The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

I read the news today, oh boy

Item the first: S&P just cut Illinois' bond rating to one level above junk. Thanks, Governor Rauner.

Item the second: According to Brian Beutler, at least, President Trump could be in serious trouble after James Comey testifies before Congress next week. Will Trump care? Will he even notice?

Item the third: May was cold and dreary in Illinois. Today it's 24°C and sunny, which is neither cold nor dreary.

Item the fourth: Cranky Flier believes that we absolutely should open up the U.S. to foreign airlines, so they can lose money just like American companies.

Item the fifth: People on Chicago's west side oppose extending the 606 Trail because it would increase property values.

I am now going to take a walk because it's emphatically June outside.

This IS the golden age of air travel

Pilot and author Patrick Smith points out that air travel is so much better than it was even 20 years ago, it's hard to see how far we've come:

People often talk about a proverbial “golden age” of air travel, and if only we could return to it. That’s an easy sentiment to sympathize with. I’m old enough to recall when people actually looked forward to flying. I remember a trip to Florida in 1979, and my father putting on a coat and tie for the occasion. I remember cheesecake desserts on a 60-minute flight in economy. Yes, things were once a little more comfortable, a little more special.

One of the reasons that flying has become such a melee is because so many people now have the means to partake in it. It wasn’t always this way. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost of a ticket has declined about 50 percent over the past 35 years. This isn’t true in every market, but on the whole fares are far cheaper than they were 30 years ago. (And yes, this is after factoring in all of those add-on “unbundling” fees that airlines love and passengers so despise.)

I could mention, too, that the airplanes of decades past were louder — few things were more deafening than a 707 at takeoff thrust — and more gas-guzzling and polluting. And if, in 2017, you’re put off by a lack of legroom or having to pay for a sandwich, how would you feel about sitting for eight hours in a cabin filled with tobacco smoke? As recently as the 1990s, smoking was still permitted on airplanes.

As for legroom, there’s that conventional wisdom again, contending that airlines are forever cramming more rows into their aircraft. Except it’s not necessarily true. The spacing between rows, called “pitch” in the business, is, on average, less than it was 20 or 30 years ago — and yes, passengers themselves have become larger on average — but only slightly. Remember Laker Airways, whose “Skytrain” service ran between the United States and London in the 1970s and early ’80s? Sir Freddie Laker, the airline’s flamboyant founder, configured his DC-10s with a bone-crunching 345 seats — about a hundred more than the typical DC-10 at the time.

Sure, air travel is a pain in the ass. But it's safer, cheaper, more accessible, more convenient, quieter, and faster than it's ever been.

Don't push that button!

British Airways cancelled all of its flights out of its two biggest hubs in London today because of a power-supply failure:

The airline hoped to be able to operate some long haul inbound flights on Saturday, landing in London on Sunday, Mr Cruz added.

The GMB union has suggested the failure could have been avoided, had the airline not outsourced its IT work.

BA refuted the claim, saying: "We would never compromise the integrity and security of our IT systems".

All passengers affected by the failure - which coincides with the first weekend of the half-term holiday for many in the UK - will be offered the option of rescheduling or a refund.

The airline, which had previously said flights would be cancelled until 18:00 BST, has now cancelled all flights for Saturday and asked passengers not to come to Gatwick or Heathrow airports.

Some things never change.

Why it's called Royal Dutch Airlines

It turns out, the King of the Netherlands has an air transport pilot certificate:

King Willem-Alexander, reigning monarch of the Netherlands, revealed in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he'd regularly flown flights for a subsidiary of the Dutch flag carrier for over two decades.

Calling the part-time role a "hobby," the King says that he'd taken to the cockpit as a co-pilot of KLM Cityhopper -- the airline's short-haul carrier -- flights for over 21 years.

Being the co-pilot also allowed him to retain his anonymity, even while addressing the passengers, he said.

"The advantage is that I can always say that I wish everyone a heartfelt welcome in the name of the captain and the crew," he told De Telegraaf. "So I don't have to say my own name. But most of the (passengers) don't listen anyway."

That's kind of cool.

Things I'll be reading this afternoon

Some articles:

And now, Parker needs a walk.

You know your industry is in trouble when...

The United Airlines debacle at O'Hare last week underscored how much people really hate airlines:

The severity of the situation really dawned on me last Thursday as I sat in an interview with a local Fox reporter. We started talking about the Chicago Aviation Police, and that’s when it hit me. Over the last few years, police violence has been a hot-button issue. It has spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, and it has polarized people around the country. And here was a textbook example of what people have been rallying against… a defenseless, older minority was dragged off an airplane by the police, and he was severely injured (though not killed, fortunately) in the process. You would have thought this would have ignited another round of vitriol aimed at the police, but no. Everyone blamed United. The Chicago Aviation Police even suspended officers over this, but nobody seems to care. It’s all about United, and that really says a great deal about just how much people hate airlines.

And unfortunately, there is no quick fix:

Can they do that? Well they’re trying. Flush with reasonable profits instead of the razor-thin margins (often negative) they’ve lived off of for years, airlines in the US are investing in their products. It’s now fairly normal to get free video content and free snacks when those were far from the norm just a couple years ago. And this stability also makes it a better work environment for employees. That should result in better service.

But while airlines have started to improve, they’ve also introduced product changes people instantly dislike, including Basic Economy and the decision to add more seats to airplanes. There may be rational justification for these moves, but they don’t play well publicly. Two steps forward, one step back. Or maybe it’s one step forward and two steps back. Either way, any improvement is met by the public with skepticism as people wait for the next axe to fall.

I wonder if people faced similar problems booking passage on sailing ships 200 years ago?

Schneier on trusting the government and the laptop ban

Security expert Bruce Schneier weighs in on the ridiculous airplane laptop ban the Trump administration and the British government imposed last week:

This current restriction implies some specific intelligence of a laptop-based plot and a temporary ban to address it. However, if that's the case, why only certain non-US carriers? And why only certain airports? Terrorists are smart enough to put a laptop bomb in checked baggage from the Middle East to Europe and then carry it on from Europe to the US.

Why not require passengers to turn their laptops on as they go through security? That would be a more effective security measure than forcing them to check them in their luggage. And lastly, why is there a delay between the ban being announced and it taking effect?

One analysis painted this as a protectionist measure targeted at the heavily subsidized Middle Eastern airlines by hitting them where it hurts the most: high-paying business class travelers who need their laptops with them on planes to get work done. That reasoning makes more sense than any security-related explanation, but doesn't explain why the British extended the ban to UK carriers as well. Or why this measure won't backfire when those Middle Eastern countries turn around and ban laptops on American carriers in retaliation. And one aviation official told CNN that an intelligence official informed him it was not a "political move."

In the end, national security measures based on secret information require us to trust the government. That trust is at historic low levels right now, so people both in the US and other countries are rightly skeptical of the official unsatisfying explanations. The new laptop ban highlights this mistrust.

But to the Trump team, distrusting government is a feature, not a bug. They just may not have thought through all the consequences.

Did I miss a scare piece on Fox News?

Apparently we're now frightened of everything:

Passengers on foreign airlines headed to the United States from 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries have been barred from carrying electronic devices larger than a cellphone under a new flight restriction enacted on Tuesday by the Trump administration.

Officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack.

The Department of Homeland Security said the restricted items included laptop computers, tablets, cameras, travel printers and games bigger than a phone. The restrictions would not apply to aircraft crews, officials said in a briefing to reporters on Monday night that outlined the terms of the ban.

The new policy took effect at 3 a.m. E.D.T. on Tuesday, and must be followed within 96 hours by airlines flying to the United States from airports in Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Because, hey, if it's illegal for the administration to block people coming from those countries, maybe we can simply make them not want to come here? Oh, right. This is only going to stop people who need to work on those long flights; i.e., people we probably want to come here.

Great work, DHS. Nice.

Not posting much lately

Since December I've been the technical lead on an 18-person project at work, which has tanked my blogging frequency. I may return to my previous 3-posts-in-two-days velocity at some point. For now, here are some articles to read:

That's all for now.

Long day, so much to read later

Tabs open but not read in my browser:

There was one more item, but it's too big to gloss over.