Archive for air travel

How Can an Airliner Land at the Wrong Airport?

Posted in air travel, air traveler, travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 12, 2016 by Chris Manno

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How Can an Airliner Land at the Wrong Airport?

Air travelers are asking, “How can a modern airliner land at the wrong airport?” My answer is simple: very easily.

Let me explain. First, flying a jet is not like driving your car: a typical aircraft approach speed is about three times the velocity of your car at highway speed. In flight, things happen fast; ten miles is more like a block or two in your car.

Throw in obscured visibility, poor lighting, or weather like rain or fog. Now, if you’re looking in the general direction of your destination, covering a mile every 20 seconds, visual references may make two different airports seem virtually identical. That’s partly because runways are typically laid out into the wind, and runways within fifty miles will probably be laid out exactly alike.

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Add to the confusion the fact that small airports have minimal other distinguishing characteristics: a runway, a small, plain box-like terminal. Now add a dose of fatigue for pilots who’ve had a long day or an early sign in, and the chances of a visual sighting of the wrong airport compound.

I’ve spent over 30 years as an airline pilot trying to be sure I don’t fall victim to that conspiracy of commonplace factors that can result in landing at the wrong airport. Here’s how I try to be certain that I don’t. First, every modern jet has a map display that includes the pertinent information for every airport we must fly to. The key is to be sure to identify and activate the desired waypoint on the screen. That is, the runway, the final approach fix — something. Sure, smaller airports may not have an instrument approach, but they always display the correct runway if the pilots select the display.

I’m even more paranoid: for example, flying in and out of Nashville, I worry that I’ll mis-identify Smryna, an airport within a few miles of the Nashville Airport that has a similar runway configuration. So I put Smyrna on the navigation display as a fix: if we’re aimed at that fix, it’s the wrong damn airport.

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There’s little an airline pilot can do about the insidious factors of fatigue, dehydration, limited nutrition, and poor sleep in a hotel. But, there are a few things a pilot can do, like those I mentioned, to stack the odds against landing at the wrong airport. Regardless, there are no foolproof, perfect solutions.

Whenever the news reports an airliner landing at the wrong airport, I redouble my efforts and thank my lucky stars that it’s not me.

Chris Manno has been a pilot at a major airline for 31 years and a captain for 25 years.

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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Airport Security Screening Illustrated

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airport security, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2016 by Chris Manno

If you’re planning your air travel or just stuck in line at the airport, here’s some “enlightenment” to entertain and inform you.

You may have heard reports of atrocious security lines and enraged travelers waiting hours for security screening. Those reports may have a grain of truth to them.

 

Passenger screening, for passenger and screener alike, is both a revered tradition and a pain in the ass. But, with foresight, planning, Xanax, meditation, patience and low self-esteem, you can endure the security gauntlet.

When you arrive at the airport, adjust your thinking to accommodate your situation.

Behind the scenes, the security cast members prepare for their individual performances.

Meanwhile, your baggage will receive special attention by trained professionals.

Children should be made fully aware of what transpires at the security checkpoint well ahead of time so that they may better prepare for psychotherapy later in life.

Parents of teens might want to prepare for important life lessons to be examined at the airport.

 

Be sure to allow extra time to accommodate unforeseen security requirements.

 

Anticipate a rigorous physical screening, and try to think positive: there’s no co-pay involved in any exam.

Be clear about any special needs you may have at the screening checkpoint.

 

Know what’s expected of you so that you don’t incur additional screening.

 

Try to relax and enjoy your time in the screening area.

Be sure to simply smile as wide as possible if you are selected for extra screening.

Finally, once you’ve successfully transited security screening with a bare modicum of self-esteem intact, keep in mind one hint that might help you next year: be sure to read the fine print.

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The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2016 by Chris Manno

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The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

Set aside the Hollywood depictions of airline pilots in the cockpit struggling with emergencies, as well as the over-hyped tales from the passenger cabin of chaos and panic that hijack social media after any inflight incident.

Here’s what goes on with my heart rate and blood pressure in the cockpit when malfunctions threaten my flight: nada.

I tried to muster some adrenaline the last time — not that long ago, actually — that a jet engine quit on climb-out from an airport.

Nada. Business as usual: there’s a procedure for that. Have landed many jets, many times, minus an engine, even on fire.

Take it a step further: even if the other engine quits, there’s a procedure for that, I’ve practiced it and have 150% confidence that I’ll land the jet safely even with no engines. Again, no heart rate challenge, just a list of things to be done correctly, smoothly, and in no hurry — rushing increases the possibility of an error.

And I have 150% confidence in my copilot colleagues (I’ve been a captain for 25 of my 31 years at a major airline) who are just as thoroughly trained, tested and prepared as I am no matter what happens in flight.

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So I really don’t give a damn what befalls us — we’ll be just fine.

Whenever trouble starts, I think back on the advice of an old fighter pilot who wisely told me, “You just take a minute to breathe deep and say, ‘Can you believe this sonofabitch is still flying?’” before you take any action.

This advice goes way back with me. Before I was an airline pilot, I had my share of near disasters as an Air Force pilot: fire, explosion, typhoons, lightning strikes — the list goes on.

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Before that, in college, I couldn’t afford flying lessons, but skydiving was a fraction of the cost after I bought my own parachute, slightly used, but still. That got me into the sky pretty cheap and pretty often.

Perhaps that was the key inoculation for for me. I’d ration out my jump budget on weekends: one jump in the morning, one in the afternoon, each day.

One Sunday morning, tumbling through about 1,500 feet, I yanked the ripcord and out came a tangled mess — a streamer, as it’s called.

I did what I could, snapping the risers like the reins to a horse, trying to shake open the snarl. No dice.

Looking down, plunging at terminal velocity, say, 100 mph, I began to be able to distinguish individual cows in the pasture below where I’d impact in seconds if I didn’t get my reserve chute opened.

Even in that wild plummet, I knew that there was a very good chance that my reserve would simply tangle with the streamer above, and that would be the end of my life.

And there it was: I could panic and die — or hold my shit together and maybe live.

I distinctly recall the paradoxical thought in that moment that I’d rather die than panic, and that set me free.

I carefully, deliberately pulled the reserve ripcord but held the bundle closed, then with both hands — still dropping like a rock — I gathered the silk and threw it downward as hard as I could, as I’d been taught, to give it the best chance to blossom and knock the streamer aside rather than twist up with it.

I walked away with just bruises from a hard landing. And I crawled back into that jump plane and tumbled out again and again.

It’s been that way ever since: whatever disaster unfolds, I have no time for useless reactions, only disciplined responses, reasoning, and smart action.

And I’m just an average airline pilot, a carbon copy of most others. Which is why the average airline cockpit, come what may, will have none of the urban legend-drama, just calm, quiet, deliberate action.

That’s the way I like it in flight: quiet, disciplined, low bullshit and high performance. Leave the drama to others outside the cockpit, on the ground, in Hollywood or romance novels.

Fires, failures, windshear, weather — whatever, if you’re in the back of the jet, now you know up front the crew is taking a deep breath and saying, “Can you believe this sonofabitch is still flying?”

Try it yourself — it works. Dull as it sounds, it’s really the wisest choice.  ✈️ Chris Manno

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JetHead, The Novel.

Posted in air travel, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2016 by Chris Manno

Yes, you read that correctly. Let me explain.

I have a novel in print right now: East Jesus, published by White Bird Publications of Austin, Texas.  Of course, there’s an aviation theme (read more here) but only as a part of the larger story.

Here below, for my 5,000+ blog friends and subscribers, is Chapter 1 of the JetHead novel.

You want to live the airline pilot life through the prose you’ve come to enjoy in the blogspace here–happy to report that over a million readers have–before my publisher gets ahold of it?

Here you go.

Chapter 1: A Slice of the Sky

“Breathe, goddamit,” he silently swore, as much to himself as to Beaver. It was no use, Beaver was a narrator, the worst kind of narrator to have in the cockpit, his cockpit. “Just breathe.”

Taxi out should be silent save what was required, at least in his mind, and he was the captain. Like a walk down the church aisle to a pew, quietly, with reverence, preparing for worship. So little needed to be said. But Beaver not only over said what needed to be said, he blabbered on about what didn’t need to be said: “The runway is not wet,” he chattered. No shit, it’s not wet or in flames or made of corn flakes or a million other salient but useless observations that could be made.

Beaver was a last minute replacement for his regular First Officer–FO, in the parlance of flight crews–which could mean only one dastardly thing: Opie was off getting his pipe scraped by The Sky Goddess. Beaver, Eager Beaver, was a newhire, on the line barely a year and eager (hence the nickname) to prove he was doing stuff, a lot of stuff, in that right seat just as he presumed every copilot must do.

Taylor had been in the left seat, a captain for what, twenty-five years plus change now? Had he been Beaver once, with a babbling lack of shut up, back in the day? Doubtful: Taylor had earned a reputation as a silent type, a grouch especially on early flights, in his Air Force squadron. That was long ago, but still.

He sighed and nudged the lumbering jet back toward the taxiway centerline with a light touch on the rudder pedals–his cabin crew, he knew, was up and about checking seat backs and seat belts in preparation for take off. He always pictured Her, his flight attendant bride of twenty years, even though she wasn’t on board, trying to walk down that aisle and taxied as smoothly as possible. Like a great timber ship of old, Taylor could sense the creak of spars and the slosh of fifteen tons of jet fuel in the wings and center tank heaving against the turn he smoothly eased out of. That feel, beautiful silent sense of fuel and steel, blood and bone ready to leap off the earth–that called for silent appreciation. For Opie, maybe. He was good at reading people, knew when to be quiet. But The Beav, no.

Taylor tuned out, steering with his feet, clearing his mind. He knew the planned aircraft weight, needed now only to know the up-linked final weight and what the aircraft’s onboard Flight Management System thought the jet weighed. Because the choreography had to match the dance: day or night, tired or not, those three would be reconciled without ambiguity or confusion without fail.

“Blah blah as briefed blah blah,” came from Beaver in a stream of consciousness flow.

If it’s “as briefed,” why do you need to say anything? Selective listening would be the key to not having an aneurism during the next 3,000 air miles. Opie, damned Opie, blowing up his life with the Sky Goddess and sticking Taylor with The Beav as a result. Hope it was worth it. He eased the jet to a stop in the aluminum conga line ahead. The fuel sloshed, the keel wagged a bit in protest. The ship was alive and that, for Taylor, was what mattered and really, all he wanted to think or feel.

The Boeing was a simple, solid jet, a friend a pilot could rely on: generous wing, plenty of smash in the two big hi-bypass engines slung beneath each wing. She climbed well, handled smoothly in roll and pitch. A reliable workhorse, a Percheron among jets, she deserved respect. You don’t just fly ’em, he thought to himself. Like horses, Noble, quiet, strong; you were privileged to be among them, much less ride them. He’d been downstairs as she sat at the gate, for no other reason than to take her in, the span of her wings, the smooth, flush-riveted and polished skin. Slide a hand down her flank; an ancient ritual from his Air Force days.

Beav fell silent. Finally, Taylor’s cue. “We planned 160.5, we closed at 160.9 for a takeoff weight of 161.5; set and crosschecked.” Amen, he thought but didn’t say. Respect the altar of fire and flight.

Opie had a a very pregnant wife plus a toddler at home. Sky Goddess had three kids and a husband with a badge and gun and the legal sanction to use it. On Opie, Taylor had warned. A dime-sized hole between his eyes, a bag of cocaine stuffed in his mouth and no further questions from the grand jury: no bill.

He set the brakes as a ponderous, four-engined Airbus took the runway. He shared the Bus crew’s cockpit moment, reviewing the litany–pilots called it that–going through the captain’s mind: idle power, speed brakes, boards, amen. Above eighty knots, abort for engines only. Meaning, the reality of flight: he was a pilot, made for flight, not a drag racer trying to stop an eighty ton tricycle. There was always that moment of relief when max abort speed was passed, committing them to flight. Much better for a pilot to handle a sick jet in flight rather than stop it, laden with tons of jet fuel looking for a flashpoint, on the ground. Pilots fly, godammit, and that’s what he’d sooner do. The Airbus rolled.

“Final’s clear,” The Beav broke into his reverie. That was a required call out. “And the clock is started,” Beav added. That was not required, but the eager one wanted the droll, soporific and taciturn captain blob to know he knew they’d need two minutes of wake turbulence spacing behind the heavy bus only just now but slowly rising into a dusty cobalt Texas sky.

Taylor knew. And he really didn’t care, looking at the windsock showing a steady crosswind. The wingtip vortices from the heavy would be a problem for those landing on the parallel runway, maybe, but not for them. Plus, they’d be in the air a thousand feet prior to where the euro-trash heavy broke ground, and sail way above the lumbering beast anyway.

Over time, Taylor knew you just get so familiar with the jet that the final minutes before takeoff become reflex driven. From the captain’s cyber-view, a green alphabet soup swam before his eyes in the HUD–Head UpDisplay–that couldn’t be sorted, shouldn’t be anyway: symmetry was the key. A battalion of aerospace engineers designed the semiotics to present a symmetry when all was well–airspeed, altitude, course, track; over seventy bits of detail, Taylor had counted–leaving the pilot free to concentrate on flying.

Beaver was leaping over the symmetry and quashing Taylor’s calm awareness of the rightness with a deluge of everythingness. He’d have to dial that back.

“Line up and wait,” came the call from the tower. Finally. He chimed the flight attendants to let them know “take off was imminent,” as the operating manual writers put it–more like, “grab yourself an assload of jumpseat, we’re fixin’ to fly this jet” in the less orthodox argot he tended to think in, sometimes speak in.

Time to roll the jet onto the runway, line it up on the numbers, ease it to a stop as the fuel sloshed and the nose dipped from the gentle braking. Then, the silent moment of peace before fifty-four thousand pounds of thousand degree thrust shattered the air with the hi-bypass howling growl and launched them down the runway.

Hang on, Beav, he thought to himself, looking five miles ahead and above in the dusty blue sky. This is going to be epic.

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