White Collar Travel: The upgrade rotation

Routine often breeds insight, and the form of business travel that once ruled my life was one of the variety that Ralph Waldo Emerson would have called “the hobgoblin of little minds.” During one project, which involved seven months of weekly roundtrips to Omaha (and platinum status on Northwest by June), I’d get to Logan Airport every Monday morning and see the same names called for upgrades. It was demoralizing. As my miles accumulated, I knew that theirs were, too, leaving me no closer to my goal.

Then, a strange thing happened when I crossed from silver to gold: I started to get the bump. The people normally summoned up to the gate – who I had come to know by sight and the first three letters of their last name – were no longer on my flight. The upgrade candidates behind them were getting the first nod, and occasionally, I’d pick up some first class table scraps. Two months later, I was at the top of the list.

My business partner, who joined me in this weekly grind, noticed the change, as well. Having gotten this far, it didn’t take us long to put the rest together. The people who used to beat us to the upgrades had rolled off their projects: their work was done, and they had moved on to gigs in other cities. We still had plenty of Omaha time in front of us and relished the thought of having to compete with only the people paying for first class, and the occasional heavy-hitter who was taking a rare trip in our direction.Watching this unannounced changing of the guard is good for a morale boost in a life where pleasant surprises just aren’t frequent enough. It entails a sense of accomplishment, a touch of prestige and an expectation of a little more comfort. Everything that cuts your way carries disproportionate weight when you’re a road warrior.

So, if you’re among the many making the weekly “commute” to another part of the country on a long-term project, watch the pre-boarding process, and celebrate when those familiar faces disappear. It means you’re getting closer to a wider seat and coffee in a ceramic mug. There’s a rhythm to business travel, much of it defined by the work the passengers do. Get in synch with it, and the lifestyle becomes much easier to bear.

BBC simulates Northwest Flight 253 bomb – plane survives

The BBC enlisted the help of an explosives expert and a pilot with structural engineering and air accident experience, to determine the kind of damage the would-be Northwest 253 bomber would have caused.

On their site, you can see a video clip of the immense explosion, and the stresses caused to the outside of the plane. Thankfully, the experts concluded that the blast would not have destroyed the Boeing 747, and that the plane would have been able to land safely.

That isn’t to say that the explosion would have been a horrible thing to experience – the force of the blast would have killed the bomber and his seatmate, ruptured eardrums of many passengers, and blown body parts throughout the plane. The smoke, heat and noise would have made the whole thing quite traumatic.

Check out the BBC article for the video clip of this explosion, and an explanation of the kind of damage caused. The results of this test will be shared with governments and aviation experts around the world.

(As a commenter points out, the NW253 bomb was on an Airbus A330, not a Boeing 747)

Northwest museum to outlast the airline it honors

The remaining traces of Northwest Airlines may disappear from the fleet in 2010, but the airline will always have a home in Minnesota. A private, nonprofit museum dedicated to the carrier is going to stay open, even though the object of its affection will be integrated fully into the Delta fold. Delta has its own museum, which undoubtedly will celebrate the acquisition of Northwest someday, but this isn’t standing in the way of the folks at the NWA History Centre.

Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, the museum will maintain a separate record of Northwest, though it will be tough to add to the collection down the road. Pete Patzke, chairman of the museum’s board, tells Minnesota Public Radio, “The history stops today. There is no more Northwest.”

As the existence of the brand winds down, the museum has experienced an influx of memorabilia, with the mundane now assuming greater importance. Letterhead, building signs and other items of daily use are being submitted for the museum to catalog, store and perhaps display.

Northwest to disappear this year

Remember Eastern? Pan Am? Well, the next one to join the list of airline has-beens will be Northwest.

Northwest Airlines may have made it to the beginning of 2010, but won’t see another New Year’s Eve. The carrier, which was acquired by Delta in October 2008, has received permission from the FAA to ditch the Northwest name and operate the whole deal as Delta. The cutover process for “legacy Northwest” is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter.

There are, of course, some kinks to be worked out. The entire Northwest operation needs to be folded into that of Delta, and everything from routes to labor to the codes on boarding passes need to be sorted out. Though some groups within Northwest have sorted out contracts and seniority lists, flight attendants, gate and reservation agents and ramp workers still have some work in front of them. Prior to the merger, Northwest was, according to The Associated Press, “heavily unionized,” and Delta wasn’t.

Fortunately, a lot of heavy lifting has been done already. More than 80 percent of the planes once labeled Northwest have been repainted for Delta, the two frequent flier programs have been consolidated and crews are standardized on one set of uniforms.

American Airlines is the one to watch in 2010

Could 2010 be the year for American Airlines?

Well, it’s hard not to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a decade of unusual airline severity. The market was shaken several times by terror attempts – including the attacks of 9/11 – economic pressures from the dotcom meltdown and the recent financial sector only made matters worse. Energy prices hit some peaks along the way, which, according to Joseph Lazzaro of our sister site, BloggingStocks, determines the fate of the U.S. airline sector.

But, AA in particular? The guys with the flight attendant who through a nutter over orange juice?

The stock is up 90% since June. To most travelers, this is not just irrelevant, but boring … until you think about how these matters can impact your experience on an airline. When a company is profitable, it has an easier time serving its customers. And, employees tend to relax a little bit, as profits and stock prices tend to be good signs that jobs won’t be disappearing (at least not in large amounts).Also, I use stock price as a proxy for intangibles, like brand strength, customer loyalty and other factors that are hard to quantify. At the end of the day, the price determined by investors takes all this stuff into account, giving customers and passengers a feel for how the airline is likely to treat it.

So, cast aside the recent high-profile debacles of this airline, including its recent runway faux pas in in Kingston, and think to the future. After all, everyone’s screwed up. United has its guitar-playing victim, and Northwest (and, as a result, Delta) watched a plane overshoot a destination. In a business where every player is scraping the bottom of the barrel, American may rise above, even if only slightly.