3 Links I Love: A Golden Ticket, Langewiesche Backlash, So Long GPUs

Links I Love

This week’s featured link:

The Man with the Golden Airline TicketNarratively
This is more of a human interest story than an airline story, but the backdrop is about a man who bought the lifetime AAirpass from American and had it taken away. It’s like a roller coaster. I felt bad for him, then I turned on him, and in the end I settled into a gray area. Warning: it’s a long read.

Image of the Week: As part of its “Her Art Here” contest, United chose two women to paint an airplane to promote women in the arts. The first is New York/New Jersey themed and has just rolled out. It’s a stunner. Next up, California.

Two for the road:

The limits of William Langewiesche’s ‘airmanship’Medium
There has been quite a backlash to Langewiesche’s article about the MAX problems. Here’s one article that addresses it. Effectively the criticism going around is that it focuses too much on the pilots and not on the other factors. That’s fair, but I don’t personally think there’s an issue with focusing on the pilot piece in greater detail. There should have been more effort to show broader culpability, I suppose, but ultimately, it’s still a corner worth exploring.

United Airlines Introduces PlusPoints – New Upgrade Benefits for MileagePlus Premier MembersUnited NewsHub
On the surface, this all looks great. But we all know what the end game is here. Changing from GPUs and RPUs to using a points system for upgrades just makes it easier to devalue in the future. Who wants to take bets on how long it is before the first devaluation occurs?

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

27 comments on “3 Links I Love: A Golden Ticket, Langewiesche Backlash, So Long GPUs

  1. Am I the only one who thought the GPU story in the title was going to be about Ground Power Units? lol It’s Friday!!

  2. The AAirpass story is a bit more personal story and light on the details that I would’ve liked to read. I will say it was a bone headed move by AA in the first place, but it sounds like this guy got his moneys worth out of it over 20+ years. I don’t necessarily feel bad for him, which I think the article tries to do. One should be so lucky to literally fly on a whim for decades. If I had the means to buy an unlimited pass for first class flights for 20 years I’d do it in a heartbeat. I bet you would too. This guy lived it.

  3. It’s a stunner.

    Stunningly Bleh in my opinion., but that could be the color palette they had to work with.

  4. The aircraft in the photo looks stunning at first glance; however, upon further inspection it’s really sloppy. The colors blend together such that the UNITED title is difficult to discern. The fuselage is so busy that you basically can’t see anything there without studying it closely. Reminds me of that Calder paint job that Braniff did in the 70s, only Calder was going for that look.

  5. The first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Boeing continues to show an attitude of contempt and hubris. No doubt this is hurting far more than it’s helping them. This now comes down to image and perception. It doesn’t matter where the fault lies anymore. Boeing is the one that needs to own it, fully, unconditionally, 100%. Soon as they pony up a mea culpa, they’ll start to work their way out of this.

    Boeing can use some advice straight from a marriage counseling session here. Any competent psychiatrist will say the same thing to an aggrieved husband:

    “You wanna be right? Or you wanna be happy?”

    Same paradigm applies here. Boeing needs to ask itself: “Does it want to wave its finger? Or does it want to get planes back in the air and then sell more of them?”

    Passing the buck, dodging responsibility, and condescension isn’t going to win over any regulatory agencies or airlines.

    And as anyone in sales will also tell you, the first step in closing the deal is the human factor of getting people to like you.

    And right now….everyone absolutely despises Boeing.

  6. Regarding the Langewiesche article and its critique, the question is worth asking: why didn’t any pilots of the three U.S. carriers who operate the Max 8 report any issues with the MCAS system? Did the problem never emerge for them? Did it emerge and they simply shut off the switches? The relative inexperience of the Lion Air and Ethiopian pilots and the secrecy of their governments with the FDRs and CVRs in the aftermath cannot be ignored regardless of any prejudices of Langewiesche.

    1. Boeing is going to have to go the Airbus way-computerized flight controls to allow for less experienced pilots.

    2. Dennis – No pilot in the US was faced with a situation where the sensors failed to give proper angle of attack so MCAS was never activated.

        1. Dennis – Oh it’s been awhile since I looked at that, but I seem to recall people from both American and United telling me that. Look, if there was an MCAS activation in the US due to faulty sensors and the pilots saved it, you would have heard about that as more evidence that piloting was the main problem.

          1. Cranky

            I seem to remember that the FAA has an Aviation Safety Reporting System that allows flight crews to anonymously report aviation safety issues.

            If there was an “unknown” MCAS activation there is a good chance that it would be recorded there.

            I think that may be a better source of information on this issue (at least in the US) than “people from American and United telling you that”

            1. Keith – These are official statements from the airlines that fly the airplanes. I’m not just asking some guy something.

            2. BTW Cranky

              That reporting system does exist and is searchable by anybody

              Here is a link to the query page


              I did a couple of quick searches and could not find any mention of MCAS

              I also searched for runaway stabilizer (the way MCAS would appear to a crew) from Jan 2018 until Sept 2019 and only found a couple of instances of a runaway stabilizer across ANY 737 model.

              One description read

              So it appears a trained crew turned of the stab trim and LEFT IT OFF…. landed without incident!

              I agree with Langewiesche… the inexperience (lack of airmanship) of the pilots are what ultimately brought down those flights.

    3. With respect to pilot training and experience, I’ve seen very little discussion of FAA minimum experience requirements to fly as an FO for any commercial air carrier in the USA. That is to say, an ATP and 1500 hours of flight time.

      Yet these foreign carriers are staffing with way less than that. Boeing and the FAA simply weren’t ready for these foreign low time pilots.

  7. The different colors notwithstanding, the basic design and layout of that 757 looks awfully similar to the “Teamwork” plane that America West had. In fact, that was the first thing that came to mind when seeing this.


    Maybe “inspired by”. But “original?”
    No freaking way.

    Nice try though

  8. RPUs and GPUs on United are barely worth the electronic byte that holds them. More of mine have expired than I’ve used.

    The started out like all of these promos did — nifty little gifts for very high mileage frequent flyers. But over time, the number of people eligible for this stuff exploded and the airline did not have enough capacity to honor the awards. So they restrict them rather than directly taking something away from someone who is used to something.

    The effect is the same — you don’t get ’em. One is just a little more elegant than the other.

    Plus Points? Yeah right. The minute I saw them, I laughed. Sounds like a Scott Kirby idea to make someone think something worthless has value! This is a play right out of the Commander Jeff (Smisek) Playbook.

    Oscar, you should know better than this!

    1. Really? I’ve had good success with GPUs. 100% GPU success last year and only two failures this year (on the India routes). I do end up having left over GPUs at the end of the year (I usually have 8-10) and have had to “waste” them on domestic upgrades. The points system will give me more domestic upgrade opportunities.

      I agree that there’s now scope for devaluing them in the future but right now for me this is a big gain.

  9. The Boeing philosophy is to design there planes for pilots, it’s an outdated expectation… Airmanship and experience is decreasing rapidly through out the world even in the USA (they just have a higher starting point). There’ll have to be more like airbus or even going farther with no pilot needed aircraft to make up for this deficit. Sad, but the golden days of pilots is quickly coming to an end.

    1. If Boeing “designed their planes for pilots”, why wouldn’t they have told the pilots the MCAS was there in the first place?

    1. I gazed at the photo for several minutes. The art is pleasing but the mixture of the art and the ultra-large “United” painted on the side of the plane does not work. Probably should have foregone the United name and just used the logo on the tail. That would have looked fantastic.

    2. It looks like they are just trying to copy one of JetBlue’s planes.

      (fwiw I think it looks nice but not particularly original or exciting)

  10. The Elan Head piece is pretty much in line with what I saw was the flaws in the Langewiesche article, although I think she may have been looking a little too hard at his use of the term “airmanship” and his criticism of developing-world pilots. I didn’t come away with any feeling he thought women couldn’t be excellent pilots, and he did point out that China successfully addressed its safety-culture flaws.

    That said, though, I agree that while the pilots were partially at fault, it is more of a systematic problem, both at Boeing, the regulators, and the airlines in question. For that matter, if somewhere between the original 737s (100/200) and the Max, they’d just lengthened the damn landing gear they wouldn’t have had to relocate the engines as much and avoided the entire need for the MCAS.

  11. The AAirPass story, as you warned, is NOT an airline story. In fact, it has little to do with the story, which is just a sad story about family issues. Few details given on actual facts of the cancellation, and those given support AA’s position (the number/percentage of flights cancelled/no show vs flights booked is amazing – and there was no distinction between cancellation and no show?).

    Truly sad that his son passed away, but AA Reservations is not there to be an unlimited-time therapist. I understand these are the people he felt were friends, but they were on the clock, on AA’s dime, so there is a limit to how much time they should be expected/allowed to spend.

    I am a 2 million miler with AA, and a 1 million miler with UA. I know the benefits and privileges of exclusive reservation numbers, exclusive lounges (like the UA 1K lounges), and the special treatment accorded to these members. But that doesn’t mean you can push every limit. As a frequent flyer, he MUST know the limits he crossed (not just pushed).

    Again, I feel for his personal life situation, but it still cannot justify his actions. And that’s what the court reviews. Not all the trials of his life (we all have issues). It seems he and his author-daughter have lived a privileged life style based on their ‘I-have-my-rights’ perspective.

    Yet, again, this isn’t about an airline, it’s about life. I doubt AA will do anything with her ~350K miles, though I’m kind of thinking she wishes they would – so she’d have another story to write! I’m not unsympathetic. Her story doesn’t merit any sympathy for the cancellation of the AAirPass, though it does for her family’s travails. Life goes on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier