Archive for the passenger bill of rights Category

Summer Air Travel 2018: Fly Smarter.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines, airport, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, passenger, passenger bill of rights, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2018 by Chris Manno

DFW sunset

Let’s cut to the chase: air travel can be frustrating and confusing. Passenger service staffing is minimal and information scarce. Unexplained delays can prompt frustration, security hassles inevitably create time pressure and the whole situation can raise everyone’s blood pressure. Air travel is a struggle, that’s a given.

But rather than simply complaining–and posting exasperated social media rants–here are some key travel hacks that will let you take charge of your travel and surmount some of the hassles.

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First, information: don’t go looking for crucial data like departure or arrival gates, baggage claim, delays or boarding time. Rather, make that information come to you: every airline and many airports have an app that will fast-track critical information to your phone.  I recommend you use the airline app for your chosen airline, but the simplest, 9-1-1 info source is Google: know your airline and flight number, and tap this basic info into a search engine:

google flight

Quick and easy, all of your questions can be answered without waiting in line for a passenger service agent or searching the terminal for a flight information board. If you’re using your airline’s app, you can even beat the rush to rebook in case of a delay or cancellation without waiting in any line.

You can get even more details for all airlines in a standardized format by downloading one of the many free flight tracking applications. For example:

flight aware

This app tells you key information regarding your flight, including departure and arrival gates, plus, it will tell you, if you’re interested, where your inbound aircraft is and its on-time or delay status.If you’re waiting for someone to arrive, this app shows you a real-time moving map so you’ll know–often before the gate agents–exactly what is going on, to include a realistic departure and downline arrive time. You won’t have to ask the thoughtless questions that make you look, well, thoughtless and helpless:

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Track your flight, including the inbound aircraft, yourself for your planning purposes: do I have time for food beforehand, either dine-in or to-go? And where is the nearest or best food option, given the realistic time estimate you’ve secured for yourself? Get the airport app(s) for every airport you’ll connect through or arrive and depart from. They’ll show the location of key services (law enforcement, medical, restrooms, water, baggage claim, restaurants/entertainment, lost and found, ground transportation, rental cars, hotel pickups, security and more).

More advanced airport apps allow you to access such key information instantly, and also, to arrange for services like parking and, in the case of DFW Airport, you can even order food.

dfw airport app 1 & 2

Finally, do security smarter: find out which security screening checkpoint at your departure airport has the shortest wait time, plus enroll yourself in the TSA’s PreCheck program to reduce the screening time and hassle. Get the TSA smartphone app:

TSA app

This app will let you assess the security lines and wait times instantly so you can choose the fastest checkpoint. Also, the app puts a world of information regarding security procedures, limitations, requirements, and frequently asked questions in your hands (literally), plus it will guide you to the application process for TSA PreCheck. All of this fingertip-accessible information will streamline and shorten your security screening, shorten your wait time and lower your blood pressure.

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Air travel this summer will include record passenger crowds in airports minimally staffed with customer service people at security checkpoints, ticket counters and gates, even at restaurants and retail stores. But you can optimize your trip planning and minimize your hassles by setting up a real-time, accurate information flow to your fingertips.

Don’t scour the airport and fight the crowds for crucial information and services. Empower yourself with apps and information that will quietly smooth your air travel experience. It only takes a few minutes to download the apps and to become familiar with their use. The payoff will be tenfold in reduced stress and frustrating delays.

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A hilarious, irreverent, crew’s-eye cartoon view of air travel. If you’re a pilot, flight attendant or air traveler, this is your confidential, no-holds-barred insider story. Savvy air travelers, want to impress your flight crew? Share these cartoons with them in flight: they will appreciate the laugh–and you!

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Fear of Flying: Free Kindle March 25-26

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airline seat recline, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, aviation weather, cartoon, fear of flying, flight, flight crew, flight delays, FoF, jet, jet flight, mile high club, passenger bill of rights, passenger compliance, pilot, travel, travel tips, weather, wind shear with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2018 by Chris Manno

If you are a victim of fear of flying, either directly (you are fearful) or indirectly (a friend or loved one won’t fly), here’s a resource, free:

Cockpit insight, practical coping strategies, explanations and … cartoons!

Get your FREE Kindle copy–CLICK HERE.

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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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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It’ll make your delay more enjoyable. Just click here.

 

All in a Pilot’s Day: Thunderstorm Zen and the Captain’s Firewall.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline delays, airline pilot blog, airliner, airliner take off, flight crew, passenger bill of rights, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2012 by Chris Manno

Head pounding. Look down at your right calf: a liter bottle of water, mostly full.

Stupid.

Just flew 3 hours from DFW to DCA–should have paid attention to hydration. Now, sitting near the end of runway 1 at Reagan national, it’s too late: the damage is done.

Been sitting here for over two hours now. In a thunderstorm. Which has hit the tower with a lightning bolt that fried their primary radios–so now they’re using a weak backup radio that sounds like the controller is using a tin can on a wire.

More delay while the radio situation gets fixed, plus the hand-offs from tower to departure ain’t working. Wait.

Call the tower: “Tower, American 445.” Wait.

“American 445, go.” Sounds like her head is in a bucket.

“We’re wondering about a take-off time, as we’re bumping up against some Passenger Bill of Rights time constraints.”

Like three hours–an hour from now–then we need to go back to the gate and probably, cancel the flight. Passengers have a right to not go anywhere, rather than sit on a plane waiting to go somewhere.

“We don’t have any information,” comes the tinny reply. Thanks for your help.

Ignored several phone calls from the cabin crew already, saying passengers are antsy, wondering what the latest is. When I ignore the interphone chime, the F/O has to field the questions to which there are no answers anyway. I prefer to isolate myself to focus on weather, fuel, timing, the departure procedure to the north (the FAA will violate you for even a tiny stray from the radial) and a clear path on radar. Which I can’t see because our nose–and our radar dish–is facing south. I make a PA every thirty minutes or so, telling passengers what I know: westbound departures are on hold due to weather on the departure routing. The lady in the tower sounds like her head is in a bucket. I don’t tell them that, but still.

Already tried to negotiate a departure to the south or even east in order to air file a route west–craftily uploaded an extra 3,000 pounds of fuel before pushback, after seeing the storm front marching on Washington as we landed.

No dice.

More calls from the back: passengers want to use their cell phones; they’re getting up . . .

Tell them no–if they use phones, the cabin crew has to make another aisle pass to ensure they’re off for take-off (FAA regulation) and if we’re cleared, we need to take the runway, check the weather–then go.

Sure, they have connections and people waiting. But that can wait till we get there. What I want to attend to is a new and higher power setting that creates less time on the runway; an optimum flap setting that gives a better climb gradient, and a wind correction to stay on the safe side of the departure radial.

That’s where the “firewall” comes in: if I let connections, cell phones, Passenger Bill of Rights or even my own next flight tomorrow (not going to be legal if we keep delaying) mix with the important considerations like fuel, weather, radar, performance and power settings, something’s getting messed up.

It’s not that I don’t care–I really do. But if I don’t attend to the latter set of considerations, the former won’t matter, will they? Drink some water, rehydrate. Relax. Run through your list of priorities for right now. Pay attention to right here, right now. Be ready to do “now” right; worry about later, well, later.  That’s the thunderstorm zen, the captain’s firewall.

It happens fast: “445, start ’em up–you’re next to go.”

Fine. I reconfirm with the F/O the heading plan (310 is good–but 305 is better. If we have to correct back right to the radial, fine–but we do not stray east . . . a full radar picture before we roll, static.”

Raining cats and dogs, hard to see, swing out onto the runway and grab every inch. Stand on the brakes, full radar sweep–decide.

“You good?” I ask the F/O as a formality–because I’m looking at him and I can tell from his face whether he is or isn’t from his look no matter what he says. And if he isn’t okay or doesn’t look okay, if maybe his firewall or zen are under seige, I’ll know and we won’t go until everything adds up.

We roll; relief when we’re past abort speed; mental chant “engines only, engines only” reminding myself of which of the hundreds of warnings I’ll abort for on that rain-slicked postage stamp of a runway; throttles speedbrakes THEN reverse, amen. The jet rockets into the whipping rain undaunted; love the big fans at a high power setting. We climb, buck, dodge, weave and finally . . . cruise at 40,000 feet above all the turmoil as the lights of the nation wink out.

Landing after midnight, home finally at 1:30am. Crew Schedule calls: “Sleep fast, we’ve slipped the departure of your Seattle turn just long enough to keep you legal. You’re still on it.”

Eight hours in the cockpit today; another eight tomorrow. Plus a few hours to sleep in between.

Erase today–it’s over, safely and smartly done. Rest, and save a little zen for tomorrow. No doubt, you’re going to need it.

Ryanair: An Empty Head, Two Heads, and a Pay Head.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airliner, airlines, airport, baggage fees, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, passenger bill of rights, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2010 by Chris Manno

Single-pilot airliners make financial sense, according to Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, and that point I can’t argue.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Lerary

But what I can and do argue is that any airline run by a CEO who makes operational decisions based primarily on cash value–and O’Leary is the airline guy who introduced the concept of the pay toilet to the airline world–is an airline I’d never fly on, much less let my family travel on.

It would be like consigning yourself to an operating room whose surgical procedures were based on cash value to the hospital. Under anesthesia, hope for the best and by the way, did you pre-pay the resuscitation and de-fibrillation fees?

More important though is how fundamentally ignorant O’Leary is regarding the very product he sells. Let’s start at the beginning.

There have been many high-tech single pilot aircraft flying successfully for years. But the difference is, there was only one life at stake and a guaranteed escape plan if the airplane became un-flyable:

That escape option doesn’t exist on an passenger jet. But that’s not the only reason why two pilots are necessary for safe airline flight.

The basic philosophy of the airline operation is that layers of redundancy safeguard the thousands of passengers who take flight each day. It’s not simply a case that two or three pilots can divide the workload, which is true.

What’s more important is that it takes more than one pilot to divide the task of safe flight into the components that require simultaneous undivided attention in the critical phases of flight during which the aircraft and everyone on board are most vulnerable.

And that’s just in normal operation. The division becomes even more critical during an abnormal or emergency situation. Here are two prime examples.

We routinely take off from airports with tiny runways designed for the smaller propeller aircraft of the fifties and sixties. Jets, particularly when they’re heavy, require miles of runway to accelerate to take-off speed. Even more critical than that is the additional runway required to achieve flying speed if an engine fails.

Which adds another constraint: stopping in case there’s not enough runway to continue to take-off speed after an engine failure. That, on a short runway like in LaGuardia, Washington National, Burbank, Chicago-Midway and San Diego to name but a few, makes an instantaneous decision to abort a life and death question: do you have enough speed and runway to continue into the air? Do you have enough runway and not too much speed to stop?

Add to the stopping situation the wild card: is whatever failure for which you’re aborting going to affect your ability to stop? That is, with an electrical, hydraulic, landing gear or a few other potential failures–you can’t and won’t stop on the runway.

How does one person sort all of the variables of speed, runway length remaining, malfunctions and stopping capability and make the correct split second decision to stop or go?

The answer is, one pilot doesn’t.

Despite O’Leary’s theory that one pilot does most of the flying–and maybe it’s true–two pilots are needed for the big decisions like the above and many other split second decisions that have to be made in the critical landing  phase, here’s the secret: divide.

The take-off situation I just described is what we call a balanced field. That is, there’s exactly enough runway to allow for an engine failure, then a continued take-off on one engine or a safe stop on the runway. This is not just a short runway contingency either–the miles long runways at both Denver and Mexico City are often barely long enough in the summer heat due to their mile-high altitude.

Either way, the safe stop depends upon all of the stopping systems–spoilers, brakes, hydraulics, electrics–all working. You have a split second to decide. And in all of the above locations, there is no overrun. You’re going off the airport at high speed, loaded with fuel.

When I take-off from a balanced field, I divide the focus and tasking this way: the first officer will make the take-off. He is the “go” guy, meaning if I don’t take over and abort, we’re flying. He has but one task, no matter what, one engine or two, malfunctions or not: fly.

I, on the other hand, am the “stop” guy. I’m only looking for the Big Four as we call them: engine failure, engine fire, windshear, structural failure. I’m looking for those and only those–not both malfunctions and take-off performance. Because my righthand man is zeroed in on that.

We both then have individual, singular focus on the critical items in two opposing but now separate dynamic realms. It’s simple. It’s smooth, it’s reliable.

And it’s not possible with a single pilot.

Same theory of separation is vital on low visibility, bad weather landings, only this time the roles are reversed: I’m flying and looking outside for critical landing references, the First Officer’s entire focus is inside on the instruments, looking for any anomaly that would require a discontinued approach.

The O’Leary method, apparently, is to simply roll it all into one and save a few bucks per plane on pilot salaries. Never mind split second decisions, separation of critical duties and focus and ultimately, your safety.

Which might result in a few bucks of savings on your Ryanair ticket. But be prepared to give it back to them in flight eventually anyway.

That is, if you can muster the courage to fly on an airline whose CEO sees everything in terms of dollars and cents–but has little common sense himself.

Just throw your airfare under the car.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, passenger bill of rights, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2010 by Chris Manno

This is me looking down on my old high school–literally, not figuratively–where as a freshman, I had a neighborhood paper route.

It’s significant for me now to look down on my old paper route there–the Sacramento Bee, daily and Sunday, over a hundred customers–because in those days I looked up from my bike as I tossed newspapers, wistfully watching the airliners climbing toward the Sierras. I have the better of the two views now.

But I also relate to a “customer service” lesson I learned on the paper route that’s just as valid from my present perspective a few miles above my old paper route and and two hundred times faster than bike speed.

The biggest pain every month had to be collecting from customers. And the worst of that was at the house of a junior high school principal who lived on the route.

Ring the bell. Wait. He comes to the door and points to his driveway.

“Your money’s under the car–where I normally find my paper.” Crawl under the car; at least he usually had exact change. Every month.

Which didn’t seem fair, because his paper wasn’t under his car every day. Just now and then, because I had about 137 papers to throw from my moving bike, often with a dog or two chasing me, and a lot of days in the rain.

I think of that percentage as we top the Sierras (that’s Lake Tahoe in the middle)  because we’re running about forty minutes late.

Of the one hundred and forty people on board, I’m sure that one or two are steaming like my old customer, wanting to see me crawl under the car because this is what “always happens.” No dogs chasing me this time, but yes, weather slowing things down and a traffic-jammed Air Traffic Control system.

For that guy, and those of his ilk, there’s no explaining what goes on and why–they’re really not listening anyway and just want to tell their neighbors about how the paperboy has to crawl under the car to get his measly $3.50 a month.

But for the majority of reasonable folks on board, here’s a behind the scenes explanation for the common frustration experienced by all but seemingly insurmountable for the “under the car” minority.

Why doesn’t the pilot tell us what’s going on? Well, because  . . . it is going on: two nights ago, we were taxiing in the aluminum conga line to the runway, watching on radar as a ring of storms converged on the airport.

There’s no time to spare. I’m recalculating fuel burn for a new route, listening to and answering ground control giving instructions on one radio, monitoring the other radio that my first officer is on negotiating a new route from Clearance Delivery and steering the jet with my feet on the rudder pedals. And that’s not all that’s “going on;” it’s taking shape as the minutes tick by and the ring of towering cumulus closes in on the airport. I don’t have time to step out of the task mix and say “here’s what’s happening” because it’s changing by the minute.

Seriously?

It’s difficult enough when one of the Flight Attendants call up and ask “What’s the delay?” The answer would be, “I’m doing five things at once; don’t call me back unless we’re on fire.” Most Flight Attendants realize that and don’t call. If they do, I realize they’re taking heat from the hundreds of eyeballs boring into theirs as they sit on their emergency exit jumpseats. Any wonder why some of them may be a little defensive?

So–I know this is not what you want to hear, but–if I’m not saying anything on the P.A., it’s because there’s nothing for me to say and no time to say it anyway. And even what information there is changes by the minute. Even if you wanted to be part of the chaos, I don’t have the time to narrate what’s going on and still keep up with it and stay on top of our flight priority in the mix. Can you just get started on your crossword puzzle and trust that we’re doing our jobs as efficiently and safely as we can?

Once we do get into the air, we have another 4 hours of flight.  So make it the New York Times crossword: it’s in the “Entertainment” section, on the driveway. Under your car.

Meanwhile, lighten up on the paperboy, okay? He’s doing the best he can.

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