Category Archives: Asia

Qantas A380 Makes Emergency Landing

If things do come in threes, expect another emergency landing any time now

An incident a few days ago when an American Airlines Boeing 757 made an emergency landing in Miami after part of the fuselage peeled back in flight sent chills down the spines of nervous passengers and frequent fliers alike. Now comes a report of a Qantas Airbus 380 super-jumbo making an emergency landing in Singapore after blowing out an engine erlier today. Flight QF34  had been en route to Sydney but returned to Singapore when the  Rolls-Royce engine blew. Australia’s legacy airline, which has thankfully and proudly never had a crash in its 90-year history, immediately grounded all six of its A-380s.

The four-engine A-380 is designed to fly with just two of these enormous powerplants operating, and the captain informed crew and passengers of “engine trouble” and said they had to dump fuel before landing. All of the 433 passengers and 26 crew left the aircraft via stairways rolled up to the plane; no evacuation chutes were used.

 The Associated Press reported, “After the plane touched down in Singapore, the engine closest to the fuselage on the left wing had visible burn marks and was missing a section of plate that would have been painted with the red kangaroo logo of the airline. The upper part of the left wing also appeared damaged.”  Experts called it “uncontained engine failure,” which is a gentle way of describing turbine debris that punctures the engine casing and cowling.

AP also reported that, “Witnesses on the western Indonesian island of Batam, near Singapore, reported hearing a large blast and seeing debris — including a massive red panel with a white Qantas streak — falling onto houses, an elementary school and a nearby shopping mall. No one was injured…The engine trouble happened 15 minutes after takeoff from Singapore at 9:56 a.m. and before the flight had time to approach Indonesia’s Mount Merapi, which has erupted freqently over the past 10 days. The plane landed after one hour and 50 minutes.”

Bambang Ervan, an Indonesian Transport Ministry spokesman said the engine issue had no connection with Mount Merapi, an Indonesian volcano currently erupting, even though it has spewed 13 times since Monday causing aircraft rerouting and several international flight cancelletions.

Among the 37 A-380s currently in service: 13 with Emirates, 11 with Singapore Airlines, six with Qantas, four with Air France and three with Lufthansa, and there here have been incidents before. In September 2009, a Singapore Airlines A380 returned to Paris after an engine malfunction. Just this past March 31, a Qantas A380 blew two tires on landing in Sydney after a flight from Singapore, which is unrelated to a blown engine. In August of this year, a Lufthansa crew shut down one of the engines before landing at Frankfurt  a cockpit indicator gave out “confusing” data.

I’m not generally superstitions — we even have a black cat named Johnny Cash — but I do believe that when there are two “somethings,” there will be a third, so I’m wondering which carrier will have the next emergency landing situation.

"Overrated" Travel Sites Still on My Bucket List

Graduate-degreed people dis world sites that I still want to see

I live in Boulder, Colorado, which has again been named the “smartest city in America” — most recently by The DailyBeast and previously by Forbes. I sometimes think that I am virtually only person in town over the age of 25 without a master’s degree — or more. Now a website called OnlineMasters has come up with the six most overrated historical sites in the world.

Click on the link above to read their reasons, but meanwhile, here’s the list:

1. Stonehenge
2. The Colosseum
3. The Alamo
4. Machu Picchu
5. Petra
6. Angkor

The only one I’ve ever seen is the Colsseum, and that was during a long-ago, post-college European tour that featured a lot of capitals, including Rome. I’ve seen other, smaller more remote stone circles in the British Isle but never Stonehenge. I would like to visit San Antonio, and if/when I do, I will certainly go to the Alamo.

Boulder’s token dolt that I am, without a master’s degree — online or otherwise — Machu Picchu, Petra and Angkor are still I my bucket list.

Japan Airlines in Bankruptcy

Flag carrier of the Empire of the Rising Sun sinking under crushing debt load

We’re accustomed to news of failed/failing/bankrupt airlines in America and even in Europe, but Asian airlines either have held up better through economic turmoil or Asian nations, unwilling to lose face, have propped up their national carriers. Japan Airlines is now in deep financial doo-doo. Its debt load, reportedly $25.6 billion, proved too much to sustain. The airline has filed for one bankruptcy protection and is facing restructuring including cutting some 16,000 jobs, cutting routes, shifting to more efficient aircraft and reducing retirees’ pensions, quite a shock in the context of the nurturing Japanese social and business environment. Government support will keep JAL planes flying during this cataclysmic makeover.

Expect JAL to retire all 37 of its Boeing 747s and 16 MD-90s and replace them with 50 smaller regional jets. This will impact the long-haul routes, cutting some of the 220 airports (59 of them domestic) in 35 countries. Delta, which recently absorbed Northwest Airliner (that originally was called Northwest Orient Airlines with service to the Far East) is courting JAL to the tune of $1 billion (including $500 million in cash) to seduce JAL from American Airlines and the OneWorld frequent flyer alliance. American Airlines and its partners promise $1.4 billion cash to the Japanese airline to stay with OneWorld. The next time I fly Delta or American and am socked with a $25 fee to check a piece of luggage, I’ll think about where those dollars are going. American, BTW, just reported a $347 million fourth-quarter loss, so I’m not sure whether their planning to print $1.4 billion or whether they’re going to charge even more for passengers’ checked baggage.

Asian Airports Top Traveler Satisfaction Survey

Seoul’s Incheon International number one once again

On Monday, I wrote a post about The Daily Beast’s take on 27 US airports, the best of which isn’t all that great when compared with others on the world stage. The Beast called its post “Airports From Hell.” Thanks goplantit.com for calling attention to a Business Week story called. “Why Asia Has the World’s Best Airports.” It reported on the results of the latest annual Airport Service Quality Survey  of some 200,000 international travelers conducted by Geneva-based Airports Council International. The top five are Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong and Halifax. Four in Asia, none in Europe and one in North America.

Seoul’s Incheon International Airport snagged first place in the ranking for the fourth straight year,” wrote Business Week’s Moon Ihlwan. “Two years before opening the $5 billion airport in 2001, airport administrators set up a task force that analyzed what some of the world’s best airports were doing right. The task force looked at Singapore, Hong Kong, Denver and Atlanta. Then planners set about figuring out how the new Seoul airport could offer services that would outdo those hubs. The airport, which last June completed the $3 billion addition of a passenger terminal and runway, has earmarked $120 million for further upgrades in parking and other amenities this year.”

Beyond improvements that run into the millions, Ihlwan wrote, “airports in the U.S. are widely viewed as public facilities, while those in Asia are seen as service-oriented businesses….To attract airlines and travelers, Incheon airport has cut down on waiting times. Administrators reassigned terminals for planes making a brief stop and reprogrammed computerized baggage handling systems. The result: Last year the airport reduced to 45 minutes from 55 minutes the minimum connection time for passengers who are traveling through Seoul to other destinations. The airport authority also spent around $7 million on a new 240-seat lounge, which opened last June for departing passengers and offers free showers, Internet connections and movies on giant-screen TVs.”

State-of-the-art technology, efficiency and facilities to make travelers’ experiences as seamless and pleasant as possible are the winning combination. The Business Week story and passengers’ comments are illuminating. If US airport authorities could put just a fraction of these into practice, fewer American airports would be “from hell.” Interestingly, even though Denver ranked far down on The Beast’s list, it is one that Seoul officials deemed worth looking at.

Squaw Valley Panel Discussion on World Travel Topics

Tahoe area panel explores “Conscious Travel”

If I were within striking distance of Squaw Valley, California, I would put the Squaw Valley Institute‘s panel on “Conscious Travel” on my calendar for tomorrow evening, August 26, at 7:00 p.m. Three women on the panel among them are both expert travelers and travel industry experts. Discussion topics will include modernization of the developing world, “the tipping dilemma,” picture taking, bargaining, how to dress, the impact of tourism, environmental considerations and giving back to places visited. The panel discussion will be followed by questions and comments from the audience.

Ruth Anne Kocour is a photographer and world trekker based in northern Nevada whose subjects include the culture and landscapes of the American West, Asia and mounaineering expeditions. Julie Conover is co-host, co-producer and writer of the PBS series,”Passport to Adventure.” Toni Neubauer, president of Myths and Mountains, a tour operator headquartered in Incline Village, Nevada, which offers cultural immersion tours that balance American-style luxury travel with cultural insight and sensitivity.

The program at the Inn at Squaw Creek is free, but a $10 donation per person is requested. The Squaw Valley Institute’s goal is to “enhance the quality of life within the unique mountain environment of Squaw Valley, North Lake Tahoe, Truckee and surrounding communities” through programs and activities “having artistic, cultural, educational and entertainment value..that bring together visitors, residents and friends…[and] foster a sense of community.” The Institute is at P.O. Box 3325, Olympic Valley, CA 96146; 530-581-4138.

Luxury No Longer Means Security

Upscale hotels in unstable places and luxury cruise ships at sea are obvious targets for attacks
There isn’t a day that goes by without press releases appearing in my inbox about yet another luxurious, deluxe, multi-star hotel or resort in some picturesque and/or exotic place. The recent attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, were just the latest high-profile targets that appeal to first-world travelers to developing nations. Reporter Keith Bradsher’s New York Times feature called “Analysts Say It Will Be Difficult to Shield Luxury Hotels From Terrorist Attacks” began:

“For decades, luxury hotels have been oases for travelers in developing
countries, places to mingle with the local elite, enjoy a lavish meal or a dip
in the pool and sleep in a clean, safe room. But last week’s lethal attacks
on two of India’s most famous hotels — coming just two months after a huge truck
bomb devastated the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan — have underlined the extent
to which these hotels are becoming magnets for terrorists.”

Left to my own devices, I’m more of a three-star traveler (OK, maybe four-star in third-world nations) than a five-star traveler. However, when I attend a Society of American Travel Writers convention or am on other tourism-related assignment or trip, I do find myself in unaccustomed luxury. A small part of me enjoys being treated like visiting nobility, but mostly, I am embarrassed by the ritzy glitz in places where so many people have so little. I know that tourism brings jobs (including jobs as security guards) and money into developing countries, but still, such opulence and extravagance are clearly an affront to many. When clashing political ideology or religious zeal are added to the volatile socio-economic mix, the result in these mean times is predictable violence. People die, property is destroyed and another door to international understanding and peace on the planet is slammed shut.

The Times piece discussed security precautions that hotels are taking, which should be of interest and some comfort to travelers heading for potentially dangerous places. Meanwhile, CNN reported that the ‘Nautica,’ an Oceania Cruises ship (left) en route from Rome to Singapore, outran pirates off the coast of Yemen over the weekend while in an area patrolled by anti-piracy craft. The cargo ships and oil tanker that have recently been seized by pirates were off the coast of Somalia. Smaller private yachts have also been seized.

“The ‘Nautica’ was in an area patrolled by international anti-piracy task forces when two small skiffs appeared to try to intercept it, Oceania spokesman Tim Rubacky said. The ship took evasive maneuvers and accelerated to its full speed of 23 knots or 27 mph. One of the smaller craft closed to within 300 yards and fired eight rifle shots at the cruise ship, he said, but the ship was able to pull away. . .’The ‘Nautica’ escaped without damage or injury to its 684 passengers and 400 crew, and arrived safely on schedule in Salalah, Oman early on Monday morning,’ Rubacky said.”

As disturbing as these reports are, personally, I don’t want to stop traveling because “something” might happen. Last June, I visited Oklahoma City, the mid-America capital of Oklahoma where Timothy McVeigh, a US Army veteran and security guard, masterminded the massive explosion that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 2000. Also that month, my car was broadsided by a speeding motorcyclist on a rural highway in western Colorado. I just hope, in the interest of global sanity, that the attacks will stop and efforts to build a more peaceful, more tolerant world will recommence.

K2 Claims 11 More Climbers’ Lives

World’s second-highest peak is deadliest of the 8,000-meter Himalayan summits

Not a lot of travelers are journeying to Pakistan for pleasure these days, the most notable exceptions being mountaineers who attempt to ascend K2, at 28,251 feet (8,611 meters) second only to Mt. Everest in elevation. It is also the deadliest of the major Himalayan mountains. According to the keepers of such grim statistics, 284 climbers had summited K2 since 1939 and 66 have perished there, often on the way down.

Eleven people have now been added to those numbers. According to reports, it appears that nine climbers were swept away in an ice avalanche — likened to a fast-moving glacier five miles up that severed ropes and buried their victims. Two rescuers also died. Among those believed to have died were five Koreans, two Nepalese and one each from Serbia, Holland, Norway and a France — all brethren on the mountain that claimed them.

As one who is drawn to the mountains in general, I write this in tribute to their skills, ambition and commitment. Himalayan climbing is adventure travel to the max. Sadly, this time 11 did not return.

"Air Contrarian" Chooses Growth in Difficult Economic Times

While other airlines are cutting back, low-fare AirAsia intends to keep on growing

The travel news is full of service cuts here, airline bankruptcies there, airlines folding completely elsewhere, and surcharges and extra fees all over the map. So it came as a surprise (to me anyway) to read a piece called “Strong Expansion is the Best Way to Cope with High Fuel Prices, AirAsia Exeuctive Says” on a travel trade site called eTurboNews. Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia, described as Asia’s largest low-cost airline with a 60-city route network that includes Southeast Asia, China and Australia, spoke to eTurboNews Stephan Hanot:

Q: How fuel is affecting your strategy?
A: Fuel is becoming a massive problem as it went up from US$36 in 2003 to
over US$170 for jet fuel today. And they are only two ways to deal with this
burden to cut costs. The first, chosen by many airlines, is to reduce the
network and adapt capacities. It works but it will also affect considerably
travel patterns and could lead to a cycle of further route network’s adjustment…
The other way is still to grow up. This is the way AirAsia choose. We have to
fill up aircraft as more passengers are the best way to compensate for the
burden of high fuel prices. We will also continue to look at ways to reduce our
costs.

Q.This means: no cut in your network, including domestic routes?
A. That is correct. More revenues can make up for the deficit we could
record because of the fuel crisis. In fact, I speed up the opening of new
routes. We will out of Malaysia open between June and July up to four new lines
[routes]…

Q. Does it then mean that AirAsia low cost model turn its back from
traditional point-to-point markets?
A. We have seen indeed an increasing number of passengers in transit at our
main bases…I anticipate a further development of our transfer activity in the
future.

Q. Will you increase fuel surcharges?
A. We try not to pass the burden to consumers with additional fuel
surcharges. We rather look at other ways such as paying a minimal fee to use our
various services. We recently introduced fees for check-in luggage for
example…

Q. How about your environmental credential? AirAsia seems to be far behind other airlines in terms of initiatives such as carbon footprint compensation.
A. Asia is generally behind developed nations in Europe, America or
the Pacific…Our fleet is one of the youngest in the world and is extremely fuel-efficient as we put more seat per aircraft than most or our competitors. We also try to accelerate the replacement of our ageing Boeing 737-300 by more fuel-efficient Airbus A320. However, we are looking now to introduce a scheme for carbon dioxide (CO²) footprint compensation. We look at ways to see how this CO² credit would be at best used. I expect that we could come up with some program by early
2009….

Can AirAsia keep it up? I don’t know, but it operates on an aggressive model. Founded only in 2001 as a no-frills, low-fare, fequent-flight carrier that currently flies to 60 destinations, it was named named 2007 CAPA Airline of the Year. AirAsia managed an on-time record of 89 percent in May, and even in challenging times, seems to be continuing various promotions and fare sales to fill seats.

Contrast this to a front page story in today’s Denver Post called “Fares Adding Fuel to the Flier,” which reported that base fares for domestic flights from Denver are up 7.5 percent since June 2007 — plus the add-on fees that did not exist a year ago. Competition does put the reins on increases a bit, with the greatest fare increases on routes with the least service. The phrase,” The airlines have those passengers over a barrel” comes to mine — a barrel of oil, perhaps.

AirAsia’s slogan: “Now everyone can fly.” What a contrast to many US carriers — Southwest seemingly being an exception — that seem to being instituting the slogan, “Now no one can fly anymore.”

Paying Homage to Ancient Trees

World’s oldest tree on record — or oldest trees, “on record” or not?

Is it hair splitting or wood splintering to discuss relative ages of trees on the greater tourism trail? The Sri Lanka Tourist Board has just sent out an announcement that the country’s Ministry of Tourism has purchased a non-polluting, four-passenger electric vehicle to carry old (or otherwise mobility-challenged) visitors to a very old tree. They believe the Sri Mahabodhi tree in sacred Anuradhapura to be the world’s oldest recorded tree. The revered Bo tree (top right) is more than 2,500 years old.
That may be, but it’s only because no one was around at high elevations to record the time when today’s bristlecone pines were seedlings. Even today, they are remote and often difficult to reach. Small colonies of this rugged, thick-trunked pine species that sometimes resembles banzai on steroids grow between about 10,000 and 11,000 feet in six Western states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada (a Great Basin bristlecone is shown, lower right).
Donald R. Currey, then a doctoral student of the University of North Carolina, merits a footnote to the history of seriously misguided endeavors. In 1964, he was taking core samples of bristlecones, including a huge, gnarled specimen named Prometheus. It was so solid a tree that he kept breaking his coring tool broke. He asked for and shockingly, received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to cut the tree down to determine its age. In a spectacularly example of bone-headed bureaucracy, the Forest Service granted permission to cut it down, earning Currey the distinction of having killed the oldest known living thing on the planet. Forty-four years ago, 4,844 rings were counted. A website devoted to bristlecones refers to Prometheus as “The Martyred One.”
Currently, the oldest acknowledged bristlecone pine, nicknamed Methuselah, is still growing in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in eastern California’s White Mountains. Either it’s not as tough a tree as Prometheus was or core sampling tools have improved, but it has been dated by dendochronology, the science of counting tree rings, to be 4,789 years old. The Forest Service has learned something in more than 40 decades and will not reveal Methuselah’s exact position in the bristlecone grove in order to protect it from a latter-day Currey who wants to break the record.
The road to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center is about an hour from Bishop, CA, and is generally open from May through October. These ancient trees are concentrated in two groves, the Schulman Grove and the Patriarch Grove.
In addition to groves that require something of a hike, I know of three fairly easily reachable bristlecone groves in Colorado:
  • The most straightforward is the Mt. Evans Scenic Highway, not far from Idaho Springs, which provides access to a bristlecone grove between Mt. Evans and Mt. Goliath. The road is generally plowed out by Memorial Day and remains open until October.
  • Bristlecones also inhabit the picturesque lake-filled cirque at the foot of St. Mary’s Glacier, north of Interstate 70’s Fall River Road exit (Exit 238). Local residents of surrounding subdivisions are fiercely protective of their private property, and permitted parking is extremely limited.
  • The Windy Ridge Bristlecone Scenic Area is about four miles from Alma, which in turn is along Colorado 9 south of Breckenridge. Reaching the parking area for the bristlecone grove requires driving an unpaved road and fording a small steam. It is usually drivable by May, but with this winter’s heavy snows, who knows?

Thailand to Revert to Siam?

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night…”

Those are lyrics to an old tune reminding people that place names change. Like so much else in present times, cities and countries have shed part of their pasts — colonial and otherwise — and taken on new names or returned to old ones, or now have several names instead of one during un-unification. Rewind only as far back the changes since what schoolchildren learned mid-20th century geography classes, and it’s clear why even veteran travelers have problems keep things straight. Some relatively recent and current names in the world atlas are:

  • Belgian Congo – Zaïre – Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Burma – Myanmar
  • Bombay – Mombai
  • British Honduras – Belize
  • Calcutta – Kolkata
  • Ceylon – Sri Lanka
  • Chung-King – Chongqing
  • Czechoslovakia – split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia
  • Federal Republic of Germany (West or BRD by its German initials) and German Democratic Republic (East or DDR in German) – Germany
  • French Congo – Central African Republic
  • Palestine – Israel and Jordan
  • Persia – Iran
  • Peking – Beijing
  • Southern Rhodesia – Zimbabwe
  • Thailand – Siam
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) – Russia (the Socialist Republics being Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Uzbekistan, Kahzakhstan, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldavia, Latvia, Kyrgyzistan, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Estonia, which are now independent countries)
  • Yugoslavia – assembled from half-a-dozen countries in 1946 and half a century later split into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia

Wait a minute! Why is Thailand on that list. Is it reverting to Siam? As in “Anna and the King of….”? It hasn’t happened yet, but it could. According to an article posted on eTN/eTurbo News, during a recent conference on tourism and globalization, “Dr. Charnvit Kasetsiri, a respected historian from Thammasat University in Bangkok, introduced the debate on changing the name of the country from Thailand back to ‘Siam’ by showing a newly released video and presenting the possibility of a name change in one of the next constitutions to come. “

The change from the historic name of Siam (also sometimes spelled, Sayam) to Thailand occurred in 1939. We could see a reversion in our lifetimes.