Let me first acknowledge that the biggest news story today today came from the House Judiciary Committee, which has drawn up two articles of impeachment against President Trump. This comes after committee chair Jerry Nadler nearly lost control of yesterday's meeting.
As Josh Marshall points out, no one expects the Senate to remove the president from office. So the Democratic Party's job is just to demonstrate how much malfeasance and illegality the Republican Party will tolerate from their guy.
If only that were the only story today.
And tonight, I get to preside over a condo-board meeting that will be at least as fun as yesterday's Judiciary Committee meeting.
High above the North Atlantic, our hero reads the articles he downloaded before take-off:
- Releasing to Production the day before a holdiay weekend? No. Just, no. OMFG no.
- American Airlines just won a lawsuit started by US Airways that opens up competition in airfare consolidation—maybe. Bear with it, because this one article explains a lot of what's wrong with competition in any endeavor today. (I'll find a link to the Economist print article I just read on this topic when I land.)
- The Washington Post helpfully provides 94 questions we Democrats are asking as we slouch towards a Trump presidency. Thanks, guys.
- In the spirit of Christmas, Citylab remembers when Manhattan had the El. (How is this about Christmas, you ask? No El.) It's interesting to me that only now, more than 60 years later, is New York replacing the east-side transit options with the Second Avenue Subway.
- Also from Citylab, an interview with Costas Spirou and Dennis R. Judd about their new book Building the City of Spectacle, how Mayor Richord M. Daley remade the city. (Note to self: buy their book.)
- Finally, the Deeply Trivial blog compiles a couple of videos every Star Wars fan should watch. I know for a fact that the author was born well past the Ewok Divide, and yet seems to have a good bead on the Star Wars universe. Perhaps there is hope for the galaxy.
Today's flight is remarkably fast. We caught the jet stream off the Labrador coast, and with about an hour to go, we're hurtling 1,074 km/h off the west coast of Ireland. This could end up the fastest trans-Atlantic flight I've ever been on, in fact. Details later.
N.B.: Most of the entries on this blog since 2011, and a good number of them going back to 1998, have location bugs that show approximately where I was when I wrote the entry. Click the globe icon directly below and it will call up Google Maps.
If I write an entry at my house, I use a street intersection a few hundred meters away for an approximate location. In a city of three (or, in 1998, seven) million, I feel that's enough privacy. Otherwise, I try to be accurate, even going so far as to whip out my mobile phone to get a GPS fix in flight, as I've just done. Why, you ask? Because it's cool, I reply.
Airways magazine has the heartwarming story of American Airlines MD-80 N9401W heading off to retirement in New Mexico:
This aircraft, and 19 others, were part of a symbolic retirement.
A 20-aircraft order placed by American Airlines to McDonnell Douglas in 1982 marked the beginning of an era in which AA became the world’s largest MD-80 operator, but as the decades passed through and as new and more efficient aircraft joined the fleet, the venerable Mad Dog era is now heading into the sunset.
Once the last AA MD-80 parks in Roswell in 2018, it will close a chapter in the company’s history; yet it will also signify a new era, with the arrival of new Airbus A320 family aircraft and Boeing 737 Next Generation and the coming MAX variant, all part of a major $4.6 billion order placed back in 2010 for 460 aircraft —the largest commercial aircraft order in history at that time.
Millions of miles had unfurled beneath Ship 4WJ, from the Far East where she was built, to freezing Calgary in Canada to the sunny Los Cabos in Mexico, from Los Angeles to Chicago, and then to New York, transporting about 3,700,000 passengers during its career.
Subtracting engines, the current parts market value of an MD-80 varies from $100,000 to $200,000. Once all marketable parts have been harvested, the value of the fuselage carcass ranges between $10,000 and $12,000. It can take a month to part out an MD-80 yet only a few hours to crush it into scrap metal.
While AA retired today 20 MD-80s, the airline’s remaining 61 Mad Dogswill continue flying—safely and reliably transporting their passengers and crews.
I last flew on an MD-80 on 3 December 2014, from Dallas to Chicago.
The Cranky Flier blog noted American Airlines' changes to its frequent-flier program (which I also noted yesterday) but thinks they dropped the ball on it:
Are you as unimpressed as I am? I get that there’s something to be said for conformity. It makes it easier for travelers to compare what they’ll get from each airline, but it also means that nobody’s program stands out. (Well, nobody except for Alaska Airlines, which is keeping its old style of program and will probably win even more fans.)
The problem here is that airlines have become too reliant on their frequent flier programs. It’s not about earning someone’s loyalty either. The award miles side of the house is all about making money. Airlines make a boat load of cash selling miles to partners, and they don’t want that to end. Then on the elite miles side, there is the issue of alliance-wide benefits. Plus, they need to convince people they have a chance of upgrading, even though that’s becoming less and less likely to occur every day.
I can only imagine that these constraints make airlines like American think inside a very small box when they try to rethink loyalty. Instead of actually making improvements, they just shuffle the deck chairs. What’s changed now with this new program? Well it’s a whole lot more complex, that’s for sure. And all this added complexity doesn’t solve the problem that airlines wanted to fix with their mileage-based programs. It just trades one problem for another.
He makes a good point. Unfortunately for me in 2017, it doesn't matter; my 8-year Platinum run is probably ending next March, because I'm just not traveling that much this year. Pity.
American Airlines is changing the way it apportions miles and awards tickets. As predicted, they're moving to a dollars-per-mile system that rewards travelers for spending more money on the airline. Instead of just needing 50,000 miles to get to Platinum, you also need 6,000 elite qualifying dollars.
They're also adding a new level, Platinum Pro, at 75,000 elite-qualifying miles, which would have helped me more than once.
In all, the system seems fair, and pretty much everyone new it was coming. I'll be interested to see how it works in practice.
Pilot Patrick Smith wishes Boeing would update the 40-year-old aircraft instead of pushing the 737 into ungainly configurations:
What I think about the 737 is that Boeing took what essentially was a regional jet — the original 737-100 first flew in 1967, and was intended to carry fewer than a hundred passengers — and has pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, and pushed the thing to the edge of its envelope, through a long series of derivatives, from the -200 through the -900, and now onward to the 737 “MAX.” In other words it has been continuously squeezed into missions it was never really intended for. The plane flies poorly and, for a jet of its size, uses huge amounts of runway and has startlingly high takeoff and landing speeds. Its range allows for cross-country pairings, but transoceanic markets are out of the question.
I was wedged into the cockpit jumpseat of an American Airlines 737-800 not long ago, flying from Los Angeles to Boston. (In years past, coast-to-coast flights were always on widebody DC-10s or L-1011s.) Man if we didn’t need every foot of LAX’s runway 25R, at last getting off the ground at a nearly supersonic 160 knots — thank god we didn’t blow a tire — then slowly step-climbing our way to cruise altitude. What would it have been like in the opposite direction, I wondered — a longer flight, from a shorter runway, in the face of winter headwinds?
The 737’s poorly designed cockpit is incredibly cramped and noisy. The passenger cabin, meanwhile, is skinny and uncomfortable, using a fuselage cross-section unchanged from the Boeing 707, engineered in the 1950s.
I also like the 757s remaining in American's fleet, and I have some problems with the 737s. I'll be on one tomorrow for four hours, with its vertically-misaligned window and cramped seats. Sigh.
American's A'Advantage program will change in January to accrue miles based on how much a ticket costs. The formula is pretty simple: members will get X dollars per flight mile based on their elite status, though elite status qualification will still be based on segments or miles actually flown (though not on a third "points" option currently in force).
Everyone who watches these things knew this was coming. And it won't make that much difference to most people. For example, my mileage run this weekend netted me 10,490 base miles and 5,245 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs). Under the new formula, it would still net me 5,245 EQMs but only 3,640 base miles, because of the fare. So fie on them. Even the last business trip I took would earn fewer base miles: 7,384 under the current regime, but only 2,208 under the new plan. (Again, though, EQMs would not have changed.)
This new structure clearly benefits the airline, and business travelers. Those times in the past when I took full-fare flights, or even business class, would really have done well under the new plan. Last November I had to go to Oslo for three days. (It wasn't that glamorous.) Current plan: 21,406 base miles, 9,354 EQMs; new plan: a whopping 63,976 base miles, because it was a last-minute business-class fare.
Basically, the airline is trying not to bleed through its frequent-flyer program. And we knew this was coming. And as long as they keep EQMs the same, I'm OK with it.
As I mentioned Thursday, I'm on a mileage run. But because I'm an aviation geek, not only am I trying to hold onto elite status for 2016, but also I'm trying out American Airlines' newest airplanes. Yesterday's flight from JFK to LAX got me on the A321 Transcontinental (along with, no kidding, both Laura Linney and Natalie Dormer). Today's gets me from LAX to DFW on this gorgeous thing:
They're seamless, you know. If you look at the fuselage of any other passenger airplane, you see rivets, welds, all kinds of imperfections in the surface. Dreamliners have flawless composite skins whose only perturbations are the windows.
I've flown on one other 787, on British Airways from London to Toronto in March 2014. And this is not the first 787 American put into service; that one is N800AN; mine today is N809AA, put into service on 28 August 2015. It's a mere puppy. And I'm really excited to fly on it in about an hour.