Archive for flight

Help for Fearful Flyers

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline ticket prices, airlines, airport, airport security, fear of flying, flight crew, jet, mile high club, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2015 by Chris Manno

Cover Airline Book 1Here’s a chapter from my brand new book, “Air Travel and The Death of Civility: A Field Manual & Survival Guide,”  crammed full of shortcuts, insider info and little-known techniques to make your air travel as stress-free and smooth as possible.

Available now from Amazon.com Just click on the title link above, or search on Amazon.

Help for Fearful Flyers

Please don’t feel alone because you’re not: many passengers have some level of nervousness about flying. It’s just another version of the anxiety many feel at the dentist, the emergency room; virtually anywhere new, unfamiliar, and potentially uncomfortable. In fact, people and businesses actually cultivate and market exactly this type of anxiety at theme parks with roller coasters, haunted houses, and terrifying thrill rides. Some people actually crave the feeling.

What a nervous flyer feels is perfectly normal and need not eliminate the option of flying. That fact alone is reassuring, especially in the case of groups or couples who limit their travel options due to the reluctance of one individual to fly. Often, a large part of a passenger’s unease is an understandable fear of the unknown, which is essentially just unfamiliarity with a strange new environment. So let’s fill in some of those blanks in your flying knowledge and then, we’ll discuss techniques to manage your unease.

Land in crud

First, let’s consider the aircraft and its durable, ingenious engineering. The designers of our jet have refined their process of building and manufacturing our airliner through decades of progressively better models with ever-improving materials and techniques.

The aircraft was built to rigorous standards of strength and durability far beyond what we will ever encounter in flight. To be specific, the FAA certification standard required the aircraft to demonstrate that it could withstand forces in turbulence well beyond that which has ever been recorded, plus an additional margin, with complete airframe integrity. That means that regardless of turbulence, there will be no airframe damage or structural deformity, we’ll be still flying just fine. Basically, this aircraft is not coming apart in any conditions we encounter in flight. You don’t worry about your car running over a bump at high speed, over railroad tracks, or even a curb–but it’s not built to anywhere near the strength standard of our jet.

bumpy twitter

You’ll actually notice less turbulence in flight these days, due to a couple of assets we use. First, radar technology has advanced not only in display resolution, but also in a predictive capability: now, our digital radar and on-board computers are sifting through thousands of bits of digital data gathered by radar and other systems, giving us an accurate prediction of where turbulence may occur. Our radar is integrated with the Global Positioning Satellite system and knows where it is at all times, allowing it to separate terrain features like mountains from weather echoes. The radar aims itself correctly and has an accurate, interactive display of over 300 miles ahead of the aircraft. The radar has a “pop-up” feature that allows it to show on our displays even if it’s not selected, when it finds a weather problem many miles away that we need to know about.

Add to that the ground-based computer analyses that are charting patterns of turbulence, which are then automatically up-linked to us in flight, plus the exchange of real-time information between pilots and air traffic controllers and the end result is less turbulence encounters, and lighter turbulence when encountered. There are days when rides just aren’t completely smooth and we’ll encounter some bumps. But rest assured, we’re working our way through the sky in the smoothest flight path possible.

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Visualize the air we fly in for the fluid that it is, with currents, eddies, flows, and even the wakes of other aircraft also aloft. Crossing a jet’s wake is much like crossing that of a boat: rumbles, some bumping, then we’re past the wake. Atmospheric eddies and currents can cause similar short periods of bumpiness, or even just a mostly choppy sea of blue. If that persists, we’ll search for a smoother altitude–just give us a few minutes to coordinate a clearance from air traffic control.

Mountains cause the atmospheric equivalent of river rapids in the airflow, even at altitude, because orographic features like ranges and peaks act like rocks in a stream, causing a rougher ride. That’s typical of a flight path across the Rockies: some bumpiness is not unusual. But you can rest assured that at our flight speed, we’ll pass through the area without delay.

In US airspace, airlines and Air Traffic Control pool weather information to share among all flights, and one designated FAA facility manages traffic and routes around areas of severe weather. With all of these assets working for us every flight, we don’t get taken by surprise by weather.

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That type of coordination that shares weather and route information is emblematic of the entire US aviation system, which has had a seventy-year learning curve of development, testing, and refining that has resulted in a strong, reliable oversight and infrastructure for commercial aviation, including

the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, and the National Transportation Safety Board. All three in combination provide experienced and comprehensive oversight that makes flying the safest mode of transportation you could choose.

Another highly-developed airline support system monitors our jet in flight. Our technical operations center monitors hundreds of bits of data sent in a non-stop, automated stream from our jet in flight. In flight, I’ve had a message from our round-the-clock tech center print out that said, “Can you verify the vibration on the left engine? It’s reading a little high down here.” The engines alone transmit a huge stream of telemetry to our tech center, and that data allows long-range trend diagnosis that has all but eliminated in-flight engine failure on the Boeing jets I fly. Trend data and years of diagnostic experience have allowed Boeing, our

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tech staff, and our maintenance center to keep aircraft systems in peak operating forms.

From years of firsthand experience, I can say Boeing jets in particular are finely engineered, rugged and reliable American-made jets, and that’s the main reason I fly them. Thousands of hours in Boeing cockpits have given me every confidence in the strength, power, and versatility of these jets which are capable of handling anything we could encounter in flight.

I’m fairly typical of the pilots you’ll find in command of your flight, in my thirtieth year with my airline, my twenty-fourth as captain. I was an Air Force pilot before that, and like my colleagues on the flight deck, I have the singular goal of flying safely, procedurally perfectly, and always conservatively. I have three back up plans for every eventuality and firmly believe there is nothing I could face in flight that is beyond my capability. That’s not only due to experience, but mostly because of years of relentless, ongoing advanced training not only in full-motion simulators, but through hours of classroom instruction, systems training, and recurrent exams. I have every confidence in the copilots I fly with who share the exact same goals, procedures, and training. In the cockpit, we’re unanimous about one thing: the safe, efficient, and smooth operation of our flight.

Pasta entree

So, knowing all this, what else can you do to ease the stress of a flight? First, keep the above facts in mind, reviewing as needed leading up to your flight and even on board. Second, keep track of the elapsed time. Your airline app will tell you how much flight time to expect, as will the captain in his PA and also, the flight attendants will normally tell you the planned flight time in their PA. Whatever the total flight time is, divide it in half. Now, keep track of the first half, which will elapse much faster for you than the total time. Just that half, count it down. Upon reaching halftime, relax and rejoice: from there you will count down an ever-shrinking time period much shorter (and growing ever shorter) than you have already endured quite successfully.

Concentrate on your breathing, keeping it steady and calm. Reading matter, a video, music: dive in, focus on that. Claim a little “me” time and catch up on reading or viewing that you never seem to have time for otherwise.

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Keep an eye on your halftime benchmark, noting your steady progress. Bear in mind the fluid aspect of air and anticipate some waves in this most vast sea we’re sailing through. Be confident that your extensive flight team, including the crew on board as well as our airline technical, operational, and dispatch staff constantly monitoring and interacting with us in flight, plus the air traffic control network of pros handling our route passage. We’ve all been doing this for a long time and as our record shows, we’re darn good at it.

I’ve used the countdown technique at the dentist office (my “nervous flyer” experience) as well as when running several 26.2 marathons. It works!

There may never be a time when a nervous flyer actually enjoys a flight, but there’s no reason a flight can’t be tolerated with minimal stress with a little forethought and perhaps, an equal amount of distraction with entertainment or conversation. Here’s a summary for you to review as needed:

Summary:

• Unfamiliarity is often at the core of preflight anxiety. Review the contents of this book and this section, and give yourself credit for your successful progress through the various steps required for a plane flight.

• Your aircraft is a tough, versatile, well-designed engineering marvel that has been refined over years of improvements.

• Constant monitoring of the aircraft’s vital systems in flight allows reliability and safety that makes air travel the safest travel option.

• Weather systems are a reality of life, but we have advanced technology on-board as well as on the ground keeping us well ahead of weather challenges and well clear of danger.

• The atmosphere is a fluid and behaves much like a large body of water, with the same, normal characteristics such as currents, flow, eddies, wakes, and the occasional bump.

• Your pilots are highly experienced and dedicated solely to the safe, professional operation of your flight.

• Use the countdown system of flight time to your advantage, watching your time aloft grow ever shorter.

Cover Airline Book 1Other chapters include buying a ticket, getting the best deal and the right seat, check-in and security shortcuts, on-board perspective, aircrew insider perspective, damage control and much, much more. Read this book, then travel like a pro!

The perfect gift for someone about to travel, for those reluctant to fly–and for those eager to fly and wanting to have a stress-free, excellent air travel experience.

Order your copy from Amazon.com

Just click this link.

Airline Amazon screenshot

Flying into the Nor’easter October 29th, 2011: juggle a thousand moving parts.

Posted in air travel, flight delays, jet, Nor'easter 10-29-11 with tags , , , on October 30, 2011 by Chris Manno

Ah, the point of universal equality: all of the alternates you’ve loaded into the Flight Management Computer doing a thousand calculations of time, distance, airspeed and fuel flow have reached the same number: 9.5. Which is 9,500 pounds of fuel on the deck at each–if we leave the holding pattern we’re in over the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia.

Yes, that’s a blanket of snow down there, and uncommon October dumping of thick, wet flakes wreaking havoc on the surface: fall foliage still on the trees gathers the fat flakes in a blanket that snaps branches and snags power lines.

The alternates now line up for a second with the same arrival fuel and they’ll tick down that way as we hold, geographically in the middle point between Baltimore, Syracuse, Boston and our destination, LaGuardia.

You tell the First Officer, “When the fuel prediction reaches 7,000 fuel on deck–we divert.” Because 7 eventually shrinks to 5 due to the air traffic glut all competing to get to either a destination or alternate. The fuel prediction should come with a little caveat, “results may vary.” We ain’t stupid–done this a few times before.

Our flight 9409 from Miami checks in on frequency, entering a holding pattern. “We have the Miami Dolphins on board,” the pilot says, pleading with New York Center, “Anything you can do to get us into any of the New York airports would be appreciated.” Must be coming up to play either the Giants or the Jets.

We laugh in our cockpit. “We have the Omaha Women’s Bowling and Quilt Team on board,” I say cross-cockpit, “anything you could do . . .” But New York Center has no options: “Diverts allowed south only,” comes the answer. “Or maybe we can get you Boston or Hartford.”

Crap–looks like Syracuse is out for us. Didn’t want to go there anyway–too small, slow turnaround–but it takes away from my perfect geographical display of options. I like options. Okay, add Richmond. The First Officer is busy reading out loud the terminal forecast for our various divert options, but I tune him out–I don’t give a damn about the forecast an hour ago for an hour from now. But it gives him something to do.

We’re cleared down track, exiting the holding pattern–but don’t get your hopes up: that just means someone in the holding stack 70 miles ahead finally said “uncle,” reaching their fuel bingo, and diverted. A dozen jets are heading for your stack and the controller is shooing you off to the next sector.

Now that’s funny: starting to see holding? We’re in a holding pattern. But there’s the bad news: JFK is landing south which conflicts with the LaGarbage traffic pattern landing north. Crap.

Why does JFK get priority? Because it has a couple dozen westbound transatlantic widebodies inbound and they’ve been in the air for 5 or more hours already. LaGuardia with it’s postage stamp sized runway (7,000 feet versus 13,000 at Kennedy) cannot  land with tailwinds due to stopping distance. So if Kennedy is landing south, LaGuardia arrivals are shut down.

“I can get you Boston or LaGuardia, eventually,” says the air traffic controller to our Dolphins team charter. “Standby,” comes the tense answer, and I know why.

We already did the math: we’ll weigh 132,000 pounds on landing; the runway is wet, so we need 5,660 feet to stop. Gives me 1, 400 as a safety margin–which will require all other perfection–screw the charts–in my mind: not only no tailwind, have to have  some headwind and no bad braking reports or we go to Kennedy (sorry Lufthansa). But the 757 landing distance number will be different, stopping the jet may be a problem. He’s looking closely at his Boeing chart, no doubt.

Which is another piece of the puzzle we both did as captains before launching off into the Nor’easter: take more fuel for increased loiter time, but then know you’ll deal with a heavier landing weight on a crappy surface due to the freak snow storm. Clearly, fuel wins, but he’s dealing with the stopping distance problem. And Newark is flying a complex RNAV approach that I don’t believe the 757 can do. Plus, its minimums are so high and the ceiling so low–it probably won’t work out anyway. That just sends you off on a gas-guzzling low altitude divert.

There’s a screaming headline in the weather-related alphabet soup: 1/4 mile visibility in snow and fog at LaGarbage. And previous American jets reported the ceiling really at 300 feet. Left quartering crosswind  at 14 knots; you get about ten seconds to see the runway, line up and find the touchdown spot.

Jill calls from the cabin: “We have an elderly woman who stepped out of  the lav feeling dizzy; she passed out and we’re giving her oxygen.” First officer stops reciting the weather forecasts and adds, “I sometimes pass out after a huge dump too;” I laugh, Jill doesn’t.

“Keep us posted,” I say, adding one more moving part to the dozens in play: medical attention for the woman, quick landing if she gets worse.

My magic fuel numbers have shifted dramatically: the closer south alternates show less arrival fuel than the more distant and verboten northern divert options. Why? The 125 tailwind we’re riding. That forces a Hobson’s choice: divert earlier to a southern divert base arriving with less fuel into worse weather; or hope to sneak in after the last international Kennedy arrival. If you can wait. Do you feel lucky today, punk?

“I may be able to get one more jet into LaGuardia,” the controller tells the Miami boys. Sure: football takes priority over all things, at least in the northeast. But with the powerlines down, they can’t watch anyway, right?

Jill calls from the back again: “Our lady on oxygen just passed out again. The number four flight attendant is also a nurse, says she’s probably having some blood sugar problems.”

“She’s a nurse?” the F/O asks; “Could she look at this rash on my butt when she gets done there?”

I laugh but Jill doesn’t. “We’ll get her on the gate as soon as possible,” I promise. Still laughing, I tell the F/O cross cockpit. “Let’s grab that one spot he’s talking about–declare a medical emergency and tell them we need LaGarbage.”

We set up the approach; one shot, zero tailwind, some headwind, reliable braking action report or we go right to Kennedy either on the approach or on the missed approach (again, sorry, Lufthansa; this will only take a minute and we’ll be out of your way).

Sit the cabin crew down; the radar is showing angry purple in the frontal clash ahead and below. All checklists done early; anti-ice on. Hang on–she’s gonna buck.

Crappy ride through tangled air: a hundred knot wind out of the south clashes with the nor’easter roaring in with icy air; we’re in the atmospheric rapids, blinded by driven snow which has also not incidentally given me vertigo: looking through the geometric structure of the Heads Up Display on the glass before me, the horizontal snow has my senses screaming that we’re in a left bank of 20 to 30 degrees. And I’m hand flying because the speed changes have the nose pitching more than I’m willing to tolerate at a low altitude as the autopilot struggles to correct.

Patience, concentration; do the job. A glance at the ground speed shows 95 knots; airspeed is 135 knots; Mr. Math says it a 45 knot Nor’easter is winning near the surface. And the 95 knots is making this take a lot longer than I’d like.

The radio altimeter is calling out altitude until go-around; we’re down to a hundred feet above and still in the muck.

“Ground contact,” my F/O says; I pick it up peripherally but not ahead. There–the glow of lead in lights. “I have the runway;” I announce.

“Minimums,” the audible radio altimeter declares. Barely time to check the sink rate–god I love me some Heads Up Display–kick in the rudder to track the nose straight ahead; right main gear, then the left; the nose wants to slam down as max autobrakes grabs with 3,000 psi of hydraulics, but I hold the yoke in my lap, steering  with my feet. We stop.

“Tell ’em the braking action is good,” I tell the F/O as we start running the after landing checklist. That’ll help the next guys in for planning purposes. Now all we have to do is park, turn around, and fight our way back into the air through de-ice and crappy runway problems.

But that headache is an hour away. A cup of coffee is waiting in the terminal–we’ll worry about the rest later.

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