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Y2K...Frequent Advocate...Flying in Comfort

Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio September 1998 Current Issue
September 1998 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel


Y2K...Frequent Advocate...Flying in Comfort

The FAA is confident air traffic control will operate smoothly on Jan. 1, 2000

FAA prepares for millennium madness. All sorts of doomsday scenarios have been floated concerning what will happen on Jan. 1, 2000, when millions of computers will fail to recognize the correct date, creating major mess-ups around the world. One of those scenarios involves the crashing of the air traffic control system. The Federal Aviation Administration has good news for those who are thinking of flying at that time (if you feel you can believe it): The organization tested the current air traffic control mainframe in the nation's largest en route centers and concluded that they will pass by that date without a glitch. The FAA conducted the test after IBM, maker of the old 3083 mainframes that run the system, warned the organization the computers might not be able to handle the year 2000 changeover. Programmers looked at more than a million lines of microcode and found the computers, which began life in 1975, have a projected life span of 32 years; 2000 would be their year 25. Even so, the FAA says the mainframes will be replaced by 2000, three years earlier than the original replacement date.

Also from the FAA, as expected, come revised guidelines for airline carry-on baggage allowances. Airlines can still set their own rules for the number and size of allowable items, but all programs must be approved by the FAA and must include descriptions of carry-ons, how child safety seats should be treated and procedures for proper stowage. The organization stopped short of mandating slightly smaller sizes for carry-ons, which some in the industry were anticipating.

Consumer Reports takes on travel. In its July issue, the venerable consumer publication evaluated the world of frequent flyer programs and concluded that the airlines make life a little too tough for their best customers. Program rules constantly change, "free" tickets aren't so free and consumers aren't getting much help from federal regulators.

"At a minimum," writes CR, "consumers should get sufficient advance notice before any rules are changed, and grandfathering provisions should be put in place to protect the value of accrued miles against devaluations. Airlines should also be required to make available at least some seats for award-ticket holders on every flight to the destinations customers want, not just leftovers on the least-desirable flights." Fat chance, grumble most flyers, but you never know what will happen when an advocate like CR takes up a cause. For the record, after extensive analysis, the magazine found that American Airlines awarded the most seats in fiscal year 1997 (1,084,343, up 2.9 percent over fiscal year 1996) and United was second (1,026,526, up 5.2 percent). The list drops off a cliff after these two: Delta awarded only 646,671 seats, down a whopping 20.5 percent. Continental is next with 551,041 seats, down 2.4 percent.

In other flyer news, United and Delta begin to combine their programs this month, at first allowing passengers to choose which program they want credited for flights on either carrier. Redemption specifications are still being worked out. These changes should free up some Delta seats and boost the numbers calculated by Consumer Reports.

Airtrains. First-class flyers may actually be able to get some sleep now, if they travel with Qantas or Lufthansa. Reconfiguring its international jet fleet at a cost of more than $150 million, the Australian airline has added a sleeper seat in first class that electronically reclines into a flat, 6-foot-6-inch bed. In business class, the Dreamtime seat has been installed, with electronically operated shoulder and upper-back support and lumbar support. Even the seats in economy have been replaced. The new ones were ergonomically designed with extra lumbar, head and neck support.

Similar changes have been made at Lufthansa. Its new seats also convert into beds, and linen and sleep shirts are available. A partition unfolds from the headrest to provide some privacy. The seats also have workstation amenities, including a power outlet for laptops. New ergonomic seats have been added to business class, as well, with more seat pitch and the ability to recline to 125 degrees.

Blood bank. It's hard enough to be sure that you'll get an untainted transfusion of blood in so-called civilized countries, but what if you need life-giving fluids when you're far from home? The Blood Care Foundation, based in the United Kingdom, provides screened blood and resuscitation fluids in countries where they are not readily available. To become a full, standby or short-term member of the charitable foundation, send a fax (011-44-1293-425-488) or e-mail ([email protected]) requesting more information.

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