Archive for travel

Air Travel: What You SHOULD Worry About.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, blog, cartoon, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, passenger, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2016 by Chris Manno

tv-boners-pooping-1

There’s seldom a day that passes without some type of media headline regarding an air “scare.” But the news stories are mostly about minor hassles such as a divert or a passenger disturbance, maybe even turbulence injuries for the unwary passengers who won’t keep their seatbelts fastened.

Whatever. Most of what’s reported as a “scare” isn’t worth a second thought. That said, there are things you should worry about. Here’s my Top 5 list:

  1. Fatigue: Your crew has been browbeaten into the longest flight duty period allowed with the shortest rest period possible. That’s due to effective lobbying by the airline industry hellbent on reducing crew costs–at all costs. Rest periods have been shaved to the bare minimum for pilots, and there’s no rest minimum stipulated by the FAA for the cabin crews responsible for your safety in an emergency. The airline industry has  relentlessly and successfully lobbied the FAA and congress to resist any rest requirements for flight attendants. So, they have none, often working a 12 hour day with only 8-9 hours off for sleep, food, and getting to and from work. That’s a bad idea, cost-driven, that makes little sense.
  2. Unrealistic Flight Schedules: Airlines have stretched the planning of flights to use the minimum number of aircraft on multiple, interlocking segments, often planning a single jet for 5 or more flights in a single day. The unspoken prerequisite for such an operation is an unavoidable fact that airline planners know–but ignore. That is, system variables such as aircraft maintenance, weather, Air Traffic Control and airport delays are the rule, not the exception. So, if your flight is three segments into that jet’s day, the chances of your arriving on time is reduced significantly. There’s not a certain probability that one of those delay factors will occur in an aircraft’s day–it’s guaranteed.
  3. Pay Restrictions: Overtime pay is taboo among airline planners, despite the havoc wrought by such a restriction. For example, if your aircraft has a maintenance problem requiring a mechanic to repair a system or component within an hour of maintenance shift change time, that repair will wait at least that final hour has expired just to be started. Why? Because no licensed mechanic can do half of the work, then have the work finished by an oncoming mechanic who must put his license on the line for work he didn’t do. The answer is, overtime for the mechanic required to work beyond a scheduled shift to complete work that will let you depart on time. That choice has been made: the answer is, no overtime.
  4. Oversales: That’s a direct result of restricted capacity, meaning, airlines have trimmed schedules and thus seats available to the bare minimum required–but they’ve sold more seats than they have in stock. Rain check? That works in a retail operation selling “things,” but not for a business selling transportation. How does that work for the time-constrained passenger with a business meeting scheduled or a resort already paid for?
  5. Manning: Every student taking Business-101 will tell you that personnel management dictates some overlapping duties if personnel costs are to be contained: you must answer your coworker’s phone if they’re out sick. That doesn’t work in the cockpit, or the cabin. And yet, crew manning has been pared to the bone, requiring a “perfect operation” (see #2 above) which airline planners all know never happens.  So, pilots with mandatory maximum duty hours run up against FAA mandated limits and very often there are no spare pilots–because hiring and paying pilots is a cost item airline planners minimize regardless of the price to be paid in delayed or cancelled flights. That price is paid by passengers and as often, by crews.

Those are my Big Five, the only “scary” things that you are likely to see in air travel. They don’t make the news, probably because they aren’t “news,” but rather, just the sad result of spreadsheet dollar-driven choices already made before you even get to the airport.

Have a good flight.

d3034-1lwefydumafhwmbod4stcoq

 

 

The Big 3 Air Travel Hacks

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2016 by Chris Manno

image

The airport today looks like a refugee crisis, with roiling crowds, congested waiting areas, interminable lines and rampant discontent. Regardless, here 3 vital but very simple air travel hacks that can ease your airport experience and set yourself far ahead of the madding crowd.

First, know your flight number(s). Simple enough: write them down, flight number and date.

image

Now, any time you need flight information, type your flight number into Google:

image

No more searching for a monitor or a customer service rep, and the information Google provides is even more current than the list any agent printed earlier in their shift. Things change — and Google grabs the latest, instantaneous info when you ask: gates, time.

image

It’s always a good idea to install the smart phone app for the airline you’re flying, because all of them will push notifications to your phone with any changes to gates and times, and some will even help you rebook in case of delays or cancellation.

But when all else fails, just Google your flight any time on departure day for the most current info — if you know your flight number.

1a591-14-nepiv-kwlnlszwsyti0a

Next, put all of your valuables in a locked, hand-carried bag before security screening. This includes your wallet, watch, and any jewelry. I cannot understand why anyone leaves such valuables in an open container that may be out of sight as you go through security. The free-for-all after screening as passengers frantically gather their belongings is the perfect set up for someone to grab yours — unless they’re in a locked bag.

There are disclaimers at the security checkpoint stating that screeners are not responsible for your personal belongings, even though they may pull you aside for further screening out of sight of your watch, wallet and other valuables laying un-monitored in an open bin.

c0bc6-1o9wijb18wrpqt1pj8irapw

If the security people need to inspect the contents of the bag, fine: after you unlock it, and watch any inspection. The TSA has fired a multitude of their own screeners for stealing from passenger bags — that won’t happen if you’re present when they inspect your valuables.

Finally, do not put anything you own into the seat back pocket in front of you in flight. I’ll never understand why we find wallets, passports, personal electronics and more in seat back pockets, typically well down-line and several flights after a passenger has stowed these items there.

image

In fact, we were preparing for landing at DFW after leaving Mexico City once when a flight attendant called to say a passenger had found a passport in the seat back pocket. Can you imagine the “oh shiitake” moment someone must be having in Mexican Customs, never mind returning through US Customs? Ditto your credit cards and identification. Can you do without any of these items at your destination?

If you take anything out of your hand carried bag — put it back in when you’re finished with it. This goes for personal electronic devices too: a notebook on the floor under the seat in front of you will slide three or more rows forward on descent and even further on landing with heavy reverse thrust. The “finder” in the forward cabin may or may not return your property. So, if you’re not using an item, keep it stowed in your hand-carried bag, not in the seat back pocket or on the floor.

That’s the big three: know your flight number, use Google or your airline app for current info, and keep your personal belongings stowed and secure through screening and in flight.

Really, that’s just common sense, which seems to be in short supply in all airports and aboard most airliners. Now that you know the big three, pass this along to friends who may not — they, and we all, will have a better trip if you do.

image

Drunks on a Plane.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airport, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2016 by Chris Manno

image

Drunks on a Plane

By Chris Manno

I’ve been a captain at a major airline for almost 25 years now, and one sad but preventable liability remains unaddressed through all of my thousands of flight hours: drunks on a plane.

When I hear of intoxicated air travelers disrupting a flight, beyond the risk to others aboard, the first thought that comes to my mind is a three-pronged failure by airports, airlines and ultimately, passengers.

The problem is real, and dangerous. Every law enforcement professional will tell you that a domestic or public disturbance is compounded by the involvement of alcohol. Judgement is impaired, self-restraint is diminished and behavior becomes aggressive, often violent.

As in such violent encounters that police are called to manage, the incident itself is basically a flash-fire touched off by an accumulation of stress factors and fueled by alcohol.

And there’s failure number one: if anyone should be aware of the emotional tinderbox that is air travel, it’s airport management who administer the lines, delays, security hassles, baggage problems, diversions, crowding, and even automobile traffic. Yet airports will not give up the cash flow that alcohol sales at the airport supplies.

They witness daily the human pressure cooker of jet lag, sleeplessness, dehydration and uncertain, typically inadequate rest and nourishment that is typical for a passenger mix from time zones far and wide.

That is a total failure of prevention, fueled by equal doses of looking the other way, and a reluctance to give up revenue from alcohol sales at airport bars and restaurants. Airport managers know better, but choose revenue over passenger safety.

Ditto the airlines: they realize that it’s not possible for flight crews and even ground service staff to assess passenger intoxication levels. Typically, crews and agents see enplaning passengers only briefly as they board. Worse, there’s no way for crews in flight to know how the typically high cabin altitude (usually equivalent to the high altitude of Mexico City) will intensify intoxication effects in passengers — nor do many passengers themselves. Add to that the unknown (at least to crews) wild cards of other medications or other behavioral disorders in passengers and selling intoxicants on board seems like an untenable risk.

Any other business serving alcohol could be held criminally or civilly negligent for not having able-bodied staff (read: bouncers) to handle aggressive, intoxicated patrons or worse, for not calling for law enforcement to handle such volatile situations. An airliner in flight has no ability to remove intoxicated passengers, no able-bodied staff to manage such cases and worst of all, no access to law enforcement help when such dangerous incidents play out on board. And yet, they still sell alcohol in flight?

Finally, passengers themselves are a major part of the problem. In 2016, the twin issues of passenger compliance with crew instructions and acceptance of personal responsibility are at an all time low. There’s always someone else to blame — usually the airlines — for transgressive, often violent behavior in flight. Fights break out over an armrest; add alcohol to the volatile mix and the short fuse of temper burns hot.

We’ve heard the tired arguments justifying alcohol sales in airports and on board flights: it’s all about personal freedom, relaxation, choices, and socialization — basically, the dead and buried arguments that smokers used until the nineties to justified that ugly blight in the terminals and in the air. Somehow, smoking in airports and on board went extinct in the last century, and air travelers are none the worse for the loss.

If airlines, airports and passengers themselves are serious about safer, more secure and less violent flights, alcohol needs to fade into the same extinction that removed smoking from airports and airliners.

Airports, airlines and most passengers are aware of the risk involved in alcohol and air travel. Now it’s a question of who will finally do the right thing for everyone involved and ban alcohol sales in airports and aboard flights.

image

 

Airport Security Screening Illustrated

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

air check in stay home

The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

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

image

The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

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

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

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

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

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

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

image

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

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

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

fd1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

air applause anger management

Pilot Incognito: The Trouble With Air Travel.

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, baggage fees, flight attendant, flight crew, passenger with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2015 by Chris Manno

Let me confess: though I fly at least 90 hours a month as an airline pilot, I personally hate air travel. The delays, bad weather, crowding, security, expense, cattle-herding through packed terminals, the security gauntlet, baggage claim–I hate all of it. Give me a road trip, a map, hotel reservations, a route and I love to travel, driving. Hang airline reservations over my head and I go as to the gallows. safe word0001 But this past holiday weekend, I did exactly that: I bought tickets for my family and me, and we faced the ordeal together. Sure, we can travel free–but not if we have a tight schedule and an event to attend, especially on a federal holiday weekend like Memorial Day. I thought to myself, as I went through the steps as an air traveler to find a decent fare, buy a ticket, and travel, let’s see what this is like from the passenger standpoint. Year round, I hear the griping about airline service, fees, late flights, rude passenger service. I decided I’d get the full experience from start to finish, then decide for myself if the urban legend of horrible air travel was true. image Reservations? On line, complicated, tedious and annoying. There were too many ways to screw up, which I did: whoops–this particular flight goes to Baltimore, not Washington Reagan. All airlines consider Baltimore, Washington-Reagan and Dulles to be “Washington DC” for their flight purposes–but not mine. They dump them all together online, sorting by “value,” which is to say, “here’s what we usually can’t sell, so it’s a little cheaper.” From a consumer standpoint, the value of “cheaper” versus “where I need to go” is bass-ackwards, priority-wise. But online reservations are their ball game, so they make the rules. A long, frustrating sorting process–mostly wading through stuff they want me to buy–culminated in the painstaking process of names and addresses for all three of us. I’d had to change some details once it became apparent what we actually needed–the punishment for that is retyping all the data for the three of us each time. Fees? Yes, but there’s nothing sneaky about it: want to board ahead of others? Pay for it. Want more legroom? There’s a charge. Check bags? Pay. So? That seems fair to me–we’ll board with our group. We’ll use the seats I chose. We’ll check one bag, and pay for it. That’s business. I have no problem with that but then maybe I don’t perceive these extras as my birthright. image At the airport, as a pilot I could have entered the terminal through a couple of different authorized access points. But, I was traveling with my family–we stay together. The security screening was adequately manned so traffic flowed smoothly, with an ironic twist: we were in a very short, fast-moving general screening line, while the TSA Pre-Check line was three times as long and moving slowly due to the need for more elaborate document checks. The TSA people did their job efficiently, with only a minimum of the cattle-call feel. But the annoyance wasn’t the TSA staff, but rather many other air travelers who were distracted, inefficient, and rude, shoving ahead of each other, not following basic instructions. I could imagine the complaints from many of those passengers who were actually the problem themselves, rather than the screening process. Another irony.

Once on the secure side, we prepared for the reality of air travel: we bought a bottle of water for each of us, plus a sandwich each. There’s really no food to be had on the flight, largely because over the years passengers have demonstrated loud and clear that they don’t want to pay for food. Fine–we paid at a concession stand for food instead, then brought it aboard. Those who didn’t went hungry (and thirsty) in flight. That will get chalked up to poor service in some customer feedback, but the situation is exactly as consumer demand dictates. Again, the line between the cause of the complaint and the complainers becomes blurred. image Since I paid to check the one large bag we brought on the trip, we had only hand carried items: a garment bag, which I hung in the forward closet as we boarded, and a mini-sized roll-aboard. We were near the back of the plane, but still, storage space wasn’t a problem even though every seat on the flight was full. Again, either you pay to check a bag, or pay to board early to get overhead space–or you don’t. The airline product now is cafeteria style: pay for what you want only. Those who expect dessert included with their appetizer will be disappointed.

I could see as we boarded that the crew was tired. We were scheduled to land at midnight and they’d obviously already had a long day. I approached them this way: they’re at work, they’re tired–leave them alone and get seated. Those passengers who presume that their basic airfare has somehow bought them a piece of somebody’s workday are flat out wrong. My wife, a veteran flight attendant, always hated it when passengers boarded and ordered her, “smile,” as if she were a character at Disney. I roll my I eyes when I’m squeezing past passengers on the jet bridge, returning to the cockpit, when there’s the inevitable “We’ll let you by” as if we’re all just “funnin'” rather than me trying to accomplish a complex job to get us airborne. Ditto the cabin crew. Leave them alone. Most of the boarding hassles are, simply, passenger induced: the inevitable bashing of bags against people as passengers shove their way in. Backpacks are the worst, with passengers whirling around, smacking someone else with their wide load. Others dumbly push bags designed to be pulled, drag bags designed to be rolled, a struggle with too-wide, over-stuffed bags because by God, THEY’RE not paying to check anything.

image Once airborne, we each had what we needed: water and food. So, when the service cart reached us, the beverage was a bonus. Yes, I could have shown my crew ID to get maybe a free drink, but it’s not worth: I’m not working, I’m glad I’m not working, and to keep the precious bubble of anonymity and “not at work” ambience, I paid $7 for a drink. Well worth the price. Arrival was on time and the last hurdle was deplaning, a simple reality made into an ordeal, once again, by some passengers: even though the forward door wasn’t open, there’s a mad rush to bolt out of coach seats and start slinging hand-carried bags like missiles. There’s a repeat of the boarding bashing of other passengers with backpacks and heavy bags. There are those in rows behind you that won’t wait, but feel they must push past you. Bags not designed to be pushed, pushed; bags designed to be rolled, dragged. image Basically, most of the hassles of being a passenger are caused by, or certainly compounded by, other passengers. The tableau of air travel is the reverse of the classic “ascent of man” drawings, with travelers becoming stooped with fatigue, unmet needs (don’t pay for food/water on the plane–BRING IT), too heavy bags (CHECK IT–you have $500 for your headphones, audio equipment and iPad; invest $25 in your own convenience). Air travel is the descent of man–so many unthinking, illogical, uninformed (what’s your flight number? Boarding time?), helpless (“Where’s the bathroom?”) and rude (gotta shove ahead through security, during boarding, and deplaning) people spoiling things for everyone–including themselves. image The return trip was much the same. I have to say, my usual reluctance to travel by air proved to be an overreaction: nothing turned out to be urban-legend awful, from security to boarding to baggage claim. People just like to gripe and I have the feeling that the loudest gripers are among those who, as noted above, cause and compound the very problems they complain about. Regardless, we got where we needed to be, on time, efficiently, as promised. That’s a positive experience, in my opinion. I’m back in cockpit again, storing that lesson away: air travel urban legend, along with those who rant the loudest, both have very little credibility. Take your seats, let the crew do their job, and we’ll be under way shortly. Given my choice, I prefer to drive, but flying is nonetheless an efficient, fairly-priced indulgence. If only that could be a more common realization. AIPTEK

Air Travel, De-Icing and Delays: The Real Deal.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airliner take off with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2015 by Chris Manno

image

Network news media love a screaming headline, even if they have to fudge the facts to suit the rhetoric. But here is the reality behind the wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding recent ice-related delays at major airports: the airlines did a damn good job given the challenges heaped on them in this storm.

As a captain, I flew a 737 trip in the middle of the week in the slush and snow out of DFW. Here is your chance to bypass the media frenzy (NBC News carefully crafted “9 hour delay for passengers”–quietly admitting later that it wasn’t on-board) and watch the flight evolve despite the weather interference.

At 06:10, a phone call from crew schedule woke me up. I had volunteered to fly a trip that day and they offered one, a turn to John Wayne Orange County (SNA) scheduled to depart at 10:10. I agreed to fly the trip.

Normally, it takes me 35 minutes to drive to DFW. I left my house at 6:45 to allow extra time for the slush and snow snarling the highways.

I arrived at DFW an hour later, an hour and twenty minutes early. The jet was parked at the gate, had been all night in the freezing precip, so I went aboard and started powering up systems. A quick check of the wings and fuselage confirmed what I assumed driving in: we’ll need a good de-icing on the wings, control surfaces and fuselage.

Let’s get more specific about aircraft icing. First, we need to remove the accumulated ice. Second, we need to prevent more ice from re-forming on aircraft surfaces. De-icing can be accomplished by a number of different fluids under pressure. “Anti-icing” is provided by a different, specifically designed fluid that chemically inhibits the adherence of ice on aircraft surfaces.

image

In our case, the ceiling was low and visibility limited by ice fog, confirming the critical temperature-dew point spread that leads to condensation which of course would freeze on any cold surface. That means both de-ice and anti-ice will be required.

Anti-ice fluid effectiveness varies with temperature, and rate and type of precipitation. The duration of anti-ice protection declines as various forms of moisture increase. So, gauging the time–called “holdover time”–is a call that must be made by the flight crew based on observation of conditions actually occurring.

You can tell when anti-ice fluid has been applied to a jet because it will be colored either brick red-ish or lime green. The intensity of the color cues the cockpit crew as to the fluids declining effectiveness–it fades as the fluid loses the ability to inhibit icing. We actually check visually that from inside the aircraft prior to takeoff.

A side note about the fluid color. Most airlines now use the green fluid because the red was difficult to distinguish from hydraulic fluid as it dripped from crevices and bays on the aircraft, sometimes several flights downline from the original de-icing treatment. I learned long ago how to differentiate the two: propylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-icing fluid, smells and tastes sweet. Skydrol hydraulic fluid is bitter. Yes, I’ve tasted both in the thirty years (and counting) I’ve been flying jets and laugh if you want, but it saves all aboard a needless and probably lengthy maintenance delay.

image

Another unseen complication that adds to the icing mix is jet fuel. The worst case is with fuel remaining in wing tanks after a flight at high altitude. The fuel in the tanks become super cold due to the temperature at altitude (often -50C or less) and as a result, the wing surfaces both upper and lower are super-chilled, causing any moisture in the air to freeze on contact. Explain that to the guy sitting next to you griping as we de-ice on a sunny, clear day: humidity plus ice-cold metal surfaces can add up to wing icing that must be removed: we can tolerate no more than 1/8″ of mere frost on the underside of the wing only. Any other airfoil contamination must be removed before flight.

Clear ice on wings is not easy to see from the cabin, particularly the area near the wing root, which is critical on aircraft with tail mounted engines like the MD-80 and -717, because upon wing flex as rotation and liftoff occur, any wing root ice that breaks loose into the slipstream could easily fly back along the fuselage to be ingested by either or both engines, with potentially disastrous results.

So why don’t aircraft have heated wing surfaces? Actually, most MD-80 upper wing surfaces do have an electrically heated thermal blanket on top of the inboard-most portion of the wing surface. But, not the curved wing root joint which is not visible from the cabin. So, you’ll notice a lot of MD-80 aircraft having to de-ice in even the slightest icing conditions.

image

In our case, I knew the fuel pumped aboard for our flight would have the opposite effect. At DFW, the fuel is stored underground and pumped aboard from a hydrant, not a truck. The effect would be to warm, not freeze the wing surfaces. That would help with de-icing, but we’d still require a thorough dose of Type-2 de-icing fluid to clean ice off the jet.

By 9:10, the official crew check-in time, there was no sign of a first officer. I started the process of printing a flight release and agreeing on a fuel burn, as well as the complex process of determining takeoff speeds, made more complicated due to the presence of slush and snow on the runway. Any type of contamination, from pooled water to slush to ice can impede both acceleration and deceleration. Both maximums (takeoff and stopping) must be accurately calculated and while there is a published “runway condition,” the actual calculations are very much a realtime, eyeballs-verified assessment: I’ve broken through an undercast during an ice storm as we approached DFW only to find that just the first two-thirds of the runway had been cleared–a fact not noted on the official field report. That lopped off about four thousand feet of useable braking surface.

At 9:30, forty minutes prior to pushback, still no sign of a first officer. The roads are awful, as is the traffic, so I’m not surprised and I’m glad I left home as early as I did. I called Crew Tracking, catching them by surprise as well: in this winter storm, there were plenty of stuck, stranded or missing crewmembers. They hadn’t noticed.

I resigned myself to going out into the sleet to do the exterior inspection myself, planning to have all preflight duties complete in case the first officer should show up at the last minute. Here’s an up close look at the leading edge icing:

image

and the ice on the wing trailing edge:

image

Engine covers were installed, a very smart preventative measure to prevent icing, but which would require maintenance removal and documentation. I radioed maintenance to get in the cue for this required maintenance and fortunately, American Airlines had well-staffed maintenance for this shift. But again, they too had technicians who, like my F/O, were stuck in the ice storm snarled traffic, slowing things down.

image

With the exterior preflight complete, I requested the upload of navigation and performance data as well as our clearances. And I took a minute to call the Crew Scheduling Manager on Duty to suggest that they grab the deadheading 737 first officer sitting in row 20 and reassign him to fly the trip. He said if the duty legality limits worked, that’s what he’d do.

By 10:00, the conscripted first officer was in the right seat, having agreed to the reassignment: he’d fly the leg to the west coast, his home base, and rather than going home, he’d also fly the leg back to DFW and only then deadhead home, if possible. Just one more crewmember going the extra mile to make the flight operation work.

We pushed back nearly on time (10:21 vs. 10:10) , but the ramp was congested with ice and slush, slowing everyone down even further. The precip had stopped, the ceiling had lifted to a thousand feet and the temperature-dew point spread had widened, all of which meant less chance of ice formation. Our holdover time would expand, allowing us to de-ice on the ramp rather than at the end of the runway. Essentially, that made for a shorter wait for all aircraft: if there is freezing precip, or any precip in freezing temps, all de-icing would have to be done at the end of the runway, meaning long takeoff delays.

image

Taxiing a seventy-five ton tricycle on ice and slush is tricky, requiring slower speeds and a critical energy management: too slow and you’ll have to add excessive power to restart movement, slinging ice and slush at other aircraft. But you also need almost zero forward inertia to maintain nose gear traction in any turn, aided by asymmetric braking on the main gear into the turn. It’s a dicey operation that takes extra time.

We kept the flaps retracted on taxi-out so as to not accumulate any slush or freezing water on the underside of the flaps, a potential problem during flap retraction. Our miles-long taxi from the east side terminal to the west side runway gave us plenty of time to assess the surface conditions and fine-tune our power and speed plans.

We finally lifted off nearly fifty minutes after taxi-out. Through route shortcuts and favorable winds, we made up some of the lost time, arriving twenty-eight minutes behind schedule.

I believe my flight was more typical of all flights during an unrelenting ice storm, but mine isn’t the one craftily worded into a horror story by the media. Regardless, the fact is that icing makes flight operations complex, difficult and challenging. Yet more flight operated in the same way mine did–slow, careful, successful–than the media version of a few unfortunate cases. I take it as a compliment that the reality of these winter flights was a success story leaving the media very few flights to turn into their typically overblown horror stories.

By the time I got home nearly fourteen hours after voluntarily accepting the challenging flight assignment, the network news was already sensationalizing the “impossible” travel situation created by SnoMIGOD 2015 which dumped an unprecedented amount of snow and ice on DFW and Dallas Love Field. At least I knew the facts were not as they’d have us believe–and now you do too.

Cover Airline Book 1Travel smarter, with this insider air travel field manual and survival guide. Check it out on Amazon.com, or just click this link to order from Amazon.

%d bloggers like this: