Archive for transportation

Summer Air Travel 2018: Fly Smarter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Air Travel Delays: “Mechanical Issues”

Posted in air travel, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, FoF, passenger with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2018 by Chris Manno

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“Mechanical issues” may sound like a catch-all for airline delays or, to anxious flyers, a mysterious, perhaps worrisome possibility. But it’s neither, and here’s why.

First, you have to understand two main concepts: airliners are complex mechanical wonders, and second, their maintenance and operation is very strictly and minutely regulated–and documented. This second point is essential to the aviation regulatory standard upheld by all major airlines, even though such detail must be correctly, diligently accomplished. That takes time. So, let’s walk through the possibilities.

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When you board an airliner, preflight checks are ongoing. This is especially true if the aircraft has just arrived from another station (airport). As soon as the flight completion checklists are accomplished, the preflight process begins anew by the crew. To waste no time, this preflight inspection goes on even as arriving passengers deplane and departing passengers board.

The checks ensure that all operating systems on the aircraft are up to the very specific standard set by the aviation regulatory agency that oversees commercial flight operations. In the United States, that’s the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Every system on that aircraft has an operational standard to determine if the aircraft is airworthy, and the jet does not move until those requirements are satisfied, right down to individual light bulbs.

Let’s look at that example: a light bulb.

If a pilot on an exterior preflight notices say, a landing light that is not working, this fact is immediately recorded in the aircraft logbook and the airline’s maintenance center is notified. The airline maintenance center will refer to the FAA specified “Minimum Equipment List” (MEL) for that particular aircraft.

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Without straying too deeply into the very complex decision tree of the MEL, there are three possible outcomes for the noted discrepancy (a landing light is inoperative). First, the landing light may be replaced, tested and certified by an FAA licensed and approved aircraft maintenance technician.

Second, the item may be specified by the FAA-approved MEL as non-essential for flight under specified conditions. For example, if the aircraft is about to depart for a destination to land in daylight, the MEL may allow the flight to depart, with proper logbook documentation of the exception.

Third, the MEL may allow for a redundant system to compensate for the component. If the inoperative bulb was a wingtip position light, the MEL may allow the flight to operate with the remaining position light–if the aircraft has two and only one is required (that’s why the aircraft designer put two bulbs there in the first place).

This is the same with all aircraft systems: if there are redundant systems approved by the FAA MEL, the flight may be approved for flight with that waiver to use the backup system, once the discrepancy and waiver are properly documented in the aircraft logbook.

Of course, some essential systems have no redundancy. In those cases, prescribed repairs must be made by FAA-certified mechanics (example: a tire at the prescribed wear limit must be replaced). The discrepancy, repair and results must be properly documented before the aircraft moves.

And there are “consumables.” For example, on my flight last night, when we were doing our “Before Landing Checklist,” we noted that the engine oil quantity was at the prescribed “refill” level. That, like all aircraft specifications, is a very conservative number. It’s as if you were driving your car down the highway and noted that you had just above a half a tank of gas.

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You’d turn to your passengers and say, “The MEL says we must always have more than a half a tank of gas, so we’re going to exit the freeway and refuel now.”

In flight, I sent a data-linked message to our technical operations center noting the requirement for oil service before the next flight, which I also wrote in the aircraft’s paper logbook.

Our tech folks coordinated with the mechanics at our destination to have the oil ready and a certified mechanic to perform the refill. That’s quick and easy at one of our hub airports, because we have mechanics on staff there.

At smaller stations, airlines rely of FAA-licensed mechanics approved for contract mechanical work on specified aircraft. Of course, most airlines have access to normal consumables like oil or tires, but no one has every part on every aircraft stocked at every station.

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If the required item is not in stock, it must be brought in, either from nearby (example: an airline’s LAX station may have an item needed for a flight out of Ontario Airport; staff can simply drive the part from Los Angeles International to Ontario). Other parts may be flown in on the next aircraft from the hub to the smaller station.

But either way, before the aircraft flies again, the prescribed maintenance procedure must be accomplished in accordance with FAA regulations and everything must be documented.

Most major airlines have this process streamlined for efficiency, like when I sent the data-linked message to prepare the arrival station for the required oil service. This was accomplished between flights with no delay. The certified mechanic noted the refill quantity and manufacturer’s details in the aircraft logbook as well as in the computerized records maintained at our airline technical headquarters.

But sometimes a procedure may take longer just by the normal time the process requires (changing a tire will take longer than changing a light bulb). Finally, the availability of mechanics at a given hour may add more time to the required procedure.

In all cases, the aircraft records must be meticulously documented, which takes time as well: approvals must be granted, remedial actions certified, and everything recorded both in the aircraft on-board paper logbook as well as the aircraft records at the airline’s technical center.

That takes time.

If the delay is predicted to be too long, we might be assigned another aircraft for the flight, which also takes time: passengers, cargo, baggage, and catering must be transferred to the new aircraft. So, if you’re waiting on board during a maintenance delay, it’s probably because swapping aircraft would take longer, or there isn’t another aircraft available.

To summarize, airliners today are complex machines with multiple parts and systems, all of which have MEL specified operating minimums. Not all replacement items are available system-wide, and and even where mechanics are immediately available, remedial processes can take time.

The “mechanical delay” we experience is due to the airlines’ unwavering adherence to very specific FAA standards.

The good news is, that’s why air travel on major airlines is as reliably safe as it is.

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Fear of Flying: Free Kindle March 25-26

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

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

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Airsickness: Here’s Help.

Posted in air sickness, air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot blog, weather with tags , , , , , , , on July 20, 2017 by Chris Manno

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If you are susceptible to air sickness, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger: I’ve been flying jets as a pilot for nearly 40 years and I can honestly say I’ve been there. Add to that, there’s really nothing worse than being trapped in a jet, needing to heave.

But here’s the thing. There are steps you can take to minimize your vulnerability to air sickness in flight.

First, preflight:

  1. Be physically ready: Your physical condition matters, including nutrition, rest and hydration leading up to your flight. A late night of recreation–especially one that engenders a hangover–before a morning flight will leave you sleep deprived and feeling poorly to start with. Lack of sleep will lower your resistance to the physical stresses of flying like dehydration (the humidity in the average airline cabin in flight is 1-2%), vibration, and vestibular effects like roll, yaw and pitch. So: be rested, hydrated and have nutrition taken care of BEFORE you board.
  2. Choose your seat wisely: Pilots know that the aircraft pivots around its aerodynamic center of gravity. So, just as the hub of a bicycle tire moves less drastically than the outer edge of the spokes, points on the aircraft nearest the center of gravity move the least.
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The aircraft pivots in pitch and roll around the center of gravity: sit over the wing for the smoothest ride with the least motion.

That means a seat over the wing will be the most stable, the least affected by the motions of yaw, pitch and roll. By contrast, what feels like a little motion over the wings is felt in the nose and tail much more strongly. Reserve a seat near the wings: ask a reservations agent (might cost you) or check the aircraft diagram on line.

Inflight:

3. Medication: Check with your your primary care physician for any medication that would meet your needs: OTC Dramamine, for example, if recommended by your doctor. Be sure to take all recommended medication BEFORE the flight.

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4. Stay hydrated: bring your own water on board. Buy a bottle, or refill a refillable bottle in the terminal once you’re past security screening. DO NOT count on an in-flight water service because of factors such as delays or turbulence that can prevent access to hydration–be responsible for yourself and bring water.

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Turbulence from weather far away may affect your flight even when well clear of storms.

5. Booze: Refrain from alcohol in flight: the effects of some alcohol include dehydration and some side effects on your sense of balance.  Avoid heavy meals before and during flight–they only add to the volume of stomach contents that can be disturbed by turbulence, pitch, yaw and roll.

6. Entertainment: some flyers who are subject to motion sickness have told me that reading a book makes things worse because their eyes pick up the motions of flight (including choppy air) and add to the vestibular upset caused by the sensations of flight. Others suggest headphones to listen to soothing music, others suggest the distraction of a movie either on a personal device or via an aircraft system. What works for you? Experiment, bring music, a digital movie or TV show.

7. Fly early: not only is the air smoother before daylight begins to heat the air and cause disturbances, traffic is lighter and delays less frequent. Beat rush hour–fly before 10am if you can.

Air sickness is no fun and for some people, a vulnerability they can not avoid. But if you pay attention to the suggestions above, you can minimize the effects of of flight motion and maximize the tolerability of your flight.

Bon Voyage–

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Air Travel Delays: My Top 3 Cause Factors

Posted in air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, passenger, passenger bill of rights, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2017 by Chris Manno

Look, I get it: I sit in both ends of the jet for some very long delays. My last two turnarounds were planned for 7 hours but turned into 8.5 and 9.1 respectively. That made my pilot duty day, with preflight and ground turnaround time, over 12 hours.

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Me deadheading in the very last row of coach, carefully not man-spreading and conceding the armrest to the middle seat passenger (basic air travel etiquette, BTW)

We waited over an hour for takeoff, then had additional holding in the air before landing at Philadelphia International Airport.

I’d deadheaded up to Philly to fly the jet back to DFW Airport but the result of the Air Traffic Control delays getting the jet off the ground in DFW and enroute to Philadelphia made our Philly-DFW flight well over an hour late into DFW.

That caused many passenger misconnects once we arrived at DFW after yet another round of airborne holding for nearly an hour. My flight plan from Philadelphia to DFW called for a flight time of 3:27 but with holding, the actual flight time became 4:30.

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That’s due to storms moving through the north Texas area faster and more southerly than predicted, constricting air traffic routes into DFW. So, we were delayed by ATC for an hour holding over a fix southeast of the airport after an enroute course refile to avoid weather.

I ain’t complaining, but I got home at 2am instead of 11pm. That’s my job and I did it correctly and safely for all 167 folks on board.

But that’s not the big picture. What’s driving ever-increasing air travel delays? Here’s my Top 3 Factors.

  1. Increased traffic volume. According to the DOT Bureau of Aircraft Statistics, airline departures have increased 5-7% annually since 2010. That means more aircraft crammed into exactly the same airspace, which means traffic flow abatement is ever-more necessary and unfortunately, more present: ground stops abound; inflight holding is often unavoidable even after enduring a ground stop.
  2. Weather predictive delays: the National Weather Service provides more and better predictive weather products that the FAA Air Traffic Control Center (ARTC) attempts to integrate into their traffic management constraints. In theory, this is a good thing but in practice, I question the effectiveness: air traffic is often preemptively ground-stopped or re-routed based on weather predictions, which aren’t always accurate (see above), meanwhile, air traffic then must be re-routed from the ARTC re-routes.
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The storms often do not conform to the FAA predicted movement, causing yet another layer of reroutes and delays.

3. Airline “banking” (the grouping of inbound-outbound flight exchanges at hub airports) cannot handle the disruption of hours-long delays: when one complex or “bank” of flights is delayed outbound, there’s nowhere to park and deplane the next complex. This leads to individual airline-imposed ground stops: your flight will not be pushed off from your origin airport gate until there’s a reasonable expectation of gate availability at your arrival hub. This is to avoid the old “sitting on a tarmac with toilets overflowing waiting for a gate” urban legends that engendered the Passenger Bill of Rights.

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Given the ubiquitous eye of cellphone video and social media, passengers can count on more origin airport outbound delays: major carriers will always defer to the Passenger Bill of Rights, allowing you to deplane at will at the departure station rather than sit on board at your destination, trapped for hours waiting for a gate at a weather-affected hub while ranting on social media.

There are other factors creating and lengthening delays, like an industry-wide shortage of qualified airline pilots and airline planners who over-optimistically schedule aircraft, crews and connections.

But from a pilot viewpoint, the big three above seem to be what I most frequently encounter. So, in addition to packing your own food and water in your carry-ons, be sure to arrive at your departure airport with a plentiful supply of patience. This summer, you’ll need it it more than ever.

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When Dogs Fly.

Posted in airline pilot, airline pilot blog, dog kennel, dogs, dogs in flight, dogs on airliners with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2017 by Chris Manno

I confess: I’m a dog person. I believe they’re the most wonderful, faithful, generous companions a person could have, which presents an enormous obligation: dogs ask for little, but depend on us to provide what little they need.

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I need to reassure our four-legged friends that they’re not alone or forgotten and that we’ll take care of them in flight.

Flight is not something a dog needs. So let’s get that straight first: if a dog is on board an airliner, shipped as cargo, that’s nothing the dog needs or wants–that’s for the owner.

“Cargo” is the key word here, too. Because dogs are NOT cargo, they’re living, breathing, feeling creatures who don’t deserve to be “shipped” for the same reasons YOU don’t: the ramp is noisy, scary, dangerous, too hot, too cold, exposed to wind, rain, lightning and jet blast. They’re going to spend a significant amount of time exposed to all of those stresses before we even get off the ground.

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Water spills so easily–I try to refill when possible as dogs are put aboard.

Our cargo crews on the ramp are superstars and care about animals. But when your dog is “shipped,” he’s treated like cargo, which means spending time on the ramp for both loading aboard and unloading from the aircraft.

That’s harsh for an unknowing pet with sensitive hearing subjected to the extreme noise of jet engines in close proximity and harsh temperature extremes. It’s scary and confusing for a dog to sit in a kennel in unfamiliar circumstances surrounded by strangers.

Worse, the mechanics of shipment almost guarantee the dog will go without water, because the belt loader that puts your kennel into the cargo compartment is of necessity slanted.

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That slope alone will spill half the water in a dish in a kennel. The rest will be sloshed out by turbulence and even inflight manuevering, including climb and descent pitch attitudes of plus or minus fifteen degrees, and bank angles up to thirty degrees.

I make it my business to visit all canines put aboard my flights. I need to know they have water for the flight, and I bring my own downstairs to the ramp to refill their dishes in their kennels. I like to reassure them that they’re not abandoned, that they’re among people who care.

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Glad to share my crew-provisioned water with our Very Important Pets.

I check on them once they’re aboard and if I can, I make sure they get a water refill before we close the cargo door because I know some has spilled during even the most careful cargo handling, which our crews do.

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And I think of dogs aboard in flight, realizing they have highly-tuned vestibular senses that probably are upset by excessive manuevering or bumpiness. They’re downstairs, alone, among the cargo boxes and bags. Trust me, the temperature is just fine in the cargo compartment, but it’s still, for a dog, much as you would feel if you were suddenly, inexplicably thrown into the trunk of a car and driven around for hours.

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“Hang in there, my friend–we’ll get you home safely.”

So, sure, sometimes you may have reason to ship your dog by air, although my own best friend will never be subjected to the trials and tribulations of “cargo flight.” In fact, I’d only recommend shipping your dog by air as a last resort. And I’d add that there are caring airline people who will do all they can for your precious pooch along the way.

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One of our ramp superstars in the cargo hold with my water, topping off a pooch’s water dish right before closing the cargo door.

Just be sure it’s a last resort, a short flight, and that caring people look after your dog along the way. If that happens to be on one of my flights, consider it done.

Air Travel and Anarchy

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , on October 27, 2016 by Chris Manno

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“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Nothing brings out the worst in people like air travel. Sadly, flying has become the crossroads of selfishness and self-righteousness, a road-rage hybrid unmasked, more akin to mob action as a result of being seated together rather than in isolated vehicles, but angry, loose-tempered and looking for a reason to go off just the same. Throw in a fashionable side order of latent outrage at anything individually determined to be offensive and you have the airborne tinderbox that regularly explodes into passenger non-compliance, misconduct, diversion and ultimately, yet another ruined travel experience.

Maybe in days past there was less opportunity to exact compensation for perceived slights. Maybe there’s righteous consumer outrage over the corpcomm buzzword “inconvenience” overlaid on any type of service disaster. Mix the two well, sprinkle with a litigious seasoning and pour into a social media crust, then bake on the internet for less than thirty minutes. We’re serving up outrage–and selfies–get it while it’s hot.

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That tired, sad urban legend-gone-digitally viral cry for attention would be little more than a Spam-ish nuisance except for one elephantine reality: it’s dangerous as hell in flight.

In a world that prizes personal choice, self-importance, sacrosanct self-image, and the all-important digital self-reflection (“That’s us in ____!”), compliance is a dirty word. Problem is, flying is a difficult, at times risky endeavor that relies on discipline and its ugly stepchild, compliance, from the cockpit all way back to the aft lav.

Unfortunately, the all-important “me” is societally- and media-sanctioned, so individual choices are thereby easily disconnected from consequences in the aircraft emergency crew commands as well as in the midair violence wall-papered over in corp-speak as “passenger non-compliance.” That often starts with choices easily blamed these days on those offering the choice rather than those making the choice itself.

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Crewmembers are attacked, other passengers are physically (or worse) assaulted, but the individual acting, “non-complying,” is seldom held responsible for the consequences of an individual choice.  Sadly, it gets so much worse, so much more dangerous.

But I can hear it already: yeah, but I’m me. That’s a two-headed monster–first, the perception that others are the problem and second, that you aren’t one of the “others,” but you are. The command “take nothing with you” in an emergency evacuation is based on the life-and-death certification of the aircraft: 90 seconds, timed with a full load of passengers from evacuation command to everyone safely clear of an aircraft that had no luggage aboard.

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In real life, enough of the “I’m me” others refuse to comply with the command to take nothing with you (“I’m not leaving without my [fill in self-absorbed priority]!”) at the expense of those seated at the far end of the tested, proven, but now destroyed time to escape a burning aircraft. That can and will be fatal, yet the death of some is lower on the hierarchy of self in an “everybody gets a trophy” legacy of some “others.”

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Airline regulatory agencies like the FAA and NTSB do little to actually enforce compliance. Even beyond the glaring headlines attending an aircraft emergency evacuation sabotaged by passenger non-compliance, there’s little that regulators can and will do to eliminate flight risk factors other than to urge passenger “compliance.”

There again, we careen headlong into the absolution of “I’m me.”  The FAA recently recognized the disastrous inflight potential for a lithium ion battery fire in a very commonplace piece of technology. The remedy? Screening? Enforcement? Legal consequences?

Nope. Just, “we told you not to.”

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Granted,  you’re not one of the “others” who’d readily drag their bags along on an emergency evacuation at the risk of other passengers’ lives. You don’t over consume alcohol and disrupt a flight. And you don’t ignore the toothless “prohibition” and bring your very expensive but hazardous phone on board.

But they’re out there, self-justified, media-enriched, societally excused, and dangerous as hell.

Better hope “they” aren’t on “your” flight.

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