The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Well, we knew this was coming

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.

Want shorter lines at the airport? Think through security

Pilot Patrick Smith outlines, one more time, a number of sensible ways to shorten airport security lines while providing better security overall:

As I’ve argued for years, there are two fundamental flaws in our approach. First is the idea that every single person who flies, from infant children to elderly folks in wheelchairs, is seen as a potential terrorist of equal threat. Second, and and even more maddening, is the immense amount of time we spend rifling through people’s bags in the hunt for harmless liquids, pointy objects, and other perceived “weapons.” In a system that processes more than two million passengers every day of the week, neither of these tactics is effective or sustainable. Our approach is so flawed, and so bogged down in ridiculous, wasteful nonsense, that it can hardly move under its own weight. Yet all we hear about is how to add yet more layers of fat to the system.

Does anybody remember the comedy of errors that allowed the so-called “Underwear Bomber” to make his way onto a Detroit-bound flight out of Amsterdam? Here was a Nigerian citizen who’d spent time in Yemen, traveling on a one-way ticket, and whose own father had tried to warn American authorities about him. And here we are confiscating plastic squirt-guns and rubber swords from four year-old kids at regional airports in Utah.

The trouble isn’t that we have “too much security” per se. It’s that we have too much security in the wrong places. The solution isn’t pouring more and more money into a defective strategy. It’s changing that strategy.

Amen. Again. Because Smith isn't advocating anything new; he's been saying all this for years, as have Schneier, former TSA directors, other pilots, and on and on. What's it going to take to change our ridiculous policies?

My stack is stacking up

Too many things to read before lunchtime:

Now, back to work.

Ode to the 757

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.

Brussels Airlines routes around the damage

Cranky Flier thinks Brussels Airlines has done a remarkable job keeping its passengers moving after its principal hub closed for repairs last week:

Two days after the bombing, Brussels Airlines started to get things running, but only on its short haul network. It deployed its Avro RJ100 aircraft to Antwerp, a mere half hour north of Brussels Airport, to fly within Europe. That may sound ideal, but the airport has a runway less than 5,000 feet long. The Avro can handle that with ease, but it’s not great for much else.

Meanwhile, Liege, which is about 45 minutes southeast of Brussels Airport, picked up a bunch of flights with the A319/A320 fleet. Liege is the cargo hub of Belgium, but it doesn’t usually do much in the way of passenger flights. The airline is offering free shuttle bus service to both airports from Brussels.

The next day, Friday, Brussels Airlines got at least a piece of its long haul network off the ground. With those flights service a fair bit of connecting traffic, Liege wasn’t the best option. Instead, Brussels moved those flights to operate from Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub as well as from the Swiss hub in Zurich. (Swiss is owned by Lufthansa as well.)

This was a brilliant move. It allowed Lufthansa Group/United/Air Canada travelers to continue to connect on to these African destinations. And for those who were starting or ending in Brussels, Lufthansa-operated flights were added from Frankfurt and Munich to Liege to help feed people into the new network. Brussels Airlines is flying from Antwerp to Zurich as well.

I'm always encouraged to see a business responding effectively after a major event, especially in aviation.

During a four-hour WebEx session...

Stuff to read later:

OK, conference call is ending. Time to perambulate the pooch.

Stuff I read at the library

I'm leaving Harold Washington in a few minutes, now that I've caught up on some reading:

I also watched a time-lapse video of the Chicago River turning green last year. If you want to see this odd Chicago tradition, go downtown tomorrow at 9.

ORD-HAV?

Both United and American want approval for non-stop flights from Chicago to Havana:

Initially, the customer pool for Chicago-to-Havana trips would be limited, given the ongoing trade embargo. The Department of the Treasury only permits travelers to fly to Cuba for a dozen reasons, including family visits, official governmental trips and humanitarian missions.

But carriers are eager to establish a beachhead in the island nation, which might eventually prove a robust destination for leisure and business travelers as well.

“It's been an untapped market for 50 years,” said John Weber, director for the Americas at British consultancy Aviation Analytics. “The interest of carriers is to get in and get established from the very beginning.”

Both airlines proposed a weekly 737-800 flight leaving Saturday morning and returning Saturday night. As soon as I can, I'll be happy to spend a week in Cuba and get full frequent-flyer miles for the trip.

Werde jetzt flügen

Hm. I'm not sure that's the best translation for "gonna fly now," but it's better than anything I had on my own...

Traveling this afternoon, back Sunday. I might have a chance to post. It's not going to be a top priority.

Reading list

Stuff:

Someone call lunch...