PUNCH BAG

Voila! Here's your May edition of Punch Bag with the usual selection of controversial, amusing and even interesting items from around the world. We hope the contents will deflect your attention for a moment from the continuing growth in air cargo volumes, rising economies and many political developments. Notably, the elections in France, which next Sunday will decide whether you will still be able use the euro in the coming years, or that chaos will reign.
Fortunately, in these aging times, Punch Bag is always happy to distract you from these daily worries.
Happy reading!

Nol van Fenema

DEATH OF A RABBIT

- Admittedly, it was not as violent and humiliating as dragging a customer off a plane with a broken nose and two teeth missing, nor is it comparable to the weird removal of a couple on their way to their wedding in Costa Rica, or forcing a passenger out of her business-class seat without any explanation. But with a dead giant rabbit in its cargoholds, United Airlines is - again - facing fresh controversy.
Couple these facts with the disgusting scenes aboard a recent American Airlines flight where a crew member bullies a passenger over the handling of a pram, or Delta kicking a passenger off a plane for the emergency use of the toilet, and your conclusion is probably justified that the disdainful and arrogant way in which the three main U.S. carriers are mistreating their passengers (and animals), is becoming disturbingly symptomatic for the often dreadful air transport experience in the U.S.
Not surprisingly, even before the scandalous handling of the doctor who was forcibly removed from a plane, United Airlines already had been rated as the worst large airline in the U.S. for customer satisfaction by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
Overall, U.S. legacy airlines found themselves at the bottom of all businesses, in line with hospitals and private utilities and just above health insurers.
The good news is that with mobile phones recording practically any incident on board or on the ground, airlines are no longer able to ignore or put a positive spin on an altercation going viral on internet.
Nor do crap statements, such as "the video scenes do not reflect our values or how we care for our customers," have any impact on the public's perception that air travel in the U.S., with really very few exceptions, is decidedly unpleasant and uncomfortable.
The bad news, at least in the U.S., is that customers can hardly punish an offending airline by calling for a boycott. United, American, Delta and Southwest Airlines now control 85% of the market. Like all monopolies, they generally don't give a hoot about improving customer service or fret about losing passengers.
As for the dead bunny, U.S. Department of Transportation figures show that in 2015, the most recent data available, U.S. airlines reported 35 animal deaths.
Of those, 14 deaths were on United flights, with a further nine creatures injured, making it the highest rate seen on any U.S. airline, according to the data.

Dead bunny Simon: United's latest PR disaster

ANOTHER BAN

- Talking about bans, we hear that since April 1, the Indian government has banned the sale of liquor near major roads in the country. We are assured that this is not a misplaced April Fools' Day prank.
Seriously, the move is supposed to reduce the number of deaths caused by drunk driving, and initially was aimed at the roadside shacks that line highways across the country.
Originally, the ban appeared to apply only to these shops. But on March 31, just hours before the ban was due to take effect, the court said restaurants and bars would also have to comply.
That decision has thrown India's restaurant industry into a state of near panic, because it means that every bar, from luxury hotel to beer shack, within 500 meters driving distance of state and national highways, is now dry.
Estimates of the expected losses range from US$3.5b - US$10b with as many as 50% of all hotels in the country affected. The alcohol ban could even result in the closure of more than 100,000 hotels. The Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India is reportedly considering legal action.
It reminds us of a recent statement by the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which revealed that it is a common occurrence that pilots fail the breathalyser test.
In fact, Air India pilots were the top violators in 2016 with the national carrier registering 24 cases, followed by Indigo with 9 cases and SpiceJet with 7 cases.
Time, we reckon, to also consider banning alcohol sales at airports.

Air India pilots top list of failed breathalyser tests.

LAPTOP BAN VERSUS OPEN SKIES?

- Still on Trump's laptop ban, which includes electronic devices such as laptops, iPads, tablets and e-readers which cannot be carried on board and must instead be checked in to the hold on flights from a number of Middle East countries to the U.S.
Washington reportedly is now thinking about increasing the hassle for U.S.-bound passengers by widening this ban to include flights from Europe.
While the three Gulf carriers have creatively countered the impact of the ban by introducing personalised laptop handling and laptop loans on board their flights, the U.S. measures have also raised serious questions by flight safety experts about the wisdom of storing electronic devices (including their lithium batteries) in the cargo-holds of passenger aircraft.
Aviation safety authorities, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) have declared the devices are “dangerous goods”, but up till now U.S. officials have refused to explain why laptops, iPads and tablets that might contain explosives are safer in the cargo hold than in the cabin.
As the U.S. measures do not directly affect any U.S. carriers, it may explain several press reports in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East which are suggesting another and welcome reason, specifically for the three leading U.S. legacy carriers, American Delta and United (Big 3) and their unions.
The reports imply that the draconian measures could be a partial attempt by the Trump administration to satisfy the anti-competitive demands from the Big 3 to scrap Open Skies pacts between the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, and ban airlines from the latter two operating services to the U.S.
Just last month, Emirates announced significant cuts in its services to the U.S., which it blamed on recent Trump Administration moves to restrict entry visas, heighten security vetting and ban electronic devices in the cabins of some airlines. The moves had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the U.S., which until the start of 2017, had seen healthy growth and performance, Emirates said.
The editor of trade publication Air Transport World, Karen Walker, is even more outspoken in a recent column: "Security sits above and outside politics, but it’s hard to believe the U.S. government did not predict the far heavier and more costly burdens its rules would inflict on the Gulf carriers (and Turkish Airlines) and therefore, at the very least, have a better explanation prepared as to why this was unavoidable.
"These bans, given the distortions they create and the lack of information about why they are necessary, need to be made more credible and - more than anything - must be temporary."

Laptop ban creates distortion

ANNUAL PHALLUS FESTIVAL

- In the list of not-to-be-missed events around the world, the Kanamara Matsuri Festival in the Japanese city of Kawasaki is, errrr, how do we put this? Let's settle for:... the Festival stands out from other events.
Spring in Japan means blooming cherry blossoms, but also… the annual penis festival.
The latter takes place on the first Sunday of every April and attracts thousands of curious visitors who are flooding the streets of Kawasaki to watch a parade of giant steel phalluses on portable shrines being carried through the city.
Festival-goers snap selfies with the sculptures, buy various forms of penis memorabilia and suck on penis-shaped lollipops, as the procession makes it way to the Kanayama Shrine for consecration.
Since the festival started in 1969 it has become a major tourist attraction and the event is used to raise awareness about safe sex, fundraise for HIV research and celebrate fertility.
Punch Bag has already made bookings for next year's celebrations.

Parading phalluses through Kawasaki

SAD ALLIANCE

- Emirates' decision - on economic grounds - to slash its flights to the U.S. by 20% and citing U.S. security measures and Trump's attempts to ban travelers from some Muslim-majority countries as the main reasons for the decision, has elicited the usual deceptive response from the "Partnership for Open & Fair Skies" (POFS).
POFS is a sad alliance of the Big 3 U.S. airlines and some unions, which since 2015 stubbornly has been trying to disrupt further expansion in the U.S. by the Gulf carriers, by citing unfair competition because of alleged state subsidies for the Middle East carriers. As main reasons for its action, POFS further mentions "unfavourable" Open Skies agreements as well as the (non-existing) loss of American jobs.
POFS spokeswoman Jill Zuckman vented the usual falsehoods for the occasion: "Market demand has never played a role with the Gulf carriers" and "it is well known that the Gulf carriers lose money on most of their flights to the United States and are propped up by billions of dollars in government cash,” were the most obvious lies, culminating in the mother of all dumb statements: “Their business model is based on their governments’ goals to dominate global aviation."
The real reason for the POFS crap, is explained by Kevin Mitchell, founder of the U.S.-based Business Travel Coalition ‘Open Skies Travel’, who pointed out in a recent editorial, that the Big US3’s anti-Open Skies campaign is solely aimed at protecting the lucrative transatlantic market, which is dominated by the Delta/American/United oligopoly.
"They are trying to deny passengers the competitive option to fly non-stop from the U.S. to conveniently connecting hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. Instead, they are demanding the Trump Administration to force passengers to inconveniently connect onto flights offered by their European code-share partners."
Separately, Mitchell reveals that the Big US3 in 2015 could have saved themselves ten of millions of dollars in unprecedented and useless lobbying campaigns, by filing a complaint against the Middle East carriers with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act (IATFCPA).
This act authorises the agency “to take action in response to anti-competitive, discriminatory, predatory or unjustifiable activities by a foreign government or foreign airline against a U.S. airline.”
The fact that they have not done so, Mitchell points out, is because the BIG US3 are fully aware that their case has no legal merit at all and their “facts” are nothing more than political talking points and lies that would not withstand scrutiny under DOT’s exacting fact-based standard.
Mitchell also notes that IATFCPA is a law intended to safeguard the competitive rights of U.S. carriers, not their foreign carrier partners. It also was not intended to thwart competition and competitive choice. Its mission is the exact opposite.

Cut the crap and file a complaint

TRUMP SLUMP

- First there was the Muslim ban which, so far unsuccessfully, tried to restrict travel from a number of Middle East countries to the U.S.
Then came the controversial lap-top ban decision, which banned electronic devices larger than a mobile phone from passenger cabins on direct flights from eight countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.
Now, just because of "heightened concerns about terrorism", Trump's Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly has indicated the U.S. may stop visa-free travel for Europeans.
"America is the ‘Super Bowl’ in terms of terrorists…that’s where they wanna come,” Kelly reportedly justified the move, that would affect 14 million people who visit the U.S. visa-free each year.
Hardly surprising then, that these policies discourage tourists from visiting the U.S. and threaten the American travel business to such an extent that experts are already labelling the situation as a "Trump Slump."
A study by Tourism Economics, a forecasting firm used by the industry, predicts a 10.6 million decline in visitors this year and next. The drop - nearly 7% of expected travelers - will cost the U.S. economy more than US$18 billion and about 107,000 jobs.
And it is not just tourists that are reconsidering their travel plans. Nearly half of business travel managers say they're expecting to cut back on meetings and conferences in the U.S., according to a survey by the Global Business Travel Association.
Trump's policies are causing "a perception of uncertainty" says one spokesman, while Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, claims that "The whole rhetoric around (the policies) has damaged the U.S. brand as a destination."

Dwindling arrivals in the U.S.

OPEN LETTER

- to Scoot Management, 65 Airport Boulevard, Changi Airport Terminal 3, Singapore 819663 Dear Sirs, For more than three months I have been trying to delete my name from your mailing list for irritating, unsolicited, unwanted, unrequested promotional emails. I have sent more than hundred "unsubscribe" requests for these mailings, which I do not want to receive because I am not the least interested in your offers. I have not received any confirmation that my request has been received or that it will be attended to by your company. Worse, the number of mailings seem to have increased in recent weeks and are annoyingly cluttering my mailbox. As your staff apparently is busy with other things and not monitoring "unsubscribe" requests from customers, I am putting you on notice that, unless my email address is removed from your list with immediate effect, our lawyers will start legal procedures to stop this nuisance mails. As you are no doubt aware, Singapore has some pretty strict laws to prevent unsolicited promotional emails from companies such as Scoot. Sincerely, Your Punch Bag Editor
Unsolicited, unwanted emails