Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bill would require a second cockpit door on commercial aircraft

Airlines are balking over the possible, unfunded, requirement for a second cockpit barrier. Law enforcement supports the idea.

A bill awaiting congressional approval is reviving the ghosts of Sept. 11.

Commercial airlines would be required to install a secondary barrier to protect the cockpit under legislation introduced by Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and supported by Ellen Saracini, the widow of Victor Saracini, one of the pilots killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

After the deadly attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration required commercial airlines to install one locking door between the cabin and the cockpit.

The new bill suggests that planes are momentarily vulnerable when a pilot unlocks the door to use the restroom in the main cabin. Fitzpatrick's bill was referred to a congressional subcommittee in April, with no hearing date scheduled.

The debate over the barriers has grown heated, with federal law enforcement groups supporting the bill and the airline industry criticizing it for costing millions of dollars.

"We believe individual carriers should be able to make the determination," said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the trade group for the country's airlines.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress set aside $100 million to help air carriers pay the estimated $12,000 to $17,000 cost of installing each cockpit door. Fitzpatrick's bill does not offer government funding for the second barrier.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Assn., which includes federal air marshals, endorsed the legislation.

"The best security is a layered approach, and the more layers, the better," said Don Mihalek, a spokesman for the law enforcement group.

He dismissed the airline's complaint that the doors are mandated without funding.

"The only mandate the airlines should be primarily concerned with is the terrorists', which is to kill as many Americans as they can, no matter the cost," Mihalek said.

• For hotels, the more reviews the better

If you see a hotel with only a handful of online reviews, you might not be getting the full picture.

A study by Spanish professors published by Cornell University found that initial online hotel reviews tend to be more negative and that the overall evaluations improve as the number of opinions increases.

Online reviews are crucial for hotels because research shows they are usually more effective than traditional marketing such as print, radio and television ads.

The study, based on sample reviews of 16,680 hotels, found that when a hotel has only 11 to 20 reviews, an average of 23% of them rate the hotel as terrible or poor. But when a hotel has more than 101 reviews, only about 13% of them rate the hotel terrible or poor, the study showed.

Kelsey Blodget, editorial director at the hotel review site, said there are two probable reasons for the trend.

"If the earliest reviews are posted when the hotel is brand new, it could just be because new hotels usually have some kinks to work out before they get things running smoothly," she said. "It could also be that those with negative things to say are the most eager to voice their opinions and are more likely to be 'first responders.'"

• Spare change at Ryanair

Ryanair, the ultra-low-fare carrier based in Ireland, wants you to know it is cheap but not so cheap as to stiff you on your pocket change.

The airline famous for squeezing fees from passengers took some heat recently from British tabloids that suggested Ryanair's flight attendants were not returning change to passengers after onboard sales.

The tabloids hinted that the penny-pinching airline was keeping the change to increase airline revenue.

"Nonsense," responded Robin Kiely, a spokesman for Ryanair. "Utter nonsense."

The stories, he said, were based on a training manual that instructed Ryanair flight attendants who are selling onboard food and drinks what to do when they run out of change. The manual tells flight attendants to suggest that passengers buy extra items to eliminate the need for change, Kiely said.

But the manual, produced by a third party, has been revised.

"Our policy is to give change right back," he said.

Story and Comments/Reaction: