Travel Tips

Flyin’ in the Rain and the Approaching Olympics

Locations in this article:  Athens, Greece Atlanta, GA Beijing, China London, England Los Angeles, CA Sydney, Australia

water dropsLast Sunday I went to JFK to try to fly back to Los Angeles and my plane was on the ground.

This is always a nice sign, because when an airline departure board says “on time” you need to first of all figure out if the plane is there, not just scheduled to be on time.

But all of a sudden they cancelled my flight — and the flight after and the flight after, and everybody else’s flight. The problem was a little bit of weather, we all know about that.

But it’s now 2008 and somebody has to explain to me why rain — you heard me, rain — cancels flights.

Are we a bunch of ‘fraidy-cats? I don’t know about you but I grew up flying through rain.

I was supposed to leave at 2:45 pm, but I ended up leaving around 9 o’clock that night. At least I got out. It’s crazy.

Last week, on Sunday, 80 percent of the 709 arriving flights at JFK were late, 142 were cancelled, and 53 were diverted. This is nuts.

Here’s another one. In July alone, 44 percent of all JFK flights were late, and 40 percent of the flights at LaGuardia and Newark were late. You know what? Let’s all just move out of New York, or just shut New York down and the whole system will work. It’s crazy.

They’ve got to fix this. It is still my argument (and I would like somebody to argue against this in a coherent and intelligent way) that if we gave local authorities the right, not to mention the responsibility, of just telling us how many planes can your runways handle in a 60-minute period in any given hour of any given day, and we never exceeded that number, that the problem would be solved.

FAA LogoDon’t go by the number that is published by the FAA — those guys are delusional. But the FAA publishes a schedule of what the airports can handle which is totally unrealistic, and that’s on a good day. Throw in weather, and we’re all in trouble.

Let local authorities tell us what they can handle and then let the airlines just pick and choose.
You’ve got so many departures to choose from between 8 and 9 o’clock in the morning. If you want to pick a regional jet, a little skippy flight, or a 747, that’s your choice. Whatever piece of metal with engines you want to put on a runway during that time period, that’s up to you. But that’s what you’d get. Don’t you think we’d solve the problem?

I recently traveled to Los Angeles to be a speaker at the National Business Travel Association. If you want to know how important travel is despite the bad economy — despite airlines in trouble — the attendance this year was higher than last year. Almost 7,000 people were there, all the vendors and all the buyers of travel.

I was there to moderate a session between airline CEOs. Originally scheduled were Richard Anderson, the CEO of Delta, Montie Brewer, the CEO of Air Canada, and Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways. At the very last minute, Willie Walsh cancelled.

Gee, an airline canceling at the last minute, unheard of! But he did, and all the rumors that he was stuck in terminal five in London, of course, were unfounded.

It turns out that Willie Walsh was about to announce that he and Iberia, the Spanish airline, were in merger negotiations. Gee, another merger, I’m shocked! So that’s what he was doing over there.

Airline CEO PanelBut I had a chance to basically grill both Richard Anderson and Montie Brewer for about an hour and a half on stage. Some interesting things evolved from that, and emerged from that. We were talking about frequent flyer programs, what’s really going out there with your frequent flyer miles, and if they really have any value left.

We also talked about something that’s irking everybody — the nickel-and-diming a la carte pricing of the airlines and charging for bags. Richard Anderson proudly boasted that Delta does not charge for the first bag. And he’s right, they don’t — there’s none of this $15 for the first and $25 for the second.

What he neglected to tell everybody was that the day after his talk, which would have been Wednesday, Delta announced that they were charging $50 for the second bag. Nuts! Crazy!

It boggles the mind to try to figure out the logic behind this, other than it must be another attempt to simply generate revenue and engender incredible ill will. There’s got to be a better way. It’s just crazy.

The other thing that’s going on right now is related to the upcoming Olympic games. I predicted this, so I get to pat myself on the back. Guess what? Two months ago, if you tried to book a hotel in Beijing it was all sold out, you couldn’t get in. And I went on the Today show and said “guys, there’s a huge difference between a booked room and a blocked room.”

olympic ringsThey’ve blocked all the rooms for Olympic organizing committees, sponsors, and of course the teams themselves from all the various countries. And about two weeks before the Olympics, you’re going to find all those blocked rooms suddenly become unblocked and they come flooding back in the inventory. Guess what, if you want a hotel room in Beijing right now, how many would you like?

They’ve already added 13,000 new rooms in Beijing alone, and by the end of this year that number is going to be 30,000. So if you think there’s a glut now, get ready for September 5 when everybody leaves. Guess what? Lots of great deals happening in Beijing.

The good news is you got rooms; the bad news is that they resume production, construction, and pollution around August 23. Just remember, I warned you.

It’s the law of supply and demand. They’re still trying to fill rooms in Atlanta from the 1996 Olympics, in Sydney from the 2000 Olympics, in Athens from the 2004 Olympics, and very soon in China from the 2008 Olympics. So the law of supply and demand is going to be interesting to watch.

And of course, last but not least, another breakdown at Kennedy earlier this week when a machine that reads the barcodes on checked bags completely malfunctioned. Forty-eight American Airlines flights were cancelled or delayed, and another five just didn’t show up. Passengers on most of these flights were going abroad. Talk about great frustration.

Passengers were told they could either board their flights and get to where they were going without their bags, or stay behind with their bags and miss their flights. Now isn’t that interesting?

I waxed poetic about the days when the airlines would just lose my bags for free. That’s right, American Airlines did charge people $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second, and then despite all the disruptions, or as a result of it, guess what they said? “We’re going to waive that $15 fee.”

Gee, isn’t that great? They’re going to give that $15 fee back, even though you might be spending the night at the airport.

From Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.

Read more from Peter’s Travel Detective Blog.