Friday, December 31, 2010

Ryanair CEO says airline contemplating order for ‘up to 300 aircraft’

Ryanair is contemplating an order of up to 300 aircraft from either Boeing or Airbus, CEO Michael O’Leary told the Financial Times. The LCC late last year walked away from the negotiating table with Boeing after it was unable to agree on a follow-up order for 200 737s for delivery in 2013-16, and decided to use the freed-up cash to award shareholders with €500 million ($637.5 million) in dividends. The dividends, its first since going public in 1997, will be paid out next month.

“All other things being equal, if we’re still generating this amount of cash and we haven’t found any acquisition or aircraft acquisition for it, then we would certainly consider a second dividend by about the end of 2013,” O’Leary said. “But if I was a shareholder I wouldn’t be banking on that yet.”

He added that he saw no airline on the market worth buying, yet there is still the option of purchasing “200 to 300” aircraft from either Boeing or Airbus, he told FT. Ryanair had informed both manufacturers in early summer about the possible order if suitable prices and terms were offered, he noted, though there were no negotiations at present. According to Dow Jones, Airbus has refused to engage in talks with Ryanair concerning the order.

O'Leary also confirmed earlier statements to Bloomberg Businessweek that he is seeking permission from aviation authorities to use only one pilot on the shortest flights. “It would save the entire industry a fortune. In 25 years with [more than] about 10 million flights, we've had one pilot who suffered a heart attack in flight and he landed the plane,” he reasoned. “Really, you only need one pilot. Let's take out the second pilot. Let the bloody computer fly it.”

Separately, Ryanair said the Commercial Court of Barcelona confirmed it is entitled under the Spanish Constitution to exclusively distribute its low fares through its own website, and thus will not accept tickets sold through the Spanish screenscraper website Atrapalo. The latter brought the case to court. “This Spanish court victory is yet another milestone win for Ryanair after similar court wins against other screenscrapers in Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK,” it commented.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Roissy : 2000 travelers evacuated from terminal 2E

The decision was taken based on fears that the weight of snow over the roof of terminal 2E in Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport. Thousands of stranded travelers who couldn't get on their flights due to the bad weather will certainly spend Christmas Eve in the airport.

Terminal 2E had already collapsed just after its opening in 2004 under the weight of the snow. On friday 24/12/2010, 2000 people were evacuated smoothly and firefighters have started to work on removing the 60cm of snow accumulated on the roof.

This morning, 50% of every flight had been canceled and the DGAC (National Authority for civil aviation) advises airlines to cancel 35% of their flights. Of the 1,160 planned flights, 670 have already been canceled. 100,000 people have been affected by the chaos.

Apat from the cold temperatures, one of the problems is that the supply of Glycol, used as anti freeze on airplanes, is insufficiant and would only allow 200 more flights to depart. A french industry that produces Glycol is currently on strike and the chemical has to be imported from Germany and the USA.

Aéroports de Paris is giving beds 800 to allow the passengers to sleep and Air France has annouced that it "offers 3,500 hotel rooms" to accomodate its customers in need. Both companies are calling on volunteers to help with this crisis.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Travel Woes: The High Cost of Europe's Big Freeze Read more:,8599,2039296,00.html#ixzz18piq7JBV

Forget dreams of a white Christmas. On Tuesday, millions of stranded travelers in Europe faced another day of being trapped in a Noël nightmare, as severe weather continued to disrupt air, rail, and road transportation — and threatened to do so through the holiday weekend.
The chaos first broke out late last week, when heavy snowfall brought movement in many European cities to a crawl. By Dec. 21, the Continent was still in slow mode, as early morning flurries forced Frankfurt's airport to temporarily close. That had followed disturbances at Germany's busiest air hub on Monday, when 376 of its total 1,400 flights were canceled. Things were even worse Tuesday at London's Heathrow airport — Europe's air-traffic leader — which allowed just 30% of flights to leave, and warned travelers the situation wouldn't improve before Wednesday at the earliest. By contrast, some relief was expected Tuesday at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports that serve Paris. Warming weather and extended hours of operation at both platforms allowed airlines to begin absorbing the 30% of flights that had been canceled over the past four days. That respite may be short-lived, however, with new snowstorms forecast for France and much of Europe by Thursday.

Several days of icy conditions have created a growing mass of marooned and increasingly cheesed off voyagers turned foul-weather refugees. Thousands of people have been camped out at Heathrow since the weekend, in the hopes of being able to jump on one of the few departing planes. Despite the improving situation in Paris, meanwhile, 3,000 travelers were forced to spend Monday night at Charles de Gaulle, with another 400 bivouacked at Orly. And the turmoil doesn't stop there. Even fully-functioning airfields elsewhere in Europe are experiencing heavy delays, as they take on scores of diverted planes and their hoards of stranded passengers.
That knock-on affect was also felt on Europe's railway system — the option to which grounded air travelers have turned in vast numbers. On Monday at London's St. Pancras station, the line to buy Eurostar train tickets to the continent had snaked for over a kilometer; on Tuesday, it wasn't much shorter. Snow and ice had forced Eurostar to cancel 13 of its 52 trains on Monday alone, while locomotives on all its high-speed rail lines between Paris, Brussels, and London were operating at lower speeds than usual.

Europe's snowy situation will come with a heavy price tag. British Airways says the delays are costing it around $100 million daily, while Air France puts the loss by the current snow disruption and one earlier this month at between $31 million and $52 million. According to reports, stores in the U.K. are reporting a 20% to 25% decline in sales that they blame on shoppers preferring to stay home rather than hazard the icy conditions. Once hotels, resorts, tour operators, and restaurants calculate the revenue lost from tourists never turning up as expected, the total hit from The Big Chill 2010 will almost certainly exceed $1 billion.
With cities across Europe clearly being caught out by the snow, the big question is: Why weren't they better prepared? News reports are littered with everyone from infuriated travelers to political leaders expressing vexation and amazement that several inches of snow is enough to bring western Europe's major capitals to a halt — especially when cities like Moscow, Stockholm, and New York City regularly function fine under several feet of powder. And even if London and Paris aren't used to snow, some critics mocked, officials should have been able to come up with ways of dealing with it once it fell. "It can't be beyond the wit of man, surely, to find the shovels, the diggers, the snow-ploughs or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes to get the planes moving," London Mayor Boris Johnson told wire services Monday.

Perhaps, but experts say financial logic explains Western Europe's limited resources to respond to the unusual snowfalls — and the unwillingness to ask travelers and taxpayers to pay to improve them. The currently snow-blocked western European capitals don't experience enough of such weather to merit heavy investment in the kinds of expensive clearing equipment that cities habituated to lots of the white stuff use on a regular basis. That's especially true when most governments have embraced serious austerity plans that cut back on programs and services their citizens use every day.

The bottom line, experts say, is that for airports and airlines in more temperate climates to finance that kind of foul-weather infrastructure, passengers will have to pick up those costs in higher ticket prices. That price hike might be something that marooned voyagers say they're willing to accept now — but they might not be so hot on that extra cost once the snow melts.

Read more:,8599,2039296,00.html#ixzz18piWEMJX

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

EU: Shorter shifts for pilots could reduce fatigue

The European Union wants to limit the number of hours that pilots can work daily in order to reduce fatigue that some scientist say is a cause in a fifth of all fatal air crashes worldwide.

The European air safety agency recommended Monday that pilots not work more than 14 hours during the day or 12 hours at night, including time spent at airports while waiting to get airbound.

The proposal was immediately criticized by Europe's umbrella pilot union, which said that the agency had buckled under the pressure from the commercial airlines. The European Cockpit Association, which represents some 39,000 European pilots, wants bigger reductions.

Supporters of shorter working days have been pressing for years for tighter regulation and enforcement of working hours and rest periods, driven by worldwide concerns about exhausted pilots working taxing schedules.

They say scientific research has identified fatigue as a factor in a fifth of all fatal crashes worldwide.

The new rules would standardize working hours for pilots across the continent. In Britain, for example, pilots are not allowed to be on duty for longer than nine hours a day. Elsewhere in Europe, especially in the east, that limit is much higher.

"The (document) requires all operators to ensure that the performance of crew members will not deteriorate to the extent that flight safety is endangered because of the effects of fatigue," the European Aviation Safety Agency said in a statement.

EASA spokesman Dominique Fouda said the proposal would be submitted for comments to the airlines, pilots unions and air safety groups before a final recommendation is handed to the European Union next year. The EU is expected to approve the new regulations by April, 2012.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration also has proposed new limits on the number of hours a pilots can fly in a day and the level of rest required between flights. Congress mandated the rules after a crash in 2009 near Buffalo, New York, which was attributed partly to pilot fatigue. Fifty people died.

The FAA proposal would bar pilots working more than 13 hours in a 24-hour period — a reduction of three hours from current levels. At night, the limit could be reduced to nine hours.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Spanish military takes over airspace following controller walkout

Spain’s military was forced to take control of the country’s national airspace Friday after a mass industrial action that left some 330,000 travellers stranded and was expected to cause a national emergency Saturday if continued.

Spain’s military took control of the nation’s airspace Friday night after air traffic controllers staged a massive sickout that stranded at least 330,000 travelers on the eve of a long holiday weekend, forcing the government to shut down Madrid’s big international hub and seven other airports.

About six hours after the nation descended into total travel chaos, Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba announced that the Defense Ministry had “taken control of air traffic in all the national territory.” He said the army would make all decisions on air traffic control, organization, planning and supervision.

If enough controllers do not show up for work Saturday to restore normal flight operations, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero plans to declare a national emergency that would force them to do so, Rubalcaba said. No-show controllers will face unspecified criminal charges punishable by “serious prison time,” he said.

Spanish flagship carrier Iberia SA said all of its flights in and out of Madrid were suspended until at least 11 a.m. Saturday, but other airlines did not give guidance for when flights might resume.

The controllers abandoned their posts amid a lengthy dispute over working conditions and after Zapatero and his ministers on Friday approved a package of austerity measures  - including a move to partially privatize airports and hand over management of the Madrid and Barcelona airports to the private sector.

Angry passengers waited in huge lines for hours until giving up when it became clear their flights would not depart. Air traffic controllers meeting to plot strategy at a hotel near Madrid’s airport were heckled and filmed by stranded passengers as the controllers entered.

“To the unemployment line with you all!” one man yelled at the controllers, in footage shown by Spanish National Television.

Handfuls of passengers made it out of Madrid to destinations like Barcelona and Lisbon, Portugal, on buses provided by airlines. But the vast majority were forced to go home or to hotels with no information on when they might make their canceled flights. Some slept in the airports.

“It’s a disgrace, how can a group of people be so selfish as to wreck the plans of so many people?” said dentist Marcela Vega, 35, unable to travel from Madrid to Chile with her husband, 5-year-old son and baby boy.

Spain’s airport authority, known as Aena, said authorities were in contact with Europe’s air traffic agency, Eurocontrol, and the United State’s FAA about how best to deal with arriving international flights.

Aena chief Juan Ignacio Lema called the sickout “intolerable” and warned controllers to return to work, or face disciplinary action or criminal charges.

“We’re asking the controllers to stop blackmailing the Spanish people,” Lema said.

Spain’s air traffic controllers have been in bitter negotiations for a year with state-owned Aena over wages, working conditions and privileges. The dispute intensified in February after the government restricted overtime, cutting the average annual pay of controllers from about 350,000€ ($463,610) to around 200,000€ ($264,920).

The sickout also closed four airports in the Canary islands off Africa’s coast, a favorite winter destination for sun-seeking Europeans, and airports in prime Mediterranean tourism spots of Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca and Menorca.

Spanish Development Minister Jose Blanco convened an emergency meeting and his ministry announced that “controllers have begun to communicate their incapacity to continue offering their services, abandoning their places of work.” Blanco later told reporters that authorities were forced to close airspace around Madrid for safety reasons.

“We won’t permit this blackmail that they are using to turn citizens into hostages,” Blanco said

The controllers’ union has complained for weeks that many members have already worked their maximum hours for all of 2010, and that all 2,000 are overworked and understaffed. Friday’s sickout was not expected, but the union had warned it could mount one over the Christmas holiday. Spanish air traffic controllers are prohibited by law from going on strike.

Aena said most controllers had left their workstations or never showed up, and that only 10 controllers remained on duty in Madrid to handle emergencies.

Some controllers began to return to work late Friday, including about half of the normal staff in Barcelona, where several flights took off by early Saturday. But Rubalcaba said the number of returning controllers was spotty, and that some who showed up refused to perform their duties.

Madrid’s sprawling Barajas airport was empty after midnight. It had 1,300 flights scheduled for Friday, but it wasn’t clear how many had taken off and landed before the sickout.

More than 5,000 flights were scheduled for the nation Friday, and about 3,000 departed or landed before the sickout began in the late afternoon.

Monday is a national holiday marking the Day of the Spanish Constitution, and Wednesday is a religious holiday. Many Spaniards take advantage of them for a five-day weekend or a week of vacation, and about 4 million people had flights booked for the period in the nation of 46 million.

Many of Spain’s famed football players were forced to head on trains and buses with their teams so they could make it to weekend games.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tracking Tardy Flights

The Transportation Department thinks they do, and it now requires carriers to disclose the information when customers search for fares online.

But in complying with the rule, the airlines have chosen very different ways of presenting the information, suggesting mixed feelings about revealing before the ticket is purchased that some flights consistently arrive late.

Continental includes a link next to each flight in its search results saying, “See On-Time Performance,” while JetBlue tells customers in big text at the top of the page, “Did you know you can click on a flight number to see its on-time performance?”

But US Airways, Delta and United Airlines do not even hint that this information is available. Customers have to know to click on or hover over each flight number to make that flight’s on-time record appear. American and Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, provide links that are easy to overlook.

“There’s a huge disparity in how airlines choose to display this information,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Forrester Research. “Those that aren’t up front about it unfortunately end up looking like they’re trying to hide something, even if that’s not the case.”

Whether passengers care if a flight has an 87 percent or a 62 percent on-time record is a continuing debate. When the Transportation Department first proposed the rule, the Air Transport Association, the airline trade group, argued that travelers were not interested in the data, even calculating that it would take 10 extra seconds to look at it. The group argued that the extra burden would drive customers to book tickets at online travel agencies, like Travelocity and Expedia, instead.

Those online agencies are not required to publish on-time data for the flights they sell. Nor are smaller airlines like Spirit or Virgin America, because they are not obligated to collect performance data and submit it to the Transportation Department.

The department uses the data to track the industry’s overall on-time record, which was 84 percent in October — the latest results announced last week. But that number includes data from only 18 airlines, and does not include flights operated by many regional carriers, which are more prone to delays.

By requiring the airlines to publish the on-time record for each flight they sell, including flights operated by their regional partners, the government aimed to give travelers information about a specific flight before they booked a ticket. The government also requires the airlines to publish the percentage of arrivals that were more than 30 minutes late and how often the flight was canceled (if it was canceled at least 5 percent of the time). The new rules, which took effect last summer, were included in federal passenger protections adopted by the Transportation Department last spring.

Despite the wide variation in how this information is presented, Bill Mosley, a spokesman for the department, said the airlines were all complying with the regulation, since providing a link to the on-time data was allowed.

But Mr. Harteveldt suggested that some airlines might be adhering to the letter of the law rather than its spirit out of business concerns. “I think the airlines are afraid that people will book away from certain flights,” he said.

The data does show there can be a wide variation in delays. Among the 20 flights US Airways offered in a recent search for a trip from Philadelphia to La Guardia Airport in New York, all for the same price on the same day, the on-time record ranged from 24 to 88 percent. Eleven of the flights had an on-time performance below 55 percent.

Jim Olson, a spokesman for US Airways, said the airline consistently ranked high in the government’s on-time statistics (which do not include many of the regional flights on the Philadelphia-to-La Guardia route), and did not highlight the on-time data on its Web site more prominently because customers did not consider that information a priority.

“We have not received a single complaint about this topic from our customers,” he said.

Since the numbers are based on data collected two months earlier, the airlines have argued that the information is not necessarily an accurate predictor of whether that same flight will have a poor on-time record several months later.

“It’s difficult to understand how looking at historical data helps you make a decision going forward,” said David A. Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association. “The variables that affect flight performance change on a daily basis.”

And it may well be that having this on-time data does not affect booking decisions — although until more passengers know it exists, it is tough to gauge how travelers are using this information.

Michael Steiner, an executive vice president with Ovation Corporate Travel in Manhattan, said the agency provided on-time data for the flight options it offered to clients, but had found that most of its customers prioritized price and schedule instead.

“Do people want to know about on-time performance? Yes,” Mr. Steiner said. “Is it a factor when people are making connections? Absolutely. But I don’t know that it’s really changing behavior in a significant way.”

But Jean Covelli, president of the Travel Team, a travel agency in Buffalo, said her clients definitely cared about a flight’s on-time record and avoided flights that were regularly late.

“If you’re in a city where you have to connect, it’s way more relevant than if you’re in a big city with shuttle service,” she said. “You want to see on-time statistics at a minimum in the 70th percentile to feel like a flight is reliable.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Venezuela halted flight crew in 2008 over remark

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The captain and crew of an American Airlines flight were briefly detained in 2008 after a crew member advised passengers to set their watches to "local Chavez time" upon arrival in Caracas, according to a confidential U.S. report released by WikiLeaks.
President Hugo Chavez in 2007 created a new time zone for Venezuela, moving the clock back a half hour on a permanent basis.
The U.S. Embassy report, dated Oct. 1, 2008, and released Friday, said there appeared to be a misunderstanding over one crucial word in the crew member's announcement: "local" vs. "loco" — which means crazy in Spanish.
The embassy said one passenger, who was a friend of pro-Chavez lawmaker Carlos Echezuria Rodriguez, thought the crew member said "loco Chavez time."
American Airlines local manager Omar Nottaro reported to the embassy that the crew member announced to passengers: "Welcome to Venezuela. Local Chavez time is ..."
The memo, which was written a day after the incident, said the airline manager's account was contradicted by that of Venezuelan immigration authorities, who wrote in their report that the crew member had announced "the hour of the crazy Chavez and his women."
Chavez has long traded verbal barbs with U.S. officials. And the incident quickly escalated after the passenger told the lawmaker friend, who was waiting for him outside, "that the pilot had called President Chavez crazy," the document said.
It said the congressman promptly reported the incident to then Vice President Ramon Carrizalez, who called the head of the civil aviation authority into action. The embassy said Venezuela's DISIP domestic intelligence agency opened an investigation but deferred to immigration authorities since the crew had not passed through immigration.
The crew then was held in the airport while officials discussed what would be done, the embassy said.
The American Airlines manager told a U.S. diplomat that the lawmaker demanded to hear recordings of the announcements when Flight 903 touched down. But the airline manager was able to defuse the situation "by promising to put the crew back on the empty airplane as soon as it was refueled and get the captain and crew out of the country immediately," the memo said.
It said the plane left at 11:30 p.m., and the airline manager offered apologies to Venezuelan officials.
The embassy said in the classified report that it was the second incident involving an American flight crew at Simon Bolivar International Airport in a month. It didn't say what had occurred in the other incident.
Addressing the memo to agencies in Washington and Miami, the embassy said the incident showed "how heightened sensitivities are ... when a chance remark escalates within minutes to the level of the Venezuelan Vice Presidency."

Friday, December 10, 2010

787 may again be delayed

Boeing will not confirm or deny a French newspaper’s report that deliveries could be pushed to next summer.

Deliveries of the Boeing Co.’s 787 could start next summer — a delay of four to five months — according to a French newspaper.

The new delivery date is based on conversations between Boeing and Air France officials, reported the newspaper, Les Echos.

Boeing neither confirmed nor denied the report.

“While we work to resolve the issues associated with the flight test incident in Laredo, Texas, we are updating our overall program schedule,” wrote Yvonne Leach, Boeing spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “We expect to finalize a revised schedule in the coming weeks.”

The delivery schedule for Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner has been in question for a month, since an electrical fire broke out on a 787 test plane Nov. 9. 

The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Texas. Boeing halted test flights on all six test airplanes after the incident.

On Nov. 24, after an investigation into the fire, Boeing announced that it had determined the fire’s cause and was working on minor design changes to a power panel inside the 787 and to the jet’s software. Boeing said then it expected to release a new delivery schedule in the next few weeks.

Before the fire, Boeing had planned to deliver the first 787 in February to Japan’s All Nippon Airways. The Dreamliner program already had fallen nearly three years behind schedule. 

Boeing’s 787 not only contains new materials and technologies but also is made differently than previous jet programs. 

The Les Echos report, of a delay of four to five months, is in line with the expectations of several aerospace analysts. 

However, some analysts have predicted delays of up to a year on the 787 program.

Source :

Laser incidents worry aviation officials

Federal Aviation Administration officials are worried about a substantial increase in the number of people pointing lasers at aircraft cockpits, saying the intense light can distract and temporarily blind pilots and has caused some to relinquish control to their co-pilots or abort landings.
This year, there have been more than 2,200 incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, up from fewer than 300 in 2005. California, Texas and Florida have recorded the most, but the problem is widespread across the country.

There hasn't been an air crash so far, but the incidents have aviation officials concerned.

"It sounds silly, but this is a serious problem," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt wrote Wednesday in a post on a Transportation Department blog.
"We know that laser pointers are an important tool for astronomers and casual stargazers," Babbitt wrote. "But we just can't stress enough the importance of being careful when you are shining them into the night sky."

The rise in incidents has coincided with a growing hobbyist market for handheld lasers that are far more powerful — and potentially dangerous — than the typical laser pointer. At the same time prices have dropped. Lasers that once cost more than $1,000 can now be bought online for a few hundred dollars or less.

Some lasers are marketed with holsters that can be clipped onto a belt, creating a gunslinger-like appearance. Earlier this year, Lucasfilm threatened legal action against Wicked Lasers, a Hong Kong-based company whose lasers have aluminum handles that resemble the lightsabers of the "Star Wars" movies. Lucasfilm later dropped the threat.

"Wicked Lasers defeats dark forces of George Lucas," the laser company's website brags.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a statement in September warning parents that new, powerful laser devices can easily cause eye damage and blindness. The academy pointed to the case of a 15-year-old boy who suffered severe eye damage while playing with a laser in front of a mirror. Lasers don't have to be pointed at someone's eyes to cause harm; reflected light can cause damage as well.

A laser pointer like those used by lecturers typically generates about 5 milliwatts of power. Wicked Laser's website offers a 1,000-milliwatt handheld laser.

The laser company didn't respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Dozens of people in the United States and around the world have been arrested for pointing lasers at aircraft cockpits, most often near airports during takeoffs and landings. Those are the most critical phases of flight, when pilots need to be their most alert. Interference with air navigation is a federal crime.

Last year, an Orange, Calif., man was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for aiming a handheld laser at two Boeing jets as the passenger planes were about to land at John Wayne Airport.

In August, a Baltimore police helicopter pilot was temporarily "flash blinded" by a laser, preventing him from helping fellow officers chasing a suspect. The pilot recovered, circled around and spotlighted the house where the beam had come from as officers on the ground rushed in to arrest the culprit.

The same month, green lasers were pointed at the cockpits of two medical helicopters transporting patients in Pittsburgh, including a 5-year-old boy injured in a bicycle accident.

There are red, blue and violet lasers as well, but the green is the most visible against a night sky. The green lasers are also 35 times brighter than equivalently powered red lasers because humans are much more sensitive to green light, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In July, a Maryland state police helicopter pilot was briefly blinded by several green lasers while trying to land in Ocean City to pick up a trauma patient, but no one was injured. Two Coast Guard helicopters made precautionary landings this summer after the pilots were flashed with lasers while patrolling Los Angeles beaches and ports.

Last year, pilots of dozens of planes taking off and landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport reported being flashed with green lasers.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Underprivileged kids get flight to the 'North Pole'

Eighty underprivileged kids got a special Christmas surprise Saturday: an airplane ride that took them from one gate at the Boise Airport, up in the sky, and then back down to a gate made to look like the North Pole. This unique event is called Operation Santa's Sleigh.

This was the 5th year United Airlines did the event in Boise, but Saturday was the the first time it's taken place since 9/11. The kids who went on this special trip are special themselves. School counselors picked the kids they thought needed a Christmas surprise the most.

United Airlines employees dressed like elves, leading the kids through security and the boarding process. The airplane was temporarily renamed "Santa One" for the flight.

Many of the kids had never been on an airplane before.

"I'm hoping we might fly for a couple of minutes or so because I've really wanted to fly, but I've never gotten the chance because we don't have enough money," Elija Edwards said before the flight.

On board, the kids met their pilots and flight attendants-turned-elves. The kids sang Christmas carols and got a box of snacks from a decorated rolling cart.

"I think it's pretty cool because you get all the snacks you want!" student Cody Fitzpatrick said.

When they landed, Santa Claus was waving at the airplane from the jet bridge. A gate had been transformed into the North Pole, and there the kids found the toys and clothes they'd asked Santa for weeks ago in letters.

"It means a lot for him because his dad's in jail, his mom's kind of struggling right now so it kind of means a lot for the guy to come to something like this and have everything be so happy for him," Charles Allen said of one student.

As the kids ripped wrapping paper off their personalized gifts, many of them shrieked with happiness.

"It's just these kids don't have anything, and to be able to give a little bit of Christmas to them and a little bit of happiness to them, where they don't have to worry about anything, that's our goal," United employee and "Head Elf" Teresa Slagel said.

"You look at every single one of these kids and the smiles that are on their faces especially when they came off the plane and opened up their presents, you couldn't give to someone better," Allen said.

Behind the scenes, a lot of volunteers worked on this. 

United employees and retirees bought all of the toys and clothes. Meridian businesses helped by contributing money for the jet fuel. Many other businesses and organizations contributed to gift bags, like the Idaho Potato Commission, which gave each child a Spuddy Buddy.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Weather conditions delay flights in Europe and Northeast of the USA

As of 5 p.m. ET. flights at many of busiest airports in the Northeast were being affected by delays, though some of the worst delays begin to subside.

The longest delays of the day were encountered by passengers at the three airports in the great New York City area.

Average delays had exceed four hours this afternoon at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

LaGuardia was especially hard hit, with average delays approaching 5 hours, 22 minutes around 2:3o p.m. ET today, according to the FAA.

The delay averages eased somewhat by dinnertime, however, dropping to 2 hours, 30 minutes at LaGuardia and and 3 hours, 12 minutes at Newark. As of 5 p.m. ET, average delays at JFK were just shy of 4 hours.

Boston flights were being delayed by about 65 minutes.

In Philadelphia, the FAA's website showed storm-related delays had disapated after averaging about 90 minutes earlier in the day. Earlier delays at Washington Dulles and at Washington-Baltimore had also eased since this morning, according to the FAA.

Still, travelers catching flights today across the USA were at risk of being affected by the delays, even if they were scheduled to fly in parts of the country experiencing good weather.

An afternoon flight from Phoenix to San Francisco, for example, could have become delayed or canceled if the aircraft scheduled to operate that flight got bogged down this morning in New York.

At least two airlines moved to accommodate customers affected by the poor weather.

Continental, which operates a major hub at Newark, waived change restrictions for most customers scheduled to fly to, from or through that airport today or Thursday.

Continental's waiver also covered passengers scheduled to fly through Baltimore, Boston, New York JFK, New York LaGuardia, Philadelphia, Washington National and Washington Dulles.

United, which merged with Continental this year, issued a waiver policy with the same details. One of United's largest hubs is at Washington Dulles.

With some conditions, the rule waiver allowed customers booked on tickets to fly through those airports today or Thursday to make one change without being charge the standard change-of-ticket penalty.

But the U.S. Northeast wasn't the only region experiencing weather delays today. Conditions were even worse in Europe, where an unusually winter storm was creating travel problems across large parts of the continent.

The Associated Press writes "Gatwick, London's second largest airport, and Geneva, a major hub for low-cost carrier Easyjet, were forced to shut down Wednesday as staff struggled to clear runways of snow. Edinburgh airport in Scotland, Leeds airport in northern England, and Chambery and Grenoble in southeastern France also were closed. Eurocontrol, the central air control agency, reported severe flight delays in Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, Prague and Paris Orly."

Problems appeared likely to continue into Thursday.

France's civil aviation authority asked airlines there to reduce Thursday's flight schedules in anticipation of heavy snow. Bloomberg News reports that "the authority has requested carriers cancel 25% of flights in and out of the Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport and 10% of flights at Orly airport, it said in an e-mailed statement."

One U.S. carrier -- US Airways -- said it would waive change fees for customers schedule to fly to or from the United Kingdom today through Friday.

Source :