The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

Another day, another trip to Heathrow. I picked the late-afternoon flight back to O'Hare instead of the mid-afternoon flight, because I thought I could sleep in to speed along my re-adjustment to Chicago time. No such luck. So off I go, having woken up at 6:30 GMT, looking forward to driving home from O'Hare at 2:00 GMT tomorrow morning.

There has to be an easier way...

Catching up on photos

Now that I have a functioning monitor once again, I can post a few photos.

Despite American's mess-up with my seat assignments, a lovely British Airways flight attendant found an empty upper-deck window seat, so I did, in fact, get to have a total aviation-nerd-heaven trip:

P.O.V. shot:

A couple of things: first, the text on the screen is in Arabic, which makes sense if you're flying to Dubai. Second, the screen shows the plane has just gone over Italy's big toe. We had great views of the Alps and the Italian peninsula on the way down. (More on our route in a moment.) Third, the seat faces backwards, which may not be at all obvious from the photograph. Finally, I didn't realize that the upper deck curves too much to get really close to the window. So while I'm awfully happy to have sat up there, I'll probably not sit up there again unless it's an overnight flight.

About the route. Does this look odd to anyone else?

Compare with the great circle path that I expected:

I understand not wanting to fly over Iran, but then again, why not? British Airways flies London to Tehran, so I'm sure the overflight isn't a problem. It also looks like we skirted around Iraq as well, which, again, is not unfriendly (officially) to Britain. Anyone have an answer? If I'm able I'll get a shot of the return trip for comparison.

More later, with photographs of the world's tallest building.

All the little things

I generally love American Airlines, to the extent that I fly oneworld carriers unless there simply isn't another way to get there. But today, in an effort to be helpful, an AA ticket agent actually made an error that may have dashed a dream I've carried since I was six.

I'm on my way to Dubai for school, and to get there I'm going through London. (Faithful readers may recall I tried going through Amman, but that didn't quite work.) Going through London means British Airways, which doesn't let you choose a seat until 24 hours before flying unless you've got the equivalent of American's Platinum status. It turns out, I'll have Platinum status in two weeks, but not yet, and "almost" doesn't count.

The dream since I started flying is as nerdy as it is prosaic: to fly in the upper deck of a 747. I arranged my flight to Dubai so that I would fly one segment on a 747, in the appropriate class of service to sit on the upper deck. And because of the peculiarities, just mentioned, of British Airways' seating rules, I got up very early this morning in time to book the seat I wanted. And I succeeded. Woo hoo! Friday is Hump Day!

Flash forward to my check-in at O'Hare. British Airways and American have a deal that allows passengers to check their baggage through even if they've booked multiple reservations. Not wanting to go through baggage retrieval at Heathrow, and not wanting to schlepp my enormous (33 kg of baggage—comfortably less than when I went to the first residency) pile of crap to Heathrow's Terminal 5, I asked the O'Hare agent to check my stuff through all the way.

I don't know how, but whatever she did to check my bags through, she also erased my seat assignment—the one I woke up early to get—and there's nothing I can do about it until I get to Heathrow tomorrow morning.

I suppose I need to look at this in perspective. I'm going from Chicago to Dubai in less than a day, something imposssible even when I was a child. So, I'll just have to depend on the charity of British Airways' Heathrow agents, or wait until some other time.

Last-minute preparations

I pack in the morning, which means, five hours before my flight takes off, I have yet to dig my bags out of the closet. Everything to be packed is either on my desk or hanging in my closet; Parker's food is already in the car; and I have nothing else to do but get out of town.

One little niggle: why does British Airways not allow people to pick their seats more than 24 hours ahead unless they have the equivalent of American Airlines Platinum status? Not that I had any difficulties, as the flight doesn't seem full yet.

I got pretty much the seat I wanted. More important, it was in the cabin I wanted: the upper deck of a 747. Little kid moment coming: I've always wanted to fly in the upper deck of a 747, so, following my own oft-repeated advice, I now have the means and opportunity. I'm almost as excited about that as I am about going to Dubai.

All right. First flight leaves in 5 hours, 15 minutes...and 24 hours from right now I'll be lifting off from London on my way to Dubai.

Pack, read, repeat

The CCMBA Dubai residency starts in just over 3 days, and I'm leaving in 53 hours. I hope I've learned from the mistakes I made in the London residency, so I can make all new mistakes. Some observations so far:

  • I do not need the one-kilo power converter; I only need a couple of UK-US adapters. This is because, as I realized in London, everything I have with a plug accepts all international power characteristics. (The U.S. is 110 volts, 60 Hertz; the U.K. and U.A.E. both use 220 volts, 50 Hertz, with U.K.—style plugs.)
  • The weather forecast for Dubai calls for highs of 33°C, lows of 23°C, and sunny skies every single day. This should significantly reduce the mass of all the clothing I need to pack. Except, I'll have to get to and from O'Hare and I'll be spending two days in London on the way back. Packing for three different climates? Fun!
  • I won't have mobile phone service in Dubai. Oh, sure, my GSM phone will work in the UAE, but as T-Mobile would charge something like $5 per minute and $1 per text there, I'll just leave the thing off entirely.
  • But when will I have time to make phone calls? The program schedule has us running around up to 15 hours a day, starting at 8:00 the first morning we're there.
  • As an aviation geek, I'm particularly excited about the flight from London to Dubai. It'll be the first time I've been on a 747 in over 20 years. (American Airlines hasn't had them since the early 1980s.) I'll have a full report sometime in November.

In conseqence, I'm a lot more laid-back about this trip than I was for London.

High-speed train robbery? Not really

The state of Illinois mysteriously doubled its funding request for upgrading the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor to handle moderately-high-speed trains. First, of the $4.5 bn now requested, only $1.2 bn will go to the actual track upgrades; the state now wants additional funds to build a second track along the route. Second, the upgrades will increase the route's top speed from 126 km/h to only 176 km/h, not exactly a serious rival for other HSR projects worldwide (like, for example, Shanghai's MagLev, which has hit 501 km/h, or France's TGV which routinely travels at 320 km/h.)

Here's Crain's:

"The state's plan is not high-speed rail," says Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Assn., which advocates a new, 350 km/h Chicago-St. Louis route. "Four hours doesn't change a lot. It's not transformative. What is transformative is two hours."

That would cost $12 billion to $13 billion, he estimates, in line with a detailed, 256-page proposal for a complete Midwest high-speed rail system centered on Chicago that French National Railways, known by its French acronym, SNCF, filed recently with the Federal Railroad Administration.

... With Chicago's status as the nation's rail hub, the state's longtime subsidization of passenger rail and its unprecedented clout with the Obama administration, Illinois is considered likely to get a big chunk of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail to be disbursed soon, plus billions more expected in future years as Congress embraces one of the president's top priorities

Is it worth billions to improve rail traffic between Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Detroit? I don't think there's an objectively correct answer, but I vote yes. The European experience of moving more people more cheaply (and more quickly) by rail than by air, with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, shows that HSR can make a huge difference in a region. But Europe makes different choices than the U.S., and in a democracy it's permissible for one population to decide that its quality of life has a higher price than for another.

Still, two hours to St. Louis? Thirty minutes to Milwaukee? That would be cool.

Another minor navigation error

Technically yesterday's incident happened on a Northwest airplane, but since Delta owns Northwest now, and after last week's error, I'm wondering if the jokes from the 1990s about Delta's navigation abilities might not be coming back in earnest:

Today a Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 flight missed their destination of Minneapolis by 150 miles.

The flight crew said they became engrossed in a conversation about airline policy (and honestly, who couldn't?) and lost track of their location. However, the FAA is investigating if pilot fatigue played any roll in this event.

The flight from San Diego to Minneapolis had 144 passengers onboard and none of them were aware of what happened, until the aircraft was swarmed by police once they finally arrived. The police kept all passengers onboard until they were allowed to question the flight crew.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has more:

Military jets had been on standby to track down the jet after it dropped out of radio communication for about 75 minutes.

"When you hear that fighter jets were ready to scramble, that just gets you really mad," said passenger Scott Kennedy.

I certainly hope the next American Airlines flight reaches its proper destination...

Could have been worse

First, via AV Web, a report that a Delta 767 landed just a bit off the runway centerline returning from Rio de Janeiro Monday:

A couple of Delta Airlines pilots have been suspended after the Boeing 767 they were flying from Rio de Janeiro landed on a taxiway at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport early Monday morning. The FAA reported there were no other aircraft on the taxiway and the landing and rollout were normal. Spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the crew was dealing with a medical emergency on board and had been cleared for Runway 27R.

Instead, the crew landed on taxiway M, which runs parallel to the 12,000-foot runway. There was no indication that approach, runway or taxiway lights were malfunctioning. Taxiway landings occur from time to time, but Bergen told Atlanta media that she believes it was the first such incident in Atlanta.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more.

And this, from Tom Vanderbilt...well, good thing the pedestrian had a running start:

I guess the parking meter deal wasn't all that

Mayor Daley found another $500m hole in the city's budget this year, so he's proposing...nothing new:

Mayor Richard Daley unveils his new budget this morning, and he's going to call for spending more money from the controversial parking meter lease, slashing the tourism promotion budget and ending Chicago's longest-running public party, Venetian Night.

A key labor union that bankrolled challengers to Daley's council allies in the last election praised the mayor's decision to raid reserves from the $1.15 billion parking meter deal. The 75-year lease, which aldermen quickly approved last year, ushered in sharp rate increases at more than 36,000 public parking spots.

More than $400 million was used to balance this year's budget, records show. And the city already has announced plans to spend at least $146.3 million in privatization proceeds next year.

Remember that, even at a conservative discount rate, the $1.15bn parking meter deal was about $3bn too cheap. So we've given up 75 years of parking meter revenues worth $3bn in exchange for, what, about 6 years of partial operating revenue?

We also got some bad news from recent arrival Boeing, which lost $1.6bn last quarter:

Boeing, the world's second-largest commercial plane maker after Europe's Airbus, has struggled with a series of setbacks: Production problems have delayed its eagerly awaited 787 passenger aircraft and a bigger version of its 747 jumbo jet, resulting in charges from write-downs and penalties.

Those charges, which were expected, led the company to cut its 2009 profit forecast to $1.35 to $1.55 per share, down from $4.70 to $5 per share. Analysts had predicted $1.53.

On the other hand, today is probably the warmest day we've had in a month, and probably the warmest we'll have until next spring. So Parker and I will now go for a long walk.