Posts in category Gulliver


Business and financeGulliver

Restrictions are lifted on the last airline affected by America's laptop ban

JUST like that, America’s laptop ban is all but over. Four months ago the Trump administration announced that travellers from ten Middle Eastern countries would be barred from taking electronics larger than a mobile phone into plane cabins, citing security concerns. In the past few weeks, the government has been gradually freeing carriers, including Emirates, Etihad and Turkish Airlines, from the restrictions. On July 17th, it lifted the ban on the last remaining airline covered, Saudi Arabian Airlines.

That represents a shift by the Department of Homeland Security. John Kelly, the department’s chief, had at one stage suggested that the laptop would be extended across the world. But at the end of last month it was instead decided that America would demand a slate of tighter security measures at all airports with flights into the country. Mr Kelly said at the time that around 325,000 flyers each day, on 2,000 flights from 280 airports in 105 countries, would be subject to a more “extensive screening process”. That would include…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

United Airlines is testing a novel way of bumping passengers

IT IS a classic traveller’s dilemma: you are waiting in the boarding area for your flight, and an airline employee asks over the loudspeaker if anyone is willing to be bumped in exchange for a voucher. You like the idea of sacrificing the unimportant meeting you were scheduled to attend in return for a few hundred dollars of travel credit. Then again you do not fancy explaining this to your colleagues, or sitting about in an airport for three hours waiting for the next flight.

Now imagine that instead of having to make this decision just before you board, you could do it do it several days in advance, in the comfort of your home. Changes the equation a bit, does it not?

United Airlines is contemplating a new scheme along these lines, called the Flex-Schedule Program. If a flight is overbooked, or looking like it might be, United will contact passengers who have signed up to the scheme up to five days ahead of departure. They will be given the option of switching to a less popular flight on the same day between the same…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why the spectre of a hard Brexit has European airlines so worried

PILOTS are taught that a too-hard landing is better than a too-soft one. A plane can absorb more shocks than one might think, but a runway is only so long. But when it comes to Brexit Britain’s government seems to differ. And as the deadline for Britain’s secession from the European Union approaches, the spectre of a hard Brexit has some airlines scrambling. For carriers with big operations in Britain, the terms of Brexit cannot be cushioned enough.

Of most concern is that a hard Brexit will involve Britain leaving the European Common Aviation Area. Europe’s open skies fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, whose yoke the country must be free from, insists Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister. That in turn would bring into question the right of British carriers to fly routes within the EU. The most pessimistic within the industry, including Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair, say that unless a new bilateral agreement is agreed, there is a real prospect that flights between Britain and the continent…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Donald Trump's affect on tourism has not been as bad as feared

A FEW months into Donald Trump’s presidency, the headlines about travel to America were dire. “US Travel Industry Fears a ‘Lost Decade’ Under Trump,” Bloomberg warned. “Trump Slump Could Take a $1.3 Billion Toll on US Travel Spending,” the travel-news site Skift stated. “US Travel Industry Fears Trump Slump,” reported The Hill, which quoted the executive director of the Global Business Travel Association saying that the president’s early policy agenda “is unlike anything…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Who is writing politicians' letters complaining about the Gulf carriers?

CONGRESS is sick and tired of unfair competition to America’s airlines from the three big Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. So on June 28th, 17 representatives from the state of Illinois wrote a letter to the secretaries of State, Transportation and Commerce complaining about the subsidies these airlines receive from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Illinois is home to one of the America’s biggest hubs, O’Hare International in Chicago. Nearly 25,000 people in the state are employed by American Airlines, United and Delta.

The letter followed similar ones from congressional…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The boss of Qatar Airways ridicules American carriers for their aged flight attendants

GULLIVER is rarely fazed by what happens below the line of his posts. Receiving the occasional shoeing from readers—sometimes insightful, sometimes not—goes with the job. And he has certainly found his views swayed by well-reasoned arguments he finds there.

But he was truly gobsmacked at the discussion that ensued from a piece last year about the sexualisation of flight attendants. The post noted a few of the seedier airline hiring practices, such as asking potential recruits, some just 15, to take part in a bikini competition, or carriers refusing to employ married women. It then concluded with what seemed to be an an uncontroversial suggestion: female cabin crew should be chosen for their abilities, not for their allure.

It turns out that such woolly liberal thinking is merely the product of the bubble he lives in, according to some readers. “A mixture of silly puritanism and pseudo-egalitarianism,” said one. “Boo hoo why do pretty…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why British Airways customers might enjoy a strike by flight attendants

HOW do you best judge the success of an airline? One obvious way is to ask whether lots of people fly with it, and if it makes pots of money for shareholders. Judged on these metrics, few can quibble with the direction that British Airways is heading. Last year 42.1m people flew with the airline, nearly 10m more than in 2011. In 2012, IAG, the airline’s parent firm, posted a loss of €716m ($816m). In 2016 it made a profit of €1.9bn.  

Shareholders, then, have little to grumble about. One of the ways that the airline has prospered is by focusing on its costs. When Willie Walsh, himself an avowed cost-cutter, moved from the hot seat at BA to running IAG in 2011, he appointed Alex Cruz from Vueling to carry on his work. As befits the former head of a budget carrier, Mr Cruz has continued to strip many of the frills from the once full-service airline.

Passengers and staff are not so happy with the changes. The airline has suffered four computer failures over the past year. The last one, in May, knocked out many…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Screeners at Minneapolis airport are reported to have a 94% failure rate

TWO more airports have joined Abu Dhabi in having a laptop ban lifted. On July 5th passengers flying from Dubai or Istanbul to America were told that they will once more be allowed to take large electronic devices into plane cabins, rather than having to stow them in the hold, which they have been required to do since March. That will come as a relief to passengers of Emirates, Turkish Airlines and Etihad who have been forced to fly without their laptops and tablets. It follows a change of heart by John Kelly, America’s homeland security secretary. On July 28th, Mr Kelly’s department decided again to trust foreign airports with screening laptops for hidden explosives, so long as they upgraded security. Other airports affected by the ban are expected to pass muster in the coming days and weeks.

That is good news. But America would do well to get its own house in order as well. Fox 9 Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

America lifts its laptop ban on Etihad

TWO not entirely unrelated pieces of aviation news have come out of the Gulf in the past few days. The first is that America has lifted its laptop restrictions on Etihad. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) imposed a ban on large electrical devices in the cabins of planes flying from ten Middle Eastern countries in March, including from Abu Dhabi, Etihad’s base. Officials, it seemed, had got wind of a specific terrorist threat, possibly similar to the attempted downing of a jet in Somalia in 2016. On that occasion a passenger detonated a small explosive concealed in a laptop that was placed flush against the cabin wall. (Disaster was probably only averted because the man detonated the device too soon after take-off. The terrorist, who was sucked to his death through the resulting hole, was the only casualty.)

After months of mixed messages (at one point John Kelly, the homeland security secretary, suggested that the laptop ban was “likely” to be extended worldwide) last week the DHS Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Flyers may soon have their books and magazines screened

TO THE many invasions of privacy that have become commonplace in air travel—the pat-downs, the hand swabs, the shoe removal, the endless rummaging through luggage by security agents—one more may soon need to be added: the examination of reading material.

Last month, America’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ran tests at airports in California and Missouri that required passengers to remove all books and magazines from their carry-on bags and put them in plastic bins to be x-rayed. John Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said that the agency “might and likely will” impose that requirement at all airports. “What we’re doing now is working out the tactics, techniques, and procedures, if you will, in a few airports, to find out exactly how to do that with the least amount of inconvenience to the traveller,” he said.

The agency’s concern is that dense papers can block x-ray scanners, or could potentially be used to conceal weapons. A TSA spokeswoman Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

El Al can no longer ask women to move seats on religious grounds

ONE of the more unsavoury airline practices has now been outlawed. In 2015 flight attendants on El Al, Israel’s national carrier, asked Renee Rabinowitz, an 81-year-old holocaust survivor, to move seats after she boarded her flight in New Jersey. An ultra-orthodox Jewish male passenger had objected to having to sit next to her. Haredim, it was explained, are forbidden from close contact with females who are not relatives.

Ms Rabinowitz is not alone. As this blog has reported on several occasions in recent years, haredi men flying El Al regularly refuse to take their seats next to female passengers. And El Al staff, if the men cannot be accommodated elsewhere on the plane, will sometimes ask the “offending” woman to vacate her seat.

At the time, Ms Rabinowitz Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Etihad allows flyers to bid to keep adjacent seats empty

THERE are few things that airlines will not now put a price on. Even so, Etihad Airways has come up with an intriguing idea. The Abu Dhabi-based carrier is offering flyers the chance to bid to keep adjacent seats on a flight empty. Passengers can suggest the price they are willing to pay to block up to three berths, and the chance to stretch out a bit.

Anyone who regularly suffers the ignominy of economy-class flying knows that there is no finer feeling than discovering that a flight is half empty and that there is no need to sit cheek-by-jowl with fellow members of the hoi polloi. Most travellers can recount with glee a journey in which they found they had an entire row to themselves, could raise the armrests, and sleep soundly and horizontally for the duration of the flight. It is surely the only time that it is preferable to have a booked ticket in the middle column of seating. (A particularly pleasing Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Qatar Airways wants a 10% stake in American Airlines

IT SEEMED, at first blush, to be a masterclass in how to bait a rival. For years, American Airlines, along with other big American carriers, has complained of “unfair” competition from Middle Eastern operators, which stand accused of taking state subsidies. On June 22nd one of those accused, Qatar Airways, said it planned to take an unsolicited 10% stake in the firm.

In a regulatory filing, it was revealed that Qatar, which reported a profit of $540m in 2016, wants to buy at least $808m of American’s shares. The move has not gone down well with some. Doug Parker, American’s boss, described it as “puzzling”. One airline union accused Qatar of “using enormous government subsidies to gain a greater foothold in US markets”. Adding “They’re coming after our routes, which means the jobs of our members are at stake.”

Politicking from America, in turn, has been making life tough for Qatar’s national carrier. This month Donald Trump backed the decision of several Gulf states to cut diplomatic ties with…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

“Basic economy” class is winning over flyers

GULLIVER wrote last week about American Airlines handing indignant flyers a notable victory. The carrier rescinded a plan to take away an inch of legroom from economy-class seats on new planes, following a public outcry. Such concessions are rare. Airlines generally worry about how customers vote with their wallets not how they grumble with their words. Hence, they cut comforts to offer the low fares that people demand.

Anyone hoping that American Airlines’ climbdown might signal a reversal of that trend should think again. Earlier this year, United Airlines introduced a new class of fare, “basic economy”. Such tickets, which strip out those few remaining comforts that economy passengers enjoy, have been derided as “last class”. But, like it or not, cost-conscious passengers are showing their approval.

The airline expanded the programme to all domestic markets last month. Andrew Levy, United’s CFO, said last week that about…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Complaints against America’s airlines are rising

LAST year, Bob Fornaro, the boss of Spirit Airlines, talked of the effort his firm had made to reduce the number of customer complaints. The ultra-low-cost carrier, dubbed the most hated airline in America by Bloomberg, had long been ranked as a primary purveyor of passenger pain, regularly propping up lists that rate airline service. Alas, Mr Fornaro’s efforts seem to have gone unrewarded. Complaints per passenger remain easily the highest of any of the big American operators. In fact, as our chart shows, things seem to be getting worse.

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Business and financeGulliver

American Airlines reverses a pledge to squeeze legroom further

SOME rare good news for anyone planning to fly economy class on American Airlines: the carrier has scrapped plans to shrink the distance between rows on new planes it is purchasing. The Texas-based airline had said it would reduce the seat pitch on its new Boeing 737 Max planes to a knee-aching 29 inches in certain rows, down from its typical 30 inches (or 31 inches on its current 737-800 fleet). Now it says it will install those rows 30 inches apart.

An inch may not sound like much, but its significance is broader. The airline made the change in response to public outcry. American said it received copious feedback from customers and employees and that “it is clear that today, airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly.” People complained, and American listened.

In fact, the pressure came from more than just ordinary Joes. A member of Congress, bemoaning the ever-shrinking seat pitch, introduced Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Sanctions in the Middle East are bad for airlines, worse for travellers

PEACE in the Middle East, Donald Trump announced last month, is “not as difficult as people have thought over the years”. History will have to judge the president’s geopolitical impact on the region, but when it comes to air travel his influence is already being felt. And many business travellers might find themselves flying on inferior airlines as a result.

Mr Trump recently took credit for efforts to isolate Qatar. Last week, Saudi Arabia and five other countries in the region cut diplomatic ties with the tiny nation, which wields disproportionate influence through its oil wealth and international aviation. As a result of the sanctions, much of the airspace surrounding Qatar was closed. That blow follows the Trump administration’s earlier actions to ban nationals of several majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States—an order that has been put on hold by the courts—and to prevent…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Younger business travellers are more likely to extend trips for fun

ACCENTURE, advertorial, jeggings. The competition for ugliest portmanteau is fierce. Few constructions, though, can match “bleisure” for barbarousness. For the uninitiated, the word is a blend of business and leisure. But ugly as it is, it exists for a reason: the practice of adding a few days of pleasure to a work trip is becoming increasingly popular.

The latest research to bear this out was released this week by the Global Business Travel Association. Its survey of North American business travellers found that 37% had extended a work trip to include some leisure within the past year. This, typically, might mean stetching a break in a city into the weekend, possibly shipping in the family to join the fun. Often, such travellers will stay in the same hotel for the duration, making up the extra cost themselves.

Interestingly, the older the travellers…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Should animals be allowed to roam freely on jets?

FLYING can be a stressful and nerve-wracking experience. For those with mental-health issues it must be doubly so. One way in which vulnerable travellers deal with their anxiety on a plane is to take on board an “emotional support animal” (ESA). Such creatures provide succour for their owners. Unlike guide dogs, they “do not require any kind of specialised training,”  according to CertaPet, an organisation that provides such services. “In fact,” reckons CertaPet, “very little training is required at all, provided that the animal in question is reasonably well behaved by normal standards.”

That sounds like an easy and effective way to help sufferers. It was distressing to read, therefore, of the emotional support dog that mauled a passenger on Delta flight from Atlanta to San Diego earlier this week. Reports suggest that the dog, a labrador-pointer cross-breed, was accompanying a military…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Don’t trust an airline with your instrument

B.B. KING was famously inseparable from Lucille, his Gibson guitar. So much so that when taking a plane, he would book his six-string its own seat, often under the unimaginative nom de guerre of “Mr Guitar”. It is understandable that musicians prefer not to check their precious instruments into the hold. Airlines do not have a history of treating them so gently. Even a steel guitar can be made to weep.

Perhaps the most infamous horror story resulted in “United Breaks Guitars” a series of revenge songs recorded by Dave Caroll that went viral in 2009. Mr Carroll watched aghast from his plane window as ground handlers tossed about his $3,500 axe, after retrieving it from the hold. Though the neck of his guitar was plainly broken, it took nine months and the release of three mocking songs before the airline coughed up $1,200 for the repairs.

That incident may have been on the mind…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Political ostracism means more woe for Qatar Airways

AFTER years of ascension, the three Gulf superconnectors, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, have recently suffered a bad spell. The low price of oil—usually a boon for airlines—has reduced spending power in oil-rich states, which has dampened demand for flights from the region. Terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East, too, have proved a deterrent. Then came Donald Trump. The president’s attempts to ban travel from some Muslim-majority countries put many off flying to America, which is a big market for these long-haul carriers. American restrictions on electronic devices on flights from the three carriers’ home airports to America made things even worse.

Qatar Airways must have hoped that the only way from here on in was upwards. Those hopes were dashed on July 5th when Qatar’s neighbours, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, decided to sever diplomatic relations with the country, followed swiftly by others, including Egypt. The Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Britain needs a second flag-carrier

AIRLINES, like all firms, have a duty to shareholders to cut costs, if it makes them more competitive and more profitable in the long term. British Airways has been zealous in this regard. Over the past few years, the airline, under the stewardship of Willie Walsh and Alex Cruz, has cut staff, outsourced IT, and removed complimentary goodies from passengers.

They have their reasons. Not so long ago, some questioned whether British Airways could survive the combination of low-cost carriers devouring its short-haul route and upscale Middle Eastern rivals dominating the long-haul connecting market. Both of those challenges remain real (indeed a third previously unforeseen threat has arisen in the form of low-cost long-haul competitors such as Norwegian Air). Still, no one now questions British Airways’ immediate future. Partly as a result of cost-cutting, and a bit of luck in the form of low oil prices, the airline’s finances are rosy. In 2016, IAG, the carrier’s parent firm, reported a profit of €2.36bn…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why flying in the summer is so hellish

HERE in America, we recently celebrated Memorial Day, when barbecues and pool openings mark the beginning of summer, astronomers be damned. For leisure travellers, that means sun, surf and spritzes. For business travellers, it can mean headaches, as airport lines grow ever longer and flight delays more common.

Who is to blame for the annoyances of flying in the summer? Partly, it is those aforementioned leisure travellers. Longer waits in security lines are largely a question of volume. Airlines for America (A4A), an industry group, forecasts that more than 234m passengers will use America’s carriers from June through to August. That would represent a new record, topping last year’s number by 4%. A4A attributes the expected increase to a growing economy and “historically low airfares”. But really, this is a familiar pattern. In 2016 the group also predicted a record-high number of summer…Continue reading

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