United Slow to Address Public Concern Over Paid Meals on International Flights
United made waves by announcing charges for meals on some international flights last week. Unfortunately, their PR efforts weren’t up to the task.
American Offers Wi-fi as a Differentiator
Last week, American enabled wireless internet access on its 767-200s. United better take note or they stand to lose significant share.
Allegiant’s Unique Reverse Enplanement Costs
In an interesting twist, Allegiant is loaning money to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport for expansion purposes. This is a very smart move.
Labor Day Means Fall Flight Cuts are Coming
With Labor Day approaching, that means fall schedules go into effect. This year the cuts are very deep, and airlines need to pay close attention.
US Airways’ Scott Kirby Joins the Board of LodgeNet
US Airways President Scott Kirby is now on the LodgeNet board of directors. Could this mean a new inflight entertainment system is in the works?
Browsing Posts published in August, 2008
United Slow to Address Public Concern Over Paid Meals on International Flights
Another week, another airline retires the good ole’ MD-80. This past Sunday, Alaska flew its last MD-80 operation, and the airline is now an all-737 fleet. Alaska had a particularly interesting relationship with the MD-80 that brings out all different kinds of emotion in people.
The MD-80 really gave Alaska some long legs to expand their route map. They pushed into Mexico, Russia (yep, they used to fly over the Bering Strait), and eastern cities like Toronto with that airplane. This truly was a workhorse of a plane for the airline, and it served them well, for the most part.
Of course, we can’t forget about the horrible memories that Alaska and the MD-80 spawn in people. Those who live up and down the west coast have never forgotten Alaska 261, the aircraft that spiraled into the ocean off the coast of Point Mugu. That accident brought the word “jackscrew” into our lexicon, and put a lot of fear in many people when they had to fly the MD-80. Of course, we later learned the crash was caused by poor maintenance and not the airplane itself, but that initial impressions still stayed with many fliers.
Personally, I had only one experience flying the Alaska MD-80. In July 2004, I was scheduled to fly a 737 from Seattle to Anchorage. My family and I arrived at the airport early and we stood by for an earlier flight. That flight was on an MD-80, and I will always associate it with the beautiful twilight views we encountered descending upon Anchorage after midnight. Then again, we didn’t have to sit in the dreaded seat next to the engine (above left, thanks to P.C. Loadletter on Flickr) that so many people rightfully despise.
The airplane may have been officially retired by Alaska yesterday, but the most significant goodbye in my eyes happened Monday, August 18. That day, Alaska flew its final MD-80 into Long Beach, the proud former home of Douglas Aircraft Co and the location where those MD-80s were born.
The saddest part of all of this is that each time an MD-80 retires, we get closer and closer to the end of seeing Douglas-born planes in regularly scheduled service. That will be a very sad day when they’re all gone.
I swear, I’m going to have to change the name of this blog to Cranky Mythbusters, because there is just so much ridiculous stuff flying around the media right now. Once again, it’s my favorite whipping boy, the AP. This time, the title of the report is “Mid-air panic as plane plunges 26,000 feet.” Will someone please put a muzzle on these guys?
The story is this. A Ryanair flight was traveling from Bristol in the UK to Girona (outside Barcelona). It lost pressure at altitude and quickly descended in order to get to an altitude with breathable air, 8,000 feet. Then the plane diverted to Limoges, the nearest airport.
The AP article would make you believe that the plane plunged 26,000 feet as a result of the depressurization, but that’s absolutely ridiculous. The plane quickly descended because that’s how pilots are supposed to respond when the plane depressurizes.
See, those oxygen masks are attached to tanks that don’t have a ton of oxygen in them. They’re basically there to tide you over for a few minutes until you can get down to a level where you can breathe on your own. So as soon as a plane loses pressure, the pilots purposefully go into a steep descent to make sure that you don’t run out of oxygen. (The pilots, by the way, have more oxygen available for themselves.)
So the AP goes out there and hears the cries of terror from passengers and decides to pounce on it. The passengers were freaking out because, well, they were descending very quickly, and the pilots didn’t come on right away to say anything. You know why? The pilots were too busy actually trying to keep them from running out of air! Once the plane was stabilized at a lower altitude, they were able to come on and talk about what was happening, but priority number one is to get everyone to safety. Then they talk to the passengers.
If you’d like to learn more, I recommend going to this highly respectable report from the BBC that describes aircraft depressurization in much more detail. Kudos to them for actually reporting correctly on this. As for the AP, just ignore them.
Looks like Air Canada’s commuter, Jazz, has decided to take life vests off its planes. This will save a little over 50 lbs per plane, and you know the story from here. (Less weight = less fuel, blah blah) As usual, some people are up in arms suggesting that passenger safety is at stake. Come on, really?
Who can tell me the last time those life vests actually came in handy? I seem to recall a hijacked plane crashing into the Atlantic off the West African coast awhile ago. Since it was a controlled descent into the ocean (ran out of fuel when the hijackers wouldn’t let them fill up), there were survivors. Maybe they got some use out of those things.
But let’s be honest. For the most part, if a plane goes into the ocean, there’s not much left of it or anyone onboard. Back in the day, those flying boats could easily ditch into the ocean and wait for rescue. But now with planes flying faster and higher, the results aren’t usually so ideal. Then again, planes are forced to ditch far less often (almost never) than they did back in the old days.
Even if you think life vests are valuable, most domestic aircraft don’t have them. You know the ones – they have the “seat cushion that can be used as a flotation device.” Jazz has just decided to move two routes a bit closer to land so that the life vests aren’t required at all. Doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I’d probably make the same decision.
Considering how much we were talking about aging aircraft last week, it’s fitting that I flew the king of aging aircraft this past weekend . . . Northwest Airlines. Sure, our flight home was on a relatively new 8 year old A319, but our other two flights were on a 22 year old 757 and a pristine, nearly 39 year old DC-9. Did I feel unsafe because they were older? Not at all.
Even more surprising than that, this was a pretty good experience flying Northwest, an airline I hadn’t flown in six years (on purpose). For this trip, we needed to be in Indy on Saturday but we didn’t want to miss any work. That meant we had to take a Friday night redeye. Our original plans to fly Midwest were foiled when they started slashing their flights, so we had to look for other options. In the end, we settled on Northwest and paid $320 each to fly. Why did we choose them? Two reasons:
- Their Detroit hub has a great early morning operation that allowed us to get in to Indy 2 hours before anyone else could get us there. (This is a nice competitive advantage for them)
- On the way home, we could take the only nonstop around
Let’s get into the details.
August 22, 2008
Northwest #338 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1000p Arr Detroit (DTW) 515a
LAX: Gate 27, Runway 24L, Dept OT
DTW: Gate A34, Runway 22L(?), Arr 20m Early
Aircraft: N515US, Boeing 757-251, Silver Compass, 100% Full
Flight Time: 3h38m
It was no secret that I wasn’t looking forward to this flight. A sub-4 hour redeye meant that I wouldn’t be getting much sleep at all that night. We arrived at LAX about an hour early and despite an annoyingly slow ID checker who felt the need to comment on everyone’s photos (I apparently look better in person), it only took 10 minutes to get through security.
Terminal 2 was absolutely hopping that night. There was a delayed Virgin Atlantic flight to London, a late night Air France trip to Paris, one of the Air New Zealand runs to Auckland, and a mass of humanity. They started boarding our jam-packed flight with pre-boarding, First Class, and elite members. Then instead of tiered boarding, they just called for “all rows” and a huge pile of people lined up to board. Not sure why Northwest has given up on structured boarding, but this was how they handled every flight on this trip. Needless to say, telling 200 people to board at once is not exactly the best way to keep stress levels low.
I was pissed to find out earlier in the week that our 757-300 had been downgauged to a 757-200. So our previously ideal seat assignments had been replaced with the window and middle in the very last row. Row 41 only exists on the left side on this plane, and we were right up against the galley. My best efforts to get these changed failed, so we just had to put up with it.
We took our seats and surprisingly found a blanket and pillow laid out for everyone. We cozied up in our little corner of the plane and tried to sleep through the flight. Redeyes are one of the few times where I prefer airlines, like Northwest, that offer no inflight entertainment. It keeps the cabin nice and dark, or at least it would have if we weren’t sitting next to the brightly lit galley the whole flight (at left). Oh yeah, and the wingtip lights kept shining in as well, but at least we could close the window shade.
Ok, so maybe this wasn’t the best redeye experience, but we got in nice and early and that gave me a chance to poke around Detroit’s airport. The new terminal in Detroit is really, really nice. It’s easy to get around with a tram riding overhead (at right), and there’s plenty of room to find a quiet place. After leaving a pretty nasty terminal 2 at LAX, this was a very welcome, and as far as connections go, this place has to be at the top of the list. And this was my impression at 5a in a very groggy state. I can’t imagine what it would have been were I actually awake.
August 23, 2008
Northwest #1005 Lv Detroit (DTW) 615a Arr Indianapolis (IND) 727a
DTW: Gate A49, Runway 21R, Dept 4m Early
IND: Gate A3, Runway 23R, Arr 6m Early
Aircraft: N613NW, Douglas DC-9-32, Silver Compass, ~25% Full
Flight Time: 42m
We wandered over to our flight and saw that it was not going to be a full one. I peaked out the window to see our trusty bird parked at the gate, waiting for us to wake her up. This particular DC-9 was a series 30 model and was built in late 1969, nearly 39 years ago. I didn’t think I’d have a chance to fly another DC-9 before they all ended up in the boneyard, so this was a fantastic treat.
The pilots (including self-proclaimed Captain Steve) were in a good mood that morning and you could tell they were having fun up front. By the time we took the runway, there were slivers of light coming up over the horizon illuminating the partly cloudy skies. The -9, with a light load, lept off the runway and rocketed us into the morning twilight.
This was a quick trip, so we had a choice of OJ or water and then soon after, it was time to descend. In traditional Indy style, the long taxi from the end of the runway to the terminal seemed to take almost as long as the flight. After we parked, Captain Steve offered to take a picture of me sitting in the old school DC-9 cockpit. You really don’t see cockpits like these anymore. How great that was.
August 24, 2008
Northwest #771 Lv Indianapolis (IND) 645a Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 816a
IND: Gate A4, Runway 23R, Dept 6m Early
LAX: Gate 24A, Runway 24R, Arr 23m Early
Aircraft: N320NB, Airbus A319-114, Silver Compass, ~60% Full
Flight Time: 3h51m
We had an enjoyable wedding shower Saturday night (seriously, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had envisioned a shower to be – no stupid games and lots of drinking), and then we headed to an airport hotel for a very short sleep before our far too early flight home. It was worth it to take this early flight because it’s the only nonstop of the day, and it was worth it to stay in an airport hotel to avoid the 45 minute early morning drive from my fiancee’s parents’ place.
We were at the airport an hour before departure and we sailed through security. As we headed to the gate, we saw a lot of people gathering down the hall. What for? Starbucks of course. It hadn’t opened yet, but the growing masses outside started to look desperate. I think this captain was getting ready to organize an invasion. We, however, were not interested in staying awake on the flight, so we just went to the gate and waited.
Once again, they did the whole “mass boarding” thing, but with only about 60% of seats filled, it wasn’t nearly as bad. We took our seats and shortly after, the flight attendant announced that everyone was onboard, so we could move around and get comfortable. My fiancee and I found a row to ourselves (even if it was non-reclining).
I tried to sleep but I couldn’t, so I wandered back to the galley and hung out with the flight attendants for awhile. Since most people were asleep, there wasn’t much for them to do. They seemed surprisingly upbeat about the impending Delta merger. Or maybe they were just indifferent. Either way, they seemed to think it would all be fine for them in the end.
Two of the flight attendants are what they still call “Green Tails” – meaning they used to work for Republic before that airline was swallowed by Northwest 20+ years ago. (The Northwest people are “Red Tails”) Considering those differences still remain today, I wish Delta luck in integrating all these workgroups together.
I finally went back to my seat to find my fiancee completely sprawled out. I wedged my way into the aisle seat and drifted in and out until we landed nice and early in LA. The best news of all? We had the whole day to sleep and recover.