This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

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British Airways Thinks We Need Anti-Missile Tech On Our Airliners!

Posted on 9th May 2021

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This news story on the BBC has me worried.

Apparently, British airways is in discussion with airliner manufacturers about installing anti-missile technology on its aircraft.

What has the world come to, when we need our civilian airliners protected by this sort of technology?

Admittedly, there have been a few of high profile cases in recent years where airliners were shot down by missiles. Here are a few recent examples:

There are also a number of incidents in which it is not certain that the planes were shot down, the plane survived, or where missiles were not involved (see here for a full list of shoot-down incidents).

When I started writing this post, I had no idea that there were so many shoot-down incidents. I guess that British Airways is right to investigate technology to protect against this risk.

Lufthansa’s Miles and More Programme

Posted on 12th September 2018

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For a very long time, my Lufthansa Miles and More card has been broken (physically cracked). Eventually (about 3 years ago) I requested a replacement card. They did something: they issued me a new card number. What they didn't do is send me the new card, nor did they inform me of the change of card number (I managed to find out my new card number by logging in to the Miles and More web-site using my old number).

I do not understand why:

  • It is necessary to issue a new number for a replacement card,
  • It is so difficult to post a card to me, given that I receive lots of other post from Lufthansa.

I am hesitant to request another new card, because I don't want another new card number.

Because of the above issues, a couple of years ago I got a frequent flier card from SAS (like Lufthansa, SAS are part of the Star Alliance), and have been using that card for all my Lufthansa flights.

Today, while trying to retrospectively claim missing points from my Lufthansa flights on my SAS card, I discovered that, for the last few weeks, Lufthansa has been ignoring the information in my booking (via Expedia, which has my SAS card details) about my SAS card, and instead allocating the points to my Lufthansa Miles and More card (against my wishes and without my permission). I spent some time on the Lufthansa and the Miles and More Apps on my phone, and also on the Lufthansa and Miles and More web-sites, to try to set my frequent flier number to that of my SAS card, without success. I also asked Google, with similar lack of success. It seems that it is simply not possible for customers to choose where their air miles go, except at check-in (not online, but only if you check in with a check-in clerk) or at the gate.

Lufthansa pride themselves on the quality of their service, but it seems that this quality of service is only in their heads. It certainly isn't noticeable in the snacks and drinks offered on flights, or the support I have received regarding my loyalty cards.

Something Wrong With British Airway’s IT Systems

Posted on 18th May 2017

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There have been many reports over the last few days about the chaos caused by British Airway and their IT failure:

  • here, from the BBC, where the CEO of BA says that he will not resign, and blames the failure on a power surge;
  • here, from the BBC, where the consumer group "Which?" urges automatic compensation for all affected passengers;
  • here, from the BBC's Tech Tent, which points out that a power surge is no excuse nor explanation, and that "experts point out that power management is an essential element of any well-planned IT system";
  • and here, also from the BBC, which points out that BA's "Disaster Recovery Plan should have whirred into action."

Very many types of business, in the modern world, are fully dependent upon IT systems to operate: banking, telecoms, air travel (not just airlines; also airports, air-traffic control, etc.), the full gamut of Internet based businesses, etc. Most of these companies seem to have understood how vital it is, for both them and their customers, to ensure that their systems are reliable and robust, but it seems that BA "didn't get the memo".

Now, high reliability (usually call high availability) systems is something that I know quite a lot about, and the experts quoted by the BBC's Tech Tent are right: a power surge is no excuse, and power management is a vital part of any business critical system design. To put this into context for those readers who are not familiar with the subject matter, let me describe a typical disaster recovery plan:

  1. Two data centres, with systems clustered together so that load is shared between the two sites, such that if one site has a failure, the workload is taken over automatically and instantly by the remaining site, and with power supplied to each site from separate feeds from the power grid, plus UPSes (uninterruptible power supplies) and backup generators at each site. Such a configuration is immune to local power surges and failures in the electricity supply grid; the only impact of the failure of one data centre is some loss of performance.
  2. A disaster recovery site, which contains a copy of the data from the main data centres, which can take over the load if both main data centres fail. The disaster recovery systems are usually manually started, so there can be a delay of a few minutes before service is restored.
  3. Off-site backups, so that even if all the systems fail, service can usually be restored, with minimal data loss, after a few hours.
  4. A comprehensive disaster recovery plan detailing manual fall-back processes, mobile data centres and even paper based systems to ensure service continuity.

Of course, none of this is any use if the fall-back systems and processes don't work, which seems to be the case here. When you spend millions on redundant systems and data-back-ups, you have to test that they work. You must test that, when a system or a whole site, fails, that the load is properly switched to other systems (and that you can put the system back into its normal operating mode once the fault is repaired). You must also test that the software and processes to restore data from back-ups actually work. It seems likely that BA failed to do this, since their systems stopped working.

Of course, I do not know if BA simply failed to put in place a properly reliable set of systems and processes, or if they at least tried to do so, but failed to test that they worked properly in the event of failure. Either way, the outcome is simply unacceptable, and the impact on its customers was major and intolerable. This simply cements BA's position as one of the world's worst airlines; one a cavalier and irresponsible attitude to their customers.

BA's CEO said that the "flight disruption had nothing to do with cutting costs". I beg to differ. Clearly, not enough money was spent in building and testing the disaster recovery plan.

More About Laptop Bans On Flights

Posted on 18th May 2017

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I wrote about two months ago about the ban on taking laptops as cabin baggage on flights to the USA from certain originating airports (here). Since then, apparently, the ban has also also applies to flights to the UK.

Well, now there is more news on the topic. Here is a story from the BBC, which reports that, at a meeting between US and European officials, it was decided not to introduce a ban on laptops in the cabin for flights between the USA and Europe.

The reason is described in more detail in this BBC report, which highlights the increased risk of fires remaining undetected if laptops are kept in the hold. The other thing that occurred to me is that keeping all the laptops in a special container in the hold is akin to deciding the keep all the sticks of dynamite together, rather than stowed separately.

Whilst I see the latest developments as encouraging, I don't think the story is over yet. It wouldn't surprise me if, eventually, we simply won't be able to travel with our laptops at all, neither in the cabin nor in the hold. For me, that will, in many cases, take away the reason for travelling in the first place.

More Overbooked Flights

Posted on 19th April 2017

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There has been more news about people being bumped off overbooked flights.

This BBC news story describes how a couple going on vacation to Catania in Sicily were removed from an EasyJet flight from Luton, after boarding, due to overbooking, and told that the next EasyJet flight to their destination was in four days time. They were not told that they had a right to be rebooked onto another airline the same day at EasyJet's cost, and not offered compensation, in flagrant violation of EU rules. The couple had booked non-refundable accommodation for 6 nights, and decided to cancel their trip, despite the cost. That is what can happen if you fly without knowing your rights!

In the other case, reported here by the BBC, a family tried to check in online, and were left with boarding passes for all members of the family except their 10 year old son. Clearly, leaving the 10 year old to find his way back home alone, and fend for himself for a week, was neither acceptable nor legal, so they travelled to two other airports, trying to find alternative flights; eventually they found flights from Montreal, spending an additional C$1,000 on the new flights. Since then, they have complained to Air Canada, and have been offered a C$2,500 voucher, along with an apology; I don't consider that anywhere near enough compensation.

I know that many airlines have problems with online check-in of groups of people travelling together; I have had problems with this myself. Even if everyone in the party gets a seat, which is by no means guaranteed, separate check-in usually results in being seated apart, which is certainly not acceptable when young children, sick or disable passengers are involved. Online check-in is the best way to avoid being bumped from overbooked flights (apart from flying business or first class, which most of us cannot afford), but families and groups are often forced to check-in at the airport (i.e. last-minute) if they want to sit together. There is clearly something wrong with the computer systems and processes used by airlines, if it results in a child being left without a seat, and it needs to be fixed.

The killer is that, typically, if the other members of a group choose not to fly because a member of the party cannot get a seat, the forego their right to compensation, since the contracts to fly are separate, and they are deemed to have "voluntarily" chosen not to fly.

The airline business is a tough business to be in: many airline have been bailed out by governments, and most struggle to make a profit. Airlines have discretion about whether to offer compensation in some cases, but when it comes to compensation to which passengers are legally entitled, they need to stop sidestepping their obligations and pay up, without being asked or even threatened.

My girlfriend almost always pays the small extra fee to have travel insurance, and that is probably a good idea. Insurance, however, will still not compensate travellers for many of the problems of families and other groups travelling together, because, again, the insurance contracts are separate for each traveller. We need our airlines to be more honest and responsible; if they won't, there will be more regulations to impose that honest and responsible behaviour on them.

Assault On A United Plane!

Posted on 11th April 2017

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Social media is abuzz with this story (reported here by the BBC) of the doctor being forcibly assaulted and forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight awaiting departure from a Chicago airport on Sunday evening.

The BBC report contains a shocking video of the man being dragged from the flight by three security personnel. He ended up with his face covered in blood (his own blood).

United's only explanation seems to be that the flight was overbooked, so they were trying to get 4 volunteers to make space for 4 members of United staff who needed to fly in order to work the next day. There were not enough volunteers, so they picked the doctor and his wife; a doctor who also needed to fly in order to be at work the next day. To me, that reason does not constitute an excuse.

I don't know how you see this, but I feel that getting a doctor to work is much more important than getting flight crew to work.

If you don't fly frequently, you may not realise that overbooking is common. A certain number of people don't turn up for their flights, and to avoid empty seats the airline often overbooks, and that sometimes means that there are not enough seats on the flight (more information on overbooking here).

United Airlines, however, is behaving as if the overbooking was something done to them by some third-party, whereas they did it to themselves.

Normal procedure is that passengers are offered compensation for not flying on overbooked flights (another flight, meal vouchers, a paid overnight stay in a hotel, an additional flight at a later date, etc.). If there are no volunteers, the offer is usually improved until passengers do volunteer. It is not clear from the BBC report whether any compensation was offered, nor whether the offer was improved when there were not enough takers (or none at all).

My take on this is as follows:

  • The passengers, including the poor doctor, had a contract to be transported by United or their agents to their destination. United Airlines is in breach of contract for ejecting a passenger from the flight without their agreement.
  • United were trying to make room for their staff to fly. Those staff, as United employees, have a duty to assist in honouring any contracts that the airline has, with passengers or whoever else, and that duty means that they are the ones who should have been bumped from the flight.
  • The airline has a moral, and probably legal, duty to take into account the importance of a given passenger taking a flight, and clearly the need of the doctor trumps that of the United staff, but there is no report of them taking that into account.
  • Under no circumstances is it appropriate nor legal to assault someone (unless there are valid and provable security concerns, or a crime is being commissioned by the passenger) and to cause actual bodily harm to remove them from a flight.

There is a lot of social media commentary, with many people suggesting not to fly United. To me, that is not news. I have flown them a few times, and they have always been rubbish: cramped seats, broken TV/audio systems and poor service (more attitude than service). When my girlfriend flies home to Chicago, she tries very hard to ensure that she flies with Lufthansa (difficult to ensure, since United is a code-share partner with Lufthansa); she pays exactly the same price for United as for Lufthansa, but the Lufthansa flight is much better all around. For me, United are in strong competition with British Airways to be the worst airline in the west (if you want to know what I have against BA, click here.

I suggest that people vote with their wallets, and fly with any airline other than United, even if it costs more, or involves a more circuitous route. At the end of the day, people (and especially companies) only pay attention when it costs them money.

I also hope that the grossly abused doctor sues them, and that criminal charges are also filed.

No Laptops On Planes?

Posted on 23rd March 2017

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I am guessing that pretty much everyone who travels for work, saw this report on the BBC, or the same news from some other source. Your initial reaction was probably the same as mine too: thank goodness I am not flying through any of those airports!

It then got me thinking about one of those generic and vague promises in Donald Trump's election campaign: to "make America great again". How exactly will he achieve that when, to my perspective, the USA is no longer open for business with an important (i.e. rich) part of the world.

Already we were being told that it was best to not take your smart-phone to the USA, as described here, since customs (or homeland security, or whoever) had the right to insist that you unlock it and let them peruse the contents (presumably the same rights extend to other devices like laptops and tablets). Now, however, we are being told that mobile devices will not be allowed into the cabin at all, for flights from certain airports, and we all know how slim the chances are that a laptop and tablet will survive a flight in the luggage hold (it will either be stolen or damaged beyond repair).

Of course, the problem is that the list of airports is public, which means that terrorists can and will fly their laptop bombs from airports elsewhere, and the list will just keep getting larger.

I don't want to list here all the reasons why people need to take their portable computing devices on aircraft, but I know why I do: it is usually a condition of contract that I bring my own laptop when I work as a freelancer, and I usually have work to do while on the flight or waiting at the airport. It is not a choice or convenience, it is mandated by my employer.

If it becomes too difficult or expensive (I certainly cannot afford to replace my laptop after almost every trip) to travel to the USA for business, the people will eventually do business elsewhere, with someone else. It seems to me that the USA is no longer open for business; if that continues for any length of time, then the country which we have become used to as the world's largest economy, most influential diplomatic power, and most powerful military force, will become just a footnote in history. President Trump will go down in the history books as the president who not only eroded US democracy beyond recognition. but also the man who presided over the end of their being a world power.

“Best Airlines” Are Some Of The Worst!

Posted on 17th April 2016

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I was rather shocked to read a recent report from Business Insider. It included a ranking of the “world’s best airlines”, and also the “world’s worst”, based on cases where airline passengers filed claims for compensation through AirHelp.

I don’t have any major dispute with the list of the worst, but I certainly do disagree with the so-called best, which includes:

  • British Airways, who left me stranded in New Zealand in 2007 (here), and who I consider to be so bad (due to many many incidents) that I vowed never to fly with them again,
  • Qatar Airways who, when the passenger sitting one seat away from me died on a flight back from Jakarta, left him lying on the floor in the galley corridor covered by a blanket, did not divert to get the poor man medical assistance when he was first taken ill, and refused to administer him oxygen,
  • Air France, notorious for cramped seats and smelly co-passengers.

Some of the airlines on the list of the best are, to my knowledge, good (in these days of ever decreasing airline service) including :

  • KLM (although they serve Heineken beer),
  • Lufthansa,
  • Emirates (although it is a long time since I flew with them).

I was also disappointed to note that Cathay Pacific, who got Sheryl and me home from New Zealand after British Airways washed their hands of us, did not make it onto the list of the best airlines.

Death and Dog Poop on Flights

Posted on 24th June 2014

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I found the contrast between these two stories rather bizarre.

Whilst visiting her family in Chicago, my girlfriend heard about a case, reported here, where a guide dog (seeing-eye dog in American English) got sick on a domestic flight in the USA and pooped in the aisle, twice on the same flight. The smell was so bad that the flight was diverted, and the mess was cleaned up on the ground, before continuing to its destination.

In contrast, whilst I was flying back from an assignment in Bangkok on a Qatar Airways flight to Doha, the man sitting one seat away from me died, and the flight was not diverted. I couldn't find a news report about the event (maybe one is available in Arabic). The unfortunate traveller, from Saudi Arabia, was fairly old, and obviously sick; he had some medication with him for his condition. His, son, travelling with him, asked the cabin crew for oxygen for his father, when he started to have breathing difficulties, but the regulations did not allow them to administer oxygen or other medication. Eventually the father seemed to improve a little, and with the help of his son, attempted to go to the toilet (less than 2 metres from seat to toilet). The effort of this movement was too much for the gentleman: he collapsed half in and half out of the toilet and eventually died.

When he collapsed, I checked the moving map display, and decided that we would probably be diverted to somewhere in India or Pakistan, but we were not. I don't think that diverting would have saved him, but I am surprised that they didn't try.

I do have to say that the cabin crew, and the medical staff who were passengers on the flight, tried valiantly to save him, administering CPR (which is very physically demanding work) and defibrillation for over an hour. Eventually they left him on the floor of the galley area where they had been treating him, covered him with a blanket, and carried on with the normal business of the flight: serving refreshments and breakfast.

The son, and the rest of the family of the deceased, have my deepest sympathy.

It does make you wonder, though, what the criteria are for diverting a flight: what kind of medical emergency qualifies for an unplanned landing?

KLM Steals My Evening!

Posted on 12th April 2019

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This post is a copy of an item from my News Blog.

I got home tonight just after mid-night (so technically the 13th, not the 12th) after a nightmare journey home, thanks to KLM.

I was booked on the 18:40 from Schiphol to Munich, and arrived at the airport, already with a boarding pass after checking in online, 35 minutes before the last time that I could check my luggage in: 17:59, which should have been plenty of time . My bag is too big for hand-luggage, and contained several toiletry items that exceeded the 100ml limit, so checking it in for transport in the hold was my only option.

It took about 4 minutes to reach the queue to check my bag. I then queued for 20 minutes, and the machine issued me a baggage tag at precisely 17:48 (confirmed by the woman at KLM's ticket desk). Unfortunately, the machine refused to take my bag, and with no explanation, told me to go to the service desk, where I queued for another 20 minutes, by when it was too late to check my bag. I was sent to the ticket desk to rebook my flight.

At the ticket desk, only 2 of the six desks were open, so I had to queue for another 25 minutes. The lady at the desk told me that it was all my fault, because I hadn't arrived at the airport 2 hours before my flight. She rebooked me onto the 21:00 flight to Munich. She also told me that, because, in her opinion, it was my fault, she should charge me a rebooking fee, and that she was doing me a favour my not doing so.

Firstly, the arrival 2 hours before the flight is only meant to be in cases where you still need to check-in and get your boarding pass, and I already had a boarding pass. 35 minutes should be plenty of time to check a bag which, although too big for hand-baggage, is actually small for hold luggage and requires no special handling. I checked my bag 11 minutes before the deadline, which proves that I was at the airport early enough.

Secondly, at the service desk, when I finally reached the front of the queue, there were still 30 minutes until departure: plenty of time to load a bag. At Munich airport, they would have phoned someone, and been granted an exception to accept a late bag.

Finally, the idea that I should have to pay, because of a failure of a machine checking in bags is outrageous. If there had been no other option to fly Friday night, then KLM would not have been prepared to pay for a hotel and dinner, and that would have been all at my expense.

As a result of this debacle, the plans that Sheryl and I had, for her to meet me at Munich airport and to have dinner together there, were trashed. My whole evening and my dinner were stolen from me by KLM. I was still raging angry when I got home, and it took quite a while for me to calm down enough to sleep.

The purser and once of the stewards on my 9pm flight were very sympathetic to my plight, but couldn't do anything to help; thanks for trying, though, guys.

I was forced to eat in Schiphol airport, and that food was disgusting (see my food blog).

When I lived in the Netherlands (from 1994 to 1996), I flew KLM often. They were a great airline, but since then things have changed: being taken over by Air France is the cause of much of the deterioration in service.

I will certainly be rethinking flying with KLM in future, and will be filing a complaint.