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This week’s travel news

Airport x-ray machines, airport safety, IATA, popular tourist sites, Air Transat, Star Alliance, OneWorld, Sky Team


 

Take off eh.comThis Week’s Take offers you a capsule summary of the high and low lights of TakeOffeh.com’s Daily Dispatches from the past seven days.

Will Airport Nudity Become Mandatory?
It took an Access To Information Act request made by Sun Media to obtain the results of a passenger x-ray scanner test project at Kelowna Airport. Using something called “backscatter x-ray,’ the technology enables screeners to see you in all your naked perfection, looking right through your clothes. “If you are a suicide bomber and have a vest on, that would appear as clear as day in an image,” a company spokesman told the Scientific American. Unfortunately, your naughty bits appear clear as day too, pierced or otherwise. According to Sun Media columnist Greg Weston, there’s little wonder the feds didn’t want to release the results of the study of 32,000 passengers. It states that the goal of the technology is to lessen “metal and non-metal body-worn threats.” Over 70% of the 32,000 travellers set off an alarm that prompted further inspection, yet not one piece of contraband was found as a result. Another troublesome finding: faces and genitals were supposed to be blurred by the scanner as a nod towards privacy and decency, but the machine was not always accurate in the placement of the blurring, leaving some areas uncovered that should have been, and others blurred in places where items could be concealed. As Weston sums it up: “The scanners have the capacity to protect neither airline security nor a person’s privacy.”

Are We Any Safer?
It is eight years after 9/11. On top of the senseless slaughter of thousands of innocents, the actions of a few have resulted in hundreds of millions of air travellers moving through airports in an oppressive climate of fear and suspicion. A very expensive climate of fear: National Public Radio’s Brian Naylor reports that the U.S. alone has spent $45-billion on airport security since 2001. That money has paid for new people, new equipment and improved technology. According to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, there’s now a 20-layer approach to security, which includes a full body image scanner at some airports. But the big question remains: Is airport security terrorist-proof? Naylor found many doubters, calling the whole process “security theatre.” He quotes blogging pilot Patrick Smith, who says immense amounts of time and manpower are being wasted confiscating drinks and searching passengers for pointy objects. “That doesn’t make us safer,” he says.

Take Our Members…Please
Most associations strive to continually boost their membership, but the International Air Transport Association [IATA] wouldn’t mind seeing its ranks thinned a bit. The group is comprised of 230 airlines accounting for over 90% of the world’s scheduled air passenger traffic. The problem, as reported by the Globe and Mail’s Brent Jang, is that the majority of IATA members are bleeding red ink. The association now projects member losses for the year of up to $11-billion. Overall industry revenues are expected to drop by $80-billion or 15%. Since 2008, 29 airlines have gone belly-up. The problem is there are too many planes and too few passengers. IATA believes the industry would benefit from fewer airlines, through acquisition or attrition, but a tangled web of protectionist legislation makes cross-border mergers difficult, and many governments prop up losing carriers. McGill University professorKarl Moore told the Globe that overcoming protectionism is a huge challenge that may only be achieved after more pain. “As the industry situation gets bleaker and bleaker, there might be more flexibility because of the troubled times,” Moore said. Please keep your seat belts securely fastened.

You Don’t Like Peggy’s Cove?
You know the old saying: opinions are like, um, posteriors – everybody’s got one. A recent demonstration came when the Toronto Star reprintedTimes of London story titled ‘The World’s 5 Most Over-Rated Tourist Sites.’ The Times list went as follows: StonehengePetra in Jordan, Rome’s Colosseum, Peru’s Macchu Picchu and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Times readers soon weighed in with their own suggestions, including Stratford Upon Avon, the Edinburgh FestivalBarcelona, the Blarney Stone and the Manneken-Pis in Brussels (that statue of the little boy peeing). After the Star published the British list, Canadian readers said their piece about overrated destinations. Among them were Arizona’s Petrified ForestPuerto VallartaBeverly Hills and some (gasp!) Canadian favourites like Niagara FallsMagnetic Hill and Peggy’s Cove. We’ll give the last word to Penelope Shepherd, who told the Times exactly where she stands: “Travellers are thoroughly over-rated. They are disgusting people ruining any site they visit. Stay at home. None of these places is the better for ignorant fools gawping at it just to boast to others that they have been there.”

Book Early! We Mean It This Time!
Canada’s largest tour operator, Transat – which includes Transat Holidays and Nolitours – is mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. Margins have been razor-thin for years as competing operators have flooded the skies with too much capacity (too many seats, not enough bums). The packaged travel companies’ loss of potential profit has been the sunseeker’s gain: for most of the past couple of decades we’ve enjoyed bargain basement pricing on all-inclusive sun vacations.

But Transat’s head honcho Jean-Marc Eustache is fed up with the process. As reported by Canadian Press, during a third quarter results conference call, Eustache said Transat is prepared to cut back capacity and sacrifice market share if that’s what it takes to make a profit. Transat appears quite serious about squeezing out more margin this winter. They have streamlined their fleet so they can adjust capacity downward by shedding leased planes and using smaller jets. They’ve also cut back on premium properties and added more three-star resorts to the mix, which should cut losses if competitive pressures or lack of demand forces prices down. Nonetheless, he vowed that “the people will have what they paid for”. What does that mean for pricing? Should you book now or white-knuckle it in the last-minute market? Your guess is as good as ours – it all depends on how the rest of the big operators behave.

Airlines Find Strength In Numbers
In many cases, bigger is better for airlines, especially those competing on international routes. But sovereign states are protective of their carriers, even though most are now private, rather than national ‘flag carriers.’ As the Financial Times reported this week, there’s an intricate web of laws preventing cross-border airline mergers, so the carriers have done the next best thing, creating alliances that began as marketing partnerships and have evolved into powerful global link-ups where partners collaborate on everything from schedules to fares to purchasing. There are three major airline alliances: Star Alliance,OneWorld and Sky Team. Their members carry 1.3-billion passengers per year and generate over $275-billion in revenue. The alliances are pushing hard to be allowed even greater cooperation through antitrust immunity. Partners Delta and Air France/KLM and United and Lufthansa have already won more freedom from U.S. authorities, and American Airlines and British Airways are in the process. Some fear the stronger ties will lead to market domination by the largest airlines, while the airlines themselves argue that alliances are crucial for survival and lower ticket costs.
Bruce Parkinson is a travel industry journalist and regular contributor to TakeOffeh.com as well as sister company, OpenJaw.com

Photo Credits: tacojim, LyaC, wikimedia.org, transat.com


 
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