3 Links I Love: United’s Forced Lap Child, You Aren’t an Expert, and Airport Code Origin Stories

Links I Love, United

This week’s featured link:
United Airlines takes seat away from child on Houston flight, forces him to sit on his mother’s lapHouston Chronicle
I mean… I just…. If your child is one day past 24 months, you are required to purchase a seat. (I think you should always be required to purchase a seat even for newborns, but that’s a different issue.) Somehow, United messes this up and forces a child more than 24 months old to ride in his mom’s lap. One of the things that pisses people off when it comes to airlines is that they’re forced to obey all sorts of rules when the airlines don’t have to do the same. (Schedule changes vs passenger-initiated changes come to mind as the most-hated.) Unlike schedule changes, this was just a mistake, but it’s still getting plenty of coverage.

I asked United for a little more detail on this but did not get a response.

Two for the road:
A bizarre misunderstanding of flight patterns at JFKWandering Aramean
While we’re complaining about things… it also bugs me when people think they’re experts when they aren’t. Here’s a great example of that. Had she admitted she was wrong after she learned the truth, then I would be more understanding. But no, the ego is just too big here.

Why the ‘O’ in San Francisco’s Airport Code, SFO?KQED
To avoid turning this into a full-blown Andy Rooney complaint-fest let’s go with something lighter. Here’s a nice little primer on where airport codes came from.

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31 comments on “3 Links I Love: United’s Forced Lap Child, You Aren’t an Expert, and Airport Code Origin Stories

  1. Forgive me for sounding harsh, but once the lawyer-types smell money, there’s no stopping them. United (and other airlines) would do well to train their customer-facing employees in the basics of litigation prevention. It really only takes a moment of considering the consequences of one’s actions to prevent a seriously damaging incident.

    1. No. What United needs to do is better customer service and stop lying when they mess up. How come, the gate agent did not do a walkthrough in the plane. The toddler had already checked in, given that it was a connecting flight. This is a pretty bad screw up that has nothing to do with litigation prevention and everything to do with poor customer service and accountability.

  2. Completely agree with the flight pattern article. Very few people (especially very few journalists) outside hardcore avgeeks and pilots understand or care about the complexities of ATC and of how planes are routed (potential litmus test: Ask people about trans-Atlantic flights, and see if they can explain the airways in each direction, as well as, for good measure, the concept of great circle routing). Given that NYC is the busiest airspace in the world, or close to it, of course you’re going to get a lot of swirls, circles, and turns, even if you are not on a plane following the Hudson River approach to LGA.

    This .gif is over ATL, but is great at showing the complexity of air traffic control during IRROPS, as ATC manages to thread planes in and out of the airport between storm fronts, while simultaneously shifting the holding patterns. Look closely and you can spot a plane that makes a wrong turn into a holding pattern.

    I love trivia around airport codes, names, and their origins, especially those like ORD (Orchard Field) and O’Hare (Navy war hero). Also fun to use an anachronistic name like Idlewild when you are trying to fly to an airport.

    At the risk of being a little immature, perhaps the best flight in terms of airport codes is PNS-CLT. Plane tail numbers can also be a bit immature at times; for example, there is a plane registered in Germany with the tail number D-ICKS.

  3. Can’t say it occurred to me that the ‘O’ in SFO is weird; it’s just the last letter or sound of the city or airport name, like in countless other airport codes (LGA, MKE, MSN, YVR, TPA, CLT, for example, not to mention PHX which they mentioned in the article but didn’t find the X weird). So of all the funky airport codes out there, SFO is an odd one to call out. Personally, I find EAT (Wenatchee, WA, where most of our apples come from, though I don’t know if that’s the origin of the airport code) far more interesting!

    1. Or how about these:
      BNA — Nashville (probably had something to do with the airport once being called Berry Field)
      TYS — Knoxville (probably again related to the airport name of Tyson-McGhee Field)
      CVG — Cincinnati, because the airport is in Covington, KY
      SDF — Louisville, because the airport is Standiford Field

    2. I’ve always wondered why Canadian airports start with the letter “Y”. As I recall, it is the majority of Canadian airports, but not all of them.

    3. KQED is the NPR station in San Francisco… but it does seem pretty obvious in that case. I like flying from SEA to SAN (Seattle to San Diego).

  4. I find fault with the parent who didn’t insist that her child fly in his/her own seat from IAH to BOS, especially after flying from HNL to IAH initially. I can’t imagine what her thought process was to permit such a thing! UAL failed on the customer service side, yes, but more importantly, it blatantly failed to comply with the pertinent regulation (14 CFR 121.311(a)(1)). I would suggest a large fine since the child’s, the parent’s, and other passengers’ lives were at risk because the child traveled unrestrained.

    1. I don’t see how anyone can blame anyone other than United. The lady saw what happened to David Dao in O’Hare a few months ago and she didn’t want to deal with a rouge police officer. She even mentioned that in some articles that she didn’t want to get dragged off the plane.

      1. Actually, by mentioning the Dao incident shows mother’s state of mind and intention to enrich herself over incident that could have been easily settled by showing boarding pass while stating her son should have his own seat – Yet somehow, she had strength to contact press over seat duplication on aircraft. Who does that?


    2. The child’s boarding pass was not swiped. United presumed the child was a no-show, and cleared the seat. It’s a double fault… United shouldn’t have let the child board without a boarding pass checkin, and the woman should have presented the boarding pass at the proper time to claim the seat.

      1. I so agree with you. Would not be issue if mother simply said: “There sees to be mistake – here’s my boarding passes.” Instead, she called media, hmm!

        1. Umm, Hey, easier said that done. I’m a 1K and when United gave my seat away on a connection from Chicago to Spokane via Denver, I had no recourse. The connection was, as I recall, at about 9:30 a.m., and we were on the ground late — about 45 minutes but still 15 before the connection. I raced to the gate at DEN only to be told that even though the jetway was against the plane and the door open, my seat was gone.

          United happily informed me that they had another seat for me on the next flight out, at 7:10 p.m. I told them I wanted my seat back (it was first class, no less) but they told me, “too bad,” even though it was their fault I and 12 other GEG passengers on my originating flight were late that day (they mis-loaded the airplane, a 737-800). The plane did a GEG turn and I suspect the pilot had a girlfriend waiting in GEG. That and United had standbys to fill the plane.

          I had a big “enragement” (I have other words for it but this is a family blog) and got the Denver Terminal Exec down there to deal with it). Ended up in first on a flight to PDX and connecting on Alaska to GEG — three hours late.

          United’s original plan was to have me spend 10 hours at the lovely Denver International Airport. My “enragement” and status made that a very uncomfortable option for them.

          The point is that unless you really make a fuss and are a truly elite level frequent flier, the legacy carriers don’t give a darn. The lady in question was messed with because of United’s mistake and would have been blown off had she not gone to the media. I actually think she was pretty shrewd and I give her a lot of credit.

          Enough Dr. Doas and Houston Mother stories and maybe United and the other legacies will get it.

    3. The UA case is all the more puzzling given that the woman and child boarded with two seats from HNL but UA didn’t question that the connecting boarding pass showed the child didn’t board. Seriously, how many children traveling with a parent checks-in for one leg but not the next?

  5. 1) I wonder how much United will have to pay as a fine to the FAA. What happened violates the rules. It seems that United has more of these issues than any of their competitors.

    2) I know most of the traffic patterns for my home airport since I fly often enough and I live close to the normal landing pattern. Also, my home airport isn’t really subjected to ATC holds and holding patterns. It seems like this lady needs a lesson on what to say and what not to say. Calling a pilot drunk without any proof is not good.

    3) I used to wonder why SFO was SF and SAN was SD since SAN seems like it would go to the bigger metro area (SF). I still don’t know how IAD (Dulles) and IAH (Houston) got their codes. They really don’t make any sense to me. Growing up near BDL, I do understand that some cities take their codes from the airport name and not the city.

    1. Southbay – I believe IAH and IAD had similar issues. If I remember right, there were concerns about having codes that were too similar to the existing primary airports in the region, DCA and HOU. So they chose IAH for Intercontinental Airport Houston and IAD for International Airport Dulles, or something along those lines.

        1. Alex – Which of course would have been too close to DCA, even though it’s an accurate way to describe the airport! (I think they were actually talking about DIA originally.)

  6. How Airports got their codes? This would be a fun topic (Unnatural looking codes) to cover on a slow news week as well as Weird Airline Codes that don’t seem to match up with their names i.e. G4 for Allegiant, B6 for JetBlue, JJ for TAM, etc…

    1. TC – Most of those don’t have very good stories behind them. It’s just slim pickings and airlines pick the best of what’s left in inventory.

  7. OK, regarding 3 letter codes, here is what I know!

    GEG – Spokane (Magor Harold) Geiger Field, SMF – Sacramento (Metropolitan Field) opened in 1967 and replaced SAC – now Sacramento Executive, FAT – Fresno (original name of airport ‘Fresno Ait Terminal’), MSY – New Orleans, originally named Moisant Field, ORD – Chicago O’Hare, originally named Orchard Field, MCO – Orlando, Originally McCoy Air Force Base…Just a few I thought I’d pass along! :)

    1. For what it’s worth, the “X” at the end of most cities comes from the early days of aviation, where cities had a two-letter National Weather Service station code (Los Angeles = LA, Portland = PD, Phoneix = PH, etc), and just needed to add a third letter.

      Here’s the article I read a while ago explaining it…


      1. Canadian airports start with Y because they didn’t have any reps at the IATA meeting.

        1. Instead of starting with “Y”, I always figured Canadian airport codes should end an “A”.


      2. When the third letter was added, I always thought some airports chose “X” to denote International.

  8. I noted you had SRQ on the map provided for Florida. That is an interesting one. In pre World War II days the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration) assigned 2 letter codes to identify the few radio navigational facilities throughout the US. The navigational facilities were identified by the transmission of a 2 letter Morse Code signal. RS was the 2 letter code for the Sarasota Army Airfield. With the assignment of 3 letter codes, Sarasota’s RS was changed to the more logical, and recognizable SSO. The CAA flight service stations began getting reports of the International Distress Code of SOS. It soon became clear that the pilots were picking up the Sarasota SSO signal but were interpreting it as the more familiar S.O.S. The only difference was the length of the pause between the “O” and the “S”. A remedy was required. From the unassigned code possibilities, IATA selected SR as the best available unassigned combination of letters to identify Sarasota, to which the filler letter “Q” was added.
    Just as an add on Ft Myers became RSW because of its location it was called Regional South West.
    I investigated these back in 1996 prior to GOOGLE and did it all by writing letters. Lots of fun at the time.
    Don Smith

    1. Another interesting one is OGG for Maui. I got about 5 replies on this one and the correct one is that it came from an Hawaiian pilot named Hogg

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