Friday, December 31, 2010

OMG: On to 2011!

The soft launch of the PAX International blog took place in the middle of November and as the year comes to a close, this much we can promise: you will see more entries and opinions and opportunities for the industry to interact as the coming year unfolds.

Like nearly every other segment of the industry, we are feeling our way through the revolution in social media and the role it will play in businesses around the world. That importance was enhanced this year, when Time magazine picked Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook as its Person of the Year (yes, I saw the movie). But before that, this year’s International Flight Services Association conference featured a discussion where Frank Skinner from the Kellen Company and a well-known lawyer that specializes in social media, J.J. Sherman, laid out the possibilities, but more importantly the pitfalls associated with this new use of technology.

Many IFSA members are now taking part in social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Through a series of anecdotes and examples of social networking disasters the two guests brought home the message that companies that develop social networking as part company practices need have clear policies for their use by employees up and down the chain of command. Pitfalls and liabilities are waiting for users that cannot control the flow of information to the sites, they said.

The technologies that lead to the social media revolution will be front and center in one of the first industry-related events of the year. At the famous 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show next week in Las Vegas some familiar people will take part in a panel discussion January 8. Airline Passenger Experience Association President Patrick Brannelly of Emirates and Kevin Bremer manager of the Cabin Systems Technical Center at Boeing Commercial will be updating the big gathering of electronics geeks on the future of wireless devices in the aircraft cabin.

Internet in the airline cabin experienced significant advancements in 2010 in a segment of the industry that has had its stops and starts. It seriously took to the air with the now departed Boeing Connexion system on Lufthansa German Airlines. Internet service is back on Lufthansa now – an airline that seems to relish its position as an innovator in passenger use technology.

But Lufthansa is far from alone. Discount airlines are embracing Internet offerings with the same zeal as the legacies. Suppliers are betting on other modes of transport as well. Canada’s VIA Rail will be rolling out an Internet platform from the UK based company Nomad Digital over the next year.

As I write this, much of Europe is ringing in the New Year. And tonight in the United States, the ball will drop on a snowy Times Square in New York, kicking off a celebration that will be seen around the world on big and small screens. Want to watch? You can if you hurry at the speed technology is changing our lives, because here’s an application for that.

-Rick Lundstrom




Friday, December 24, 2010

“If I’m on a plane, I’m happy”

A veteran of the travel writing trade made that quip a few years ago. However, I can’t help but wonder if during this holiday season she might be experiencing the greatest test of that firm-sounding conviction yet.

Throw a dart at a world map and chances are good you'll hit a spot where people are struggling to get to where they want to go. Across Europe, airports are closed and snow is piling up from the upper Midwest in the United States, and is in the forecast for such unlikely spots as Atlanta, home of, by many measures, busiest airport in the world. In the western United States, heavy rains.

Our sympathies go out to anyone who is experiencing trouble as they make their way to visit friends and family. But the readers of PAX International are a hardy group of people who are used to the travails of travel. No doubt they can face just about any problems with patience and good humor. 

Here, in the Minneapolis office, we have experienced the third snowiest December on record. And though it's not been without its hassles, I'm grateful for the small kindnesses, like the neighbor who just blew a four-inch layer of snow off the sidewalk.  And even when nature is at her most challenging, there's another side to the story. Near the company's Toronto headquarters, a company called Inniskillin is celebrating the snow and cold with a banner harvest of grapes it will make into sweet ice wines. 

So for those celebrating this holiday season, raise a glass of your finest to the year ahead. Best wishes, and travel safe and happy. 
-Rick Lundstrom

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Airlines step up to the bar

The International Air Transport Association noted a positive development just before travelers dispersed for the holidays into the uncertain world of air travel in tricky weather.

Last week, IATA announced an "historic milestone in passenger travel" that will be one step closer to taking the magnetic stripe boarding pass to a history museum next to the heavy-card-stock paper ticket.

On December 15, just before Europe’s big snow, the Association announced that its membership reached the 100 percent milestone for 2D Bar Coded Boarding Passes (BCBP). IATA has 230 airline members that comprise 93 percent of the world’s scheduled air traffic.

The news has been a long time in coming and has moved ahead in transitions from 1D bar codes, which reproduce in a series of black parallel lines like Universal Products Codes (UPC) labels found in retail. By 2005 the industry standard changed to a 2D code called PDF417 which holds more information using patterns of squares, dots and geometric shapes.

We’re now two years into a move toward paperless boarding passes. For those of us who fumble with the thin paper boarding passes (that tear easily), check often to see they haven’t been misplaced and never quite know where to carry them, this is a welcome development. More and more passengers can be seen placing Blackberries and iPhones under magnetic BCBP readers. One less thing to think about, especially this Christmas travel season where it appears weather is, again dealing serious setbacks all over the air travel world.

Reaching the goal of 100 percent BCBP has been a long effort by airlines, service providers, airports and IATA. But it is now the rule at more 2,000 airports around the world. With the implementation of 2D BCBP, IATA estimates the industry, as a whole, will save US$1.5 billion per year.

It’s difficult for me to say whether this has much bearing on the segments of the industry we cover, but it seems that any system that relies on the streamlined movement of passengers should welcome this milestone. With the 2D technology, airlines can issue a single boarding pass for multiple flights; and the passes give passengers access to premium services like fast-track security lanes and lounges.

In the future, who can say what ways BCBP technology in its latest form can benefit the service airlines provide above the wing, and what innovative businesses are now looking at just that?

-Rick Lundstrom

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A time to give

This time of year holds great significance for many cultures around the world. Between November and January holidays celebrating love, friendship, family, thanksgiving, life, renewal and hope for the coming year are observed and enjoyed by many of the world’s citizens. Yet, while the celebration of bounty received is often the most obvious focus of these occasions, many of us feel that now, more than any other time of year, we should make a point of coming together to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
In the spirit of the season and with a desire to shed light on good work, we at PAX International decided to plan a feature article in our January/February ITCA Nice issue highlighting the charitable contributions that various companies and organizations in the passenger services industry make on a regular basis. We recently sent out a request to our E.newsletter readers (over 6,000 strong and growing) for information about the initiatives that their companies have undertaken to give back to employees, the local community, or any other cause helping people.
Already, the response that we have received has been so overwhelming that we have had to plan for a second feature length article in our March/April, MHA Orlando and Aircraft Interiors Expo Hamburg issue as well. I speak for all of us here at PAX International when I say that we are proud to be part of an industry so full of good-hearted people. I can’t wait to see the finished stories and to help all the contributors further promote their causes, while educating their colleagues on the merits and rewards of knowing you’ve made a difference – even if only in the life of one person.
We are still accepting requests to contribute to these articles and will endeavor to provide adequate exposure to any company wishing share their passion for giving with the rest of the industry.  If necessary, we will open space in more issues to make space for this ongoing feature.
This year, we at PAX International have chosen to support the CP24 Chum Christmas Wish in the Toronto area. By collecting donations as well as new, unwrapped toys for kids of all ages, the Chum Christmas Wish helps over 300 registered charities make holiday wishes come true for children living in poverty.
Please contact me if you want to contribute…and keep up the great work everyone!
1-905-821-3344 ext. 31

Friday, December 10, 2010

Culinary visions

The LSG Sky Chefs Calendar has become something of a holiday tradition for its high quality, though sometimes puzzling photographs of food.

December's LSG Sky Chefs Calendar picture. 
For 10 years, I’ve been receiving the calendar, and once it’s up on the wall, it never fails to draw attention. What’s most interesting is the reaction by people who have seen it. They seem to take the most enjoyment out of guessing what the dishes are. It’s similar to a Rorschach inkblot personality test. Each of the viewers comes away with a different interpretation – seeing what they want to see in the photographs.

For those people who haven’t gotten their calendar, yet, there are some examples on the LSG Sky Chefs website. 

Lufthansa Magazin on IPad
For those people fortunate enough to receive an Apple iPad for Christmas this year, one of the first apps they should consider is Lufthansa’s inflight magazine – always one of the most informative and stylish reads among any of the seatback publications I’ve seen. 

The first digitized version came out this month. In the issue is a video look into the new Lufthansa A380, which I toured last spring in Hamburg. 


Lufthansa Magazin, along with its newer titles Lufthansa Exclusive and Lufthansa Women's World now have a combined circulation of 750,000 copies per month.
-Rick Lundstrom

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A royal meal

This past weekend marked the 83rd birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the world’s longest serving head of state. In a country that has been at times rocked by much disunity, the affection for the King and the Royal Family appears by many accounts to be one of the unshakeable features of life. Thai citizens dress in yellow to honor the family and this weekend Thai Airways cooked up a menu fit for a King.

Word of the special meals to honor the King's December 5 birthday arrived by e-mail Thursday. With the help of a Thai culinary specialist, Professor Srisamorn Kongpun, Thai Airways (and no doubt Thai Catering) developed an assortment for every cabin class and served them on outbound international routes from Bangkok.

Passengers traveling in Royal Silk Class and Premium Economy class were treated to Minced Three-Flavored Chicken and Grilled Minced Fish with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Chili Paste. And that was just the appetizer. First courses consisted of Minced Soured Pork on Deep-Fried Rice with Curry Paste, Thai Herb Cabbage Leaf and Deep-Fried Tiger Prawns. For the main course there was Chicken in Red Curry, Fried Chicken Julienne with Fried Shallot or Steamed Rice in Coconut Flavored Sauce and Salad Thai Style (known as Som Tum) with Grilled Prawn. Desserts included Sago in Coconut Milk or Baked Egg Custard with Japanese Pumpkin.
In Economy Class, Som Tum was again served with Grilled Prawn for an appetizer, followed by Chicken in Red Curry, Fried Chicken Julienne with Fried Shallot and Steamed Rice in Coconut Flavor Sauce. For dessert was Sago with Coconut Milk.

If anyone finds these preparations a bit much, one has only to remember that King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a beloved figure in Thailand and his health has been the subject of public concern since he was admitted to the hospital with a lung inflammation more than a year ago. Though some reports state he has recovered fully, press accounts state his public appearances have been limited.

I witnessed firsthand the affection for the Royal Family in 2006 aboard a Thai Airways flight from New York to Bangkok where I was in the same section of the aircraft as Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn and her entourage.

After I arrived in Bangkok, I mentioned the encounter to a cab driver, who pointed out the country’s cancer center which The Princess played an important part in creating. He, like others, referred to her as “my princess.” Many of the cabin staff wore the traditional yellow and another wore a button that stated, in English “We Love Our King” so people in the non-Thai-speaking world would know.

Reading accounts of the birthday celebration this past weekend one couldn’t help but think about the unrest and difficulties faced by a country of rich culture, cuisine and kind people. For the Royal Family and its subjects, may 2011 bring health and unity.

-Rick Lundstrom

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buy-on-Board at 40

A white paper called Buy-on-Board: A Viable Alternative released this month by LSG Sky Chefs takes the reader almost immediately on a trip down memory lane and offers some interesting details from a period just before and after deregulation on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first example in the report took place with a charter airline called Court Line, later changed to Autair in 1963. The airline was based at Luton Airport. A little additional research shows that Court Air/Autair offered what was known at the time as “cheap and cheerful” package tours to Spain with a fleet of primarily L-1011s or BAC 1-11s. Starting in the 1970s, Autair also offered packaged meals for sale. They sold salads, sandwiches and that British favorite, manufactured in Minnesota – Spam.

According to a history of the airline, the meal or snack for the outbound journey would be in a top compartment and the meal for the return journey would be in the bottom compartment, both in the seatback. A supply of dry ice would be placed under a plastic food container. Passengers paid cabin crew to have the seatback containers unlocked for purchase.

A search around the Internet couldn’t yield a picture of the setup, so those who weren’t fortunate enough to sample the concept will have to use their imagination, like I am. But, thankfully, Spam is still being made, so a quick trip to just about any grocery store would at least help to complete that part of the experience.

An Autair BAC 1-11 had no galleys, but plenty of Spam.

No only did the system bring in additional revenue and spawn some copycats, but without the need for galley space, an additional three seats and, hopefully, an equivalent number of revenue passengers could be added to an Autair BAC 1-11.


Deregulation, first in the United States, and later in Europe expanded the realm of buy-on-board. The favorite of bedraggled backpacking students was People Express Airlines, founded in 1981, and operated for six years out of Newark International Airport. Nonstop service to London Gatwick on one of the airline’s 747-200s could be as low as US$149 each way. But People Express was strictly no-frills. Checked bags were US$3 and passengers could pay a few dollars for sodas, brownies and a snack pack of cheeses, crackers and salami.

Across the Atlantic, aggressive sales by airlines like easyJet and Ryannair in the 1990s began writing another chapter in the history of buy-on-board

In the past decade, the buy-on-board concepts have made their greatest evolution. Now, LSG estimates that buy-on-board sales worldwide generate more than  1.1 billion euro (US$1.4 billion) yearly. Sales models have been tried and abandoned. Several different types of partnerships have taken shape. New technologies are being used and airlines and passengers are coming to accept the practice and part with their hard-earned money. LSG Sky Chefs projects a buy-on-board spending increase of 12 percent by 2012.

We’d be interested your opinions on the future of buy on board. Where will the next innovations in buy-on-board service and products take shape? What regions are poised for further development? The LSG Sky Chefs report gives some interesting perspective on a concept that began decades ago with a simple meal of Spam.

-Rick Lundstrom

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cheeky airline marketing

During my relatively short time in the passenger services industry I have done a bit of travelling on a number of different airlines. Some take themselves rather seriously and when it comes time to market their brand, they are quick to point out qualities like dedication, class, superior service and tradition. These airlines tend to be established legacy carriers whose brand colors, slogans and values are quite ingrained into the psyche of seasoned travelers and first timer’s alike.
For the low-cost regional carrier, marketing efforts can go either way. While some may mimic the international legacy carriers, appealing to the passenger’s loyalty and perception of quality or tradition, others use humor, sexuality and even shock value to get our attention.
 The question now is… what works? I suppose that depends on who you ask. If you’re asking me, I’ll have to admit that I love a good laugh and a campaign that shows some wit or takes some risks is my preference. Does it mean that I’ll fly with that airline over another? That’s tough to say. I think that in the end the bottom line, is the bottom line. A good seat fare with the least amount of stop-over time will get usually get my pick. It never hurts to try though!
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
South African regional charter Kulula’s recent livery called “Flying 101” features a bright green background with comical references to the aircraft’s various parts in white. These include labels for the doors, windows, wings, engines, ‘throne zone’, ‘mile high initiation chamber’ and more
Regional carrier Germanwings got my attention one day in on my way to Hamburg for the AIrcarft Interiors Expo. It’s pretty hard to miss these sexy-retro flight attendants, at German airports they’re everywhere!
Earlier this year, a colleague of mine attended TFAP (Tax Free World Exhibition Asia Pacific) in Singapore and was lucky enough to hear a speech by Azran Osman Rani, CEO of AirAsia X. He reported that the speech was one of the highlights of the show.  Earlier this week, this ad from the regional airline was easily the highlight of my day.

And who could forget the May 2009 media frenzy caused by Air New Zealand’s “Nothing to Hide” TV ad campaign featuring otherwise nude airline staffers kept modest some body paint, camera angles and strategically placed luggage and drink carts. During this time the kiwi airline also announced the nation's first human interactive billboard controlled entirely by mobile users to promote the Los Angeles to London roundtrip fares The digital billboard projection launched May 21 at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles and featured a 1970s-era airline pilot holding a sign that reads "TXT ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO 310310." The character responded to more than 150 different text commands including eating fruit, moon walking or even attempting to strip.
                                                                                                                 - Maryann Simson

Friday, November 19, 2010

‘Have any apple juice?’

For as long as I’ve been an airline passenger I’ve been watching my fellow flyers order tomato juice.

The drink seemed more popular than it should be, probably because I’ve never liked the flavor and couldn’t understand why anyone else would. It addition, there was the color which I could never really get past as well.

But this morning, I recalled reading a story on inflight tomato juice consumption I ran across while traveling to this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. I set it aside for possible research on a future story, and promptly misplaced it.

It was amazing how fast I was able to retrieve it with a couple Google searches.

As recently as last month, an update on the story showed up on this German website  http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6114748,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-all-1573-rdf. 

For the past several months, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, in Holzkirchen near Munich have been trying to figure out the same thing I’ve been wondering about and have been conducting research for Lufthansa German Airlines. It seems, Lufthansa serves approximately 1.7 million liters of tomato juice per year. This, from all indications is a bafflingly large desire for tomato juice.

But according to one researcher, passengers who don’t even like tomato juice when they’re not flying may like it in a pressurized aircraft cabin.

“So when they taste tomato juice on the ground and give it bad marks and if they do the same test under reduced pressure conditions they give the tomato better marks because tomato juice tastes better under low pressure conditions," said Florian Mayer the researcher’s team leader in a story written by Marianna Schroeder.

The tests cover more than just tomato juice. In a pressurized chamber on the ground, subjects are fed a variety of foods in airline environment conditions. The final tests will be done in December, but Lufthansa has already added more salt to bread rolls, based on what it has learned so far.

There will be more to discuss on this subject when Boeing’s 787 finally takes to the air in scheduled service. With the higher humidity that company is promising, food will have a different flavor profile.

And although the German study is interesting and intriguing, I’m not in the least bit tempted to test my taste for tomato juice inflight. Because even if the taste is more appealing, it doesn’t change the color.

                                                                                                             - Rick Lundstrom

Monday, November 15, 2010

First time is charming

The Marine Hotel Association pulled off its first European show in style this month, attended by more than 450 delegates who came to see about 80 exhibitors and hear some distinguished speakers. I always enjoy the MHA gatherings.  They possess a certain sophistication, a sense of real class and are consistently hosted by only the best hotels. This theme of quality and elegance, to my amazement, is always executed without sacrificing fun in the name of stuffiness.
I arrived at BCN after an 11 hour journey from Toronto via British Airways, which stopped for a bit at Heathrow. It was my first time flying with the legacy carrier and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Not only was I greeted warmly by the flight attendant who served my drink but I was also asked where I was headed, why I was headed there, if I’d been before and whether I was excited. The selection of entertainment on the flight was nothing to sneeze at, the food was good and I was astonished to find an eye mask, sleep socks and dental kit in my seatback pocket.
After a bit of confusion and eventually finding my box of magazines looking a bit worse for wear on a lonely parcel conveyor belt, I hopped a cab to the Hotel Arts. Although I did have to wait a bit for my room it gave me an opportunity to do some socializing in the hotel lobby where MHA attendees were already congregating in the champagne bar. When I did get to my room I was pleasantly surprised by how large and well appointed it was.

Guests enjoyed coktails served up at the Bacardi reception
Bacardi hosted the welcome reception which took place on the hotel’s veranda, a mere stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea. Two smiling servers with beverage trays greeted guests as they crossed a small footbridge to where the party was happening. They and others later criss-crossed through the crowd, ensuring that no guest was left feeling parched. The weather was perfect and I found that most of the people present had left their shyness at the door, mingling and laughing freely with one another while enjoying some truly excellent tapas-style hors d’oeuvres. I even persuaded a few of them to let me snap their photo.

The trade-show floor buzzed over the next wo days and I did my best to visit all the exhibitors. Most exhibitors hailed from Europe and this was the whole idea. This bi-annual European installment of MHA was created to make exhibiting a little easier for the hundreds of companies in Europe who work hard every day to get their products onboard.
The dining area at the Cavas Cordorniu estate
The evening engagements were reflective of Spanish culture. On Thursday November 4th, attendees were treated to dinner at the Casa La Llotja De Mar (a centuries-old merchants palace) followed by a performance by professional opera singers. The following night, delegates took a forty minute bus ride to just outside city limits and tooke a short tour and a meal at Cavas Codorniu (one of Spain’s oldest and most beautiful winemaking facilities) where they were entertained once more, this time by a half a dozen guitar players and flamenco dancers.
Peter Tobler, MHA present adressed the gathering during breakfast
MHA differs from airline shows like ITCA and IFSA in that they make important announcements and schedule guest speakers to talk during a conference breakfast. I like this concept and if you’re like me, a fan of eating while watching movies or television, you probably do too.
                                                                                                            - Maryann Simson

Friday, November 12, 2010

An economy experience


Some years back, a press contingency I was part of toured facilities at Singapore Airlines. When we were led into an economy class cabin mockup, the editor of an air cargo magazine decided to needle the gathering a bit.

This is economy class, he said. Something you guys never see.

I’ve seen a lot of economy class cabins in subsequent years and I expect that most of the group who met that day have as well. I can say with all honesty that certain airlines have handled economy service and cabin design in ways that have really impressed me.

A la carte in economy class on KLM

Take for example, KLM.  On my flight from Amsterdam to Dubai a couple weeks ago, the meal service on the 747-400 from AMS was delivered in an interesting tray setting with a choice of meat or vegetarian dishes. The noodle vegetarian dish, with an Asian influence, was light and fresh tasting as was the rest of meal.  I had a similar experience last year on KLM and tweeted about it, as well as one of the airline’s suppliers, Conimex http://www.conimex.com/. Its slogan: The Indonesian Food Brand. A good fit for a Dutch airline.

I neglected to dig deeper to see which companies supplied the meal ingredients and the interesting packaging. Any readers out there who can fill me in would have my gratitude.

They would also have my gratitude if they could give me any tips to keep from spilling salad dressing on my shirt.  Even with the innovations such as those on KLM, economy class is still economy class.

¾Rick Lundstrom

From the editor

This week, PAX International is launching a new blog. During the course of the work week, staffers will be posting their thoughts and observations gleaned from the headlines and their own experiences to share with the thousands of readers of our e-newsletter and visitors to the website.

In the future, we plan to make our website more interactive for the industry we cover. Your feedback is always appreciated. Our goal is to provide you with an additional source as you seek to keep up with this rapidly changing segment of the travel industry.

So, stop by often and please share your thoughts as we move ahead with this new feature!