World Subway Maps Drawn To Scale

subway maps by Neil FreemanThink New York has the most extensive subway system in the world? You may be right, but it’s a toss-up with London and Berlin. It’s easy to judge if you take all the metro systems and draw them to the same scale, as artist and urban planner Neil Freeman did in a series of minimalist subway maps. Comparing different systems, it’s a wonder why cities like Budapest even bothered with a metro, yet having ridden it, it’s a pretty extensive system.

Check out more of Neil Freeman’s awesome work, including a comparison of US metro regions and their respective states, a postcard of IATA airport codes, and in topical news, the electoral college map on his site Fake Is The New Real.

[Photo Credit: Neil Freeman]

Could your cell phone make you an in-flight killer?

Could my Kindle have the potential for murder? Mayhem? Needless to say, I may think twice before firing it up during takeoff on my trip to London at the end of the month!

I’ll be the first to admit that I thwart airline rules about turning on electronic devices during takeoff and landing. I don’t like reading print, and a year and a half after getting it, I still have a comfortable yet steamy love affair with my Kindle. I just can’t resist flipping the switch at the riskiest of times during my flights.

According to a report that ABC News got its hands on, though, I might be putting many, many lives at risk. ABC picked up a confidential industry study that indicates the safety issues could be real. Very real.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) studied survey responses from 125 airlines from 2003 to 2009 and found … “75 incidents of possible electronic interference that airline pilots and other crew members believed were linked to mobile phones and other electronic devices.” Twenty-six of them, a tad more than a third, “affected the flight controls, including the autopilot, autothrust and landing gear.” Another 17 hit navigation systems, with 15 affecting communication systems.
Of course, the report “stresses that it is not verifying that the incidents were caused by PEDs,” according to ABC News.

Some of this stuff is straight out of horror flicks: clocks spinning backwards, GPS devices malfunctioning and “altitude control readings changed rapidly until a crew member asked passengers to turn off their electronic devices.”

Scary stuff, no doubt.

So, is all this real?

Apparently, it’s hard to say. According to ABC News’s aviation guy, John Nance:

“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there, but it’s not evidence at all,” said Nance, a former Air Force and commercial pilot. “It’s pilots, like myself, who thought they saw something but they couldn’t pin it to anything in particular. And those stories are not rampant enough, considering 32,000 flights a day over the U.S., to be convincing.”

The feedback is mixed, it seems, leaving each of us to decide whether to roll the dice.

Five perks business travelers MUST have

business travelers perksIf you’ve ever been a road warrior, you know that the following is true. Spending hours upon hours on a plane several times a week, every week of the year, even the smallest benefits can make a profound difference. It’s sad but true that happiness is measured in on-time arrivals and exit rows, but such is the nature of frequent business travel.

According to the latest Orbitz for Business / Busienss Traveler Magazine Quarterly Trend Report, what business travelers want is changing. During the recession, cost was paramount, as cash-strapped businesses put pressure on employees to keep expenses under control in a bid to protect profit margins. Now that economic conditions are changing, travel priorities are too.

Ancillary services are gaining importance, as passengers are looking for ways to be comfortable again, especially if looser travel budgets are resulting in more time on the road. According to IATA, the airline industry is likely to pull in an aggregate $8.9 billion in profits from ancillary services this year, indicating that the money is likely to come from somewhere.

Let’s take a look at the five things the white collar travel folks are beginning to crave:1. A seat in the aisle: this isn’t surprising; everyone wants the chance to stretch out, even if it means the risk of getting slammed by the beverage cart.

2. Priority access at the security line and early boarding: hey, nobody wants to wait, right?

3. Airline lounge or club access: if you’re going to be stuck in an airport, you might as well enjoy it.

4. A seat at the front of the plane: boarding isn’t the only priority – business travelers want to get off quickly, too.

5. Extra leg room in coach: sense a theme here?

Like the opportunity to keep one’s dignity while flying, baggage check didn’t make the top five. Though among the most used ancillary services for leisure travelers, it came in sixth for business travelers, likely because frequent fliers have learned to avoid checking their bags at all costs. Interestingly, the least-used ancillary services are priority standby for an alternative flight and internet access, though I expect the latter to increase as it becomes more widely available.

Five indicators of the airline industry’s future: start with first and business class

Airlines are getting a little lucky. The big bucks and wider margins that come from first- and business-class fares are coming in faster than the nickels and dimes from economy class. This will delight the various airline industry employees who think that passengers aren’t paying enough, and it’s also a growth indicator.

According to the International Air Transport Association, an industry trade group, year-over-year growth slowed down in August relative to previous months, though this is due in part to the fact that August 2009 was the first month of the industry’s recovery, setting a higher bar for year-over-year growth than in the few months prior.

Nonetheless, airline sector growth is slowing down a bit, and not just because of the higher base in August for relative measurement. The total number of passengers traveling fell a little over 1 percent from July to August this year.

In August, first- and business-class passenger traffic surged 9.1 percent, following a 13.8 percent jump in July. Behind the special curtain that separates the elite from the proletariat, passenger traffic climbed 6.2 percent in August, following 8.8 percent in July.

So, where is the airline industry going this year? Here are five indicators to watch:

1. According to IATA‘s 230 members, demand for premium travel is up 17 percent relative to 2009 … but 99 percent of that hit in the first quarter of 2010.

2. Premium-class travel has leveled off since the end of Q1, but it’s uncertain if this is only a temporary state.

3. Business confidence is still positive, but it is inching downward. Premium markets remain 11 percent below the early 2008 peak, MSNBC reports.

4. Leisure travelers are even trying to help, with total economy travel up 11 percent from the depths it hit in 2009.

5. Month-over-month stagnation now may not say much about the future, according to IATA. Leading indicators point to growth of 5 percent to 6 percent a year.

[photo by Let Ideas Compete via Flickr]

Department of Transportation mulls expanded passenger delay rule

The Department of Transportation is thinking about getting even stricter with the airlines. After implementing a rule last spring that involves heavy fines for carriers that keep passengers on a plane on the ground for at least three hours, the DOT is already considering expanding the scope to small airports and international flights.

MSNBC reports:

“The situation is much worse than the [official] statistics indicate,” said George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog.com. “We have to include every airport, every type of plane and every type of flight.”

Unsurprisingly, the International Air Transport Association isn’t crazy about Hobica’s approach, with spokesman Steve Lott saying, “If DOT goes ahead with this, they’re going to cause a much larger problem than the one they think they’re trying to solve.”

The final rule won’t come down until the spring, so there’s plenty of time for both sides to fight this out.

For the airline sector, this measure seems to be seen as a signal of something much worse – the prospect of broad regulation and constraints on its ability to operate effectively in the manner to which it has become accustomed.

For its part, DOT won’t announce a final rule until next spring, but you can expect a lot of others to weigh in before then. Hundreds of last-minute ideas were lobbed over to the DOT, according to MSNBC, addressing all kinds of passenger and watchdog hot buttons, such as: advertising, fee disclosure and compensation for those denied boarding. The big one, of course, was the issue of delays on the tarmac.

International carriers oppose the expanded rules – shocking, right?! Lott, taking the standard industry stance, raises the issue of cancellation instead of risking a $27,500 per passenger customer fine, telling MSNBC, “I don’t think getting stranded in a U.S. city for a day or more is necessarily helping passengers.”

This may be a risk, but the data tells the only reliable story:

Meanwhile, as the airline industry and consumer advocates press their points of view, two truths regarding tarmac delays remain. Delays of three hours or more for domestic flights are down substantially since the original rule went into effect – there were only three in July, says DOT, compared to 161 during the same period last year – and international flights do present a much more challenging scenario.

[photo by williamcho via Flickr]