Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lost Somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle

Monday, June 28, 2010

Catch Me If You Can

Just a few hours from departure, this song is now my official theme song. Good luck catching me ...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flight 19 and the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle

A typical sunny Florida day.

That was the weather report in Fort Lauderdale on December 5, 1945. A good day for flying.

At 2 o’clock that afternoon, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers headed off from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, on a training flight over the waters of the Atlantic.

The flight by five highly experienced pilots was to have taken them due east for 150 miles, and north for 40 miles, before returning to base.

But at 3:45, the Fort Lauderdale tower received an unexpected call.

“Cannot see land … we seem to be off course.”

Tower: “What is your position?”

A few moments of silence pass.

“We cannot be sure where we are,” reports the flight leader. “Repeat: Cannot see land.”

Contact is then lost with the flight for about 10 minutes.

Now, rather than the voice of the flight leader, there are voices of the crews, sounding confused and disoriented.

“We can’t find west. Everything is wrong. We can’t be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean.”

More transmission delays follow.

When communication resumes, the air traffic controller discovers that the leader has turned over his command to another pilot without explanation.

Twenty minutes later, a distressing call that, according to Navy reports — bordered on hysteria.

“We can’t tell where we are … everything is … can’t make out anything. We think we may be about 225 miles northeast of base …”

The pilot continues to ramble incoherently, and then this transmission.

“It looks like we are entering white water … we’re completely lost.”

Those were the final words ever to be heard from Flight 19.

Search Team Dispatched … and the Mystery Deepens

Within minutes, a Mariner flying boat was dispatched to try find Flight 19.

Ten minutes after taking off, they check in with the tower … and then are never heard from again.

Ships Dispatched

Now, Coast Guard and Naval ships as well as aircraft are sent to search the area for the six aircraft that have vanished.

All they find is calm waters and clear skies. They search for five days, covering 250,000 square miles of Atlantic Ocean.

No trace of the missing planes are ever found.

A Navy Board of Inquiry investigates the curious case. Their summation:

“We are not able to even make a good guess as to what happened.”

The Bermuda Triangle

The story of Flight 19 is just one of the mysterious happenings over these waters that lie between South Florida, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda.

Or as this region is better known – the Bermuda Triangle.

The Devil’s Triangle, as it’s also known, has earned quite a reputation over the years.

The reports of planes, ships, and people disappearing are numerous.

Some chalk the stories up to weather, others to magnetic anomalies, and others still believe UFO’s may be involved.

Flying Over the Triangle

Last year, I had the chance to fly over the region during hurricane season, on a trip from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Flying over those waters, I was struck with an eerie feeling. There was a strange sense of tranquility, as I looked out the window at a never-ending expanse of puffy clouds and the Atlantic Ocean, some 40,000 feet below.

Having lost our satellite TV reception not long after moving out over the ocean, as far as I was concerned, we were flying blind.

But eventually, the clouds and water gave way to my first sighting of land in the distance.

We made it.

In hindsight, I wish I would have asked the pilots if everything looked A-OK to them. Maybe their compasses went haywire. Maybe they lost radio contact.

Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. I don’t know.

But at least we arrived. And survived.

In the days ahead, this reporter departs on a return journey to waters of this strange zone, to further explore the mysteries of the Triangle. Perhaps we’ll finally be able to solve the mystery of Flight 19, and shed some light on what has caused people and aircraft to disappear in this part of the Atlantic.

Stay tuned …

Flight 19 and the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle

A typical sunny Florida day.

That was the weather report in Fort Lauderdale on December 5, 1945.  A good day for flying.

At 2 o’clock that afternoon, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers headed off from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, on a training flight over the waters of the Atlantic.

The flight by five highly experienced pilots was to have taken them due east for 150 miles, and north for 40 miles, before returning to base.

But at 3:45, the Fort Lauderdale tower received an unexpected call.

“Cannot see land … we seem to be off course.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kenneth Arnold: The Pilot Who Launched the UFO Phenomenon

There are few vantage points in the world that can top the view from the pilot’s seat in an aircraft.

When you’re airborne, the views are magnificent.  And when you’ve got the skies to yourself, there are few experiences that can compare to the exhilaration of flight.

But sometimes, even decades ago before airplanes filled the skies, pilots have company up there.

Unidentified company.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cuba Travel: A Boom in the Making, or Just Hype?

Talk has been building over the past year about the possibilities of an end to the current U.S. travel embargo to Cuba.

Last year, the Obama Administration eased travel restrictions for Cuban Americans who have family on the island nation.

And since then, bills have been put before Congress that would seek to eliminate the travel ban for the rest of Americans.

Many proponents argue that it’s the right thing to do, for both moral and economic reasons.

Putting aside the political side of the debate, let’s look at the economic impact of such a decision. Some groups say that lifting the embargo would result in a boom in travel to Cuba, and would be a big benefit to the island’s economy.

But would the end of travel restrictions really result in countless planeloads full of Americans heading to the island’s beaches?

A new study by Boyd Group International casts serious doubts on that assumption.

Current Situation

At present, 95 percent of all “Visiting Family and Relatives” air travel from the U.S. departs from Miami. That should come as no surprise, given the fact that in the U.S., the Cuban community is heavily concentrated in South Florida.

(Los Angeles and New York are the only two other U.S. cities with authorized air service to Cuba.)

U.S. visitors to the island numbered 250,000 in 2009, up from 170,000 in 2008. It’s estimated that 300,000 U.S. residents could visit this year.

But that’s still a small portion of the overall visitors to Cuba, which numbered 2.4 million in 2009, according to Cuban tourism officials. Canada was the biggest source of travelers, accounting for approximately 900,000 of those visits.


But for all the talk of Cuba becoming the next big Caribbean beach resort destination, that’s still a long way from reality, according to the Boyd Group study.

“When toilet tissue is in short supply, it’s not a vacation option,” writes Mike Boyd, head of the aviation consulting company.

“At the risk of being like the schoolyard bully who tells little kids that there’s no Santa Claus, here’s a wet splash of cold reality: the whole Cuba thing is hype,” he adds.

He highlights the lack of infrastructure on the island, and points out that the Cuban people themselves live at a subsistence level.

“The Castro regime doesn’t want big time foreign investment, and can’t afford it, anyway. Want to take a bike trip across the Island? Bring your own food – the restaurants are pretty skimpy and there’s not a supermarkets to drop into. Want water sports? Not recommended. The Cuban authorities get real antsy when they see people heading out into the surf.”

Beyond Tourism

While tourism is one of the focuses in the discussion about ending the Cuba embargo, another aspect to be considered is that of trade.

American companies and agricultural producers may be looking at the island as a new market, but again, with the population living at a level that does not allow them even to afford consumer goods like cell phones, expecting to find a market of 11 million people ready to buy U.S. goods is not realistic.

And besides, as Boyd stresses, this is a U.S. embargo, not a global embargo. The Cubans can already import wheat from Canada and Australia. And China already manufactures every consumer product imaginable.

“The reason that Cuba is short of just about everything is that they are short of money, not the ability to trade internationally,” says Boyd. “Anything that the U.S. might sell them, they can already get elsewhere in the world. They don’t buy much because for the last fifty years the Castro regime has trashed out the Cuban economy.”

The end of the ban?

So, could the embargo soon be coming to an end? If history is any indication, don’t expect any movement in that direction – at least not yet.

Legislation to end the embargo has been before Congress before, just as it is now. Previous bills have gone nowhere. And this being an election year, any significant moves are unlikely, at least not before November’s Congressional elections.

Looking at things just from the economic/tourism angle, could the Boyd Group be correct in their analysis?

Is the talk of Americans traveling en masse Cuba nothing more than hype?

The Cuban government says construction will begin this year on nine new hotels.

But how much more infrastructure must be built before the island would be able to accommodate a big influx of travelers?

Given the fact that Congress has kept the embargo in place for 48 years, perhaps Cuba will have some time to continue building before the great wave of U.S. visitors arrives.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Back in Time: Congress Threatens to Re-Regulate Airline Industry

Perhaps the 25th anniversary of the blockbuster hit Back to the Future has got some members of Congress feeling nostalgic.

It appears they’re big fans of Back in Time, one of the Huey Lewis & The News hits from the film.

Because that’s where certain politicos are indicating they’d like to take an entire industry – to the past.

Their target? The airline business.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday after a hearing on Capitol Hill, James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, claimed that “Hardly a day passes where I don’t walk out on the (House) floor that someone asks me, ‘when are we going to re-regulate the airlines?’”

Oberstar has been a critic of the airlines for some time, despite the fact that in his early years in Congress, he voted for the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act.

That legislation was a welcome breath of fresh air for the flying public. It resulted in a boom in competition, and lower airfares.

But at the close of Wednesday’s meetings, Oberstar said that if the merger between Continental and United Airlines is approved, he will introduce legislation that would reverse the progressive steps taken in the 1970s to deregulate the industry.

And Oberstar is not alone with his threats. The chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation, Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), has indicated similar sentiments. And Oberstar believes there is support in the House for re-regulation.

What would it mean?

Prior to 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board regulated the U.S. airline industry, granting – or denying – permission to companies wishing to get into the business. Furthermore, it regulated fares and routes.

So were Oberstar et al to get their way, anytime a new start-up like JetBlue or Virgin America came along, they’d face much tougher hurdles just to be granted permission to fly by government bureaucrats.

And once they start flying, they’d be told where they can fly, and how much they could charge.

Is going back to the 1960′s and 70′s considered “progress”?

Most people would not argue with having regulators set safety standards for the industry, or to coordinate an air traffic control system for use by everyone in the nation’s airspace. And many also applaud efforts to increase consumer rights.

But it’s a very different thing to in effect direct the operations of private businesses.
I won’t even get into the government’s terrible track record when it tries to run a business, like the U.S. Postal Service, or Amtrak.
Back in Time? Good song – but a bad idea for the airline industry.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food & Drinks on Planes: The Free Stuff

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, major U.S. carriers spent $3.67 per passenger on food in 2009, compared to $4.77 in 1999.

That may come as a surprise to many flyers, who have seen complimentary meals on planes disappear over the past decade. Airlines still spent $3.67? On what?

Meal service has been downgraded in many cases to nothing more than beverage service for economy-class flyers. It’s only those in the first-class and business-class cabins that still get free food. For everyone else, it’s basically buy-on-board food.

Still, some airlines do serve complimentary snack items. If there’s any trend, it’s that the so-called “low cost” airlines tend to provide more than the older “legacy” carriers.

When it comes to free food and drinks, among U.S. airlines, number one for many flyers would be JetBlue. The carrier offers customers a selection of six different snack items – and you can even have more than one item!

One regional carrier also stands out: Alaska Airlines’ Horizon Air division. Fly with Horizon, and you can sample complimentary wines and microbrews.

It’s worth noting that just one airline still serves complimentary meals on domestic flights: Hawaiian Airlines.

And the biggest cheapskates? That would be United Airlines and US Airways, where you get a beverage – that’s it. No snacks.

And in the case of US Airways, that’s an improvement. You may recall that two years ago, the airline decided to start charging $2 for a soda (which they later backed away from, after a significant public outcry).

Here’s a summary of what’s still free for economy-class customers on U.S. carriers. If we’ve missed something, be sure to leave a comment at the bottom and let us know.


Coffee, juices, Coca-Cola products, and snacks, including pretzels.


Coca-Cola products, juices, coffee, tea.
On flights to Hawaii, there’s also POG and pineapple juices.

American Airlines

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper products, plus juices, coffee, and tea.
Complimentary meals are still served on flights to Europe, Japan, and Haiti.


Coca-Cola products, juices, Lipton tea, and coffee.
The airline still offers complimentary meals on Intercontinental flights and domestic flights longer than six hours.

Delta Air Lines

Coca-Cola products, coffee, tea, and juices.
Also offers complimentary peanuts or Biscoff cookies.

Frontier Airlines

Pepsi products, Dr. Pepper, Caribou Coffee, tea, and juices.
Plus, the former signature item of Midwest, chocolate chip cookies.

Hawaiian Airlines

Inter-island flights: Island Maid juice.
Flights to/from the Mainland, Australia, Manila, and Tahiti: Complimentary meals are provided. On late-night flights, a smaller snack will be offered instead.

Horizon Air

Alaska’s regional operator, Horizon Air, is a noteworthy addition to the list.
Complimentary Northwest wines and microbrews are offered on all Horizon flights to passengers over 21. New selections are offered each month.
Non-alcoholic beverages: Coca-Cola products, hot chocolate, spiced cider, Starbucks coffee, and Tazo teas.


Beverages: Dunkin Donuts coffee, tea, Coca Cola products, and juices.
Snacks: Terra Blues chips, Doritos munchies, roasted cashews, animal crackers, plantain chips, and chocolate chip cookies.


Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, juices, and Coca-Cola products, and Dr. Pepper.
Free peanuts, pretzels, or Nabisco snack items.

United Airlines

Complimentary soft drinks, juices, tea, and Starbucks coffee.
No free snacks.

US Airways

Coca-Cola Products, juices, Higgins & Burke coffee, and Mother Parkers tea.
No free snacks.