The nation's airlines are going through the most wrenching transition in their 80-year history, and last week's holiday travel delays gave a taste of what the future might be like...

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Holiday woes signal trouble ahead for airlines

The nation’s airlines are going through the most wrenching transition in their 80-year history, and last week’s holiday travel delays gave a taste of what the future might be like.

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Besides the storms that often foul up Christmas travel, a record number of passengers had to contend with fewer available flights, mountains of misplaced luggage, and, in some cases, overworked and less-than-helpful airline staff — all symptoms of an industry in the midst of a historic downsizing. Airlines are cutting back on routes and some may fold altogether.

For airline employees it’s a winter of discontent: They face deep wage cuts that may or may not protect their jobs. Labor relations have long challenged the industry, but now the internal turmoil is becoming more apparent to passengers.

While unions — particularly at troubled US Airways — have denied any organized effort, the large number of baggage handlers and flight attendants who called in sick over the holidays indicates the stress airline employees are under.

“There’s a lot of frustration among the employees — they’ve made significant sacrifices to keep their airlines running, their wages in many cases have been continually eroded,” said George Novak of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Transportation Department last week launched an investigation into what caused the holiday mess. There is a general consensus that some kind of reform of aviation labor laws is necessary to improve labor relations.

Before any reform of labor relations can take place, the major airlines have to find a way to stabilize their economic situation. “The only thing that the airlines really can work with right now that can have a big impact on savings is the cost of labor, and so that’s what they’re focusing on,” said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association in Washington. “It’s a painful situation for these employees that are going through it, but that’s the reality: There’s only one thing worse than lower pay — it’s no pay.”


These movies rule the places we like to visit

The greatest travel-inspiring movies, from Budget Travel magazine:

1. “The Sound of Music,” 1965 (Salzburg, Austria)

2. “A Room With a View,” 1985 (Florence/England)

3. “Lost in Translation,” 2003 (Tokyo)

4. “Amélie,” 2001 (Paris)

5. “Before Sunrise,” 1995 (Vienna)

6. “Out of Africa,” 1985 (Kenya)

7. “The Lord of the Rings,” 2001-03 (New Zealand)

8. “When Harry Met Sally,” 1989 (New York City)

9. “Moonraker,” 1979 (France, Venice, Brazil, Guatemala)

10. “Y Tu Mamá También,” 2001 (Mexico)

No, “Sleepless in Seattle” didn’t make the list …


Shazam! Wizard has own shopping mall

It’s as if someone waved a magic wand and opened Whimsic Alley, a new shopping and tourist attraction in Santa Monica, Calif. The place is more like a wizard mini-theme park than a shopping center.

A Hollywood set designer developed the interior, where small shops offer everything that a sophisticated or beginning wizard could want, from magic wands to wizard wear. HP Wizard Store boasts it has more Harry Potter items than any other store in the world.

While not all shops conform to the wizard theme, all deal with whimsy. One specializes in “Nightmare Before Christmas” products influenced by the Tim Burton film. Another specializes in “The Simpsons” gear.

Information: 310-453-2370 or


Cypress Gardens reopens with old favorites, new rides

When Cypress Gardens opened in 1936, it was one of Florida’s first theme parks. But it closed in 2003, unable to compete with Disney, Universal and other contemporary attractions.

It reopened last month with a new name — Cypress Gardens Adventure Park — and 38 rides in addition to its traditional botanical gardens, water-ski show and “belles” dressed in hoop skirts.

The new rides include the Triple Hurricane, a wooden roller coaster named for last summer’s storms; Swamp Thing, an inverted coaster; and Okeechobee Rampage, a family-friendly coaster.

A water park is set to open in the summer.

Admission through February is $29.95. For more information: 863-324-2111 or

Seattle Times staff and news services