Archive for the airport security Category

Malaysian 370 and the Land of Oz.

Posted in airline pilot blog, airport, airport security, jet, passenger, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2014 by Chris Manno

Since we first considered here what didn’t happen to Malaysian Flight 370, there’s been a virtual flood of “theories” proposing what did.

The problem is, all of them start out with “it’s possible that” (rather than “the facts indicate”), from which a thinking person could only conclude what “might” have happened–with no better chance of knowing what actually did. Worse, once the boundaries are stretched to include “possible” and “might” as operative terms, you no longer have an investigation at all; rather, you have a piece of creative writing.

So much of what has been advanced as “theory” lately falls into that category, and those who are not airline flight operations insiders are most vulnerable to what is no doubt their good faith desire to find answers. But, with neither the technical background nor the aviation experience to separate what’s plausible from what isn’t, the results obscure the very truth they search for in the first place.

Malaysian authorities brief the press.

Let’s start with the most recent red herring “released” by Malaysian authorities–”the big left turn,” which supposedly “proves” that the turn was deliberately programmed into the flight computers, presumably by someone with nefarious intent.

In a word, that’s meaningless. There are just too many active and passive ways for “the big left turn” to be executed, even with no “programming” by what they insinuate was a rogue pilot. For example, look at the photo below:

fms

The letters to the left are all navigation waypoints, composed of four or five character words representing geographic navigational fixes. Notice the waypoint “PROUD,” followed by the word “then,” which is atop the five empty boxes?

Below that, see the words, “Route Discontinuity?” That is the aircraft’s Flight Management System (FMS) telling me, the pilot, that I haven’t told it where to proceed after PROUD. In other words, there’s a break in the route and if I don’t fill those five empty boxes, the FMS will execute a big left turn (or right, depending on the shortest distance due to winds) and backtrack along the route to the points it came from.

And that’s just one possible, passive real time cause for “The Big Left Turn” so many theorists–including the Malaysian authorities and a news-starved press corps rushing to fill dead air–inexplicably point to as proof of some sort of deliberate, diabolical course programming.

Also, for some unfounded reason, the Malaysian authorities insist that “such a drastic turn could only be done by the autopilot coupled to the Flight Management System.”

Power control is key to airspeed.

Absolute nonsense. Daily, flight by flight I and hundreds of airline pilots hand fly all manner of climbs, descents and turns at all altitudes and speeds. That’s what we do.

Which brings me to the newest red herring that has the press panting and Malaysian authorities puffing up: the captain’s flight simulator video game. Supposedly, they’re going to search the game’s memory to see if the captain had “planned or practiced programming or flying” the Dreaded Big Left Turn.

Seriously? A captain with 18,000 flight hours needs to “practice” a left turn, or rehearse the FMS direct track to a waypoint? Which leads from the ridiculous to the absurd: no career pilot would need or want to “rehearse” a task that is on the level of an average person turning left into their own driveway. Even worse, accepting that the Malaysian authorities are investigating this as a serious clue is to accept that such a fundamentally meaningless red herring even bears investigation.

Once you do, it’s down the rabbit hole: “might” and “could” substitute for “did,” “assumptions” displace facts, which leads to conclusions that hold water like a sieve. Meanwhile, as the Malaysian authorities proffer useless leads, contradicting themselves with their own red herrings, inconsistencies and half truths–while the real investigative trail goes cold, and gets old.

What would motivate Malaysian authorities to divert public scrutiny to such empty yet showy “revelations?” Could it be to deflect attention from their top to bottom mishandling of the incident since the first minute: if, as the Malaysian authorities finally admitted, their military radar detected an unplanned, unauthorized penetration of their airspace by an uncommunicative jet at 35,000, why did the Malaysian Air Force not scramble fighters to intercept this very clear violation of their airspace and threat to their population at large?

Malaysian Air Force F-18

If they had (yes, their Air Force has fighters and they are guided by the very radar that detected the straying airliner) no one today would be searching for Malaysian 370–because they would have followed it and determined their course and intentions.

It would seem less embarrassing for government and aviation authorities to paper over that glaring failure with sideshows like a crewmember’s flight simulator, or which pilot spoke last on the radio, or a mysterious Big Left Turn–which is probably why they’re doing exactly that.

And into the dead silence left by a complete lack of real evidence, come the voices of those who propose creative theories whose flames are fanned by social media with the nonsensical equivocation, “well, nothing else makes any more sense,” or “you can’t prove this didn’t happen.”

For example, some pundits propose there “might” have been a “fire,” which “could possibly” explain the transponder being “off.” Not “turned off,” in this scenario seemingly validated mostly by the way Hollywood portrays cockpit electrical failures: sparks, lights flicker out like in your house during a thunderstorm, then someone barks at a radio, “Ground control, come in please! Omigod–it’s dead!”

But a Boeing jet is not like your house, nor a Hollywood make-believe cockpit. There are multiple power sources and current routings, all designed to swap sources and even types of power to vital equipment–especially to communications and safety gear, including radios and firefighting systems.

And even if there were a fire, a turn toward land and an immediate descent with a mayday call is as instinctive to pilots as breathing and, in my Boeing jet–just like theirs–under most conditions I can set it up to perform the descent and level off safely even without me maintaining consciousness. That’s the way airliners are designed to fly, that’s the way professional pilots fly them.

And as my colleague Jeremy Giguere (he pilots The Big Kahuna, the Boeing-747) notes, Swissair 155 had a fire that destroyed the aircraft–but they talked with controllers for a full 15 minutes as they headed for land.

Fire? Sinister flight path reprogramming? All come under the venerable pilot term “WAG,” which translates to “Wild Ass Guess,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

So let me be clear: I don’t know what happened to Flight 370–and nor does anyone else. That’s because there are no facts from which to draw conclusions and until there are, I won’t attempt to wring fact from fiction.

To do so is to enter the Land of Oz where trees throw apples and winged monkeys dart about the sky, and Dreaded Big Left Turns plus Fire “possibilities” create a chaos that obscures what really ought to be a quiet, diligent search for facts and truth, when or if ever they are discovered.

Despite the shameful Malaysian bungling and the pointless social media circus following this puzzling tragedy, I believe in time the real facts will come out. Then a properly conducted investigation will yield a probable cause that will allow the aviation industry and flying community to make air travel safer.

The 200 lost souls and the loved ones they left behind deserve nothing less.

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Airline Pilot Confidential: The Teddy Bear Incident.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines, airport, airport security, flight crew, flight delays, passenger, unaccompanied minors with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2013 by Chris Manno

flashIt’s the middle day of three back-to-back turns–pace yourself.

In fact, it’s the second leg of the middle turn, Dulles International, 7pm–time to get out of town: the elephant walk of international widebody jets commences shortly.  If we can push back even five minutes early, we can beat the line–and the wake turbulence delay.

prflt docsUse the captain’s invisibility cloak: the ability to do most pre-flight planning on the smart phone. Check the weather, the route, the fuel load. Add more fuel. Sign the release with a touch of the screen, then send a hard copy to a gate printer, all from the cockpit. Wait for it to finish printing then slip into the terminal discretely, invisibly, to pick up the paperwork, avoiding the gate chaos directly. Don’t make eye contact, don’t invite hassles, complaints, requests, anything that delays the door slam and brake release to get ahead of the fat boys headed for the runway. Still have to fly to DFW, drive home–then back out to do the turn again tomorrow. Minutes from pushback, be invisible now.

But wait. Out of the corner of your eye, you see it: a teenage girl, on her phone, tense; next to her, what could only be her younger sister in tears. No parents, no adults, just the agent telling them both, “You either board now, or you’ll have to fly tomorrow.” That sends the little one into big sobs.

timer 3Less than fifteen minutes till push. Can you maybe say you didn’t see any of this? But you did.

“What do you need?” you ask the older, maybe sixteen-year-old sister.

She puts the cell phone down for a second, plaintive. “She left her backpack at security.”

Sigh. The agent is looking at you pointedly, his eyes saying we need to board now and shut the aircraft door. But from the tears in the young girl’s eyes, you pretty much guess what’s in the backpack. I consider taking the youngster back through security–but then think better of it.

IAD 3

We’d have to run to the center of the terminal, down two escalators, onto the train to the main terminal, up two more escalators, then find the security checkpoint that might still have the backpack–then retrace our steps, before departure time in fifteen minutes. Not going to happen.

I catch the older sister’s eye. “You have some ID?” She nods. “Let’s go.” I head off at a fast walk toward the mid terminal; “Wait here!” she tells her little sister, and the agent slumps the message damn you captain. Big sister’s on my heels, asking, “Can we do this?” Just shrug; “They’re not leaving without me.”

IAD 1

We tumble down the two-story escalator two steps at a time, shoving past others like obnoxious travelers. I envision people watching, trying to figure out why an airline captain in uniform is running away from a teenager in hot pursuit. I also remember the miles I ran that morning before flight.

IAD 4

Even though the automated voice is warning that the doors are closing–do not delay this train–I do anyway, holding the door as she jumps aboard. “It’s got all her school books,” she says, out of breath. Right: I have a big picture of a fifth grader hauling a load of schoolbooks on spring break.

“No worries,” I say, “It could happen to anyone.” She nods. “Special guys in there?” I ask casually. She smiles sheepishly.

I don’t care: that’s a very real tragedy for a youngster, losing all the stuffed guys that mean the world to them. Not on my watch.

We spill out of the train on the far end, then WAIT: this will take us to baggage claim and out of the secure area–we need the TSA checkpoint! We dash back through the closing exit doors, then push through the boarding passengers and out the other side.

Two sets of identical escalators–both going down. Means we have to rush up the steps–but which ones? “Which security checkpoint did you use?” I ask. She looks confused; they are identical, not sure how one could really know anyway. “Let’s try this one,” I say, rushing the steps.

security-den

We reach the TSA supervisor’s stand. He shakes his head. “No pink backpack here–try the other side.”

Figures. We run the length of the concourse and arrive at the opposite checkpoint. “You’re lucky,” a cheerful TSA agent in a pressed blue shirt says, “we were getting ready to send it to lost and found.”

Identification checked, signatures. She sees me eying her sister’s backpack. “Uh, we need to start putting a nametag on this, don’t we?”

I nod. Lesson learned. It’s confusing, especially kids traveling alone. “I was on the phone with my Mom,” she says, “hoping we could get someone to drive out here and pick up the backpack.”

“No worries,” I say, in my mind’s eye picturing the waves of 747s and A-340s pushing back, lining up for takeoff.  “Anyone can lose stuff at the airport, especially at security.”

We retrace our steps as fast as we can, me feeling the morning miles, my friend feeling and looking relieved. At the gate, she hands the backpack to little sister who still looks mortified.

They rush down the jetbridge to board. I walk, telling the agent “Just charge me with the delay.” He gives me a glare that says I was going to anyway, which I answer with a smile that says I don’t care.

IMG_2870

The elephants already started the parade and we squeezed into the conga line. Sure, I’d have some explaining to do a thousand miles or so west. But no one missed their connection in DFW, no one was unduly delayed; and most importantly, no one’s little world collapsed with the loss of everyone they loved. That, to me, matters a lot.

Because we don’t just fly jets–we fly people. That, and the occasional special bear.

Holiday Travel Weirdness: The Jethead Chronicles.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, cartoon, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, layover, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2010 by Chris Manno

What is it about holiday season travel that brings out such weirdness? I’m not just talking about the vagrant standing out in front of our favorite Seattle crew hangout with the helpful sign:

He also offered to be my “bodyguard” for $5, but I was with Ben The Dependable Copilot, and Ben’s about 6′ 2″ and weighs in about 220, so I passed. But still.

And even Pike’s Market Place was a little off the game today as well:

So just getting away from the airport doesn’t seem to limit the weirdness this time of year.

Now, at the airport, odd stuff is a given. That’s because odd people still have very little time and so must go by air, I suppose, to share their weirdness with family and friends.

Some folks just don’t get out much, but this being the holiday season, they’re of necessity heading to “somewhere else” and you know what the fastest way is from point “A” to point “B,” right?

Maybe there’s too much of a good thing on either end–eating, drinking, whatever. Problem is, airline crews are kind of stuck in the middle: between wherever “here” and “there” is for the traveling public, our workplace is the waiting room.

I guess folks just make themselves at home, or forget they’re not at home. Either way, our “workplace” is more bizarre than ever during the holidays as a result. The trick is to not only act like you don’t notice (step around the seemingly dead body for whom apparently stretching out on the floor is fine), but to try to act nonchalant when you do–which sometimes is difficult.

The on-board weirdness is predictable, with holiday travelers who are often infrequent flyers. Go ahead, mop the lavatory floor with your socks, Mr. Seldom Travels By Air. I don’t want to even think about it, but I am grateful that at least somebody’s cleaning that outhouse floor, even if the flight attendants are gagging when you do.

Or, go ahead and ask if there’s food on this flight. Has a nice, nostalgic ring to it, especially since there hasn’t been a meal served in coach this century.

I don’t mind for two reasons. One is because no matter how many times airlines, air travel organizations or even travel agents tell you that you need to bring your own food (and water if you want real convenience), you’d rather be surprised.

And second, the cockpit door is locked from the inside, so you can’t see what I’m eating anyway

Whoo-hoo: hot fudge brownies for the crew!

and really, you wouldn’t want to know anyway.  It’s pretty scary up front. Right?

No, honestly, what it is is peaceful. Darling Bride used to come up to the cockpit when we were flying at night and say how it was a cozy cocoon. It is, and I appreciate that–especially compared to what goes on in the back of the plane.

Phoenix glides by 7 miles below.

Gives you time and silence to put things into perspective. When you do, you realize that holiday travel is the best: it’s more than just business or even vacations. It’s families; it’s reunions and gatherings and children. It’s not just air travel, it’s yearlong anticipation of children and adults alike.

Our Chief Pilot–a true leader who voluntarily flies  on every holiday–uses this example to explain: The CEO of Revlon once said, “We don’t sell cosmetics–we sell hope.” Truly, what we do in these holiday travel weeks is just as magic: it’s hope for many, joy for the kids and for the adults who love them.

Come to think of it, weirdness and all, this is a great time of year to be an airline pilot, to fly families and friends to reunions and holiday gatherings.

I’ll be in the air this week–next week too, looking to make somebody’s travel as quick and easy as possible so they to can be with family and friends for the holiday. Really, it’s the least I can do considering they’ll mop up the lav floor without even knowing it.

Starstruck, Star Trek, Shatner.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airliner, airport, airport security, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, travel, Uncategorized with tags , on September 26, 2010 by Chris Manno

If you fly into Burbank, chances are good that you’ll have someone from Hollywood on board. And not just a person who drives by the sign on the way to or from the airport, but a real Hollywood media type.

Enter Captain Kirk.

Let me explain. It was one of those evenings when the inbound jet was late, putting us behind schedule from the start. The aircraft had a couple of minor maintenance items that needed to be taken care of during the ground time as we pre-flighted, causing a further delay.

The mechanical items were minor: just some routine servicing.  But as is often the case, the paperwork involved took almost more time than the maintenance action itself. But neither item is anything to rush.

It’s always more fun to fly with an old friend and on this evening flight, the number four flight attendant, Debbie was someone I’d flown with many times. She’s been on a cabin crew with My Darling Bride before and knew her as well.

“Hey,” Debbie said, poking her head into the cockpit between greeting passengers, “we have William Shatner on board tonight.”

Whoa! Captain James T. Kirk? Well Captain Chris L. Manno sure would like to get his autograph for Darling Bride who is a huge Star-Trek fan. You wouldn’t expect that from a svelte, erudite, stylish stewardess type, but there it is.

“Debbie!” I motioned her into the cockpit. “You’ve GOT to get his autograph for Catherine! You know what a fan of William Shatner she is.” Me too, of course–especially the Denny Crane years–but how cool would it be to bring the autograph home to the Missuz?

“You know I can’t do that!” Debbie said, her voice lowered. “I’m NOT going to disturb William Shatner so you can make some points with your wife.”

Meanwhile, the delay mounted: still waiting for the final maintenance sign off. A few minutes later, Debbie was back.

“Mr. Shatner would like to talk to the captain.”

I shrugged. “You know what to do.” I handed her our flight plan and a pen.

“Oh for God’s sake.” She snatched both from my hand and disappeared.

A moment later, the flight plan reappeared, signed.

She folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. I unstrapped. “On my way.”

And there he was, in the first row of First Class, near the window on the starboard side. Face to face with Captain James T. Kirk. In civvies, of course.

And here’s what he said: click here for the audio.

Okay, that’s my lame rendition of what he said but you probably get my drift, right?

Anyway, I explained to him that it was only a matter of finishing up the paperwork, which should only be pretty quick. And whether he knew it or not, this was the last flight to Burbank. There was an LAX flight leaving later, but he’d still have to beam up to Burbank for his bags. I didn’t say that aloud though.

He thanked me for the information and told me to give his best to Catherine. What a class act he was.

And now I understand how things worked on the Starship Enterprise. You know how the embarkation to “boldly go” to a new and strange planet occurred on the old Star Trek show–the usual crewmembers readied themselves for beaming down in the transporter room.

There’d be Kirk, Spock, the Doc and then some no-name extra guy getting lined up for Scotty beam to beam them down. And you the viewer just knew the extra guy wasn’t coming back.

That’s so Bones could deliver some harsh news:

And Kirk could wax philosophical about the danger of exploration and high flight:

And that, I suppose, is as good a reason as any to be the captain of a Starship. Or a jetliner.

Heck, I’d follow him to the alien planet’s surface just to get to hang out with him a little longer. But after we landed on the not so strange world of Burbank (well, maybe it is a little odd), we left Mr. Shatner with his limo driver to wait for his bags.

And we boldly went to the usual layover hotel for a good twelve hour rest so as to be ready to fly again the next day.

Why? Because as Captain Kirk put it, “I have to, mister.”

September 11th: Where Were You, Where Are You?

Posted in 9/11, air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, security, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by Chris Manno

It’s difficult to remember, but hard to forget: where were you when the World Trade Center fell? And as importantly, where are you now?

The first question takes you back to a time that’s growing dimmer, but no less painful. The shared stunned looks where there were seldom looks exchanged: at a stoplight, from one car to another, the look of incredulity between drivers as if to say, “what just happened to us?” There was, for that moment, an “us” between random strangers struck at the same time by the horrific events as they unfolded.

Then the common denominator that mattered was both the pain of reality and our citizenship in a nation under attack. For me at that moment, sitting in a flight simulator giving flight training to a new copilot who would in short order be furloughed as a direct result of the 9-11 attacks that ravaged my airline and ultimately, the entire industry, the reality was ugly: jets commandeered, fellow crewmembers murdered at their duty stations. Our sleek, beautiful, powerful jets which we always used for good turned into missiles by dark forces intent on bad.

I’ve always liked the fact that our jets carry the flag on every tail, that our name says “American” in bold letters. And even though that’s probably why our jets were selected by the terrorists for maximum psychological impact, that very fact was also their downfall.

The flag and all things American were reinvigorated from the east coast of this nation to the west. More than just a glance between stunned drivers at a stoplight, the entire nation seemed to rise in dedicated opposition to the terrorism and extremism that cost thousands of innocent American lives.

Several flight crewmembers I know decided to be done with flying as a result of the infamous attacks, and I don’t fault them for that. It’s not like when we were in the military, where it was accepted as a fact that yes, you could get killed flying a mission. Our 9-11 colleagues weren’t on a military mission–they were just doing their jobs when they were murdered.

But there was never any question, at least for me, about getting back into the cockpit and flying again, even knowing that the terrorist threat still existed. It’s a different world now in flight, with security being a constant challenge to a degree unheard of before 9-11. Maybe that’s one positive change, although working under such a threat has changed the profession in ways I don’t always like.

But I believe my part in the opposition of terrorism is to refuse to let the dark forces win. We will fly coast to coast because we can, we want to, we have to. We don’t bow to threats and violence, as a nation or as a flight crew. We fight back for what’s right–which brings us to where we are today.

The fight goes on, and with it comes a huge pricetag in lives and loss. That’s the part of where we are today in the post-9/11 world that worries me.

Because except for on the anniversary of that awful day, there’s little day-to-day remembrance of the important people: not only the thousands whose lives were taken on that day, but also those given since then to keep the rest of the nation safe. That, in my mind, should not be something to “remember” periodically. Rather, that should never be forgotten–ever.

We see the remains of fallen fighting men and women passing from one coast to a hometown on our jets every week. We honor them the best we can. And like most flight crewmembers, we keep alive the memory of colleagues who were killed in the first battle of the war against terrorism.

Never mind the partisan politics of the war on terrorism; the squabbles over the mosque near ground zero, or opposition to the war on terrorism.

Today is about remembrance and appreciation for those fighting the war, those who have lost their lives to the enemy and those carrying on the fight today. That’s what’s most important to me and to many others on this day of remembrance . . .

. . . and every single day of the year, in every single moment in the air.

H20: Above and Below

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, fart, flight, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, passenger, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by Chris Manno

H20: Above and Below.

Flight Time: Soothsayers, Stooges, Sages and Thunder.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2010 by Chris Manno

Time is pretty sneaky when hooked up with his silent partner, motion. You think you’ve got all the time in the world–and relatively speaking, maybe you do–but where you’re headed will force your hand nonetheless.

Can I get by everything in my way? Am I above it all? Or do I need to change course? Ah, the curse of forethought and the knowledge of a future rushing your way.

Can you really look too far ahead, and if you do, can you get an accurate picture of what’s in your way? Can we trust the seers and soothsayers we look to for their view of the future?

Do they really know, or are they just telling you what they see, rather than what’s real?

There’s no shortage of people with answers to sell but that all depends on your buy-in: do they really have the answer you need? Can they see the path ahead of you? Even if they can, what will change between the time they give their view and when the picture ahead becomes near and real?

Can you really have faith in either art or science claiming to transcend the barriers of time and space and help you understand the future? I guess some people do, because they continue to ask the experts for a vision or at least a forecast.

Always good to have options, right? And a backup plan.

And information is always good, with a catch: predictions, visions and forecasts are all helpful, but nothing beats realtime information. What’s happening right now? What’s happening on the path ahead this minute, this second?

That’s where time and place coincide: worry is because there’s nothing you can do until they meet.

Now the picture is clear–not a prediction, not a forecast, but at last, square in your face. Now you can take action: evaluate your options. You could wait:

Fine a place to hold off to the side until the storm passes. Of course, that presumes we’re talking about a “passing storm,” not anything permanent.

Another option would be to plow right on through and hope it’s just a temporarily bumpy ride:

Some folks choose to plunge headlong into the storm. Maybe they’re mislead by the earliest look at things–where maybe from afar there seems to be a safe passage through the ugliness, based on a forecast or an earlier report. “Look–a sucker hole. Can we make it before it closes up?” That puts YOU in the business of predicting the future.

And the only thing predictable with perfect reliability is that things will continue to change. Opportunities for safe passage vanish in an instant and there you are, nose to nose with big trouble. With the escape path blocked. With no options but straight ahead.

Oops! The sucker hole is closing fast . . .

Where are the soothsayers now? Where’s the clear path, based on a few minutes ago? That’s why I’m a confirmed pessimist, at least at work. Expect the worst. Count on it. Plan for it.

I knew this was going to happen. So we have a couple tons of fuel to spare–we can outlast the storm. We can go the extra miles around the tumult and so just not care what it does in the near term–or ever.

Well folks, slight delay here as we give trouble a wide berth. We didn’t worry too much in our flight planning as to whether there’d be problems along the way–rather, we just planned on it. And so we have the range we need to keep life smooth for all of us.

Don’t really need soothsayers or good luck charms–just tons of fuel and patience.

Like mayhem in life, lightning in flight is best enjoyed as a spectator:

That’s life. Craziness is fine, as long as you’re just a casual observer and can step around the insanity. Forget the soothsayers and stooges telling you what they think you want to hear. You already know what you need to dodge the thunder.

Here’s how that looks from the flight deck. You can relax in back and enjoy the view–we’ve got time and distance all under control for you.

There’s always a way around, if you’re ready now, never mind “then” or whatever “they” predict. It’s a big sky, thankfully. Plan accordingly.

Flight Deck: Zoom With A View.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, cartoon, elderly traveller, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2010 by Chris Manno

Wanted: the lucky few with vision.

Job title: Zoom With A View.

“Applicant must be willing to sit for long hours looking out window at ever-changing sky. Hours vary, as does the sky, and applicants must have the ability to stay alert regardless of the hour.

Must have the ability to play nicely with others, particularly in crowded airspace . . .

. . . where “bumping into a stranger” is never a good thing.

Job often requires eating on the fly.

Working with fun people in very close quarters.

Must keep an eye on details inside, while appreciating what’s going on outside as well.

Applicants must demonstrate innovative vision in traffic jams . . .

and an ability to capture a moment visually doesn’t hurt.


And on the ground . . .

Old meets new in Louisville

. . . it’s helpful to have an eye for the sublime,

. . . and a tolerance for the absurd.

Workplace security is provided by a specialized force of hand-picked officials

trained and employed by a government agency.

How can you NOT rest easy when they are responsible for your security? Well, never mind that.

Paperwork is kept to a minimum,

. . . and stunning views are at the maximum

. . . if you just look.

Nonetheless, must see that people are what really matter anyway

especially when it’s “us against the world” of delays and weather and maintenance problems . . .

. . .  you realize who your friends are,

sometimes, if you’re lucky, for life.

So vision is key, maintaining perspective crucial. Applicants must be able to perceive magnificence in the minute

in order to realize what really matters, and be able to recognize your own minuteness next to the magnificient

in order to see with humility

and perceive humanity with the the appropriate respect.

Applicants simply need several thousand pilot hours of jet time to apply; approximately one in two hundred will be selected.

Views provided free.

______________________________________________________________________________________

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The Flight of the Invisible Man

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, life, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2010 by Chris Manno


It doesn’t matter that you can’t see me–in fact, it helps ease the passage. We go together, silent partners, then we go our separate ways but the main thing is, we go.

Don’t act surprised. That’s the corporeality of life and time and especially jet flight: nobody goes backwards. Spindly hands sweep the clock face, blue-green waves crash on the beach then hiss away, aluminum egg crates ride the fire off into the blue until they’re just a dot and then gone.


The ever-forward urgency of flight masks the destination with the passage itself like the blindfold on a condemned man: best not to peek past the ledger of doing and done and yet to come. There’s sanctuary–at least for now–in the bustle that is the embarkation, the itinerary and finally the living-out of the route, waypoints like days on the calendar torn off and gone.

Who cares? The calendar still seems pretty weighty. So is the relentless tide of here-and-now washing up on the beach of there and gone, actually, but what the heck: we’re on our way. Meanwhile, there’s strength in numbers, which is good because the passage is a trial, isn’t it, starting with the mass inquisition.

Like the troll at the bridge: who shall pass?  And not just where to go, but how to get there. Myriad choices of routing and travel modes, never mind destinations and events and people and places that matter scattered to all points of the compass like mercury to the touch.

You can’t really see me there either, but I am, just masked from your perception by the elaborate costumes and the authentic set that allows those there to ease the passage to blend discretely into the scenery like a motionless owl treed in the dark, watching intently nonetheless. Gotta get you on board and on your way, right? We’ve got an airline to run and a schedule to keep: there are tons more passengers crowding in behind you, and there’s hardly room for everyone. And they’re all going somewhere in the world, or at least somewhere else.

So where in the wide, wide world of sports are you headed? Decide. At least for now–you can always change course later–but let’s aim you like a rifle, get your boarding pass and fire you off on your way. Can you even imagine who and what’s waiting for you “there?” Hope it’s everything you dreamed it would be but regardless, we’re going you and me.

Every moment en route is a crossroads of people more than places, because people are what move: young, old, single, families, alone, together you name it. Places have no life, only lives lived there, a stage acted upon and waiting for the next troupe of players. So many places to go, stages to act upon yet so little time and funding but mostly, the pesky pyramid-like quality of time: gets kind of tight at the top, you know?

Near the apex there seems to be less elbow room but at least you can finally see the point, if you you look. But one step at a time for now. The clockwork and moving parts mesh only slowly when you’re waiting, don’t they, as if they weren’t moving at all?

But pass they do like the scenery of which I’m a part, invisible as the nameless and faceless characters, extras they seem, on the set as you make your way through your travel scenes. We do all we can to smooth your passage because it’s our job, but also because we’re on the way, too. The last thing we do is count souls on board and we keep one total with no distinction between those in uniform or without, once you cross that little jet bridge and file aboard.

I keep that thought and that number in my head because I’m responsible for each, especially when we leave the planet. Which happens pretty quickly once we commit thrust to weight and lift overcomes drag and off we fly.

Unseen still, the Invisible Man, but no matter–in flight, everyone’s about the destination anyway. Pay no attention to the pilots behind that armored door, but do at least say “please” and “thank-you” to the cabin crew making you comfortable and most importantly, seeing to your safe passage. Once we’re cruising, seems like it goes without saying but somebody should, even at the risk of irritating the biz guy studiously avoiding recognition of the wonder unfolding below his window: look down.

He’s too travel savvy, but I’m not. The sun’s about to set, gathering the day and slinking away west. On your right is the “Big Ditch.” Here’s Bryce Canyon. Look, there’s most of Arizona trying to blow itself into New Mexico and beyond.

And there’s where centuries ago the Mississippi froze, then jumped its banks and cut a new path five miles wide another ten miles west. Check out cobalt blue Lake Tahoe looking looking like a puddle from five miles up.

And there are the northern lights and on the other side the constellation Orion our tireless friend and on and on are you listening at all? Anyway, you get the picture–if you look–without me saying a word. So much flying by so check it out, see everything and anything but your watch which will go neither slower nor faster for being looked at, but will go nonetheless. And that’s what makes all this tick.

What you don’t see is missed–gone one way or the other. And since you’re going anyway, might as well notice the passage.

But me you don’t need to notice, really. I’m on my way back before you do anyway, ready to ferry another shipload of precious souls on their way to wherever. Because air miles are my workday I’m invisible in this voyage. But this is your life–so you’re not.

Once we get “there,” we’ll go our separate ways, you on with your life, me back in the air. Silent partners no longer, but I’m glad nonetheless to have shared a calendar page and a passage in the sky with you. Safe travels, wherever you’re headed.

The Big 5 Conspire To Ruin Your Air Travel

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, elderly traveller, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, passenger, passenger bill of rights, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2010 by Chris Manno

Want to know who to blame for your airline hassles? Here are “The Big 5″ conspiring to ruin your air travel:

1. Congress. In an ill-conceived attempt to legislate a “one-size-fits-all” solution to largely anomalous and often anecdotal reports of airline tarmac delays, Congress enacted a law effective April 29th mandating multi-million dollar fines for airlines with aircraft delayed longer than a specified time, hoping to lessen passenger delays. But the law will have the opposite effect: instead of freeing passengers from tedious hours-long delays, this bill will create indefinite delays and cancellations of flights, stranding passengers enroute and at origination airports (for an in-depth analysis of the downside of this disastrous bill, click here).

Continental Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek said his airline will be forced to cancel flights rather than risk fines in the millions for an extended tarmac delay. The ultimate impact of this unavoidable cancellation for the traveler?

You will find yourself along with hundreds of other on the stand-by list for the handful of open seats going to your destination. And there can be only a handful of seats–and they’re not going to be cheap as a walk-up fare–because of number 2 below.

2. Alfred E. Kahn.

Known as “The Father of Airline De-Regulation,” economist Alfred E. Kahn was Jimmy Carter’s Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. His blueprint for airline de-regulation was based on a flawed economic model, and was as misguided as economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s assurance to Lyndon Johnson that the Viet Nam war would be short and wouldn’t affect inflation. Kahn proposed complete de-regulation of airline routes and fares, positing that the marketplace forces would drive down ticket prices and provide the American public with cheap and plentiful airline seats.

What he failed to consider in his economic model is the fact that not only is the product–an airline seat–not inexpensive to produce, it is also linked to energy costs which are both volatile and unpredictable. “Cheap airfares” for the public are incredibly expensive to produce, forcing in the progressive “unbundling” of the airline product: now passengers must pay for each component of the flight–a checked bag, food, beverage, amenities like a pillow or a hard-copy ticket–and the revenue still only marginally covers the price of the product, with the airline industry losing billions nonetheless. Consumers insisted on paying less for an airline ticket, so now

You wanted your ticket for $10 less, now you hand that over to McD's instead.

they can cough up for food and drink at airport prices between flights. Everything must yield revenue or there is no airline, and nothing with revenue potential on board can be simply given away.

Further, Kahn didn’t foresee that many airlines would use bankruptcy as an operating shield for years (thank #1 above for not amending bankruptcy laws) to gain an unfair advantage over the few airlines that didn’t. This abuse of bankruptcy law dealt a financial beating to carriers that paid their bills but still had to compete head-to-head with many who simply walked away from their debt.

3. Airline Capacity. Every airline that intends to survive the high production cost and low revenue stream has cut capacity to the bone. This is common sense: empty seats are an unrecoverable loss and waste, and airline planners have analyzed traffic and passengers in order to minimize such waste and loss. For the traveler, this means less empty seats–seats which are vital when a flight is cancelled due to #1 above, or for the more common cancellations due to weather or equipment. Used to be that the percentage of empty seats was higher, allowing the system to absorb passengers from a cancellation or delay. Such margins are a luxury of the past with airlines having to deal with out-of-control fuel prices with an ever-shrinking revenue stream.

True, Kahn’s brainchild did spawn new entrant airlines–but they don’t have a seat surplus either, or they simply go out of business.

4. Airway Infrastructure. There are only so many take-offs that are physically possible at 5pm at LaGuardia. Although Alfred Kahn’s model says the marketplace will regulate itself, if everyone wants to sell a competitive 5pm departure, it is clearly predictable that there will be massive delays, which are the rule at airports like LaGuardia and many in the northeast, as well as from airports inbound to those airports. Kahn’s leverage, unfortunately, is you, the passenger, and the delays and misconnects you will suffer as a result. But in a free market, what business can afford to not compete in the market that customers demand? And when they do, how do they deal with number 1 above? As Continental CEO Jeff Smisek promised, there will be rampant cancellations and stranded travelers as a result.

LaGuardia’s delays are emblematic of the entire national air route system: despite Kahn’s academic model, the airways are saturated at all of the commercially viable times when passenger demand dictates the competitive environment. Which leads to more delays–and in the face of congress’s newly enacted financial penalties, cancellations and misconnects for you, the passenger.

5. The Big Box Store.

The heyday of the discount “big box store” gave rise to a consumer expectation of all products and services for steep discounts. Everything from home electronics to auto parts to furniture is now sold in bulk at drastically reduced prices by wholesalers with only minimal investment in buildings and equipment.

A new aircraft, by contrast, costs upwards of $50-$100 million per aircraft, and hundreds of such aircraft are required to produce a fleet with a competitive route structure. Further, each aircraft has to earn revenue daily despite upturns and downturns in the travel market, as well as drastic fluctuations in fuel costs which follow oil prices. Face it: the cost of an airline round trip is not the same as a set of tires or a Cowboy’s football game–but the public paradoxically expects to pay less anyway (more details–click here).

Still not convinced that cheap airline travel is an absurd expectation? Ask yourself why “cheap surgical hospitals” aren’t also a consumer demand.

Does anyone really think flight at 7 miles up and the speed of a 22 caliber bullet is any less risky than surgery? Does anyone demand the cheapest bare bones surgical “product?” Is airline pricing too high? Read this and decide.

Regardless, there remains an unrealistic expectation among consumers that somehow ticket prices should fit their budget rather than the actual cost of the product. Part of that stems from the low-overhead “big box” pricing that is the norm on other big ticket items, part from Alfred Kahn’s unrealistic promise to consumers of cheap pricing on an expensive product, and part due to congressional unwillingness to address the disparity between the two.

You tell me. These “Big 5″ items have changed air travel from a Nieman-Marcus experience to a K-Mart Death March. Further, the airport and airway infrastructure are badly in need of technological upgrade.

The traveling public can make changes in #1 and #5; it’s time to junk #2, and it’s time to force #1 to make the needed upgrades to #4. The airlines themselves will take care of #3 when that happens.

Until the public and congress fix this, at least now you know whom to blame for your airline woes this travel season.

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