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