Archive for the airline pilot Category

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.

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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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.

 

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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