Tag Archives: Flew
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I admit it’s been a year.
I’d avoided the airline a little on my travels, but it was time to try again.
Gingerly, then, I booked an Economy Class ticket from San Francisco to Miami and then paid another $ 90 for an exit row seat.
Because, well, it’s a relatively long flight and, for some odd reason, the airline claimed it was flying a Boeing 767.
Airlines are mostly sending these old beasts to the Arizona pastures — or, perhaps, to marginal billionaires who build tasteless castles in Arizona pastures.
These planes, though, used to offer something so lacking in the latest models: air.
They’re wide-bodied, so you can at least fool yourself into believing there’s more space.
I used to go out of my way to fly American to New York when they flew 767’s there.
Things have changed. Now you are the sardine and the airline is the can-I-make-a-bigger-profit.
Would this be a strange throwback to a forgotten time?
Waiting For Godot-ful Disaster.
Flying involves worrying. Before you do the actual flying, that is.
When it comes to American, one of the primary concerns is whether the flight will be delayed more or less than Brexit.
Yet, as the day and the hour approached, no message from American that the plane was out of action, I’d be reseated on a narrowbody bus and driven to Miami.
I arrived at San Francisco airport. The luggage tag machines were working, The man at the bag drop even smiled and made a joke about my name. (If you don’t make a joke about my name, what is wrong with you?)
Still, I wasn’t comfortable. This thing was going to go wrong. It was just a question of how, how badly and when.
The departure board didn’t twitch. It was as if it had smoked a decent brand of THC pot.
Boarding was announced on time. People didn’t even crowd the gate area to distraction. This bordered on the haunting.
Who, though, would I have sitting next to me? That can make a flight enjoyable or dip it into unbearable.
My seatmate was on his phone. He ran a tech company. He needed one of his employees to know just how much he sympathized with her problem.
His drippingly unctuous tone told me that he was unlikely to do anything about it.
I sat down in my window seat and the first shock hit me.
Waiting For Bad News To Bear.
Yes, the tray tables were as yellow as a smoker’s teeth. The seats, too, looked like they’d supported a thousand passengers and ten thousand hurried cleanings too many.
As I lounged tentatively, an announcement from the cabin crew.
Here it was, the bad news. It had to be bad news:
Welcome on board, ladies and gentlemen. This is NOT a full flight, so you should have plenty of room to store your bags and stretch out.
My mouth opened, my jaw seized up and my eyebrows began to vibrate.
I can’t remember the last time I heard such an announcement.
So many times I’ve been on flights that were patently not full, yet the cabin crew announced this was a full flight and please think about checking your carry-ons, before we confiscate them and sell them on eBay.
Yet here was American Airlines being honest?
Suddenly, we were pushing back. The tech type next to me was still bleating into his phone.
No one came to admonish him. I tried to give him a sly glare.
He finally got off the call and began to furiously type into his phone. Perhaps these were his self-help notes, I’ve no idea.
And then we were in the air.
Wait, we were on time? It seemed like it.
After a few minutes, it was the pilot’s turn to make an announcement:
There’s normally a lot of planes lining up for takeoff, but when we got to the runway, there was no one there. So we took off. Looks like we’ll be in Miami at least 30 minutes early.
This was beginning to feel like a parallel universe. I had descended into some weird time warp. Had I inadvertently inhaled some of that THC?
Now It Was Going To Be Ruined.
Oh, but then my seat-mate began to eat lunch. A vigorous eater of a carry-on salad, he was. And goodness did his elbow jab into my ribs with every jerk of his plastic knife.
Did he say sorry?
Did I mention he was a tech type?
This is where it would all go wrong. I felt sure that, once he’d finished his lunch, out would come the laptop and in would go his elbow to my ribs for the rest of the flight.
I was mostly right. His MacBook came out. What was surreal is that, unlike most self-important men I’ve sat next to on planes, his elbows stayed in.
Not once in the next several hours did he jab me again. It was almost as if, having satisfied an employee with platitudes and his hunger with a salad, he became fully sentient.
Meanwhile, the cabin service was efficient, if not effusive. Just like the biscotti-type things they handed out.
The Flight Attendants performed their duties and then disappeared.
I leaned into my slightly dreary Canadian detective novel — I refuse to work on planes, save in an emergency — stretched my legs right out and wallowed in a peculiar calm.
American Airlines Really Let Me Down.
We didn’t have to divert to Albuquerque because of an engine problem.
My seatmate had excellent noise-canceling headphones, the sort that truly are silent.
A baby trying crying a couple of times and then realized that so much attention-seeking just wasn’t going to work.
The whole thing was eerily tolerable, verging on the pleasant. It was like a blind date that involved easy conversation and even a kiss at the end.
We were at the gate almost an hour ahead of schedule.
This was as close to perfect as I could have conceived.
Even my bag came out quickly, which anyone who’s ever flown into Miami knows is a bizarre event.
I walked away, talking to myself. I try to do it quietly.
I only had one thought: American Airlines, you really let me down. I could find nothing to complain about, because it felt like flying from a few years ago.
The pilots couldn’t even muster any turbulence.
How lovely it is when nothing goes wrong with a flight. And how relatively rare that seems to be these days, especially if you’re flying in the back.
When the airline, the staff and the passengers all conspire to make it a pleasant experience, flying can be genuinely relaxing.
If only these three could conspire to make it happen more often.
Most of the time, passengers on Turkish Airlines Flight 800, flying from Panama City to Istanbul, can look down on Puerto Rico just after takeoff, then the blue of the Atlantic Ocean for a few hours, then Southern France and Northern Italy before arcing south over Greece and touching down. But those who made the trip on Sunday got a view of a very different set of locales: Cuba, then the eastern coast of the United States and the southern tips of Greenland and Norway, finally reaching the Turkish city by way of Poland and Romania.
Compared to the “great circle distance” between the two airports (meaning the shortest path) of 6,739 miles, Flight 800 traveled 7,553 miles, according to aviation tracking site FlightRadar24. That’s an extra 814 miles. And while it takes two and a half hours to fly the same distance from New York City to Jacksonville, Florida, the Turkish Airlines Airbus A330 took just 27 minutes longer than average, and landed just 11 minutes after its scheduled arrival time, per FlightStats.com. By airline standards, that counts as officially on time.
Bananas, right? Not so much.
“From an air traffic control perspective, it’s not unusual,” says Sid McGuirk, chair of the Department of Applied Aviation Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Especially not once you take a look at the weather conditions at the time. When the Airbus A330 jet was getting ready to unglue from the tarmac in Panama, the jet stream over the Labrador Sea was blowing something fierce. As the plane tracked north along the Eastern Seaboard, it was flying around 540 mph, its standard cruising speed. When it caught the wind, however, its speed surged, peaking at 700 mph—without burning any more jet fuel than usual.
“Sometimes we go way out of the way, for one reason or another,” says says Doug Moss, a commercial pilot and aviation consultant. Why? Because economics. Airlines operate on thin profit margins, so letting wind do the work usually done by expensive jet fuel is a no-brainer. And wind can do a lot of work: In January, a Norwegian Air 787 set a speed record for non-supersonic commercial aircraft thanks to a 202-mph tailwind, flying from New York’s JFK to London’s Gatwick in 5 hours and 13 minutes. But they also have to consider factors like overflight fees, the tolls set by countries for the right to zip through their airspace (in the US, it’s $ 60.07).
Of course, saving money on the flight only works if the plane doesn’t land so late, its passengers miss their connections, and the airline has to put everyone up in a hotel for the night. Keep doing it, and the carrier risks driving away future customers with poor on time performance. And while flying slowly saves fuel, it also means putting more time on the aircraft, and shortening the time before it has to be grounded for mandatory maintenance. (Turkish Airlines did not immediately reply to questions about this flight.)
“The computer goes through essentially a Monte Carlo simulation, and it looks at all the possible routes available,” Moss says. “It’ll run probably a thousand different scenarios, and it’ll pick the one that’s the cheapest.”
Such ever-changing conditions are the reason Singapore Airlines Flight 22, from New York to Singapore, can make the trip along one of three general routes: over the Pacific, over the Atlantic, or over the North Pole. And why Air India flies east from Delhi to San Francisco—and east from San Francisco to Delhi.
And while the folks flying on Turkish Airlines Flight 800 may have wondered why they could see Norwegian fjords on their trip from Panama to Istanbul, they probably stopped caring once they touched down, safely and on time.
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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I tried to be fair.
I booked flights at more or less the same time, in the same class.
In the case of Delta Air Lines, it was its Delta One Class. In United’s case, it was Business Class.
How similar would they be? Would Delta confirm its reputation as the best and most comfortable of the big airlines? Would United take one look at me and decide I was an undesirable?
The route was San Francisco to New York and back again.
Delta One Means You’re All Alone.
I began with Delta and an early-morning flight.
Delta suffers in San Francisco from having to endure a dingy, desperate Terminal 1. It’s the terminal that time didn’t merely forget, but never liked at all.
At the first coffee place I stopped at, they serve only black coffee. They claimed not to even have milk.
I noticed also that the cabin crew seemed to arrive very shortly before passengers began boarding. Where had they been? Would they have time to prepare themselves?
Yet when I boarded the flight, I had a very pleasant surprise.
My seat was by a window and there was no one seated next to me. Because there was no seat next to me.
In this Boeing 767 configuration, window seats are lone seats with a substantial area to the side for placing your laptop, books, magazines, knitting, emotional support squirrel or whatever you happen to enjoy on a plane.
This is, of course, wonderful if you’re flying alone, as I was. It’s less wonderful if you’re traveling with someone, as neither of you will be able to have a window seat.
You’ll have to sit in the middle.
I’d pre-ordered breakfast, which was a simple, pleasant, cold affair with generous helpings of cheese and fruit.
The service, though, was efficient rather than warm.
The entertainment system offered a large screen and the lie-flat bed was, well, who doesn’t want a lie-flat bed on a cross-country flight? This one was perfectly comfortable.
The flight, though, had one little drawback.
There was a family of three. Dad was right behind me. Mom and highly entitled child were in the middle seats in his row.
Their form of communication involved shouting to each other across the aisle. Yes, they were from New York.
It’s easy to forget that the behavior of just one passenger can affect your flight. The only thing that saved me here was putting on my headphones and watching episode after episode of a wonderfully improbable and suitablly dramatic BBC series called The Split.
The flight was on time. Delta stuck to its promise of getting the bags out quickly. The whole thing was really quite pleasant.
United Airlines. Wait, What Just Happened?
There’d been a little hiccup the day before my flight back home.
United had emailed me to tell me my flight might be delayed by up to 30 hours. The email arrived the night before the flight.
So my biggest concern was whether the flight would be on time.
Arriving at Newark at an ungodly hour, I was met by an extremely pleasant United Airlines check-in agent. Far more friendly, indeed, than the one I’d encountered at Delta.
Yes, she said, the flight was on time.
It did, indeed, board on schedule. Moreover, United’s terminal at Newark is curiously bright and airy place. I confess I rather liked being there.
Yet United’s Business Class isn’t quite Delta One. On this Boeing 777, there were eight seats across the plane.
I was seated next to someone who, if he hadn’t been a decent human, might easily have taken over the whole armrest we shared.
He was a decently large human, you see and the armrest wasn’t too wide.
The proximity was jarring when compared with Delta.
The biggest surprise, though, was the service. The attitude of the Flight Attendants — one woman in particular — was a marked contrast to Delta’s slightly chilly efficiency.
United’s Flight Attendants offered a rare warmth. It was as if they’d just come out of remedial training and had been infused with the need to project humanity.
For first thing in the morning, their attitude came across as genuine.
At one point, the female Flight Attendant saw that I was finished with my New York Times and said, with wit infused: “You haven’t done the crosswords, have you?”
Crosswords? Me? Lord, no. I have enough words in my regular life.
She was relieved, as she was one of those crossword people and really needed my paper.
This was my biggest and most pleasant surprise.
From check-in to in-flight, United’s personnel exuded far greater warmth than Delta’s. It made the experience just that little bit more pleasant.
In customer service, it’s always the little things.