The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog


Some rules of flying:

  1. Schedule your outbound flights so that delays are inconvenient but not fatal to the purpose of your trip. 
  2. Know that the atmosphere is immense, and airplanes are small. Ground holds happen for very good reasons, all of them about you surviving the flight. 
  3. Charge your phone. 

So, yeah, we're on a hold pad for another half hour... 

Let the mileage run commence

For the next 52 hours, I'll be traveling, for a really horrible reason. I'm not traveling for work, nor really for vacation, though I will admit to enjoying it (in a way my friends don't really understand).

No, I'm trying to keep my American Airlines elite status for another year, because so far in 2015 I have traveled less than in any year of the past 10. So tonight I'm flying to New York, tomorrow to Los Angeles, then back to Chicago on Saturday evening, about 5,500 miles total.

The routing provided not only the best ratio of miles to dollars I could find, but also the chance to fly on American's new A321T and B787-8 airplanes. So far it looks like I'll be in coach on both, as AA3 on a Friday may be one of American's most profitable (read: both premium cabins are paid for rather than upgrades) and the 787 is new enough that lots of dweebs like me are flying on it even if it takes us out of the way. (I'll be taking it on a LAX-DFW segment Saturday afternoon.)

I did bring my real camera, and also I scheduled a full 24 hours in L.A., so this won't be a completely intangible trip. I've also got a couple of books with me. And I really do love flying. So it's not torture, and if I can eke out Platinum for one more year, not pointless.

Next report from New York.

More guns on planes?

The Economist reports that gun seizures at TSA checkpoints have risen dramatically:

TSA agents discovered 68 firearms in travellers’ carry-on bags. That is the most the agency has ever found in a week. Of them, 61 were loaded, and 25 had a round in the chamber, ready to fire.

The record probably won’t stand for long. The prior high-water mark for intercepted guns was  set a month earlier, when TSA agents found 67 firearms. As the Washington Post points out, it’s all part of a steady upward trend that stretches back at least a decade. In 2005, for every 1,000 air travellers, TSA agents discovered an average of less than one gun. In 2015, through the summer, the figure is more than three.

And of course that is just what TSA is catching. In a recent test, agents posing as passengers were able to sneak fake weapons and bombs through airport security 96% of the time. If the TSA agents were as sloppy last week as that exercise suggested, then there weren’t just 68 firearms packed into carry-on bags; there were more like 1,700.

Why are there so many more guns at TSA checkpoints? Possibly because there are so many more guns:

Gun production has more than doubled since President Obama took office, as gun advocates who fear that the president might crack down on the sale of firearms rush out to buy them, either in protest or in fear of future restrictions. But Mr Obama has not been able to persuade Congress to enact new gun-control measures, and so sales have continued to climb unimpeded.

I love living in a 19th-century country, don't you?

Back to the 1980s

We live in an era of ubiquitous, high-speed connectivity. I'm writing this on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, with all my current documents synchronized with OneDrive, and six browser tabs open on Chrome...on an airplane over Wyoming.

I love in-flight WiFi. Sometimes. But right now, with three of my browser tabs spinning endlessly while I wait for them to download, and a Microsoft Excel document taking a few minutes to close (because it's uploading changes to OneDrive), I'm just trying to keep things in perspective and not get supremely irritated.

I'd report on my actual throughput, but won't even load up here—possibly because GoGo doesn't want me to know precisely whether their service is giving me 300 baud or 1200 baud speeds right now.

Good; my important document has finished downloading.

Update: did work, eventually. Sort of. I got a 290 kbps download and a 40 kbps upload, which is about the same as the ADSL I had in 1999.

Hoping to avoid 10R

Now that O'Hare's runway 10R/28L has opened, travelers on flights unlucky enough to land on the new tarmac have reason to be unhappy:

The normal taxi route from new runway 10 Right to the gate follows parts of three taxiways to wind around one runway instead of crossing over it, which would create potential collision risks.

But the taxi route then requires a turn to directly cross a different runway — staying behind planes that are taking off on that runway — followed by another turn, and then another runway to cross over, and a little more taxiing until reaching the core of the airport, where a left or right turn is required, depending on what concourse the plane is assigned.

When American Flight 1333 finally reached the fork in the taxiway requiring a left or right turn near the terminal core, a right turn onto taxiway Bravo would have taken the plane directly to its gate in Terminal 3 on the south end of the terminal buildings. But the Chicago Department of Aviation had closed a portion of Bravo because of Lima Lima construction, said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro.

So the plane had to hang a left and taxi clockwise all the way around the terminals to reach Gate K5 at the south end of the terminal complex, Molinaro said.

City aviation spokesman Owen Kilmer said short-term pain will lead to "long-term benefits for passengers, including reduced taxi times and a more efficient process for aircraft landing at O'Hare.''

I'm still 2½ hours from landing...I just hope I'm not 3 hours from the gate. (Probably not, as flights from San Francisco tend to use the north corridors and land runway 9L/27R.)

Wait, just a link list?

Yes, even with a new blog engine, sometimes link happens:

The new blog engine does have one key advantage: putting that list together took about 1/3 the time it used to take.


A new runway opened at O'Hare this morning, and the Sun-Times can't understand why:

At a cost of $516 million, a new O’Hare International Airport runway opens this week with so little predicted use — initially 5 percent of all flights — that some question its bang for the buck.

Runway 10R-28L should increase efficiency and arrival capacity when jet traffic moves from west to east — now about 30 percent of the time, officials say. That boost will be especially large during low visibility and critical during peak hours, they contend.

Well, yes, on average it will handle 5% of flights. But it will handle most of those flights during periods of low visibility, when the flights would otherwise be stacked up all the way to Janesville. In other words, the new runway boosts capacity at O'Hare when it's most needed (during bad weather) and doesn't actually hurt anything when it's not needed.

The Sun-Times goes on to quote critics of the new runway who, perhaps not being pilots or aviation engineers, want to lengthen the diagonal runways that cross the east-west runways already in place. Since crossing runways increases the separation between planes on approach, extending 4R/22L and 4L/22R would do nothing to alleviate delays during low visibility.

The Sun-Times own graphic shows that the 5% figure is quite a different story when you look at all of the runways together.

I'm happy for the increased capacity. It should cut weather-related delays at O'Hare significantly, though I'm not wild about the 20-minute taxi time, and I understand residents of Wood Dale and Bensenville aren't wild about the noise.

Lies, damned lies, and airline fares

Cranky Flier this morning has a note about Southwest Airlines' latest ad campaign. I'll let him explain:

[W]hat Southwest is trying to do is distract you from paying attention to the actual total cost of your ticket and instead trying to make you focus just on the fees. It gives examples on the website showing how Spirit can charge you up to $294 in fees while Southwest has none. But the reality is that you probably aren’t paying that much in fees, and you’re starting off a much lower base fare. Even if the fees are higher than Southwest’s (as they nearly always are), the total cost often won’t be.

What Southwest is trying to show here is that its fares remain below the industry fare level in 2000, but that’s not what I see. What I see is that in 2000, Southwest’s average fare was 43 percent less than industry average. Fast forward to today, and the fare gap has shrunk dramatically. Now its average fare is only 13 percent less.

The point here? Southwest’s fares have just gone up a lot more than those of everyone else.

I shared this with my friend over at Deeply Trivial—she's a Ph.D. researcher and statistician—and she responded with this:

That about sums it up.

Oldest known footage of Chicago

I'm camped in a familiar spot, SFO Terminal 2, on my way home. Traveling Saturday morning means no traffic, no lines at security, and sometimes no sleep. That fortunately isn't a problem today; in fact, had I gotten up half an hour earlier, I might have made the 8am flight home instead of the 9:15 I'm on.

Longtime reader MJG just sent me this to pass the time waiting for my flight to board: