Last week, I was in Paris and London working on a long investigative piece that will be airing in September on NBC—a one-hour Dateline special on the Concorde.
You may remember that eight years ago this month, on July 25, 2000, an Air France Concorde taking off from Charles De Gaulle in Paris crashed. It was an amazing, terrible, tragic event.
And, if you’ve also read the papers a few days ago, you may have seen that the French prosecutors have now charged Continental Airlines with manslaughter on the case.
That’s right, the prosecutors in France are charging Continental Airlines, an American carrier, with manslaughter.
We’ve been working on this story for quite some time and we will tell you in September why the Concorde crashed, how it crashed, and what really happened. The answers, I’m completely positive, will surprise you.
On a much lighter note, last week on the Today show, we did a fun story on the Wackiest Museums in America. And, believe it or not, those were just the tip of the iceberg.
I mean, a couple of years ago, I did a piece featuring the Barbed Wire Museum, the Ken and Barbie Museum, and a Museum of Funeral Customs. Last week, we talked about the Jell-O Museum up in LeRoy, New York. That’s right. A museum devoted entirely to Jell-O. No, there’s no “jiggle room” and nobody’s doing Jell-O shots.
In Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, right outside of Madison, Wisconsin, there’s the Mustard Museum. There are more than 5,000 different prepared mustards, and yes, you can taste them. They even have something called the “Mustard Piece Theatre” there; I didn’t make this up. You can actually watch movies over the years that have depicted mustard in history.
And then, my favorite is in Dedham, Massachusetts right outside of Boston … it’s the Museum of Bad Art. That’s right, the Museum of Bad Art.
How bad do you have to be to get in this museum? Well, guess what? Dogs playing poker, not bad enough. Wide-eyed kids, the old Walter Keene art, not bad enough. How would you like to be the curator of these museums?
Now, here’s the funny part: They’ve actually had pieces of the museum stolen. Obviously, someone thought they were so bad, they were good.
THE FUTURE OF ALL-BUSINESS-CLASS AIRLINES
It’s getting worse and worse and worse in the airline business. Would you believe at this moment, 73 cents of every dollar that you spend, goes directly to fuel? It’s impossible for these airlines to make money.
We already know that the all-business-class airlines like MAXjet, Eos, and Silverjet have all shuttered. British Airways’ has one called Open Skies, which just started. And, there was an all-business-class airline flying to France, called L’Avion.
The first thing that happened when British Airways started Open Skies is that it bought L’Avion because they were in trouble. And airlines like American, which had started flying to Stansted to compete with all the other airlines like Eos and MAXjet, have announced that they’re pulling out. It’s getting crazy.
SEPTEMBER 15: DOOMSDAY FOR AIR TRAVELERS?
But, for everybody else who’s not flying all-business class airplanes, it’s even worse. That’s right. And the bad day is September 15. Why am I saying September 15? Because that’s the day, more or less, that almost every U.S. airline has announced that it’s going to slash capacity across the board by as much as 15 percent.
And, if you’re a small city in this country, good luck getting air service, or anything close to resembling a reasonable air fare. It is entirely possible, and I am not exaggerating, that between 100 and 150 small U.S. cities, will be without air service by the end of this year.
Now, how are things responding in other ways?
Well, bus ridership is up 11 percent. Train ridership is up almost 20 percent. We had a report at NBC last week that almost every single major Amtrak train for the July 4 weekend was completely sold out. Now, having said that, Amtrak will still find a way to lose money because it’s not properly subsidized.
WHAT SHOULD CONGRESS DO?
Which gets me to the next item up for bid, here, in the “Price is Right: What is Congress going to do?”
We have an economic emergency of staggering proportions in this country: Delta is cutting 13 percent capacity during the second half of this year; Northwest is cutting 9.5 percent, and is suspending a number of European routes as well; Continental, is going to leave 15 cities already; Frontier Airlines is already operating in bankruptcy and they’re going to shut their capacity down 17 percent from September; American Airlines has announced about 7,000 job cuts, and it’s going to cut back many flights at many airports this year, especially in airports like LaGuardia and Chicago, which is really quite surprising; American Eagle’s going to ground 23 flights.
And they’re going to start leaving small towns. Listen to this: At least 97 small airports have either lost passenger service, or will, by this November. I say, it’s going to be between 100 and 150.
Airline economics does not have a trickle down, but a tumble-down effect on the American economy. What it’s going to do to small and medium-sized businesses in this country is hard to even fathom. We need to do something. As a tax payer, it’s going to hit you hard in ways you can’t imagine, unless we start supporting the airline business.
We’re not talking about government regulation, don’t get me wrong. The worst thing I could think about is the government running the airlines. But, they’re going to need to do some short-term loans like they did after September 11 to figure out the disparity between what it costs to fly the plane and what it costs to fuel the plane.
Right now, they can’t make any money. They can’t even stay in the air when airlines are parking planes because it’s cheaper to park them than to fly them. And with that, you know we are in deep you-know-what.
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