Monday, July 26, 2010

My Experience Flying Delta To Madrid


After causing a minor security breach coming from the airport parking building, I quickly return to airport terminal.


Madrid 014 A brief check of the departure display board and I proceed to the Delta ticket counter to check in for my flight.






Madrid 015 Using a kiosk with the assistance of a Delta employee, the check in process is simple and easy even for an international flight.






Showing my identification and boarding pass to a TSA employee, I join a short security line for airport screening.

Using provided bins, I separate my travel companions. Canon and Samsung camera equipment in one bin, Acer notebook laptop in another.

Bare feet, I pass through the center (you should also) of the metal detector. Passing too close to the sides might set it off even if you have no metal on you.


Madrid 017 We start the boarding process about 40 minutes prior to departure on a relatively full flight. Arriving at the gate early, I have time to RELAX and browse the nearby concession shops.





$2.00 is steep for a 16oz bag of M&M's but I need a "melt in your mouth not in your hand" fix.

Delta757 My flight is on board a Boeing 757 where I am assigned a window seat. Leaving the gate on time, the airplane suddenly goes dark as it loses power.

A nearby passenger is quick to note, “They did say to turn off all electrical devices”. This causes a burst of laughter and my flight is off to a humorous start.


The Captain informs us about the situation and the problem is quickly resolved. Apparently, the aircraft auxiliary power unit (APU) had shutdown.


Madrid 024 Airborne, I get a nice view of South Florida coastline and building afternoon thunderstorms in the distance.

Further north a glimpse of America's Space Coast and Cape Canaveral, the Space Shuttle launch site.


Madrid 029 Before long we are descending into Atlanta for an on time arrival.

A 3 hour sit at Atlanta Hartsfield's, the world's busiest airport, gives me time to RELAX and explore what the airport has to offer.





Madrid 040 En-route to my next gate, I deny myself the indulgence of a 3 for 1 Caramel Apple Special.








Madrid 043 Or Sam Adams Beer.








Madrid 044 Following the sounds of black and ivory notes, I am thinking “Play us a song” as I approach The Piano Bar located in Terminal E.








Madrid 046 About an hour before departure I am at the boarding gate for my flight to Madrid.

For security reasons, passengers must be on board international flights at least 30 minutes prior to departure.

Failure to do so can lead to denied boarding as bags are removed for passengers that do not actually board the flight.


For an on time departure, airlines must have sufficient time to do so hence the 30 minute cut-off.

This evening the flight time is about 8 hours and 30 minutes to Madrid. On board a Boeing 767, the seats are relatively comfortable with individual seat back entertainment.

My plan as always on international flights is to attempt to adjust my body time to my new destination. It is almost 1am in Madrid as Spain is six hours ahead of east coast time.

Somewhere over the North Atlantic dinner is served. A night cap with a guy named Jack and a girl named Ginger (Jack Daniels and Canada Dry Ginger Ale) and I vaguely remember reclining seat.


Madrid 054 Peeking from behind heavy eyelids, I open a window shade and Delta 108 is well into it’s descent for Madrid, Spain.





Now I am taking in a view of Spain from thousands of feet up in the air. The skies above are clear and blue accented only by an occasional whisper cloud.


Madrid 052The air below is also clear and gives a great view of the Spanish landscape.







Madrid 059 With the morning sun warming it's left side, the airplane's shadow follows us all the way to a smooth touchdown.








Spain 178 Bienvenido, A Madrid!










Friday, July 23, 2010

Airlines Lose Court Case



supreme_court_building In a decision that may eventually help reduce airport congestion and delays, a US Court of Appeals ruled that airports can impose varying landing fees throughout the day at congested airports.




How airlines react to this decision may lead to reduced delays at airports like New York La Guardia or Chicago O'Hare.

A major contributing factor to airport delays is airport and airspace congestion. Airlines contribute to this problem by having too many flights operating at congested airports. For the stated case of remaining competitive, airlines will operate numerous flights with smaller aircraft between certain paired cities.


Comair As an example, some airlines offer what is called “Shuttle Service”. These flights offer hourly or less than hourly service usually between two high density airports.

Many times these routes (New York, Boston, Chicago) are flown by 50-90 seat aircraft that require most of the same airport and airspace considerations.



Southwest 737 The same amount of seats can be offered by one 150 seat airplane compared to three 50 seat airplanes. While schedule frequency would be reduced so would the amount of airplanes.

Even passengers inconvenienced by scheduling changes will benefit if over all airport congestion and delays are reduced.



By imposing higher landing fees at certain times of the day airports hope to influence airline scheduling policies. Although I am not fond of government intervention in business sometimes it becomes necessary.

I agree with the court's decision in the case of Department Of Transportation versus The Air Transport Association (ATA). The court stated, “As the airspace is used ever more intensively, it is unsurprising that the department would update its approach to landing fees in an effort to relieve airport congestion”.


airport-cancellations-def I hope both parties will use this decision to update their approaches to solving other problems effecting air travel congestion and delays.






Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Truth About Airlines Tarmac Horror Stories


717plane1c_big I sense that there is a belief among many that airlines have done less than nothing to avoid “tarmac horror stories”.

This belief goes along with the logic that “The airlines should have come up with a solution when they had the chance (which they had for YEARS). And – again – they not only did nothing; they basically “stuck it” to the government and the flying public”.


Some facts for you:

In 2006, 36 out of 7,141,922 flights reported had delays of more than five hours after pushing back from the gate. That is just 0.0005 percent, or five ten-thousandths of a percent.

Delays and cancellations are the enemies of every airline. DOT has estimated the cost of delays to U.S. airline passengers in 2005 at $9.4 billion. At $62 in direct operating costs per minute of flight delay, DOT has estimated that in 2005 delays cost airlines an additional $5.9 billion.


american-airlines-boeing-767-300er-transportation-aircraft-290132The TRUTH and point here is “tarmac horror stories” are extremely rare in the big picture and hurt airlines as much as passengers (if not more).

The TRUTH is most passengers prefer to take the chance of delays than to have their flights canceled.





f09a349736b183523bec Airlines sometimes in extreme situations miscalculate the effects on weather and delays on airport operations. It is only then that passengers may find themselves in this unfortunate situation.




To my knowledge, all “tarmac horror stories” have involved unforeseeable weather situations and delays. Having stranded passengers is an unfortunate situation not an intentional one.

Ac Fueling Every flight a major airline operates is done with a contingency plan. If the weather is forecast to be bad at your destination then extra fuel and alternate airports are chosen.

If you are flying from DFW to FLL where bad weather or delays are forecast. You can rest assure your flight has a contingency plan. MIA or MCO may be alternate airports where extra fuel can be boarded. Sure you don't want to go to MIA or MCO but this has to be an option for additional fuel or services your flight might need before it can land in FLL.


Airplanes are designed to have flexibility in their normal mode of operation but are limited by fuel and passenger or load configuration. Any airplane cannot fly forever, it can run out of gas just like your car might except you have more options.

Therefore, even with a contingency plan to get you safely to your destination without a “tarmac horror story”, your flight will have limitations.

Airlines gain nothing by creating these situations and I can guarantee you they do their best to avoid them as the statistics from 2006 prove. Again, only 36 out of 7,141,922 flights reported had delays of more than five hours after pushing back from the gate.


Archy Bunker Yes, that is potentially 36 “tarmac horror stories” and I would not wish anyone to be in that situation.



Yet, if you consider a 0.0005 % occurrence rate as airlines not being responsible or doing less than nothing then I am afraid you have an unrealistic expectation of airlines and air travel.

This is hardly a case of “stick it to the government and the flying public” and The Passenger's Bill Of Rights is useless government intervention. For sure you will see less “tarmac horror stories”.

passenger boarding However, this will come at the expense of you being possibly further delayed when your flight is canceled by your airline to avoid paying ridiculous government fines.






Often comparison is made to EU regulations but they are mostly meaningless. The EU operates it airlines and airspace differently than in the US. Furthermore, European passengers have other reliable means of public transportation and the volume of air traffic does not compare to US operations. An airline with 600 daily departures can hardly be compared to one with 3,400.


Steaming%20mad It seems people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to airlines and air travel. This only leads to disappointment for something that can otherwise be a pleasant experience.







Thursday, July 15, 2010

Passengers Are Rotting On Airplanes



Canon 401 Many people have concerns that they may find themselves trapped on an airplane for extended periods of time even with the new Passenger's Bill of Rights.




As in the past even before the recent legislation, I think passengers will find this more and more less likely.


Terminal Passengers Instead, what they will find is more and more canceled flights or more and more time sitting in an airport terminal.

With the possibility of hefty fines, millions of dollars per airplane, most airlines will not risk operations that will drain their already cash strapped accounts.



What will airlines do?

  1. Delay boarding you on your flight.

  2. Cancel your flight all together.

As many experienced with the recent storms that effected the New York area in the past few days. Flights to JFK and La Guardia (LGA) were simply canceled. I would venture to say many of those cancellations were driven by the Passenger's Bill of Rights.


airport-cancellations-def You don't have to worry about passengers rotting on airplanes if you have no airplanes flying passengers. Without the legislation I am sure many passengers would have made it to their destinations.

Yes, 3 or 4 or 5 hours late but not 24 or 36 hours after sleeping in an airport terminal or providing their own hotel accommodations.


Airlines are not required to provide accommodations for passengers with weather related cancellations or delays.

What are the solutions to not rotting on an airplane?

For departures, passengers should not be allowed to board an airplane until that flight has a guaranteed airborne departure time within one hour. If passengers must be delayed then they should be required to wait in the boarding area.


People Mover


For arrivals, airports should be required to provide a means to deplane passengers away from the terminal. This can be a complicated process since the airport itself is a secure area that has to remain secure regardless of weather or other issues. In addition, passengers cannot be randomly deplaned on the airport property.


Qantas-747 International flights must clear customs and immigration before they can be deplaned.

With weather or air traffic control issues, airlines make educated calculations on being able to operate a flight safely. Sometimes things do not work out as planned and you can end up with worse case scenarios.


Some would suggest this represents the airlines “sticking it to the flying public”. As these are rare isolated incidents, I would strongly disagree and here's why.

American for example operates over 3400 daily departures and I imagine that less than 100 (3%) of AA flights are canceled or delayed more than 3 hrs on any given day.


4743818263_77db0a8f15 Of course, if it happens on your flight then to you the numbers are irrelevant.

Yet in considering whether or not American is “sticking it to you”, you would have to compare your flight in terms of the other 97% of American flights that operated as scheduled.



No reasonable person could conclude that American is “sticking it to the public” if 97% of it’s passengers are getting to their destinations in a timely manner.

These types of statistics do not show a chronic problem just isolated incidents.


1999 Storm Years ago a snowstorm hit Detroit worse than predicted. As a result, even airport snowplow drivers responsible for keeping runways, taxi ways and ramp areas clear could not make it to work.

Airplanes that landed at DTW became stuck unable to get to the terminal because the city did not or could not provide the required airport services.


Northwest Airlines and others depend on airports for snow removal in order to operate safely. Things did not work out as planned and NWA took the blame. Interestingly, airlines pay airports for these services and most if not all airport operations are a partnership between airlines and the local airport authority.

This incident became the birth of the Passenger's Bill Of Rights.


winter_weather_intro In subsequent years as a solution NWA and other airlines just canceled flights when a bad storm was forecast to severely impact their operations.

There are not many options available when airlines face severe weather issues and now government fines.




The trick is to find a balance. Airlines are in the business to safely transport you from Point A to B and do so rather well with a few exceptions. These exceptions do not justify legislation and ridiculous fines which will ultimately lead to passengers delays through flight cancellations.


Who’s Flying My Airplane?



Snoopy Depending on the airplane and/or airline that you will be flying to your destination, the combined years of flying experience of your flight crew can be from as little as 4 years to over 60 years.







Airplane Tails Major airlines typically have more experienced flight deck crews than regional carriers. Regardless of which you fly, airline and government (FAA) policies work to protect the safety of your flight.



Given a choice, I would fly a major airline although I do not feel any less safe on board a regional carrier. Major airlines tend to offer better creature comforts but on short haul flights you may not have a choice.


Inside CRJ Inside Of A Regional Jet

I am disappointed when airlines put some of these smaller aircraft on long distance routes.

Going from Newark (EWR) to say Minneapolis (MSP) for me is far more comfortable on a 150 seat aircraft instead of one with 50 seats.




Inside 737 Inside Of 737 Jet



Simulator At significant cost, most airlines through their flight training departments keep their pilots up to date with the latest information and technology regarding safe aircraft operations.




At least once a year pilots are tested on their knowledge of the airplane they operate. In addition, they must demonstrate proficient skills in various procedures including emergency maneuvers.


EKG Chart Along with meeting skill proficient requirements, all airline pilots must also pass a federally mandated (FAA) medical examination which may require an age dependent EKG.


This is done every 12 months except for airlines that require pilots in command (Captains) to do so every 6 months. Not by any means a presidential physical but airline pilots are required to be in good general health.

To facilitate good health and safety, limitations are placed on the amount of hours a pilot can fly per day, week, month and per year. Additionally, rest requirements are imposed during the work day by contract and federal law.


Thunderstorm Sunset In bad weather situations your flight may require a new crew if your original crew, as is said in the business “times out”.

The airline tracks pilot flight and duty times but ultimately it is up to the individual pilot to determine his or her physical ability to continue flying safely. Not every 8 hrs of flying is the same everyday.

A short night at a noisy hotel after a long day of flying around thunderstorms can leave a pilot not feeling quite up to par for a 6:45 am flight.



A fatigued pilot can compromise safety and there are mechanisms in place at most airlines to deal with such situations without penalizing a flight crew member. In my opinion, a delayed departure or canceled flight is much better than one flown by a fatigued pilot.

Once in the air you can not just pull over if your head starts doing snap rolls. Flying an airplane safely requires alertness that cannot and should not be stimulated by “Red Bull”.

Jokes are occasionally made about pilots being drunk or too tired to fly. Despite previous newsworthy lapse in judgment, pilots are prohibited by law from drinking at least 8 hours before flying. Contractually, this can be even more restrictive.


Late Show If you have a great drunk or tired pilot joke, save it for your appearance on “The Late Night Show” with David Letterman.

Any accusations made as a joke or otherwise may lead to your flight being canceled.

Only an insane pilot would continue to fly with such accusations and that would be nuts.


Most pilots will leave the flight deck for immediate drug and alcohol testing, it is an issue that is not taken lightly.

Interestingly, pilots are also restricted on what medications can be taken and are prohibited by time limits from donating blood or scuba diving before reporting for work.

These are just some of the issues and safeguards in place for the men and women that will be flying you to your family and friends.


Leonardo Dicaprio Everyday thousands of these men and women in uniform perform their jobs with a high degree of professionalism, all a part of what will allow you to have a pleasant airline experience.

Now that you know a little about them, next time I will tell you about how they fly those magnificent machines.




Monday, July 12, 2010

Airlines Pay $27,000 Per Passenger


I am told about a recent event that highlights the problems and misunderstandings of the new passengers bill of rights.


piggy-bank-on-money-md1 With a mechanical delay, it was decided to deplane about 200 passengers to avoid the new 3 Hr Delay Limit.




Noticing one lady remaining seated, a flight attendant approaches and again begins to inform her of the need to deplane.  To the flight attendant's surprise, the customer stated she would prefer to stay on the airplane and get paid the $27,000!


Qantas-747-400-0 One particular airline flies a 747-400 with approximately 400 passengers. If it has to pay the fines on just one fully loaded airplane how much would it be?


Wait here's a calculator. $108,00,000 for passengers on ground longer than 3 HR time limit. That’s just for one flight. What if this airlines has 2 flight delays?  Wow!

OK,  so which airline is going to pay that kind of a fine?

Given the option to return to gate, deplane passengers or cancel a flight completely without fines or penalties. What should a cash strapped and financially responsible airline do?

Any option it chooses except paying a fine will only delay your flight further.


untitled The passenger bill of rights is bad for passengers and airlines because it does not address the real main issues of the delays weather and air traffic control restrictions.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

I Caused An Airport Security Breach



Polaroid Camera While checking in for a recent flight to Madrid, I discover my camera case with about $800.00 worth of camera equipment is missing.






Old Camera In a panic, I search the nearby area and then race back to my parked car.





peter_sellers_inspector_clouseau_pi3 Thinking I had left it there in my excitement for my trip. Out of breath, I am disappointed.

Calming down, I start thinking what would Chief Inspector Cousteau do.

Does your camera take pictures?





I quickly realized that I must have left it on the bus that bought me from airport parking to my departure terminal. Returning to my original pick up point , I see my bus driver and his bus parked away from all the other buses.

I explained my situation and he tells me he does have a camera case on board but the airport police has been called. Unaware of the contents of left behind  items or as in the airport unattended bags, he is following airport security procedures.

Fortunately, I am able to plead my case and the airport police response team is called off. I don't know to what extent this may have further developed as a security issue had I not been able to claim my camera case so quickly. Thanks, Chief Inspector.

However, there is a lesson to learn here for myself and others.