving mother’s patience. Not so Anne Beverley. She has been accused of supplying the heroin which killed him, which may or may not be true, but she also seems she may have let him down after death.

While the official line is that his ashes were scattered on his girlfriend Nancy Spungen’s grave in Philadelphia, witnesses maintain that Beverley dropped the urn at Heathrow, smashing it and sending the contents into the airport’s ventilation system.

Smells like teen spirit?

Night Night

It sounds like a scene in the spoof movie ‘Airplane’ but it’s true; both pilots were sound asleep as their plane should have been descending and preparing to land at Hawaii’s Big Island.

Go! Airlines flight 1002 carried on cruising at 21,000’ in early 2008 as it came overhead Hilo airport, prompting frantic attempts by air traffic controllers to contact the flight crew. The plane was 15 miles beyond its destination by the time the snoozing pair were raised.

The Captain Scott Oltman and First Officer Dillon Shipley were suspended for 60 and 45 days respectively by the FAA for reckless operation of an aircraft after their ill-timed nap in February. Both were fired by the airline.

The possibility that carbon monoxide had leaked into the cockpit causing the crew to lose consciousness was investigated and no evidence was found. Still, a bit odd for both the pass out at 9am. Most importantly, the plane was safely landed after its short detour.

Boy's Own

Indian entrepreneur Vijay Mallya has expanded his empire to include international air travel. The flamboyant soul, who is known as ‘India’s Richard Branson’, is the founder and chairman of the fast-growing domestic Kingfisher Airlines. Undaunted by the competition he has launched a service linking Bangalore, India’s IT hub, with Heathrow. He is confident that the Kingfisher product will compare favourably with the alternative from BA; “We offer an infinitely better service. We are the Harrods of the sky.” More specifically the flamboyant, jewelled and sunglassed Mr Mallya will personally select the stewardesses, and is confident that they will be “much prettier than BA’s.” His selection criteria include “…height, figure, command of English, manner and style of speaking.”

Not relying solely on the looks of cabin staff to attract business, the airline boasts other attractions. “My Kingfisher First cabin is a truly first-class product but it’s at BA’s business-class prices. We have 180degree flat beds, 350 hours of in-flight entertainment as well as live TV. We also have a stand-up bar and lounge.”

Undaunted by the reports of malaise affecting the global airline industry in the post-crunch era, Mr Mallya didn’t amass a vast fortune (he owns United Breweries, which produces such brands as Kingfisher and Whyte & Mackay) by taking silly chances. Commenting on the BA ‘s observation that airlines face “the worst trading environment ever” he said “Willie Walsh talked about trading conditions facing BA. We should not confuse these generalised comments with the Indian opportunity. International air traffic in and out of India is growing at between 16% and 20% per annum. Even now economic growth in India was 7.8% in the last quarter. We have a middle class of 300m people. Three years ago, there were 14,000 sterling millionaires. Now there are 200,000.” Despite this 70% of international air traffic in and out of India is controlled by foreign carriers.

Mr Mallya expects to lose £100m this year on the airline venture, but it would be unwise to dismiss him; the Kingfisher airline only started 3 years ago and already dominates the Indian market with its fleet of 91 aircraft serving 465 domestic routes. Further international development is in the pipeline, with service planned to San Francisco and Heathrow-Mumbai. Despite his brash exterior Mr. Mallya has a rare cautious side; while he is prepared to take on BA, Virgin and Air India, and owns the Indian formula-one team, he does not plan to buy an English football club. “I hang my hat on the Indian growth story which I understand perfectly well. I don’t want to come here and be stupid and try to take on the world because I know I’ll be the first one to come to grief. You cut your coat to suit your cloth.”. Watch this space….

Airport Hilton

Fed up with unscheduled nights in an airport hotel? Outraged by the rates charged by second rate accommodation for a few hours bad sleep before boarding the early flight? Help is at hand. The innovative souls at MiniMotel have come up with a solution; a folding bedroom which you keep in your luggage just in case.

Like a miniature tent, the Mini Motel provides private accommodation for one (or two close friends) and includes a pillow, air mattress, alarm clock and a reading light. Once zipped into the fifty dollar miracle you’re in a world of your own and can enjoy a nights rest (potentially) on the floor of the departure area before packing the whole thing away and boarding your next flight as fresh as a daisy. Check out if it sounds like your cup of tea (no kettle included).

As the Crow Flies

It might at first glance sound a bit obvious, but the fact that The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is working on moves to make flights straighter and quicker is the product of considerable effort. The fuel-saving measures could make European routes a few minutes shorter and take over fifteen off a London to New York flight. Airlines are desperate to cut their fuel bills as they are pinched by the twin forces of increased oil prices and falling passenger numbers.

Traditionally airline routes have to skirt around patches of airspace reserved for military use. Under the proposed arrangements civilian air traffic will be permitted to share airspace with military aircraft, allowing more direct flying. The average European airline flight is 30 miles longer than strictly necessary in order to steer clear of military zones. France is a good case in point with four separate military areas. It is estimated that 5% of the total airspace in Europe is restricted in the way at certain times.

Aside from these efforts, on which negotiations continue, airlines are working to cut costs in other ways. BA has started to carry less tap water to save weight and therefore fuel. No sign of them dropping the boxes of duty-free nonsense that they cart about so far, though.

Excess Baggage

Ever wondered what happens to your luggage once it vanishes from sight on the conveyor belt at check-in (apart from having the handle ripped off and being sent to some random destination)?

One elderly Swedish lady could tell you after she misunderstood the desk agent’s instructions in 2008 at Stockholm airport. Instead of toddling off to the departure area for some light shopping and a cuppa, she jumped onto the baggage belt and disappeared after her case.

The system was quickly shut down and she was retrieved, dusted off and continued to board her international flight in the more traditional manner.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Throb of the Engines

This just in from a pal in the airline business...

The latest XL related casualty is the closing this morning of....wait for it...Throb Holidays.

Throb specialises in holidays for gay persons...nothing like using a discrete name! At least the passengers had protection (so to speak) through the ATOL scheme.

Throb had of course paid all their money to XL, and now cannot recover those funds. This is the problem with tour operator to tour operator sales. Passenger's remain protected through the bonding scheme, but the tour operator who has paid their money (in this case to XL Leisure, as opposed to the airline) loses it and simply becomes a creditor.

You couldn't make it up....