Tuesday
May042010

The spread of volcanic ash from Eyjafjallaj√∂kull over time

The BBC online posted a fascinating series of graphics showing the geographical and geological extent of the chaos wrought in mid to late April 2010, by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano called Eyjafjallajökull.  This eruption, which actually began in late March, notoriously shut down air travel all over Europe and trans-Atlantic flights, stranding air travelers for days on both sides of the pond.

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull caused rare electrical storms (lightning caused solely by volcanic ash and without accompanying rainfall), one stunning photograph of which was posted by the BBC.  According to drawings by experts, the ash settled at about 20,000-30,000 feet above sea level, much lower than the cruise altitudes of many commercial airliners.  But the effect on an aircraft of having flown through the ash cloud at all were deemed too great to allow flight through those altitudes, even though the ash may have been diluted sufficiently at the intended cruise altitude of most commercial flights (35,000-41,000 feet).  The presence of volcanic ash has a severely detrimental effect on the cooling system of an airplane, among many other negative consequences.  Satellite photographs of the region affected, and graphs showing how many flights over European airspace were cancelled due to the eruption are also included in the slideshow.

The International Air Transport Association has estimated that the eruption of Ejyafjallajökull has cost the airline industry roughly 1.29 billion Euros (1.7 billion USD, 1.12 billion GBP).  The chief of the IATA called on the governments of European countries where airlines have been affected, to assist the airlines financially.  Almost 100% of the regularly-scheduled air traffic in Europe is expected to fly on Thursday.

graphical presentation posted by the BBC online

original story (BBC)

Tuesday
May042010

Dept. of State continues to urge caution when traveling to Georgia

The State Department yesterday made an update to an already-existing warning to Americans traveling to or through the sovereign nation of Georgia.  This update was made because of continued unpredictability of violence in the South Ossetia (north central) and Abkhazia (northwest) regions of the small country on the eastern side of the Black Sea, whose unity is still threatened by various separatist movements.

The State Department urged Americans to stay away from demonstrations.  It reported that the American embassy in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi is open, and that its website is functional.  It also urged all Americans traveling in Georgia to register their location or other contact information with the embassy.

Separatist fighting within Georgia, and international conflict with Russia, began in 2008.  Russia initially recognized the independence of the two Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but has since taken that back.  George W. Bush was the first American President ever to visit the country.  Barack Obama has yet to visit as President.  The United States has never recognized the sovereign statehood of any region within Georgia.

original story (United States Department of State)

Monday
May032010

United and Continental will probably merge

An agreement reached yesterday between the two American air carriers based in Chicago and Houston respectively, will probably result in an announcement later today, that Continental and United intend to merge into a single airline.  The parent company UAL Corporation, of which United Airlines is a wholly-owned subsidiary, will buy Continental.  The resulting airline will be called United and will be based in Chicago, United’s headquarters.  But it will eventually be run by Continental’s chief executive officer.

Just as with the Delta-Northwest merger initiated two years ago, this will probably be spun in a way that makes it seem like air travelers will benefit.  But residents of the Cincinnati, Ohio metropolitan area know better than that.  We have known for years that the reason Delta (even prior to its purchase of Northwest) has been able to charge such high fares for air travelers utilizing Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (IATA: CVG; ICAO: KCVG) is because it held such a high percentage of the market share at the facility.  This was true even prior to Delta’s purchase of Northwest, which was completed earlier this year.  Routes along which United and Continental have always competed for business will almost certainly rise in price due to this deal, even though the two constituent airlines might claim otherwise.

The two airlines claim that this will allow another very large, American-based carrier to compete on an international scale, just as Delta claims it is now able to do.  Perhaps it will.  But it also means one fewer airline competing for the domestic market for air travel.  This may therefore permit other domestic airlines not involved in the deal to raise fares on certain routes as well.  A careful look at federal anti-trust law is expected before the deal is allowed by the Department of Justice.

Have you ever flown on either one of these two airlines?  What was it like?  The first time I ever flew United, three years ago, half the expected passengers no-showed, and the flight was cancelled.  I sat at Dayton International Airport (IATA: DAY; ICAO: KDAY) for six hours before being put on a US Airways plane.  But my return to Dayton on United was uneventful and quite peaceful actually.  I have never flown Continental.

What do you think about these airlines?  What do you think about this move?  Comments are welcome.

original story (New York Times)

Sunday
May022010

Another Dutch royal will christen a Holland America ship

Holland America announced last Monday that Máxima of the Netherlands will dedicate the cruise line’s newest ship, the MS New Amsterdam, on July 4 in Venice, Italy.  The Argentine-born Princess of the Netherlands will become the latest of many members of the Dutch Royal Family to inaugurate a ship from the Holland America line.

The fourth Holland America ship to bear this name since 1906, the newest New Amsterdam will be registered at the largest seaport in Europe, the Port of Rotterdam.  The MS New Amsterdam is currently on order and is being constructed at an Italian shipyard.  It will disembark from the Port of Venice on a massive, 22-day grand tour of the eastern Mediterranean Sea following the ceremony.  The itinerary includes one stop further south in Italy, and stops in Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, and Turkey.  As of May 2, availability of cabins and the prices of the various cabin classes for this inaugural voyage – or inaugural trek, rather – were not accessible without logging in to the Holland America website.

The MS New Amsterdam will be the second-largest ship currently in the Holland America fleet, behind her sister ship the MS Eurodam.  The MS New Amsterdam will feature many design elements characteristic of the ship’s namesake, the city founded by Dutch colonists in 1625 as New Amsterdam, and known as New York since 1674.

Holland America is a cruise line that I would like to travel with at least once just as soon as I am able, and no later.  Below is a link to the original story from the website of Holland America.  Please comment and share your experiences traveling with Holland America.  They are supposed to be excellent, but I have no personal experience with them, so please share.  General comments are also welcome.

original story (Holland America)

Saturday
May012010

Does a truly worldwide airline exist?

I did not believe it at first, but one does exist.  Executive Travel Magazine, headquartered in New York and published bi-monthly, recently reminded us that three and a half years ago, Air New Zealand added flights to its schedule that made it possible to fly around the world (either flying westward or eastward) without the aid of any other airline.  The magazine’s website also pointed out in March, in response to a question from a reader, that the now defunct United States carrier Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) used to circle the world using a single plane (with intermediate stops in two or three major international hubs), but that no airline does this nowadays.

I ran multiple searches on Air New Zealand’s multiple region-specific websites this afternoon to confirm the continued existence of the four flights purported to take a traveler around the world solely with Air New Zealand.  They still exist.  Starting in New Zealand and moving across the Pacific, they are Auckland-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-London, London-Hong Kong, Hong Kong-Auckland.

Of course, the importance of being able to circle the world using only one airline depends on a traveler’s objective.  If a traveler’s objective is similar to Phileas Fogg’s – to circle the world as quickly as possible – then this capability might play a crucial role in the logistics of the circumnavigation.  Time spent retrieving luggage, checking luggage with the next carrier, and passing through security when switching from one carrier to another, can be spent walking (or sprinting?) from an arrival gate to the next departure gate, and getting off the ground for the next leg of the journey more quickly.

Circumnavigating the globe for the sole purpose of doing it as quickly as the current state of technology will allow has lost its charm though.  And the requirement that an adventurer begin his quest in one of the four cities listed in the second paragraph causes additional expense and inconvenience even for most who are interested it attempting it.  Travelers who live in the Midwestern United States may be in luck though.  The merger of the United States-based carriers Delta and Northwest might make such an excursion possible on a single United States-based carrier once again in the near future.  And the merger might even make the journey possible with my hometown of Cincinnati (a longtime Delta hub) as an origin.

Would you ever do this just to say you did?  Comments are welcome, as always.

original story (Executive Travel Magazine)

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