On Thursday, I dedicated a post to reviewing my positive experience flying United Airlines post-system conversion this past Wednesday, and wanted to dedicate another post to a very appreciated gesture from the Captain on one of my flights that day.
I’m a huge fan of United’s Channel 9 air traffic control audio feed and I was disappointed on my outbound LAX-JFK flight that it wasn’t on. It was, however, available on my return and I decided to write a note of appreciation to the Captain during the flight. I used to just pop my head into the flight deck after arrival quickly thanking the Captain when Channel 9 was on, but I felt inspired to write a note this time after reading a recent post from Matthew mentioning that he does the same.
I handed it to one of the flight attendants in my cabin explaining what it was about and asked if she wouldn’t mind making sure the Captain received it. She was very enthusiastic to give it to him even mentioning that she understands just how many people enjoy listening in.
I ended up taking a nap shortly after giving it to her and woke a bit later to find the following on the armrest divider next to my seat.
It was so very nice of him to take the time to write a note back and since I’m such an aviation and airline geek, I loved getting the wings and 757 specification card. Small gestures like this make me very happy to be a loyal United flyer.
Here’s an incredible video showing how flight paths might be arranged in the future. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK proposes that aircraft enroute to their destinations fly as if they were a flock of birds in a V-shaped formation to reduce drag and improve lift.
The organization states flying in such a pattern could save airlines 12% on their fuel costs, as well as reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses by 25%. They continue:
It’s conceptionally appealing and an efficient formation, but current ATC system constraints could never handle such a pattern. If we eventually move to GPS and satellite-based technology, this indeed could become a reality. As far as the aircraft shown in the video, I’d much prefer Airbus’ forward-looking aircraft design with greater outward visibility as shown in the video below the following.
I hope I’m still around when such a flying format becomes reality. The aviation geek in me would fully sprout and I’d love to be in the third or fourth spot in such a pattern for the photo opportunities.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- The Transportation Security Administration has officially started a “trusted traveler” program this week. According to the TSA, “This pilot program will help assess measures designed to enhance security by placing more focus on pre-screening individuals who volunteer information about themselves prior to flying in order to potentially expedite the travel experience.” I was actually offered an invitation to participate in this program, but declined since it currently only covers domestic passengers flying out of Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas and Miami. I fully look forward to such a permanent program and will definitely apply.
- Our air traffic control system here in the United States is totally antiquated with even Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines, poking jabs at it. Eventually it will be satellite-based offering efficiency unmatched by current ground radar capabilities. The $2.1 billion enhancement is still underway, but the FAA this week has stated “software problems” exist that will delay full deployment. The NextGen system was scheduled to go into effect by the end of 2012, but now won’t likely be a reality until 2014.
- Rising airfares are always a hot topic and the mainstream media is quick to note when fares increase or when airlines add additional surcharges, such as those seen around the holidays. We are still, however, paying relatively much less when looking at it from a historical perspective. A Wall Street Journal reporter notes, “Average domestic airfares, adjusted for inflation, have fallen 16% since 1995.” When demand for air travel falls, such as it did post-9/11, airfares are noticeably cheaper. There are still, of course, sales and periods of the year when prices are incredibly cheap (January & February), but we all should recognize just how inexpensive it remains to travel hugely far distances in a matter of hours. Do I like it when fares rise? Of course not, but if you really think of the incredibility of what air travel offers, a rise in airfare shouldn’t be such an earth-shattering shock.
- American Airlines was largely in the news this week due to its nearly 40% drop in stock price and rumors over a possible bankruptcy filing. Also, as you might recall, the carrier placed one of the largest aircraft orders in history recently. I’ve read so many articles claiming “yes they should,” or “no they wont” file Chapter 11, but do any of us really know? It’s all speculation and I think had they filed back when many of the other majors did, they’d be posting profits akin to what Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are today. Once I hit million-miler status with United, I might likely jump ship and become loyal to American as they really impressed me this year.
- Advertisements are everywhere. Just today inside the United Club at LAX I noticed a huge ad appearing on one wall. Medford airport in Oregon is looking for additional revenue through offering up the placement of ads on its control tower. Exposure would be significant both for people at the airport and those driving nearby as the picture in the article shows. Can’t we go anywhere without ads? Yes, you can just ignore them, but I’m tired of being bombarded by them. I absolutely love that Wimbledon has consistently disallowed ads appearing around the courts. It’s so refreshing. There is one brand seen… Rolex on the clock, but otherwise it’s a clean ad-free environment.
- I seem to write about this every week, but it’s worth mentioning again. Qantas once again has cancelled and delayed flights this week due to labor unrest. I’ll give unions credit for championing in the benefits even we non-union workers enjoy, but I think the disruptions they cause in events such as this is just ridiculous. On a more positive note for Qantas, the carrier will begin daily Sydney to Dallas service – up from four times weekly – beginning in July 2012. The Boeing 747s on that route will feature the fully-flat Skybed seats in business class and Recaro Premium Economy seats.
- It’s common for airlines to be fined for false or misleading advertising or failure to comply with government standards, but this is the first time I’ve read that an Online Travel Agency (OTA) got dinged. France has fined Expedia $484,000 for “misleading marketing practices.” Among the charges, France claims Expedia showed hotels as being fully booked when they weren’t, incorrectly displaying hotel phone numbers and advertising prices as promotional rates when they were just standard prices. Half a million dollars, though? Ouch!
Several smaller stories in the airline, hotel & travel industry caught my attention this week and I’ve summarized them below:
- A Canadian couple sued Air Canada and won an award of C$12,000 (plus an apology) from the airline failing to serve them “in French” aboard their flights to the United States. Records show the passenger, Mr. Thibodeau, a Canadian federal government employee, is fluently bilingual and critics claim him to be the “equivalent of a compulsive coupon clipper” demanding the Canadian law of providing airline services in both French and English be upheld at all times. (Hmm, would this equate to a Skykit on United?)
- Attention all Priority Club members, Crown Plaza London-The City now offers a “snore-absorbing” room for those pesky people with an obnoxiously loud issue upon falling asleep. The room features soundproof material on the walls and headboards, plus a white-noise machine and “anti-snoring bed wedge” to assist guests to fall into a calm REM rest while encouraging them to sleep on their sides or upright.
- The FAA is investigating a report where an ATC controller in the Denver Center tested positive for alcohol while on duty. The center in Longmount, Colorado immediately removed him/her upon failing the random testing and forwarded the results to the FAA. Air Traffic Controllers are also held to the same strict standards as pilots where anything at or above a 0.02 is against FAA guidelines.
- Identity theft has been rampant in the past decade and now thieves are targeting your hard-earned frequent flyer miles. The research firm Kaspersky Lab identified phishing scams targeting Brazilian nationals where one customer lost approximately $7,600 worth of airline miles. As is common with all such scams, these came in the form of emails that offered bonuses or other prizes after logging into a fake website with their frequent flyer data.
- Alaska Airlines announced this week new service between San Diego and Honolulu beginning November 17, 2011. The single daily nonstop in each direction will be operated with a Boeing 737 and offers direct competition with an existing Hawaiian Airlines flight between the city pairs. I’m all for a fare war to Hawaii, so my hope is this will bring down fares from (sort-of) nearby Los Angeles. That’s a lie. Having worked in United’s Revenue Management department, I know they’d only tinker with the direct SAN-HNL fare structure and leave LAX out of it.
- United Airlines (and Continental Airlines by default) signed a new multi-year agreement with Travelocity to continue their existing relationship with the Online Travel Agency (OTA). Largely a PR release by both companies, it basically means United will continue to offer its fares & schedules as usual via a Global Distribution System (GDS) to the OTA. Not really surprising in my mind as OTAs still generate a significant amount of revenue for airlines, but I still think all airlines are keen on American’s initial undertaking to challenge the distribution model. My prediction is we’ll see dramatic changes in the next 5-10 years in that model.
- And finally, while on the subject of United Airlines, they posted a second quarter 2011 profit of $538 million yesterday beating analyst expectations. Even with the revenue hit due to the Japanese earthquake & tsunami, a 30% rise in fuel costs from the same period a year ago, and $39 million in merger-related costs, United shined in the second quarter. Congrats to my preferred carrier… keep it going please!
This time-lapse video landed in my inbox via FlightAware showing about an hour and 10 minutes of runway activity at Boston’s Logan Airport. Condensed to less than three minutes, it’s fun to watch the various aircraft pause for downfield arrivals, then zip quickly up into the sky. The person who shot this footage was greeted by police who claimed the activity was making “the neighbors” nervous. He stopped filming, but here’s hoping he returns for more!
As a former student pilot, I appreciate listening to “From the Flight Deck” (Channel 9) onboard United Airlines flights. While it is the captain’s prerogative as to whether or not to offer it on each flight, I have found it available more often than not. It brings the flights to life and enables you to track the flights’ progress, listen to other pilots in the area, and even be clued into delays before they are announced cabin-wide. Some of United’s pilots even use the channel to give mini-lectures about the aircraft you’re flying on and other information during the less active radio periods at cruise altitude.
Something I noticed recently was a change to the ground lingo used by the tower when communicating to aircraft nearing the departure runway. They used to advise pilots to “position and hold” when given clearance to taxi onto the takeoff runway. Now the statement is “line up and wait.” Before turning to the Google to find out why the change happened, I thought it must be to reduce the amount of airtime required to blurt it out. The new saying saves one syllable, and actually just seems faster to call out. Well, the real reason it was changed, as I found online, was to “conform with international phraseology standards.” Makes total sense, and upon further reading on other sites, it makes even more sense to avoid mistaking it with another current command, “hold position.” In fact, being reported today, a JetBlue Airways pilot was repeatedly told to “hold, hold, hold!” to avoid taxiing onto an active runway.
United is presently the only domestic airline that offers this unique eavesdrop into the communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. If you’d like to geek out more on the ground, check out live air traffic control action here.