Man ignites small bomb on U.S. bound plane

A Nigerian man is under arrest after igniting a bomb on a plane bound for Detroit yesterday.

Abdul Mudallad, 23, used a powder strapped to his leg mixed with a syringe containing some sort of liquid to set off a small explosion on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam as it made its final descent into Detroit.

While the mixture did explode, the explosion was very small and the ensuing flames only harmed Mr. Mudallad, giving him third-degree burns on one leg. Passengers quickly tackled him. None of the other 278 passengers or 11 crew were injured. One passenger described the explosion as a “little pop”. The flames needed to be put out with a fire extinguisher.

President Obama has ordered increased security for air travel and the Department of Homeland Security has added extra screening measures.

The bomber was on a U.S. government database for having “a significant terrorist connection” although that did not qualify him for the “no-fly” list. Why someone with a significant terrorist connection can fly on a U.S. airline will doubtlessly be a major question in coming days.

Under questioning after the incident, Mr. Mudallad claimed he has connections with Al-Qaeda and got the chemicals for his bomb in Yemen.

Some reports state Mr. Mudallad is a student of University College London, but a search of the university’s online directory did not reveal his name. The directory, however, only lists students and faculty who have publicly available contact information.

UPDATE, Dec. 27 1242GMT: This post was made shortly after the incident occurred and was correct according to the latest reports at that time. Two details have emerged that should be addressed. The man’s name is now said to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and University College London states that he was a mechanical engineering student, but he is not currently enrolled. I felt it was best not to change the original post, as it is now of historic interest in showing how breaking news stories can change fundamentally over time, but since two later posts link to this one I felt I should update the name and university status. More details will doubtless emerge and be covered in later posts.

Early Christmas gift from the airlines – no advance purchase surcharges

After several years of adding additional fees and rules to our tickets, the airlines are finally giving us something back for the Holiday season.

Seven of the major carriers (American Airlines, United, Delta, Northwest, US Airways, Frontier, AirTran and Midwest) announced that they would waive all advance purchase rules for tickets between today and January 4th 2010.

What this means to last minute travelers is that an $1800 ticket will be about $1500 cheaper when purchased for same day travel.

Of course, the airlines wouldn’t be the the money makers we know them to be, without a bunch of restrictions on their sales:

The cheapest tickets are available on Dec. 16, 17, 25 and Jan. 1 and 4

The second cheapest level airfares are about 30% higher than the lowest fares. Travel for this level is valid on December 18, 20, 21, 24, 30 and 31.

The third cheapest level is about 55% higher than the lowest fares. Travel dates will be December 19, 22, 23, 26, 28 and 29.

December 27 and January 2 and 3 have not been included in the holiday fare sale – and those tickets could end up being substantially more expensive.

(Source: USA Today / Bestfares.com)

Bottom line is that even though the airlines appear to be the good guys, their complicated fare structure could end up costing passengers more. Travelers tend to book flights for the holiday season in advance, so removing last minute purchase rules really only benefits those that suddenly decide to go somewhere for Christmas or who run into sudden changes that require a last minute ticket purchase.

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Only approved electronic devices allowed in the cockpit?

Maybe the flight attendants should start talking to the cockpit, too. When a plane overshot Minneapolis last month because the crew was playing around with personal laptops, national attention turned to what actually goes on in the front of the plane. Congress is kicking around the idea of a new bill that would kick personal electronic devices from the cockpit.

Unsurprisingly, the pilots and airlines aren’t crazy about the idea. They say that the measure would impede progress by making innovation less accessible. Scott Schleiffer, a cargo pilot who’s also thrown some brain time at safety issues for the Air Line Pilots Association, told USA Today, “We would like to have access to tools, and as tools evolve, we would like to have better tools.”

FAA chief Randy Babbit agrees, saying, “We need to be very careful,” in regards to the prohibition of personal devices in the cockpit.

Airlines are starting to bring new technology into the cockpit, with laptops and other devices used to improved weather and safety information. The devices aren’t all that different from what distracted the Northwest pilots who missed Minneapolis. JetBlue has issued laptops to pilots, which are used to push through calculations during takeoff and landing. But, the airline doesn’t allow personal use of them.

So far, two bills have been introduced in the Senate. They would exempt devices used to operate the plane or help with safety issues, but pilots don’t believe that this is enough.

Neither side of the argument addresses the core problem: keeping pilots focused on the job. In theory, extraordinary measures shouldn’t be necessary. Professionals, by definition, should not need that kind of intense oversight. It’s already against the against the law for pilots not to pay attention to their responsibilities, and that’s probably enough regulation. Instead, the solution needs to come to the airlines — organizational measures are needed to ensure that professionals remain professional. Executed properly, the good ones shouldn’t even notice a different.

Delta joins the ranks of “cashless cabins”

I can’t remember the last time I paid with cash for a drink on a domestic flight. Even on my last few international flights, I pulled out the plastic when it was time for a nerve-calming vodka-cran. So I was actually kind of surprised at the announcement that Delta Airlines would no longer be accepting cash on flights in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. I didn’t even realize cash was still an option.

But if you haven’t yet joined the plastic revolution, or if you just prefer to pay with cash, be warned. As of December 1, you must use debit or credit cards only for all purchases made onboard Delta and Northwest flights, with the exception of trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, and South American flights (where both options will be available). You’ll also still be able to use cash (or your card) for onboard duty-free purchases.
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Greyhound bus driver heads wrong way: Where’s a GPS when you need one?

Greyhound bus drivers generally don’t make national news. Pilots who overshoot airports, however, end up having their story told over and over again on about every entertainment vehicle there is. How many places did you hear or read about the Northwest Airlines pilots who missed Minneapolis and didn’t figure out their mistake for 150 miles?

Now, how many of you heard about the Greyhound bus driver who headed the wrong way for more than an hour last week? Yep, last Saturday morning at about 7:14 a.m on October 31st, that’s exactly what happened–a bus driver went the wrong way for more than 70 miles.

Here’s an exclusive Gadling report that has yet to show up anywhere. Gadling knows because Gadling was there.

What started out to be a slam dunk from Cleveland’s bus station to Port Authority in Manhattan turned into a Twilight zone episode. For the band of riders who were heading to New York for a variety of reasons–like the R&B singer who was moving from Michigan to Manhattan to try to make a living, and the young man moving back to Hartford, Connecticut from Cincinnati, the bus was the cheapest travel option.

For this mother and her daughter, it was certainly the cheapest way for a last minute trip to NYC for a Halloween weekend that doubled as a 17th birthday present.

Each of us were initially thrilled to be on the spillover bus out of Cleveland. When there are too many passengers for one bus, another driver is called for a second bus. Riding on the second bus generally means more room.

When the second bus pulled out of the Cleveland terminal at 2:30 a.m. or so, the passengers, mostly with two seats to themselves, settled in for slumber. The bus’ interior lights were off creating an aura of cozy humanity as the bus headed to I-80 east for the trip straight to Manhattan. With the stop in Newark dropped because no one on the bus was going to Newark, this meant arriving ahead of the 11:15 a.m. schedule. Sweet!

At 6:55 a.m., the bus pulled into a truck stop near Milesburg, Pennsylvania. Most everyone got off in search of coffee and a toilet that didn’t move from side to side. Some huddled together for a quick smoke.

By 7:15 everyone was back on the bus, settling in for more shut eye as the sun began to rise. At 8:30 the dream come true ride ended.

The driver’s “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! I don’t believe this. We were almost there,” paired with her frustrated laughter–the kind of laughter one uses when there’s no other possible response because crying would be just too awful, woke up this Gadling rider. From the vantage point of three rows back from the driver on the right side of the bus, it was clear the driver was talking to herself.

Peering out the window looking to see what was up, the first thought was traffic caused by an accident. Nope. That wasn’t it. The highway was clear.

When the bus pulled off the highway, making a jog along a side road, the thought was another rest stop already?

Nope. That wasn’t it either. The driver swung the bus back onto the highway.

When an I-80 east sign appeared, so did a sinking feeling–and an urge to start moaning, “No, no, no!”

When the “Bellfonte 65 miles” (or so) sign appeared, it was clear what had happened. At Milesburg, the driver headed off on I-80 west instead of going east, thus driving back towards Cleveland. We had driven miles in the wrong direction past the State College turn off in the center of Pennsylvania where we had been before.

Unfortunately, it took the driver over an hour to figure out that she was heading away the wrong way.

We would not be arriving in New York City before 11:15. That’s when we’d be hitting the Poconos just in time for Saturday afternoon traffic.

The R&B singer’s friends who were at Port Authority to meet the bus called her wondering where she was after the first bus showed up on time. They told her that they had to go to work and would not be able to help her with her luggage after all.

By the time the bus pulled into Port Authority at 1:30, more than two hours behind schedule, five people felt steamed up enough to head to Greyhound customer service to complain. That meant filling out paperwork describing the event and leaving contact information.

For Gadling, the mistake meant two less hours in Manhattan. For others, it meant missed connections that ended up costing money and a travel headache they hadn’t counted on. The R&B singer had Greyhound comp her the price to store her luggage until she figured out how to get it to her new digs. When we left the customer service counter, the young guy was still trying to figure out how to get to Hartford and contact the people who were to meet him there. He was hoping Greyhound would put him on the train.

Greyhound customer service is going to let us know if they’ll be any ticket compensation once the incident is investigated. A voucher for future travel on Greyhound would be nice. You never know what kind of adventure you’re going to have when a bus pulls out of a station. I’m thinking about taking my son to Manhattan the middle of December to take in the holiday lights.

As for the ride back, the bus pulled into the Columbus, Ohio bus station right on time–7 a.m. on Monday morning.

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