Archive for the airline cartoon Category

Air Travel: 3 Simple Ways to Make Your Summer Flights Easy

Posted in airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet flight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2014 by Chris Manno

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Summer time air travel can be stressful, but there are practical and simple things you can do to make your trip easier. Here are my top 3 simple ways to make your summer air travel as efficient and low stress as possible.

1. Information: install the smart phone apps for the travel services that apply to your trip (airline, hotel, rental car) and take a few minutes before your trip to set them up with “push” notifications so you will automatically be notified of gate changes, delays and even rebooking. If you’re notified of a delay by the airline, having a hotel, rental car or resort app installed will put you in touch with those important services quickly and easily. Your pharmacy’s smart phone prescription app can speed you through the refill process in a distant city, or transfer prescriptions in many cases.

 

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Many airline apps let you rebook instantly, avoiding long waits in a customer service line, and can outline your options quickly without you having to navigate a website. Best of all, you can beat the rush when re-booking is necessary. On some airlines–American Airlines is one–you can use the airline’s app and website in flight through the on-board WIFI for free.

On taxi in, when you’re cleared to use your cell phone, you will be notified–if you authorized “push” notifications–of your next gate accurately if you’re connecting, or your baggage claim if your travel is complete. The gate agents pull that info 10-15 minutes before your gate arrival, and we print it out in flight 30-40 minutes prior to landing. But your “push” notifications will be more timely and accurate than the other two sources.

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You can delete any travel apps you don’t need later, but while you’re on the move, there’s no quicker or more accurate way to get the answers you need to your immediate travel needs. Install the apps, know how they work, and use them to stay ahead of the crowd–especially in case of cancellations, delays or gate changes.

2. Survival gear. First, count on none of your basic needs being met: food, water, shelter. Provide all three yourself. First, food: if you can’t buy something in the terminal to take along–and often you can’t–better have whatever compact, long shelf life calories source you can pack: power bars, granola bars–whatever you prefer that will stave off hunger.

Ditto for water: you “can” get water on board, but the question is when, and sometimes, how–are you in the back and they’re starting the beverage service from the front? Or vice versa? Or is it too turbulent to safely move about the cabin for passengers or crew? Just have a liter of bottled water handy per person, then don’t worry about it.

Finally, “shelter:” dress for the trip, not the destination. That resort-wear will not keep you warm in a chilly cabin, particularly on long flights. And here’s a crew secret: your flight attendants are active, working, and blanketed in layers of polyester. Who do you think calls us to ask for changes in the cabin temp? If they’re melting under the uniform layers, you’re going to wish you weren’t in shorts and a tank top, because we’re more likely to hear “cool it down” than “warm it up” from our working crew in back.

cabin freeze

3. Consolidate: all vitals and valuables in one hand-carried, locked bag. Medication, documents and here’s the big one–valuables, like your watch, wallet and any jewelry MUST go into this one locked bag BEFORE security. Why would you ever–and I see this all the time–put your wallet, watch, cell phone and other valuables into an open container on an unmonitored conveyer belt? Why not consolidate them all and then after you’ve successfully passed through security screening, retrieve your items from your locked bag?

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And locked is the key: if you’re pulled aside for additional screening, do you want all of your valuables laying out in the open, outside your reach and often, out of your sight? Even if that one locked bag requires extra screening, the lock ensures it will only be searched in your presence.

The final part of “consolidate” applies to your personal belongings: do NOT disperse your items all over your seat area. It’s a sure way to leave an item on a plane, a fact that is borne out by the number of passports, wallets, personal entertainment devices, tablets, keys and phones that turn up on overnight cleaning of aircraft. If you leave valuables, much less valuable documents like a passport, in the seat back pocket or anywhere else, you’ll likely never see them again. And speaking of “seeing” them, the normal climbs, descents, banking and on landing, braking will cause whatever loose items you may leave or drop on the floor to end up rows away. Even if you check your immediate area before deplaning, some items might have vanished. So don’t scatter your belongings about! Return items to your hand carried bag immediately after use or when not in use.

Face it–air travel is stressful as it is, but a lot of stress can be alleviated by these three steps. Information is king when you’re departing, trying to connect, or are changing plans on the fly due to delays or cancellations. Get the apps, set them up, and use them. Stay hydrated, fed, and warm to ease the physical stress. And finally, move smart: consolidate your valuables and do not let your personal items become strewn about your seating or waiting areas on board or in the terminal. Inflight forces will help them slide away, or if you leave them inadvertently, chances are slim that you’ll ever recover those items.

Follow these simple steps–and have a good flight and a great vacation.

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Flight Crew Like You: The Airline Cartoon Book Now Available

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by Chris Manno

Finally, collected and published, the JetHead firsthand cartoon view of air travel, airlines and flight crews:

cover lined

Here’s the insider, behind-the-scenes look at the world of airlines, air travel and flight crews!

This all-original cartoon collection takes you inside the flight crew world on the flightline, flying trips, facing the ups and downs of flight crew life from an insider’s perspective. The 74 pages of cartoons in this collection are must-haves for anyone who is an air traveler, a frequent flyer, or a crewmember–or hoping to be!

Available now on Amazon–just click the link below.

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 Here’s a sneak preview of just a few of the cartoons in this book:

bumpy

black box

lady deuce

SpecCoff lg

Get your copy now–just click the button below:

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Flight Crew Talk: The Beatings Will Continue.

Posted in airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet flight, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2013 by Chris Manno

What we have here . . . is a failure to communicate.

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard for crewmembers to communicate in flight–we have the technology; interphone, PA system, headsets and handsets–even our oxygen masks on the flight deck are wired for sound.

Nonetheless, once the cockpit door is closed, communication dies a slow, miserable death and as captain–it’s YOU taking the Cool Hand Luke beating from the Road Boss.

You don’t like it, I don’t like it–but that’s the way he wants it . . . so he gets it.

Let’s start with what’s usually the first salvo, fired right as we climb through ten thousand feet. That’s the magic end of “sterile cockpit,” which is the time period when flight attendants know non-essential communications with the pilots is prohibited because it’s a phase of flight requiring our concentration in the cockpit, and distractions are not welcome. I have answered the crew interphone when we’ve received a call below 10,000 feet with the admonishment, “We’d better be on fire if you’re calling me now.”

But above ten thousand, here it comes: “Can you turn down the air?”

Sigh. What does that even mean? More cold air? More hot air? Higher temperature? Turn down? So begins twenty questions: “What is it you want?” Sadly, though, the whole thing is our own fault or, honestly, usually the F/O’s fault.

ac tempThat’s because F/Os just CANNOT LEAVE THE TEMP CONTROLS ALONE. This is especially true of those with lingering brain damage from the MD-80, which essentially had a caveman vintage air conditioning system that DID require a lot of tweaking. On take-off, at full power, it could make snow in the back if you didn’t nudge the temp control valve off of the full-cold stop.

Not so with the Boeing–but F/Os HAVE to mess with it anyway–even though if the temp was comfortable on the ground, the Boeing will maintain that in flight.Nope–F/Os have to mess with it, have to do something, even though automatically, it’s fine left alone.

And that brings on the second failure to communicate. Inevitably, the F/O has to argue, usually tossing out, “Well, the duct temp says 75 degrees.”

phone cockpit

Unfortunately, the crew interphone system is a party line, and the flight attendants are listening. Sigh. They don’t give a damn about the duct temp–neither do I–they just know if they’re comfortable.  But that’s the pilot pigheadedness: we already know everything.

To reiterate, as I bump all three compartment temps down, just leave it alone, and give them whatever the hell they want. What do you care? You’re not back there.

Plus, use your head: this is a senior turnaround flight, with senior flight attendants swathed in layers of polyester, hauling carts and traipsing up and down the aisle. You think they want heat? You think I do? Sitting in the gazebo, direct sunlight–I constantly reach over and call for more cool air. You’re cold? Too bad–next flight, bring a sweater.

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Now, let’s visit the cruise portion of our non-communication. The primary voice passengers hear is the PA, which announces information pertinent to our flight, like arrival time and weather. That’s key information for travelers and crew alike. But, there’s a catch: flight attendants can’t hear the PA.

For flight attendants, the PA is like a dog whistle: we can all hear it, average dogs that we are, but flight attendants are oblivious. You could have just said over the PA “we’ll be landing in one hour” and within minutes, the interphone chime will go off and the question will be, “When are we landing?” And not just once, because not only do flight attendants not hear the PA, they don’t talk to each other either. So you’ll get the same call two, maybe three times.

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And never mind that you’ve given them a hard copy of the flight time before takeoff, and that they’ve typed that information into the touch screen at their station controlling the passenger information and entertainment system . . .

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. . . and that touchscreen, if they look at it, will tell them how much longer we have left in the flight. But, that would mean they’d have to look at their watch, then do the math. Especially when we’re landing in a different time zone–it’s easier to just call up front and ask me. Right?

Well, maybe not me. My answer is usually relative: “About ten minutes early.” Which means: look at your watch. This is your flight–know your own schedule.

Or, look at the gee-whiz panel at your station, counting down the minutes. Or, do the unthinkable: ask one of your colleagues in the back? Nah. Whether it’s the temperature or the time, rather than ask each other, just call up front. All of you–not one call, but four, because you can’t hear the dog whistle or talk to each other. Even had a fifth flight attendant, just riding the aft jumpseat home 130 feet behind me, ask me to “cool off the back.” Seriously?

Okay, it’s a given: we work together, fly together, even all talk–sometimes at once–to each other. We just don’t communicate very well. So, my new policy is this: any time the crew interphone chimes, I look to the F/O and say, “It’s for you.” He’s the one screwing up the temp anyway.

And at least I’m happy, and that’s a start.

sunset contrail

Un-Pilotish: Just Say No.

Posted in airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, airliner, flight, flight crew, jet with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2013 by Chris Manno

STAR TW

Top of descent with a hundred knots of tailwind. You’ve been asking for a descent for the last forty miles with no success, and you know why: outbounds are climbing below you and worse, they’re staying low nose to nose because of what’s been a tailwind for you since the west coast–but which would be a headwind for them westbound.

So it’s the double-whammy: high, and hot; closing on the altitude crossing restrictions are cramping the descent algorithm–there’s not enough “forward” left to to execute a civilized “down.”

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“Cross Fever at 11,000 and 250 knots,” comes the ATC instructions, and I immediately think of a captain I used to fly with in the 1980s who would have, without hesitation, answered, “We can do it–but we’ll have to leave the airplane behind.” Instead, I just say, “Unable.”

I know, I know: we probably could make the crossing restriction, but why play the odds? And if you’ve flown long enough, you know the odds are about 90% that this ain’t the end of the story: the Dreaded Hypotenuse. That is:

STAR TW direct

You’re going to get cleared direct to another point, shaving off the miles of “forward” you were counting on to execute the “down” at a civilized rate–with the same crossing restriction. Last month up in New York Center I heard a commuter pilot on frequency asking for relief on a crossing restriction he had innocently enough accepted fifty miles back: “Can we get relief on that crossing restriction?”

Without missing a beat, NY Center replied, “Absolutely not.” Now who wishes they were a heretic–or wants to leave the airplane behind?

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And there’s the problem: “unable” is, well, un-pilotish. Which is actually not a bad thing to strive for. Here’s what I’m thinking: for some reason, the “cultural” aspect of being a pilot has insidiously taken on a life of its own: we can do anything, best any challenge, defy gravity, wear ridiculously big watches

–which is a latent “Flavor Flav” urge driving many pilots, which I’ve never understood–and sometimes we forget in the “never say no”  to a challenge mindset that one person we should more often say no to is ourselves. Still with me? Let’s have a new captain flashback.

MFE 31

Fog creeping up the Rio Grande Valley like a ghost; moonless night dark as space. Tons of gas, literally, and paper calculations that equal one good approach to minimums, then divert to San Antonio. Tidy plan. Works well on paper.

Unable? My ass: can do!

OAT 1

After the first missed approach (wow, the ceiling really is below the minimum descent altitude) the new captain consults the F-100’s “Progress–Fuel Predict” readout, which shows enough endurance for a second approach–then a divert to San Antonio.

Today’s captain voice-in-the-head, some 20 years more experienced, says, “Tell yourself no, stupid!” Divert now. For the record–then and now–I’ve never had a big pilot watch, or aviator sunglasses, or a creepy mustache, or any of the other silliness that seems to be part of the pilot stereotype. But I did have that “never back down from a challenge” mentality that I guess lands you in the cockpit in the first place.

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“We’re requesting one more ILS, with clearance on request to San Antonio on the missed approach,” the intrepid First Officer relayed to the Approach Controller. Fine, thought the new captain; we can do this.

Second approach, same result: pea soup. On the second missed approach, Departure control sends us to Enroute: “State your request.”

We’d like to go direct San Antonio at 14,000′. San Antonio is now 1/8th mile visibility in fog.  You planning to hold?

Actually, planning to just say no–first to myself, then anyone else offering an uncertain gamble, challenge or no, in flight from now on. How unpilotish–and yet, common-sensical.

We raced the sinking temperature-dewpoint spread blanketing the state south to north with fog and landed in Austin with less fuel than I’d ever seen on the gages before–although my base Chief Pilot, over a couple of beers, told me he’d actually landed with less. He’s a “say no” guy now, too.

And that’s the whole deal: say “no” early–and often. Let Air Traffic Control manage their own airspace congestion without expecting an airshow on your part. Talk yourself out of any bad bets before anyone can even suggest you play the odds.

And above all–avoid the pilot stereotype.  It really doesn’t fly well, despite the mythology.

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Dear Santa: The Airline Pilot Wish List

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, cartoon with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2012 by Chris Manno

December 2012

Subject: Wish List

From: Blog, JetHead

To: Claus, Santa

Sir:

As you know, it’s that time of year again. How about if we go ahead and stipulate the facts from last year: no, I haven’t been “good,” whatever that is, and neither have you so let’s drop that subject.

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And yes, I have more than I probably deserve, what with a good gig in the Boeing left seat, seniority to be a little picky (still flying the all-nighter, Fatman? Bummer.) trip-wise.  So this year, on my Wish List, I’m asking for less:

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For starters, how about a little less “ice fog?” I know, for you it’s “no big deal,” Rudolph, red nose, blah-blah-blah. But for me, it’s a Category III approach hand-flown to a fifty foot decision height (admit it: you’re cheating with the “red nose” crap, aren’t you?) which is no easy trick. Yes, I do appreciate the HUD you sent me on the Boeing two years ago . . .

. . . but despite the cosmic technology, less ice fog, more VFR this winter, please.

Also, less “fine dining.” I’m not talking about in flight, like this:

food

Or the usual Pie in the Sky that I keep eating to see if I can grow an ass as fat as yours:

pie

Instead, I’m referring to the more typical “in airport” fine dining like this:

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This is more the norm for “fine” airport “dining,” and it’s all too familiar to have not enough time for anything other than a five minute “shove a burger down your throat” experience at an airport food court between flights. Or worse, depending on the layover hotel and the local weather.

Which is another thing an airline pilot could do with less of: layover hotels.

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I know you never do overnights in hotels, but those of us who do at least 150 days a year would appreciate a little less. Because depending on the location, the foraging for food can become pretty grim as well.

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Got Imodium?

In fact, there’s the main thing all flight crews would like less of: less hotels, lines, vans, crowds, airport “security,” bad nights of sleep in noisy hotels, scant food, long hours and if you’re still with me, here’s the one thing we all want more of: home.

Because on Christmas, just like every holiday, birthday, anniversary or significant milestone any family ever dreamed up, there will be flight crews in the air or worse, stuck on the ground in “that hotel,” wishing for a little more home and a lot less away.

I know, Fatman, that isn’t the deal: flying means away–a lot. So just knowing that of the things I want less I’m going to get more and more; and the things I want more I’m going to have less and less (what are we up to now, 19 flight days a month?), we’ll just forget about your “list,” I’ll behave as awful as I always do this year, and we’ll call it even.

Thanks for nothing,

JetHead

P.S. When are you going to learn how to bid?

santa all nighter

A Pilot’s Eye View Part 1: The Way I See It.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2012 by Chris Manno

If you’re a pilot, you probably see things about flying differently.  And it starts first thing in the morning.

Not so much looking at what’s in the local area, because you’re not spending any time there, right? It’s what’s happening across your route of flight that matters. There are other jets in the air transiting the route now, and their reports will affect the route, altitude and speed of your flight a couple hours from now, so you at least want to know what’s up and what the route planning for your flight is based on.

Okay, NOW you pay attention to more than just the road: which way is the prevailing surface wind? There are cues everywhere, but the most obvious and the most significant is, which way are the planes taking off?

And you’re headed north; they’re taking off south, means a longer departure with a big turnaround, so a longer outbound flight, right? Bad news?

Actually, no, it’s good news: you’re coming BACK from the north, so landing south will save you a few minutes on the go-home leg. That’s key.

Double check your gate. Of course, the smart pilot (or smart passenger) has even more current gate and flight information on a smart phone:

Just getting around the giant DFW Airport (the entire island of Manhattan could fit within the airfield boundary) takes time, but the payoff is in the sight of your jet from the Skylink train. I never get tired of spotting “my jet” from afar.

It’s a good feeling, knowing the jet’s fueled and ready to do your bidding for a day, to cross a few thousand miles and return to earth a workday later.

Now, I’m not a big “outside guy,” meaning I’m not a First Officer so the aircraft external inspection–we call it “the walkaround”–is not my preflight duty. But I’ll take you downstairs just this once.

You’ve got your head in the nose gear well–tow bar’s hooked up, ready for pushback. The red streamer is the pin in the steering bypass valve: the power to the tiller in the cockpit is disabled during pushback because with the cockpit nosewheel steering powered, any rudder movement will be transmitted to the nose wheel at about 3,000 psi of hydraulic pressure. They’ll show you that pin right before you taxi so you know your steering is enabled once again.

Now here’s a really cool feature that ought to make anyone who ever flies anywhere stand up and say, “I love Boeing jets.”  Seriously, this is amazing:

Your head’s now in the main wheel well, in the center of the fuselage–just look at the green light: that’s Boeing’s pure genius at work, it’s a nitrogen generator that fills the fuel tanks as they empty with inert, non-flammable nitrogen gas. Will not burn or explode no matter what happens in or to the fuel tank. How smart is that? And what a safety feature.

Okay, below, that’s the “vacuum zone” marked out in red: if that engine is running, you don’t want to be anywhere near the red zone, as it will literally suck you off your feet and into the engine. I’ve seen these CFM-56 engines create such a vacuum ahead of the intake that moisture from the concrete swirls up off the tarmac in a swirl and into the engines.

Here’s one main gear strut:

This is the main set of “sneakers” for the jet: they’re inflated to 200 psi and will roll up to 190 mph on some take-offs.

Really got to love the fat Boeing wing. And it sits higher off the ground than the MD-80’s spindly wing–after 10,000+ flight hours in the MD-80, this thing looks huge. Stay heads-up on the ramp: there’s ground traffic zipping every which way around your aircraft, and with hearing protection in use, you won’t hear them coming.

And watch out for jet blast from other aircraft adding breakaway power to start their taxi or pivot. See why I don’t come down here that often?

And back around the left wing . . .

Okay, satisfied? But while the exterior inspection is going on, here’s the captain’s biz you need to attend to. The flight plan, which, as you were already thinking about, will have a lot of assumptions based on the early flyers–which may or may not be valid now.

So you think fuel numbers based on your best instincts: winds? Ride? Weather enroute?

It’s all about creating and preserving options, and that’s all about fuel. Trust your instincts–if you think you need more, you do. Get it.

There’s the info sheet for the cabin crew–they’ll program that into the Boeing system that makes the PA’s with the video of the safety demo.

Seems impossibly calm and quiet when the jet’s empty, doesn’t it?

But it won’t been empty for long. The caterers have been here . . .

All’s well below and in back, so now it’s at last time for you to head into the flight deck.

First thing, get the dual Inertial Reference Units cooking. They’re just about at eye level when you step into the cockpit.

Next, stow your suitcase in the cubbyhole behind your seat:

Kitbag slides in beside the seat–no, there’s not much room, but it is what it is.

Now sit yourself down:

Get the instrument lights up:

Time to fire up your side of the cockpit: lights, displays; IRUs to align, comm cords, headset, pertinent paperwork; get the official weather off of the printer and make sure it agrees with the take-off performance planning–if not, adjust the plan. Consider the wind and the power setting.

A glance around the cockpit, scanning panels and at once you know every switch is where it should be or if not, you set it where it needs to be:

Now, you’re ready to go. Once the First Officer is settled in, we’ll check all of the navigation and performance data in the Flight Management System, verify the flight route clearance and waypoints, then run the checklists to get this 170,000 pound machine with 166 people on board into the air.

That story will be part two, coming soon.

What’s it like to be a flight attendant at a major airline?

What kind of lifestyle and career comes with a position as a flight attendant?

We get first person answers from a career flight attendant: the ups and downs, the joys and pains.

Next, on JetHead Live!

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Airport Insanity: The Things You Hear.

Posted in airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, cartoon with tags , , on August 5, 2012 by Chris Manno

Airport insanity has a lot to do with the craziness you hear–and I’m not talking about things passengers say. Yet.

Butt first and foremost, I’m talking about what passes for official “information,” and one set of “officials” are repeat offenders:

We’ll remind you of the proper procedure after you’ve successfully accomplished it.

That’s right: it’s the “security” people. And the noise they makes repeats itself throughout the secure side of the terminal, dozens of times every hour:

“All liquids must be in three ounce or less containers . . .”

Plus other “information” the passengers clearly already know–or they wouldn’t have made it through the security checkpoint. Why are we constantly dunned with the instructions we’ve already complied with? Is there just not enough noise and chaos without the irrelevant instructions for what we’ve already accomplished? Where does this insatiable need to tell people what to do after they’ve already done it come from?

Or the other standard announcement, “Passengers should monitor bags at all times to avoid carrying objects without their knowledge.”  Never mind the fact that this literally means without the objects’ knowledge, not the passenger’s. Either way you look at it, the announcement makes no sense: if it’s without your knowledge, how can you prevent it?

Excuse me, but are things going on without your knowledge?

Now, on to the airlines.

It’s once again obscuring the significant with the obvious, with classic PA announcements like, “This will serve as a gate change announcement . . .”

Who cares about “this,” when the important information is the not the announcement itself, but rather the information? Is it really vital to describe the medium (see photo above) in order to convey the information? Would the added verbiage be confusing to the average passenger, much less one with language or hearing impairments?

And speaking of excess, here is my annoying favorite: “This is the last and final boarding announcement . . .” Is it just me, or is that kind of redundant kind of–like this sentence? Is there a distinction between last and final that is germane to the information that the aircraft door is about to close?

You were warned.

To summarize, the announcements not only add to the noise and chaos in the terminal, in a real way, they make information more difficult to come by because the user has to decipher the announcement in all of it’s useless bluster from the important information.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the passengers’ contribution to the chaos.

No no--you're not in the way . . .

No no–you’re not in the way. Much.

I guess there are those who are too comfortable with the environment, at the expense of everyone else both in it, and working in it:

It’s not that questions are the problem. Rather, it’s the volume of questions, which can be separated into those that need to be asked and those that really should be understood: there is plumbing in all airports, which includes bathrooms. No one working in the airport except the perhaps janitors might have the locations memorized. Rather, they–we–take on faith that there must be bathrooms somewhere, one as close as the next. But you want the closest, you say? Again, who keeps that information handy and really, does anyone besides you need to know about your urgency? Times wasting–go find it.

And in the interest of complete disclosure, I have to admit that sometimes I’m part of the communications breakdown myself:

I know; I hate when I get like this.

Maybe it’s just the nature of air travel: too much information, good and bad, floating around aimlessly. So I’m going to propose a vow of silence henceforth: no more crabbing on my part about communications, too much info, too little info and everything in between.

Well, maybe one more . . .

You have to admit, there are some things you really don’t want to know.  And at the airport, it’s probably best to just find some things out on your own.

Plane Smart: How to Invade Your Airport.

Posted in airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, passenger with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2012 by Chris Manno

Let’s have a moment of silence for a friend we all fondly remember and will dearly miss: leisure air travel.That’s right, the “leisure” part is dead and gone–but the “air travel” soldiers on, orphaned by the Airline Deregulation Act and held hostage by the price of oil, the largest cost item in the airline business.

So let’s move on, because that’s what life does even as we mourn the dearly departed which, in this case, seems irreplaceable. Nonetheless, we’ll all have a better trip if we leave the old guy dead and buried and consider what we have left to rely on.

So turn over a new leaf and begin with a new vision: travel is no longer a leisurely activity but rather–it’s war. Like any war, you need a strategy, valid reconnaissance of the battlefield, weapons, and the resolve to use all of these assets.

Here’s the turning point for any air traveler: you can be passive and let the air travel system decide for you what happens, or you can declare war on the air travel system and fight your way from point A to point B to your own advantage every step of the way.

Staffing cuts at airports and airlines and even hotels and car rental companies have reduced the level of live assistance available when you travel, and the system of check-in, security, interline connections, customs clearance have only become more complex and arcane. In reality you really have no choice but to proactively manage your own travel.

In short, it’s a war–and you should approach it that way. Here’s how:

Your Battle Plan

1. Intelligence: Know your enemy, find out where the opposing forces are and how many. You must get through their lines to even have a chance at air travel and the opposition forces are intent on keeping you out. Unless you’re driving a fifty-foot semi hauling beverages or merchandise, in which case you’ll be waved through the security perimeter:

Not a beer truck driver or any type of merchandise hauler? Too bad: you’ll have to cross the lines the hard way. But no matter, because this is where “Intelligence”–both literal and figurative–comes into play. You must find the easiest spot to penetrate in order to get to your aircraft. Do the required reconnaissance ahead of time.

Every single major airport has a website now that just begs you to visit–and you should, from the intelligence sense, so you know the unfamiliar territory you’re trying to invade. Look at the wealth of information you need to know ahead of time:

Click on the graphic above to see the actual DFW Airport site.

You’ll find parking information, gate and airline locations, entrances and exits, security checkpoints, rental cars lots and more. Now, you can really use your literal intelligence.

Leaving on American Airlines? Here’s a diagram from the DFW Airport website displaying Terminal D, the largest of the three American Airlines terminals at DFW:

If you were to view all 3 of the American terminals, you’d see how much larger and more spacious this one is. Does it matter whether or not your flight or even your airline leaves from this terminal?

NO! You simply want to make it through security as quickly as possible–and this terminal has the largest security check points of all terminals in the airport. Plus–if you’ve done your recon thoroughly, you’ll note the train connections from this terminal to all of the others in a matter of minutes.

Compare this to terminal C:

You can compare the relative sizes of these terminals better on the DFW website than I can reproduce the diagrams here, but the point is this: for the least amount of waiting, check-in at the largest, less-crammed terminal. If you were to consider auto traffic flow curbside (right to left in both diagrams), you’d observe another useful tidbit: people driving to the airport naturally stop at the first available check-in point for both curbside and counter check-in, so plan to proceed further down the terminal where due to human nature–less passengers accumulate for check-in or security.

Nowhere is this more significant than at Denver International Airport which, like Dulles, Pittsburgh, Portland and many others, has one main terminal that accomplishes security screening for all satellite terminals:

Again, auto traffic dropping off passengers approaches from the right, so passengers naturally stop at the first available space–and go to the closest security checkpoint. But there’s an identical security checkpoint on the other end of the terminal which is normally less crowded–use it!

This is an actual picture of the Denver International Airport security checkpoint that’s on the right in the diagram, the one passengers come to first, so it’s normally jammed. But if you look at the airport diagram, you’ll find an identical security checkpoint farther from the initial checkpoint and it’s half empty because most people have rushed to the first available.

Lessons learned: there’s really no practical correlation between where your intended gate is and where you must either park or clear security, because there’s inter-terminal transportation that will get you to your gate faster than it would take for you to wait in a huge line–and with less frustration on your part. Also, the airport information for your departure, connecting and destination airports can be found on-line and can answer just about all of the questions you might have regarding locations, gates, services and facilities. Do your reconnaissance ahead of time and out-think the obstacles to your entry!

2. Battle Plan: This really goes back to intelligence in both senses. That is, you need to have all of your vital information at your fingertips, and here is the worst item for discerning that vital information:

That’s right: your boarding pass is an awful way to keep track of the important data. That’s because formats vary, times may vary despite what’s printed on the boarding pass and depending on how long ago they were printed, flight numbers may have changed as well. Plus, times listed on the boarding pass are normally boarding time, not departure time, making it even more confusing to cross-check the monitors in the terminal. And normally, you’ll have more than one such card and sorting them out with your hands full of carry-on  luggage and whatever else you’re juggling is a losing proposition.

The only information on your boarding pass not subject to change is your name and destination–which you already know, right? Fly smarter–use a smart phone:

I use this system as an airline pilot because it is active: I don’t have to search out the information regarding gates and times because that info is constantly pushed to my phone. This is but one airline’s automatic text notification system and every major airline now has such a service. This will immediately update you on gate location and departure time changes, plus, most (like this one) allows you to customize the information: want a notification an hour prior? And two hours prior? No problem, the latest info will find you and if it’s bad news like a delay or cancellation, you’re the first to know and thus first to rebook–also on your phone. Make sure you have your airline’s smart phone application installed and working on your phone and you can begin the re-booking process without standing in line for hours.

3. Once through the enemy lines: I can’t tell you how many people in the terminal will walk up to the gate counter and ask, “Am I in the right place?”

Sigh. Do we really have to play 20 questions? Where are you going? What is your flight number? What is the departure time?

This is what you can expect if you ask me if “you’re in the right place:” if you are very old or very young or don’t speak English, I will help you in any way possible. But if you’re an average traveler, I’m going to teach you to help yourself: “There are the flight monitors; look for your destination and flight number and you’ll find the departure information you need.”

Why don’t I just look it up? First, because the time and gate can and very well might change–and passengers need to be aware of where that vital information is. And if the flight isn’t listed yet, any planned info I dig up is too likely to change for it to be of any use.

All of the pertinent information related to your flight is at your fingertips if you install the smart phone app for the airline(s) you’re traveling on.

Often times this information that the airline’s application pushes to your phone will be even more current than any information an agent or crewmember can provide because it is updated instantaneously.

Plus, if you’re shrewd enough to bookmark the airport sites for your departure, arrival and connecting airports, you’re ready to find answers quickly and easily without having to search for scarce customer service reps at any point in your travel.

After Action Report

You now know where to find, bookmark and save the vital information pertaining to your travel. Even five years ago, the push technology that today can keep you fully informed didn’t exist or if it did, it was too large to store on a handheld device.

That’s no longer true. Now, you can bookmark airport websites, download and save airport diagrams, and keep all of your itinerary at your fingertips. Once you have this information plus real-time data pushes from the airline to your mobile device, you won’t find yourself chasing the important details any longer. Instead, you’ll have instant access to current information, plus reference charts and service information coming to you, not you chasing bits and pieces of vital information around the airport.

That’s not just smart, but plane smart. Why would you travel any other way?

Summer Air Travel Disaster: “We” Collides with “Me”

Posted in airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew, jet flight with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2012 by Chris Manno

Getting onto the jet about twenty minutes prior to pushback, I encounter an all-to-familiar scene: standing in the doorway to the cockpit is a man with a bag and a hopeful look on his face, flanked by two flight attendants giving me we tried to tell him looks.

“In this bag,” he tells me, pointing to his roll-aboard that’s about half again as large as the normal size limit, “I have $30,000 worth of fragile instruments. The suitcase is too large to fit in the overhead bin,” he continues, “so why can’t I just put it into the forward coat closet here?”

This is where his “me” collides with our “we:” I sure empathize with him regarding whatever he had in his bag. He’s thinking, in his mind, out of “me:” I have this stuff, I know what it is, I know it’s beyond the permitted size . . . me, me, and me.

That runs headlong into “we:” we are not permitted by the FAA to put anything other than crew bags in that closet ($5,000 fine for the forward flight attendant), we have a full flight, including five flight attendants whose bags already take up the allotted space for them in that closet. We already explained to you the carry-on size limits, and we have already heard what you’re going to ask next.

“Well,” he continues, after I politely point out that the closet is full of crew bags for the working crew plus a jumpseater, “Many times before they’ve let me put this behind the pilot’s seat up in the cockpit.”

I almost get nostalgic thinking back to the air travel days prior to 9-11, compared today’s world of underpants bombers, Air Marshals, pilots armed with 9mm handguns and bad people in far away countries relentlessly plotting to exploit our air travel system as a weapon of terror. That’s what we have to deal with, and we have had to change our way of thinking: there won’t be anything someone brings aboard that we’ll stow in the cockpit.

Because we as flying crewmembers have been mandated–and willingly adopt–a “group-think” that looks for threats in everything. Because we fly between 140 and 200 days a year and because we’ve been charged with stewardship of our air travel system and its security, never mind our own determination to see our families after our trip. And when you’re on board, you too are part of the “we” with everything at stake.

I take the easy way out. “We have a jumpseater in the cockpit today,” I tell him, “Sorry, but there’s no room for extra baggage.” For god’s sake, we’re not even allowed to carry critical parcels like organs for transplant any more in the cockpit–because you really don’t know what’s inside unless you open it–which we ain’t, and the flight deck is no place for surprises, period. I hate that, because I think of the organ transplant people involved at both ends of such a flight–but I never forget those on board nonetheless.

This goes beyond the obvious hassle for the other 159 passengers on board, many of whom are stuck on the jet bridge as boarding halts to deal with him. This goes beyond his disregard for those folks, their downline connections that depend on our prompt departures, and even beyond his claim to special storage space which, if a flight attendant bag was placed in the overhead bin, would deny another passenger space for his bag.

There’s more going on than that–which ought to be enough for any considerate passenger to avoid. Sure, Mr. “Critical Instruments” is only thinking out of his own world of “me,” putting us in the position of being in his “me-world,” the bad guys. But what he really needs to do is join the group-think that encircles his “me-world:” realize that the constraints apply to all, and that they are an inflexible necessity in this post-9/11 world. Join the “we” and make the trip smoother: we don’t expect to slip outside of the rules, we don’t expect to bend them, we don’t expect to be exempt.

I have to prove myself, despite my identification as the captain in command of the flight, by going through security screening like everyone else. You bet it’s a pain in my ass–god forbid if I were to actually access the cockpit–but I also embrace it: that’s the “we” that transcends the “me” for the betterment of all. Flight crew know this, so we do our part.

Yet honestly, sometimes we fail. I had an agent walk a passenger down the jetbridge before boarding in one of our smaller stations. The agent carried a briefcase-sized bag that was wrapped once or twice in cargo tape. “This man is a professional chef,” the agent informed me. “He requires this full set of chef’s knives to perform his duties, so I’ve sealed this case and he’s agreed to leave it in the overhead bin for the entire flight.”

Sigh. No, there will not be a full set of butcher knives and meat cleavers in the cabin–even wrapped in a few swipes of duct tape. When I put it that way, the agent returned to his senses, and rather sheepishly offered the normal procedure: “We can ship it as cargo, but not in the cabin.”

The fact that in 2012 we still have to have these conversations is troubling. Are we already forgetting the basic, albeit annoying sacrifices we must individually make in order to thwart those relentless dark forces looking for new ways to terrorize our nation through spectacular feats of evil?

Are we just going through the motions, but reserving exceptions in our own minds for ourselves, forgetting about the broad-based group-think that really only works if we forgo me for the best interest of all?

I sure hope not. But if we’ve already forgotten the hard lessons for which we’ve paid dearly in the recent past, if we’ve already through laziness or selfishness let down our guard, besides the fact that the bad guys win by default, one thing I can promise you is this: it’s going to be a long, hot, painful summer.

What I wouldn’t give to be proven wrong.

Why I Couldn’t Be An Airline Pilot.

Posted in airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, airliner, airlines with tags , on November 12, 2011 by Chris Manno

When I was a teenager, like all of my close friends I decided I was going to be an airline pilot. But somewhere along the way between our teenage years and the reality of adulthood, one by one my friends all let go of the dream and wandered off to do other things with their lives.

The standard refrain I hear from them–and most guys when they find out I’m an airline pilot–is this: “I was going to be a pilot, but . . .” The “but” ranges from physical deficiencies to fate to a million reasons–all beyond their control–why that never happened.

Which got me to thinking. There are a lot of good reasons why I couldn’t be an airline pilot either. Here they are:

1. I hate mechanical stuff. Always have. In fact, during those same teen years my Saturday mission was to sneak out of the house before my dad could grab me and put me to work as tool caddy for his day long under-the-hood misadventures. Dad decided my brothers and I needed to do the cliche stuff like work on cars in order to grow up “like normal guys.” In my opinion, that was a waste of a perfectly good Saturday afternoon.

“Get over here,” he’d growl, and you were busted. “This will only take forty minutes and you can go do whatever afterward.” Never forty, maybe four hours and forty minutes, then your day was shot. Dammit. So I’d be the reluctant tool lackey as Dad hunkered waist deep in the yawning engine compartment on the Chevy 396 with a four-barrel carb that with the air filter off, looked like a toilet flushing the way it guzzled gas (that was cool) even at idle.

He’d say “Gimme the 3/8 inch box wrench” and I’d hand him pliers, on purpose, thinking the next time he’d remember how pissed off that made him and perhaps he’d select a more competent tool monkey–like either of my brothers. Nope. So besides cursing whatever procedure that despite the tome-sized shop manual just wasn’t working, or never mind three trips to the auto parts store (another special hell) ranting about parts that didn’t fit, he’d have me to blast for being an idiot (What? A screw driver is not a socket wrench?) sous chef under the hood.

So now, flying a complex, state-of-the-art (some are only weeks old–they still have that “new jet” smell) aircraft, when something goes wrong under the hood, I call an expert and let them fix it.

But I fly with a lot of guys who like my dad have wiring diagrams, flow charts, Lamm schematics–they like to get under the hood, yacking with the mechanics. “Shows 28 volt three-phase; now if you lose one phase . . .” blah blah blah is all I’m hearing. Just let me know when it’s fixed. Unlike my dad, they don’t want me handing them wrenches and like his Chevy Caprice, I don’t want to know how it works or even why it works–just let me know when it’s working again. I can fly the hell out of it for sure but the rest is all just details eating up my afternoon. Fix it, I’ll fly it, end of story.

2. I’d prefer to be invisible in uniform. Seriously: I don’t want to play the “this is your captain speaking” Disney character. Darling Bride and I used to fly together as crew, and people would of course see us in our uniforms–her flight attendant polyester hell, my pilot suit–and they’d seem to be watching us like zoo animals to see what we’d do.

So I don’t relish any of the showtime beyond the sanctuary of the bolted shut cockpit door. Walking through the terminal, it’s like encountering a pack of stray dogs: don’t make eye contact; just go about your business in an unobtrusive, non-threatening way and they’ll leave you alone.

Somebody else is going to have to do the playacting for the public; I’m not good answering questions about the bathroom, yucking it up about flying, or hearing about how (this is standard) “we dropped a thousand feet straight down” on some other flight. Doing the pilot thing as a pilot in the air–that is my only concern. Don’t worry about a thing, it’s taken care of–just keep your seat belt fastened and like Lewis CK says, “You watch a movie, take a dump and you’re in LA.” Just don’t expect a show before or after.

3. I really don’t get along with pilots. That goes with the “invisible” thing above: don’t play the role, don’t relish the identity. No cheesy aviators sunglasses, no 1980s-vintage mustache, no vanity plate like “JetJock” or bumper sticker that says, “My other car is a Boeing-737″ or god forbid, this:

This is actually a sticker on sale at the Crew Outfitters store at DFW Airport. Which means some douchebag pilot thought it was a “cute idea,” (what the hell is “giggity giggity?”) and enough are actually buying the sticker to make it worthwhile. Wonder why I want to be invisible?

And in the cockpit, I do not want to take turns parroting whatever talk radio host is the hero of the week, don’t need to analyze the stock market that none of us ever really has any real expertise in, and I definitely don’t want to hear about the merits of home schooling (why is it that some many pilots’ wives are browbeaten into this?) as THE way to raise the only decent kids in the world after “the balloon goes up.” Have a weapons cache ready? A shack in Montana? Just keep it to yourself. Want to talk about sports? Fine: how the heck did Sabathia hit the Yankees for $25 million a year when he looks like he ate everything on the Dairy Queen menu every day since the All-Star break?

Nice gut.

See, I can be sociable. But beyond sports talk, I’m completely avoiding discussion of The Big Three: politics, religion and god forbid, pilot contract talks. Other than conversation related to actually flying the jet, I’m a big fan of what Archie Bunker used to call “A little bit of shut up around here.”

So there you have it: like most guys, there are a lot of good reasons why I couldn’t be an airline pilot, or at least not one like you’d see on TV or in the movies with the cliches and stereotypes. But when the weather’s crap and your pink butt is in the back of the plane heading for the runway at 150 miles per hour, I will guarantee you a safe landing. I’ve got over thirty years of experience and practice doing exactly that.

But afterward, it’s best for all concerned if I just slip out the door unnoticed before anyone can corral me into spending my time off being somebody I’m clearly not. If only my dad had figured that out so many Saturdays ago.

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