Gulliver

What really happened to EgyptAir Flight 804?

GULLIVER is not the type of person to kick up a fuss on his travels, least of all when lucky enough to be at the front of the plane. But his patience was pushed to the limit a couple of years ago, when his EgyptAir flight from Cairo to London was blighted by the near-constant stench of cigarette smoke wafting in from the cockpit. Shackled by British meekness and an unwillingness to challenge a flight crew, your asthmatic correspondent suffered the coughs and tried instead to focus on work. Conversations with Egyptian friends later revealed that on-board cigarette smoke is hardly a rarity when flying with the North African flag-carrier.  Naturally, anecdotes such as this provide only a snapshot of an airline’s safety standards. But it is a deeply disturbing snapshot given the stalled invest...

Airbus and Boeing are tightening their hold on the sky

AT A glitzy party in Toulouse on July 10th Airbus, Europe’s aerospace giant, revealed its “newest” plane. But many aviation buffs might find it familiar. It was a repainted C-Series aircraft—originally developed by Bombardier of Canada—a project in which Airbus bought a 50.01% stake on July 1st. Airbus welcomed the aircraft into its family of planes by renaming the CS-100 as the A220-100 and the CS-300 as the A220-300. The message was clear: it is now an Airbus plane. But with Airbus and Bombardier’s arch rivals, Boeing of America and Embraer of Brazil, announcing their own joint venture last week, the skies are running out of competition. The tie-up between Airbus and Bombardier, originally signed last October, initially came as good news for many airlines. Before Airbus swooped, the C-Se...

Politics is becoming a minefield for the travel and hospitality business

TRAVELLERS come in all different stripes. So it is generally not wise for the chief executive of a major airline to say something like this about a controversial presidential stance: “This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with [our] mission and we want no part of it.” But that was Oscar Munoz of United Airlines on President Donald Trump’s now-reversed policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. He is not the only airline boss to have attacked the policy. American Airlines issued a statement condemning the move as “not at all aligned” with its values. They, along with Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines, asked the government not to use their flights to transport children away from their parents. America’s other major...

The founder of JetBlue is about to start a new airline

TWO decades ago, David Neeleman founded JetBlue Airways, promising to “bring humanity back to air travel.” It has since grown to become one of America’s largest airlines. But stories of poor service and a lack of humanity still abound in the country’s aviation industry. And so it appears that Mr Neeleman is back and preparing to launch a new airline. Airline Weekly, a magazine, reports that Mr Neeleman, with $100m in financial backing, plans to create a new carrier called Moxy. The airline will aim to fill a niche in the American market by offering low-cost direct services between smaller airports, while providing more comfort and perks than the country’s no-frills budget airlines. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. In some ways...

Do Britain’s railways need a Fat Controller?

ON MAY 20th, the biggest changes to train timetables in modern British history took place, affecting commuters and business travellers across the country. In the weeks beforehand, the train-operating companies had been spinning the changes as good news for passengers due to an increase in the number of services offered. Journalists were being hosted on training rides on the new routes. But in practice the changes turned into the biggest railway-management disaster in modern British history: It sounds more like an episode of “Thomas the Tank Engine” than a day in the life of a modern railway. But on May 25th an express train from Newcastle to Reading took a wrong turn, and got lost in Pontefract, 150 miles away. That might have been funny were it not part of a wider collapse in train servic...

People going on stag and hen dos are disrupting flights too often

NOTE to travellers headed to a stag do: the festivities begin at your destination, not on the plane that is taking you there. This might seem obvious, but many revellers appear unsure. Last week, an easyJet flight from Bristol to Prague was delayed and ultimately cancelled after a group of stags got their celebration off to an early start. The details of their behaviour remain murky, but it led Bristol Airport police to tweet:  Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. Disappointing behaviour of a few who ruined a Friday flight from Bristol Airport, not just for their mates, but for the 140+ whose flight was cancelled as a result of their follow-up actions. It’s an aircraft—not a nightclub. The airline clarified that the flight was del...

Aviation’s most outspoken boss thinks women cannot do his job

THE International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association for airlines, was founded in 1945 to promote the interests of carriers around the world. In recent years the airline cartel of old has been accused of being out of tune with the times, particularly by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, which is Europe’s biggest. At this week’s AGM in Sydney the message from IATA was as dated as the organisation itself: women were not suited to running airlines. Akbar al Baker, the group’s new chairman and the boss of Qatar Airways, a Gulf carrier, told attendees that “of course”, his airline “has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position”. He later apologised for what he claimed was a joke blown out of proportion by the media. Yet this was not Mr al Baker’s first fo...

America’s security profiling at airports should worry frequent flyers

ARE you on America’s newest airport-security watch list? You could be, but you would never know. That is because the list is secret, and no one quite understands what it takes to land on it. News of the list emerged earlier this month, when the New York Times obtained a five-page internal directive from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the government agency that oversees airport security in America. It revealed that the TSA could place flyers on the watch list, which it created in February, if they engaged in behaviour that the agency found problematic. That includes violent altercations with TSA agents. But, more problematically, it appears to extend well beyond physical assaults. “An intent to injure or cause physical pain is not required, nor is an actual physical injur...

Why airliners in Cuba and Iran crash so much

WHEN the dream of a smooth flight turns into the nightmare of an airliner crash, understanding what went wrong is sometimes straightforward. That was the case with a Malaysia Airlines flight which crashed in the summer of 2014, killing 298. This week Dutch and Australian investigators conclusively showed that it was shot down by a missile fired by Russian armed forces. But in other cases it is much harder to apportion blame. Such is the complexity of civil aviation that air-crash investigators spend years sifting through wreckage, recordings and data logs to work out what went wrong. Often technological, human and environmental faults are the main culprits. But another factor can be argued to have caused many of the world’s deadliest air disasters so far this year: economic sanctions. The ...

The sexual harassment of flight attendants is a massive problem

OVER the past year, there have been myriad stories in the press about airlines mistreating passengers. Last April David Dao, a passenger on a domestic United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, was violently dragged off the plane to accommodate crew for another flight. This month United hit the headlines again when a Nigerian passenger accused it of racial discrimination after she was thrown off a flight. But among the sea of shocking headlines about how flight crews abuse passengers, it is easy to forget that the reverse occurs far more frequently. A new study published earlier this month shows just how common the harassment of flight attendants by flyers is. The Association of Flight Attendants, the union representing American cabin crew, asked more than 3,500 flight attendants f...

Boeing’s antics at the World Trade Organisation risk a trade war

GULLIVER’S regular readers might be interested in an article in this week’s print edition about Boeing’s partial victory in a case at the World Trade Organisation, brought in retaliation for subsidies that the European Union is alleged to have given Airbus, its European planemaking rival.  On May 15th the WTO’s final appeals body upheld parts of a previous ruling, finding that the European Union wrongly provided subsidies to Airbus to develop new aircraft. That, it concluded, had hit sales of Boeing’s jets. As soon as the WTO gives the go-ahead America will have the right to impose retaliatory tariffs on EU imports. Trade experts warn they could be the highest in the WTO’s history. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. But this cou...

Another allegation of passenger mistreatment on a United Airlines flight

ON MAY 11TH a Nigerian woman filed a lawsuit against United Airlines for removing her and her two children from a flight after a fellow passenger complained of her smell. Queen Obioma accuses the airline of singling her out “because of her black race and Nigerian citizenship”. The incident took place two years ago on a flight from Houston to San Francisco. This was the second leg of Ms Obioma’s trip with her children from Nigeria to Canada, where the youngsters were scheduled to begin school. Ms Obioma’s business-class seat was occupied by a white man, according to the suit. She asked him to move but he refused, she claims, and a flight attendant persuaded her to sit elsewhere. Shortly afterwards, she says, the other passenger went to the cockpit—presumably to complain about her—and then b...

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