The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

World's longest flight returns

On Thursday, Singapore Airlines reinstated its nonstop flight from Newark, N.J., to Singapore—an 18-hour, 45-minute marathon that covers 16,734 km:

What accounts for this sudden ultra-long-haul boom? Partly, it is technological advances. The Singapore-Newark flights will use new Airbus A350-900 ULR (ultra-long-range) planes, which are made of lightweight carbon-fibre materials, have extra fuel capacity, and conserve fuel by using only two engines rather than the typical four on long-haul jumbo jets. Singapore will also make these marathon flights more bearable with a few comfort upgrades. There will be no economy seats—just premium economy and business class—and only a total 161 seats compared to 253 on the carrier’s current A350-900s. The airline also claims an upgraded food menu and a range of entertainment options will help whittle away the many hours on board.

Here's FlightAware's map of that first flight, and GC Map's.

Remarkably, you can get a business class ticket on the flight for only $5,300, according to Hipmunk. (That's remarkable because a business class ticket to London for the same dates would be $8300 on American or $7650 on British.)

Who wants to go with me?

Sick on flying?

The Economist's Gulliver blog this morning asked exactly the same question I did when I woke up: how likely is it to get ill from flying on an airplane? Not very:

Planes are widely regarded as flying disease-incubators. If one passenger is sick with a contagious disease and coughing those germs into the air, it makes sense for fellow-flyers to feel that the germs will simply be inhaled by everyone else on the flight, since there is nowhere else for the things to go.

In reality, though, the situation is not that bad. Allen Parmet, a former US Air Force flight surgeon who serves as an aerospace medicine consultant, explained recently to The Verge, a technology and science news site, that infections actually don’t spread well on planes. The reason is the very dry air in the cabin. Many bacteria die in the low humidity. As for viruses, they travel on water droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. But these water droplets also evaporate in the low humidity, and the plane’s fast airflow from ceiling to floor prevents them from travelling far.

[M]ost viruses take days to show symptoms, and there were indications that the illness was contracted by people before they boarded the plane. This tale will probably end the usual way. A few passengers, by the laws of probability, will get sick in the coming week, and they will assume it had something to do with all the germs floating around the plane. It may not be true, but it is for them a satisfying enough explanation.

Well, sure, but I swear the dozen or so babies and toddlers running around (literally) my cabin earlier this week may have contributed to how I felt today.

The Mindset List, class of 2022

Most people starting college this year were born in 2000. Let that sink in. Then read this:

  1. They are the first class born in the new millennium, escaping the dreaded label of “Millennial,” though their new designation—iGen, GenZ, etc. — has not yet been agreed upon by them.
  2. Outer space has never been without human habitation.
  3. They have always been able to refer to Wikipedia.
  4. They have grown up afraid that a shooting could happen at their school, too.
  5. People loudly conversing with themselves in public are no longer thought to be talking to imaginary friends.

It gets worse from there. (Worse, I suppose, if you realize that these kids are 30 years younger than you are.)

I'm traveling today, so this may be my last post of the Summer of 2018. Posting resumes from the Ancestral Homeland tomorrow.

Fallows on the Seattle plane crash

Friday evening, a baggage worker at SEATAC airport outside Seattle stole an empty commuter plane and crashed it into an uninhabited part of an island in Puget Sound. Pilot and journalist Jim Fallows has an analysis:

Bizarre, frightening, and tragic this certainly was. Was it a sign of an alarming failure in security practices, and some press accounts immediately asserted? (For instance, from the UK’s Telegraph, soon after the event: “It has raised fundamental questions about airline security at America’s major airports after the mechanic was able to board the plane, taxi onto the runway and take off without being stopped. Aviation experts questioned what the authorities would have been able to do if the pilot was determined to fly the plane into a city rather than do loop-the-loops.”

Maybe this will be the appropriate response when more facts are known. For the moment, as is usually the case with aviation disasters, many of the most important questions about what happened are impossible to answer right away.

I hope that, when the facts are in, the response to this odd, sad incident will resemble what the aviation system usually does with its failures, rather than the way the political system often behaves. That is, I hope it serves as a source of guidance for further threat reduction, rather than as fuel for panic and finger-pointing about the modern realities that some “What if?” will always remain.

What a strange story.

The TSA finally talks frankly about security

Bruce Schneier says that the TSA's thoughts about security at smaller airports are exactly the conversation they should be having:

Last week, CNN reported that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security at U.S. airports that fly only smaller planes -- 60 seats or fewer. Passengers connecting to larger planes would clear security at their destinations.

To be clear, the TSA has put forth no concrete proposal. The internal agency working group's report obtained by CNN contains no recommendations. It's nothing more than 20 people examining the potential security risks of the policy change. It's not even new: The TSA considered this back in 2011, and the agency reviews its security policies every year.

We don't know enough to conclude whether this is a good idea, but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. We need to evaluate airport security based on concrete costs and benefits, and not continue to implement security theater based on fear. And we should applaud the agency's willingness to explore changes in the screening process.

There is already a tiered system for airport security, varying for both airports and passengers. Many people are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, allowing them to go through checkpoints faster and with less screening. Smaller airports don't have modern screening equipment like full-body scanners or CT baggage screeners, making it impossible for them to detect some plastic explosives. Any would-be terrorist is already able to pick and choose his flight conditions to suit his plot.

And just think, it's only taken 15 years and $45 billion to get here...

Evidence suggests people heard Earhart's distress calls

More data has emerged about Amelia Earhart's final days:

Across the world, a 15-year-old girl listening to the radio in St. Petersburg, Fla., transcribed some of the desperate phrases she heard: “waters high,” “water’s knee deep — let me out”  and “help us quick.”

A housewife in Toronto heard a shorter message, but it was no less dire: “We have taken in water . . . we can’t hold on much longer.”

That harrowing scene, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes, was probably one of the final moments of Earhart’s life. The group put forth the theory in a paper that analyzes radio distress calls heard in the days after Earhart disappeared.

Some of Earhart’s final messages were heard by members of the military and others looking for Earhart, Gillespie said. Others caught the attention of people who just happened to be listening to their radios when they stumbled across random pleas for help.

Almost all of those messages were discounted by the U.S. Navy, which concluded that Earhart’s plane went down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, then sank to the seabed.

[Research director Ric] Gillespie has been trying to debunk that finding for three decades. He believes that Earhart spent her final days on then-uninhabited Gardner Island. She may have been injured, Noonan was probably worse, but the crash wasn’t the end of them.

Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, fits the classic description of a desert island: it's a small atoll with trees and a very long swim to the next nearest land mass. Crashing there might have meant a slow death from dehydration instead of a quick one from impact. We'll never know for sure, but this new data, if accurate, adds some weight to the hypothesis that Earhart crashed on Nikumaroro in 1937.

Too many things in my inbox

I probably won't have time to read all of these things over lunch:

Share that last one with your non-technical friends. It's pretty clever.

Morning links

I didn't have a chance to read these yesterday:

Now I'm off to work. The heat wave of the last few days has finally broken!

Boring Company will bore Chicago

Elon Musk's Boring Co. has gotten approval to start work on a high-speed underground connection between O'Hare and downtown Chicago:

The promised project: A closed-loop pair of tunnels from Block 37 in the central Loop to the airport that would whisk passengers to their flights in 12 minutes, using autonomous pod-like vehicles, or electric skates, that would depart as frequently as every 30 seconds and carry up to 16 passengers and their luggage.

If all goes as it should, [Deputy Mayor Robert] Rivkin said, construction work could begin next year with actual service in operation around 2022.

The Chicago project generally would use already existing "electric skate" technology, though it would link them together in a form and length that is unique to this country. The direct connection via a dedicated tunnel would allow those vehicles to accelerate to over 100 miles per hour, according to the city and Boring, slashing the time on the 27 km O'Hare run. And the project would-use the long mothballed CTA "superstation" under Block 37 as a terminal, with the end point located near the CTA's Blue Line terminus close to O'Hare terminals but outside of the airport's security perimeter.

I really, really hope the project succeeds. It will be nice to get from O'Hare to downtown that quickly, though I doubt the $25 fare will last long. For comparison to other under-20-minute express trains, the Heathrow Express costs $29 while the Schiphol Fyra (to Amsterdam) only costs $6.25. If you want to take an hour, the El costs $5 and the Tube $4.10 (off-peak).