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We tried to warn you about the traffic jam in New Orleans due to the Super Bowl victory parade, but apparently some didn’t listen to our advice. It seems like there were a couple people not looking to party, and they just wanted to get to work for their scheduled shift. After all, it’s pretty important for pilots to punch in on-time.
Last Tuesday a United Airlines flight was supposed to get out of The Big Easy at around 7pm; however, the pilots weren’t able to make it to the airport due to celebration shenanigans that took up much of the city’s streets. The pilots finally got to the airport like two hours later, but that’s when things got even stranger.
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It's been a tough couple of decades for the airline industry, but things are finally looking up, thanks to a "special panel" created by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The AP reports that Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood said Thursday that the panel will come up with a plan to fix the industry, which has suffered billions of dollars in losses amid slackened demand, fluctuating oil prices, and cutthroat competition.
We’ve seen our share of airline delays due to weather, mechanical delays, and even wacky passengers. However, there aren’t too many delays caused by furry critters. Well, that’s exactly what passengers of an Air India flight had to deal with as they were stuck to wait things out for about 11 hours.
Apparently a flight with over 200 passengers from Amritsar, India was supposed to head out to London over the weekend. Early on Saturday morning passengers spotted a rat on the plane, and then the rest of the day was spent searching for the little stowaway. After all, it definitely didn’t go through security.
We’ve all been there, and we certainly have done our share of complaining about them: the dreaded delayed airplane. For the most part it has just become one of the many fun features that are now part of the travel experience. However, there are some researchers trying to crack the code behind these inconveniences, and the smartypants scientists feel that a little math might help everyone out. If academics can help aircraft land on time and leave on schedule, we just might head back to school.
Computer scientists at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland have created a system to use runways efficiently to reduce delays and to conserve fuel use. Their plan uses the size of aircraft, fuel efficiency of the plane, and number of passengers aboard to figure out the most effective way to move the birds around the airport. Their new math also looks at the amount of suitcases on the planes to ensure baggage handling delays are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of preventing baggage loss—too bad.
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I don't know why, but I've always liked the word tarmac. Before I even knew what it meant, I knew it was something important, a place where powerful people went and big things happened. Maybe it was from snippets of the TV news I'd overhear about presidents being greeted on the tarmac, or my airline pilot father making conversation with his friends about a recent flight, but I was sure that a tarmac was far more exciting than my suburban backyard. When I finally figured out that tarmac referred to the runways, aprons, and ramp areas of airports, it lost none of its allure. Sure, the golden age of flight is over, but big things still happen in airports, journeys begin and end. And for some reason, the word tarmac perfectly describes the big, flat open space that serves as as a mini-purgatory for fliers, whether coming or going.
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If you've been waiting to pull the trigger on a flight this summer in the hope that ticket prices will soften even further, it's time to commit. Airfares are about as low as they're going to go, according to the guy from FareCompare.com, which keeps an eye on these kinds of things. In an interesting AP item, CEO Rick Seaney said that airfares have begun to creep up by $10 to $20 in recent days, and will likely continue to firm as oil prices rise and the summer travel season begins in earnest over the Independence Day holiday. The bottom line: buy your tickets now if you want a super-cheap vacation this summer. Do it.
You know times are tough in the airline industry when this is what passes for good news these days: passenger traffic on U.S. airlines fell in April, 2009, but its rate of decline wasn't as steep as it was in March, raising hopes for a recovery later this year. As the AP points out, however, slowing the free-fall has come at a cost to the carriers, who have been forced to slash ticket prices to maintain cash flow and keep their airplanes full. United reported that its April traffic was more than 10% lower than it was last year, while Delta and American also reported declines.
We've got to hand it to comedian Louis C.K. for perfectly summing up our profound ability to dismiss a century of innovation in air travel as our birthright. In this amusing clip from the Conan O'Brien show, he riffs on the guy who complains when the in-flight internet service goes out, even though he just learned it existed ten seconds earlier, and the inevitable "worst day of my life" stories that people share when they've been on a cross-country flight that was delayed by an hour. He certainly has a point: not long ago people risked life and limb to travel long distances, and now we get steamed because the seat doesn't recline enough and we can't get a pillow. It's funny, but it also ignores the other side of the issue, which is that the airlines are as much a beneficiary of the technological advances as we are, and it's the duty of the consumer to demand that service be held to the highest attainable standard. So maybe it's not so ridiculous to whine about extra fees and declining service. The system relies on both sides pushing as hard as they can. All the same, it still amazes me when I get in an airplane somewhere cold and get out a few hours later where the weather is hot. I can't help it, it's just an amazing thing.
[Video: The Economist]
A Houston-bound jet skidded off the runway and caught on fire during takeoff in Denver Saturday night, resulting in 38 injuries but no fatalities. Some witnesses said the Continental 737 hadn't left the ground yet when it veered off the runway and into a ravine.
There's no doubt it was a terrifying situation for the 112 passengers on board, who had to exit the plane via inflatable slide, but I'm sure most of them consider themselves lucky right now, like they just got a new lease on life. Just think about how much worse it would have been if the plane was a few hundred feet in the sky before going out of control.
It also sounds like the evacuation went pretty well. College student Emily Pellegrini told the Denver Post that she just "went with the flow off the plane," leaving behind her cell phone and carry-on bag. Somebody's been paying attention to the passenger emergency procedures demonstration.
Investigators are on the scene, and the cause of the accident is under investigation. Not surprisingly, the incident has resulted in some delays, but for one fortunate group of fliers, that probably doesn't seem like a big deal right now.
Oh, airline travel. You used to be so cool. Flights were affordable, on-time, and featured amenities like meals, blankets, and a selection of current magazines and newspapers. Now, despite rising fares, fliers are lucky to get a bag of pretzels to munch on and a SkyMall catalog to read, and when it comes to making connecting flights and getting reunited with luggage, it's a crapshoot. What happened?
A recent AP item reports that as airline satisfaction rates have declined, customers have begun to push back, demanding improved service to justify the wave of extra fees for things that were once included in the ticket price. Airlines are responding with new initiatives to improve punctuality and baggage handling, as well as upgrades for business and first class passengers.
The life of a flight attendant was once very glamorous. The stewards and, more frequently, stewardesses who worked for airlines like Pan Am, American, and Eastern in the 1960's and 1970's were seen as globetrotting style icons, with enviable job perks like layovers in exotic locales, interaction with rich and influential people, and free travel for themselves and their families. According to Michelle Higgins of the New York Times, however, those halcyon times of fun in the sky are long over, replaced by days-long assignments that have flight attendants working crowded flights with an increasingly irritable - and irritating - clientele.
At the deli by our office, a turkey sandwich used to be four dollars even. Then, about two years ago, they started adding sales tax on top of that, when it used to be included. Not long after that, a couple slices of tomato suddenly cost an extra fifty cents. Within weeks they came for the lettuce: another fifty cents. What's next, a quarter for a squirt of mustard? The underlying justification here, of course, suggests a redefinition of the sandwich. For the purposes of the JY Deli, a sandwich consists of lunch meat on bread with your choice of butter, mayo, or mustard. Everything else - lettuce, tomato, pickle - is ancillary, and thus, costs extra. It's an à la carte approach, designed to mask the creeping prices under the pretense of giving the customer more control over their order. After all, some people don't like lettuce. Why should they be forced to pay for it?
The airline industry seems to have taken a page from the deli book. Using the same à la carte sales philosophy, they've been tacking on extra fees for luggage, blankets, legroom, and even beverages, which were once seen as the one sacrosanct right of all travelers. An interesting story in the New York Times this weekend has an in-depth analysis of all the extra fees, and why the flying public is more or less okay with paying them. The gist of it is, it's seen as unavoidable, and much too profitable for the airlines to stop now. After all, the definition of a flight these days is little more than a seat on an airplane. In-flight amenities - and even checked luggage - now cost extra.
There are a few holdouts, though. Southwest Airlines advertises "freedom from fees," and Delta doesn't yet charge for the first checked bag. And in a move that could almost be described as Orwellian, there's talk about introducing higher all-inclusive fares that include the things that were, until recently, included in regular fares. But whatever the airlines are charging, the traveling public will likely pay up, given the lack of good transportation alternatives. Just like we keep paying six bucks for a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mustard.