U.S. Volunteer Rate, Number Highest Since 2005

In a recently released report, volunteering is at the highest number since 2005.

Americans significantly increased their commitment to volunteering and civic engagement in 2011, a new report from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship finds.

According to Volunteering and Civic Life in America, 64.3 million adults (26.8 percent) volunteered through a formal organization in 2011 — a year-over-year increase of 1.5 million and the highest rate nationally since 2005 — contributing a total of 7.9 billion hours valued at more than $170 billion. Among those who volunteered through an organization, the most common activities included fundraising or selling items to raise money (26.2 percent); collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food (23.6 percent); engaging in general labor or transportation (20.3 percent); or tutoring or teaching (18.2 percent). In addition, 65.1 percent volunteered informally by helping out their neighbors, up 9.5 percentage points from 2010.

The report ranks states, large cities, and metropolitan areas by volunteer rate and provides data on volunteer hours per resident, number of volunteers and hours of service, value of service contributed, and other indicators of social connectedness and civic engagement. For the seventh consecutive year, Utah was the top state in terms of volunteer participation, with a rate of 40.9 percent, followed by Idaho (38.8 percent), Iowa (38.4 percent), Minnesota (38.0 percent), and South Dakota (36.8 percent). The top five metropolitan areas were Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington (37 percent), Rochester, New York (34.8 percent ), Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue (33.4 percent), Salt Lake City (33.2 percent), and Jacksonville, Florida (32.2 percent).

The report also found that parents volunteer at a significantly higher rate (33.7 percent) than the national average (26.8 percent), with a volunteer rate of 46 percent among parents in their late forties with school-aged children and 38 percent among working mothers. Among parent-volunteers, 43.1 percent volunteered at schools or youth service organizations. “In America, education must be the great equalizer — and robust engagement from communities, families, mentors, tutors, and other volunteers is absolutely vital to achieving that core American ideal,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “As a nation, we are so much stronger working together collaboratively to advance student learning than working in isolation.”


Light rail plan for Los Angeles International Airport advances

Airport agency and Metro, formerly with competing visions, get together on four possible light rail station sites at LAX.

Plans to build a light rail connection to Los Angeles International Airport advanced Monday with the unveiling of four potential station sites that would link to a people mover serving passenger terminals.

After years of pursuing separate transportation plans for LAX, Los Angeles World Airports and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority now are working together to develop options for a rail stop that could tie the Green Line and the planned Crenshaw Line to the nation’s third-busiest airport.

“Our work over the past six months has brought us light-years from where we were before,” said Paul Taylor, Metro’s deputy chief executive, who noted that environmental clearances must be completed and funding secured before construction of an LAX station could begin.

The most expensive options are two underground station designs inside the central terminal area, west of Sepulveda Boulevard.

Another proposal calls for a station to be incorporated into a planned transportation center adjacent to Parking Lot C, near the northeast edge of the airport. The facility would serve light rail trains, buses, taxis, ride-share vans and charter vehicles.

The fourth possibility is to put a station about a mile east of LAX at Aviation and Century boulevards at Manchester Square, where a consolidated car rental facility and additional airport parking are planned.

Wherever the station is located, it is expected to connect to an automated people mover that would ferry passengers to and from airline terminals.

Travelers using rail transit can get near the airport area on the Green Line. But they must get off some distance away at Aviation and Imperial Highway and board a shuttle bus to LAX.

Metro’s share of the project cost ranges from $1 billion to $1.5 billion, depending on the option chosen, Taylor said. Airport officials do not yet have estimates of their share of the costs. If funding is secured, an LAX light rail station could be completed by 2020.

Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro board member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has pushed for the Crenshaw Line, praised the effort and warned against repeating the mistake of stopping rail service short of the airport.

“It’s vital we move swiftly,” Ridley-Thomas said. “The Crenshaw Line is scheduled to open in 2019, and we need to be well on our way to ensure the airport connection is not further delayed.”

By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times; December 18, 2012

Boeing 777-300ER

A new look coming to American Airlines?

Recently there has been speculation that American Airlines is planning on launching a new brand or at least an updated brand.  That rumor continued to be fueled when one of American’s newest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft rolled around Boeing’s plant in Washington in only silver without any markings.  With these ideas floating around, designs and rendering that individuals have started to put together are showing up on the web.  So of these designs are pretty cool looking, while others, need a bit more fine tuning.  Enough of these rumors and speculations have been floating around that the NBC station in Dallas questioned American on it.  

American Airlines Remains Mum on New Livery

AA advises those curious about livery changes to “stay tuned”

With the purchase of hundreds of new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, American Airlines is being forced to update their look.

The new planes have a composite skin, not aluminum, so the unpainted, polished silver look is likely on its way out.

As far as what the new look will be, however, AA isn’t saying yet.

“We know that we will be taking delivery of composite aircraft, starting with the Airbus deliveries and later the 787 Dreamliner. And we¹ve known since we placed those orders that those aircraft cannot be polished as we do today. With that in mind, and with our focus on building a new American, we are evaluating how the exteriors of our aircraft will need to be modernized in lock step with our plans for the interior customer experience,” said Andrea Huguely, with American Airlines. “Obviously with the delivery of composite aircraft, there are a lot of opinions regarding what our new livery should look like. At this point in time, all we can say is stay tuned.”

Huguely parroted AA CEO Tom Horton’s statements made in October to the Star-Telgram’s Sky Talk Blog.  In that interview, Horton said that he wouldn’t say when we would see the new livery, only that people will just have to wait and see.

The mystery over the livery change, the first for the airline in more than 40 years, has prompted aviation enthusiasts to create their own renderings.

From the NY Times: For United, Big Problems at Biggest Airline

My thoughts: I couldn’t agree with this article more.  Many, including myself, figured the “new” United would have many of the issues that it is still currently having.  The leadership of United isn’t as strong as it needs to be and that comes into play when you merge two strong headed companies (in any industry).  United needs to strive to make themselves a better company and it starts with the leadership.  My first suggestion for many of the leadership team… stop collecting bonus money for jobs well done, such as the change over of the reservation systems. While United is stating that most of the “growing pains” have shrunk, I think that the opposite could happen and things might even get worse than they already are.  American Airlines is currently going through strong labor issues (among other things) and United could soon find themselves in the same situation.

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner poses at Boeing’s plant.

Anyway… here’s the article from the NY Times:

By Jad Mouawad; Published: November 28, 2012

CHICAGO — It was supposed to be a moment for celebration: United Airlines observing the delivery of its second Boeing 787 Dreamliner with a flight from Seattle to Chicago earlier this month for a select group of employees, while senior officers, including Jeffery A. Smisek, United’s hard-charging chief executive, served Champagne and took lunch orders.

But before the flight took off that morning, a computer glitch in one of the airline’s computer systems delayed 250 flights around the world for two hours.

So it goes at United these days. The world’s biggest airline, created after United merged with Continental Airlines in 2010, promised an unparalleled global network, with eight major hubs and 5,500 daily flights serving nearly 400 destinations. As an added benefit, the new airline would be led by Mr. Smisek of Continental, which was known for its attention to customer service.

But two years on, United still grapples with myriad problems in integrating the two airlines. The result has been hobbled operations, angry passengers and soured relations with employees.

The list of United’s troubles this year has been long. Its reservation system failed twice, shutting its Web site, disabling airport kiosks and stranding passengers as flights were delayed or canceled. The day of the 787 flight, another system, which records the aircraft’s weight once passengers and bags are loaded, shut down because of a programming error.

United has the worst operational record among the nation’s top 15 airlines. Its on-time arrival rate in the 12 months through September was just 77.5 percent — six percentage points below the industry average and 10 percentage points lower than Delta Air Lines. It had the highest rate of regularly delayed flights this summer, and generated more customer complaints than all other airlines combined in July, according to the Transportation Department.

The airline even angered the mayor of Houston, Continental’s longtime home and still the carrier’s biggest hub, when it unsuccessfully sought to block Southwest Airlines’ bid to bring international flights to the city’s smaller airport, Hobby. 

The United-Continental merger is weighing on the company’s finances. It took a $60 million charge in the third quarter for merger-related expenses, including repainting planes. It also took a $454 million charge to cover a future cash payment to pilots under a tentative deal reached in August.

While most large airlines reported profits this year, United has lost $103 million in the first three quarters of 2012, with revenue up just 1 percent to $28.5 billion. Its shares are up 7 percent this year compared with a 12 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and a 24 percent gain for Delta.

“United remains at a challenging point,” analysts from Barclays wrote last month, and they forecast that the carrier would not begin to see the benefits of its merger until late in 2013 and into 2014. Still, while airlines initially struggle, mergers increase revenue eventually, as the example of Delta’s acquisition of Northwest Airlines demonstrated two years ago.

Mr. Smisek, taking a break from serving coffee halfway through the maiden 787 flight, acknowledged that things were not going as fast as expected, particularly given the aggressive targets he set two years ago. Back then, Mr. Smisek said the merger would be wrapped up in 12 to 18 months. He has since learned to be patient, he said.

“It is still a work in progress,” he said. “The integration of two airlines takes years. It’s very complex. If you look at where we were two years ago, we’ve come a long way.”

Admittedly, the process is complicated. Airline mergers mean combining different technologies, often old computer systems, as well as thousands of procedures used by pilots and flight dispatchers, gate agents, flight attendants and ground crew.

Setbacks are common. Like United, US Airways experienced a breakdown in its booking technology after its combination with America West in 2005. Delta’s on-time performance fell sharply in the year after its purchase of Northwest.

But today, Delta is a leader among big airlines in on-time performance. US Airways had a record third-quarter profit even though it still lacks common work rules for its pilots seven years after its merger.

United has completed many of its merger tasks, particularly as far as passengers are concerned. It has received its single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing it to run a combined fleet. Despite all the problems this summer, it claims to have finally merged the reservation and technology systems.

Mr. Smisek said passengers would see the benefits of the combination by next year as United introduces new features on its planes, including satellite-based Wi-Fi, flatbed seats in business class and bigger overhead bins on its fleet of Airbus narrow-body planes.

One of the remaining sticking points, however, is getting employees of the two merged carriers to agree to a single contract. Pilot unions signed a tentative agreement with the company in August, after months of bitter negotiations. Talks are continuing for agreements with unions representing flight attendants and mechanics.

“There always seems to be some bump in the road,” said Ray Neidl, a senior aerospace and airline analyst with the Maxim Group. He said much of the merger’s benefits would kick in after the airline got its collective agreements with its work force. “Once they get these challenges out of the way, United will be a powerhouse.”

For many analysts, United’s real challenge lies in combining different work groups with different cultures, values and ways of doing things.

That is particularly true for United, which had a history of sour labor relations, and Continental, long considered one of the nation’s best-run airlines.

“You know, the cultural change takes time,” Mr. Smisek said. “And people resist change. People are sort of set in their ways.”

He added the airline was now intent on providing better operational performance and consistently good customer service. “And there are people who don’t like that,” he said. “I understand that. What I want is those people to either change or leave.”

There are few lasting advantages in the airline business. Airlines can easily match what rivals are doing, whether by lowering fares, buying new planes or installing new features on their aircraft. But United insists that its network remains its most resilient strength and will help it attract more passengers.

The carrier’s dominant market share at Newark Liberty International Airport, for instance, appears unassailable and provides a formidable gateway to the New York and East Coast markets. United’s Houston hub is a major jumping point to Latin America. And United is the biggest carrier in San Francisco, giving it an advantage in the Pacific, where it is the biggest American carrier.

United is counting on new planes to make a difference in coming years. It has made a big bet by ordering 270 planes over the next decade, including 50 Boeing 787s and 25 Airbus A350s.

The 787’s long-range ability and relatively smaller size will allow United to add new direct service between cities that did not have enough traffic to justify bigger planes like the Boeing 777. Its 787s will fly between Houston and Lagos, Nigeria, starting in January, followed by service from Denver to Tokyo’s Narita airport in March, and from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Shanghai.

United is betting that passengers will be drawn by those new services as well as by the 787’s carbon-fiber technology, which allows higher levels of humidity and oxygen in the cabin and can, Boeing claims, help reduce jet lag-related fatigue.

The airline moved its headquarters to the Willis Tower in Chicago last year. In June, it set up a new Network Operations Center, occupying a full floor in the tower in a vast open space previously used as a trading floor. From here, managers run daily operations, overseeing flight schedules, crew availability, weather forecasts and any delays throughout the system.

After the summer’s mishaps and poor performance, United has improved its on-time record. In particular, it said, arrivals on-time this month were 85 percent.

“We think we’re in a good spot given where we are in the merger,” said Peter D. McDonald, United’s chief operations officer.

Still, perceptions may be tough to fight, particularly online and in frequent-flier forums, where criticism of United’s service and performance has been particularly bitter. One critic, who goes by @FakeUnitedJeff, parodies Mr. Smisek on Twitter. One post last month read: “It’s raining in Newark. I wish we’d bought waterproof aircraft. Cancel, cancel, cancel.”

JCPenney Continues to Make Me Smile

When a lot of companies would back down or change their path, JCPenney’s is doing just the opposite when it comes to LGBT advertisements.  Not only is JCPenney’s not backing down, they are bringing the wood to the fire.  I love it.  

JCPenney Hits Back at Anti-Gay Critics with Two Dads in Father’s Day Ad Hey, One Million Moms, you mad bro? 

By Rebecca Cullers (AdWeek)

JCPenney’s Father’s Day ad featuring two dads!

Earlier this month, the anti-gay group One Million Moms (which has substantially less than 1 million members) called for a boycott of JCPenney after it featured some lesbians in its catalog. The retailer didn’t apologize and isn’t backing down. In fact, it’s almost trolling the anti-gay groups with jubilant, un-corporate-like defiance in a Father’s Day ad featuring not one but two dads. The two men pictured are real-life dads Todd Koch and Cooper Smith, seen with their kids, Claire and Mason. In case you might mistake the scene for being a loving dad and a very involved uncle, the copy makes it real clear: “What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver—all rolled into one. Or two.” Given the timeliness of the gay-marriage issue, it’s not surprising to see brands take a stand, but when a classic American brand like JCPenney steps up, it’s pretty clear where America is headed. Via Think Progess by way of Gawker.