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Wednesday 12 November 2014

Journalist and private pilot William Langeweische writes in Vanity Fair last month that the Air France 447 crash may have more to do with automation than previously thought:

The problem is that beneath the surface simplicity of glass cockpits, and the ease of fly-by-wire control, the designs are in fact bewilderingly baroque—all the more so because most functions lie beyond view. Pilots can get confused to an extent they never would have in more basic airplanes. When I mentioned the inherent complexity to Delmar Fadden, a former chief of cockpit technology at Boeing, he emphatically denied that it posed a problem, as did the engineers I spoke to at Airbus. Airplane manufacturers cannot admit to serious issues with their machines, because of the liability involved, but I did not doubt their sincerity. Fadden did say that once capabilities are added to an aircraft system, particularly to the flight-management computer, because of certification requirements they become impossibly expensive to remove. And yes, if neither removed nor used, they lurk in the depths unseen. But that was as far as he would go.

Sarter has written extensively about “automation surprises,” often related to control modes that the pilot does not fully understand or that the airplane may have switched into autonomously, perhaps with an annunciation but without the pilot’s awareness. Such surprises certainly added to the confusion aboard Air France 447. One of the more common questions asked in cockpits today is “What’s it doing now?” Robert’s “We don’t understand anything!” was an extreme version of the same. Sarter said, “We now have this systemic problem with complexity, and it does not involve just one manufacturer. I could easily list 10 or more incidents from either manufacturer where the problem was related to automation and confusion. Complexity means you have a large number of subcomponents and they interact in sometimes unexpected ways. Pilots don’t know, because they haven’t experienced the fringe conditions that are built into the system. I was once in a room with five engineers who had been involved in building a particular airplane, and I started asking, ‘Well, how does this or that work?’ And they could not agree on the answers. So I was thinking, If these five engineers cannot agree, the poor pilot, if he ever encounters that particular situation . . . well, good luck.”

Airline pilot Patrick Smith, while acknowledging Langeweische's skills as a writer and his previously excellent reporting on aviation, calls B.S.:

I’m not arguing that pilots’ hands-on flying skill have probably become degraded over the years. But this is because a newer set of skills is required to master the job. A high level of competence is demanded in both skill sets, but it’s unfair, and wrong, to contend this newer set is somehow less important or less valuable than the other.

Neither is it anything easy to learn or master. The most frustrating take-away from the Vanity Fair story is that unless and until something goes wrong, flying modern planes is essentially effortless and without much challenge. The author’s point about the erosion of hands-on airmanship is a useful conversation. However, his contention that piloting jetliners is somehow easy, and his at-times cartoonish descriptions of what the job actually entails, is where the article falls apart (and pisses me off).

Professionals of all kinds will often describe a particular task as “easy.” What they mean, more correctly, is that it’s often routine; they are used to it. That’s not the same thing as easy. Try to imagine how much work — technologically, logistically, and so on — goes into getting a widebody jetliner with hundreds of people on it from one continent to another? It can be very routine, but nothing about it is easy.

Lawsuits are still ongoing.

Wednesday 12 November 2014 12:44:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
Tuesday 11 November 2014

This is the airplane that took us from London to Chicago last Friday:

That's one of the remaining British Airways 747-400s, which they still use on some long-haul routes. They carry more cargo than A380s and B777s, which explains why they're still economical for BA to fly. But since Boeing no longer makes them, and since the B777 carries almost as much cargo with lower operating costs, BA is phasing the planes out.

My favorite plane in either BA's or American's fleets is the B767 that American still flies every morning from Chicago to London. American has made no secret of wanting to phase them out, too, but only a couple of weeks ago I found out they're going to phase in the B787s they've got on order. I can't wait—and I'm hoping they put the 787s on the same Chicago-to-London early-morning route that I love.

Tuesday 11 November 2014 11:37:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Saturday 1 November 2014

It's hard to overstate how much we live in a sci-fi world. In 24 hours, I've booked a trip to Oslo, Amazon has delivered an inexpensive guidebook, and Weather Underground has already forecast the weather through next weekend. (Oslo will have very similar weather to Chicago, owing in part to the record heat they're having in Europe recently.)

But where's my flying car?

Saturday 1 November 2014 15:07:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 28 October 2014

American Airlines announced today the details of how it will absorb US Airways' Dividend Miles program into their A'Advantage program. Cranky Flyer calls it a smart hybrid:

American announced the details of the 2015 AAdvantage frequent flier program today, and I was given a sneak peek yesterday. The details of the new program are a big deal because it’s the first one that combines the old US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage programs. As expected all along, AAdvantage is the surviving program. While there are many things that will probably be addressed in future years, it’s the changes to the upgrade program that really caught my eye.

Earning and redeeming miles won’t change at this point, though I was told the usual “we’re always monitoring the market” line that means there could be future changes. The big changes here are around the elite program since US Airways and American had fairly different philosophies. Here’s a fairly useless chart I created to explain what’s happening.

The biggest actual change involves elite upgrades, and that is worth talking about.

US Airways today has a system like United’s and Delta’s. Elites all get unlimited domestic upgrades. That means the highest tier elites generally have good luck while the entry level elites struggle. This program will continue on US Airways until the airline joins American’s reservation system in late 2015. After that, we’ll see a hybrid approach.

The biggest non-change will be the passing of US Airway's 75,000-mile tier, which sucks for travelers like me. It's quite possible I'll hit about that level next year. On US Airways, that would bring new benefits. On American, nothing changes until you fly 100,000 miles. Since even with my appetite for aviation I'm still almost at my personal limit of traveling right now, I really don't want to fly enough to get to Executive Platinum.

In fact, I'm about to add another 1,200 miles to my account with a one-day trip to Atlanta, leaving...now.

Tuesday 28 October 2014 17:40:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Friday 24 October 2014

I'm a little busy today, preparing for three different projects even though I can only actually do 1.5 of them. So as is common on days like this, I have a list of things I don't have time to read:

I really would have liked another week in London...

Friday 24 October 2014 12:59:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US#
Thursday 23 October 2014

Cranky Flier, a nerd after my own heart, sees so much missed potential with the McDonnell Douglas MD-11, an airplane that makes its last commercial passenger flight this weekend:

This week marks the final commercial flight of the last of the Douglas widebody aircraft. When KLM flight 672 from Montreal touches down in Amsterdam at 635a on Sunday, the era of the trijet in airline service will officially end. I’ll miss the MD-11, but today I’m going to focus on the negative. The MD-11 was a symbol of failure for McDonnell Douglas, and there are lessons to be learned.

Sure, McDonnell Douglas had its chances. In the early 1970s, the company began floating the idea of a DC-10 Twin with, obviously, only 2 engines. Boeing’s 767 wouldn’t fly for another decade. And though Airbus was about to fly the A300 for the first time, it would be years before anyone would take that manufacturer seriously. McDonnell Douglas punted, and the idea never went anywhere.

Instead, the company lumbered along by tweaking its existing products. By 1986, the writing was on the wall for the DC-10. Airbus officially named its updated version of the A300 the A330. It had been developing that for a decade. Meanwhile, Boeing’s 767 was picking up steam and the company was working on ways to expand its size and reach while still retaining only two engines. A couple years later, those efforts would become the 777. What did McDonnell Douglas do? Just before the end of the year, it opted to just stretch the DC-10 into the MD-11.

As far as I know, I last flew on a DC-10/MD-11 in August 1997, from Newark to LAX. I wish I'd known at the time, because the very first time I flew at all was in a DC-10. But Cranky is right: the plane never kept up with Airbus and Boeing models, and deserves to be retired.

Thursday 23 October 2014 11:41:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 15 October 2014

Ubiquitous WiFi is of the benefits of flying on American's new 737-800s, especially on 4-hour flights between the West Coast and Chicago. And early-morning flights have a large proportion of business travelers. So imagine the collective despair of all the laptop-toting worker bees on my flight this morning when the entire entertainment system (which includes WiFi) was dark and inert.

Then, suddenly, the entertainment system rose like Frankenstein's monster and a wild hope leapt into our hearts.

Yes! We can post to Facebook from this airplane.

Oh, and we can work on our PowerPoint presentations, too. Yay.

Wednesday 15 October 2014 11:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 14 October 2014

I'm on my first of four flights over the next week. I expected the trip I'm on right now (to L.A.), but didn't have any confirmation until Friday. The trip Thursday, to the Ancestral Homeland, was planned in late August.

Despite the efficiency of getting from home through the TSA checkpoint at O'Hare in under 45 minutes, I still really would rather have slept another two hours this morning.

One other thing: the 7am flight is popular with business travelers, as evidenced by the 26 people on the upgrade waiting list. I have never seen an upgrade waiting list that long. The only people in first today either paid for their tickets or paid for lots of others to get Executive Platinum status. I don't anticipate—nor do I especially want—that level. But it would be nice, occasionally, to get bumped up when I have work (or serious napping) to do.

Time for more caffeine...

Tuesday 14 October 2014 08:31:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Monday 13 October 2014

The Cranky Flyer took note of an application American Airlines filed last week requesting the Department of Transportation force Delta to give up one of its Tokyo Haneda slots:

Haneda is just much closer to Central Tokyo and is generally the preferred airport if you can get there. Plus, you avoid having to deal with Godzilla. For years after Narita opened, however, only Narita was allowed to handle international traffic. Haneda was still an incredibly important airport with 747s packed to the gills flying around Japan, but it wasn’t until the last few years that international flights were allowed to start creeping in to Haneda.

The crux of the argument is that Delta isn’t really using its [Seattle-to-Haneda] slot.... American calls it “near-dormant,” and that is true. This winter, Delta is doing the bare minimum. It’s flying one week every 90 days on the route and that’s it. In other words, between now and March 29, Delta will fly from Seattle to Haneda only 17 times. That’s nuts, but it’s technically enough to consider the slot active. What American is saying is that even if it meets the rules, we only have 4 slots and the feds should think about how to get the most value out of them.

This doesn't affect Chicago, from which American, JAL, United, and ANA all have daily non-stops to Narita. Getting to Haneda from Chicago requires a lengthy or retrograde connection that obviates the time savings in Japan. (By "retrograde," the fastest routing to Haneda from Chicago goes through Toronto.)

Speaking of Chicago aviation, as of this morning the Aurora ARTCC is back to full operations after the arson attack last month.

Monday 13 October 2014 12:13:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
Thursday 2 October 2014

The latest infliction of Haredi nonsense on innocent victims comes via Gulliver this week, as religious nutters apparently can't deal with sitting next to women on airplanes:

One flight last week, from New York’s JFK airport to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, descended into chaos according to passengers, after a large group of haredim, or ultra-orthodox Jews, refused to take their seats next to women, in accordance with strict religious customs.

Amit Ben-Natan, a passenger on last week’s El Al flight from New York, said take-off was delayed after numerous and repeated requests by ultra-orthodox men for female passengers to be moved.

“People stood in the aisles and refused to go forward,” she told the Ynet website. “Although everyone had tickets with seat numbers that they purchased in advance, they asked us to trade seats with them, and even offered to pay money, since they cannot sit next to a woman. It was obvious that the plane won’t take off as long as they keep standing in the aisles.”

All right, you clowns. In Israel, you're essentially parasites, contributing nothing to Israeli society except to push their foreign policy into conflict with every ally you've got, and your entire worldview is based on a literal reading of only some parts of a 3,000-year-old book of fables. If you want to participate in the real, 21st-century world—for example, by using air transport—then you can sit down and shut up.

</rant>

Institutional irrationality is fine, as long as it's private. As one of my college professors once said, "Hey, man, do anything you want, but don't push your trip on me." Good advice.

Thursday 2 October 2014 09:38:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Religion#
Wednesday 1 October 2014

The apotheosis of modern aviation's intersection with modern communications—in-flight internet service—is a tease sometimes.

For $50 a month, I get unlimited in-flight internet on American an U.S. Airways. And I'm on a brand-new 737-800, with a functioning seat-back entertainment unit that says I'm over south-central Utah.

However, because I planned to have in-flight internet on this flight, and the internet connection appears to have dropped completely, I now have no way to communicate with my team and therefore no way to finish the task I thought would take half an hour.

I hope this is temporary. Until it comes back, I will contemplate the amazing ability of the human mind to take miracles for granted.

Wednesday 1 October 2014 10:21:17 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Software | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 30 September 2014

Friday's fire at the Air Route Traffic Control Center outside Chicago caused massive disruptions in U.S. aviation, but the FAA handled it pretty well:

O'Hare is among the busiest airports in the world, and a main hub for United Airlines, one of the largest carriers. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, and tens of thousands of passengers delayed or stranded as the wave of flight disruptions spread beyond Chicago.

Yet by early this week, the situation was already improving. One of the FAA's most important facilities may have been badly damaged, but the agency quickly redeployed workers to other air traffic control centres. By Sunday, the agency was bragging that its controllers "safely managed about 60% of typical traffic...at O'Hare and over 75% at Midway." Those numbers continued to improve on Monday, and the FAA said it had "set a target" to return the damaged facility to full operations by October 13th.

My flight today (the one I'm on right now) got off the ground on time, with no problems. That's one of two advantages of early flights: the airplane has to be there the night before, which gives the airline plenty of time to notify passengers of cancellations or delays. (The other advantage is surface traffic. I got from my house, to O'Hare, and through security, in 48 minutes, which I think is a record for me.)

Also, I'm on one of American's brand-spanking-new 737-800s, and it's kind of cool. I wish the monitor at my seat showed something other than a hung "waiting for content to load" screen, but the larger bins, LED lighting, and new seats are all kind of cool.

Tuesday 30 September 2014 08:35:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Travel | Work#
Saturday 27 September 2014

Yesterday morning, someone set fire to the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Aurora, Ill., effectively shutting down half the country's aviation:

Brian Howard, 36, remains hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds following the incident that grounded nearly 2,000 flights in Chicago and wreaked havoc on air travel nationwide. He is expected to survive.

The effects of the fire will continue to be felt at both Chicago airports through the weekend as stranded travelers scramble to find seats on other flights. United Airlines, the biggest carrier at O'Hare International Airport, said it may cancel up to one-third of its 480 scheduled O'Hare departures on Saturday.

The fire caused all radio frequencies to go dead and prompted the center to shift to its back-up system until it was shut down completely by the evacuation, employees said. The stoppage brought both O'Hare and Midway airports to a complete standstill. The FAA halted all flights in the Chicago area as well as flights heading to the region.

Such a scenario - called "ATC Zero,'' short for a complete halt to air traffic - hasn't occurred since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, officials said.

The Aurora ARTCC (called "Chicago Center" over the air) monitors all flights within a couple hundred kilometers of Chicago, including all approaches to and departures from O'Hare and Midway. That one employee can do this suggests there might be some avenues to improving security at the ARTCC...

I'll be interested to learn how much this cost the airlines. Thousands of flights cancelled in one day, at a major hub airport for the two largest airlines in the world? Not going to be pretty.

Saturday 27 September 2014 12:05:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Tuesday 16 September 2014

As the summer has turned into fall the last couple of years, I've carefully monitored my air travel to ensure that I keep my elite status on American Airlines. One technique, which I may have used this year if I didn't work for West Monroe, is a mileage run: flying one or more low-cost legs to boost your mileage. Via the Economist's Gulliver blog, the Times' Josh Barry says mileage runs are going away:

In the last year, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have made two major changes to their reward programs that make mileage running a lot less useful. First, they imposed a minimum spending requirement to obtain elite status. Previously, you became a “silver” or “gold” or “diamond” flier by traveling a minimum number of miles or segments in a year. Now, to qualify you must also spend a minimum amount on airfare; for example the status tier for traveling 25,000 miles also requires $2,500 in airfare spent, or 10 cents per mile.

Then, the airlines blew up the definition of “frequent flier mile” so it no longer has anything to do with distance. Starting in 2015, fliers on each airline will earn five “miles” for every dollar they spend on airfare, regardless of where they go. A $537 ticket from Washington to Amsterdam via Istanbul will earn the same number of reward “miles” as a $537 ticket from Washington to Chicago.

The logic of these changes is to reward passengers for generating profits for the airline, not simply for traveling a lot of distance. Business travelers who buy a lot of high-price tickets at the last minute will be rewarded more; bargain hunters will get less. And these changes come after a decade of shifts that have already made it harder to get ahead by taking mileage runs.

American hasn't made these changes yet, and has promised not to do so until their operational merger with US Airways is finished late next year. But of course they're going to do it. Fortunately, I now work for a company that will actually get me to elite status faster than I could do it on my own.

Tuesday 16 September 2014 11:21:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Tuesday 2 September 2014

My new Android phone has a built in-GPS and a fairly large Google Maps cache. I'm sure this is true of other phones, but not of my old Windows phone, so until this past trip I couldn't do this:

And then, a few seconds later, I could do this:

I love this phone.

Tuesday 2 September 2014 15:48:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Cool links#
Thursday 28 August 2014

On those rare occasions when I opt for it, I usually enjoy having in-flight WiFi. At this particular moment, however, I'm staring down another two hours of flying time with WiFi throughput under 200 kbps. That speed reminds me of the late 1990s. You know, half the Web ago.

This is painful. I'm not streaming video, nor am I connected to a remote server like the guy next to me. I'm just trying to get some documents written. I believe I will have to write a complaint to GoGo Inflight, as this throughput is completely unacceptable.

But enough about that minor sadness; I've found something truly horrible.

Everyone who took English 1 at my college had to read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. (I would actually extend this mandate to everyone on the planet who speaks English if I had the power.) In the essay, Orwell calls out a specific passage from Ecclesiastes to show how business English can destroy thought:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He renders it in modern English thus:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Two things. First, "modern" English in 1946 seems a lot like modern English in 2014. Frighteningly so.

Second, there are worse translations of that passage in actual, printed Bibles. Now, I'm not a religious person, as even a causal reader of this blog knows. But I have an appreciation for language. So it pains me to see that some people learned Ecclesiastes 9:11 like this:

I saw something else under the sun. The race isn't [won] by fast runners, or the battle by heroes. Wise people don't necessarily have food. Intelligent people don't necessarily have riches, and skilled people don't necessarily receive special treatment. But time and unpredictable events overtake all of them.

("GOD'S WORD® Translation")

Or this:

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

NO! No, no, NO! This isn't a children's book. Why does anyone need to dumb it down? I mean, fine, vernacular and all, but can't we at least keep the poetry?

It's no wonder the religious right have such poor cognitive skills. The one book they were allowed to read as children has been reduced to pabulum.

Thursday 28 August 2014 17:57:34 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US | World#

United Airlines and Uber have quietly entered into a partnership to help United passengers get rides out of O'Hare (hat tip RM):

United launched the service Thursday that allows passengers to use the United Airlines mobile app to find UberTaxi information including the types of vehicles available, estimated wait times and prices.

The airline’s passengers can hook-up with the Uber service by using the airline’s mobile app to select a ride, at which point they are either directed to the Uber app to complete the transaction or to sign-up for an Uber account.

Only UberTaxi cars can participate, because they're licensed cab drivers.

Meanwhile, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed legislation that would have made it more difficult for Uber and its competitor, Lyft, to operate in Chicago, and Uber is coming under fire for poaching drivers from the competition.

Thursday 28 August 2014 10:21:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Travel#

Cranky Flier has his hypothesis:

From everything I understand, this particular spat is really about economics and there’s not some underlying hidden issue. While published commissions have disappeared, agencies with heft like Orbitz still do get paid by airlines. They also get paid by the reservation systems they use. How does the reservation system get the money to pay them? They make the airlines cough it up. So really when someone books on an online travel agent site, the airlines are paying for it twice. The airlines have to look at the total amount and decide whether or not its worth the price to play.

Now, if you’re a traveler and you go to Orbitz, you aren’t going to see American or Southwest. ... Sure, United and Delta can pick up some of the slack, but Orbitz becomes significantly less useful domestically. International is a different story, I suppose. That being said, if you really love using an online travel agent, then why not just use Expedia now? There is real risk for Orbitz.

There is also real risk for American, but it’s less than it probably would have been in the past. Before consolidation took hold, there were so many airlines out there you might not notice, as a consumer, that American had disappeared. But now, you’ll notice. At the same time, American has upped the percentage of traffic coming direct, so Orbitz really feels more pressure now than it would have in the past. The balance of power has shifted.

As a loyal oneworld frequent flier, I almost always go to aa.com directly (though I sometimes follow up by checking Hipmunk when I see suspicious direct pricing). But for occasional passengers, the Orbitz is a useful resource. And if Orbitz no longer shows American Airlines prices, will United and Delta raise theirs?

Thursday 28 August 2014 09:25:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Monday 25 August 2014

Someimes—rarely—I disconnect for a couple of days. This past weekend I basically just hung out, walked my dog, went shopping, and had a perfectly nice absence from the Web.

Unfortunately that meant I had something like 200 RSS articles to plough through, and I just couldn't bring myself to stop dealing with (most) emails. And I have a few articles to read:

Now back to your regularly-scheduled week, already in progress...

Monday 25 August 2014 12:25:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Friday 22 August 2014

Crain's has the story this morning about how the airline is adapting to reduced travel expense accounts:

Waning customer interest in the costliest tickets prompted American Airlines to drop first class as it adds seats to its 47 long-haul Boeing Co. 777-200s. The aircraft will get new lie-flat business seats — plusher than coach, but lacking first- class flourishes such as pajamas, slippers and an amuse bouche.

“We're responding to what demand is,” Casey Norton, an American spokesman, said yesterday. “We've looked at what the demand level is for business and also what we need in the main cabin as well. That's where we think we've hit the sweet spot.”

The changes will leave American with international three-class service — first, business and economy — only on the 777-300ER, the carrier's biggest aircraft. Fort Worth, Texas- based American has 14 of those planes flying on some of its most-lucrative overseas routes, such as Miami-Sao Paulo, while using the 777-200 for city pairs including Chicago-Beijing.

There are some other factors here. Intense competition for business-class passengers—but not for first-class—has driven most airlines to build business classes that would be incomprehensibly luxurious to passengers who flew first class as recently as 1995. The last time I flew first class overseas on American was Tokyo to Chicago in December 2011. I didn't pay the $12,000 for the seat the airline charged other people on the plane; I paid $400 for a fare-class adjustment to my coach ticket and used frequent-flier miles for the upgrade.

If you want to travel Chicago to London next week on American, you'll pay $7,700 to fly American or BA in business class and $10,600 to fly in first class. Four weeks out the business class price remains the same but first-class seats dry up as the airline moves the refitted 777-200s onto the route.

I love flying in American's business class overseas. But like most people who do so, I'll probably never pay full price for it. And this is the root of the airline's problems with first class.

Friday 22 August 2014 10:08:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Wednesday 20 August 2014

I'm waiting for Azure to provision a virtual machine for me, so I thought I'd solve a nagging annoyance.

Even though I travel a lot, I don't have a good carry-on-sized bag. My medium-sized travel bag, which has been around about ten years, goes into the hold of the airplane and sometimes I don't see it again for an hour after landing at my destination. This is especially irksome when I go on a 3-day business trip.

So I've been thinking about replacing my medium-sized bag with a smaller one. I've got it nailed down to two: the REI Wheely Beast Duffel and the Travelpro Luggage Crew 9. Both are about the same size, have good (independent) reviews, cost about $150, and would allow me to donate my current medium-sized travel bag to whomever wants it. (That last bit is because the bag actually belonged to an ex.)

This isn't the biggest decision I'll make all year, but the reduction in irritation it brings will be welcome, especially given the number of 3-day business trips I expect to take this fall.

Wednesday 20 August 2014 10:47:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Sunday 17 August 2014

The Chicago Air and Water Show may not happen today because of rare weather conditions:

[T]he Chicago National Weather Service said "rare low clouds" are impacting the Air and Water show. Low clouds have a ceiling height of 1,000 feet, the weather service said. Only 2 to 3 percent of August days have had low clouds since 1973, the weather service said.

Now, skipping the foggy understanding of weather terms and government agencies the ABC reporter showed in that paragraph, it doesn't look good for the show. Right now conditions the lakefront has low instrument meteorological conditions due to a 125 m ceiling (somewhere around the 60th floor of most downtown buildings) and 6 km visibility. The latest forecast calls for more clouds.

We've had a cool, wet summer, following a record-cold winter, so Lake Michigan is just a huge fog maker lately. Yesterday was warm and sunny, but in the past 12 hours a low pressure system has passed directly overhead bringing northeast winds and draping a cold front across the region. It's 6°C warmer in Aurora and Kankakee than it is in Waukegan or Racine, for example.

So, thousands of people are disappointed today. Still, it's quiet and cool in Lincoln Park right now. That's not a horrible outcome.

Sunday 17 August 2014 13:38:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 7 August 2014

He thinks we should all use GMT instead:

[W]ithin a given time zone, the point of a common time is not to force everyone to do everything at the same time. It's to allow us to communicate unambiguously with each other about when we are doing things.

If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it's dark out and work when it's light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. But of course London's bartenders would probably be at work while some shift workers in LA would be grabbing a nap. The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there'd be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don't need to remember that it's in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.

Sigh.

It's even easier to get people to use International System measurements than to get them to understand the arbitrariness of the clock, but let's unpack just one thing Yglesias seems to have missed: the date.

Imagine you actually can get people in Los Angeles to use UTC. Working hours are 16:00 to 24:00. School starts at 15:45 (instead of ending then). In the summer, the sun rises at 12:30 and sets at 02:00.

Wait, what? The sun sets at 2am? So...you come home on a different day? That makes no sense to most people.

Yes, in a world where people are unwilling to give up their 128-ounce gallons and 36-inch yards in favor of 1000-milliliter liters and 100-centimeter meters, a world where ice freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 makes more sense than freezing at 0 and boiling at 100, a world where Paul Ryan is thought to be a serious person, we're not moving away from the day changing while most people are asleep.

And don't even get me started on the difference between GMT and UTC.

Thursday 7 August 2014 09:35:35 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US | World | Travel | Astronomy#
Monday 4 August 2014

From my hotel room right now I can see the A-concourse at Cleveland Hopkins Airport about 500 m away. Between here and there is a parking lot and the terminal access road. The setup isn't fundamentally different from the location of the O'Hare Hilton, except a few trees and traffic levels. Oh, and the walkway.

The O'Hare hotel connects directly to all three terminals via underground walkway as well as surface paths through or around the parking structure. In other words, a traveler can walk from his plane to the O'Hare Hilton directly, without taking his life into his hands.

Not so here. Look (click for full size):

If you walk along the terminal access road, you run out of sidewalk by the first curve. Somehow there's a path through the parking structure, but again, once you get to the edge of the parking lot southeast of the structure, you're climbing through sod and ground cover to get to the hotel's ring road.

Still, I did it last night, and from my gate to the hotel took 17 minutes. Last time, when I waited for the hotel shuttle bus, it took twice as long. Fortunately it didn't rain either time, but if it had rained, waiting for the shuttle bus would have been damper.

Now I've got to catch the rental car shuttle, which picks up back at the terminal, so I'll have to pick my way across the parking lot and parking structure until I find a way though to the pick-up spot. Because no one wanted to build a sidewalk to bridge the one-block chasm between the hotel and the airport.

Related: NPR reported this morning that our food intake hasn't changed in 10 years; we're all getting fat because we don't walk enough.

Monday 4 August 2014 08:15:07 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Friday 25 July 2014

I'm back in Chicago today, but catching up on all the things I couldn't do from Cleveland. Regular posting should resume tomorrow.

Also, at 6 hours and 15 minutes to get from the client site to my house door-to-door, plus renting a car in Cleveland and having to schlepp bags hither and yon, I'm wondering if I should just drive next time.

Friday 25 July 2014 12:37:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Saturday 19 July 2014

Pilot and journalist James Fallows has an op-ed in today's New York Times explaining how MH17 was following the rules:

Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off on Thursday, its crew and dispatchers would have known that a few hours earlier Ukrainian authorities had prohibited flights at 32,000 feet and below across eastern parts of their country, “due to combat actions ... near the state border” with Russia, as the official notice put it, including the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane earlier in the week.

Therefore when they crossed this zone at 33,000 feet, they were neither cutting it razor-close nor bending the rules, but doing what many other airlines had done, in a way they assumed was both legal and safe. Legal in much the way that driving 63 in a 65-mile-per-hour zone would be.

And safe, not just for regulatory reasons, but because aircraft at cruising altitude are beyond the reach of anything except strictly military antiaircraft equipment. During takeoff and landing, airliners are highly vulnerable: They are big, they are moving slowly and in a straight line, they are close to the ground. But while cruising, they are beyond most earthbound criminal or terrorist threats.

This is why, even during wartime, airliners have frequently flown across Iraq and Afghanistan. The restricted zone over Ukraine was meant to protect against accidental fire or collateral damage. It didn’t envision a military attack.

The rebels are reportedly blocking access to the crash site, while the Ukrainian government says it has proof Russia supplied the missile that killed 298 civilians.

And with two 777 hull losses in three months, Malaysia Airlines' future is in doubt.

The drumbeat continues.

Saturday 19 July 2014 14:00:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Thursday 17 July 2014

I'm still outraged at the Russian thugs who shot down MH17 today. But a couple of other things were noteworthy:

  • Someone, possibly Chinese military, infiltrated the e-QIP database that the Office of Management and Budget maintains to keep security clearance information. Schneier points out, "This is a big deal. If I were a government, trying to figure out who to target for blackmail, bribery, and other coercive tactics, this would be a nice database to have."
  • In a turn of events that should surprise no one whose IQ crests 90, it turns out that Stand Your Ground laws actually increase crime, assuming you think shooting people is a criminal act. In states that have adopted these insane laws, more people are shot to death but the overall crime rate stays the same.
  • Someday, I want to go to the Farnborough air show. So, apparently, does the F-35, which wasn't able to fly there this time.

All right. I've got about two hours until my flight leaves—yay, consulting!—and I actually have work to do. But in case I was distraught at having to stay home for three consecutive days, it turns out I get to come back here Sunday night. Again: yay, consulting!

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:18:24 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | US | World#

Rebel forces in southeastern Ukraine appear to be responsible for downing a civilian plane with 295 passengers and crew aboard. The U.S. has confirmed someone shot the plane down with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile:

An unnamed American official has confirmed that the Malaysian passenger jet that crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday was shot down, according to multiple media reports.

The official told CNN that a radar spotted a surface-to-air missile track an aircraft right before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed. According to the official, another system captured a "heat signature" right at the time the plane was struck.

The missile, suspected to be a Russian-made Buk, is capable of hitting aircraft well over 20 km above the ground; MH17 was flying at 10 km.

James Fallows reports that American airplanes have been prohibited from the area since April:

Nearly three months ago, on the "Special Rules" section of its site, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration put out an order prohibiting American pilots, airlines, charter carriers, and everyone else over whom the FAA has direct jurisdiction, from flying over southern parts of Ukraine.

Rebel forces appeared to take responsibility for the attack, even after learning the plane was civilian, but took down the smoking-gun post when they discovered it wasn't Ukrainian.

This is a developing situation, and because the crash site is in rebel-held territory, it might be some time before all the details emerge. For now, it appears that Russian separatists murdered nearly 300 people. What they hoped to accomplish by attacking an airplane is beyond me. That they downed this airplane is sickening.

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:04:16 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | World#

Via the Economist's Gulliver blog, Airbus has taken out a patent on the worst airplane seats imaginable:

Airbus’s patent says that traditional seats cannot be narrowed any further, or the pitch reduced much more, in order to accommodate extra passengers. Therefore, carriers will have to redesign the seats if they want to cram in more flyers. Its suggestion is a fold-down saddle, a small backrest and a couple of retractable armrests. Certainly no tray-tables, underseat storage or pockets to keep your sick bag in. This, it reckons, will allow airlines to wedge a third more people on to a plane—that’s an extra 63 passengers on one of Ryanair’s Boeing 737-800s. It would only be for flights lasting "a few hours" but judging by the pictures in the patent application (above), it doesn’t look like a fun ride.

Their blog entry has an illustration that I simply can't reproduce out of sadness.

Thursday 17 July 2014 06:37:16 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation#
Monday 14 July 2014

I didn't sleep terribly well last night because, let's face it, the Cleveland Airport Sheraton is neither my own house nor the Ritz-Carlton on Park Ave. It is, however, in Cleveland, where my current client is also.

There are essentially two options for traveling: fly out the night before your meetings, or the morning of your meetings. And for me it comes down to one thing: Is the trade-off for one night at home going to be getting up at 4:30am to get a 7am flight from O'Hare?

That's not a trade-off I'm likely to make without serious counter-incentives.

So, expect lighter-than-usual posting this week. I hope nothing interesting happens in U.S. politics while I'm here...

Monday 14 July 2014 08:48:27 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Monday 7 July 2014

To lose one partially-completed airplane is unfortunate; to lose six smacks of carelessness:

Nineteen cars in a 90-car BNSF Railway Co train loaded with six 737 narrow-body fuselages and assemblies for Boeing's 777 and 747 wide-body jets derailed near Rivulet, Montana on Thursday.

Oops. At least no one was hurt.

Photo: Kyle Massick, Reuters

Monday 7 July 2014 17:06:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Thursday 3 July 2014

I love the night buses in London. Given my habit of staying on Chicago time, I've ridden my share of them. (If American 90 arrives after 11:30pm, I'm guaranteed to do so.) So today's story in the Atlantic's CityLab blog about the phenomenon made me smile:

You see, London’s night buses are actually the great, unsung glory of the city’s travel network. Compared with cabs, they’re dirt cheap (they cost the same as a regular daytime bus), come extremely frequently and cover a wide area, and go quickly through the mainly car-free nighttime streets. This could be why they’re so popular, carrying 42 million passengers a year. There’s more to them than even all that: Night buses have played a huge role in opening up London’s nightlife to everyone, especially to people whose modest means or far-flung suburban homes make cab fares seem exorbitant.

It is true that night buses often smell of kebabs, London's alcohol-sponge of choice, and they can be noisy and crammed. They’re popular with a certain group of British exhibitionists that can only really enjoy themselves by seeing their revels reflected in other people’s eyes. “I exist! I’m fun!” their behavior screams, making fellow passengers disbelieve the latter and wish the former wasn’t true. You also rub up against people you might not choose to. I was part of one ugly incident in which some guys apologized for flicking ketchup sachets at my sleeping friend, explaining that they’d only done so because they “thought he was homeless." Still, the party-on-wheels thing can be fun, and almost cozy at times. A fellow passenger once sewed up the ripped hem of my friend’s 1950s ballgown, and I’ve been not-disagreeably hit on with the immortal opener, “Would you like a chip?” Most of the time, I’ve just sat down, not been bothered by anyone, then hopped off at my destination.

Meanwhile, over at the Economist's Gulliver blog, a reminder that it can be cheaper to take Eurostar to Paris and fly from DeGaulle than to fly out of London, and what an independent Scotland might do about this:

It is a complicated issue. Although British airlines hate APD, especially as tough competition from continental European carriers for transatlantic passengers means they find it hard to pass on the whole cost to customers, there is not much evidence that low airline taxes are correlated with broad economic success. My colleague has called for a rethink of the tax; I would like to see some more evidence of its impact before joining that campaign.

Nevertheless, Alex Salmond, Scotland's nationalist first minister, clearly thinks cutting APD is a winning issue. And Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways, seems to agree. He has warned that English travellers will simply drive across the border to avoid the tax if Scotland becomes independent. Perhaps the real question is whether Mr Salmond's campaign promise, and pressure from airlines and travellers, will force David Cameron's government to reconsider its own support for Britain's high air travel taxes. I wouldn't bank on it.

London transport: always an adventure. And still better than anything in the U.S.

Thursday 3 July 2014 15:04:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#
Tuesday 24 June 2014

Maryland dentist Edward Gramson got taken for a ride by British Airways:

When a North Bethesda, Maryland, dentist planned a trip to Portugal for a conference last September, he decided he'd quickly swing by Granada, Spain, to see the famed Alhambra and other historical sites.

But carrier British Airways had other ideas, and instead sent Edward Gamson and his partner to Grenada — with an E — in the Caribbean, by way of London, no less.

Gamson, who said he clearly told the British Airways agent over the phone Granada, Spain, didn't notice the mistake because his e-tickets did not contain the airport code or the duration of the trip. It was only 20 minutes after departure from a stopover in London that he looked at the in-flight map and asked the flight attendant, "Why are we headed west to go to Spain?"

I'm scratching my head over this one. I travel a lot, through Heathrow sometimes, on BA other times, and I'm just not sure how so many things could go wrong no matter how many letters are different. What about the flight schedule? Departure briefing from the pilot? Passport control? Size of the bloody plane? (You don't take an A320 to the Caribbean and you don't take a 747 to a regional Spanish airport.) This guy had at least 350,000 frequent-flier miles; how did he not notice any of these things?

Gramson has sued BA pro se for $34,000, which he estimates to be the losses from hotel and travel reservations. I can't wait to hear the disposiiton.

Tuesday 24 June 2014 13:03:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | London | Travel#
Saturday 21 June 2014

The flight from New York to Chicago takes two hours in the air, and is on-time if it takes three hours from gate to gate. Yesterday my flight was not on time:

  • Late crew arrival: boarding starts at the scheduled departure time.
  • APU inoperative: mechanic inspection and sign off takes 40 minutes.
  • JFK on a Friday evening: 55 minutes from push-back to take-off.
  • ILS inoperative on one of O'Hare's runways: take a 10-minute holding loop over Michigan.
  • Landing runway 9L: spend 17 minutes taxiing to the gate.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: 35 minutes from gate arrival to bag delivery.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: taxi line takes 20 minutes.
  • Cabbie forgets the biggest traffic news in Chicago: miss two available exits because the Ohio ramp is closed.

Total time from leaving my hotel in New York to arriving at dinner an hour late: 8 hours, 28 minutes. (On average, my door-to-door time from New York is just over 5 hours.)

And none of it was American's fault, except for the bit about being one of 40 airlines to schedule a 5pm departure from Kennedy.

I chose the departure from JFK because, using miles, my options were limited, and spending 20 hours in my third-favorite city in the world seemed like a good end to the week. It wasn't until I tried to leave that random events started conspiring against me.

Still, it was a fun trip. I read four books entirely, got most of the way through one and started a sixth. And I had two new beers at Southampton Arms: Jones the Brewer's Abigail's Party Ale and a special pale whose name I forgot to write down, apparently.

Saturday 21 June 2014 17:30:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#
Thursday 19 June 2014

(I never get that last word, nor do I suspect Billy himself knows what it is.)

It's a beautiful day in northern France, just 20°C and partly cloudy, with 19 or so hours of sunlight. And yet I'm in the airport club at Charles de Gaulle staring at my plane just below. I didn't have as much opportunity to explore Lille as I'd hoped, either. Why? This:

A week into a nationwide train strike that has tangled traffic and stranded tourists, police fired tear gas Tuesday at protesting rail workers. Two polls suggest passengers have little sympathy for the train workers' lament. Even the labor-friendly Socialist government is breaking a long-held French taboo and is openly criticizing the striking unions.

The strike has caused some of the worst disruption to the country's rail network in years — and heated up as the reform bill went to the lower house of Parliament for debate Tuesday. The bill would unite the SNCF train operator with the RFF railway network, which would pave the way to opening up railways to competition.

You have to love the Daily Mail, talking about "paving the way" to competition with rail, without mentioning that trucking and aviation—both of which have more to do with paving—already compete heavily against it. Still, I worry that France is slipping into the privatization illness that the U.S. and U.K. have suffered since Reagan and Thatcher took power. Passenger railroads provide public benefits out of proportion to their direct economic costs; that's why governments need to prop them up.

For example, several hundred people got on the TGV with me at Lille and arrived at De Gaulle just 50 minutes later. This took hundreds of private cars off the highways, or dozens of buses, or even planeloads of people if you like.

Moving back down the ladder of abstraction, however, those hundreds of people had been scheduled to take any of the 10 trains cancelled this afternoon because of the strike (mine included). So, yes, I was on a train that crossed the French countryside faster than the Cessna 172s I usually fly could have done. But I was standing mid-carriage leaning on someone else's luggage while fatigued students sat in the aisle.

That is why I'm staring out the window watching planes land and writing in my blog instead of just getting off the TGV about now. But in a few hours, I'll be in my third-favorite city in the world, hunting down a greasy slice of pizza from a random deli in the east 30s.

Gare Flanders, Lille, France

Thursday 19 June 2014 08:18:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
Wednesday 18 June 2014

My bag has arrived at Gatwick. This means, instead of sleeping in, getting a leisurely brunch, and hopping on the Eurostar at St. Pancras (just a few blocks away), instead I have to get up now, hop the Victoria line from St. Pancras to Victoria, spend £40 on a needless trip to Gatwick, then reverse the process back to St. Pancras. And brunch will be some kind of pastry and some tea on the run.

My friends assure me this is why they hate traveling. I don't think this has anything to do with traveling per se, simply because it hasn't happened to me in 30 years. I do think this has something to do with MCO.

Wednesday 18 June 2014 09:45:03 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#
Tuesday 17 June 2014

This time it's personal.

I am in London. My bag is still in Orlando. Why? Apparently, even with more than an hour to do so, the Orlando baggage handlers were unable to get my bag from an American Airlines airplane to a British Airways airplane.

Part of that could be related to the unbelievable sprawl of Orlando International Airport. It epitomizes everything I dislike about the state: it takes up a lot of room but has surprisingly poor usability. It's mostly mall, you see, with very small areas to wait for your flight.

I will never voluntarily go to Florida again. And they'd better put my bag on the next flight to London or I'll be really cross.

By the way, this is the first time a bag of mine has gone astray since the mid-1980s. Very few bags actually get lost or mishandled anymore. But the baggage desk at Gatwick admitted that Orlando is a particular problem for them, which reinforces my main point.

Now I get to spend part of my afternoon clothes-shopping instead of going to the Tate.

Tuesday 17 June 2014 14:43:08 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Aviation | US | Travel#
Monday 16 June 2014

I am here:

Actually, despite being content to read on most flights, and despite being without a full-time job until Monday, I actually have some work to do for my oldest surviving and most loyal client. If I'm lucky, Orlando has WiFi, and I can upload the changes I'm making right now. If not, I'll have to do it tomorrow night in London.

This will be an unusual trip for me. Because I didn't know for sure if I'd have this week off until just a few weeks ago, it was challenging to book this trip on miles. I wound up booking two one-way trips, with indirect routes and with the return trip originating in a different country than the outbound arrival city. So today I'm going to London's Gatwick airport via Orlando, then Wednesday I'm taking the Eurostar to Lille, France, Thursday on the TGV to Paris–De Gaulle thence New York's JFK, finally returning Friday, again through JFK.

This will be the first time I've traveled through Gatwick since 11 June 1992, my first visit ever to Europe. American no longer travels there, and British Airways doesn't fly many North American routes from there. In fact, my flight tonight will be on the rare 3-class 777—so rare that SeatGuru doesn't even have the right seating plan for it.

Other than this patch that my client needs this week, I plan to do nothing of value for the next three days except read and ingest. (Writing blog entries counts as "nothing of value.") Allons-y!

Monday 16 June 2014 16:59:55 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel | Work#
Thursday 12 June 2014

The SR-20 was the first GA airplane with a parachute. It means emergencies are a lot less likely to kill you, as an instructor and student pilot discovered yesterday:

Yesterday there was another dramatic save, near the very busy suburban airport Hanscom Field in the western suburbs of Boston. As you can see in a TV news report here (not embeddable) the plane for some reason had an engine failure; the woman who was serving as flight instructor calmly reported the situation to the tower, directed the plane during its powerless glide away from the very crowded Burlington shopping mall area and toward a marsh, then pulled the parachute handle, and landed safely with the male flight student. The news station video shows flight instructor and passenger both walking out from the plane.

The LiveATC capture of the air traffic control frequency conveys the drama of the event—and also the impressive calm of all involved. These include the flight instructor, starting with her first report that she is unable to make it back to the airport; the controller, who is juggling that plane's needs with the other normal flow of traffic into Hanscom field; and another pilot who is (it appears) from the same flight club and who immediately flies over to check the disabled plane's condition from above. 

Of course, this works a lot better for a 1,300 kg four-seater than, for example, a 250,000 kg 777...

(Note: yesterdays accident involved a Cirrus SR-22, which is a slightly more powerful version of the SR-20.)

Thursday 12 June 2014 14:30:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 11 June 2014

A whole list of interesting articles crossed my inbox overnight, but with only two days left in my job, I really haven't had time to read them all:

I can't wait to see what happens in the Virginia 7th this fall...

Wednesday 11 June 2014 09:48:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Travel#
Tuesday 13 May 2014

The FAA facility handing arrivals and departures for Chicago's two main airports shut down earlier today:

The FAA started issuing revised flight departure times to airlines Tuesday afternoon after an approximately two-hour “ground stop’’ halted all flights to and from Chicago’s two airports because of smoke in an air traffic radar facility serving northeastern Illinois, airline officials said.

The ground stop was ordered as FAA workers were evacuated from the radar facility and operations transferred to the FAA's Chicago Center in Aurora, which usually handles just high-altitude traffic.

The smoke was traced to a faulty ventilation motor and the workers were allowed back into the facility around 1 p.m.

No planes were imperiled by the outage. The Chicago Center facility has no trouble handling arrivals for an hour or two.

Tuesday 13 May 2014 15:00:47 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Monday 5 May 2014

...these:

More later.

Monday 5 May 2014 13:24:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US | Religion#
Monday 7 April 2014

Via AVWeb, the FAA has announced a proposed rulemaking that would eliminate the 3rd class medical requirement for most small-plane pilots (like me):

The FAA on April 2 announced plans to go through a rulemaking process that could result in expanding the number of pilots eligible to fly without the need for a third-class medical certificate. The announcement comes two years after AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association jointly petitioned the FAA to expand the third-class medical exemption to cover more pilots and aircraft.

The rulemaking effort, which the FAA is calling the “Private Pilot Privileges without a Medical Certificate” project, will consider whether to allow private pilots to fly without a third-class medical certificate in certain circumstances. Instead, pilots will be able to use other criteria, including a valid driver’s license, to demonstrate their fitness to fly. The agency offered no other details of the planned rulemaking.

The FAA has announced plans to go through a rulemaking process that could result in thousands more pilots being allowed to fly without a third-class medical.Legislation to expand the medical exemption has been gaining momentum in both the House and Senate. That legislation, known as the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, would go a step further than the AOPA-EAA petition. Under the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, pilots who make noncommercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats would be exempt from the third-class medical certification process. Pilots would be allowed to carry up to five passengers, fly at altitudes below 14,000 feet msl, and fly no faster than 250 knots. The FAA would be required to report on the safety consequences of the new rule after five years.

That would be great. I haven't had an aviation medical in a while, and it's one of three things keeping me from flying lately. (The other two are time and money.) The medical certification process never seemed particularly onerous, but it is expensive ($200 or so) and time consuming (find an AME, go to the AME, get the exam, go home). I hope the legislation and the rules both pass.

Monday 7 April 2014 08:42:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Monday 24 March 2014

I'm now at Heathrow where I've got a really great perch overlooking the approach end of runway 9L. A JAL 777 has just floated down to the runway and a BA 747 is taxiing past the window. It's a little piece of aviation heaven in Terminal 5 as I wait for the 787 to Toronto.

As I mentioned earlier, however, my trip home tomorrow morning may end a little differently than usual because of this:

(Photo credit.)

Fortunately, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, the El still missed its flight. Never try to carry too much baggage up the stairs; use the elevator instead.

Boarding starts in a few minutes. Time to boogie. But I'll wait for this BA 777 to land. They're really amazingly graceful when they touch down.

Monday 24 March 2014 15:27:53 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel#

Just checking the local news in Chicago a moment ago I see a weather forecast of -2°C and blowing snow for Tuesday, rain for the rest of the week, and a crash at the O'Hare subway station:

Thirty people were injured after a CTA Blue Line train derailed and hit a platform at O'Hare International Airport about 2:55 a.m. Monday.

The injuries are not life threatening, according to early reports from the scene to Chicago Police Department headquarters, Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.

It's not clear how fast the train was moving but it jumped a bumper at the end of the line and moved up an escalator, according to Chicago Fire Department Spokesman Larry Langford.

The CTA posted to its Twitter page that trains were stopped at O'Hare but running between the Logan Square and Rosemont stops.

Yeah, I'm in a hurry to get back.

Monday 24 March 2014 11:06:17 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Travel | Weather#
Sunday 23 March 2014

It's 11pm on Sunday and everything is closed, so I'm taking a break from my break. My body still seems to think it's on Chicago time, which will help me rejoin American civilization on Tuesday, though at the moment it means my body thinks it's 6pm and wonders what it will do for the next three and a half hours or so.

I have accomplished what I set out to do this weekend. I visited the British Museum, the Southampton Arms, and another pub a friend recommended, The Phoenix. I've also finished Clean Coder, read Snow Crash cover to cover, and have gotten mostly through High Fidelity. The last book in the list connects Chicago and London—specifically, Camden and Gospel Oak, two neighborhoods I spent time in this weekend—more completely than any other book I can think of.

Tomorrow evening (morning? it's hard to tell) I'm flying out on a 787, about which I will certainly have something to write. I'm quite jazzed about it.

Now, back to Nick Hornby...

Sunday 23 March 2014 23:11:47 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Best Bars | London | Travel#
Saturday 22 March 2014

Thursday morning:

Thursday evening:

More photos tonight.

Saturday 22 March 2014 14:05:10 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel#
Thursday 20 March 2014

I believe I made record time from my house to my final stopping point in the Ancestral Homeland. Most importantly: I got here before all the curry places closed.

More later.

Thursday 20 March 2014 23:54:52 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#
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On this page....
Another view of AF447
Not many chances left
The modern world
American's frequent flyer program changes
Link round-up
Ode to the MD-11
Miracles sometimes cease
Nap time yet?
American asks for Delta's slot at Haneda
Religion and aviation
Hey! My technological miracle stopped working for five minutes!
The FAA regroups after Aurora ARTCC fire
Arson shuts down nation's aviation system
Not a problem this year
Super-nerdy new-phone moment
The throughput is not to the swift
United Uber Chicago?
American vs. Orbitz: Who's going to win?
Plugged back in
American drops first class from long-haul routes
In the bag
Fog and water show
Matthew Yglesias trolls the IANA Time Zone list
Anti-walking architecture
Meetings, meetings, meetings
MH17 wasn't doing anything wrong
In other news...
Malaysian 777 shot down over Ukraine
Only marginally better than a shipping container
Pro tip: business travel
Unintentionally amphibious airframes
Transport in and out of London
Another reason to take Eurostar
Kennedy Airport on a Friday evening: never again
Me revoici dans se bar enfumé avec mes yeux tirés
Really pissed at Orlando's baggage handlers
Another reason to hate Florida
This never gets old
Why the Cirrus SR-20 has changed general aviation
Send to Kindle...
Smoke at low-altitude radar facility in Illinois
You might also have seen...
The end of 3rd-class medical certificates?
Minor delays on the El this morning
Can't wait to get home
Week ending in London
Modern travel in two photographs
Smooth sailing flying
Countdowns
The Daily Parker +3297d 11h 44m
Parker's 9th birthday 204d 01h 29m
My next birthday 285d 05h 34m
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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All content Copyright ©2014 David Braverman.
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The Daily Parker by David Braverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License, excluding photographs, which may not be republished unless otherwise noted.
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