Tag: Airplanes

Airlines Channel La-Z-Boy to Cut Costs

crowded airplane seats Photo by irishflyguy via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by irishflyguy via Flickr (Creative Commons)

As more and more premium passengers move to coach, airlines are desperately trying to find ways to reduce costs and update their fleets. The latest experiment: reducing seat pitch (the distance between a point in your seat and the same point in the one behind you) to make room for a dozen or so extra passengers.

American Airlines assured Travel Weekly that the seats should seem roomier in spite of adjustments to cram in even more. A spokesman described the new sliding feature to preserve legroom “like a La-Z-Boy recliner.” Just, you know, wedged in between 159 other recliners.


Rising Fuel Prices, the Paris Air Show and More

Rising Fuel Prices, the Paris Air Show and More Photo by Clinton Steeds, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Clinton Steeds, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s the fuel bill to fly a 757-200 across the country, from New York to Los Angeles?

About $21,600.

That, at least, was the cost of the fuel burned on a recent transcontinental Delta flight I was on, according to the flight’s captain. Out of 7,500 gallons of fuel on board, we burned about 6,760 gallons.

Clearly, the price of fuel is hugely important for airlines. And rising prices aren’t helping.

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The Secret World of Airline Food

The Secret World of Airline Food Photo by avlxyz via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by avlxyz via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A friend of mine recently recalled a story about booking a trans-Atlantic flight for someone else. She was gleeful about it. That’s because she pre-ordered the “kid’s meal” for her adult friend.

I laughed out loud when I heard about it, imagining an airline attendant setting down a colorful “Happy Meal”-like box in front of a grown man, saying, “Here is your children’s meal, sir.” Inside the box, he was likely to find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a pack of M&Ms and, perhaps, some French fries. Which might actually be better than the glop we’re usually relegated to eating on airplanes.

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New Travel Book: ‘The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel’

Most of us who fly are curious: we want to know how the system that is transporting us from our homes to a new destination works, and there may be no system more opaque than air travel. For those of us who want to not only understand the system, but also figure out how to get the best deals, I highly recommend Scott McCartney’s latest book, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel. (You can read my interview with McCartney, the Journal’s Middle Seat columnist, here.)

At first glance, a book advertising “power travel” may seem not to appeal to someone who, in the spirit of World Hum, is probably less interested in “powering” through a travel experience than trying to enjoy every moment of the journey. But we all have a desire to get through the air travel segment as efficiently and cheaply as possible, and I love the way this book explains the complicated world of air travel.

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Interview With Scott McCartney: Author of ‘The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel’

Photo by Hodges Photographers

Scott McCartney, who writes the popular Middle Seat column for The Wall Street Journal, has a new book out with an enticing subtitle: The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel: How to Arrive With Your Dignity, Sanity, and Wallet Intact.

The book, which provides a look inside almost all aspects of the airline industry, is full of great advice on how to navigate air travel today. I’ll have my review of the book in a forthcoming item here, but in the meantime, I caught up with McCartney, who is also a licensed private pilot, via email to ask him a few questions.

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The Wi-Fi-in-the-Sky Wars

The Wi-Fi-in-the-Sky Wars Photo by Marc Smith, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Marc Smith, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

AirTran fired off a powerful volley this week in the competition between airlines to provide wireless internet access on flights. It kicked the service off with a flight on Tuesday, and says that all 136 of its planes will have Wi-Fi by the end of July, making it, as USA Today reports, “the first large U.S. airline to offer wireless Internet access on every flight nationwide.”

As Ben Mutzabaugh put it in another story in the same paper, “AirTran’s promotional flight points up how fast airlines are racing to provide Wi-Fi capability on their planes after experimenting with it for more than a year.”

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A Flight From Kathmandu to Tumlingtar

Photo by Rob Verger

It’s been gray and drizzly for a few days now in New York City, and this dreary weather gives me a kind of itchy wanderlust. The airport beckons. It makes me nostalgic for what was perhaps the most adventurous flight and trip I’ve ever taken, now almost a decade ago.

I suspect that many travelers out there have such a trip in mind—the kind that, while it may have been grand and seminal for you at the time, might live on even larger in your mind in the years afterwards.

I was studying abroad in Nepal at the time, and we had reached the point in the semester when we all were required to pursue independent study projects. I had decided to venture out and try to collect legends about something called the Khembalung Beyul in northeastern Nepal, which is a Shangri-la-type “hidden valley” that exists more in story than in actuality.

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NPR Broadcasts From ‘The Troubled Skies’

Photo by Donald Verger

There are a few truisms about the airline industry today.

First: It’s no fun to be in the airline business at the moment.

Second: It’s more fun if you’re a passenger, because fares are cheap—although no one is sure how long they’ll stay that way.

For example, JetBlue advertised (via @JetBlue) some $29 one-way fares yesterday, although restrictions included the fact that the low fares were only good for travel on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. (As for the latest development in a la carte fees: Delta just announced it will start charging $50 for a second checked bag on international flights.)

Third: as demand slows and the national system becomes less stressed, things seem to be operating more smoothly.

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The Things They Carried—On Planes

Photo by visualdensity, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

We carry our things with us when we fly, and sometimes those things are weird. And even if they’re not weird, they might seem strange when juxtaposed with the airplane setting, an incongruity in such a modern environment.

Last week, four baby pythons evidently escaped their container in the cargo hold of a Qantas 737, slithered somewhere in the plane—and disappeared. The plane was later fumigated. I don’t know if the snakes belonged to a passenger or were just being shipped, but it does make me wonder: What weird things do people carry with them aboard?

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Interview With Jason Barger: Author of ‘Step Back From the Baggage Claim’

Photo by Joe Maiorana

I love the transitory airport realm sometimes described as Airworld, a place selected by World Hum as one of the Seven Wonders of the Shrinking Planet.

I like the buzz of people coming and going, I like buying the occasional New Yorker magazine from Hudson News to pass the time, and I even like the sharp whiffs of jet exhaust you get going down the gate ramp.

But what would it be like to spend seven consecutive days in Airworld, flying around the country with no destination but the next city, sleeping in airports and killing time until your next flight leaves?

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Desert Solitaire: Inside an ‘Airplane Graveyard’

Desert Solitaire: Inside an ‘Airplane Graveyard’ Photo by PhillipC, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by PhillipC, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A sign that the airline industry is struggling in the poor economy: airlines are putting more planes into storage. “The number of planes in storage has jumped 29% in the past year to 2,302,” the AP reports.

Both this week’s AP story and a February 2006 New York Times story by Joe Sharkey take readers inside the Evergreen Maintenance Center in Arizona, with vivid descriptions of the rows of planes parked in the desert. Each article uses the word “ghost” or “ghosts” to describe the feeling of the motionless planes.

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Further Thoughts on Continental Connect Flight 3407

It’s been nearly two months since Continental Connect Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence Center, New York, while on its approach to Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. Over at Ask the Pilot, Patrick Smith analyzes the most recent news, which he describes as “fascinating and disturbing.” While initially ice had been a prime suspect, Smith writes, “Investigators are focused instead on what appears to be an egregious case of pilot error.”

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Interview With James Wallace: Reflections From an Aerospace Reporter

Interview With James Wallace: Reflections From an Aerospace Reporter Photo courtesy of James Wallace.
Photo courtesy of James Wallace.

Award-winning reporter James Wallace covered aerospace for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for more than 12 years. He worked for a total of 27 years at the paper, which recently stopped printing and transitioned to an online-only version with a comparatively tiny reporting staff. When that happened, Wallace’s job disappeared.

Wallace, who wrote a goodbye blog entry, is the author of two books, “Hard Drive” and “Overdrive,” both about Microsoft. 

I caught up with him over the phone to hear about his years on the aviation beat.

World Hum: You covered aerospace for 12 years. How have you seen commercial air travel change during that time?

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Tangled Up In Blue

Photo by Rob Verger

Two weekends ago, when I flew from New York City to Portland, Maine, on JetBlue, my plane, interestingly, had a name: “Blue Complete Me.” On the return trip, the plane, an Embraer E190, was named “Luiz F. Kahl.”

All JetBlue aircraft have names, and all but two of them have the word “blue” in it (although sometimes “blue” is written in another language). Some of them are pretty funny. The plane with tail number N599JB is called, “If The Blue Fits,” number N542JB is “Deja Blue” and N612JB is “Blue Look Maahvelous.” There’s even a humorous thread on FlyerTalk.com in which people play the JetBlue “name game,” listing the names of the JetBlue planes they have flown. Weird, right? (Among U.S. airlines, Virgin America also names its planes. One is called, “My Other Ride’s a Spaceship.”)

It’s definitely all part of JetBlue’s quirky branding strategy, but still, I find these names amusing. Names like “Hasta bluego” and “Parlez-blue?” make me smile and roll my eyes.


Big Plane, Small Plane

Photo by MileageNYC, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

As of June 1, Emirates will cease using its A380s—the biggest commercial plane in the skies—between Dubai and New York City. The airline will be replacing it with Boeing 777s, citing the poor economy as the reason to use the comparatively smaller plane, which has fewer seats to fill.

At the other end of the size spectrum, a company in Massachusetts called Terrafugia has celebrated the first flight of a flying car they have engineered called the Transition. As the Middle Seat Terminal points out, “While most people would look at the gizmo and call it a flying car, Terrafugia—founded by five pilots, all MIT graduates—prefers to call the beast a ‘Roadable Aircraft.’” According to the company’s website, each plane is anticipated to cost $194,000.

How many of these tiny flying cars do you think would fit inside an A380?


A Few Small, Clean Steps to the Next-Gen Airplane

A Few Small, Clean Steps to the Next-Gen Airplane Photo by shearforce via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by shearforce via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Pratt & Whitney has designed an airplane engine that they claim will be about half as noisy, far more fuel-efficient and less polluting than traditional engines, The Economist reports. The PurePower PW100G is a geared turbofan engine that uses a gearbox instead of a shaft between the fan and the turbine, which is what traditional engines use. The engine performed well in an Airbus A340 for more than 75 hours of tests and by 2013 is expected to power two new aircraft being built by Mitsubishi and Bombardier.

Meanwhile, American Airlines is using new wing design that reps say could reduce fuel consumption per airplane by up to 500,000 gallons and reduce carbon emissions by up to 277,000 metric tons, The Dallas Morning News reports. A Boeing 767-300ER passenger jet flew from Dallas/Fort Worth to London’s Heathrow airport with newly-installed 11-foot-tall winglets made by Aviation Partners Boeing.


Morning Links: Venice Cokes Up, an Epic (Paper) Plane Video and More

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Why Do Airplane Wings Generate Lift?

Photo by neologism, via Flick (Creative Commons)

Believe it or not, there is something of a long-time scientific debate about why airplane wings work. There are two ways of looking at why a wing generates lift, and neither is perfect. The first and most common method has to do with Bernoulli’s principle. (How Stuff Works has a more thorough explanation.)

The second way has to do with Newtonian physics, and simply put, this theory basically proposes that air deflected off the bottom of the wing is what keeps the plane in flight. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the wing’s reaction to the deflected air is to move upwards.

But I’ll focus here on the Bernoulli explanation. (Although some say that Bernoulli is not the best way to explain why wings work, I find it interesting, so here goes.) Bernoulli’s principle basically states that faster-moving fluid—and here, think of air as a fluid—creates an area of lower pressure. A quick experiment to illustrate this: Take a piece of paper and hold it parallel to and a few inches away from a vertical surface, like a wall. Now blow hard between the wall and the paper. The quick-moving air you produced between the wall and paper created an area of low pressure that drew the paper towards the wall.

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Would You Like the Chicken, the Fish or the Dead Hamster?

airplane food Photo by d'n'c via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by d’n'c via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Oh, airline food. Always getting the bad rap. We love to hate airline food. The hate brings us together. It’s airplane conversation starter. I might be one of the few people who doesn’t dislike airline food. Consider the context: you’re eating 30,000 feet above the earth. If I were sitting in a Michelin-starred restaurant, eating soggy croquettes out of a tin tray, I’d probably be a bit disappointed. But on a plane I’m captive. Which is why I watch (and actually enjoy) Drew Barrymore movies while I’m flying. I fork the rubbery chicken into my mouth and like it.

Then there’s this guy. The Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer who had had enough. Food, that is. He wrote a scathing—and humorous—letter to Sir Richard Branson, Virgin’s founder and CEO, about his latest meal on the London-to-Mumbai flight. An excerpt after the jump.

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R.I.P. Paper Airline Tickets

The 240 airlines belonging to the International Air Transport Association, which represents 94 percent of the world’s airline traffic, officially went digital yesterday. Most U.S. airlines had already made the switch to electronic tickets years ago, but paper tickets had remained in use by many international carriers. The IATA projects that all-digital ticketing will save $3 billion a year in costs—as well as 50,000 trees. Perhaps all the savings will allow them to bring back free snacks.

Related on World Hum:
* Airlines Make ‘Last Call’ For Paper Tickets