Monday, November 02, 2009

Anyone seen Atomizer? 

Buried in the article on reopening of runway 12L/30R at MSP airport this weekend we find this nugget.

The runway project especially affected such St. Paul neighborhoods as Highland Park, Mac-Groveland and Summit Hill, which are in the flight path of a secondary runway that's typically not heavily used.

A year ago, St. Paul residents filed 10 aircraft noise complaints in September. This September, there were 2,474 complaints from St. Paul, including more than 1,000 from one person.

Did he collect them all in one email, or did he call a hotline one thousand times? This was the end of the article, and I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to see it end. Who is this guy? What motivated the 1000 calls? Where does he live relative to the flight path?

I want an accounting from Fraters tout suite.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Ya sure we got an airline 

An oldie is going around Minnesota after the announcement of Delta leaving us in St. Cloud without local airport service, and as an alternative to lost souls flying for Northwest:

Did anyone notice how the story changes? They initially said they were in a heated discussion over airline policy, but now it appears they have recanted that story. 78 minutes of radio silence? This story will have enough legs to get to next Saturday's potluck.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

It takes some doing to make me miss Northwest 

But Delta, congratulations! You've done it.
Delta Air Lines announced today that it is ending air service between St. Cloud and Minneapolis at the end of the year.

The company cited weak customer demand that has seen flights between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud at about 33 percent capacity during the past year.

Travelers who have Delta flights booked after Dec. 31 will get alternative transportation options or refunds, the company said in a news release. Delta will contact customers who provided full contact information with their reservation to arrange alternative transportation, the company said in the news release.
So investments made by the area to improve and expand this airport will now have to bring someone else to use this airport. C'mon Sun Country! I've always wanted to be a fan, and I even follow you on Twitter.

In a related story, Rep. Jim Oberstar promises stimulus dollars to extend the Lake Wobegon bike trail to Eagan. /sarc

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

An open letter to Delta AirLines 

(This letter was originally sent to Delta on July 13. I have received no reply from them, or from Czech Air whose agents in Prague were part of the story. At the suggestion of several, I am posting this here to let you know at least one travel snafu. The letter has been edited for grammatical mistakes.)

I have never had flights so screwed up as this one. The ticket was reserved via Czech Air, but problems were through Delta. See etkt (deleted). My NWA WorldPerks number is (deleted).

On my way to Armenia I had a 15 hour layover in Prague. Reportedly there was a hotel room at the end of that leg of the flight. This was not received. I ended up paying for a room out of my pocket.

On way back, told at transfer desk in Prague, after already coming in from Yerevan, that my ticket to JFK had been "canceled by Atlanta-Delta." After much complaining, I received ticket to JFK. Why would you cancel a ticket for a trip that was already in progress?? And then of course I get the "extra special passenger screening" in front of the gate.

On arrival at JFK, I get in seven hours early before the next flight. There are TWO flights to MSP before mine. May I wait-list either of those, I ask. "Not in your class," replied the desk agent. Why, if those planes were not full, could I not take an earlier flight??

Your desk agents in PRG and JFK made this a very unpleasant trip back. Never had more than one boarding card. Had to buy my own hotel room in Prague to change, shower and sleep. I do not understand how "Skyteam" is supposed to make my experience in international travel better. I NEVER had these problems with NWA. I am very unhappy you have bought them.

And to add insult to injury, I typed the above in your online form, and your system did not accept any of the remaining information. I should point out that I am a radio talk show host at AM1280 the Patriot in Minneapolis, and I think this experience will make for a very good segment on my show soon.

A similar letter will be going to Czech Air.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Joseph was a foreign speculator 

Chad alerts us to a new site being promoted inter alia by Northwest Airlines, the folks who are making tipping the skycap mandatory. The site: Stop Oil Speculation Now.

Every time you buy products such as food or gas, you are impacted by unregulated, secretive and often foreign commodities futures markets. Speculators in these markets are increasingly buying and selling commodities such as oil to sell again, rather than to use. As largely unregulated speculators pocket billions of dollars at your expense, the price of commodities has increased out of proportion to marketplace demands.

As speculators continue to dominate the market, the volume of oil traded �on paper� has been as high as 22 times greater than the volume of oil consumed. As prices rise, institutional investors have become active traders, turning commodities into just another asset class. This has caused severe market imbalance and upset the natural relationship between supply and demand. As a result, legitimate customers such as trucking companies, airlines, and consumers have been forced to purchase oil at unnecessarily higher prices. This has dramatically raised costs, resulting in needlessly high prices for American consumers and businesses.

Lovely. Foreign speculators. It takes a special kind of chutzpah for someone to practice xenophobia while selling you a plane ticket to Asia. (Now with an extra $100 processing fee for using your frequent flyer miles, too!) Foreign speculation has been done for a long time, even going back to Biblical times. Does it matter? Do we think the price would be less if speculation was restricted to Wall Street firms? (Such firms, by the way, often use foreign futures markets for their trading, just a small quibble.)

The site provides a definition for a speculator:
In commodity futures, an individual who does not hedge, but who trades with the objective of achieving profits through the successful anticipation of price movements.
That begs the question, what do they mean by hedge?
Hedging: Taking a position in a futures market opposite to a position held in the cash market to minimize the risk of financial loss from an adverse price change; or a purchase or sale of futures as a temporary substitute for a cash transaction that will occur later. One can hedge either a long cash market position (e.g., one owns the cash commodity) or a short cash market position (e.g., one plans on buying the cash commodity in the future).
So someone who is minimizing risk is hedging. But risk doesn't disappear when a futures contract is purchased or sold. It can only be transferred from the seller of the contract to the buyer. The speculator, in buying futures contracts, is accepting the risk that the price will be lower in the future; he loses money if the spot price for oil in the future is below the contracted price in the futures contract. The airlines are of course trying to reduce their exposure to oil price fluctuations, so they pay speculators to transfer that risk. Who did they think they were doing business with before, just oil companies?

Northwest and others are seeking relief from Congress, to which Chad writes:
One obvious question is how the UNITED STATES CONGRESS plans to "act" to do something about these "foreign" commodities futures markets. The arrogance and ignorance that leads these bozos to believe that global oil markets will bow to the whims of Congress is rather astounding.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

And just after I had a good experience, too 

I certainly have been critical in the past of Northwest, but can tell you last week's trip went relatively well. My flight out of St. Cloud was cancelled, but early enough to have NWA send me down in a cab to the Cities in time for the flight. (Of course, while in the cab they had rebooked me for the flight the next day, the reservations people and the gate personnel not knowing what each other were doing. But this was handled quickly and efficiently.) After that, no problems at all if you don't count the breaking of my suitcase ... as if that's the first time THAT had happened.

Well now I get to pay $15 for the chance for them to break my bag again. Along with 2,500 in layoffs comes this lovely news:
Northwest also says it will begin charging $15 for the first checked bag, matching a fee added by other carriers this year. And the airline says it will begin charging a fee for frequent-flier award tickets -- from $25 for domestic tickets to $100 for flights to Asia.

The company says those measures should increase revenues by as much as $300 million a year.
Consider this a minute -- who does this hurt more? The business traveler typically does not have a checked bag. So the leisure traveler is taking the brunt of the bag charge. The miles thing is less clear -- I am inclined to think ff miles are more the perk of business travelers who are allowed to keep them, but are used for leisure travel. Given the price of substitutes have gone up for the vacationer, I can see this as a reasonable strategy. Other airlines have been doing the same thing on the frequent flyer award travel, but the bag charge seems to be new.

I'll bring fewer, or smaller, gifts back from my next stop.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

How NOT to run an airline 

For those of us living in the upper Midwest, encounters with service difficulties from Northwest Airlines are relatively common. Sometimes weather plays a role, but most often it's just an airline not paying attention to details because it figures it has a captured audience. Last night was one of those cases.

There has been runway construction this summer, which is scheduled to end this week. There are four runways at MSP, and taking one of the major ones out has put some strain on the remainder. So it came as little surprise to me, when flying into the airport last night after a trip to the West Coast over the weekend -- the reason for no posting Friday -- that I got hung up circling the airport for thirty minutes. Given I had a short connect to the commuter flight to St. Cloud, that was stressful enough.

Running out of the plane after it landed, I noticed the sign that said the plane was delayed by seven minutes. Good, I thought, I might make it after all. I have experience running through airports, but my PRs for getting from concourse C to B are now ten year old records.

I hit Concourse B at fifteen minutes before the flight is to leave, and as I approach I see people milling around the gate area. As I approach, the sign on the monitor behind the desk says the plan is not leaving for another 90 minutes. I tell the person at the desk that the monitors of departures indicated this flight leaving in fifteen minutes? She was nonplussed; "oh, they should fix that." Yes, you would think they would. "It might be longer; we're still waiting for the flight to get in."

So I watch the end of the Pats-Cowboys game -- deliciously ended with that extra touchdown to tell the world they are running up the score on everyone -- go back to the gate with 50 minutes to go and call my brother to talk about the day's games. While we talk, they back-up the departure time by ten minutes. OK, I'm getting home soon, this is fine.

I hang up, two guys who heard me talking strike up a conversation about football. A second guy approaches the gate podium. This, remember, is a commuter flight on a plane with 34 seats. There are never two people at this podium. Hmmm.

Next, they change the monitor for a flight to Eau Claire. Still say nothing.

Five more minutes pass, and they cancel the flight. "Weather related," they say, so no help with hotel. There's a late flight to St. Cloud but it's full, and so is the first flight the next morning. We are booked on the second flight. When people want their bags, they are told they cannot get them unless they wait for someone to get them and bring them to a carousel, and that this will take 2-3 hours. "But they are right there outside." Answer: Podium guy isn't the bag guy. What about a refund for that ticket? What about a bus to St. Cloud? No and no. We are left to fend for ourselves, or sleep wherever and wait for the 11am flight.

As you can tell from this post, I didn't wait. I found someone to share a $159 car rental (!) to get to the St. Cloud airport, where I picked up my car and went home. My checked bag is still probably in Minneapolis. And while we drove, there was very little rain. Indeed, MSP reported 0.13 inches yesterday.

Weather related? Or runway-closure related? And if it's the latter, where are the contingencies? What is the purpose of the second podium guy -- who said he was the decision-maker -- other than crowd control? This fellow was not very helpful and in fact quite rude. The people at the front desk would not issue a refund or any help, just giving me a book with a phone number to call today to request a ticket refund. What are they there for? To sell, only.

Is it unreasonable for me to think the airline did not have more information than I did about the probability of canceling the flight at the first moment I arrived at the gate? What would it take for me to get them to reveal that information? What is their interest in hiding it from me?

Any business that faces competition would not behave this way because if so they would lose customers. Failure to provide a service is one thing. Failure to provide anything more than a "tough luck, sorry" is unacceptable. NWA, I'm going to start encouraging people to do all that is possible to increase competition in that airport. I don't want you to fail; I want you to do better. But that means I have to act fickled.

So can I get you to believe me? Maybe I should learn a little game theory.

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