15th December 2009

787 Dreamliner First Flight

Photo of the first take-off of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, right after rotation

Photo of the first take-off of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, right after rotation

I had fun this morning heading up to Paine field to watch the first 787 take-off. Nothing actually exciting, but it sure is a beautiful airplane and it will be fun to have been there the first time it ever flew.

Driving home the NPR hourly news came on and reported the take-off. Too bad they spent 90% of the blurb talking about how delayed it was rather than the achievement of the day. Would it have been so hard to have mentioned the breakthrough technology, efficiency, passenger comfort rather than just focusing on the delays (which at this point are old news now that the program is back on track)?

Anyway its right now tooling around up over the San Juans at 7,800ft and about 160kts and due to land at Boeing field in a few hours. You can watch it on FlightAware here.

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17th September 2009

Airlines Don’t Have To Suck

Sometimes when I get on my usual rant about why certain airlines suck, my friends getting sick of it seem to take the attitude “of course they suck, there is nothing they can do about it”.

But as Mike points out in a post about Virgin America (and I’ve had similar experiences with other airlines), you CAN do better. And you can even do better while having your staff feel good about their jobs. You just have to care about making the overall experience and system work and not just about fleecing “business” fliers into paying $2000 for domestic flights.

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4th August 2009

Lots of Flying

With my airplane back and the weather being great I’ve been thrilled to get a bunch of flying in lately. In the last few weeks I’ve been out to Orcas Island a few times, Portland, Hood River, McCall ID, Friday Harbor, and a couple of just practice fights in the area. Yesterday it was especially cool as we were heading out to the runway to take off for Friday Harbor and waiting at A9 (right at the middle of the big runway of Boeing field), they cleared Blue Angel 7 for takeoff and I got to see it lift off about 50′ from where we were waiting.

My dad took a cool shot of a slab of ice on Ranier as we flew by two days ago-

Cool slab of ice on Ranier

Cool slab of ice on Ranier

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19th December 2008

Wind Storm?

All the TV news are hyping up a National Weather Service advisory that we are supposed to have some crazy big wind storm with sustained winds 50-70mph, gusts to 90mph tomorrow night. If the winds really hit that big, it would be a big deal.

The thing is, from reading the weather data, I don’t see it. Check here- http://adds.aviationweather.gov/winds/. You can scroll different time periods, and of course anyone reading this weeks from now all the old data will be gone.

In any case, what I see is a low pressure front coming in off the cost tomorrow afternoon/evening. I see some 50mph surface winds off the coast, but I don’t see anything coming inland to Seattle more than 25mph. Also, while its a low, its not that strong of a low as such things go (989 mb). As it develops Sunday morning the strong winds will be to the SW of the low, well off shore. By the time the low comes on shore its 1001mb, which is hardly a low at all, and the winds are no big deal.

The only possible thing is that the pressure lines do stack up pretty tightly on the East side of the low which is right over Seattle. So while the winds forecast doesn’t show anything there, it could be disguised. But I’m still suspicious that this isn’t really that big a deal.

We will know in a couple of days- I’ll report back whether I was right or not.

posted in Aviation, Technology, Weather | 0 Comments

17th June 2008

Airlines, a-la-carte pricing and Smart Designs

My buddy Eric Berman writes about how badly the major airlines have screwed up their recent pricing changes where they charge for checked bags and nickel and dime you on every bit. For what its worth Eric is a former exec at Expedia which I think qualifies him as an expert on aspects of the travel industry. The main point is that there were totally different ways to position this- “we aren’t going to charge you for stuff you might not use”. They sort of successfully did that with most of the changes in in-flight meals. Considering how bad they were I haven’t minded that they don’t provide them anymore as long as I can bring my own food on. What scares me about the checked baggage thing is that the result will be even more people competing for the limited overhead space, and many of them will be infrequent travelers with huge over-packed bags. This could easily turn into a mess with 15 minutes of extra boarding time which would quickly cost the airlines more than they are saving in the first place.

Meanwhile Signal vs. Noise writes about how Alaska Airlines did some smart research to redesign the check in area in Seattle with a projected savings of $8 million this year. Alaska has actually been doing this kind of thing for years- a very long time ago they were one of the first to put kiosks in the Seattle airport. Back then I was flying them a lot and it was great to walk from the parking garage and be able to hit the kiosk right away (before you got up to the full mess of the check-in area) and it would print out your boarding pass with the gate # right there. No milling around looking for the right place and the frequent Alaska travelers got to skip the whole mess.

Its things like this (as well as my recent experiences flying from Washington DC back to Seattle) that put Alaska Airlines in the “new airline” camp. They may have been around for 80 years or so but mostly they still behave more like Southwest and JetBlue than like an old-school airline (American, United, etc…)

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3rd June 2008


From the Church of the Customer blog about how a crew on Southwest treated a passenger’s birthday with a “cake” and some singing. JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are a bit less goofy, but still have a great focus on customer service too. I haven’t flown Virgin American yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Meanwhile the big old guys that treat you like crap are begging for more government handouts and protection. These guys made $6 billion profits last year, but still they want us to cover over any rough spots for them (while they treat us like crap). This would be a great time to let the economic principle of “creative destruction” play out. Business failures are painful, but with every business failure is an opening in the market for a new more capable player to really do well.

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27th April 2008

More Slimy American Airlines Stories

Elliot.org brings us more stories of how American Airlines is manipulating the system to avoid having to pay bump-fees. The only thing is, this isn’t some new tactic created since the bump penalties were recently increased- they have been doing this kind of stuff for over a year.

Just keep in mind- this is an organization that is only still in existence because we bailed them out- $15 BILLION in tax-payer dollars were given to the major airlines, and they still treat their customers like crap who have no other options. If we let more of the “old guard” go out of business rather than bailing them out, it opens up more space for the newer service-oriented (yet typically less expensive) airlines to thrive which would be a great thing all around.

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21st April 2008

737 Construction Time-Lapse Video

Southwest has posted a cool time-lapse video of the construction of one of their new airplanes.

I hope I don’t offend anyone from Illinois (or Steven Colbert), but that paint job is a bit of an eye-sore. But the whole video is very cool.

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3rd April 2008

American Airlines Still Sucks

Amazing. A friend just booked a flight on American and they booked her through Dallas Fort-Worth with a 40-minute layover. Considering that they give your seats away 30 min before the “flight time”, close the doors 20 minutes before the flight time, and that it usually takes a minimum of 15 minutes to get between gates there (30-40 if you don’t do a full out run) this is crazy.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THESE GUYS ARE STILL IN BUSINESS. The only explanation is to again recall that these policies are designed to be intentionally consumer unfriendly by forcing you to miss flights and thus helping them avoid bump-charges.

A few weeks ago we flew out to Washington DC. This time we took Alaska Airlines. So same pair of airports (Seatac, National). But the difference couldn’t be more striking. The Alaska flights were non-stop. The airplanes were in good condition compared to the American ones. The staff was friendly and helpful- this guy had forgotten his day-planner at the check-in station, and not only did they make 3 announcements in the gate area for him, but they actually brought it down through security so he wouldn’t have to run back to the check-in area and back through security. The cabin crew was nice, the pilots gave us helpful advice. And we were a few minutes late into Seattle so they asked people who didn’t have connections to let the 17 folks with tight connections off first.

Now, let me be clear. It probably doesn’t actually make a real world difference. But if you are that person stressing about your connection, just the simple fact that the crew is expressing sympathy and a desire to help with your plight makes 1000% difference in how you feel about the situation. After letting the folks with connections off I thanked the crew as we left- they said that what they did was against policy. And its a shame that its against policy, but the more important thing is that their employees aren’t taking their frustration out on customers and actually seem to recall they are in a service industry. They were friendly and helpful. And that makes all the difference.

posted in Aviation, Travel | 3 Comments

14th October 2007

Outsmarting Your Airline and Sun Country

Joel writes on outsmarting your airline. I do this all the time- use FlightAware and other services to tell when your incoming flight is actually arriving. Also as a pilot I have access to aviation weather and flow control information and I’ve often checked up on them when the airlines claim a flight is delayed due to ATC flow-control or weather. I’m estimate is that for the major airlines like American, United and Northwest, about half the time they claim delays due to ATC or weather its a lie. Which is not to say that the gate agents are telling a lie themselves- they may not know, but someone at the airline is. More often than not the cause is bone-headed airlines that have scheduled 50 of their own flights to take off or land at the same moment at one of their hubs, which is just inexcusably bad management.

An interesting contrast in airlines is our trip out to Minnesota two weeks ago. Outbound we flew Northwest. I just missed taking a photo of the gate sign showing our “departure time” as 10 minutes in the past. The flight was late (ok, it happens, no big deal) but they never bothered to try to keep people informed or update the displays anywhere.

Our return flight was on Sun Country, one of the newer-style airlines. The contrast was amazing- the return flight was also late. But they made announcements every 10-15 minutes keeping us updated on the status, they frequently updated the board with a projected (and fairly realistic) new boarding and departure time, and even suggested that people call ahead if they having someone picking them up to warn about the potential delay. It was the model of good customer contact through proactive honest communication.

I just don’t believe that its that hard for an airline to keep passengers and gate crews informed of what is really going on- heck, I was in Bend Oregon the other day being picked up by a friend in a small Columbia aircraft and could track his arrival with better precision than Northwest or the other guys would ever communicate to their customers. Travel can be complicated and stressful and if these big airlines would spend 10% of what they spend creating ads showing the beautiful travel experiences, on actually giving a better experience, people might not hate them so much. Instead they are just lazy and take the short cut of telling deliberate lies to try to placate their captive audience. Lets be clear- if it were not for government subsidies, the old guys would have already been out of business by now in a classic case of good capitalist “creative destruction” and there would be more room for the new guys like Sun Country, JetBlue and Southwest to replace them with good service.

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