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Smooth Landings and Stupid Travel News

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US Airways Boeing 767We’ve all been listening to the FAA tapes from the tower on US Airways Flight 1549, the radio communications between the plane and the tower, in the last two minutes of that flight.

It’s pretty haunting stuff, especially when you consider how calm Captain Chesley Sullenberger was during all of it. Basically he said, “We’re going to be in the Hudson,” and guess what? They were.

What’s happening now is that they’ll be salvaging the plane, investigating what really went wrong, looking at the engines, and deciding what’s going to happen to the plane.

I’m going to tell you a story about another ditching that happened many, many years ago. In fact, it was in 1968.

It was a Japan Airlines flight headed to San Francisco and the pilot made a beautiful landing—he didn’t realize it at the time—into the bay. In fact, it was a brand-new Douglas DC-8. It settled in 9 feet of water, and the landing gear was down, so he thought he’d landed.

By the way, so did the passengers. They got up, they got their coats, they thought they were walking out—and they were on the water! That’s how smooth the landing was. But the plane was actually a few miles short of the runway in about 9 feet of water. The water never got up to the door level because the landing gear got settled into the water first. The passengers never even got their feet wet; they just walked off onto a ramp and the boats got them ashore.

Japan AirlinesHere’s the interesting part of the story: This happened on November 22, 1968 with a brand-new DC-8. Two days later they got the plane out of the water. About three months later, they fixed the plane, and on March 26, 1969, it was delivered back. It took 52,000 man-hours, a $4 million repair bill, and the same plane was delivered back to JAL where it continued to fly for 14 more years.

In 1983 it was sold to a cargo company, and then to another cargo company in Nigeria, and then in 1987 it was purchased by Airborne Express and still continues to fly 32 years later! So every once in a while, if you do a nice soft landing in the water, you can actually fix the plane. Who knew?

AIR TRAVEL IS DOWN, BUT GOOD NEWS IS UP

Listen to this figure: Aviation analysts at the Boyd Group have predicted that airlines in the U.S. will carry 41 million fewer passengers in 2009 compared to last year.

Of course, one of the things the airlines have done is shrunk capacity. They have parked about 500 planes in the desert, which is the equivalent of taking one major airline out of service. However, it’s the first quarter again and passenger capacity is still down despite the shrunken capacity. Passenger traffic last month was nearly 11 percent less than it was a year ago.

Suitcase full of moneyBut that means we’re now in the world of airline fare sales: On United, if you book by February 13, you can fly one-way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for $47; San Diego to New Orleans, $82; Los Angeles to Charlotte, $83. The one I like the best is Los Angeles to Prague, $237 one-way. For that price, you can’t afford not to go!

Now put this into perspective. The New York to Washington, DC shuttle is $600 for a 38-minute flight. You can go from Los Angeles to Prague and back for $474. That’s amazing.

You’ve seen the news, and we’re experiencing the “AIG syndrome,” otherwise known as “luxury shame.” Nobody wants to get a pedicure when Rome is burning, so everybody is canceling their meetings, especially if you’re a bank that received bailout funds—no, they’re not having a convention in Vegas.

Just look at the guys at Wells Fargo. They called off their convention, and as a result, about 1,500 people aren’t going to Vegas. That’s a lot of empty hotel rooms, and as a result, the law of supply and demand kicks in. We’re seeing hotel rates in Las Vegas like $100 at Venetian including dinner, a show and the room. For that amount of money, I suspect I’ll have to be in the show.

WHEN NICKEL-AND-DIMING PAYS OFF

Now, having said all that, there is still the nickel-and-diming aspect of the airlines. My favorite topic: US Airways is now charging $7 for a blanket or a pillow. The good news is, at least it’s a new blanket and a new pillow. And maybe that’s worth it, because the other pillows that used to be free were basically a science experiment at the Centers for Disease Control. That was bacteria on parade.

Plane blanketJetBlue is also selling $7 pillows and blankets, but they actually come complete with a carrying case. Wait a minute though, does that count as another carry-on bag that you won’t be able to bring back on the plane with you?

In any case, if someone wants to charge me $7 for a hermetically-sealed new pillow, I’ll spend that money versus what they were offering on the plane before. If you’ve seen those blankets, first of all they look like they’re fire hazards, second of all they don’t keep you warm, and third of all, who knows what’s on those blankets?

If we ever took the black-light test on those blankets, it would be wild.

STUPID TRAVEL STORY OF THE WEEK

And now, here’s the stupid travel story of the week. Back in November, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that obese passengers have the right to two airline seats for the price of one. The high court declined to hear an appeal by the Canadian airlines. And basically now, since the airlines lost their right to that appeal, that means if you’re a really big person, you get two seats for the price of one.

Now, just two months after losing that court challenge, Canadian airlines are now revealing controversial new procedures in which passengers must prove that they are eligible to get that extra seat. This is going to be bad. But we’re going to stay on top of that story. Figuratively, of course.

By Peter Greenberg from Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.

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