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Flying the Family-Friendly Skies (And Why You Won't Be Able to Do It With Miles Anymore)

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Airlines don't like carrying unused miles because they represent future free rides by passengers, which they must carry on their books as debt.

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180 million people around the world belong to frequent-flier programs, and are entitled to nearly 10 trillion miles, estimates Randy Petersen of Inside Flyer magazine.

American AAdvantage was the first airline to offer a frequent-flier program, beginning with 283,000 members in 1981 and growing to more than 46 million members today-the largest in the industry.

Airlines don't like carrying unused miles because they represent future free rides by passengers, which they must carry on their books as debt.

AMR Corp. (AMR), parent of American Airlines, carried a $1.6 billion liability on its books at the end of 2006, about $100 million more than in 2005, and up from $976 million in 2000.
Northwest's frequent-flier liability was $269 million at the end of 2006, up from $248 million in 2005 and $215 million in 2004.

Delta's liability at the end of last year to $887 million from $607 million a year earlier.

American says that 7.5% of their passengers traveled using miles in 2006.

To put that into perspective, consider some numbers United Airlines reported in a recent SEC filing.

The company estimated that about 427 billion of the 495.2 billion miles on its books will eventually be used-costing the carrier $3.5 billion.

United says that every 1% reduction would remove about $41 million from its frequent-flier liability.


Hey, those aren't passengers-they're financial liabilities!

That's why many airlines are telling frequent flyer program members to use their miles within a specified period of time or lose them.

So, go ahead and book that vacation you've been putting off.

If you're like me, you might even take in the movie being shown.

The first in-flight movie was screened in 1961, when TWA showed John Sturges's "By Love Possessed," with Lana Turner and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., on a 707 flight between New York and San Francisco.



The rapid increase in the popularity of air travel forced airlines to tone down their offerings to accommodate a wide range of tastes.

Though, it's not just racy content airlines are sensitive about.

Airlines don't want to frighten passengers, either.

Katie Grayson, a film editor that cleans up video entertainment for airline use, told the International Herald Tribune that, "The news for British Airways (BAB) is edited here every day to take out all news involving plane crashes, even ones that have already happened."

Taking things a step further, BA also edits all mention of competitors out of their in-flight films.

Their version of last year's James Bond thriller Casino Royale obscured the tail fin of a Virgin plane that was seen in the original. They also removed a cameo appearance of Virgin founder Richard Branson passing through a security scanner at Miami International Airport.


Richard Branson: scaring "The Living Daylights" out of BA

Could it have something to do with Virgin being identified as the "whistleblower" that triggered a price-fixing investigation in Britain and the United States last summer?

BA denies the charge.

"We want to ensure that [in-flight movies] contain no material that might upset our customers," a company spokesman said.

So that's what it was! BA passengers might get "upset" if they were subjected to a cameo appearance by a rival airline's Chairman! Of course!

Apparently, airlines believe their customers might also get upset if they were subjected to an actor's mention of God during a film.

An editor at Jaguar Distribution, the company that distributed "The Queen" to airlines, was told to edit out all profanities-including any blasphemy-for the version distributed to Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand, and several other carriers. In one scene, as a character spoke to the queen, passengers heard "(Bleep) bless you, ma'am."



Perhaps the editor reached a bit far in his interpretation of "blasphemy".

One can argue that it's all part of the ongoing blurring of the lines between art and commerce.

Something made obvious to me last night, when a friend pointed out several examples of art right on everyday product packaging.

For example, there's poetry on every box of Clerz sold:

If minor irritation/
Discomfort/
Or blurring occur/
While wearing lenses/
Place two drops in each eye/
And blink/
2-3 times.



Now, take a look at the verse on the back of Paul Mitchell Color Protect Daily Shampoo:

Wet hair/
Apply a small amount/
To palms of hands/
Massage into hair and scalp/
Rinse completely/
A second shampoo/
May not be necessary.



And, someone over at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) did a heck of a job with the directions for Zantac 75:

For adults and kids over 12/
Just swallow a tablet/
Along with a glass/
Of water.



Music to the ears. I wouldn't edit a thing.
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