This Week’s Losers: Transportation, Part 1

Well, that sums it up. It is a bad week for transportation. Asiana Flight 214 has a horrific massive crash landing over San Francisco International Airport’s runway. Canadians officials are still putting out fires from a run away train carrying crude oil, forcing 2000 people to evacuate.

Maybe it is because I travel often, especially on a variety of airlines, but I am completely glued to the coverage about Asiana. While I never flew Asiana, I want to point out the airline has won many accolades as a top airline. They led the industry in prohibiting smoking in flights, and being proactive in environmental measures, almost an oxymoronic concept in the airline business. Their awards come from many reputable travel magazines like Air Transport World (2009 Airline of the Year, one of the most prestigious titles), Skytrax (2010 Best Airline, 2011 and 2012 runner up after Qatar).

Many of us who fly often like to compare Boeing and Airbus. Personally, I like Boeing much more. While the likely cause is the superficial internal mountings, the rattling I sense from Airbus unnerves me. I feel Boeing is a much more solid plane..  sort of like the comparison between the heavier metal German cars and the lightweight Japanese models. Despite the issues with Boeing’s new line of 787s, the 777s are considered one of the best in the world with amazing state of the art technology on board that assist and even take over the pilot’s job. Including self-landing.

I want to stop for a minute to say I am neither a pilot or plane fanatic. I dread boarding planes unless I manage to upgrade myself. I have had to fly on small charter planes and I will gladly take a sleeping pill to not live through those flights again. Nor am I a safety fanatic. I don’t track safety records and numbers.. I don’t want to bother myself with such worries. So everything I share is what I consider laymen’s information, things any average passenger will encounter or read about.

So, all that said, it’s still too early to know what happened to Flight 214. It is especially easy to speculate based the released information about the pilot’s experience, and the video of the landing.

Between the background information for Asiana and Boeing.. I want to point out that commercial air travel is one of the safest forms of travel. I do concede that the plane crashes are much more catastrophic, especially aided by visual technology. I can see how not actually understanding the mechanics let alone being in control of a vehicle as one would driving, adds to the sense of powerlessness on the passenger’s part.

Think about this:

– About 50,000 planes fly each day all over the world- Those planes average 3 million passengers
– London Heathrow daily volume with a mere two run ways: 1200 movements
– Chicago O’Hare daily volume: 2400
– San Francisco daily volume: 1100

All those pilots, all those planes.. how often do you hear about incidents?

My heart goes out to the survivors, as many of them fight to live and more to recover.

My heart breaks for the pilots. The senior pilot’s information has been broadcasted the most. 10,000 hours of flight time, assuming an 8-hour shift, is average 1250 flights, likely more with shorter flights. Over 400 days of continuous flying. That’s an extremely experienced pilot and crew. One disastrous flight, and he and his crew may never fly again. Even if they can professionally, this cloud will forever be over their heads. How to live with that, will take such strength many of us never tested for.

I am more likely to be skittish going into a hotel room than to board a plane. I, for one, will continue to fly. I hope you all will, too.

Snow and Heathrow.. ouch

It’s been a while since I was at the airport, staring dumbly at the departures board, watching flights get canceled. I was did just that in January, at Heathrow.

I should have known something was wrong when I couldn’t, from the night before, until I got on the bus to the airport, check in on-line, when I never had a problem before. The notice came to my email about 2 hours before scheduled flight time, when I should have been checked in and past immigration at the airport.

I rebooked to the last flight out, but the desk agent warned me that the flight schedule was not looking good. Sure enough, after four hours in the lounge, I saw my flight canceled. I know it’s snowing- I’m watching the plowing through the window. But, surely, while the snow fall was more than “flurries” it isn’t, in my New Englander experience, considered “heavy.”

What was most disturbing was British Airways was the only airline canceling. All the other flights were taking off. Few with much delay. Don’t tell me BA pilots don’t know how to fly in inclement weather… if that were the case, I would seriously question the quality of the airline.

I couldn’t resist. I asked the customer service agent what the problem was.

I never thought I’d be so relieved to hear this explanation:

Because Heathrow’s landing and take off slots are so tight, the inclement weather slows down the throughput. As a result, British Airways, the major and local airline takes the brunt of the cancellations.

So, tucked that little bit of knowledge for my future planning and had a full refund issued for my canceled trip. Lesson: In the winter, fly foreign airlines out of Heathrow.

Tired Traveller’s Rant: Do’s and Don’ts of plane travel

I never bothered to count how much time I spent on plane travel.. part of my doesn’t want to because I suspect it’s a horrifying statistic I couldn’t consider a matter of pride.

But I have accumulated a list of what I consider good plane etiquette. What do you think? Agree or disagree? Add more?

– If you carry a shoulder bag, duffel, or backpack by one strap, don’t let it flap back and forth into the faces of people sitting in the aisle seats. Seriously. Enough, already.

– Don’t hoard the overhead space. It slows down boarding and your inability to condense your belongings is more your laziness than it should be other peoples’ problem. And for the love of.. don’t throw your bag up at the beginning of the cabin when you sit all the way in the back. Keep your luggage stored close to your seat.

– Don’t assume your smaller seat neighbor is OK with you taking up more room. The airline seats are small and uncomfortable for everyone. Your seatmate paid for a seat, not a portion of a seat. Your issue is with the airline, not the passenger.

– Don’t abuse the pre-boarding for families with children policy. I’ve noticed the airline agents starting to clarify the definition of “small children” over the last couple of years. Your 10 year old son is capable of taking care of himself.  Your teen daughter is younger and stronger than the average adult passenger and can also carry your bags for you as well as her own.

– Watch the safety video/demonstration. Studies show people who are routinely attentive to emergency announcements are those most capable of reacting immediately in the event of an incident. As much as many of us like to think we can be heroes, a majority of us just freeze. So next time, give the flight attendants some due respect for their job and just pay attention. Or at least  pipe down and put the newspaper aside so it doesn’t block others’ view.

– Do shut off the mobile and shut up.  And keep it off until the plane has parked at the arrival gate.

– Do close your window shades at least part way during the flight. The glare is annoying on the video screens.

– Do take a bath before you fly. Surprisingly, some of the worse offenders of BO actually were in business class. If you can afford a $3000+ business class ticket, you can afford an 15¢ bar of soap.

All Aboard! The Biiiiiiiiiiig Apple!

New Yawhk Citee! It’s an obvious East Coast stop, and a required one. Most west-bound trains leave from NYC. I never tire of New York City. I am not sure if I would live here, but as a visitor I have never been in want of anything.

The commuter train I took into the city was packed. As any train going into NYC, I suppose. I’ve taken the Accela before, but this is a regional. It’s comfortable enough. Seats recline slightly. Leg room is not lacking, not where you desperately beg for the premium economy for an extra 3 inches of space they call “six.” The quiet cars are not truly quiet, but people know to keep their mobile conversations at a lower tone. No one talks to each other, only to the mobile. The demographic ranged the entire spectrum from a very neatly dressed elderly woman to thoroughly pierced teenagers holding their skateboards. Not many sported large heavy suitcases such as mine, making luggage storage space a little easier to claim.

Highlights of the city I enjoyed that evening:
Chicago musicale. Broadway enthralls me. I am a big fan of musicales. Living in Asia has deprived me of this entertainment venue for too long. I am a bit surprised that I’ve never seen this particular one, especially since I lived in Chicago for a while. Maybe I just didn’t remember seeing it, the memory of the movie having overtaken any recollection. Oi. I am getting old.

– The world is crazy about Serendipity on E 60th Street and its froze hot chocolate. As for me, I prefer the larger neighbour, Dylan’s Candy Bar, and its hot chocolate selection, made of real rich chocolate chips. There is no shortage of chocolatiers in the city, but Dylan’s hot chocolate is a bargain compared to the specialty stores. (Skip the store, though. The ice cream parlor is the part worth a visit)

– Some random closing camera store. Going out of business. That’s when you started seeing photos from me using the Nikon D5100…

My stopover was very brief. Really just a night’s sleep before the next leg of the train ride.. a tortuous uncomfortable red-eye.