Airports are working with TSA to improve security

Spent a lot of time last week on security-related issues. Two separate briefings, meetings and discussions with TSA and others. There is a lot going on. 

In the aftermath of the Christmas bombing attempt (Captain Underpants), the Deptment of Homeland Security and TSA reacted strongly, as you’d expect. Adjustments have been made. It was just my luck that I started showing up with a metal hip just after Christmas, I have been frisked by seemingly every TSA employee in North America since! 

I sense that we have reached a point now where industry and government can work even more closely together on common sense reform of the current security system. ACI-NA is already working with TSA and other industry partners on a review of security procedures and policies to reduce redundancy and increase efficiency. Such efforts are going to be increasingly important. 

You see, we have mostly eliminated the most obvious and easiest paths for terrorists to use. But these terrorists are a smart, patient and adaptive lot. We will be challenged by them for (likely) the rest of time. We have to stay on our toes and always be ready to adapt what we do. That will be made easier by the effort being led by ACI-NA with TSA’s full participation to review current process and procedure and make sensible changes.

A Pain in the Ash

Stranded travelers sleep or sit on cots at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Monday, April 19, 2010. Many travelers were stranded in New York after flights were canceled due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Authorities in Europe yesterday decided to open some airspace, though the continuing emissions of ash from the volcano in Iceland have covered the whole initiative with uncertainty. Since April 15, 95,000 flights to and within Europe have been cancelled.  Today, about half the scheduled flights will be completed. 

Airports around the world have stepped into the breach to serve their passengers who have been stuck.  One outstanding example in the United States is at JFK Airport in New York, run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  As you see in this article, the Port Authority is providing cots, blankets, food and, now, even showers to passengers stuck there because of the volcano.  I have written about this before; all over the country, and all over the world, airports have demonstrated a Passengers First Commitment.

Back in the office

Burial Tomb of Davy Crockett, William B. Travis, and Jim Bowie

I’m back in the office following my three-city trip of last week (Savannah, Toronto, San Antonio).  They are three of my favorite cities, though I was not in Toronto long enough to see more than the inside of a hotel.  The rain in San Antonio let up enough so that my wife and I could have a dinner and a lunch on the River Walk.  We also saw the Alamo, as well as the cathedral in San Antonio where the remains of some of the Heroes of the Alamo are buried, including Davy Crockett and James Bowie. 

The weekend was dominated by news of the volcanic eruption in Iceland and the closure of most of Europe’s airspace.  I was in touch through the weekend with my European counterpart and with FAA.  Earlier today, the European authorities have decided to re-open much of the continent’s airspace and, hopefully, this crisis will pass within the next few days.  My counterpart, Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, pointed out that this was the most complete closure of airspace in Europe since World War II. 

Finally, I wanted to give more kudos to Go Jet Airlines, which operated my United Express flight back home from San Antonio the other night.  Our flight attendant (Ed) was most attentive and friendly, assuring that we had whatever we needed.  He did not take a break and was professional and thorough throughout.  I thought about the contrast between him and Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanniar who, when asked whether his proposed fee to use the toilet on his airplanes would be hard for some passengers with medical issues is reported to have said that he’d just go ahead and make a contribution to a charity for Incontinent Air Travelers.

Kudos for GoJet; Thumbs down to Spirit

Traveled to Toronto and then through Denver to San Antonio. Food recommendation:  Heidi’s Deli in Denver Airport. Great! 

Lots of talk about the proposal by Spirit Airlines to levy a fee for carry on bags. Saw their CEOs editorial in Wednesday’s USA Today. He says it is good news for travelers. Security lines will be shorter!  Boarding will be easier!  Life will be better! 

So, it is being done as a favor to passengers. Can’t believe we passengers didn’t figure that out ourselves. 

GoJet - Bombardier 705 flying the United Express colors.

In the meantime, USA Today reporter Harriet Baskas did a story on what airports are doing to get ready for the new rule limiting the amount of time passengers can be kept on a plane. You should read it, and note what airport professionals are doing to keep the passenger foremost in mind. Russ Widmar (Fresno), Tory Richardson (Ft Wayne) and Jim Crites (Dallas/Ft Worth) are all cited and quoted. 

One of the things about which I am most proud of our industry is its commitment to customer service. For airports, it really is all about the passenger. 

But lest you think I just beat up on airlines let me offer kudos to the folks from United Express carrier GoJet. I flew them last night from Denver down to San Antonio. We got on the plane, but the restroom wasn’t working, a tough thing for a flight lasting more than 2 hours. 

The crew got on the intercom and explained the issue. When, 10 minutes later, it was clear it would not be fixed right away, they informed us that we would move across the hall to a different aircraft. At the new gate they kept us up to date on boarding time and so forth. The cabin crew also treated everyone great when we were in the air. 

Passengers really appreciate information and a little kindness. Both were available in ample supply to the passengers on that flight last night. Kudos

Greg’s tour of airport meetings

I’m on the second leg of a three-stop, two country trip during which I will see a pretty large percentage of our U.S. and Canadian members.

Savannah is a city of squares and fountains. This is the fountain in Forsyth Park, one of the city's most prominent sites.

The trip started in Savannah, where I participated in our conference for airport board members. I always enjoy that conference, the men and women on airport boards in the U.S. and Canada are people who have been successful in other fields and who have been chosen by their communities to oversee the local airport (the chair of our Commissioners Committee, Elsie Rast Stuart, for example, has been a mayor and state legislator, others have had successful careers in law, business, medicine, education and the military among many pursuits.) 

These are people who love their communities and they come to this conference to learn as much as they can about airport operations and business to better enable them to perform their duties. They are truly dedicated and I always love spending time with them. 

Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen — anywhere in the world. My wife and I had a day to explore it before the meeting. Flowers were in bloom, and the city was in top form. It was my first visit to Savannah, a visit made more meaningful for me by the discovery last year of a great-great grandfather I didn’t know I had who had emigrated to Savannah from Ireland in the 1850′s. So I feel a connection. 

We also had a chance to spend some time with the airport director there, Patrick Graham and his wife Regina. Patrick grew up in Savannah and is justly proud of his city. He has worked hard to achieve great things for the airport and for the city. Regina is an “adopted” daughter of Savannah, but loves it with the passion of a native. 

If you ever have a chance to visit Savannah, you should. And bring your appetite, the food is incredible. 

I am now in Toronto for a meeting of the Canadian Airports Council board. There are about two dozen member airports here, and these twice-yearly meetings are a great chance to catch up with our Canadian members. After the meeting, it is off to San Antonio for the ACI-NA Legal, Environmental and Hunan Resources conferences

It was only a matter of time . . .

Spirit Airlines has announced that they will charge for carry on bags, up to $45!  One analyst says that all other carriers will be watching closely, hoping that this will succeed and that they will be able to levy their own carry on bag tax (if airlines can call airport fees a tax, then I can call airline fees a tax!!) 

So, it is official.  If you want to fly, you will be taxed by the airlines for the privilege of bringing clothes and toiletries.  You can avoid this tax, wear five pairs of underwear and several shirts all at once!  Brush your teeth really well before you leave home, and remember to wash your hair. 

So, let’s review:  airlines say that allowing airports to add $2.50 to the fee they charge to build runways, taxiways and terminals is too onerous (“first, do no harm” they like to say).  But a carryon bag tax of $45 (in addition to checked bag taxes up to $120 roundtrip per person is just fine and dandy.  Hmmm.  Let’s see…family of four:  going on a two week vacation, for which they saved for YEARS.  Two checked bags each, $480 tax roundtrip.  One carry on each:  $360 carryon bag tax roundtrip.  That’s $840 in bag taxes for a family of four, roundtrip.  As opposed to the increase in the airport fee limit to build infrastructure (a maximum of $10 roundtrip per person, $40 for a family of four, roundtrip, assuming one stop in each direction — $5 and $20 if the flights are non-stop). 

And that’s not even the most interesting development of the day in the world of airline-imposed taxes. 

Ryanair has announced that they will move forward with their, what do we call it, “pee pee tax”.  You will have to put a coin in a slot in order to access the toilet.  Will there be progessivity in this tax, a certain amount for #1, extra for #2?  Will there be another slot to allow you to pay the tax to use the toilet paper?  Will pilots be trained to turn off the seat belt sign early and leave it off longer to allow more time for the automated tax collector on the restroom door to perform its work?  First they want you to pay for whatever you drink, then to pay again to get rid of it? 

I am tempted to make a joke about all this, but the facts provide all the humor that is needed.  Enjoy your flight!

Cherry Blossoms and Aviation Commissions

Two things you can count on seeing pop up on a regular basis are the Cherry Blossoms around Washington’s Tidal Basin and federal aviation commissions. 

I took Friday off, in part to take my annual walk around the tidal basin with my wife. It’s something we’ve done many of our 28 years of marriage and every year it just seems more spectacular. If you’ve never seen the Cherry Blossoms on a nice spring day in Washington you need to do it. 

Coming along almost as often, it seems, are federal blue ribbon commissions charged with figuring out what’s wrong with the aviation industry. 

Oftentimes these commissions are focused on particular issues. But every now and then, there is a commission enpaneled that is charged with looking at the whole picture. 

The latest installment is the commission established by Secretary Ray LaHood and formally announced Friday in the Federal Register at about the same time my wife and I were walking around the tidal basin. The members will be announced in the next few weeks. 

I have a particular interest in this, and not just because I a president of the association that represents airports. I am also interested because the last time there was a commission with such a comprehensive mandate was in 1993, and I was its executive director and also was the primary author of its report. 

When we got started, we went into the archives and found out that Presidents Truman, Nixon and Ford also had such commissions. It was also predicted to me at the time that ours would not be the last

Things were a little different in 1993. There was a much greater sense of urgency. We only had 90 days and most of our meetings were carried on C-SPAN. For those 3 months, I was the most popular guy on the Washington aviation scene. Commissioners were much sought after, and many had to put their day jobs on hold since we met so often. 

Most thought we would recommend tax breaks or loan guarantees to help the airlines and manufacturers. We didn’t. In the end our major recommendation was to modernize air traffic control. A lot of people were less than impressed with that recommendation — especially including airlines and general aviation interests. 

In the end, the dire economic circumstances that led to our creation (failure of Eastern, Pan Am, Branniff and, shortly after, McDonnell Douglas especially) were easing up by the time we finished. As many of our recommendations, like modernizing air traffic control, had longer term time frames, there somehow seemed less urgency, though the quality of the recommendations was widely recognized (and is widely recognized today). 

I am hopeful that this time might be somewhat different. The crisis doesn’t seem as immediate now and it is hard to imagine these meetings will all be on C-SPAN. This commission will have a year to complete its work, too long in my view, but perhaps that will lead to more of a sense that they are setting a long term course for the industry to follow. 

Some of the staff who are putting this together have been nice enough to call and pick my brain. I dug out some of the old files, which brought back some good memories. I wish Secretary LaHood’s commission well, and will do all I can to help. And I hope that, unlike the Cherry Blossoms, there will need to be no further federal commissions to figure out what’s wrong with the aviation industry.