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Carr: Mile Highs and Political Lows

How naïve are they in Singapore?  Airbus A380 customers are investing millions to redefine the inflight experience by stuffing the “super jumbo” with every amenity imaginable, especially for the premium passenger. Like upstairs lounges in early Boeing 747s, many of these cruise ship-style frills will be underutilized and eventually give way to more seats. For now, the sky is the limit.


January 30, 2008
By David Carr

Topics

How naïve are they in Singapore?  Airbus A380 customers are investing millions to redefine the inflight experience by stuffing the “super jumbo” with every amenity imaginable, especially for the premium passenger. Like upstairs lounges in early Boeing 747s, many of these cruise ship-style frills will be underutilized and eventually give way to more seats. For now, the sky is the limit.

Launch customer Singapore Airlines (SIA) includes luxury private cabins complete with double beds, flat screen TV and rivers of champagne. Having set the mood, it seems odd the airline would cry foul because couples have chosen to kill time by taking advantage of the privacy. Even more so given air transport’s fascination with the infamous “mile high club.”

But what criteria qualify for club membership? It should involve the pairing of a passenger and member of the crew – cabin or cockpit, it doesn’t matter. Others argue two passengers travelling together is sufficient. Really? A stranger perhaps, but passengers who know each other? That’s just too easy, and we could all become members. Ditto corporate jets. Where’s the challenge in that?

With the arrival of the A380, SIA has taken entry to new heights. You don’t have to be a contortionist, as is the case with lavatories in economy, but it helps to be wealthy. Now comes a splash of cold water. The airline has cautioned passengers that construction of its luxury cabins is not sufficient to buffer excessive noise, and acts of passion must be discouraged. Such warnings will not be needed on all routes. The A380 will soon be winging its way to London/Heathrow, where it’s unlikely to come up.

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Watch the battle for Toronto Island to shift into high gear in 2008.  Porter Airlines is expected to finally break free of its domestic pen this year when it begins service to New York. So far, Porter has had the Toronto City Centre Airport (TCCA) – a two-minute ferry and short taxi ride from Canada’s financial district – to itself. This is unlikely to continue.

Porter Airlines is one of the eat-at-the-margins airlines that larger carriers want to contain. But it is difficult to see how. Air Canada and Jazz don’t want to serve TCCA, but they don’t want anybody else to either. Likewise, potential US competitors.

Porter has introduced a standard of service that Air Canada furloughed during bankruptcy protection, and US carriers left at the departure gate in the ’70s. Extra legroom, free booze, charming boxed meals and lounge luxuries for all passengers at Porter’s Toronto base is tough to beat.

Still, there is a soft underbelly. Porter is a limited point-to-point carrier without an interline agreement, although it is reported to be considering alliances with a handful of US airlines. It must also compete against reward programs such as Aeroplan. Even so, president/CEO Robert Deluce insists his airline is already operating in the black and will become more profitable as it takes delivery of six additional Q400s this year and revs up its expansion into the US.

The upstart’s biggest headache may be in its own backyard. Porter flies in the face of local residents whose waterfront condominiums have walled off Toronto’s access to its lake, but who want the airport shut down to make way for more parkland. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Toronto’s mayor made closing the airport to commercial traffic the centrepiece of his first successful campaign, and every Q400 takeoff is a reminder of his failure.

That opposition took an absurd turn last October when Adam Vaughan, a rookie downtown city councillor, publicly questioned Porter’s safety after Scandinavian Airlines System had grounded its own fleet of Q400s following three non-fatal accidents linked to landing gear failure. Vaughan, a former local television reporter who should have known better, even hinted that Porter’s Q400s might not have enough fuel sloshing in the tanks to fly the few extra kilo-metres to Pearson in case of an emergency landing. So deep runs the passion against TCCA.

Danish investigators have traced the Copenhagen accident that triggered the grounding to maintenance error, although the SAS fleet remains permanently grounded. Deluce has threatened to sue Vaughan – but any settlement would come from the pockets of Toronto taxpayers. Deluce is a class act who operates a classy and innovative airline. Its future should be decided on merit, not scaremongering.

David Carr can be reached at davidjcarr@sympatico.ca .