Archive for baggage fees

Airline Fees: Just The Tip of the Iceberg.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot blog with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2012 by Chris Manno

With the summer travel season upon us now, you can hardly watch more than thirty minutes of any newscast without some mention of airline fees which, according to every source pandering to public perception, are skyrocketing and unfair.

I’m all in favor of fairness. So, if this problem of added fees is to be eliminated for the sake of the consumer, it needs to be eliminated across the board. Because airline fees are just the tip of the iceberg.

First, and perhaps most egregiously, we need to eliminate the outrageous gouging the average consumer must bear every time a restaurant feels like charging for “extras.” To do that, everything on the menu should be included in one price. This business of charging a fee for an “appetizer,” a “dessert”–it’s nothing more than a money grab. Coffee, too–all beverages, really–should be included without an extra charge. When you order a meal, just like buying an airline ticket, everything the business has should all be included in the price. In the food service industry, that must include the bar as well: just like the ideal check-in at the airport, you should be able to tell the bartender (and of course, the business owner) “one, please.” Whether that “one” is beer, wine, liquor, a milk shake or iced tea–that must be one un-itemized or variable price, which probably needs to be set by the government to be fair.

Same goes for the auto industry: when you go into any auto dealership, every option available on all models should be included in the price. Basically, like an “airline flight,” there should be the specification “vehicle” designating that any option (or all options, at the consumer’s discretion) must be included in the sale price. This blatant price gouging involved in up-charging for “leather interior” makes as much sense as a restauranteur charging for “dessert” or an airline charging for “baggage” and clearly, the whole trend needs to be stopped.

And musicians have been getting away with this scam for too long. The business of selling songs via iTunes or other piecemeal on-line media is yet another abuse of the consumer: if you buy the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way,” you should be awarded the entire “Toys In The Attic” album, period.

Finally–and this really hits home–there’s the housing industry. When a consumer contracts with a builder, there should simply be one commodity, “a house,” like an “airline trip,” a “restaurant meal,” and a “vehicle,” with one set price including all possible options. The traditional builder “amenities package” which includes various prices for different components, materials, appliances and fixtures runs exactly counter to the basic consumer right (certainly, “passenger rights”) to have a product produced at an all-inclusive, fixed price, announced up front and encompassing every possible choice a builder could offer.

Which brings up another relevant analogy: everyone loves to decry the high price of medical care and often, doctors fees which ultimately is a thinly veiled resentment over how much doctors make.

That consumer right, however, seems to get short shrift in the emergency room or god forbid, on the operating table. There’s no one complaining about price to their anesthesiologist or their surgeon, never mind the hospital providing and charging item-by-item for the services required to provide medical care.

Clearly, the problem of “fees” is a universal plague that extends far beyond simply the airline industry. But kind of like the emergency room mindset, I seldom hear griping in flight about prices or fees when the weather is down to minimums, the winds close to limits, or the jet experiencing some type of mechanical problem.

Regardless, if one industry–in urban myth, the airline industry–is getting out of line with other commercial enterprises, maybe in fairness there should be some pricing regulation. But until the other ninety-nine percent of the for-profit industries join the one-price-fits all fairy tale espoused by those in the media, the government and ultimately, the public–we’ll just have to deal with the reality of product, price and choice that has defined free enterprise since the concept was first introduced in this country centuries ago.

Now, go to your favorite restaurant and tell them how unfair the menu is. Be sure to insist on their finest champagne to toast the deal, and it better be included in the single “meal” price. After all, that’s fair, isn’t it?

“Living the Dream:” Cathay Pacific 747 Pilot Jeremy Giguere, Live from Hong Kong.

Senator Schumer and the Myth of Cheap Air Travel.

Posted in air travel, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, baggage fees, senator schumer, spirit airlines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2010 by Chris Manno

Senator Chuck Schumer is confused once again. This time, it seems he’s confusing “consumer rights” with “consumer products.”

Last month, Schumer heralded a questionable attachment to the FAA Re-Authorization Bill as the answer to the underlying causes of pilot fatigue and regional pilot levels of experience. He was wrong, but his press releases on the subject made for decent publicity for the senator.

Now Schumer weighs in on carry-on baggage and airlines, stating that the former is a passenger “right” that must be provided for free by the latter.

Hogwash.

The consumer “right” when it comes to airlines is to choose one over the other, which has everything to do with free enterprise and the marketplace which governs the “right,” or more accurately, the product.

Spirit Airlines as a private company has both the right and the obligation to price every component of their product. And consumers have every right to choose another airline without the baggage fee, if the fee is a deal-breaker for the passenger.

That’s free enterprise. And whether Schumer admits it or not, the fee proposed by Spirit Airlines is a direct result of the Airline Deregulation Act. The marketplace, according to congress, is supposed to determine airline ticket prices. That’s why congress disbanded the Civil Aeronautics Board which up until 1978 regulated airline ticket prices and routes.

My personal opinion? As with fare hikes, this may be a trial balloon on Spirit’s part: if no other airline joins Spirit and institutes their own charge for carry-on luggage, I’d expect that the fee will go the way of most fare hikes–that is, into the garbage. Nonetheless, air travel is not nor ever has been cheap to produce and airlines continue to lose money despite any fees or fares enacted.

That would be the marketplace doing what congress directed when they enacted the law, and Schumer knows that. But he can’t resist an opportunity to grandstand, no matter how insincere it is.

Fees are irritating and costly, but airline seats simply are costly, too, and have to be paid for. This is a lesson not lost on Europeans who have a fiercely competitive airline market–and a plethora of passenger fees that clearly go hand-in-hand with low fares. Check below for the schedule of “nickel-dime” fees, to use Schumer’s term, of one of the leading European discount carriers.

Meanwhile, when the basic market forces of production cost meet Schumer’s myth of cheap air travel, guess which one will win–or we will all lose the “right” of air travel to the cost of producing the luxury.

From the Ryanair website:

Ryan Air Table of Fees


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(UK Pounds/Euro or local currency equivalent) Booked on www.ryanair.com Booked via a Call Centre* or Airport
  UK Pounds Euro UK Pounds Euro
Online Check-In (not charged on some promotional fares) £5 €5 £10 €10
Mastercard Prepaid Debit Card
As a special offer to the above card holders, Ryanair, for a limited period only, will not apply an administration fee
Free Free Free Free
Administration FeePer passenger/ Per One Way Flight This fee relates to costs associated with Ryanair’s booking system and processing payments. £5 €5 £5 €5
Priority Boarding Fee* – Per passenger/ Per One Way Flight £4 €4 £5 €5
Airport Boarding Card Re-issue – n/a n/a £40 €40
Infant Fee – Per Infant/Per One Way flight (must be under 2 years for both outbound and return flight) £20 €20 £20 €20
Checked Baggage Fees* – (Each passenger is permitted to check-in up to 2 bags with a maximum weight of 15kg per bag)Different rates fees apply depending on the date of travel (peak rates apply for travel in July and August)1st Bag – 15kg allowance – per bag/ per One Way Flight £15 €15 £35 €35
1st Bag – Peak Rate July/August £20 €20 £40 €40
2nd Bag – 15kg allowance – per bag/ per One Way Flight £35 €35 £70 €70
2nd Bag – Peak Rate July/August £40 €40 £80 €80
Excess Baggage Fee – Per Kilo
Fee can only be purchased at the airport ticket desk
Not Available Online Not Available Online £20 €20
Infant Equipment* (car/booster/travel cot) Fee charged per Item/ Per One Way Flight (1 pushchair carried free of charge). A maximum weight of 20kg per item £10 €10 £20 €20
Sports Equipment* Fee charged per Item/ Per One Way Flight A maximum weight of 20kg per item £40 €40 £50 €50
Musical Instrument* Fee charged per Item/ Per One Way Flight A maximum weight of 20kg per item £40 €40 £50 €50
Flight Change Fees* – Per Passenger/ Per One Way Flight £25 €25 £55 €55
Name Change Fee* – Per Passenger £100 €100 £150 €150
*Up to 4 hours prior to your scheduled flight departure you can purchase online – checked bags, priority boarding, sports/infant equipment and musical instruments even if you have already checked in online for your flight.

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Flightcrew Zoo: Sky God & Switch Bitch

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2010 by Chris Manno

(First in an occasional series profiling classic flight crew members)

Those were the days.

The captain was a “sky god” in every sense of the term. Well liked-by crewmembers on both sides of the flight deck door, he’d advanced through the pilot ranks over twenty-some years to the top of the heap: senior captain on the widebody.

I was the “switch bitch,” or “plumber,” or any of the other unflattering sobriquets that designated the new-hire flight engineer. I loved it regardless, having landed on the DC-10 flight engineer’s panel fresh-faced and new after seven years as an Air Force pilot. Sure, I was “sitting sideways,” doing my apprenticeship on the flight engineer’s panel rather than at the pilot controls up front.

But that would come soon enough–a copilot’s seat on a narrow body jet was mine for the asking within months. I had chosen instead to do my probationary year at the DC-10 panel because there was less chance of anything happening that could lead to termination, which was always a possibility for a probationary pilot. Seemed like a good way to breeze through probation, sitting at the mostly automated DC-10 engineer’s panel. What could be easier?

It was a sub-zero day at O’Hare. I’d finished my walk-around inspection on the frozen ramp and then shed sweater, overcoat, scarf, hat and gloves and sat back down at the engineer’s panel, waiting for pushback after all 250 passengers had boarded.

Captain Skygod sat in the left seat, feet propped up on the instrument panel, idly thumbing through a golf magazine. The First Officer sat like a zombie, having done nothing, which was the beauty of that job as I later enjoyed myself  for a year or so.

One of our nine flight attendants interrupted our reverie.

“We have a bag problem in back,” she sighed. “Could use some help.”

Skygod didn’t even look up. “Why don’t you go back and see what you can do, son.”

The First Officer smirked at me over his shoulder, telegraphing he means you, which of course I already knew.

“Yessir.” I unstrapped, grabbed my hat and headed for the main cabin.

I squeezed past the boarding throng to the mid-cabin where an irate woman argued loudly with three flight attendants–a fight she seemed to not realize she could never win. It seems that the garment bag storage was full and so the flight attendants were insisting the woman’s overstuffed garment bag be checked in the cargo hold below. That was not acceptable to the red-faced, irate woman.

“Look,” I said, gently but  firmly pulling the garment bag out of her hands, “I’ll personally take this downstairs and place it in the cargo hold then bring you the claim check.”  The flight attendants nodded, hustling me off before the glaring woman could protest.  “Thanks,” one flight attendant whispered, clearing a path for me to the entry door.

In shirt sleeves still, I carried the bag out the jet bridge door and into the sub-zero freezing cold, down the steep stairs to the arctic ramp. I carefully placed the bag in a cargo container set to be loaded aboard, then return half-frozen with the baggage claim check to the mid cabin. I found the woman at her seat, still fuming.

“Here you are, ma’am,” I said, handing her the baggage claim check.

She snatched it from my hand, giving me a look that could bend a spoon and snapped, “You f*cking asshole.”

Fine.

Back to the jet bridge, out into the freezing cold; down the icy stairs to the frozen ramp. Find the baggage pallet–there’s the bag. Rip the baggage tag off of it; drag it to the gate next door–a Super-80 heading who-knows-where. Toss it into the cargo compartment. Race back upstairs half frozen.

I slipped back into my seat, shivering. Skygod was still flipping through his magazine. After a moment, he spoke.

“Did you get that baggage thing worked out?”

I turned the cockpit heat up a notch. “Uh, yessir. All worked out.”

He nodded, never looking up. “You do good work, son.” Nice guy that he was, I knew he’d give me a glowing recommendation on the probation report he’d fill out on me later.

I survived my probationary year and moved up to the copilot’s seat on a narrow body jet. The flying was more fun with a set of controls, but I missed the DC-10 days of motoring around the system without any real responsibilities–save the occasional “baggage situation.”

I flew many miles with Captain Skygod until we parted ways: he moved up from the domestic flying to the coveted trans-oceanic trips; I upgraded to the copilot position on the MD-80.

Then the only time I’d see him was in the airline employee lot as I was arriving at the buttcrack of dawn to fly a cruddy junior-guy trip and he was just returned from his Honolulu flight.

He’d stationed his RV which the crews nicknamed “The Whale” in the lot so he and most of his pilots and flight attendants could enjoy “happy hour” after flying all night. As the sun was rising, you could hear the whirring of his blender, laughter and tinkling glass from “The Whale” as the rest of the world began their work day.

Ever the gentleman, after the mai-tais had been free flowing for an hour or so he let the muu-muu clad flight attendants have first dibs on the lav. Eventually, he was busted for using a light pole to relieve himself and the airport police invited him to remove The Whale and never bring it back as a quid pro quo for not arresting him.

Captain Skygod retired from our airline at what used to be the mandatory age of 60, but went on to fly 747’s somewhere overseas. I lost track of him over the years and having been a captain myself for 19 years now, I doubt he’s still flying. But when I think of him and those days, I have to smile, and only wish we could get away with half the things we used to do back then.

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Everyone Looks To The Blue

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, food, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2010 by Chris Manno

Everyone’s looking skyward, because wherever it is they’re going, the sky’s the way there.

The sky looks angry today, with bruised looking billows of scud clouds, tumbling east to west on a wintery gale that is limiting the airport to just two instead of six landing runways. Which slows the normal flight operations pace to a crawl.

Of course it’s chaos in the terminal–it’s Spring break. Snow flurries add to the festive Spring atmosphere, celebrating a freak late-season storm galloping out of Canada (can’t they keep their cold air up there where it belongs?) to poke down into the central United States and wreak havoc on a thousand travel plans.

Spring Break spawns the airport freak show like the bar in Star Wars: apparel matches the destination, not the location. Shorts and t-shirts bound to or from the beach jostle elbows with weary Joe Businessman jockeying for boarding priority, knowing the overhead space on the aircraft is tight, and also knowing that since no one wants to pay to check a bag, everyone wants to drag everything on board.

Looking to the sky outside, the biz guy prays for an on-time arrival wherever it is he’s going that he’d probably rather not be, unless it’s home. He studies the sky absently, thinking beyond today’s steel-gray sky spitting unwelcome snow pellets. Hadn’t the calendar vanquished what’s already been a miserable winter of delays and cancellations everywhere business is done? Still, he’s either wherever he’s going in his head (an exciting Power Point, maybe?) or wherever he just came from (missing family? Swearing to travel less, but the boss wants to stay home too, so . . .), or as likely, wherever he wishes he could be instead.

There’s always a group of teens or early twenties, bound in a group headed for a school team or band or church trip, confusing their “first ever” gang trip with “the first ever” trip of this kind: it’s the illusion of youth that whatever they’re doing, this is it, rather than “this is one more of those done by these” who may dress differently than the last generation but are essentially the same nonetheless. And that’s okay, that’s what they’re supposed to do. Teen boys bound and frisk like restless ponies and show off for studiously disinterested girls; loud voices, weary chaperones, harried agents–it’s all part of the mix.

Families try to carve out a space in the boarding area. Children try not to fidget, but it’s too hard and really, better to get the energy out now rather than in flight. Parents with infants are like roadies with rock stars, schlepping all manner of equipment: strollers as complex as the fold-out Apollo Lunar Rover; food-beverages-diapers-outfits-containers-bottles–the band’s here!

The younger couples in the pre-kid and recent-post-honeymoon phase watch it all and try to project themselves in the family role, but why? You can’t really try it on mentally as if it were a radical fashion departure, nor can you imagine the nostalgia with which you’ll look back on the pre-kids travel when your parenthood days come. Just enjoy the trip–and trust me, you’ll love the kids and the adventures when it’s time.

The older folks with more issues than just reservations and vacations melt into the woodwork. Mobility challenges, hearing, seeing the dang small monitors–it’s less of a lark and almost more important for them; more than from point “A” to point “B,” it’s an odyssey fraught with unforeseen obstacles.

I keep an eye out for them: let me get the information that eludes you, the service person who overlooks you, the answers you need and ways and means to get you where you’re going. Thanks for your patience; we’ll get you through this rolling tide of humanity and into the blue as soon as possible.

Me? I’m whomever you need me to be: for the elderly, I’m Charon, the Ferryman, polling your raft. I’ll take you where you need to be, even if you can’t picture the place yet yourself.

Not just the elderly, but the unaware, heading to places from which there’s no return. It’s not just age, but circumstance as well. I never forget that the journey for you may be beyond my imagination–and possibly yours too–when it comes to the changes in life marked by travel. It will mean something to you, so it’s important to me.

I’m the character at Disney, wearing the costume you want to see in order to embrace the comfort of the story that goes with it.

That’s part of the illusion (I really don’t need a hat and tie to fly the plane–and they often are ditched behind the closed flight deck door) and the story line you’ve paid for enroute. Even in my usual jeans, I still have the thousands of hours of experience and flight time that are what really matter, never mind the costume.

Most of all, I’m the watchman, the Catcher in the Rye, making sure you get where you’re going safely despite the miles high perch and the barely sub-sonic speed in our aluminum island in the sky.

Because I get it, really I do: here, time is nobody’s friend, because this is only a waypoint on the road to where memories are made.

When we finally blast off, it’s no longer the waiting–it’s the going, the doing. We’ll climb that giant staircase and perch miles high for a few hours. You can study the blue above and the dirt below in the moving tapestry of here to there.

Take your time, enjoy the sky. You’ll be “there” soon enough, and too soon back if you’re lucky. For now, just look to the blue.

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The Big 5 Conspire To Ruin Your Air Travel

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, elderly traveller, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, passenger, passenger bill of rights, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2010 by Chris Manno

Want to know who to blame for your airline hassles? Here are “The Big 5” conspiring to ruin your air travel:

1. Congress. In an ill-conceived attempt to legislate a “one-size-fits-all” solution to largely anomalous and often anecdotal reports of airline tarmac delays, Congress enacted a law effective April 29th mandating multi-million dollar fines for airlines with aircraft delayed longer than a specified time, hoping to lessen passenger delays. But the law will have the opposite effect: instead of freeing passengers from tedious hours-long delays, this bill will create indefinite delays and cancellations of flights, stranding passengers enroute and at origination airports (for an in-depth analysis of the downside of this disastrous bill, click here).

Continental Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek said his airline will be forced to cancel flights rather than risk fines in the millions for an extended tarmac delay. The ultimate impact of this unavoidable cancellation for the traveler?

You will find yourself along with hundreds of other on the stand-by list for the handful of open seats going to your destination. And there can be only a handful of seats–and they’re not going to be cheap as a walk-up fare–because of number 2 below.

2. Alfred E. Kahn.

Known as “The Father of Airline De-Regulation,” economist Alfred E. Kahn was Jimmy Carter’s Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. His blueprint for airline de-regulation was based on a flawed economic model, and was as misguided as economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s assurance to Lyndon Johnson that the Viet Nam war would be short and wouldn’t affect inflation. Kahn proposed complete de-regulation of airline routes and fares, positing that the marketplace forces would drive down ticket prices and provide the American public with cheap and plentiful airline seats.

What he failed to consider in his economic model is the fact that not only is the product–an airline seat–not inexpensive to produce, it is also linked to energy costs which are both volatile and unpredictable. “Cheap airfares” for the public are incredibly expensive to produce, forcing in the progressive “unbundling” of the airline product: now passengers must pay for each component of the flight–a checked bag, food, beverage, amenities like a pillow or a hard-copy ticket–and the revenue still only marginally covers the price of the product, with the airline industry losing billions nonetheless. Consumers insisted on paying less for an airline ticket, so now

You wanted your ticket for $10 less, now you hand that over to McD's instead.

they can cough up for food and drink at airport prices between flights. Everything must yield revenue or there is no airline, and nothing with revenue potential on board can be simply given away.

Further, Kahn didn’t foresee that many airlines would use bankruptcy as an operating shield for years (thank #1 above for not amending bankruptcy laws) to gain an unfair advantage over the few airlines that didn’t. This abuse of bankruptcy law dealt a financial beating to carriers that paid their bills but still had to compete head-to-head with many who simply walked away from their debt.

3. Airline Capacity. Every airline that intends to survive the high production cost and low revenue stream has cut capacity to the bone. This is common sense: empty seats are an unrecoverable loss and waste, and airline planners have analyzed traffic and passengers in order to minimize such waste and loss. For the traveler, this means less empty seats–seats which are vital when a flight is cancelled due to #1 above, or for the more common cancellations due to weather or equipment. Used to be that the percentage of empty seats was higher, allowing the system to absorb passengers from a cancellation or delay. Such margins are a luxury of the past with airlines having to deal with out-of-control fuel prices with an ever-shrinking revenue stream.

True, Kahn’s brainchild did spawn new entrant airlines–but they don’t have a seat surplus either, or they simply go out of business.

4. Airway Infrastructure. There are only so many take-offs that are physically possible at 5pm at LaGuardia. Although Alfred Kahn’s model says the marketplace will regulate itself, if everyone wants to sell a competitive 5pm departure, it is clearly predictable that there will be massive delays, which are the rule at airports like LaGuardia and many in the northeast, as well as from airports inbound to those airports. Kahn’s leverage, unfortunately, is you, the passenger, and the delays and misconnects you will suffer as a result. But in a free market, what business can afford to not compete in the market that customers demand? And when they do, how do they deal with number 1 above? As Continental CEO Jeff Smisek promised, there will be rampant cancellations and stranded travelers as a result.

LaGuardia’s delays are emblematic of the entire national air route system: despite Kahn’s academic model, the airways are saturated at all of the commercially viable times when passenger demand dictates the competitive environment. Which leads to more delays–and in the face of congress’s newly enacted financial penalties, cancellations and misconnects for you, the passenger.

5. The Big Box Store.

The heyday of the discount “big box store” gave rise to a consumer expectation of all products and services for steep discounts. Everything from home electronics to auto parts to furniture is now sold in bulk at drastically reduced prices by wholesalers with only minimal investment in buildings and equipment.

A new aircraft, by contrast, costs upwards of $50-$100 million per aircraft, and hundreds of such aircraft are required to produce a fleet with a competitive route structure. Further, each aircraft has to earn revenue daily despite upturns and downturns in the travel market, as well as drastic fluctuations in fuel costs which follow oil prices. Face it: the cost of an airline round trip is not the same as a set of tires or a Cowboy’s football game–but the public paradoxically expects to pay less anyway (more details–click here).

Still not convinced that cheap airline travel is an absurd expectation? Ask yourself why “cheap surgical hospitals” aren’t also a consumer demand.

Does anyone really think flight at 7 miles up and the speed of a 22 caliber bullet is any less risky than surgery? Does anyone demand the cheapest bare bones surgical “product?” Is airline pricing too high? Read this and decide.

Regardless, there remains an unrealistic expectation among consumers that somehow ticket prices should fit their budget rather than the actual cost of the product. Part of that stems from the low-overhead “big box” pricing that is the norm on other big ticket items, part from Alfred Kahn’s unrealistic promise to consumers of cheap pricing on an expensive product, and part due to congressional unwillingness to address the disparity between the two.

You tell me. These “Big 5” items have changed air travel from a Nieman-Marcus experience to a K-Mart Death March. Further, the airport and airway infrastructure are badly in need of technological upgrade.

The traveling public can make changes in #1 and #5; it’s time to junk #2, and it’s time to force #1 to make the needed upgrades to #4. The airlines themselves will take care of #3 when that happens.

Until the public and congress fix this, at least now you know whom to blame for your airline woes this travel season.

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Flight Time In Dog Years

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, dog kennel, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by Chris Manno

This flight flung me back to the dog pound. Just trying to get into the cockpit, and boom: flashback to the day I divorced my dog.

There was no one left in the boarding area when I tromped down the jetbridge about ten minutes prior to scheduled departure. I’d been up in Flight Operations printing a new flight plan after a major route change to avoid the severe weather over Tennessee and Kentucky I knew we’d read about in the next morning’s headlines.

Hadn’t met the Number Four flight attendant yet, but she was planted squarely in the doorway. No “Hello, my name is,” nor opportunity for me to do the same. Rather, hands on hips, looking at me like it was my fault, she said, “The woman in 4-F wants to know if her dog got on.”

She got a couple seconds of grace time as I struggled to not say something smartassed. Like most flight attendants, she was a pro at handling people, and handled me too: “He’s in there pushing buttons,” she said, jerking a thumb at my First Officer, “so he’s busy.” But before she could ask me if I’d go down to the ramp and poke my head into the forward cargo compartment and page 4-F’s dog, I slipped past her, saying, “Yeah, ten minutes prior to pushback I have a few buttons to push too.”

That’s when the flashback smacked me in the face: the look in her eyes, having been sidestepped, was the look in my dog’s eyes as he drove away. Not really disappointed, because she wasn’t that invested in 4-F’s dog. Rather, it was a problem solving-thing, a rearrangement, the details that would get us all under way peacefully, dog or no.

Same with Gus, my ex-dog. He lived his life with that look, the notion spelled out in his eyes that like my flight attendant colleague, was all about getting on with it. Maybe because he was a pound-mutt, a Retriever-Chow mix, stoic as his Mongolian ancestors which tempered the Retriever friskiness: he was the perfect dog. Time spent in the pound gave him an ex-con’s wariness, as if a skepticism about how “the time” was going to go overruled assurances and even a prescribed sentence.

Gus, the beer drinking, baseball watching perfect dog.

But on a jet? I know every airline charges substantial fee to bring a dog on board. Since the all-important 4-F dog wasn’t in the cabin, I assumed it was probably too large and so had incurred an even larger shipping fee below decks in the cargo hold.

Clearly, this was about somebody wanting something important from their dog, not vice versa, because I’ve seen dogs crammed into the cargo hold in kennels.  Not a cool way to travel.

This trip was about the dog’s owner and so more than the welfare of the dog, the question of whether he was on board had everything to do with what the owner wanted.

That was the reason for divorcing my dog: I wanted what was best for him, not me.

Our time together started out simple: a neighbor kid fed and watered Gus when I was flying; at home, we had baseball nights alone. For a while there, I indulged his expensive taste in beer: he turned his nose up at anything but RedDog once he’d tried it. An Amstel Light for me, a couple ounces of RedDog for Gus. It got to be too much, having to buy a separate–and more expensive–beer for the dog: it was like having company all the time.

Take it or leave it, pal.

We drove everywhere in my old Blazer, the back seats down so he could walk around and fall down a lot–he never grasped centrifugal force–singing bawdy dog lyrics to old Beatles CD’s (“I wanna mount your leg . . . and when I hump you I feel happy, inside . . .”) which was all well and good while it lasted.

Then came the girlfriend. I’d had “girlfriends,” but this was and still is the one. We got married. Built a house. Had a child. And Gus got edged out bit by bit: time and baseball and beer drinking (he NEVER had to go to the bathroom and looked at me like “you whimp” when I had to by the fifth inning) gave way to a re-engineered household and lifestyle, joyous for us; for Gus, not so much. He was an outdoor dog–had to literally drag him inside in bad weather–and too rough for the new house; too big around a newborn.

But then I knew my old baseball and Beatles pal still needed–and deserved–time and attention. He was near ten by then and I knew he wasn’t, in the twilight of his dog years, going to get it from me.

I put an ad in the paper. Rejected several families after the “interview:” nope, not sending Goose into a worse situation.

Then an old broken down sedan pulled up, huffed a mighty sigh and died. The driver’s door swung open and a disheveled man stood. A scruffy looking boy climbed out of the back seat.

Through thick Spanglish, the story unfolded. His German Shepard, best friend for all of his five years, had died. They saw the ad; hoped maybe they could find the right dog; no money for adoption. They had a yard and a vacant lot, all fenced. Gus could run, would get the attention he needed.

And that was that. He drove off, not even looking back, all about the “now,” as dogs seem to be. Tomorrow doesn’t exist, yesterday doesn’t matter any more. Bye.

The flight interphone cracked to life in my headset. “Ground to cockpit,” came the Crew Chief’s voice on the ramp below. “You guys ready up there?”

And I wondered to myself: is that what you do if you’re a dog’s best friend? Keep him with you at all costs? Or send him off–or below in a cage–and continue on “there” or wherever no matter what? The cargo hold? A beater sedan?

“No,” I answered, unstrapping. My First Officer gave me a “what the hell?” look as I stepped out of the cockpit. The agent, too, looked startled. “Be right back.”

Out through the jetbridge, down the stairs to the ramp. The guidemen with their wands and day-glo vests eyed me quizzically. I ducked under the fuselage, over to the forward cargo door a ground crew woman was about to close. “Wait.”

I leaned into the chest high cargo door, letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. There.

Medium sized kennel; medium sized dog. So far so good. “Hey buddy, you okay?” I ignored the ground crew woman’s stare burning a hole in my back. Five minutes till push, I knew she was thinking, we’ve got to get moving.

Brown eyes stared back. Some kind of beagle; nice looking dog. Same Gus eyes, too: not sure where I am, or where I’m headed, but let’s get on with it. Maybe even a little bit sardonic, like Gus sitting quietly as I take the mandatory fifth inning plumbing break: you wuss.

I turned to the ramper waiting to close the door. “Okay.” Back under the fuselage, up the jetbridge stairs. I brushed past the still befuddled  gate agent and strapped back into my seat. The dog’s about the now, the getting there, hopefully to a better place. Maybe a double yard with room to run; a little boy who’ll fill up his world again.

“Okay to shut the cabin door?” the agent asked, “Everything good up here?”

Good? Well, probably not beer and baseball, or at least not RedDog. But a better world, so the trip would be okay.

“Yeah,” I answered, flipping on all six fuel boost pumps overhead and arming the engine igniters. “Let’s get on with it.”

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Fly early, or be late.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, travel, travel tips, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2010 by Chris Manno

Fly early, or be late. Here’s why.

First, consider aircraft and crew access. On the first few flights of the day, both the aircraft and crew are beginning their first flight of the day. That’s important to you, because it means they most likely spent the night at the airport. So when you get there, they’re already at the gate, not coming in from a distant location, subject to arrival delays due to weather.

Some important advantages you gain early in the day:

1. If on the last flight the aircraft had any mechanical discrepancies reported, mechanics have had all night to perform any required maintenance.

2. The crew, too, is fresh: their FAA mandated maximum day is just starting. No problems with crew legalities.

3. The crew is together–not the cabin crew coming in from one coast, the flight deck crew from the other. They’re all starting from this particular airport.

4. The maintenance shift has just begun, plenty of time for mechanics to complete any work before shift change. More about that later.

5. Less gate delays: the aircraft is likely ON the gate, not waiting for the gate to become available, thereby delaying their deplaning, your boarding, and the swap of cargo and baggage.

Delays due to crew manning, maintenance requirements, and gate availability are much less likely EARLY IN THE DAY.

Next, think about passenger loads, because they do affect you. Here’s a chart of planned departure times and passenger loads from Denver to Chicago on one air carrier:

Passenger Loads Denver to O’Hare 2-27-10

Flight Departs Arrives Passengers Capacity
1 0700 0914 65 148
2 0755 1008 71 148
3 0845 1100 110 148
4 0955 1215 127 148
5 1100 1300 165 172
6 1135 1345 138 148
7 1210 1430 142 148
8 1255 1520 144 148
9 1340 1605 255 237
10 1450 1720 150 148
11 1535 1755 181 178
12 1650 1917 155 148
13 1800 2005 135 148
14 1900 2110 142 148
15 1950 2205 128 148
16 2055 2305 101 148
17 2130 2350 65 148

Note that before noon, the flights aren’t quite booked full, but after noon, several are overbooked. Why?

If you’re early, particularly in a mid-continent hub like Denver, DFW or Chicago, no one has been able to fly in yet to connect: the east coast flights haven’t landed yet, and the west coast, hours behind, haven’t even begun to board and dispatch. Which means less competition for seats with standby upgrades or overbooking.

But you’re not standby, you say, right? You will be if there’s a cancellation, especially of your flight. But look at the above chart–your best bet to snag another seat is in the morning. By the afternoon, a bow wave of standby passengers will have those flights packed to the gills.

Once the connecting flights from either coast or commuter connections from outlying areas add their passengers into the hub airport passenger pool, it’s a whole different ballgame. If arrival at your destination is time critical, or if you have a down-line connection the odds are more in your favor early in the day. Later, as the day goes on and delays, cancellations and stand-by lists begin to snowball, not so much.

Here are two other crucial factors that can be largely sidestepped early in the day.

1. Weather.

Sure, there are storms in the morning sometimes. But not the ones that result from the day’s heating and convection of moisture. But even if there is bad weather in the morning, if your aircraft is on its first flight of the day, at least it’s there–and so is your crew. Later in the day, your inbound jet could have to divert because of weather, tossing you into the standby line, or inducing a large delay. Crews, too, start running up against the FAA duty limits due to diversions. Don’t gripe–the FAA limits are for your protection as well as mine: you really want me on duty more than 14 hours for your landing?

2. Maintenance shift change. Why is this important? Simple: because an FAA-certified mechanic is performing licensed procedures on any aircraft. His signature goes on the paperwork certifying the maintenance action. It’s just not workable for one mechanic to do part of the procedure, then have another finish and sign for the entire job. So, if the first flights are at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, add eight hours and see when lengthy maintenance actions will probably not be started because they can’t be finished within the shift and so are likely to wait for the next shift. Which means you will wait, too. And I know what you’re thinking, but no–there’s no money for mechanics’ overtime in the sea of red ink flowing from the airline industry. The job will be done right, but you’ll likely wait.

Finally, I recommend you board early. That’s because of human nature: nobody’s going to do as they’re told and put one of their hand-carried items under their seat, then maybe one in the overhead storage bin. If you board last, it’s likely to be you standing in the aisle with a bag but no place to put it.

Other passengers will avoid eye contact with you, acting as if they DIDN’T already hog all the overhead storage space–but they did. And your bag is going to have to be gate-checked, whether you want it to or not. Choose a seat near the mid-point of the cabin if you can, which means the middle boarding call:

I like those emergency exits over the wing. Not only is there more leg room,  it’s also the smoothest ride  because the center of gravity and thus the pivot point of the jet in both pitch and roll are there. No, you won’t see much on the ground because the wing is in the way, but  you also won’t be the last group called to board, and thus be stuck with nowhere to stow your hand-carried items. You also won’t have to wait for the entire aircraft to deplane before you can get off–you’ll be in the middle of the pack.

Okay, got all that? Here’s a summary: early, early, early; booking, boarding, flying. You’ll have a smoother flight with less opportunity for delays.

Good luck, and by the way, don’t look for me at the airport when you get there early: I’m not an early morning person. Since the plane won’t leave without me, I’ll take my chances later.

Lake Tahoe

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Sure, it’s always funny till someone loses an eye.

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