Holiday Air Travel: Let the Games Begin.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , on November 18, 2016 by Chris Manno

It’s that time of year again: let’s spend a gazillion bucks on air travel to spend an awkward holiday with people who make you crazy.

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That’s the American way, squandering the mileage awards one  might want to blow on an exotic vacation for tickets to share regret with others who’ve also abandoned fun stuff for family stuff. That’s what holiday travel is all about, and even though you won’t feel better about the commitment later (sorry), the voyage itself will be memorable if only for the diminished expectations and unexpected turmoil. Ready to fly yet?

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Granted, I’m just the guy in the cockpit. I don’t have to smile and make nice at your family gathering (trust me, I have my own challenge waiting) and once we land, I’m turning around and flying back home to my crew base. Meanwhile, for your sake, let me point out the obvious.

First, expect things at the airport to run slower than you planned. So, plan an extra 1.75 in your time factor for scheduling. Meaning, whatever time you allotted for say, security, multiply that by 1.75 and determine how much time you’ll really need. Allowing two hours for check-in and security? Allow three and a half. Worst case, you’re through early but even so, your blood pressure will be lower. Trust me, “those people” travel on the holidays, only on the holidays, and tend to slow the process down in ways you never dreamed.

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Second, know your shiitake (I don’t want to write “shit,” but you need to know your shit) to include flight number and date. Then, just Google your flight to find out the latest gate and time info. You won’t need to line up at a service desk or call a toll free number–just move quickly to your next gate or to the proper baggage claim at your destination. You’ll be way ahead of the crowd.

Third, take care of yourself. Cough up the cash once you’re on the secure side of the airport for calories and water. Yes, they have some of the former and much of the latter, but neither on your schedule. If there’s a delay or, in flight, turbulence (not uncommon), there will be no food for sale or water poured–because I’ll have my crew seated until when and if ever the turbulence allows them to be up and about the cabin safely. So buy some type of carry-aboard food and beverage and forget the sticker shock: as Dear Abby said, “There’s what you spend, then there’s what you spend when you travel.” Do it. Take care of yourself and those in your travel party.

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Finally, bring your patience and remember, this isn’t the dentist’s office–you’re not at the airport and flying here to there for a cocktail party horror story: you knew up front that the airports and airplanes would be crammed full, that winter weather would delay flights, and that flight crews are human and have limits, too.

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Hey, shut up.

Stay cool, be patient; know your shiitake and be calorized and hydrated. The rest is just a matter of time: you’ll get to that crazy family holiday deal and if you take my advice, the trip will be both tolerable and memorable–for the right reasons.

See you at the airport.

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Air Travel and Anarchy

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , on October 27, 2016 by Chris Manno

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“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Nothing brings out the worst in people like air travel. Sadly, flying has become the crossroads of selfishness and self-righteousness, a road-rage hybrid unmasked, more akin to mob action as a result of being seated together rather than in isolated vehicles, but angry, loose-tempered and looking for a reason to go off just the same. Throw in a fashionable side order of latent outrage at anything individually determined to be offensive and you have the airborne tinderbox that regularly explodes into passenger non-compliance, misconduct, diversion and ultimately, yet another ruined travel experience.

Maybe in days past there was less opportunity to exact compensation for perceived slights. Maybe there’s righteous consumer outrage over the corpcomm buzzword “inconvenience” overlaid on any type of service disaster. Mix the two well, sprinkle with a litigious seasoning and pour into a social media crust, then bake on the internet for less than thirty minutes. We’re serving up outrage–and selfies–get it while it’s hot.

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That tired, sad urban legend-gone-digitally viral cry for attention would be little more than a Spam-ish nuisance except for one elephantine reality: it’s dangerous as hell in flight.

In a world that prizes personal choice, self-importance, sacrosanct self-image, and the all-important digital self-reflection (“That’s us in ____!”), compliance is a dirty word. Problem is, flying is a difficult, at times risky endeavor that relies on discipline and its ugly stepchild, compliance, from the cockpit all way back to the aft lav.

Unfortunately, the all-important “me” is societally- and media-sanctioned, so individual choices are thereby easily disconnected from consequences in the aircraft emergency crew commands as well as in the midair violence wall-papered over in corp-speak as “passenger non-compliance.” That often starts with choices easily blamed these days on those offering the choice rather than those making the choice itself.

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Crewmembers are attacked, other passengers are physically (or worse) assaulted, but the individual acting, “non-complying,” is seldom held responsible for the consequences of an individual choice.  Sadly, it gets so much worse, so much more dangerous.

But I can hear it already: yeah, but I’m me. That’s a two-headed monster–first, the perception that others are the problem and second, that you aren’t one of the “others,” but you are. The command “take nothing with you” in an emergency evacuation is based on the life-and-death certification of the aircraft: 90 seconds, timed with a full load of passengers from evacuation command to everyone safely clear of an aircraft that had no luggage aboard.

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In real life, enough of the “I’m me” others refuse to comply with the command to take nothing with you (“I’m not leaving without my [fill in self-absorbed priority]!”) at the expense of those seated at the far end of the tested, proven, but now destroyed time to escape a burning aircraft. That can and will be fatal, yet the death of some is lower on the hierarchy of self in an “everybody gets a trophy” legacy of some “others.”

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Airline regulatory agencies like the FAA and NTSB do little to actually enforce compliance. Even beyond the glaring headlines attending an aircraft emergency evacuation sabotaged by passenger non-compliance, there’s little that regulators can and will do to eliminate flight risk factors other than to urge passenger “compliance.”

There again, we careen headlong into the absolution of “I’m me.”  The FAA recently recognized the disastrous inflight potential for a lithium ion battery fire in a very commonplace piece of technology. The remedy? Screening? Enforcement? Legal consequences?

Nope. Just, “we told you not to.”

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Granted,  you’re not one of the “others” who’d readily drag their bags along on an emergency evacuation at the risk of other passengers’ lives. You don’t over consume alcohol and disrupt a flight. And you don’t ignore the toothless “prohibition” and bring your very expensive but hazardous phone on board.

But they’re out there, self-justified, media-enriched, societally excused, and dangerous as hell.

Better hope “they” aren’t on “your” flight.

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Airline Pilot: Paint Me Another Landing

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Passengers experience the approach from the back of the jet: sinking lower, corrections left and right, a wingtip dipping, maybe the mush of a rudder step against the crosswind. Landing soon. Right?

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So much more goes on beyond the locked cockpit door: one part land, two parts fly; a side order of go around–and all are acceptable.

You go to school in your head from ten, twenty miles out: what’s the wind doing? How’s the jet responding? What gets us between the final approach fix steady with all of the markers (pitch, power, roll and track) sinking through a thousand feet? And what will change?

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It’s a moving target: you have to change configuration drastically, but lock in the performance in terms of stable speed and descent rate. Energy management: need to slow AND descend–what’s the best bargain, what drag do you pay out to slow, descend and lock in the 3 degree glide slope?

Time is never your friend. You’d better know how the thousands of pounds of jet fuel on board translate into not only minutes, but miles: where you gonna go, and when, captain? Used to ask new captains I checked out, one hand over the fuel gages (you need to know this stuff, not look for it when I ask), how much time do you have?  When do we need to get the hell out of Dodge, and where will you go?

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Watch the jets ahead. What are they fighting? The widebodies on final and in the traffic pattern are a great visual aid: what are they doing? See those big old, tired pilots step on that rudder; watch the tentative wing-low; go to school–you’ll look smarter through 500 feet because they gave you a cheat sheet.

Think-feel-fly: be the solution, at 180 knots across the ground. Don’t just operate the flight controls–fly the jet.

Never mind the tower-reported winds–look around: smoke? Trees? Ripples on the water? And the living windsock you’re flying in–what does it take? Never mind what it should require, what the reported winds said it would take. Put it where you want it. Have those few extra knots in your pocket, the ones so easily pick-pocketed by faithless winds; carry the big drag (give me 40) in order to carry the big power. Your TOGA “get out of jail free” card is that much more readily cashed in, you’re actually driving through the wind to the runway rather than surfing the gusts.

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Match the cross-track to the steady state wind, ignore the gusts heckling to no good end. Believe in what you know, what the jet’s telling you–there’s more power than you’ll ever need hanging on the wings, manage it; just fly smart.

Small correction rates, as big a correction as is necessary–don’t be shy. The jet’s like a horse: she needs to believe you believe in yourself if you’re going to make the jump, to know you can handle the landing.

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It’s a weird conundrum, landings: you’ll never get credit for what you don’t do, never be forgiven for what you do. The answer is simple: perfection, then neither extreme alternative applies.

Taxi-in is the payoff. Silence is best, in my opinion. No need to reflect on what you just accomplished, just own it, bank it, quietly. You’re only as good as you last flight, and the next one’s waiting. Doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but it damn well better be pretty.

Humble up, and let’s go do it again.

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Voodoo Rush:Get A Signed Advance Copy

Posted in action-adventure, airline novel, Chris Manno, Voodoo Rush, novel, action novel, novel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Guns, flying, Voodoo, and wild action that stretches from the Big Easy to the Caribbean.

Scheduled for release October 25th by White Bird Publications of Austin, Texas, at bookstores and Amazon.com.

But you can get an advanced copy, signed, and shipped securely here:

buy-now

$19.95 + $6.95 shipping (US only) and handling.

The REAL Captain’s Guide: How To Fly That Crap Weather Approach.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, fear of flying, flight crew with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by Chris Manno

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First, let’s define “real” captain. I don’t mean “real” in the sense of physical, tangible, bad-layover-clothes, mouth-breathing captain, although I’ve been one at a major airline for 25 years and counting. You’re “real” as a captain on Day One when you’re turned loose with the rating.

What I mean by “real” is as in, “get real.” That’s because we know there are several things you face as captain with the dogshit weather approach. First, there’s what you’re told. Second, there’s what you know. Finally, there’s where the reality plays out: from the final approach fix inbound at 180 knots across the ground. There’s stuff you need to do to be ready for that.

The first item, “what you’re told,” includes the OpSpec that allows you to do what you’re about to do: fly a big jet with a lot of folks–including your crew–into minimally adequate weather for landing. OpSpec includes a minimalist element (what’s the least we can send you into the most challenging weather?) that allows airlines to earn revenue for what you’re about to do.

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What you’re told also includes the prevailing weather at the time they told you, which is nowhere near the time at which you’ll actually fly the approach. If I sound like a captain who’s had that detail bite him in the ass–it’s because I am.

So, here’s the BTDT viewpoint that goes beyond the classroom and the manuals. Not interested in stuff beyond the books? Don’t need the BTDT captain viewpoint? Please close this blog page now. No harm, no foul. Best of luck.

Okay, still here? The others gone? Good.

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First, your approach starts in the chocks before pushback. No, I don’t mean “be the dork who starts stressing or worse, briefs the approach before engine start.” Rather, I mean be the captain the FO can rely on as soon as you sit down. Stay the hell out of his way as he (or she)  works. Respect–but check–the setup of the cockpit for takeoff. You ain’t perfect, so don’t expect your FO to be, and let him (or her) know YOU can be counted on as a team member to be sure you both do well from the first checklist. That’s what you want later: a collaborative, respectful environment where your FO knows you’re relying on each other step by step. The FO needs to be looking for and free to point out your screwups.

Second, “what you’re told” versus what you know can be tricky. Weather forecast versus delays you’ve seen versus altitude restrictions and the list goes on: variables, unreliables, despite “what you’ve been told.” But what everyone knows is this: fuel equals time. When that sixth sense picks at the back of your brain saying we might could use more fuel–you really do so get it before release. If you’re wrong (trust me, you won’t be–the only time you can have too much fuel is when you’re on fire) then you land with more time options. But if you’re at minimum fuel you’ll have to tear the seat cushion out of your ass after landing because your butt cheeks ate it up like horse’s lips do while you stressed about weather delays.

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Finally, downwind. If you’re flying, relax: you’re not that asshole captain showing how it’s done (okay, you really are) but rather, you’re doing what you know to your core you’re damn good at. So, be humble, be quiet, be methodical, procedurally correct and do exactly what’s called for. Show your FO how you want the approach flown.

FO flying? Even better: relax, back up everything done, think ahead of the jet and while you do, let the FO do the flying exactly as it’s supposed to be done. Getting slightly off track? Guide back to best practices with suggestions, positive affirmations and last resort–LAST RESORT–directive, which sounds like “Let’s go ahead and ____” or “I’m not comfortable with ____.”

Remember, if what you’re told hours ago before takeoff matches what you encounter at the final approach fix, that’s a coincidence. You fly “real” based on what you know, which includes every experience and subsequent intuition derived therefrom–apologize to no one, get the fuel you need and decide for yourself if OpSpec minimums are adequate to meet the challenge facing you in realtime. We don’t fly on paper, on a spreadsheet, or on a chart of minimums page. Remember the horse’s lips/seat cushion metaphors: get fuel, think ahead, respect your FO, believe what you know (school of hard knocks) and fly smart, conservative and REAL.

Then, from Final Approach Fix to touchdown or go-around, you’re smart, confident, safe, and real. No one can ask you for more and as captain, you cannot do anything less, nor accept anything but the best you can do, by leading, coaching and most of all, being real.

Fly safe, compadres.

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Air Travel: What You SHOULD Worry About.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, blog, cartoon, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, passenger, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2016 by Chris Manno

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There’s seldom a day that passes without some type of media headline regarding an air “scare.” But the news stories are mostly about minor hassles such as a divert or a passenger disturbance, maybe even turbulence injuries for the unwary passengers who won’t keep their seatbelts fastened.

Whatever. Most of what’s reported as a “scare” isn’t worth a second thought. That said, there are things you should worry about. Here’s my Top 5 list:

  1. Fatigue: Your crew has been browbeaten into the longest flight duty period allowed with the shortest rest period possible. That’s due to effective lobbying by the airline industry hellbent on reducing crew costs–at all costs. Rest periods have been shaved to the bare minimum for pilots, and there’s no rest minimum stipulated by the FAA for the cabin crews responsible for your safety in an emergency. The airline industry has  relentlessly and successfully lobbied the FAA and congress to resist any rest requirements for flight attendants. So, they have none, often working a 12 hour day with only 8-9 hours off for sleep, food, and getting to and from work. That’s a bad idea, cost-driven, that makes little sense.
  2. Unrealistic Flight Schedules: Airlines have stretched the planning of flights to use the minimum number of aircraft on multiple, interlocking segments, often planning a single jet for 5 or more flights in a single day. The unspoken prerequisite for such an operation is an unavoidable fact that airline planners know–but ignore. That is, system variables such as aircraft maintenance, weather, Air Traffic Control and airport delays are the rule, not the exception. So, if your flight is three segments into that jet’s day, the chances of your arriving on time is reduced significantly. There’s not a certain probability that one of those delay factors will occur in an aircraft’s day–it’s guaranteed.
  3. Pay Restrictions: Overtime pay is taboo among airline planners, despite the havoc wrought by such a restriction. For example, if your aircraft has a maintenance problem requiring a mechanic to repair a system or component within an hour of maintenance shift change time, that repair will wait at least that final hour has expired just to be started. Why? Because no licensed mechanic can do half of the work, then have the work finished by an oncoming mechanic who must put his license on the line for work he didn’t do. The answer is, overtime for the mechanic required to work beyond a scheduled shift to complete work that will let you depart on time. That choice has been made: the answer is, no overtime.
  4. Oversales: That’s a direct result of restricted capacity, meaning, airlines have trimmed schedules and thus seats available to the bare minimum required–but they’ve sold more seats than they have in stock. Rain check? That works in a retail operation selling “things,” but not for a business selling transportation. How does that work for the time-constrained passenger with a business meeting scheduled or a resort already paid for?
  5. Manning: Every student taking Business-101 will tell you that personnel management dictates some overlapping duties if personnel costs are to be contained: you must answer your coworker’s phone if they’re out sick. That doesn’t work in the cockpit, or the cabin. And yet, crew manning has been pared to the bone, requiring a “perfect operation” (see #2 above) which airline planners all know never happens.  So, pilots with mandatory maximum duty hours run up against FAA mandated limits and very often there are no spare pilots–because hiring and paying pilots is a cost item airline planners minimize regardless of the price to be paid in delayed or cancelled flights. That price is paid by passengers and as often, by crews.

Those are my Big Five, the only “scary” things that you are likely to see in air travel. They don’t make the news, probably because they aren’t “news,” but rather, just the sad result of spreadsheet dollar-driven choices already made before you even get to the airport.

Have a good flight.

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How Can an Airliner Land at the Wrong Airport?

Posted in air travel, air traveler, travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 12, 2016 by Chris Manno

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How Can an Airliner Land at the Wrong Airport?

Air travelers are asking, “How can a modern airliner land at the wrong airport?” My answer is simple: very easily.

Let me explain. First, flying a jet is not like driving your car: a typical aircraft approach speed is about three times the velocity of your car at highway speed. In flight, things happen fast; ten miles is more like a block or two in your car.

Throw in obscured visibility, poor lighting, or weather like rain or fog. Now, if you’re looking in the general direction of your destination, covering a mile every 20 seconds, visual references may make two different airports seem virtually identical. That’s partly because runways are typically laid out into the wind, and runways within fifty miles will probably be laid out exactly alike.

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Add to the confusion the fact that small airports have minimal other distinguishing characteristics: a runway, a small, plain box-like terminal. Now add a dose of fatigue for pilots who’ve had a long day or an early sign in, and the chances of a visual sighting of the wrong airport compound.

I’ve spent over 30 years as an airline pilot trying to be sure I don’t fall victim to that conspiracy of commonplace factors that can result in landing at the wrong airport. Here’s how I try to be certain that I don’t. First, every modern jet has a map display that includes the pertinent information for every airport we must fly to. The key is to be sure to identify and activate the desired waypoint on the screen. That is, the runway, the final approach fix — something. Sure, smaller airports may not have an instrument approach, but they always display the correct runway if the pilots select the display.

I’m even more paranoid: for example, flying in and out of Nashville, I worry that I’ll mis-identify Smryna, an airport within a few miles of the Nashville Airport that has a similar runway configuration. So I put Smyrna on the navigation display as a fix: if we’re aimed at that fix, it’s the wrong damn airport.

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There’s little an airline pilot can do about the insidious factors of fatigue, dehydration, limited nutrition, and poor sleep in a hotel. But, there are a few things a pilot can do, like those I mentioned, to stack the odds against landing at the wrong airport. Regardless, there are no foolproof, perfect solutions.

Whenever the news reports an airliner landing at the wrong airport, I redouble my efforts and thank my lucky stars that it’s not me.

Chris Manno has been a pilot at a major airline for 31 years and a captain for 25 years.

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