The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Smith on Air France 449

I somehow missed this last week:

The first officers at the controls of Air France 447 (the captain was initially on his rest break when the troubles began) were not apprentices. They were fully rated, Airbus A330 pilots with thousands of hours of experience. Of course they were trained in "manual aircraft handling"! And yet again we have the suggestion that a "manually" flown plane is some sort of oddity, and that pilots aren't used to it. This is bollocks.

That the pilots lacked this training is worthy of some focus. Jetliners behave very differently at upper altitudes. It's a less forgiving, less stable realm, and high-altitude stalls are extremely dangerous. But all pilots understand these principles, and would be expected to fall back on basic flying skills. In any case, it may not have made any difference. The crew reacted improperly, it seems, in the throes of a high-altitude stall, turning a difficult situation into a catastrophic one. But consider the circumstances: They were dealing with multiple critical failures, in violent weather, in darkness.

"The crew was left attempting to recover their aircraft in heavy weather while their primary displays were constantly going blank and resetting," says Dave White, a former Airbus captain. "One imagines how confusing the cockpit must have been with all the malfunctions -- and, consequently, no idea what instruments to trust. I question the unstated assumption that the crew was seeing the same data that the flight data recorder was getting. I would also like to know if the mishap aircraft was showing even basic attitude data to the crew. It is possible those displays were also blanking out during the descent -- or providing erroneous data. In my opinion, hardware and software failures resulted in a situation that perhaps no crew would be able to recover from. This was a design accident, not a pilot error accident."

This is not the first time the BEA blamed pilots when the Airbus software might have contributed more, by the way.

All fixed now

Yesterday, when I talked about American's new pricing tool, it didn't produce any results for me. Today, it seems to be working.

Chicago to San Francisco, August 20-24, costs 26,000 miles using the dynamic tool but 32,500 miles using the regular tool. Searching September 3-7 got me to 25,000 miles through a regular award and 24,000 miles dynamically.

So, no really huge savings (at least with my pathetic sample size), and you have to use both tools simultaneously to see the deals. Also, their regular tool allows you to look at an entire month of prices at once.

I hope the tool improves. It's a great idea, but it's not really ready for the world yet.

New American Airlines pricing algorithm

This is cool. American Airlines now offers frequent-flyer trips to U.S. elite members (those who fly more than 40,000 km per year) at demand-based costs. This means, instead of costing a flat 25,000 miles per round-trip, elite members will be able to book trips for less if the flights have lower demand—or more, if there's more demand:

Dynamic Air awards are an enhancement to our existing flight award offerings, providing AAdvantage® elite status members with a range of flight redemption options below the AAnytime® award level. The amount of miles required for a Dynamic Air award is based on published fares, so award levels will vary as fares vary. MileSAAver® and AAnytime® awards are still available at

I poked around. The Dynamic Air awards go through a different Web application than their main reservations system, so it's hard to compare directly. And there are some annoyances. Well, one big annoyance: there doesn't seem to be any flights.

For Chicago to San Francisco the weekend of September 3rd, flying out Saturday and back on Tuesday, there were no flights with dynamic pricing. Nor for the next weekend. Nor the next. Chicago to Raleigh? Nope. Des Moines? Nope. LaGuardia? Uh-uh.

What about short-notice flights? LaGuardia, the weekend after next? Nada.

Using the main reservations system, which displays a grid of dates and award types, showed ordinary 25,000-mile awards for most of the options above—even for Chicago to LaGuardia leaving today.

I'll play with this new system a bit more, but at the moment it looks like it's in late Beta. Pity, it sounds like a really cool idea.

A decision has been decided


Two things about this of interest to travelers: First, because it's a frequent-flyer miles purchase, I can hold the reservation without fully committing for a week. So, if something changes before the 3rd, I'm not out anything. Second: as much as the Congressional Republicans boggle my mind, and as much as I wish they'd shut up for ten seconds and reauthorize the FAA, their idiocy is my gain. Instead of the usual expensive tax I'd have to pay to the US for a premium frequent-flyer ticket, I only have to pay Japanese taxes of about $50.

Arigato gozaimas, Congress.

Still pondering travel

I mentioned yesterday morning needing to blow some frequent-flyer miles this autumn. So far, I've whittled the list down to Scotland, Budapest, Madrid, and Tokyo. (It turns out Canada only costs 30,000 miles round-trip, so I might just go to Montréal for a weekend instead of making a big thing about it.)

Any other places people would strongly recommend for a 4- or 5-day trip in late November or early December?

(If you're wondering why I care about this in July, then obviously you haven't tried to book an international flight on partner airlines using miles before. American has sold out all of its discounted business-class and most discounted economy-class seats to Paris between Thanksgiving and New Year's, for example.)

The benefits of flying frequently

I'm looking for community input.

Mostly because of business travel, but also because I have signed up for almost every reward program that American Airlines offers, this year I expect to earn around 200,000 frequent-flyer miles. I need to spend them. And when best to spend them then off-season, in late November or early December, when people aren't traveling much?

But where to go? American and its partner oneworld carriers fly non-stop from Chicago to about 95 destinations, ranging in distance from Milwaukee to Delhi, India.

So here are my rules for this long weekend in November or December: the destination must be 12 hours total flying time or closer; outside the Lower 48; avoid the infamous Newark-to-Kennedy connection that American loves to inflict on people using miles; no visa requirement; and nowhere I've been before. Oh, and it has to be somewhere I actually want to go.

Here's the preliminary list, with non-stop flights from Chicago listed first:

  • Amman, Jordan
  • Calgary, Alb.
  • Cancún, Mexico
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Manchester, U.K. (i.e., Scotland)
  • México City
  • Montréal
  • Ottawa
  • Tokyo
  • Toronto
  • Bucharest, Romania (x LHR)
  • Budapest, Hungary (x JFK)
  • Buenos Aires (x MIA)
  • Curação (x MIA)
  • Copenhagen, Denmark (x LHR)
  • Honolulu (x LAX)
  • Panama City (x MIA)
  • Quito, Ecuador (x MIA)
  • San Jose, Costa Rica (x DFW)
  • San Jose Cabo, Mexico (x LAX)
  • Santiago, Chile (x JFK)
  • Stockholm, Sweden (x LHR)
  • Tel Aviv, Israel (x LHR)
  • Vienna, Austria (x LHR)
  • Zurich, Switzerland (x JFK)

(I'm leaning towards the places in bold.) Thoughts?

Historic airplane lost outside Chicago

A B-17 bomber built during World War II crashed today and was completely destroyed by a post-crash fire. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. Unfortunately, the 67-year-old airplane, restored to flying condition just a few years ago, was a total loss:

The B-17, christened the "Liberty Belle," took off from the airport at 9:30 a.m. and made an emergency landing in a cornfield near Highway 71 and Minkler Road in Oswego after the pilot reported an engine fire, according to Sugar Grove Fire Chief Marty Kunkle. Witnesses said he set the plane down between a tower and a line of trees.

One person on the plane was treated at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora and released, hospital spokeswoman Courtney Satlak said.

The plane was one of the world's last surviving WWII bombers. The article had more on its history:

The plane that crashed was manufactured in 1944. It was sold on June 25, 1947 as scrap to Esperado Mining Co. of Altus, Okla. and was sold again later that year to Pratt & Whitney for $2,700, according to the foundation's website.

Whitney operated the B-17 from Nov. 19, 1947 to 1967 to test turboprop engines. It was donated in the late 1960s to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic Association in East Hartford, but was heavily damaged in 1979 when a tornado threw another aircraft against the B-17’s mid-section, breaking the fuselage, the foundation said.