The Russian, the German, the Brit & a Blues Brother

Me and Abraham’s nut.   After arriving in the US following my Frankfurt experience.  Dressed in appropriate Blues Brother attire.
I flew to the US in June which is now but a distant memory except for the security search at Frankfurt airport before clambering on board a United Airlines flight to New York.  The names of the accused were blasted over the tannoy for all to hear.

“Mr Suddick”

“Mr Abraham”

“Mr Ludwillow”

“Mr Latham”

So let me describe the process.  After clambering off an SAA plane in Frankfurt at 06h00 local time we were due to fly out to the USA at 08h00 local.  We hurried to the airport train (automated) and arrived at terminal B from whence United flies.  After the obligatory cup of coffee,  you are checked in and a coloured sticker attached to your ticket.  Which remains untorn – no stubs here.

Then various names are called as mentioned above.  and mine came up.  I heard that only Muslims or suspicious people were asked to step forward (at least that’s what my well traveled friends have alleged), so what’s this then?

A White House Secret Service Agent.  Much friendlier than the Russian, the German and the Brit at Frankfurt Airport.
Perhaps its because I’m from Africa I thought.  Clearly suspicious.   This is where the story gets a tad interesting at least in terms of process.  So after joining the short queue of the highly suspicious/possible terrorist/dangerous/uncouth etc etc,  a man with a Russian accent asks me if I’m indeed “Dazemoond Lat-ham”


‘Please wait there” he motions to a seat in full view of the 300 passengers about to board United Airlines.   Most are trying not to look in my direction unless the security guards haul them in too.   My nearest and dearest is sitting near the wifi/power charging desks charging her phone and laptop and also not appearing to stare.  She carries a passport with her maiden name so we’re not easily coupled,  if you excuse the phrase.

Welcome to the USA, Mr Dazemoond Lat-ham
The Russian appeared just bored enough to be both careless and malignant.  You know those languid security people who have one ear-hole larger than the other from a lifetime of wearing a hands free VIP bodyguard kit.  In a small cubicle I could see a man removing his shoes and being subjected to some kind of body search with a strip of plaster.

Then it was my turn after a few minutes.    The Russian waved at me and said “your turn” which felt a little like being asked to join the bungee jump line without a safety harness.

Inside the cubicle there were three men.  They all scrutinised me as I entered their little chamber,  watching I thought, for any sign of weakness then they’d pounce. One of the three was  dressed in browns and fawn clothing with a black belt and he turned to me.

I tensed,  waiting for the usual aggro bodyguard VIP security man fusillade.

“Hey, you look like one of the Blues Brothers”  he said, and smiled.

I dress in a black suit when traveling and wear a black hat bought in Boston in 2000.  It’s real wool and with the black tie, I usually am left alone on flights because people think I’m either a businessman or a rabbi.   It’s the first time in years of traveling in this mode that someone has said anything about the Blues Brothers who are indelibly etched in all our minds – us 80’s people.

The Harlem Blues Project live at BB’s Bar and Grill in Manhattan.  I was in awe and sat right at the front where you sit when you want to learn stuff.
“Well I do play the blues” I said.

“You look like you do” he answered in a German accent.  He took my shoes and waved his sticky plaster over it.  Then he pulled the plaster down my clothes.  I guessed he was looking for signs of explosives.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

Then he suddenly turned back into the cold VIP bodyguard and ignored me,  his friend said:

“You can go”

In a British accent.

My ticket now had an extra sticker on the back which the air crew peered at with great interest when I clambered on board the A380.  My nearest had taken up a seat as far away as possible (well she was on the other side of the aisle) so I asked the lovely person next to me if she’d swap seats with Nearest/Dearest.

Somewhere over America.  United Airlines.
She would.

Nearest wasn’t so happy,  she’d swapped an aisle seat for a middle seat.

“Never mind dear” I said

“At least you’re sitting next to a world famous blues musician.”

She ignored that and went to sleep.









United CEO Grovels, Alitalia Goes Bust (Again) & SAA’s bunga-bunga


Alitalia – the Pope’s favourite flying machine company with a Republican President who did actually read books.  ©Vatican
Yes, its the age of jump on the bandwagon.  At least once you’re on the bandwagon,  its unlikely someone will knock you out and drag you off semi-conscious.  United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’s was himself dragged before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this morning to answer questions from really aggressive congressmen and women after an incident where a passenger was forcibly removed from one of his airliners.

Dr Dao – assaulted and thrown off a plane after buying a ticket at United Airlines. ©Facebook
It took Munoz a couple of attempts to apologise to the 69 year-old doctor who was summarily removed from a UAL flight in Chicago – but only after two oafs had managed to smack his face against the arm of a seat, removing two teeth and leaving him bloody and dazed.  United has already reached an out of court settlement with Dr Dao who probably can now pay to have the surgery to replace his two front teeth.

Another United Employee about to select passengers for disembarkation (no not really but the meme is funny).
United has now instituted a change in policy, now offering passengers up to $10 000 to give up their seats if the airline overbooks.   If I was on board a plane I wouldn’t accept anything less than $10k knowing that the other passengers probably know what I know.  Imagine the auction.   Here’s a possible script:

Pilot X :  Ok,  I’m going to start at $2000 any takers?

FX :  Silence.

Pilot X : Ok,  we’ll raise that to $4000 – come on everybody!

FX: Silence.

Pilot X :  Ok,  we’ll go the whole way – anyone taking it at $10 000?

FX: The sounds of screams as many passengers clamber over each other to disembark.

This moment needs some thought.  It’s one of those really interesting events where both Republicans and Democrats agree government should intervene.  As the US Secretary of Transport signs away laws diminishing airline responsibility (see this),  events have conspired against light touch government.  That’s because Senators and Congressmen and Women take flights on the same commercial airliners back and forth across the US and have found the experience, let’s say, less than welcoming.

Click for more abuse here.
So both sides of that American political pastiche pie are now calling for action by the government to assist airlines in doing  the right thing.  This has partially come about as competition diminishes and the consumer gets shafted.  I love aviation and what’s just happened in the US is both upsetting and inevitable.   The simple matter is if you give shareholders complete control over business without proper competition,  they cut every corner possible to make a quick buck.  Republican head of the House transportation committee chair, Bill Shuster, has warned that airlines are about to be hit by a one size-fits-all rule to improve customer care.

Alitalia Goes Bust – Again

So its with a heavy heart that I join the Pope in blessing Alitalia because its filed for bankruptcy.  For the third time since 2008.  And its likely to be three strikes and out because the Italian government won’t bail it again and the Pope, who flies Alitalia and blessed the airline in 2008, probably won’t waste his important breath this time around but just shrug and take Lufthansa or Emirates.

Silvio “bunga-bunga” Burlusconi. ©Wikipedia
Alitalia has cost taxpayers a reported seven billion euros in bailouts.  The big issue in Italy is that Alitalia used to be one of the biggest employers in that country,  but its slipped since being founded in 1947.

The ailing airline has been placed in the hands of the administrators who have to turn it around in 180 days, sell or liquidate the operation.  As with South Africa,  citizens are outraged by suggestions that the state should continue bailing out a loss-leader.    It’s Alitalia’s staff who’re not really helping matters by refusing to consider pay cuts or retrenchments.   From the New York Times by way of Il Sole 24 Ore’s Simone Filippetti:

“It seems that Alitalia workers have all gone nuts.  Why did they reject a plan that involved a hard sacrifice but a chance of recovering to instead face the risk of a total company disruption and liquidation, and ultimately all lose their jobs anyway?”

SAA Haggard & Bereft

SAA,  once the darling of African aviation is now the toothless hag.   It’s a blue rinse Afro with the faint whiff of aunty’s spent nickers in charge.   SAA has become most famous in its home territory for the same sins as Alitalia.  To whit – bailouts.

It also failed to submit financial statements for two years and held its results for 2015/16 back after the Treasury refusal to provide an additional R5 billion in additional guarantees against ongoing loans.  Eventually Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was pressured into securing that loan in September 2016.  But the parallels with Italy are noteworthy, both national carrier and national disgrace.   Italy was run by a borderline sexual deviant for years (Silvio Berlusconi),   host of bunga-bunga parties for his echelon of friends who cavorted around mansions on tax-payer’s expense. During his tenure, Alitalia dive-bombed banks for two loans.

More great news from Dudu Myeni, as she appeared on Facebook recently in trademark Afro sans blue. 
Yes, President Jacob Zuma has created his own plethora of putridity by cadre-deploying into SAA, Eskom, SABC, etc etc etc and left himself ethically stranded like a pirate with a platoon of prostitutes on an island without a shower.

Cmde Jacob Zuma.
One difference is that South Africa’s government has agreed to another round of save SAA Chairperson Dudu Myeni’s face.   In his last budget speech before he was zapped by Zuma,  Gordhan announced that during 2017/18, government will provide some financial support to SAA in a manner that does not increase the budget deficit.

We look forward to seeing how money is thrown at the aviation hole called SAA without increasing the deficit.  Unless it turns around properly,  it won’t be considered a going concern but going going gone and we’re concerned.    The big problem is the airline is now going to have to borrow against an interest rate that is above 8% – or what we generally call “junk”.  But its something to which I’m sure the new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, who is a social policy expert, is applying his pedagogic mind.

Enough of this comparison fun and games,  some people have to fly.


Welcome to United Graf Zeppelin Airlines & Poker Playing Dr Dao (69)


United parading Vets it didn’t beat up and throw off their plane. (United Airlines promo pic)

Gone are the days.  When aviation was the stuff of class and happiness, where handsome lads and equally handsome lasses leapt into machines of loving grace and invited others to join.  Now we have Chicago police goons knocking out 69 year-old passengers to remove them after an airline booking error.  This latest insult to pax global is not just a miasmic foolhardy disaster for United Airlines,  its symbolic.  We are squeezed more and more tightly into the machines that are now indispensable to modern life because we have become dependent on being whisked from A to B ASAP.

So its a dependency that leads to shareholder value and profits while negative moments occur where citizens interact with airline trolls in the form of rank and file staff suffering from delusions of grandeur.  Previously the worse case scenario would be some ground crew lackey perusing a list of passengers along with a manager would pick out those likely to be least likely to sue after discovering the flight was overbooked.  Then when you present your ticket for final boarding,  you were told “Sorry your seat is double booked.  For $800 and a free hotel stay would you mind stepping aside for this nice captain to make his way to St Louis (this being Chicago) so that he can fly another plane from there with 80 passengers.”

By the way,  you can still say no.  It’s up to the airline to find someone who is motivated by the cash.  Legally at that point airlines can force you off,  but if your disabled daughter is waiting at home and in danger that can be a very stupid thing for an airline lackey to do.

That’s before you step aboard.  After you step aboard,  any attempt by the airline to remove you unless you’re drunk or refusing to listen when you’re told to stop smoking or reading your Kindle is tantamount to abuse, crass stupidity and in Mr David Dao’s case,  apparent assault with a deadly weapon, intimidation, libel, defamation and wanton brand suicide.

United in blood, two overtrained blackshirts drag an unconscious 69 year-old Dr Dao off a domestic airliner just because he was naughty. (Facebook)

He’s 69 years old for goodness sake!

United is in deep doodoo for having a medical doctor who’s Asian of origin summarily knocked unconscious and then dragged backwards off the airliner.  Like that poor pilot in Black Hawk Down, dragged by his feet through the streets of Mogadishu and the outpouring on social media has been no less ferocious.  The public doesn’t like this sort of thing.  We don’t like it United because it’s the action of an unaccountable dictator.

No two ways about this. Dr Dao, whatever his previous life,  is going to take the airliner for a lot of money.  And quite rightly.  Maybe he’ll retire to a large mansion near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago monstrosity in Florida.  But what about the aviation experience?  It’s now the equivalent of torture for many as they are hustled through security like sardines,   prodded and shoved about by aggressive bandits of airport security while they smirk.

Add to this odious practice it appears the service aboard many flights is no more.  You’re thrown a bag of crisps and if you’re lucky,  a bottle of warm water by a frowning/sneering philistine dressed in blue polyester and matching eyelashes.

The coast is clear for the return of the Graf Zeppelin or similar.  Put me on a floating dirigible for two days from South Africa to the US as we glide across the ocean with butlers serving crisp lettuce, smoked salmon and the onboard theatre alive with options while the viewing room allows one time to take in the stars surrounded by tightly dressed beautiful people of the globe romancing and discoursing.


This bout of flying apocalypse has to be stopped.  We are not chattel bottled up in the fuselage and thrown off at the destination like capitalist slaves.  No, we’re the folks who pay commercial aviation shareholders their profits and I guess its time to remind those who own airlines that there’s a limit to abuse.

Seriously folks,  United has three immediate problems.

  • Evidence A : The damages they’re going to pay Dr Dao
  • Evidence B:  Brand damage by being the butt of constant references on memes, jifs and live social Snapchat bad PR.
  • Evidence C: The PR bit has already led to $1 billion wiped off their share value all because a couple of black-shirted overtrained cretins.

Big trouble in Chicago, bigger trouble on Wall Street, major issue in court despite United’s CEO grovelling. Oscar Munoz initially said staff acted in accordance with airline policy which is a bit like saying United’s next policy is enforced food poisoning.  Now Munoz has changed his tune calling it “a horrific mistake” and says policies on the removal of passengers are being reviewed.  Would he have said its horrific if his company hadn’t lost $1 billion in value?  Perhaps not.   I think something along the lines of “I am resigning”  or “I have fired x” is now an urgent statement we should hear from Meneer Munoz.

Just in case we forget, this is what Dr Dao looked like after he was knocked out and dragged off a United flight.  (Facebook)

In addition, if United is smart they’ll immediately offer Dr Dao money, free rides for life and whatever else he demands.  If they’re dumb, they’ll obsess about the fact that he previously was suspended as a doctor,  has a narcotics charge, and plays poker and decide to go the legal route against said doctor.

Social Media will take down this management team if its not careful while Dr Dao’s poker playing prowess should really scare them too.

I’ll raise you $1 billion, United,  and see you.




Forget Drones Watch For Dronkgats

Sven Tailback, Unsplash. 


There we were, minding our own beeswax when suddenly the story dropped.  Two pilots arrested at Glasgow airport.  The charge?  Suspicion of being drunk on duty.  So let that sink in, folks.  Two pilots,  United Airlines, Drunk.  Passengers.  Busy flight.  Slurred reporting.  Blurred vision.  An intimate experience with the granite cloud awaits.

United Airlines confirmed the two unnamed pilots aged 35 and 45 were taken away by Scottish police on Sunday August 28th who reported the two were “carrying out pilot function or activity while exceeding the prescribed limit of alcohol”.

Now that is a scary story.  I know my commercial pilot friends will titter and the more gung ho amongst them will defend the pilots with something along the lines of “It’s a stressful job” or “they weren’t actually drunk,  just had babelas”.


The law is pretty strict when it comes to driving an aeroplane filled with passengers.  Alcohol stays in your system for 8 hours and even longer if its a binge.  That’s why Aviation Law (yes I recently failed my Comm exam but know enough to knew this) says all pilots should refrain from imbibing alcohol at least 12 hours before flying.

Staying upright. 

Alcoholics have an even bigger problem.  When you’re stressed,  the poison seeps back into your blood stream so that you may be sober when the incident starts,  but by the time its progressed to an emergency your bloodstream is drenched in various chemicals.  Some of these help, like adrenalin.  Some don’t.  Like alcohol.

The two pilots here were held in the cockpit by police.  The question has to be asked “who figured out how dronk these two were?” if indeed they were dronk.  But given United Airlines comment,  there’s no doubt whatever happens they’re in REAL trouble.

It means goodbye license.

There’ve been many cases of accidents directly related to pilot incapacitation caused by many things.  Mainly alcohol.  So let’s take a look at a few.

  1. McDonnell Douglas operated by Japan Airlines in 1977 crashed after take-off from Anchorage airport in Alaska.  Cause? From the report “The initial blood alcohol level of the captain was 298 mugs percent. A blood alcohol level of 100 mgs percent was considered to be legally intoxicating for drivers in the State of Alaska”.
  2. De Havilland DHC Twin Otter operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 1972 crashed into a mountain near near Harstad, Norway.  All 17 aboard were killed. Cause? Pilot’s high blood alcohol level and lack of sleep.
  3. Douglas C-47A crashed on final approach at Vaasa Airport in Finland in 1961.  All 25 aboard were killed and the cause was officially ascribed to the pilot and first officer both having been .. well .. drunk. 

There are at least 39 other examples of air accidents directly related to flying drunk.  The full list can be found at the Aviation Safety Website.  The majority of these include the words “Antonov” and at least 8 are linked to Aeroflot.

Things have improved in Russia since the plethora of incidents in the ’70s but the macho male culture in the region has not.

Let’s read what Captain Wendy Morse Chairman, United MEC has to say to her fellow pilots this week.

“As I read the articles, I began to understand how long it could take, worst case, to return to a zero blood alcohol level after having maybe one too many drinks in a fatigued state.  In one of my calculations I doubled the time as one article indicates metabolism can vary by as much as 50 percent, and I start below the average weight to begin with.  I came up with 20 hours – too long to be over the legal alcohol limit and recover.  I also was reminded from the articles about serving size, and therefore how to count what I have consumed properly.”

Twenty hours?  A whole day before flying.  Aviation Law states the following:

FAR 91.17 states that we may not operate or attempt to operate an aircraft:

  • Within 8 hours of having consumed alcohol
  • While under the influence of alcohol
  • With a blood alcohol content of 0.04% or greater

But the wise pilot will abstain completely at least 24 hours before taking off.  The punishment is harsh.  All certification will be revoked and the pilots will not be able to regain them for a minimum of a year.  Twelve months no income.  Disaster just because you decided to have a few shots of tequila within the window period.

Makes no sense after decades of hard work to write everything off in a haze of mestizo.