Why you may not be able to have limes on United Airlines flights

Due to an international lime shortage, you may have trouble finding limes on some United Airlines flights. Photo: Richard North via creative commons.

Due to an international lime shortage, you may have trouble finding limes on some United Airlines flights. Photo: Richard North via creative commons.

I have solved the great international airline lime conundrum of 2014.

Actually Associated Press reporter Scott Mayerowitz beat me to it with an article published online a few hours ago. But last week I inquired with United Airlines about whether the carrier had pulled limes from its flights in response to an international shortage.

The response came this afternoon in an email from United spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm.

“One of our largest caterers told us their lime suppliers have only 15-20 percent of their typical inventory,” Dohnm wrote. “Until late May, when they expect supplies to be back to normal, we’re substituting lemons for limes on some flights.”

What’s going on in the world of limes you ask? The New York Daily News reports on some issues in Mexico:

“Fighting and hijacking of lime trucks by cartel members have slowed exports to a crawl, coupled with farmers refusing to pay extortion fees to Knights Templar enforcers.

Heavy rains and a tree disease afflicting the area has not helped.

“Mexico received some heavy rains that destroyed a large amount of the lime crop, so with limited supplies we are seeing lime prices skyrocket,” said Bryan Black, spokesman for the Texas Department of Agriculture.”

Mayerowitz says not every airline is cutting back. While Alaska Airlines has also curbed lime service, American and Delta have continued having limes on board, Mayerowitz writes.

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Silver Airways to offer $12,000 signing bonuses to new pilots

Hello everybody. I’m back — a couple of days early, in fact. Thank you all for your patience and kind words. Being young helps quicken the healing process, I think.

Now let’s get to the news. Minor news, but news nonetheless.

Silver Airways, a commuter airline that flies under its own brand and as United Express, will now pay a $12,000 signing bonus to new hire pilots, though it won’t be paid all at once.

A Silver Airways airplane. Photo: Silver Airways.

A Silver Airways airplane. Photo: Silver Airways.

We know this isn’t about altruism. Silver Airways operates a relatively small fleet of Saab 340B and Beechcraft 1900D airplanes, which means the Fort Lauderdale-based carrier is near the bottom of the pilot food chain. For a long time, that did not matter. There were more qualified pilots than job, and Silver could hire the pilots it needed. But things have changed quickly, partially due to new FAA rules governing pilot training and rest.

Now, at least at some regional airlines, there are sometimes more vacancies than qualified pilots. (Or at least qualified pilots willing to work at a low wage.)

Airlines like Silver have been making changes. Last month, Silver announced it would stop flying from Cleveland as United Express. It also announced it would retire its Beechcraft 1900s, which seat only 19 passengers. It is sticking with its fleet of 28 Saabs. Those planes seat 34 passengers.

But the airline still needs pilots. It had been giving new hires $6,000, but that bonus is now doubling. Silver claims it is the highest signing bonus in the regional airline industry, which makes sense, as the bigger the airplanes, the less trouble the airline has filling vacancies. In this case, pilots will have to stay at the airline two years to receive the full bonus.

“We have had good success with our pilot signing bonus, and this increased financial incentive will not only help us attract and retain more qualified pilots, it will also allow us to enhance our commercial success and continue to grow as a new independent regional airline,” Silver President and CEO Dave Pflieger said in a statement.

Keep in mind that lower level regional pilots remain poorly paid. Business Week reports that many new first officers are regional airlines earn about $21,000 per year.


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Poll: What’s your favorite historic airline livery? (European division)

We love historic airline liveries here at L.A. Airspace. I’m sure some of my readers feel the same way, even if they’re too proud to admit it. So I ask you this: Among these European airlines, which paint job is your favorite?

For what it’s worth, I go with SAS. Also, I think I have my dates generally correct for the liveries, but if you know the timelines more exactly, please let us know in the comments section.

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Attention: Your favorite airline is not a charity

L.A. wants a fair price for L.A/Ontario International Airport, which it has operated since 1967. Staff file photo.

L.A./Ontario International Airport is often empty. But do airlines care? Not really.  Staff file photo.

“Airlines are not a charity.”

This is what an acquaintance of mine – a person who understands airline economics – tells me whenever I ask why an airline is charging a high fare in a particular market or why it has added a new fee. The general gist is that most U.S. airlines are publicly traded corporations with shareholders they must keep happy. They must make business-minded decisions about how and when to fly their planes.

The problem with this strategy, which has become more pronounced in recent years as airlines have learned how they can keep profits up, is that it is leaving air service holes in small and medium sized cities. Many non-hub airports, like L.A./Ontario International Airport in California’s Inland Empire, cannot support a lot of air service in the current economic climate. And airlines are no longer interested in flying routes just because they always have done so.

This is a topic New York Times business travel columnist Joe Sharkey addressed this week. I think he lives in Tuscon, which is facing its own challenges, though it still has flights to most airline hubs. Sharkey writes:

Across the country, cities where airline service has been reduced and long-haul nonstop routes eliminated in recent years are clamoring for new flights. Many dangle financial incentives in the hopes that an airline will add an extra flight or two to the local schedule. The justification they cite is that local airports are powerful economic engines, central to business development and a sense of civic pride.

I suppose the question is whether you think airlines should serve smaller markets almost out of a sense of duty, or whether you think they should be permitted to fly whatever routes are most profitable for them. The market has already spoken on this issue — airlines are chasing profits — but not everyone agrees with what has happened. I hear often from advocates for L.A./Ontario International who believe airlines should add flights there to cut down on the number of car trips local residents must make to LAX. But airlines don’t really care if travelers who live near the Ontario airport must drive more than an hour to get to LAX. How you get to the airport is up to you.

As we know, many airports are chasing relatively little air service. Sharkey writes of Pittsburgh, where the market for new flights is soft:

Hope, of course, springs eternal. For example, Pittsburgh International Airport, still reeling from the effects of US Airways closing its huge hub there in 2004, is offering financial incentives and even looking for a new top executive in a major drive to entice new service. In 2009, with much of its international traffic gone, Pittsburgh offered $9 million in subsidies to persuade Delta Air Lines to begin a nonstop route to Paris. That service operates seasonally five days a week (this year starting April 27).

What do you think? Should airlines be more cognizant of doing the right thing to ensure that midsize cities aren’t left without connections to major cities? Or should they simply be able to fly to whatever cities are most profitable?

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