Israel FAA downgrade – Fire Shaul Mofaz!

Unfortunately, I was wrong in my November, 2008
post. I am shocked that Israel was, in fact, downgraded to a category 2 country. And there is no category 3 – we are as bad as it can get. Here is the FAA’s press release. And some discussion in the blogosphere.

I am further shocked this has been getting almost no press in Israel (small article in Sunday’s Calcalist on page 6 by Yasmin Gil – compared to a page 4-5 spread about a cleaning company that is going bust!). The Wall Street Journal did think it was important, though. No mention in Jerusalem Post.

And, I am further shocked that the FAA gave Israel enough warning to avoid this and did not succeed. I guess Transportation minister Shaul Mofaz is convinced that his re-election is much more important to Israel than the future of Israel aviation and tourism, not to mention our safety.

In Israel, we do have a tendency to underestimate threats to our safety (crazy drivers, Iranian dictators, Missile shooting fanatics and Amira Hess), and this one is quite serious. Israel is now a full fledged member of this club:

Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Croatia, Ghana, Guyana, Indonesia, Nauru, Philippines, Serbia and Ukraine.

What does it mean on a practical level? It means that Israeli carriers cannot expand service to the US. Its unclear what this does to codeshares. Of course, it means much more – it means that the FAA feels that the day-to-day oversight by the Israel government regulatory agencies are not enough to monitor safety.

What this is not:

  • Not political like the annual UN condemnation of Zionism
  • Not some silly bureaucratic issue – like ISO 9000
  • Not a minor issue blown up by the press
  • Not a statement about Israel’s airline security, still considered best in the world
  • Not a condemnation of any specific airline
  • Not a reason to skip your next meeting in Palo Alto or a romantic getaway in Southern California

But it is a very serious error made by the transportation ministry (among others), which citizens of Israel should know about. And, by the way, Mofaz is also in charge of Israel Road safety. Fire him!!!


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Europe Family Vacation in 4 Hours

Readers complained that I got political with my gaza post. Sorry, but we did have a war. Back to the spirit of this blog – tips for the frequent flyer to the US.

Looking around for the best airfare to the States often results in a stopover in Europe. If the stopover is more than 5 hours you can “Do Europe” (or at least one city). This is aimed at families – business people should stay in the airport and polish up the PPT and couples might get more out of Paris by spending a whole weekend. Four basic rules:

  • Check bags all the way (and get boarding passes)
  • Take almost no carryons
  • Figure out in advance (down to the level of the train schedule and stops) how you will get in and out of the airport
  • Bring Euros

If you tried this in the past and it didn’t work, try again. Because:

  • Airport Transportation is really good in many European cities (but expensive)
  • Europe is too expensive for a real trip
  • Kids will remember 3 hours in Paris as if they were there for a week
  • Not enough time to buy gifts for everyone – a four hour trip might yield as much as a 4 day trip with shopping
  • Its really not much fun waiting in the airport for 6 hours
  • What used to be considered a primitive American style of “Doing” Europe is now quite cool.

I have tested two of these trips on my own family in the past year. We Did Paris (6 hr) and Rome (3 hr).

We arrived in Paris at midnight and grabbed a rented car (no good late night public transport). Took a nighttime tour of the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triomphe, The Louvre, Notre Dame, The Sienne. The highlight was Ice Cream at McDonalds on the Champs Elysees. Everything else was closed (saved loads on admission). Back to the airport and after a short nap – ready for the 7am flight.

Rome was public transport. 30 minute train to the city followed by a walk past the Coliseum, Forum, the Synagogue and lots of monuments. Highlight was Ice Cream at the Trevi Fountain. We had planned on hitting a second country in the 4 allotted hours – but there was a train strike which caused us to lose some time – so we cut the Vatican.

Anyone interested in the detailed plans, contact me. Or tell me some of your “4 hour Europe” experiences. And by the way, Google now has walking directions. Here is how one might walk from Rome to Paris.
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Off Topic – Gaza

Our readers are frequent flyers, living in New York and Israel whose daily lives are impacted by terrorism, so I am taking the liberty of addressing the war in Gaza. Just a few non-original thoughts for our readers and friends and enemies or just those confused and troubled:

  1. Given the choice of targeting soldiers or civilians, Hamas chooses the latter. There are large Israel army encampments close to the Gaza border, yet Hamas aims it rockets over the head of the soldiers to bomb the civilian centers much further away.
  2. For months we have been fed stories of lack of food and basic supplies in Gaza. Now we find out they had hundreds of tunnels connected to the outside world. If they could get a Grad though the tunnel, surely they could get some Baby Formula and flour through.
  3. Up until 2005, we kept on hearing about the injustice of Israel using 20% (not sure if that is the correct #) of the land for 0.5% of the population. In the 3 years since we left I do not think Hamas turned that prime real estate into housing for their people. The infrastructure is still there, even though they destroyed many of the hothouses and public buildings that were handed over intact. Not to mention the $200M annual exports Israel managed to extract from the Gaza land.
  4. And finally – the word that keep on popping up is “disproportional“. By its very nature, terrorism requires a disproportional response. Consider the BILLIONS of shoes that have been removed at airport security due to a single attempted terrorist act.

And when hearing stories of “innocent” adults being hurt, bear in mind that 440,409 people voted for Hamas in 2006. When you vote for an internationally-recognized terrorist organization (sworn to destroy its neighbor) to run your country (or town or city) expect the worst.
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US Air Crashes into Hudson River NY

Breaking news:

US Air 1549 just crash landed in the Hudson River and it seems that everyone survived. This is really a miracle – only other time it happened was in 1970 –

ALM Flight 980 (DC9) – 40 out of 63 survived.


And all my readers – listen to the safety instructions and know where the life vest is!

ElAl Great Fares – $199 RT This Weekend (Jan 16)

I am definitely a fan of the
ElAl Spontani and they have some very good fares to Europe for this weekend. Flights leave Thursday night or Friday morning and return Monday or Tuesday. Great idea for people working with the US. Monday is Martin Luther King Day Day and Tuesday is Inauguration Day, so it is a good time for a long weekend.

$199 destinations include Brussels, Budapest, Rome, Madrid, Prague, and more.

And, unlike most ElAl offers – there does not seem to be a catch. The flights are priced Round Trip, no extra charges and they actually have space available. Only caveat – its pretty cold in Europe these days.

Send me a postcard.

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A look back at 2008, for the TLV to JFK frequent flyer

A look back at 2008, for the TLV to JFK frequent flyer.

Airfare shot up with fuel prices but didn’t really come down. But there have been some good fare sales lately on domestic flights. To save money, airlines charged for everything – from pillows to bags to water to food to movies. That is here to stay.

Free ticket mileage levels went up, and it is as hard to use as ever. Less people are flying, but less planes are flying also. Tickets are available for those willing to make a large effort.

ElAl continues to get away with whatever it wants. Miami, Los Angeles disappear and re-appear from their schedule at will and code share relationships are annulled and consummated, at will. To be fair – if you can read Hebrew and can spot the few pixels ElAl devotes to their “Spontani” offers – you can get a decent last minute (could be a week) fare. And “free” means about $500.

The web gave consumers the power of travel agents. Now, consumers need that, plus the patience of Job and the brains of Albert Einstein (or at least David Mirchin). Navigating between the online travel agents (like Expedia and Priceline), the suppliers (like Jet Blue, Turkish, Continental) and the meta search (Kayak) and playing them one against the other can save $100’s on a ticket to the US. We did. Times 6.

Car rental companies used $147 oil to upsell full tanks. Now they are back to their usual scams. Beware the $13/day GPS. The Zipcar model is starting to be adopted by the big car rental companies.

I discovered airport lounges, in case anyone cares. I also discovered Sequoia trees in Manhattan.

And I stand corrected on one post – you cannot get a free ticket for your 18 year old just by getting a Visa card – could be the tightening of credit or the fact that she has no credit history – but my 18 year old was rejected. Sorry kid – no free trip before the army!

Advice for 2009 – keep on reading this blog and spend time in a spa in Catskill, NY or seeing the San Francisco tourist attractions or just find a few fun things to do in New York City.
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