Archive for the airline industry Category

Airborne Holding Pattern–Why Isn’t The Pilot Talking To Us?

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline safety, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays with tags , , , , on May 27, 2017 by Chris Manno

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I get it: flight delays are frustrating for passengers. A hundred sixty-some people want information, they want time estimates. They have connections to make, events scheduled–and for whatever reason, the flight is late.

Two scenarios determine what I can do. On the ground? Easy: brakes parked, we wait. I give updates at least every 30 minutes on the ground, usually more often. We’re not moving, we’re not burning fuel–I have plenty of time and attention to give passengers. Here’s me in that situation:

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Sitting, waiting patiently, giving timely explanations over the PA. But in the air, it’s a different story. We’re burning fuel, which is literally eating away at the time we can stay aloft. We’re in a flow of traffic, meaning we have jets both ahead and behind us on our route and we have speed and altitude constraints: can’t speed up because we’ll close on the aircraft ahead of us (“Can we make up time in the air?” Probably not, and that’s why). We have ever-changing weather both along our route and at our destination and our alternates. When we’re sent to a holding pattern, here’s me:

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I’m conducting a multi-piece orchestra that includes Air Traffic Control, flight dispatch, and our jet to include route, fuel burn, alternates, alternate weather, enroute weather, holding pattern both position and altitude (as we go lower, the fuel burn increases and thus our range and endurance decreases), and the aircraft ahead of and behind us in holding, which is in reality above and below us.

Now is not a good time to tap the conductor on the shoulder and ask, “Are we there yet?”

I can’t say what other major carriers do, but on American Airlines flights, your cockpit crew has the latest greatest technology to provide real-time information and communication. The airline has always been a leader in advanced flight deck technology (first to have both comprehensive terrain warning and windshear predictive weather avoidance guidance) and in the last year, has added live-streamed WSI animated weather radar to the cockpit assets:

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Virtually at my fingertips is the combined radar, turbulence warnings, severe weather depictions, storm tops, and direction of movement, in real-time, animated, thanks to dedicated flight deck WIFI. We already had one of the most advanced radars ever built on our aircraft, which gives details out as far as 300 miles (I find it most useful at 160 mile range), but now we can look two hours down our route, see what’s developing and if prudent, request a different route clearance to keep the ride smooth and efficient.

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In the terminal area, on board radar does an excellent job of tuning itself and, because it has GPS positioning, it screens out terrain features that might appear as false weather echoes.

Once assigned holding, our cockpit workload includes the pattern itself (we always ask for longer legs to limit turns that burn gas and aren’t as comfortable for passengers. We’re given an Expected Further Clearance time (EFC on the display below):

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So we can begin the fuel calculations to determine how long we can hold before we must divert. Here’s a definition for you: Bingo Fuel is the minimum total fuel we can have before we must either proceed to our destination or divert. For example only, let’s say 5,000 pounds of fuel is what we want to be on the deck with.

To determine Bingo Fuel, we start with the total we must have on the ground at either our destination or our divert alternate. Add to that the amount of fuel it takes to get to your alternate, which is a different amount from that which would be burned if you diverted from the holding pattern rather than from an approach at your destination.

My airline has instantaneous navigation and fuel computations at our fingertips:

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Here is the fuel I’ll land with if I divert to Philadelphia, leaving holding now (the “D” after KPHL means “directly from holding”) which is 13.2 (13,200 pounds of fuel). Subtract 5.0 Bingo Fuel and that leaves 8,000 pounds available until we either have to land at our destination or alternate. Why is JFK arrival fuel less when it’s actually closer to our destination Newark? Because we’re holding well south of New York, so Philly is closer.

But there’s more to consider. What’s going on at Philly? Once again, our state-of-the-art cockpit resources have instant answers:

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A touch of the screen brings up current conditions at our destination and alternate. But there’s still another fuel consideration: how do I preserve Bingo Fuel after leaving holding and flying to the destination and completing the approach–then diverting? That number will be different depending on where you’re holding in relation to your destination, plus where your alternate is in relation to your destination. That’s signified by the “M” after the airfield, instantly calculated by our nav system:

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Of course, that number will be more restrictive because of the fuel burn required from our holding pattern location and our destination. The two figures (M and D) must be constantly monitored to be sure the M option is even possible, but there’s a catch: as you descend in the holding pattern, fuel burn will increase–and all of those fuel figures will change.

So, the conductor (captain) is sorting constantly changing data streams and at the same time, communicating with Air Traffic Control and Flight Dispatch but there’s a third stream that’s complex and must also be tacitly monitored: what are other jets doing? If those ahead of us get a further delay, we know we will too. If someone diverts, where are they going, because if too many go to that airport, there may be further holding.

What’s the ever-changing weather doing at our selected alternates and if needed (fairly typical), let’s set up numbers and weather for another divert alternate. Can we extend our holding based on the proximity of another suitable alternate?

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What approach are they using in real-time at both our destination and our alternate, and what is happening in real-time at our destination? If we can split our attention seven ways (Air Traffic Control, Dispatch, weather, fuel burn, destination and alternate weather), we can monitor the destination approach control frequency and see how long the final pattern (think: fuel burn) is so as to determine a more realistic enroute and approach burn to preserve the ironclad Bingo number.

Given all of that information coming in, communications going out, calculations being done and ever-changing, plus flying the 70 ton jet smartly, safely and efficiently–this is not a good time to tap the conductor on the shoulder and ask, “are we there yet?”

I’ll make a PA when we’re released from holding, or if we divert. But now that you are aware of what’s actually happening during a very routine airborne holding pattern, you can understand why I barely have time to drink my already cold airplane coffee, much less talk on the PA. We have the absolute best inflight equipment in the airline industry and the tightest, most consistent crew coordination in the world, so now is the time to let us work for you.

Rest assured that we’re doing everything humanly possible to get you safely to our destination.

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Let Me Put YOU in the Airliner Cockpit.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline novel, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , on May 12, 2017 by Chris Manno

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Ever thought about a day as an airline captain? Want to fill in the blanks regarding what goes on in the captain’s head once the cockpit door is closed? Here’s your own personal captain’s vision through my eyes.

First off, The Cloak of Invisibility: I just want to make it through the airport terminal unnoticed. I try to stay clearheaded, unhassled. All I want to do is A) find the jet on the gate (not delayed or worse) and B) See the route of flight and planned fuel load. Ain’t my first rodeo–I can get a pretty good feel for weather, winds, fuel and time.

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I can (and do) upload the flight plan data to both my phone and my iPad. If you see me at the gate scrolling through my phone rather than re-booking you (I can’t do that, I don’t have the ticket agent super-powers nor access to the computer reservation system, but I know you’ll ask anyway) I’m determining the planned fuel over destination and if I feel that the total is adequate, I’ll electronically accept the fuel load with a tap on my phone screen. If not, another tap speed-dials Flight Dispatch and I’ll have fuel added to our jet.

The good folks at Dispatch are always super helpful and as captain, just like with Crew Schedule, the ramp crew and Aircraft Maintenance, it’s so very important to invest in courtesy and gratitude in all interactions. They all work behind the scenes for us and the smart captain wants his support team happy. The least you can do is be self-effacing and respectful: “Hi, this is Chris, captain on 228 to Seattle … thank you very much.” It’s how you should treat people who work for you. Never argue with anyone: you’re the captain, so you’ve already won. It costs you nothing to be supportive and appreciative. See why I want to stay unhassled?

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Okay, we all have our weaknesses. One of mine might be the 7-Eleven dog. Don’t judge, and even if you do, realize I in the pointy end won’t be dealing with hunger pangs somewhere over Idaho on our nearly four hour cruise to Seattle. You?

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I try to stay out of everyone’s hair once I’m in the cockpit. I show up, stow my gear (hate it when FOs have extra bags and crap piled everywhere–especially behind my seat) and fire up the dual GFMS systems, letting the inertial reference gizmos negotiate WTF we are with the satellite widgets while I set the instrument panel and display lights, the comm panel audio switches on my side, and plug in my headset; adjust the seat height, crank in full lumbar support, take out any thigh pad adjustment.

Next, the iPad: type in the flight number and it reaches into cyberspace to upload the flight plan and take-off performance plan. Save those–and verify the fuel load actually in the tanks matches what you need. If not, another speed dial to dispatch.

The WSI iPad weather display sets up the same way–just type in the flight number and it draws the line on the map, puts in the waypoints, adds the radar animation, turbulence display, and significant weather warnings. In flight, the cockpit WIFI will keep the map updated with the most current weather radar and warnings.

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By now the #1 flight attendant (or the #3, depending on who’s not busy) will poke a head into the cockpit. Introduce yourself, tell them to let you know if they need anything. They’re probably in the middle of boarding, so leave them to that.

When the First Officer starts playing with an iPhone, you can bet there’s nothing else to be done on the right side. So, perfect time to check the route. The clearance has auto-uploaded from the FAA to our comm display as well as to our route in our nav system. Now, you read each point off the Flight Management Computer screen and the FO crosschecks against the iPad uploaded flight plan. That’s it–you’re ready to fly.

When you notice cargo door warning lights winking out, you know the ground crew is about done. Boarding noises taper off about the same time. Like the monkey said when his tail got caught in the fan, “It won’t be long now.” Reach up and flip on the seatbelt sign. When you do, 9 out of 10 FOs will start reading the “Before Starting Checklist.” Good. Take your time. You’re not paid to rush and in fact, you’re paid to not rush, right? Sometimes you have to remind others of that.

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An agent will step into the cockpit, tell you how many “souls on board,” plus a count of live animals (if any, you immediately say, “That’s me.”) in the cargo compartment, followed by, “Okay to close the door?” The answer is twofold: “Heck yeah” and “thanks.”

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The ground crew will call you eventually, once everything’s buttoned up downstairs. You release the brakes and tell the Crew Chief to stand-by, then call for the “Just Prior to Engine Start” checklist. Blessedly quiet, it is, with the cockpit door sealed shut and just the ground crew’s voice in the interphone. The FO will call for pushback clearance and when he gets it, you pass it to the ground crew: “Brakes released, cleared to push.”

Then we’re underway, creeping backwards. “Cleared to start the ground guy says once we are clear. The FO kills the packs–we need the air to turn the CFM-56 engines. You notice that in back? “Turn number two” you give the order.

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Engine number one follows once the brakes are parked and ground crew has cleared the area. They give you a salute which you return. Then it’s time to taxi. Love that part: two fists full of thrust and tons of jet fuel, turned loose with complete authority and freedom to fly.

Taxi-out is a methodical, orderly set of hurdles: you need the printout of the current weight, match that with the planned and the actual, confirm everything matches up.

Eyeballs out, while in motion, because there are other megaton jets in the aluminum conga line, ahead of you, behind you, and crossing your nose. Heads up.

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All final checks done, know and say out loud for the FO the field elevation, the minimum safe altitude, the initial assigned altitude, and your emergency return plan (usually, a left downwind because I can see left turns best from the left seat, right?) and the N1 one target RPM.

When you finally roll onto the runway, there’s a moment of peace: all we have to do now is fly. Don’t tell the airline, but that’s what we love to do anyway. Cleared for takeoff, exterior lights on, hack the elapsed time display, release the brakes.

Let’s rock.

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Airline Crew Confidential

Posted in air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines, airport, airport security, flight attendant, flight crew, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by Chris Manno

It was inevitable: 80 pages of wicked, insider crew-view airline cartoons:

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Passengers, impress your crew–share the cartoons with them. It’s secret insider stuff, like:

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And many more. Get yours from Amazon.com for $7.99. Just click here.

If you’re  flightcrew: you NEED this. If you’re a newhire flight attendant on my crew, I’m giving you one as my way of saying welcome, and thanks for all you do.

Enjoy!

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Airports, Weapons and YOU.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airport, airport security, flight crew with tags , , , , on January 8, 2017 by Chris Manno

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Airports, Weapons, and You.

The tragic shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport raises several crucial questions that deserve answers–but no one in law enforcement or airport management has thus far asked the right question much less offered an adequate answer.

But here’s the unspoken danger: the baggage claim area in the Fort Lauderdale airport is by city ordinance a weapons-free zone. Here’s the warning sign posted at every airport entrance. In this case, it’s at the baggage claim entrance.

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By law, all weapons–including firearms, as depicted in the warning–are prohibited in the baggage claim area. Which raises the major question: why did the Fort Lauderdale Airport as well as the airline that carried the handgun allow that deadly weapon to be delivered into the hands of the alleged shooter within their own designated weapons-free zone?

That raises more questions: do passengers, crew and airport employees have a reasonable expectation that the airport authority will enforce their own weapons prohibition, keeping the baggage claim and everyone in it safe? Do the airlines have to deliver weapons and ammunition, as was the case in the recent Fort Lauderdale mass shooting, to the alleged gunman at all? 

That’s a two-part question. First, why are airlines in the business of transporting weapons and ammunition in the first place? By doing so, they’re introducing both deadly items into the secure side of the airport where even employees are prohibited from from accessing any weapons–but there they lay among other innocuous luggage items, in the open baggage handling areas at both the origination and destination airports.

The second part is, why carry weapons aboard passenger jets, even in the cargo hold, at all? One major airline no longer ships pets as cargo, period, for a lot of good reasons. Is there a more urgent reason to transport weapons and ammunition, and worse, to deliver them to a passenger in the secure area where weapons are explicitly prohibited? Why would an airline do that, and why would an airport permit that?

Certainly, violence can always be introduced from the outside by force. Sadly, in this case, the weapon and ammunition that killed five people in Fort Lauderdale was delivered by an airline into the hands of the shooter in the airport’s own weapons-free zone with their concurrence.

Those who must transport a weapon can do so by means other than the cargo compartment of an airliner, solving that problem. But besides a radical change in the way airlines and airports regard weapons and weapons-free zones, little can be done to prevent future loss of life like the tragedy in Fort Lauderdale. 

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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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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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The Big 3 Air Travel Hacks

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2016 by Chris Manno

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The airport today looks like a refugee crisis, with roiling crowds, congested waiting areas, interminable lines and rampant discontent. Regardless, here 3 vital but very simple air travel hacks that can ease your airport experience and set yourself far ahead of the madding crowd.

First, know your flight number(s). Simple enough: write them down, flight number and date.

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Now, any time you need flight information, type your flight number into Google:

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No more searching for a monitor or a customer service rep, and the information Google provides is even more current than the list any agent printed earlier in their shift. Things change — and Google grabs the latest, instantaneous info when you ask: gates, time.

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It’s always a good idea to install the smart phone app for the airline you’re flying, because all of them will push notifications to your phone with any changes to gates and times, and some will even help you rebook in case of delays or cancellation.

But when all else fails, just Google your flight any time on departure day for the most current info — if you know your flight number.

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Next, put all of your valuables in a locked, hand-carried bag before security screening. This includes your wallet, watch, and any jewelry. I cannot understand why anyone leaves such valuables in an open container that may be out of sight as you go through security. The free-for-all after screening as passengers frantically gather their belongings is the perfect set up for someone to grab yours — unless they’re in a locked bag.

There are disclaimers at the security checkpoint stating that screeners are not responsible for your personal belongings, even though they may pull you aside for further screening out of sight of your watch, wallet and other valuables laying un-monitored in an open bin.

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If the security people need to inspect the contents of the bag, fine: after you unlock it, and watch any inspection. The TSA has fired a multitude of their own screeners for stealing from passenger bags — that won’t happen if you’re present when they inspect your valuables.

Finally, do not put anything you own into the seat back pocket in front of you in flight. I’ll never understand why we find wallets, passports, personal electronics and more in seat back pockets, typically well down-line and several flights after a passenger has stowed these items there.

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In fact, we were preparing for landing at DFW after leaving Mexico City once when a flight attendant called to say a passenger had found a passport in the seat back pocket. Can you imagine the “oh shiitake” moment someone must be having in Mexican Customs, never mind returning through US Customs? Ditto your credit cards and identification. Can you do without any of these items at your destination?

If you take anything out of your hand carried bag — put it back in when you’re finished with it. This goes for personal electronic devices too: a notebook on the floor under the seat in front of you will slide three or more rows forward on descent and even further on landing with heavy reverse thrust. The “finder” in the forward cabin may or may not return your property. So, if you’re not using an item, keep it stowed in your hand-carried bag, not in the seat back pocket or on the floor.

That’s the big three: know your flight number, use Google or your airline app for current info, and keep your personal belongings stowed and secure through screening and in flight.

Really, that’s just common sense, which seems to be in short supply in all airports and aboard most airliners. Now that you know the big three, pass this along to friends who may not — they, and we all, will have a better trip if you do.

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