The Downside of Living in an Internet Connected World: Airline Travel Edition

Internet Security.

This week we delve into a topic that feels like it would be more at home on a tech blog than a travel blog: hacking.

You may or may not have noticed the uptick in hacking incidents related to the travel industry recently. In 2015 both American Airlines and United were victims of “cyber attacks” where their systems were compromised resulting in customer information being stolen as well tickets being fraudulently purchased. And then there is the matter of Delta airlines in August of this year when their system was completely down due to what the airline explained was a “power outage”. More on this later.  While some people would be quick to label these acts “cyber terrorism”, I would choose not to since no investigations have found this to be the case and furthermore, because I detest how frequently the word terrorism is thrown about by the media in order to scare people. This being said, there are some things to worry about when it comes to hacking airlines.

First, airlines are private companies, and as such their main concern is making money. Why mention this? Because airlines are loathe to report bad news about their operations which could adversely affect the share price and therefore cost them a lot of money. One could also say that such information could create the conditions for a vicious circle as well: the airline reports that it has been hacked, resulting in a loss of value vis a vis share price. This in turn makes the public wary of traveling with said airline, resulting in decreased sales,  eventually leading to lower share prices… and the circle continues. Essentially, it is difficult to get a straight answer from the airlines when they have technical problems, just like it is difficult to get straight answers when they have mechanical problems or a plane crash because they do not want to do more damage to the company from bad publicity.

This makes the recent events concerning Delta all the more relevant because there have been some interesting developments since the “blackout”. First, it appears this is the first time since the invention of electricity that a blackout singled out a particular company rather than a particular geographic location. The company said the cause of the system outage was a blackout, yet none of the people or businesses in the area surrounding Delta headquarters in Atlanta reported experiencing a blackout. Furthermore, the blackout affected all delta systems worldwide. Later, Delta walked back their statement and claimed it was a “system blackout” whatever that is. There has been some reporting on this incident and one could make the case that Delta is trying to cover up the fact they were the victim of a cyber attack that compromised their entire system. This is in fact what has been reported by Debka File, a site with clear connections to Israeli intelligence and people who would be in a position to know such information.

Most of these events seem remote to many people, unless they are directly affected by the incidents. Most customers stranded due to Delta’s “blackout” would take it in stride just the same as if they were delayed due to bad weather, or other benign circumstances. But it is important to recognize the dangers here. An airline is responsible for the lives of a great many people every day who are traveling, and while a system failure could present serious problems for them, it would be much worse if the air infrastructure of the US (or any other country) is attacked. Think if the chaos that could ensue if the FAA air traffic control systems were compromised, or if even a main center like NYC was taken offline. We are not talking about reservation systems and frequent flyer numbers, but collision avoidance, radar, ILS and other vital systems that keep planes from crashing into each other. The likelihood of one of these types of attacks seems only to grow with the sophistication of those who engage in these types of attacks.

Sad news for Germany’s second largest airline

Trouble for Air Berlin

Disappointing news for Germany’s second largest airline.  The Berlin based Air Berlin has just announced plans to lay off 1200 employees and get cut 75 aircraft from its fleet. To counter some of the losses Air Berlin plans to lease 40 of its Airbus 320 aircraft to it’s competitor Lufthansa group1. This disappointing news comes as the struggling airline abandoned it’s earlier promises this year to return to profitability2. To regain profitability, Air Berlin will reduce it’s less profitable short and medium haul flights while expanding it’s more lucrative long haul service, especially to the United States. Air Berlin plans to expand it’s offering to the United States by 40% adding routes to Orlando, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In the meantime, Lufthansa has said that they will use 35 of the leased planes in it’s Low Cost brand Eurowings to counter growing competition from Ryanair and Easyjet3. The other 5 aircraft will go to Lufthansa’s subsidiary Austrian Airlines. For Lufthansa this deal is an obvious win. Lufthansa will use the new aircraft to expand Eurowing’s routes from secondary hubs like Munich. Lufthansa will also be expanding its routes to the popular holiday destination Majorca. In combination with Lufthansa Group’s recent acquisition of Brussels Airlines, this new expansion has positioned Lufthansa Group to be the dominant airline in western Europe4.





Burg Hohenzollern: a nearly impenetrable castle

Castle Hohenzollern in Germany
Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern is one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe. Burg is the German word for fortified castle. Burg Hohenzollern is located in the German state of Baden-Württemburg between the counties of Hechingen and Bisingen The exact date of the castle‘ s construction is unknown, but is believed to be around the year 1061 C.E. The castle can be divided into three distinct periods. The first period from 1061-1423.  The second period from 1454 until 1634, and the third period is from the restoration in 1850 until the present.

The First Castle period

The First period
The first known resident of the Castle was recorded in 1061. The Castle Hohenzollern certainly lived up to it’s name because from as it was able to protect it’s inhabitants for 156 years and was only breached in 1423 after nearly a year long siege by the Swabian imperial cities, the Hohenzollern surrendered the castle, which was promptly destroyed. After the Hapsburg allies and the Francian branch of the Hohenzollern intervened, the castle was once again returned to the Hohenzollern family.

The Second Castle Period

Burg Hohenzollern was reconstructed in 1454 with improved fortifications and again inhabited by the Hohenzollern family. The Castle survived the 30 years war and remained in the Hohenzollern family until 1634, when it was conquered by the Kingdom of Württemberg and then by the Hapsburgs in 1744 in the war of Austrian succession.

The Third Castle Period

The castle then fell into disrepair and by 1798 only the chapel remained usable. Under King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, reconstruction began in 1850 and was completed in 1867 by King Wilhelm I. Though the castle was once again returned to the Hohenzollern family (Francian-Prussian branch), the castle never again became a residency of any of the Hohenzollern.

A brief history of the Hohenzollern

The Hohenzollern are one of the oldest noble families of Germany. The family originated in around the town of Hechingen and took the name of the Castle Hohenzollern. The family then split into two distinct lines with the Swabian branch remaining Roman Catholic while the Frankish and later Prussian branch became Protestant. The later branch went on to unify Germany, creating the German Empire in 1871.

Burg Hohenzollern: A nearly impenetrable fortress

The Hohenzolern Castle, like the Castle Lichtenstein, designed to survive military conflict in the middle ages. The outer walls are 10m thick at some points with tunnels going through the castle walls. Breaking the castle walls down as portrayed in the movies are works of fiction, and this is assuming the invading army makes it to the top of the 855m high peak with a winding road through the forest. In Game of Thrones, Ser Jamie Lannister beseiges House Tulley at Riverrun. Though that castle had a moat, what the enemy had was a nice flat field to dig trenches and set up support well out of the way of any archers. The terrain surrounding Hohenzollern castle is far less forgiving leaving little room to set up any siege equipment and plenty of room for forces loyal to the castle lore to set up ambushes. Any approaching army would be at a severe disadvantage as ambushes could be set to weaken the approaching army.

Difficult to reach
The unfriendly approach


When I first heard that the outer castle walls were 10m thick, I was skeptical, until I walked through the castle walls. Walking through the castle walls you can get an idea of just how formidable the castle’s defenses are. The weapons of the day were no match for these defenses. This is also an excellent place to store provisions for a long wait.

The main gate gives archers perfect firing position while keeping the distance from the main wail to prevent it from damage. This windows are perfect for raining volleys of arrows on a besieging army. Keep in mind, that in the middle ages, it wasn’t just the wounds from arrows which were dangerous. Defending armies often dipped arrows in human waste so that if the puncture didn’t hit a vital organ, the infection almost certainly killed the enemy soldiers. So in the end, the residents of Castle Hohenzollern have the advantage. They can weaken an approaching enemy and leisurely kill off any enemy outside of its gates. The only way to win for an attacking army is to starve the residents into submission and even then, it took nearly a year the only time siege was successful against the castle.

Inside the Castle Walls


After Hohenzollern castle was rebuilt, it never again became the residence of any Prussian Hohenzollern, except briefly in 1952 when the Crown Prince Wilhlelm, the stayed in the castle while fleeing Soviet forces at the end of World War II.


On the grounds of Castle Hohenzollern, there are three chapels for the Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox denominations.

The oldest chapel is the Catholic chapel St. Michael. This building is the only structure which dates back to the second castle period and was build between 1453-1461. An interesting feature is the stained glass windows which date back to 1280 which were taken from a former convent of Stetten (now a district in Hechingen).

The Protestant chapel is the Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial chapel, modeled after the Naumberger cathedral. The apostolic gate is from the Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial church in Berlin.

The Russian Orthodox chapel was build by Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia for his wife Kira who was Russian Orthodox.

Armory and Treasury:
Crown of King Wilhelm II
Crown of King Wilhelm II

This room contains an assortment of medieval weapons and armor. It also contains personal belongings of the royal family including a gown from Queen Louise, a tunic which Friederick the Great wore in the battle of Kunersdorf, Also on display are his crutches, two flutes. Also on display is the King Wilhelm II’s crown which contains 18 diamonds (pictured above). For those interested in the American Revolution, there is original letters between Friedrich von Steuben and President George Washington. The letter from Friedrich von Steuben is pledging his financial support and military knowledge in exchange for receiving a commission as a General in George Washington’s army. The letter from George Washington is thanking Friedrich von Steuben for his service and support.

Of all the castles, this is easily my favorite. Burg Hohenzollern contains lots of priceless paintings and medieval artifacts. Walking around the castle grounds gives you the feel of living in the middle ages. This castle is a must see for anyone traveling to Germany.

Good bye from Hohenzollern!
Good bye from Hohenzollern!



Schloss Lichtenstein: an authentic medieval castle

Castle Lichtenstein
Schloss Lichtenstein

If you’re not from Europe and never visited Europe, your perception of a castle is probably very different from the reality of medieval castles. Thanks to fiction castles are often portrayed as as old fashioned mansions for the handsome prince and to whisk the princess to live happily ever after. They were luxurious for their time, but castles had one main purpose: battle. This will be part of our ongoing series of authentic medieval European castles. The Castle (Schloss) Lichtenstein is a small castle near the German city of Reutlingen which I can only recommend for any traveler for an inexpensive, yet educational visit.

Castle Lichtenstein
Schloss Lichtenstein-Old Castle

A brief history of Schloss Lichtenstein

After 50 years under construction, the castle Lichtenstein was completed in 1150 CE and first inhabited by the Knights of Lichtenstein1. The same noble family continued to possess the fortress at Lichtenstein until the last of their linage died fighting the Turkish invasion of 1687. Throughout its history the old castle was destroyed twice in battle between the citizens of the free city of Reutlingen and the lords of the castle in 1311 and 1388. After the castle was destroyed a second time, a new fortress was constructed. The new fortress was considered one of the best fortified castles and was never again destroyed. After the last of the Lichtenstein family, Ensign Anton of Lichtenstein died fighting the Turkish invasion of 1687, the castle was abandoned until King Friedrich of Württemburg purchased the castle in 1802 and turned it into a hunting lodge. King Wilhelm I of Würtemburg later sold the castle to Duke Wilhelm of Urach and the castle is still owned by the Urach family.

Castle Lichtenstein Armory
The Armory at Schloss Lichtenstein

Inside Schloss Lichtenstein

Above pictured is the armory with original weapons and body armor. One of the things that striking is how poorly nourished people were in the middle ages. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this particular piece of armor but visitors can view a display of a set of small squire’s armor. In those days, most boys became squires at 14 or 15. This particular armor would be about perfect for a modern 10 year old boy, but certainly wouldn’t fit a healthy 14 year old.

The Chapel. Most of the noble class had a chapel for them to go to church within the castle.

Visitors to Schloss Lichtenstein can view centuries old, hand carved wooden alter decorations and medieval paintings.

Above you’ll find the family’s dining area and the lord of the castle’s bedroom.

Outside Schloss Lichtenstein


I really enjoyed my visit.  I visited the castle with my parents who’ve never been to Europe.  My dad is in the picture  in front of the castle gates.

Main gate Schloss Lichtenstein
Main gate Schloss Lichtenstein

Admission to the castle costs on 7 Euros for a guided tour and is a nice educational stop. There’s also a great beer garden to have lunch.

Fun facts about Schloss Lichtenstein:

1) A recent german language version of Sleeping Beauty was filmed at the castle in 2009.

2) The Castle was the primary inspiration for Cammy’s stage in Super Street Fighter II2



Is the End Near for the TSA? Don’t Bet on It.

Transportation Security Administration

Recently, you cannot go anywhere on the web without seeing a news story related to the TSA, and all the news is bad. The Transportation Safety Administration, one of the most loathed agencies in the U.S. government, is facing an ever-increasing din of negative publicity in the media, harsh criticism from lawmakers, and an astounding backlash from the public; the agency has rightfully earned such scorn, due to its inability to reduce long lines at major airports or to prove that its existence increases passenger safety, but if you think this may result in the eventual demise of this hated institution, do not start celebrating just yet.

What seemed a good idea in the wake of the September 2001 attacks, has now lost nearly all credibility with the public and many in government. The agency has repeatedly demonstrated that it has not made the public safer with its numerous and well publicized failures to detect contraband items in tests. Furthermore, it has grown into an unwieldy bureaucratic fiefdom of the Department of Homeland Security, that refuses to accept responsibility for its shortcomings and poor management.

While the law that created the TSA was specifically written to include the possibility of airports using private companies (there are only fifteen airports nationwide that have private companies), the TSA has naturally been resistant to allow airports to switch. It is clear why they would do this, it would prove the TSA is unnecessary. The law requires that private security companies comply with TSA security procedures, that they have equivalent staffing, and pay in relation to the TSA. What this means, is that even if airports were to switch to private companies, not much would be likely to change because of these requirements.

The recent criticism by members of Congress, while unprecedented in it harshness, has still not resulted in major reforms. The new head of the TSA, Peter Neffenger, fired the Head of Security Operations, Kelly Hoggan, a man who was paid over $90K in bonuses while presiding over the current crisis as well as the debacle related to the failure of 67 of 70 secret tests where guns, knives and other contraband was not detected in carry on luggage. The surprising thing about this firing is that it is the first time the TSA has actually sacked anybody in upper management since the agency was created fifteen years ago.

The public outcry against the TSA has only grown from year to year, and this year it has reached a fever pitch due to the inordinately long waiting lines at major airports. Congress and the TSA are pointing fingers at each other, but this has not solved the problem. The TSA claims the fault lies with Congress for slashing the TSA’s frontline workforce by roughly 5000 people. The Congress has pushed back insisting that TSA has mismanaged staffing so that their budget would be restored. Clearly, there are not enough people in government willing to eliminate the TSA, but that is eventually what needs to happen. The careerist bureaucrats will resist this at every turn and as always resort to fear-mongering the public to accept it. But it is clear from the record of other countries who have private airport security screeners(France, Italy. Germany), that the days of the TSA are numbered; it is not clear, however, how long it will take before this hated agency reaches its end.

What is the worst seat on every flight?

Middle Seat Hell

The middle seat of course!  Everyone hates the middle seat because it offers none of the freedoms of the isle seat, nor does it provide a place to lay your head when you’re tired like the window seat.  Now that airlines are taking steps to make sure all flight are left as full as possible, avoiding the middle seat is likely to cost you.  According to MARTHA C. WHITE  of the New York Times, airlines are filling flights to fuller capacity and increasing the price to select seats.  For example, Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t assign seats, raised the price for early boarding from $12.50 to $15.00.  The legacy carriers are not including seat assignments in their lowest fare.  Some passengers have even taken extreme measures to avoid the middle seat, including purchasing an isle or window seat and a middle seat.  On legacy carriers this is often cheaper than first of business class.  Other’s have tried anything from bargaining to feigning medical conditions.  Personally I was simply asked to switch with nothing in return.  The problem was it was a flight from Europe to the United States and I paid 35 Euros for my isle seat so I declined.  My recommendation, if you do have a good seat, don’t give it up for nothing in return.  Even if the person does have their wife or girlfriend sitting next to you, ask for compensation.  Why should you take the middle seat and be miserable for the entire flight with nothing in trade.  Make them buy you a drink or three.   It’s clear that passengers are either going to have to plan ahead or purchase seat assignments to avoid the worst seats on the flight.  Showing up at the last minute to a prime time flight and expecting to avoid the middle seat is foolish and we don’t recommend it.

Airlines offering first class more likely to have Air Rage problems

Did you know that airlines which offer first class flights are 3.84 times more likely to have problems with air rage?  Who’d have thought that cramming folks into seats like canned sardines while rich blowhards get luxury beds on long haul flights might tend to tick people off just a little bit.  Sounds intuitive, but here we have some scientific evidence1. Researchers at the University of Toronto studied thousands of documented air rage incidents, anything from cursing at flight attendants to tampering with smoke detectors in the restrooms to smoke, to refusing to sit down and found that all had a common theme.  Namely the presence of a first class cabin. The incidents were further aggravated when economy class passengers were forced to board by passing through the first class cabin. When Economy class passengers are forced to pass through the first class cabin, the risk of air rage incidents increased a further 2.18 times2. An interesting finding was that the incidence was not purely out of envy on the part of economy class passengers. According to Dr. Katherine DeCelles, the awareness of the higher social status of first class passengers actually encourages some first class passengers to treat economy class passengers in an anti-social manner3 and display attitudes of entitlement. This provocative behavior increases the likelihood of conflict.

Air Rage
Fasten Restraints

What would be some possible solutions to reduce air rage incidents? If the findings, which are being published in the national academy of sciences prove to be correct, a possible solution would be to de-emphasize the disparity between first and economy classes. Having a duel boarding, where the economy class passengers don’t pass through first class would relieve the congestion and wouldn’t serve as a constant reminder to passengers of the inequality of passenger statuses. For more information on this study please check the published paper here.




JetBlue adds nap pods to their hub at JFK airport

Jet Blue continues to outdo themselves.  Jet Blue has decided to add new nap pods at their home JFK airport.  These new pods will recline playing relaxing music to reduce distractions.  The pods have a time limit of 20 minutes.  Though I’m skeptical as to how much 20 minutes can actually help a person relax, this is a nice amenity for a weary traveler.

Jet Blue Nap Pod

Jet Blue isn’t the only organization offering nap pods.  Nap pods are available.  Pods are available In London’s Luton airport and Toronto’s Pearson airport, but JetBlue is the first US airline to offer nap pods customers in the US.


More information courtesy of CNN and NYPost.


The Big Three US Airlines Want to End Cheap Fares

The big three US airlines are doing everything in their power to stop cheap fares.  With the rise of low cost carriers like Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit Air, the big three scheduled airlines: United, American and Delta, have been under increasing pressure to compete on price.  To a lesser degree, the scheduled airlines have tried to compete by offering cheap fares.  Now the big 3 airlines have decided to reign in the cheap fares by restricting ticketing engines from pairing bargain, non-refundable segments when multiple cities are involved.  What will this mean?  Well a typical flight from Los Angelos to Chicago via San Francisco and returning might have cost $450.  Now the same itinerary might cost $1200 (New Airfare Policy).  Aside from the fact that this route is hardly more desirable, given that one has the inconvenience of the transit, but the customer has to pay for the privilege.

Big 4 Legacy Airlines

We’re predicting that the low cost carriers will continue to gain market share on the traditional big three airlines.  If the American low cost carriers ever decide to become international, then the big three airlines will continue to play defense with respect to market share.  It’s not unheard of.  Southwest Airlines, Jet Blue, and Spirit Air already offer international flights within North America. Internationally, Ryanair, EasyJet, Air Asia, Jetstar, and Tiger Airways have become major regional players in their respective markets. Should the US low cost carriers follow these examples, the traditional three Airlines will continue to suffer accordingly.

US Senate rejects plan to regulate Airline Seat Size.

The United States Senate rejected a new proposed bill to regulate the size of airline seats.  So the size of the seat will remain the sole discretion of the airline.

Airline Seat Size

What’s especially interesting is that some of the “low cost carriers” such as Jet Blue and Southwest are on the larger side.  Only the ultra-low cost carrier, Spirit Air has a significantly smaller seat than the traditional scheduled airlines.   More information on the airline seat sizes can be found here at CNN Money.