The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Abnerdism

So I'm watching the opening moments of Lost, and my immediate thought is: That little 737-400 can't fly the way from Hawaii to Guam, it's only certified for ETOPS 120! And even if it were, it's only got a range of about 3500 miles at zero weight, and Hurley's on board....

Then my small intestine reaches up to strangle me, and I come to my senses, and think: Ooh, Eve Lilly....

All this proves that once a nerd, always a nerd, in so many ways.

Alternative to renting a car at the airport

All right, this is cool. Instead of worrying about how to get home from the airport, why not just take your car with you?

The Terrafugia Transition, the "roadable aircraft" that's attracted considerable attention at aviation shows in the last year, flew for the first time on March 5, and its makers say they've changed aviation as a result. "This breakthrough changes the world of personal mobility. Travel now becomes a hassle-free integrated land-air experience. It's what aviation enthusiasts have been striving for since 1918," said Carl Dietrich, CEO of Terrafugia. While most "flying car" concepts to date have incorporated detachable or trailerable wings, the Transition has electromechanical folding wings that convert the vehicle in 30 seconds. The company says production models will meet Light Sport specifications and be street legal.

It's important to note that "Light Sport" classification. If the pilot only has a light sport certificate, he or shee will be limited to daytime, VFR flying (though private or higher certificates with IFR endorsements are possible). And light sport aircraft are limited to 120 kts, though as a Cessna 172 pilot I have to say that's not a huge limitation.

Anyway, my first reaction to seeing this was: where can I get one?

Looking for the youtube link

The FAA has pulled a San Diego commercial pilot's certificate for the third time because of what we may charitably call "willful passenger interference:"

The video shows David Keith Martz, a professional pilot with a history of FAA violations, at the controls of his chopper over San Diego while fondling a porn actress, who then performs a sex act on him while he's flying.

The video, shot in 2007, first appeared Feb. 3 on the entertainment website TMZ.com and has gone viral since.

Along with the video, TMZ reported that someone had sent the FAA an e-mail about the episode, including photos of Martz fondling the porn actress – who goes by the name Puma Swede – in flight.

Um. Well. Speaking as a private pilot, I can say that sort of thing doesn't happen in my experience. Maybe I should start flying helicopters.

As to what violation he committed—the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) don't seem to address this particular set of circumstances, after all—"the FAA claims [the video] shows the pilot was blocked from the helicopter's controls by the woman's body" which, I think we have to say, is covered by FAR 91.13, "Careless or Reckless Operation." The moral is, of course, take care not to endanger the life or property of another while operating an aircraft with Puma Swede in the cockpit.

American Airlines partner oddities

I fly frequently, more often as a "revpax" (revenue passenger) than as pilot. And I've mentioned before, given the two full-service options in Chicago (American and United), I long ago chose American as my preferred carrier. I have, in fact, been a member of their frequent-flyer program since 1988.

American is one of the two lynchpins of the oneworld alliance (typography and letter casing theirs), the other being British Airways. Only, they seem to hate each other's customers.

Exhibit: neither's customers can use or earn miles on the other's trans-Atlantic routes. Chicago to London? No choice, if you want your 3,953 elite-qualifying miles each way. Because miles are reedemable for travel and upgrades at up to 2c per (e.g., 25,000 miles for a round-trip domestic ticket that would otherwise cost $500), and elite miles are particularly valuable, BA's fare needs to be almost $100 less, all things equal, to make it worthwhile to fly the other airline.

OK, so I get that there are regulatory issues and other things they're taking into account. But I can hop a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo and earn the same number of miles I can earn on a competing AA flight. So what gives?

It's even more peculiar when you start flying on BA flights on "domestic" European routes. Now it starts to annoy me.

Later this spring I'm flying to a European city to which the only reasonable connection is through Heathrow, and because it's a discount ticket, I'm only earning 25% of the miles flown for the trip. I could, of course, upgrade to a full-fare economy ticket for, oh, £200; but that's really not cost-effective, now, is it? I only discovered this by reading the fine print yesterday.

My conclusion will have to be, avoid BA flights when an alternative routing exists on another oneworld carrier. For example, to the place I'm going this spring, I could have flown American to another major European city and flown on Malév, Finnair, or Iberia, and gotten 100% mileage credit—and more miles to boot, because the routing is farther.

So again, why does British Airways not want American Airlines customers? Or is it American that doesn't want me flying BA?

Ryanair: The Dick's Last Resort of airlines

Economist business-travel blogger Gulliver reports on British airline Ryanair's customer-service standards:

Jason Roe is an Irish blogger who noticed what he thought was a bug on Ryanair's website. The price of the flights he was trying to book changed when he accidentally went into the voucher section. Thinking he had found a way to beat the budget airline's credit-card fee, he duly blogged about it—and in so doing unleashed hell. The tenth commenter on his blog was "Ryanair Staff #1"...

As Travolution, another blog, noted, "We have seen the IP addresses of the commenters and they all trace back to Ryanair HQ". It seems Ryanair's employees are referring to a blogger, on his blog and in their company's name, as an idiot, a liar and a man with a "pathetic life".

Travolution followed the matter up with Ryanair and got this confirmation from a spokesman:

"Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion.

"It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won't be happening again.

"Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel."

Ryanair's CEO then went on to suggest adding pay-to-go coin boxes on his airplanes' lavatory doors.

I'll just keep flying oneworld carriers, thanks.

Update: Lots more over at Travolution.

Please, I beg you, not here

British airline Ryanair has a pilot program allowing cell phones in flight. One hopes, if this comes to the U.S., for special "quiet" areas:

Within six months 50 planes will be kitted out. If it proves popular, the service will be rolled out across the whole 170-strong fleet.

Passengers will be able to make and receive calls for €2-3 ($2.50-3.80) per minute, send and receive text messages (50c plus) and use e-mail (€1-2).

... To be fair to Ryanair, it does not claim to be anything other than a noisy shop in the sky. So a new noisy service that earns money is in keeping with its ethos. As Mr O'Leary said: “You don't take a flight to contemplate your life in silence. Our services are not cathedral-like sanctuaries. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things."

You may not like Mr O'Leary's approach, or his plane's interiors, but it's hard not to admire his honesty.

Combine cell phones with the unexpected silence inside the new Airbus A380, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets his cell phone stuffed in an awkward place by his fellow passengers.

How I spent my Presidents Day weekend

Very little of it involved watching planes land, but this was damn cool to see:

That's what a 757 looks like when it lands on your head. In this case I was standing about 30 m from the edge of runway 10 at Princess Juliana Airport (SXM), Sint Maarten. I'll have more from the trip later this week.

Update: I forgot to mention, Sint Maarten was almost, but not quite, as fun as the Presidents Day Bash used to be. Hard to believe it's been five years...

Out of the office

I was traveling yesterday, which prevented me from commenting on Lincoln's 200th Birthday, Darwin's 200th birthday, and the NAACP centennial. All three events deserved recognition, but fortunately, the other seven million bloggers in the U.S. covered them just fine.

As for the travel, I have only once in my life gone someplace just because it was warmer than Chicago; today, briefly, I'm back in the same place. Tonight I press on to the Mecca (or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, depending on which monotheistic faith you follow) of aviation; photos and description to follow, I hope next week. Also, I'll be accepting donations of spare livers on Tuesday as I expect mine will need replacing by then. That is, if I ever drink again, which this afternoon seems unlikely.

Right now, though, it's 1°C in Chicago and 27°C here, so I'm going back outside now.

WSJ on why you can't donate airline tickets to charity

Quick note, via the Chicago Tribune Daywatch, the Wall Street Journal today has a mildly-interesting article on why you can usually donate frequent-flier miles but not actual tickets. Hint: the miles don't have your name on them:

As much as $2 billion worth of nonrefundable airline tickets expire every year without being used, but those who want to give them to charities rather than throw them away are grounded with only good intentions.

Most airlines make their tickets "nontransferable" to protect their fare structures and maintain control of their inventory. Otherwise, entrepreneurs might hoard cheap tickets and then resell them at higher prices closer to departure. Or big companies might buy up a batch of cheap tickets for frequently traveled routes and then assign them to business travelers when trips are planned.

Travelers can fly later on their unused tickets by applying the value of the ticket to another trip to any destination after deducting change fees. But most airlines require the new ticket to be in the original passenger's name. Alaska Airlines is one notable exception that does allow customers to transfer the dollar value of a ticket to anyone after paying a $100 change fee.

... A spokesman for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines said the carrier thinks [donating tickets to charity is] a great idea, but too complex. "The problem with ticket transfers of any type is the potential for resale of tickets, other types of fraud, and other complex security issues," he said.

Given that many carriers still use the Saabre system, developed by AMR in the 1970s and 1980s, I don't doubt the complexity.

President's first homecoming: flight restrictions

The President will visit Chicago Friday for the first time since taking office. As I've speculated before, he brings with him a temporary flight restriction (TFR) affecting the second-busiest airspace in the world:

ALL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS WITHIN THE 10 NMR AREA LISTED ABOVE, KNOWN AS THE INNER CORE, ARE PROHIBITED EXCEPT FOR: APPROVED LAW ENFORCEMENT, MILITARY AIRCRAFT DIRECTLY SUPPORTING THE UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE (USSS) AND THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, APPROVED AIR AMBULANCE FLIGHTS, AND REGULARLY SCHEDULED COMMERCIAL PASSENGER...FLIGHTS....

(The shouting capitals come free from the FAA.)

Notice, on the map below, that Midway Airport is within the 10-mile circle, and my home airport, Chicago Executive (and O'Hare) is within the 30-mile ring:

The TFR prohibits flight training within the 30-mile ring, too, but planes can depart on a discrete transponder code and fly to another airport to practice landings.

Welcome home, Mr. President. I'm glad I'm not flying this weekend.