Thursday, August 17, 2006

Carry On Controlling

The Brit government used last week’s terror threat to take a swipe at air travel, and is trying to get the EU to join in. For their sake, I hope they fail – it’ll tank the EU economies even more.

The ex-Marxists who infest European governments hate freedom of travel, and grab every opportunity to block it. Their biggest weapon is "global warming", which they've used as cover to raise taxes on gasoline to the point where they're about 80% of the cost. Plus they've imposed a host of petty restrictions - Blair has saturated Brit roads with surveillance cameras and made it a criminal offense to have windshields that stop them photographing driver and passenger.

They moved on air travel two years ago:
The cost of flying could soar as early as next year under plans being proposed by the Government to include aviation in a controversial emissions trading scheme.

If agreed, passengers will have to pay an extra charge to help offset the damage to the environment caused by the pollutants produced during flight. The charge, which could more than double the cost of many low-cost flights, will be used to pay for schemes elsewhere in the world that reduce carbon use such as tree planting.

That got stalled because it would have tanked the economies of the vacation destinations.

Low cost airlines have transformed travel for the time-poor Europeans - they can now fly most places in for tens of dollars at the cost of some discomfort. This has pumped tourist spending and cut the costs of small businesses operating across multiple EU countries.

The budget airlines compete by ruthlessly cutting costs, and one technique they use is to encourage carry-on (within IATA limits - 22" x 18" x 10"), while charging for checked bags. That makes sense because many of their passengers are flying for short breaks, and only need space for 2 or 3 days clothing, cameras, and their purchases.

It’s also essential for road warriors, who carry a bit less clothing, but need their laptops and phones. My last-but-one UK startup relied on low cost carriers. We were flying all over Europe while working 100-hour weeks, and couldn't possibly afford the 2 hour cost of checked bags on each trip (early check in, wait at carousel on arrival).

And neither short-breakers nor road warriors can afford the risks of theft or delay of checked bags.

So a neat way to stop the short breakers and road warriors is to cut the carry-on size, and the Brits just did this, halving the IATA size to 18” x 14” x 6” - not enough for overnighting. Now they’re working to extend this across the EU:
Passenger checks which have brought chaos to Britain's airports will be extended across the EU, it has emerged.

It means travellers going to popular holiday destinations such as Spain and Greece will face huge queues and restrictions on hand luggage at both ends of their journey.
Home Office sources said that, if the stringent rules were not extended across the EU, the terrorist threat would simply be 'displaced'.

Fanatics hell bent on mass murder would simply board a flight in Paris, Frankfurt, Athens or Madrid rather than London, they insisted.
The famously incompetent Brit Home Office has presided over mass illegal immigration and can’t deport foreign criminals, so not surprisingly its views on terror are inane. I can think of two ways a suicide bomber could get a large bomb on plane without any hand luggage. If they can't figure that out, they can just use the laptop in their reduced carry-on.

The airlines are fighting back:
Airlines including Ryanair are considering suing the Government for up to £300 million to recover the losses incurred since extra security measures were imposed last week.

They are hoping that the threat of legal action will force ministers to lift the restrictions on hand luggage, which have caused thousands of flight cancellations and delayed millions of passengers since an alleged terrorist plot was foiled.
If the Dutch, Germans and French refuse to adopt these restrictions they get to take over the UK’s role as Europe’s air hub. And if the Italians, Portuguese, Spanish and Greeks refuse, they safeguard their non-Brit tourist revenue.

But all EU governments are control-obsessed, so it'll be interesting to see how the battle between control and prosperity works out.