Archive for the airline pilot blog Category

Fearful Flyers: Here’s Help

Posted in airline passenger, airline pilot blog, fear of flying with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2017 by Chris Manno

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The more an airline passenger knows, the less possible it is for the unknown to overinflate itself and stand in the way of your travel with family and friends to fun, faraway places and adventures.

Here’s an insider-look with street-level explanations for everything you’ll encounter from your doorstep to the airport to your seat on the airplane: sights, sounds and sensations–what to expect, and why.

If you have a fear of flying or worse, if you’re unable to fly because a loved one has that fear, thereby grounding you too,  here’s an easy, accessible, low-key way to start the reassurance that leads to air travel.

If you relate to the JetHead blog–you’ll love this book. Get yours now, from Amazon Books.

To order, CLICK HERE.

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Air Travel Gotchas

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot blog, airport, passenger bill of rights, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , on August 22, 2017 by Chris Manno

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There are “gotchas” in air travel you might not know about–but should. Many are of the “some restrictions apply” and “read the fine print” type; some are matters of inconvenience, some are very expensive. Here’s my “gotcha” list:

— “Volunteering” to be bumped for oversales. That’s fine, if you are assured of positive space on another flight. Sometimes (and some airlines) will give you the promised compensation (typically a travel voucher), but not positive space–you’re standby, and you may be stuck for a long time. Be sure to specify positive space before you accept the voucher and relinquish your seat. I’m just enough of a pain in the ass to ask for boarding passes just to be sure.

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Know your passenger rights.

–Misconnects. Know your rights, but as importantly, know the gotchas: if you used certain air travel broker sites (Travelocity, etc), your misconnect may not be covered for further travel by the airline. I’ve seen frantic passengers rush up to a gate where the flight had departed, asking to be put on the next flight. Problem is, the “CheapFlight.com” that sold you your ticket is not part of the airline and you may not be entitled to the next flight–or any flight other than the one that departed. Know this ahead of time or you may find yourself shipwrecked.

–Misconnects Part Two: compensation (hotel room, meals) will not be offered by or required of an airline for events beyond their control, like weather delays, diversions and cancellations. So, if your flight was the last of the day and you missed the flight due to circumstances like weather, plan to sleep in the terminal or spring for a hotel room yourself. which brings me to …

–Travel insurance. Buy this from a reputable travel agent or AAA. Policies can pay for that unexpected hotel room for a short overnight (tip: Minute Suites in many major airports have hourly rooms and they’re inside security, saving the screening time as well as the van ride to and from) and other incidentals and losses, like the vacation condo you’ve already paid for.

As importantly, a decent travel insurance policy can cover unforeseen costs like a rebooking fee if you become ill or some other exigence requires a change in your plans. Along those lines, you should be certain that your medical insurance will cover treatment in non-US locations and travel insurance can help cover the cost gaps.

Seems like few people consider travel insurance but with your vacation time being scarce and costs high, travel insurance makes sense.

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–Aircraft Power Ports. Many flight attendants don’t even know this: there’s a maximum amperage draw allowed for the entire cabin. Aircraft manufacturers design the system with an average amp load, but a full flight, depending on what passenger items are drawing power, the demand often exceeds the design limit. When that happens, no power for you, at least until someone else unplugs. Moral to the story: if you have a device that needs charging–plug it in as soon as permissable in flight.

–Aircraft WIFI. See above: the WIFI bandwidth is limited. If you have something important to up- or download, do it as soon as possible or you may find the internet crawling so slowly that your data will not be accessible or transmittable.

So there you have it. Some of these issues are nuisance items, other are major league expensive travel disasters. The moral to the story is to be prepared, consider the possible problems and decide how you’re going to handle them BEFORE you leave port.

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Airsickness: Here’s Help.

Posted in air sickness, air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot blog, weather with tags , , , , , , , on July 20, 2017 by Chris Manno

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If you are susceptible to air sickness, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger: I’ve been flying jets as a pilot for nearly 40 years and I can honestly say I’ve been there. Add to that, there’s really nothing worse than being trapped in a jet, needing to heave.

But here’s the thing. There are steps you can take to minimize your vulnerability to air sickness in flight.

First, preflight:

  1. Be physically ready: Your physical condition matters, including nutrition, rest and hydration leading up to your flight. A late night of recreation–especially one that engenders a hangover–before a morning flight will leave you sleep deprived and feeling poorly to start with. Lack of sleep will lower your resistance to the physical stresses of flying like dehydration (the humidity in the average airline cabin in flight is 1-2%), vibration, and vestibular effects like roll, yaw and pitch. So: be rested, hydrated and have nutrition taken care of BEFORE you board.
  2. Choose your seat wisely: Pilots know that the aircraft pivots around its aerodynamic center of gravity. So, just as the hub of a bicycle tire moves less drastically than the outer edge of the spokes, points on the aircraft nearest the center of gravity move the least.
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The aircraft pivots in pitch and roll around the center of gravity: sit over the wing for the smoothest ride with the least motion.

That means a seat over the wing will be the most stable, the least affected by the motions of yaw, pitch and roll. By contrast, what feels like a little motion over the wings is felt in the nose and tail much more strongly. Reserve a seat near the wings: ask a reservations agent (might cost you) or check the aircraft diagram on line.

Inflight:

3. Medication: Check with your your primary care physician for any medication that would meet your needs: OTC Dramamine, for example, if recommended by your doctor. Be sure to take all recommended medication BEFORE the flight.

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4. Stay hydrated: bring your own water on board. Buy a bottle, or refill a refillable bottle in the terminal once you’re past security screening. DO NOT count on an in-flight water service because of factors such as delays or turbulence that can prevent access to hydration–be responsible for yourself and bring water.

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Turbulence from weather far away may affect your flight even when well clear of storms.

5. Booze: Refrain from alcohol in flight: the effects of some alcohol include dehydration and some side effects on your sense of balance.  Avoid heavy meals before and during flight–they only add to the volume of stomach contents that can be disturbed by turbulence, pitch, yaw and roll.

6. Entertainment: some flyers who are subject to motion sickness have told me that reading a book makes things worse because their eyes pick up the motions of flight (including choppy air) and add to the vestibular upset caused by the sensations of flight. Others suggest headphones to listen to soothing music, others suggest the distraction of a movie either on a personal device or via an aircraft system. What works for you? Experiment, bring music, a digital movie or TV show.

7. Fly early: not only is the air smoother before daylight begins to heat the air and cause disturbances, traffic is lighter and delays less frequent. Beat rush hour–fly before 10am if you can.

Air sickness is no fun and for some people, a vulnerability they can not avoid. But if you pay attention to the suggestions above, you can minimize the effects of of flight motion and maximize the tolerability of your flight.

Bon Voyage–

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Air Travel Delays: My Top 3 Cause Factors

Posted in air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, passenger, passenger bill of rights, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2017 by Chris Manno

Look, I get it: I sit in both ends of the jet for some very long delays. My last two turnarounds were planned for 7 hours but turned into 8.5 and 9.1 respectively. That made my pilot duty day, with preflight and ground turnaround time, over 12 hours.

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Me deadheading in the very last row of coach, carefully not man-spreading and conceding the armrest to the middle seat passenger (basic air travel etiquette, BTW)

We waited over an hour for takeoff, then had additional holding in the air before landing at Philadelphia International Airport.

I’d deadheaded up to Philly to fly the jet back to DFW Airport but the result of the Air Traffic Control delays getting the jet off the ground in DFW and enroute to Philadelphia made our Philly-DFW flight well over an hour late into DFW.

That caused many passenger misconnects once we arrived at DFW after yet another round of airborne holding for nearly an hour. My flight plan from Philadelphia to DFW called for a flight time of 3:27 but with holding, the actual flight time became 4:30.

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That’s due to storms moving through the north Texas area faster and more southerly than predicted, constricting air traffic routes into DFW. So, we were delayed by ATC for an hour holding over a fix southeast of the airport after an enroute course refile to avoid weather.

I ain’t complaining, but I got home at 2am instead of 11pm. That’s my job and I did it correctly and safely for all 167 folks on board.

But that’s not the big picture. What’s driving ever-increasing air travel delays? Here’s my Top 3 Factors.

  1. Increased traffic volume. According to the DOT Bureau of Aircraft Statistics, airline departures have increased 5-7% annually since 2010. That means more aircraft crammed into exactly the same airspace, which means traffic flow abatement is ever-more necessary and unfortunately, more present: ground stops abound; inflight holding is often unavoidable even after enduring a ground stop.
  2. Weather predictive delays: the National Weather Service provides more and better predictive weather products that the FAA Air Traffic Control Center (ARTC) attempts to integrate into their traffic management constraints. In theory, this is a good thing but in practice, I question the effectiveness: air traffic is often preemptively ground-stopped or re-routed based on weather predictions, which aren’t always accurate (see above), meanwhile, air traffic then must be re-routed from the ARTC re-routes.
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The storms often do not conform to the FAA predicted movement, causing yet another layer of reroutes and delays.

3. Airline “banking” (the grouping of inbound-outbound flight exchanges at hub airports) cannot handle the disruption of hours-long delays: when one complex or “bank” of flights is delayed outbound, there’s nowhere to park and deplane the next complex. This leads to individual airline-imposed ground stops: your flight will not be pushed off from your origin airport gate until there’s a reasonable expectation of gate availability at your arrival hub. This is to avoid the old “sitting on a tarmac with toilets overflowing waiting for a gate” urban legends that engendered the Passenger Bill of Rights.

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Given the ubiquitous eye of cellphone video and social media, passengers can count on more origin airport outbound delays: major carriers will always defer to the Passenger Bill of Rights, allowing you to deplane at will at the departure station rather than sit on board at your destination, trapped for hours waiting for a gate at a weather-affected hub while ranting on social media.

There are other factors creating and lengthening delays, like an industry-wide shortage of qualified airline pilots and airline planners who over-optimistically schedule aircraft, crews and connections.

But from a pilot viewpoint, the big three above seem to be what I most frequently encounter. So, in addition to packing your own food and water in your carry-ons, be sure to arrive at your departure airport with a plentiful supply of patience. This summer, you’ll need it it more than ever.

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When Dogs Fly.

Posted in airline pilot, airline pilot blog, dog kennel, dogs, dogs in flight, dogs on airliners with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2017 by Chris Manno

I confess: I’m a dog person. I believe they’re the most wonderful, faithful, generous companions a person could have, which presents an enormous obligation: dogs ask for little, but depend on us to provide what little they need.

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I need to reassure our four-legged friends that they’re not alone or forgotten and that we’ll take care of them in flight.

Flight is not something a dog needs. So let’s get that straight first: if a dog is on board an airliner, shipped as cargo, that’s nothing the dog needs or wants–that’s for the owner.

“Cargo” is the key word here, too. Because dogs are NOT cargo, they’re living, breathing, feeling creatures who don’t deserve to be “shipped” for the same reasons YOU don’t: the ramp is noisy, scary, dangerous, too hot, too cold, exposed to wind, rain, lightning and jet blast. They’re going to spend a significant amount of time exposed to all of those stresses before we even get off the ground.

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Water spills so easily–I try to refill when possible as dogs are put aboard.

Our cargo crews on the ramp are superstars and care about animals. But when your dog is “shipped,” he’s treated like cargo, which means spending time on the ramp for both loading aboard and unloading from the aircraft.

That’s harsh for an unknowing pet with sensitive hearing subjected to the extreme noise of jet engines in close proximity and harsh temperature extremes. It’s scary and confusing for a dog to sit in a kennel in unfamiliar circumstances surrounded by strangers.

Worse, the mechanics of shipment almost guarantee the dog will go without water, because the belt loader that puts your kennel into the cargo compartment is of necessity slanted.

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That slope alone will spill half the water in a dish in a kennel. The rest will be sloshed out by turbulence and even inflight manuevering, including climb and descent pitch attitudes of plus or minus fifteen degrees, and bank angles up to thirty degrees.

I make it my business to visit all canines put aboard my flights. I need to know they have water for the flight, and I bring my own downstairs to the ramp to refill their dishes in their kennels. I like to reassure them that they’re not abandoned, that they’re among people who care.

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Glad to share my crew-provisioned water with our Very Important Pets.

I check on them once they’re aboard and if I can, I make sure they get a water refill before we close the cargo door because I know some has spilled during even the most careful cargo handling, which our crews do.

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And I think of dogs aboard in flight, realizing they have highly-tuned vestibular senses that probably are upset by excessive manuevering or bumpiness. They’re downstairs, alone, among the cargo boxes and bags. Trust me, the temperature is just fine in the cargo compartment, but it’s still, for a dog, much as you would feel if you were suddenly, inexplicably thrown into the trunk of a car and driven around for hours.

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“Hang in there, my friend–we’ll get you home safely.”

So, sure, sometimes you may have reason to ship your dog by air, although my own best friend will never be subjected to the trials and tribulations of “cargo flight.” In fact, I’d only recommend shipping your dog by air as a last resort. And I’d add that there are caring airline people who will do all they can for your precious pooch along the way.

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One of our ramp superstars in the cargo hold with my water, topping off a pooch’s water dish right before closing the cargo door.

Just be sure it’s a last resort, a short flight, and that caring people look after your dog along the way. If that happens to be on one of my flights, consider it done.

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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The United Fiasco From A Cockpit Viewpoint

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2017 by Chris Manno

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I’ve been a captain at a major airline for over 25 years now, which is why this involuntary deplaning of a United Express passenger is both sad business and not at all surprising. Here’s why.

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First, at most airlines passenger service has become, for management, an irrational but deliberate choke point in the airline flight operations. And here’s the resulting death blow to passenger service: at the gate, in the heat of the departure time battle, the airlines field their lowest paid, least experienced workers and impose the highest, most rigid constraints–close the aircraft door, dispatch the revenue unit.

They arm these hapless, stressed-out workers with little or no authority–just do what you’re told.  Typically, the worst circumstances exist “after hours,” meaning after 5pm when airport and airline managers are gone for the day.

Then the hourly-paid, often contract workers are left with little authority, no flexibility (SOMEONE would deplane at the right price point–but there’s a typically standing cap) and have little recourse other than to call for law enforcement. Often, once force is used, the “customer service” results are not favorable.

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Looking for blame? Look to the top airline pooh-bahs, the passenger service managers, airport operations budget directors, regional managers, and passenger service supervisors who slash passenger service budgets to the bone, then rigidly dictate time constraints that MUST be adhered to by the lowest-rung hourly folks who work the non-office hours and deal with the very real passenger stand-offs that occur at the airport–not on any airline management spreadsheet.

This fragile, marginally adequate cost/service structure works adequately when everything is running perfectly at the airport, which it seldom does. Throw in delays, overbooking, last minute crew deadhead requirements and ultimately, involuntary deplaning plays out in flesh-and-blood realtime.

Then passengers lose, the passenger service agents lose and ultimately, the flight crew loses too: we’re all just trying to safely move the metal–once the jet is boarded. I’m ready  to sort out the cabin battles, once we’re off the ground.  As a captain, I’m not here to undo the budget-based inadequacies of passenger service planners at airline headquarters, nor am I allowed to: airline managers have consistently tried to limit crew authority to only once the jet is underway.

Great. Marketing, sales, promotions, reward levels, unit pricing? They all derive and survive from cost-driven spreadsheet logic at airline headquarters. And why does that work?

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After all the howling about the United Airlines fiasco becomes passe on social media–give it about 5 mores days–passengers will be all about the cheapest airfare once again.

That’s just how it works. Please take your seats and prepare for a bumpy ride.

 

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