Archive for August, 2009

Tarmac delays what to do?

August 27, 2009

Surviving the dreaded tarmac delay
Writer Harry R. Weber, Ap Airlines Writer –
Wed Aug 26, 2:06 pm as published in Yahoo News

ATLANTA – You’re tired, hungry, have a cranky baby on your lap and all you want to do is get off the plane, but you can’t because it’s been on the tarmac for hours waiting to take off.

While such delays are rare, they can be more common during the hot summer due to thunderstorms and, this year, because of fewer flights to get you to your destination if your flight is canceled.

A six-hour delay with 47 people aboard a small Continental Express plane at a Minnesota airport this month is the extreme. In June, the most recent month for which data is available, there were 278 tarmac delays of 3 hours or more. That was the most this year but still only .05 percent of the total number of scheduled flights that month.

Information is the best ammunition in such situations. Experts advise that passengers be prepared. Here are answers to some questions travelers may ask.

Q. Can’t I just get off the plane?

A. No. The captain has ultimate control of the plane and generally will determine if and when to return to the gate and allow passengers to get off.

“It’s not a democracy,” says Robert Mann, an airline industry consultant in Port Washington, N.Y.

Passengers can request that the aircraft return to the gate, or if they have a cell phone they can call airline customer service or their carrier’s frequent flier hotline and exert pressure that way. If you have a medical condition or are ill, notify the crew immediately. But taking matters into your own hands is ill-advised. An FAA spokeswoman says unruly passengers who make a run for the aircraft door could be arrested for interfering with the crew.

Q. Why would the airline choose to keep the passengers onboard rather than let them get off?

A. It takes a lot of time to get passengers off a plane and then back on again. If the weather clears up at the airport where you are heading, the crew may have a limited opportunity to take off. Tarmac delays often occur because of bad weather, congestion and air traffic control issues. Further delays could be caused by allowing passengers to get off, which also could mean passengers with connecting flights might miss those connections.

Airline operations also are a factor. Because of weak demand for air travel due to the ailing economy, airlines have taken large chunks of seats out of the air and are offering fewer flights and frequencies to some destinations.

“It may add to the reason there are the tarmac delays and not the cancellations,” says Terry Trippler, an airline and travel expert based in Minneapolis. “The airlines realize that there aren’t a lot of flights to get them onto alternate flights, and that’s why they rather just wait and get them out.”

Q. How long can the crew keep me on the plane before heading back to the gate?

A. There’s no law or rule mandating that the crew allow you to get off after a certain period. Legislation introduced in the Senate in July would require planes delayed more than three hours to return to a gate. A rule proposed by the Department of Transportation would require airlines to have contingency plans for dealing with lengthy tarmac delays. Some airlines have implemented customer commitments in recent years to try to appease passengers. JetBlue Airways vows to deplane passengers if an aircraft is delayed on the ground for five hours. That was instituted in 2007 after passengers on a JetBlue flight waited 11 hours on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Q. Will I get something to eat and drink while I wait?

A. Airlines generally only stock enough food and drinks for the length of the flight. Passengers on the Continental Express flight later complained about not being offered food and drink during their lengthy tarmac delay. Several airlines have procedures for dealing with onboard delays that include making sure the cabin temperature is appropriate and passengers have access to restrooms, and food and water.

After a recent AirTran Airways flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta was diverted to Chattanooga, Tenn., flight attendants offered bottled water and pretzels to passengers during the 90-minute tarmac delay.

Delta Air Lines says on its Web site that in the event of onboard ground delays under certain circumstances, it promises to make timely announcements regarding the flight status, allow customers to use cell phones and laptop computers and provide snacks and beverages to customers when “reasonable and safe to do so.” Experts advise that passengers should carry food and drink with them on flights in case of a delay while onboard.

“Instead of that extra pair of shoes in your carryon, you put an extra sandwich or an extra bottle of water,” Trippler says.

Q. What can I do to pass the time during a tarmac delay?

A. On a long delay you might be hoping that you’re not stuck next to someone who wants to share his life story. In that case on-flight TV or radio may be your salvation. What’s more, it’s always smart to carry something to read to get you through a delay no matter how long.

If you have a connecting flight that you might miss, use your cell phone to call airline customer service and rebook your next flight. The one thing experts agree on is that it is important to stay calm in those situations.

Q. What kind of compensation am I entitled to if I experience a tarmac delay?

A. Typically, circumstances beyond the control of an airline are not covered in terms of passengers being provided compensation, says aviation consultant Mark Kiefer of CRA International in Boston. However, airlines have discretion to help passengers out, and some even have policies for allowing for compensation when there are tarmac delays.

For instance, JetBlue customers who experience an onboard ground delay on arrival for two hours or more after scheduled arrival time are entitled to a voucher. The voucher is good for future travel on JetBlue in the amount paid by the customer for their roundtrip ticket.

Q. Where can I get more information about airline policies regarding tarmac delays?

A. Airline Web sites are a good place to start. Check the airline’s contract of carriage, which outlines its responsibilities to customers and the action it will take in various situations

Airline flight bumping

August 26, 2009

If airline bumps you, know your rights
Sunday, August 09, 2009 as published in Plain Dealer travel section
David Koenig
Associated Press
Airlines are operating fewer flights this summer, meaning that planes are packed even with the slump in travel.
To keep flights from departing with empty seats, airlines often sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane. Last year, more than 63,000 passengers were bumped, according to government figures, and this year is shaping up similarly.
So what should you do if you get bumped?
Before bargaining with the gate agent over travel vouchers and upgrades, it pays to know your rights and the airline’s responsibilities.
The federal government sets rules on bumping and occasionally fines airlines for breaking them. Last month, the Transportation Department fined Delta Air Lines $375,000, although it may waive about half if Delta improves its procedures for handling oversold flights.
Airlines must ask for volunteers first, and pay passengers who are bumped involuntarily.
If you are bumped involuntarily from a domestic flight, the airline must pay you the price of a one-way ticket, up to $400, if you are rescheduled to reach your destination between one and two hours of the original arrival time. The maximum doubles if it your scheduled arrival is more than two hours later.
Gate agents may put out a sign or simply tell passengers that they are looking for volunteers to give up their seats. Chris McGinnis, a travel consultant in San Francisco, says it’s often best to ignore their first offer and wait until departure time nears.
“The bidding gets stronger,” he says. “That’s when it goes from $100 off your next flight to maybe $300 and a business-class seat on the next flight out.”
The best flights to bargain for better compensation are late afternoon or evening trips. They’re popular with business travelers who have to get to a morning meeting or are eager to get home.
Experts warn about accepting travel vouchers. They might be hard to redeem, especially during peak travel periods. Make sure you understand any limitations. Also be sure you get confirmed space on a later flight that will get you to your destination at an acceptable time.
Airlines oversell flights because some passengers buy costly, fully refundable tickets on more than one flight and then use only one. Other flights are overbooked because of anticipated no-shows and still others because the airline had to substitute a smaller plane with fewer seats.
While there are federal rules on bumping, there is no sweeping requirement for airlines to provide hotel rooms and meals for passengers who are stranded overnight, even if it’s the carrier’s fault, according to the Transportation Department. But you can haggle
“It’s up to the discretion of the carrier and the [gate] agent,” says George Hobica, who operates airfarewatch dog.com. “Some airlines will do their best if you ask nicely.”
What should you do if you’re not bumped but have to face a long delay?
Hobica says that when a long delay appears obvious, you should ask to be rebooked on another airline, especially if it is the carrier’s fault, such as a mechanical problem or lack of crew.
Veteran travelers say if a long delay will cause you to miss the reason for your trip, such as a wedding or business meeting, ask for a refund. However, there is no law requiring the airline to give you a refund.
Airlines and passenger-rights groups are fighting over how carriers handle long delays, and Congress may settle the issue. Last month, a Senate committee passed a bill that would require airlines to let passengers off planes that are stuck on the tarmac for at least three hours.
Airlines say such a law would make things worse by forcing planes that might be near the front of the takeoff line to taxi back to the gate, then go to the back of the pack. More flights would be canceled, says David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a Washington trade group for the largest U.S. carriers. Consumer groups aren’t buying it.
“No one believes that the airlines will fix the problem themselves,” says Kate Hanni, a California real estate agent who created a passenger-rights group after being stranded on a grounded American Airlines jet for more than eight hours in December 2006. “They haven’t yet.”
Since airline travel is often stressful, and summer always brings many delays, experts advise you have a Plan B. Know what flights are available if yours is canceled. If your flight is pushed back or scrubbed, hop on your laptop or phone to see if you can rebook.

Sardinia Italy

August 12, 2009

From Sardinia tourist Board

Culinary Sardinia
In Sardinia more people live to be 100 or older than anywhere else in the world. And as a scientific study has shown, this longevity is attributable not to the Sardinian gene pool but rather to the island’s relaxed and healthy lifestyle. But by no means do Sardinians live like monks. Indeed, Sardinia is an earthly paradise for people who love fine food, including fragrant bread fresh out of the oven, delectable skewered meats roasted over an open pit, spectacularly fresh seafood, countless varieties of Sardinian Pecorino cheese, not to mention fresh fruits and vegetables directly from the grower and of course full-bodied wines. Sardinian cuisine is famed for its use of fresh, in-season ingredients from the Mediterranean region. And what could be better than enjoying a glass of Sardinian red wine while you wait for your pasta, porchetto or arragosta and pick out words you understand from the undercurrent of neighboring conversations. Memorable too are visits to Sardinia’s cantina sociale where local wines, including Grappa, are produced and sold.

Among Sardinia’s many outstanding culinary specialties is sa buttariga (popularly known as bottarga) which is smoked mullet caviar. This delicacy is usually served as an appetizer, thinly sliced and marinated in olive oil. Many Sardinians also eat their spaghetti with the delectable bottarga.

Sardinia’s best known bread is aptly named carta di musica (music paper), a dry, light, hearty and extremely thinly sliced shepherd’s bread composed of rounds of superimposed crispy layers of dough. When shepherds combine this delicacy with tomato sauce and egg, it becomes pane frattau.

To make carne a carraxiu (buried meat), a suckling pig, lamb or calf is laid in a hole dug in the ground and covered with aromatic myrtle leaves. At the end of the process, firewood is laid on top, which gradually cures the meat. A truly succulent delicacy for meat enthusiasts!

Sardinia’s delicately flavoured sheep’s cheese Pecorino is now exported all over the world. Authentic Pecorino is made without any anomalous ingredients such as cow’s milk (instead of sheep’s milk). The most famed Sardinian cheese is smoked, spicy and sharp Fiore Sardo, which is aged over a long period.

America’s Best and Worst Airports-published by Travel and Leisure

August 10, 2009

America’s Best and Worst Airports 2009
What are the odds your next flight will be delayed? Depends on what airport you’re flying from.

By Travel + Leisure StaffLAX

We all know the drill: you show up at the airport with plenty of time to spare, only to discover that your flight’s been delayed and now you have hours to kill. Or worse yet, you’ve already boarded your flight and now you’re stuck on the tarmac.

Where is this most likely to happen? You can’t eliminate delays, of course, but you can play the odds—some airports have better track records than others (as do some airlines, which is why we rank the best and worst airlines for on-time performance). So, as we do every year, Travel + Leisure gathered statistics from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics on flights that departed more than 15 minutes behind schedule (in this instance from April 1, 2008, to March 31, 2009) and found out the best—and worst—airports for on-time performance.

There is some good news overall: the worst airport (there’s a new winner this year) improved on its delays by 3 percentage points. It was also the only airport to have 30 percent or more of its flights delayed; last year, four airports broke the 30 percent barrier.

This upward trend meant that even though some airports improved their on-time performance, their ranking may not have changed much. Dallas decreased its flight delays by a lot—6 percentage points—but it remained at the No. 4 spot in the top 10 worst airports. And JFK—despite decreasing its delays 11 percentage points over the past 2 years—tied with Dallas for that No. 4 spot.

Some of these airports will come as no surprise: the skies around New York City continue to be congested, backing up traffic at all three area airports. And other hubs like Atlanta and Chicago remain on the list of offenders.

But both the best and worst lists have some newcomers this year. Philadelphia—on neither list in 2007 or 2008—showed up in the top 10 worst airports (22 percent of flights were delayed). Orlando had sunnier news, breaking into the 10 best list with just 18 percent of its flights delayed (good news, of course, for visitors to Disney World). Detroit, too, joins the ranks of the elite, with 17 percent of its flights delayed.

And of course some airports have disappeared from the lists. That’s unfortunate for Seattle, which was one of the 10 best in 2008. It’s better news for Chicago Midway (MDW), which at 25 percent was one of the 10 worst in 2008.

So consult this list before you book your next ticket: if you can fly out of an alternate airport like Midway, the odds are better that you’ll arrive at your destination on time. And these days, on-time arrivals are just about the only thing airlines aren’t charging extra for.

America’s Top Five Best Airports 2009
1. Salt Lake City (SLC)
2. Portland (PDX)
3. (Tie) Washington, D.C. (DCA)
3. (Tie) Minneapolis St. Paul (MSP)
5. (Tie) Los Angeles (LAX)
5. (Tie) San Diego (SAN)
5. (Tie) Tampa (TPA)

America’s Top Five Worst Airports 2009
1. Newark (EWR)
2. Chicago (ORD)
3. Miami (MIA)
4. (Tie) Dallas Ft. Worth (DFW)
4. (Tie) New York (LGA)
4. (Tie) New York (JFK)