Virgin Blue flight attendant puts baby in overhead bin

A Virgin Blue flight attendant has been fired after putting a 17-month-old baby in an overhead compartment as part of a peek-a-boo joke. Passenger Natalie Williamson was on a flight from Fiji to Sydney with her husband and son when the flight attendant put the baby into the overhead bin and locked it for 10 seconds.

“I stood up and there were people laughing and then I said ‘Get my son out of there now’,” she told Australia’s Sunday Herald Sun.

Virgin Blue admits that the incident happened but claims Williamson’s husband had been playing peek-a-boo with the overhead bin when the flight attendant joined in. The airline has offered apologies as well as three free flights, but the mother claims she and her child are too traumatized to redeem them, and her son still suffers from anxiety and withdrawal three months after the incident.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user David McKelvey]

Australia floods leave tourist industry in peril

The terrible floods in Queensland, Australia, have destroyed thousands of homes, done billions of dollars of damage, and have left at least a dozen people dead. Queensland is a major coal exporter, and with the rising waters hampering shipments and flooding mines, world coal prices have risen. A major consumer of Queensland coal are Asian steel mills, which are already feeling the pinch. This has led to a rise in steel prices. That’s a double dose of bad news for the economic recovery.

Another Queensland industry has also been hard hit–tourism. The tourists have fled along with the residents, but it’s the long-term effects that are more harmful. If rising coal and steel prices hurt the economic recovery, that’s bound to hurt the tourism industry pretty much everywhere. Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the center for Australia’s Gold Coast, a major draw for Australia’s $32 billion tourist industry. Floods are damaging popular beaches and will require costly repairs. Coastal and riverside hotels and shops are being destroyed. The Brisbane Times reports that toxic materials washed into the sea could have an effect on delicate coral reefs and fish populations. With snorkeling and scuba diving such popular activities on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, this could do long-term damage to tourism.

Meanwhile, airlines are worried about how this will affect them. Virgin Blue has already seen its shares drop by 3.4 percent today because investors fear there will be a drop in bookings. Qantas shares also dipped slightly. Airlines are issuing fee waivers for passengers who want to change their flights to, from, or through Brisbane.

It looks like Queensland residents will suffer from the flood long after the waters recede.

[Photo of Brisbane sunset courtesy user t i m m a y via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Australian airlines see obese passengers as growing problem

In the United States, finding ways to accommodate oversized passengers may be the subject of uneven enforcement, but in Australia, it’s uncharted territory. In fact, this in-flight service problem is so ignored that the terminology isn’t even standard. According to Virgin Blue, being too grande for the seat is considered an impairment, while Tiger Airways isn’t sure if it’s a “comfort” issue or a “medical” issue. And last year, Jetstar demonstrated the genius of making one large passenger by two seats: both of them on the aisle. A spokesman for Jetstar, by the way, says, “Obesity is not a disability.”

Then, pray tell, what is it? Distinction from does not equate to definition of. And an inability to define imperils the formulation and enforcement of any policy … not that that’s a problem for Jetstar, whose spokesman added, “There’s no rules around what requirements we should do for somebody if they’re above a certain height or weight.” Virgin Blue also doesn’t have a policy for this.

Qantas has received complaints, too, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, but it punts responsibility back to the passengers: “”The only way for a customer to guarantee extra space is to purchase two economy tickets or fly business- or first-class.”

Needless to say, the majority of Australians support a formal system for addressing obese passengers, according to a study by In fact, 70 percent of survey respondents weighed in favorably believed that “obese or largely overweight people should have to purchase two economy-class seat tickets when travelling by plane.” Only two years ago, 53 percent felt this way.

Clearly, this is a growing problem for Australian airlines. The county’s Department of Health and Ageing puts 41 percent of men and 25 percent o women in the “obese” category. Twenty years ago, the rates were only half as large.

[photo by didbygraham via Flickr]

Virgin America, VAustralia, Virgin Blue offer frequent flyer partnership points

I love when family members play well together.

News from the Virgin camp: flyers on any of the carriers three brands – Virgin America, VAustralia and Virgin Blue – will have the option to earn points on any of the three loyalty programs.

“Travelers around the world seek out Virgin airlines for their unrivalled value, brilliant service and innovative amenities, and we’re pleased to partner with Virgin Blue and V Australia to allow our loyal guests to earn Virgin frequent flyer credits wherever they are flying– in the U.S., Asia Pacific or Australia,” said Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush, in a press release provided by Virgin America.

Here’s how it works: If you’re a VAustralia or Virgin Blue Velocity member, you can earn points in your Velocity account by flying any of the three carriers. Likewise, if you’re a Virgin America Elevate member, you’ll earn Elevate points when you fly any of the three brands.

Elevate redemption levels will start at 40,000 points for flights on V Australia and 6,000 points for flights on Virgin Blue later this year.

US bound flight grounded after “prank” September 11th bomb threat

A 21 year old electricians apprentice on his way from Brisbane to Los Angeles thought it would be fun to announce to fellow passengers that he had a bomb in his possession.

When the plane was still on the ground in Brisbane, he made the threat using the seatback entertainment system chat room. One passenger then alerted the crew, and the captain decided to have the passenger removed from his plane.

It took just under two hours to have his luggage removed and the plane underwent a thorough inspection. As if this wasn’t stupid enough, the guy made his threat on a plane that would land in the US on September 11th.

His attorney told the court that the actions were “ill-considered and childish in the extreme”. That is putting it lightly if you ask me. Amazingly, he got away with a mere $1300 fine, payable to the airline, and two years probation. The total cost to V Australia was about $20,000. As part of his guilty plea, no conviction will be added to his record, which probably means he’ll be able to fly to the US, though I doubt V Australia will be welcoming him any time soon.

I’d like to think that most people reading this understand the seriousness of making prank bomb threats, and I’m pretty sure that making them on a US plane or a US airport will cost you far more than just $1300.