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Friday 15 May 2015

South Africa Airlines will no longer transport your trophies:

Shooting a marvel of nature and shipping its carcass home seems an odd practice to many. But business is roaring. An estimated 1,000 captive lions are shot dead by mostly American and European tourists on South African ranches annually. That's nearly double the number of wild lions felled across the entire continent. Killing beasts in fenced-off, private property is easier than gunning them down on their own turf. It's also much cheaper: tourists can pay $20,000 for a captive male, compared with $75,000 for a wild one. The expansion of the “canned hunting” industry—which breeds lions by isolating mothers from their cubs to jumpstart ovulation—has lifted African trophy hunting revenues to $200m a year.

For SAA, making money from this booming trade should be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Tourists have few options but to load their spoils onto planes for one final journey, providing the flag-carrier with lucrative custom beneath the passenger deck as well as above it. Cargo can account for up to 10% of a passenger airline’s revenue. In an industry with average annual profit margins of 1-2% per cent, that is nothing to sniff at. Cargo is also one of the more trouble-free aspects of the business: freight doesn't complain when you push it around; and many of the fixed costs of getting a plane airborne apply regardless of how full the cargo hold happens to be. SAA, which is in financial straits, can ill-afford to turn away such easy money.

No matter how profitable and defensible, SAA has decided that trophy kill cargo is bad business.

Good on them. And maybe someday we'll give lions rifles and turn them loose on hunters. Or just skip the rifles.

Friday 15 May 2015 11:06:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Monday 11 May 2015

It's just past 9am on Monday and already I'm reduced to this kind of blog post. Tomorrow I may have some more time to read these things:

  • Cranky Flier analyzes Malaysia Airlines' struggles.
  • Microsoft is building subsea fibre cables between the U.S. and Europe and Asia.
  • TPM explains exactly what Jade Helm 15 really is.
  • Missed Microsoft Ignite this year? Here's the Channel 9 page.
  • We're starting to set up JetBrains TeamCity to handle our continuous integration needs. Explain, however, why the user manual is all video? Guys. Seriously. I haven't got time for this.
  • So now that Illinois actually has to pay the pensions we promised to pay, what now? (Hello, 9% income tax?)

Four-hour design review session is imminent. I may post later today...or I may lock myself in my office and stare at the wall.

Monday 11 May 2015 09:17:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Geography | US | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Thursday 30 April 2015

Color me excited:

Aerican Airlines will use a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on a regular route between Chicago and Japan, the airline told employees Thursday.

It will be the first U.S. airline to use the highly touted aircraft on a regular route at O'Hare International Airport, although some foreign airlines use it.

American will start daily service Aug. 18 from O'Hare to Narita International Airport near Tokyo, according to a memo Thursday to Chicago employees from Franco Tedeschi, an American Airlines vice president and its top Chicago-based executive.

Before starting the Japan route, American will break in the new 787 temporarily on a domestic route between Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth starting May 7.

I'm tempted to do a mileage run this summer. Possibly for my birthday? I mean, the fare's less than $2,000...though aa.com doesn't seem to have the 787 up yet. Hm.

The O'Hare to Dallas flight leaves at 10:25pm. Tempting though...

Thursday 30 April 2015 16:04:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Monday 27 April 2015

To read:

Back to cleaning up after a production bug this weekend.

Monday 27 April 2015 13:45:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Friday 17 April 2015

New Republic's John Paul Rollert explains:

That a flight on Spirit will occasionally cost you less than $40 highlights for its defenders the airline’s essential promise: bargain basement ticket prices. “Offering our low fares requires doing some things that some people complain about,” [Spirit’s CEO, Ben] Baldanza wrote in an email to the Dallas Morning News last April, after the paper ran a story about the egregious number of complaints his company receives. “[H]owever, these reduce costs which gives our customers the lowest fares in the industry.” The contention is not unreasonable, it's merely disingenuous. Baldanza would have us believe that the frustration with Spirit is simply a matter of obtuse passengers confusing the constraints of a low-cost carrier with a wanton unwillingness to afford First Class frills. Most people, however, don’t expect artisanal mustard at McDonald's or concierge service at Save-a-Lot. The discontent is not a consequence of failing to meet ridiculous expectations, but flouting those that are entirely reasonable.

Success breeds admirers. In December, Delta announced that it was introducing five categories of service, including its answer to Spirit’s Bare Fare: Basic Economy. In addition to its precarious grammar, Basic Economy does not allow passengers to pick their seats, change their itineraries, or fly standby. The move is merely the most recent evidence that Spirit has become a trendsetter—arguably, the trendsetter—in the American airlines industry. But what trend is it exactly? Baldanza has repeatedly affirmed that Spirit is refining the art of offering affordable airfare, an effort which he qualifies as nothing less than an essentially democratic endeavor. He has a point, insofar that we live in a world where social mobility and simple mobility increasingly go hand-in-hand. Yet other low-cost carriers have long provided models of budget air travel without engendering nearly the angst of Spirit.

This seems like a familiar story. I mean that literally: didn't someone else run almost the same story a few months back?

Friday 17 April 2015 13:52:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | US | Business#
Monday 13 April 2015

The Trib expects noise complaints to take off:

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected within the next four months to release a preliminary report based on thousands of computer-generated flight simulations involving what will become O'Hare's fifth east-west runway and a subsequent runway that the city plans to open in 2020.

All this work, however, might not bring relief after a record year for O'Hare jet noise complaints. The simulations are aimed in part at finding the best way to squeeze in hundreds more daily flights at the airport.

Suburbs expected to hear more jet noise as the result of the 7,500-foot runway opening this fall include Bensenville, Franklin Park, Wood Dale, Bloomingdale and Addison, FAA and city aviation officials say.

So, people in Bensenville—which lies along the southern edge of O'Hare and is notable for its immense rail classification yard—are unhappy with their noisy neighbor. Keep in mind, the runway plans have been around for over 10 years. And jet noise today is far lower than before.

Monday 13 April 2015 15:17:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Geography | US#
Thursday 9 April 2015

My to-do list today only has 14 items on it, of which 6 are checked off already. The actual time it will take to accomplish the remaining eight items varies between 20 minutes (laundry, tonight, essentially a fire-and-forget activity) and four hours (Staging release of the Holden Adaptive Platform).

So, once again, I'm going to shove a bunch of articles to my Kindle:

Now to do the next few things on my list...and watch the thunderstorm outside my office window.

Thursday 9 April 2015 11:52:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Photography | World | San Francisco#
Tuesday 7 April 2015

In the reading queue:

Did I mention that DUKE WON?!

Tuesday 7 April 2015 10:37:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Duke | Kitchen Sink | Software#
Friday 27 March 2015

Under international treaties, German flag carrier Lufthansa could face huge compensation claims after one of its pilots apparently intentionally crashed an A320 into the Alps on Tuesday:

Under a treaty governing deaths and injuries aboard international flights, airlines are required to compensate relatives of victims for proven damages of up to a limit currently set at about $157,000 — regardless of what caused the crash.

To avoid liability, a carrier has to prove that the crash wasn't due to "negligence or other wrongful act" by its employees, according to Article 21 of the 1999 Montreal Convention.

That would be a difficult argument to make when a pilot intentionally crashes a plane into a mountain, and one that Lufthansa would likely avoid as it could further damage the brand, [German aviation lawyer Marco] Abate said.

Abate said that in German courts, damages for pain and suffering typically don't exceed 10,000 euros ($11,000). However, Lufthansa could face much bigger claims for loss of financial support. If the breadwinner of a family was killed in a plane crash, the survivors can sue for years of lost income, Abate said.

The difference between U.S. and European procedures might be a problem for Lufthansa. In the U.S., pilots are never left alone in the cockpit; in Europe—at least until this week—there was no comparable practice.

Friday 27 March 2015 16:23:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Thursday 26 March 2015

Sigh. I just don't have the slacker skills required to read these things during the work day:

Continuing, now, with a database migration...

Thursday 26 March 2015 15:17:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US#
Friday 20 March 2015

Things I will read or explore more this weekend:

Must run.

Friday 20 March 2015 16:04:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US | World | Cool links#
Tuesday 10 March 2015

Business lunch, business dinner, 8:30am call, 1:30pm call—and right now, six minutes to click "Send to Kindle:"

Time to get some water, plug in my Fitbit, and prep for my 1:30 call.

Tuesday 10 March 2015 12:58:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | US | Business | Weather | Work#
Thursday 5 February 2015

With a little more than five days until my next international flight, I'm stocking up my Kindle:

UAT release this afternoon. Back to the galley.

Thursday 5 February 2015 11:48:42 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Cubs | Geography | Software#
Friday 30 January 2015

There have been interesting developments in two stories I've mentioned recently:

Otherwise, it's just work work work. But fun work.

Friday 30 January 2015 10:50:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | Blogs | Cool links#
Thursday 29 January 2015

I may have time to read these over the weekend. Possibly.

In other news, J's Lincoln Park will close Sunday night, the owner having sold his lease to Bank of America. So our dog-friendly Euchre nights will have to move uptown a bit. I'm happy for the owner, but kind of sad that one of the last dog-friendly bars in my neighborhood is closing.

Back to creating a separate code repository for contractors...and other things...

Thursday 29 January 2015 11:57:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Best Bars | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Monday 26 January 2015

Via Fallows, video of a small plane ditching in the South Pacific with no injuries:

Fallows explains:

On yesterday's flight, the pilot discovered that a valve from the extra fuel tanks was jammed or broken. So he was fated to run out of gas before reaching Hawaii. After several hours of debugging and discussion with his flight-managers by radio, as the fuel level dwindled he decided to fly as close as possible to a cruise ship (which was alerted) and then pull the Cirrus's unique whole-airplane parachute and come down to the sea for rescue by the ship.

This incredible video, shot from a Coast Guard C-130 that was monitoring the whole process, shows what happened next.

The plane, I expect, did not survive. But the pilot did, which would not have happened even 20 years ago in similar circumstances.

Monday 26 January 2015 16:24:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
Friday 23 January 2015

In other news, American Airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 787-8 yesterday:

The airplane, N800AN, is scheduled to leave Paine Field at 10 a.m. and arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport at 4:21 p.m.. It’ll be parked at an American hangar there.

“Once the plane arrives, the Tech Ops team at our DWH maintenance base at DFW will begin the acceptance process and prepare the airplane for flight training and other readiness activities, including putting the final touches on the interior and getting it ready for prime time,” American told employees in its weekly “Arrivals” newsletter.

American has 42 Boeing 787s on firm order, with options for another 58. The original October 2008 order called for all 42 to be the larger Boeing 787-9 version. However, the order was later modified to covert some into the smaller 787-8 version, and Friday’s arrival is a 787-8.

I am very much looking forward to flying in one. I flew in a British Airways 787-8 back in March; I hope that American packs in slightly fewer people in Coach, or that I get upgraded.

Friday 23 January 2015 11:03:52 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Tuesday 20 January 2015

Interesting things to read:

Before reading all of those I need to get a production deployment ready for this weekend. It would help if I were completely certain what's in production right now...

Tuesday 20 January 2015 12:30:14 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Cool links | Weather | Windows Azure#
Friday 26 December 2014

The brilliant Central Coast morning that produced the photo I posted earlier gave me a hell of a view climbing out of SFO an hour ago:

Home in four hours...

Friday 26 December 2014 13:18:22 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Thursday 18 December 2014

The trouble with holiday parties on Wednesday is that you have to function on Thursday. So, to spare my brain from having to do anything other than the work-related things its already got to do, here are things I will read later:

All for now.

Thursday 18 December 2014 12:36:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | World | Business | Travel | Weather#
Thursday 11 December 2014

They're interesting if you like, for example, airplanes:

That's it for now.

Thursday 11 December 2014 10:42:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 10 December 2014

Because I stayed in the Airport Sheraton, had only carry-on bags, and got my boarding pass last night, I got on my flight home less than half an hour after leaving my hotel room this morning. Then, at O'Hare, because of the aforementioned lack of checked baggage, a New York-style walking speed, and Global Entry, I got from the airplane to my car in exactly half an hour. Parker was in the car half an hour after that.

Compare that to the trip out, when I left my house at 7, the plane finally left the gate at 10:30, and—oh, right, it only took me 55 minutes to get from the airplane to my hotel in London, including the ridiculously long walk from Terminal 3 to the Heathrow Express and flagging down a taxi at Paddington.

Anyway, dog and man are home, I've completed my deliverable for tomorrow, and I will now get a nap before Euchre Club meets at 7:30.

Wednesday 10 December 2014 16:51:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | London | Travel | Work#
Sunday 7 December 2014

Business travel sometimes presents contradictions. Here are mine today:

  • Good news: I got assigned to do a technical diligence in Paris.
  • Bad news: We'll be at the airport for two days, with only one opportunity to see the city.
  • Good news: Hey, it's an all-expense-paid trip to Europe.
  • Bad news: In coach, which is really grim on an overnight flight such as one from Chicago to Paris.
  • Good news: There's a 9am flight to London and the Eurostar to get me to Paris the next morning.
  • Bad news: I have to get up at 6:30am on a Sunday.
  • Good news: There's no traffic on the Kennedy at this hour on Sunday morning, so I got from my house to the airport and through security in only 30 minutes.
  • Bad news: It's still Sunday, and I'm missing two full days for travel.

On balance, it's worth the trip. But yes, I'm going to be grumpy about some aspects of it.

Updates as the situation warrants.

Sunday 7 December 2014 07:56:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel | Work#
Thursday 4 December 2014

Well, little time today. Since I'll be on an airplane for 8 hours on Sunday, I will probably have time to catch up on these:

Thursday 4 December 2014 10:32:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | US | World | Software | Travel | Windows Azure | Work#
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#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International 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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