Archive for the airline pilot blog Category

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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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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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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Drunks on a Plane.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airport, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Drunks on a Plane

By Chris Manno

I’ve been a captain at a major airline for almost 25 years now, and one sad but preventable liability remains unaddressed through all of my thousands of flight hours: drunks on a plane.

When I hear of intoxicated air travelers disrupting a flight, beyond the risk to others aboard, the first thought that comes to my mind is a three-pronged failure by airports, airlines and ultimately, passengers.

The problem is real, and dangerous. Every law enforcement professional will tell you that a domestic or public disturbance is compounded by the involvement of alcohol. Judgement is impaired, self-restraint is diminished and behavior becomes aggressive, often violent.

As in such violent encounters that police are called to manage, the incident itself is basically a flash-fire touched off by an accumulation of stress factors and fueled by alcohol.

And there’s failure number one: if anyone should be aware of the emotional tinderbox that is air travel, it’s airport management who administer the lines, delays, security hassles, baggage problems, diversions, crowding, and even automobile traffic. Yet airports will not give up the cash flow that alcohol sales at the airport supplies.

They witness daily the human pressure cooker of jet lag, sleeplessness, dehydration and uncertain, typically inadequate rest and nourishment that is typical for a passenger mix from time zones far and wide.

That is a total failure of prevention, fueled by equal doses of looking the other way, and a reluctance to give up revenue from alcohol sales at airport bars and restaurants. Airport managers know better, but choose revenue over passenger safety.

Ditto the airlines: they realize that it’s not possible for flight crews and even ground service staff to assess passenger intoxication levels. Typically, crews and agents see enplaning passengers only briefly as they board. Worse, there’s no way for crews in flight to know how the typically high cabin altitude (usually equivalent to the high altitude of Mexico City) will intensify intoxication effects in passengers — nor do many passengers themselves. Add to that the unknown (at least to crews) wild cards of other medications or other behavioral disorders in passengers and selling intoxicants on board seems like an untenable risk.

Any other business serving alcohol could be held criminally or civilly negligent for not having able-bodied staff (read: bouncers) to handle aggressive, intoxicated patrons or worse, for not calling for law enforcement to handle such volatile situations. An airliner in flight has no ability to remove intoxicated passengers, no able-bodied staff to manage such cases and worst of all, no access to law enforcement help when such dangerous incidents play out on board. And yet, they still sell alcohol in flight?

Finally, passengers themselves are a major part of the problem. In 2016, the twin issues of passenger compliance with crew instructions and acceptance of personal responsibility are at an all time low. There’s always someone else to blame — usually the airlines — for transgressive, often violent behavior in flight. Fights break out over an armrest; add alcohol to the volatile mix and the short fuse of temper burns hot.

We’ve heard the tired arguments justifying alcohol sales in airports and on board flights: it’s all about personal freedom, relaxation, choices, and socialization — basically, the dead and buried arguments that smokers used until the nineties to justified that ugly blight in the terminals and in the air. Somehow, smoking in airports and on board went extinct in the last century, and air travelers are none the worse for the loss.

If airlines, airports and passengers themselves are serious about safer, more secure and less violent flights, alcohol needs to fade into the same extinction that removed smoking from airports and airliners.

Airports, airlines and most passengers are aware of the risk involved in alcohol and air travel. Now it’s a question of who will finally do the right thing for everyone involved and ban alcohol sales in airports and aboard flights.

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Just Fly the Jet and STFU.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 24, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Marketing honcho says inflight announcements “degrade the premium experience for our valued frequent flyers.” So, he implores, you captains: minimize your use of the PA during the flight for their sakes.

But what about my sake? Me, nine years old, breathless as the ground falls away, can’t wait for the seatbelt sign to go off so I can bolt to the lav, flush the toilet and see it gape open to the  blue sky. Wide-eyed, with a tote bag of items I planned to throw out, letting them flutter to Earth as I sailed above.

Or the old folks from “back east,” as they liked to say — the woman traveling with a twine-tied cardboard box of tomato purée in 12 ounce cans “Because,” she confides with disdain, “you just can’t get good tomatoes out west.” She swears we’ll be flying over the Grand Canyon and vows to “get some snaps” when the captain announces it, to prove to her sister that she did.

What about the “not frequent flyers?” The kids who marvel at the God’s-eye view, who brought stuff to drop out the toilet hole to strew across the sky? Who may have a merit badge in map reading he’d like to show off to the stews if he could get maybe a little confirmation of where the hell we are from the cockpit.

And the fuzzy-chinned GI who says he drove this route with his parents as a kid, wants to see it again, think back on those days as he follows his military orders to Bumfuk-wherever, the shithole his duty (done on behalf of all, including the “valued frequent flyers”) muse play out for a few lonely years. Can the captain make a PA when we are in Utah? Just knowing he’s over home, even though bound far from home, is a comfort.

Somebody’s Uncle Charlie needs to see where John Wayne filmed “all the great ones.” Tucumcari, he says; there’s a fake fort nearby. He watched The Duke film a nighttime scene in broad daylight for a spaghetti western, he says, as a kid. Point that out, wouldja?

And the couple who need to know when we cross the Mississippi, for some secret reason that seems to matter a lot, though they won’t say exactly why.  We don’t want to miss that, they say, trying to pick out landmarks between cloud breaks. Somebody who mattered is buried nearby, let us know.

Is the “premium experience” more valuable than the salt-of-the-earth, blood and bone humanity that flies behind — not below, behind — the “premium” cabin? Does the self-importance of being unaware because you don’t care trump the one-up of an elderly sister over her older sister? Does the dancing below the Titanic’s decks disturb the quiet of the stick-up-the-ass aristocracy lounging on the Promenade?

I sure hope so.

“Nice view of Lake Powell and beyond that, Valley of the Gods.” Only takes a second or two, here and there; pardon the recurring suspension of the premium experience as the world turns, the sky burns furious scarlet at the ends of the earth as the day gathers the light and rushes west.

We’ll all come back down to Earth, premium or no, soon enough. Might as well enjoy the view while it lasts. May not seem important to you, but it really is.

— Chris Manno is a captain for a major airline, tried to throw junk out of an airliner’s toilet hole long ago, still marvels at the view from eight miles up.

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