Category: flights

3 Links I Love: United’s Network Brain Trust, …

3 Links I Love: United’s Network Brain Trust, BA’s New Suite, Southwest Makes a Deal:

This week’s featured link:

Meet the route planners mapping United’s futureCrain’s Chicago Business
Here’s a nice look at the dynamic duo behind United’s recent network strategy. Patrick Quayle (international) and Ankit Gupta (domestic) both came from American and have clearly been having way too much fun getting United’s network in shape.

Two for the road:

BA’s new Collins Club Suite opens Pandora’s Door of questionsRunway Girl Network
After years of watching other airlines pass them by, British Airways has rolled out an impressive new business class seat that will debut this year. John Walton took a deep dive into the seat. I’m sniffing around a couple other angles on this.

Southwest Air, Mechanics Reach Contract Agreement in PrincipleBloomberg
Southwest and its mechanics have reached what seems to be a pretty good deal. Now we have to wait to see if it passes. Most importantly, it should end the shenanigans that are canceling flights and causing problems. Let’s all act shocked when Southwest’s operation instantly starts running better.

March 22, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

Caution: Pricing Glitch Makes Some Travelers P…

Caution: Pricing Glitch Makes Some Travelers Pay More for Alaska’s Saver Fares in Sabre:

Part of the fun that comes with having the Cranky Concierge air travel assistance business is that I get to poke around in the Sabre Global Distribution System (GDS) regularly. And that means sometimes I stumble across issues that even the airlines don’t know about. That happened earlier this week with Alaska’s Saver (Basic Economy) fares. They are, in some cases, pricing higher in Sabre than elsewhere. Sometimes, the lower fare is first being displayed but then, thanks to Alaska’s uncompetitive ticketing policies, it can’t be booked. The folks at Alaska tell me that they weren’t aware of this issue (the technical issue, not the sales policies) until I brought it to their attention, and they are trying to get it fixed. In the meantime, watch out.

This post is going to get technical, so buckle up. If you want to skip all those details, just know that if you happen to book Saver fares in Sabre or a website powered by Sabre, you’re going to want to double check with to make sure you’re actually getting the lowest available fare. There won’t often be a difference, but you don’t want to get caught paying more so it’s worth double-checking. For those of you still reading, let’s dig in.

How Alaska Prices Regular Coach Fares

To understand the issue, I have to explain how Alaska sells Saver, or Basic Economy, fares. As you may know, airlines have fare booking classes, also know as RBDs or colloquially as “buckets,” which are used to help segment off demand. Here’s a look at how those buckets line up on a flight from Portland to Ontario in June.

Starting at the upper left, you see F7. The F is full fare First Class and the 7 means there are at least 7 seats available in that bucket. (Alaska doesn’t show more than 7 seats even though there may be more.) In fact, except for the Y bucket which is full fare coach, the buckets in that whole first row are not important here since they aren’t for coach travel.

On the next line, you see a variety of buckets in decreasing order of fare value. The regular coach buckets go all the way down to R which is where Alaska sells its cheapest regular coach fares. A low fare search will look for the lowest bucket that both has seats available AND has a fare filed. If one of those pieces is missing, say if R had availability but Alaska didn’t file a fare in R, then the system will move up to the next lowest available bucket to see if there’s a valid fare there.

On this particular flight, Alaska has closed off the three lowest buckets, but as you can see, when I looked there was still one seat in the K bucket available for sale. Alaska files K fares in this market that are $169 in regular coach, so this is how it appeared on

The “1 seat left” at $169 is for regular economy. That’s the K fare. But there is also that $149 fare that looks like it doesn’t have availability restrictions. That isn’t true. It has the same restrictions as regular coach, so there’s only one seat available. (Beware of that too, if you book direct.) But there’s a bigger issue here.

How Alaska Prices Saver Basic Economy Fares

That $149 fare is the Saver fare. Like all airlines, Alaska wants its Basic Economy fare to be a discount off the lowest selling coach fare at the time. To get that to price, it has to work a bit differently than a regular coach fare. Instead of just making sure there is availability in the bucket and a fare filed, it has to actually look for a third variable: availability in a related bucket.

Saver fares all sell into the X bucket on Alaska. (American is B, United is N, Delta is E for their Basic Economy fares, so this is common practice.) Then to price, the system has to also see which regular coach fare is for sale. We know X is available, but in regular coach, the lowest is that K seat. So a search will turn up the Saver fare that is pegged to the K regular coach fare. That’s how Saver fares consistently show up $20 lower than regular coach. If T were available, for example, it would display as $20 lower than the T fare, whatever that is.

Now, here’s where we run into a problem. If I book it in K and then ask for the lowest fare, Sabre gives me this:

So far, so good. That’s the Saver fare we saw on the Alaska website. But here’s the problem. The low fare search will move the booking from K class into X class. Then once you take 1 seat out of X availability, Alaska has it set up to also take one seat out of regular coach availability. That means the K seat won’t come back into inventory, so when you try to issue the ticket, it will see K0 and then issue the ticket off the next lowest available coach fare, which is this V fare:

At best this is annoying and at worst this is downright deceptive. I could build the entire reservation in Sabre, save the price quote, and then try to issue it, but the higher fare will apply. Now if this were happening with American, Delta, or United, it wouldn’t be a big deal. They guarantee fares for a full day for travel agents, so it could be manually issued at the right price. But Alaska has much less friendly policies and offers no such guarantee. That means there is no way to book the fare that Sabre shows you at the time of booking unless you book directly through a non-Sabre source that doesn’t have this glitch. That is, to say the least, problematic.

A Limited But Real Impact

It’s important to keep in mind that this doesn’t happen every time. This will only happen if you are booking the same number of seats as are left available in the regular coach bucket. In this example, we needed one seat and there was only one K seat left. But if there were two seats and you were trying to book two seats, you’d have to same problem. I had no trouble finding multiple examples of this, but it’s only going to happen on a small fraction of searches.

I should also note that this unbookable fare only displays if you first book regular coach and then ask for the lowest fare. If you were to book into X directly as a Saver fare and then price it, it will automatically show you the higher fare. You would have no idea that a lower fare should have even been available. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.

Alaska Is Trying to Fix This

I reached out to Alaska to get comment on this. I ended up on the phone with both Kevin Ger, Vice President, Revenue Management and Joe Carson, Director of Pricing, Revenue Management. They explained that this problem had been reported by groups that used the Amadeus GDS before, and they had found a way to fix it. But I was apparently the first to tell them that it was happening in Sabre. They’ve now submitted a request to Sabre to fix it, but there is no timeline. I will update this post when I get more info on that.

I asked about any other GDSes being affected, but they said nothing had been reported. I’m surprised that once they found it was a problem in Amadeus that they didn’t just go test in every GDS to see if it was a broader issue. That lack of follow-through combined with unfriendly agent ticketing policies makes this even worse than it should be. It should make everyone wary about booking Alaska’s Saver fares through Sabre until the problem is fixed.

That brings us to the final, important question. How do you know if you’re booking in Sabre? Obviously the website isn’t impacted. The big online travel agents like Expedia and Priceline don’t have this issue either. It’s primarily a problem for corporate/brick-and-mortar travel agents or people using self-booking portals to book their business travel. Hopefully this gets fixed soon, but in the meantime, just be careful.

March 21, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

How JetBlue Putting Someone on a Flight 90 Min…

How JetBlue Putting Someone on a Flight 90 Minutes Later Cost the Airline $2500:

I was approached by someone recently about a fascinating interaction with JetBlue, and I thought this was worth sharing here. I suppose the moral of the story is that if you think you’ve been wronged and the airline isn’t owning up to their side of things, you could consider small claims court. It’s their fault if they can’t bother to show up. But be warned: this doesn’t sound like a typical outcome.

Our story begins last October when a man who we’ll call Rigoberto (no reason, I just like the name) was scheduled to fly early in the morning from New York’s JFK to Los Angeles. He was on an A321 and had purchased an Even More Space seat in row 6, the exit row right behind Mint.

According to Rigoberto, he boarded the aircraft and found the bins above his seat already full even though nobody else was in those seats. He was mad about it, having paid for the ability to board early, and the flight attendant told him to just put his bags in a bin behind his seats. He did, and he says he grumbled “selfish passengers” toward those further back who had filled up the bin space.

The flight attendant must have thought he was directing his anger at her and asked what he said. She must not have believed him, because shortly after this, someone came onboard and asked him to step off the plane to have a chat. Rigoberto explained everything, and he was allowed back on.

Next, another flight attendant came by to ask the standard questions for those sitting in an exit row. But first this flight attendant asked each person if they knew they were on flight xxx to LAX. Instead of just saying yes, Rigoberto didn’t like this flight attendant’s tone and asked what that had to do with sitting in an exit row. You can see where this is going. With two flight attendants concerned about his behavior, Rigoberto was kicked off. And I doubt many readers here would be surprised or bothered at that outcome. But things weren’t all bad for Rigoberto. They put him on a flight ninety minutes later in the same exact seat.

Where This Gets Interesting

Now, I’m reading this story up to this point, and I’m not particularly interested. I don’t know the JetBlue flight attendants’ side of the story, and I imagine that this guy is understating his role in things. I don’t care to judge who is right or who is wrong here, but in general, if someone gets thrown off a flight, I tend to believe the crew. But the circumstances of what happened aren’t why I’m writing this post. It’s what happened after that’s so interesting.

Rigoberto was mad, and he sent a complaint letter to JetBlue asking for compensation. JetBlue responded and stood by its crewmembers, but it still offered him $75 for future travel. That actually seems somewhat generous that they offered him anything, especially since he still got there within 2 hours of original schedule, but he disagreed. So, he wrote back saying so. JetBlue still stuck by its crewmembers, as it should have.

Rigoberto then decided to take matters into his own hands. He decided to file suit in small claims court asking for $2499 plus court costs. Why $2499? He reasoned that as the approximate cost of a roundtrip in Mint from LA to New York — which would seem to be highly-inflated since he wasn’t even in Mint — but the judge didn’t object. After properly serving JetBlue, Rigoberto emailed them and said he’d withdraw the suit if they agreed to give him either 150,000 TrueBlue points or a roundtrip ticket in Mint. That, obviously, didn’t happen.

The date came and Rigoberto was ready. JetBlue, however, didn’t show up at all. What happened? I’ll let you read for yourself.

Because JetBlue didn’t show up, Rigoberto was awarded the $2499 plus $105 in court costs. According to Rigoberto (I didn’t check on the law), JetBlue could have explained why it didn’t show up and asked for a new trial date within 30 days of that verdict, but it didn’t do that either. So the judgment was final.

JetBlue ignored that as well, at least in the immediate aftermath. But after Rigoberto sent them a demand letter, a check came to him for the full amount. This was all settled within two months of the incident. Talk about swift justice (or non-justice, depending upon your point of view).

Maybe the flight attendant didn’t want to testify, so JetBlue just decided not to fight. Or maybe JetBlue simply didn’t think it was worth bothering to send someone to court in California, but in the end, Rigoberto walked away with a whole bunch of money for a sub-2 hour delay.

What is JetBlue’s side of the story? Well, the airline wouldn’t comment on this specific case, as you’d expect. But I asked for a broader statement about this practice in general and was told the following by a spokesperson:

This was a unique case. We focus on avoiding disputes altogether by offering a great customer experience and making things right when they go wrong. But in situations that do result in legal action, our typical approach is to actively defend our position in court.

That’s a good response, and it should serve as warning that a frivolous lawsuit is usually going to be defended. But for those who think they’ve been truly wronged by any airline, this might be an avenue worth exploring.

March 19, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

Whether the MAX Should Have Been Grounded or N…

Whether the MAX Should Have Been Grounded or Not, Boeing Finds Itself in Hot Water:

In my post last Thursday, I laid out why I thought the 737 MAX shouldn’t have been grounded with the information we knew at the time. Some readers took that as me standing behind Boeing, but that’s not the case. Even if the airplane is safe to fly, it should be safer than it is. Boeing should absolutely shoulder blame here.

Though we don’t know for sure if the same issue that caused the Lion Air crash last year caused the Ethiopian one, let’s look at that particular issue in more detail.

Lion Air Accident

Lion Air flight 610 had just departed from Jakarta on October 29, 2018 when the pilots almost immediately reported flight control problems and asked to return to the airport. They never made it and crashed into the sea shortly after.

While the investigation hasn’t been officially finalized, it seems pretty clear what happened here. On the four previous flights, the airspeed indicators had malfunctioned and apparently hadn’t been fixed. On the flight right before the accident, there was a 20-degree disagreement between the angle of attack sensors, and that caused the airplane to put itself into a dive. The pilots overrode that automation and landed safely.

Apparently Lion Air didn’t bother fixing the problem after landing, because this is exactly what happened on the ill-fated final flight of the aircraft as well. This time, the pilots didn’t override the automation. Had maintenance properly fixed the airplane or had the pilots overridden the automation, the flight would have landed safely. But it didn’t, and now we’re all learning more about the details of how that automation works.

A Four-Letter Word: MCAS

If this airplane had not crashed, the general public would never know about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS for short. The problem is, pilots didn’t know about it either, and that’s the first concern.

MCAS didn’t exist on previous 737 models, but it was introduced on the MAX because of the engines on the airplane. The MAX uses bigger engines, and since Boeing uses a 50+ year old airframe that was designed for much smaller engines, it had to find a way to fit these new beasts on the wing while keeping the airplane airworthy.

via Boeing

As you can see above, since the new engines were so big, they had to be fit higher up to give enough ground clearance. To do that, Boeing moved the engines further forward and up, out from under the wing.

Because of the placement of the engines, when pilots push up the throttle on this airplane, the added thrust can push the airplane’s nose up too much, particularly in tight turns. As a safeguard, MCAS reads the angle of attack measures (here’s an explanation of what that is) to determine whether to act. If the angle of attack starts getting too high, the MCAS kicks in by adjusting the trim tabs (small surfaces that adjust to keep the airplane in stable flight) on the airplane to bring it back down when it’s being flown by hand. That means if autopilot is engaged, MCAS doesn’t kick in. Also, if flaps are deployed, so on initial departure or on final approach, then it also won’t kick in.

To Train or Not to Train

Boeing says that the MCAS was in the manual but that has been disputed by airlines operating that airplane. Even if it was in the manual, that wasn’t enough. Boeing acted like this was just a minor automation that would only slightly adjust the airplane in extreme circumstances. But it wasn’t designed that way. And if there’s bad data being fed into the system, it can prove deadly if the pilots don’t react properly.

In the Lion Air accident, the two angle of attack sensors were off by 20 degrees. This was known to be an issue before the flight, and Lion Air didn’t properly fix it. Lion Air also didn’t select the optional indicator that would alert pilots to an angle of attack measurement discrepancy, so the pilots wouldn’t have been alerted to that. Because it wasn’t fixed, MCAS misinterpreted what was happening to the airplane and it adjusted the trim to bring the airplane’s nose down multiple times.

In this case, the pilots recovered, but then MCAS kept trying to lower the nose. Eventually the pilots lost control of the airplane. Naturally, the question turned to the MCAS. Was it enough to have this in the manual? Or should the pilots have been trained on the existence of this system? Everyone now agrees that pilots should have been trained, and that did finally happen immediately following this accident… though Boeing was clearly pushed into it.

While there’s no question that training for this scenario is good, the reality is that the response to a trim problem is the same whether the MCAS caused it or not. These pilots should have been able to save the airplane, just as the pilots did on the previous flight.

Anti-MCAS Maneuvers

If the airplane is auto-trimming itself in a way that the pilots don’t like, it’s a very easy fix. All the pilots have to do is flip this switch:

Then there is a giant trim wheel which pilots can use to manually control the trim on the airplane. (And I do mean manual. This isn’t fly by wire, as I understand it.)

That’s it.

It’s important to repeat this point. This has nothing to do with MCAS alone. If there is any trim-related problem, this is the procedure to shut off auto-trimming and take manual control. That is something pilots are trained for.

Boeing’s Faulty Logic

Regardless of how easy it should be to counter MCAS, that doesn’t minimize just how poorly this system appears to have been designed by Boeing.

Incredibly, the MCAS was designed to act with the input from just a single angle of attack sensor even though there is more than one onboard. In the case of the Lion Air accident, it apparently saw the faulty reading and acted. Had it bothered to compare both readings to see the discrepancy, then that would have prevented the automation from acting.

Side note: Why are the angle of attack sensors having these discrepancies on a brand new airplane? Is it the sensor? Or is it how the data is being interpreted? This is something that deserves closer scrutiny.

Also surprisingly, the trim adjustment is really aggressive. As Boeing describes it, in the new software release the trim adjustment will now be limited so that faulty readings from the angle of attack sensors won’t create the large upset that we’ve seen. This is also mind-boggling that it wasn’t designed this way initially, because the updated response is more than sufficient to correct an angle of attack problem, it seems.

Lastly, why was the system designed to continue acting even if the pilots are pushing back against it? If the auto-trim is left enabled, the pilots can still try to counteract the nose-down attitude through the control wheel. Even if they succeed, the MCAS will continue trying to push the nose forward. That is flawed logic.

All of this is going to be fixed in a future software update that Boeing is furiously working on now, but it remains extremely hard to understand why this was designed this way in the first place. There is a lot more detail here, if you’re interested.

One Last Thing to Keep in Mind

Where does this leave us? Well, when the software fix comes out soon, it will, as Boeing says, make an already safe aircraft even safer. We have to remember that even without the software fix, it is very easy to override the system. Good pilots should have no trouble with it even if it was poorly-designed.

There is one other thing to keep in mind… we still don’t know if this was a reason for the crash of Ethiopian flight 302. If MCAS was involved, as the aircraft track makes it appear, we don’t know that there weren’t other issues that complicated the situation.

For example, there were reports of smoke and possibly debris trailing the aircraft before the airplane crashed. While we have no idea if this is true since eyewitness reports are often unreliable, if it is, it could certainly have made for a much busier cockpit. Just imagine if there was a fire or a bomb or something else onboard. That combined with the activation of the MCAS could have wreaked havoc. Or what if the pilots did everything right and MCAS still didn’t deactivate? Well then we have a whole different, MUCH more serious issue that could keep that airplane grounded for a long time. We really need the black boxes to tell us more, and it sounds like that information is starting to come out.

Regardless of what we find out from the black boxes, we know that there is a lot Boeing did in the design process that can and should be questioned. The fixes that are being planned will improve safety further, but that doesn’t mean Boeing will get out of this easily. Boeing is going to feel a whole lot of pain from the decisions it made, and I don’t think anyone feels sorry for the company. This is quickly turning in a full-blown PR crisis.

March 18, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

Cranky on the Web: Hidden City Ticketing Can G…

Cranky on the Web: Hidden City Ticketing Can Get You in Trouble:

If you’re going to miss your flight, call the airline. Immediately. And be niceLos Angeles Times
I got further into the discussion about hidden city ticketing for this one, including what happens if you miss a flight in your itinerary.

March 16, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

3 Links I Love: Azul To Buy Parts of Avianca, …

3 Links I Love: Azul To Buy Parts of Avianca, More BA Airplane Porn, Buzz is Back:

Azul Signs Non-Binding Agreement to Acquire Selected Assets of Avianca BrasilAzul
Things keep moving in Brazil, and Azul keeps growing. I believe Avianca Brasil had about 10 percent of the market, so this might vault Azul into being the biggest airline in the country.

British Airways New Livery.
Photo Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography Copyright 2019

BA just keeps killing it with these retro liveries. I have always loved the Landor scheme, and it still looks just as good as it did before. It just feels so British. What’s funny is that this airplane actually wore the Landor scheme when it was delivered.

Ryanair Sun To Be Rebranded As Buzz In Autumn 2019Ryanair News
It’s time for another blast from the past. Buzz is back, albeit as a Polish charter operator owned by Ryanair. It’s actually just Ryanair Sun being renamed. I’m not sure why they’re bothering.

March 15, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

In Defense of Not Grounding the 737 MAX… Even …

In Defense of Not Grounding the 737 MAX… Even Though It’s Now Grounded:

When the 737 MAX operating Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed on takeoff from Addis Ababa last Sunday, the pressure immediately began to mount. Since this accident happened during the same phase of flight as the Lion Air accident last year, the dots were instantly connected… even if they shouldn’t necessarily have been. Calls to ground the airplane mounted from all sides except from those who actually fly the thing. Everyone caved quickly except for the US and Canada. Then yesterday, the rest of the dominoes fell. The 737 MAX is now grounded worldwide while they try to figure out IF there’s a problem.

While it’s hard to comment specifically on whether this is the right thing to do or not without knowing what the FAA knows right now, I’m still going to wade into this. I thought the FAA was right for not grounding the airplane with what information was said to be known previously. I have yet to see anything that would change my mind. But the FAA did say this yesterday about the administration’s decision to ground the airplanes:

The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.

That’s quite the vague statement, so all I can do is hope that there actually is new safety information that warranted the grounding and this wasn’t just about political pressure and image management. As a cynic, I naturally assume the latter. But without further detail, I can’t comment on yesterday’s decision. All I can do is write about why the decision NOT to ground the airplane with previously-available information was the right thing to do despite all the intense pressure.

The Build-Up

We know the issues that led to the Lion Air accident last year. Maintenance problems resulted in aircraft automation (that didn’t exist on previous 737 models, mind you) improperly nosing the aircraft down after departure. Pilots failing to properly respond to that movement doomed the airplane. Much has been made of Boeing failing to properly train pilots on that automation, and further training has been implemented. There is also a software rework in progress. We can go way into the weeds on whether the 737 MAX should have been required to get its own type certificate, but that’s a topic for another time… So yes, there’s plenty of blame here, but steps were in place to fix the immediate problems. A good, well-trained pilot should have been able to fly through that Lion Air situation, at least as we know it.

In fact, it sounds like the Ethiopian pilots were well-trained, and they had been given the additional training on the automation after the Lion Air crash. So did they just fail to heed their training? We have absolutely no idea. And that’s really the crux of the issue here. The only thing we know is that this airplane went down in a similar phase of flight, but we don’t know why. Reports from the ground (which are notoriously unreliable) have suggested that there was smoke and possibly debris trailing the airplane before it went down. That would certainly point to a different issue if it proves to be true. But WE DON’T KNOW, and we won’t really know until they get into the black boxes.

Once the black boxes are examined, something that I expect will happen very quickly considering the global pressure, we will know more. Maybe something will be found to suggest that the airplane needs to be grounded until a fault is fixed, but if we put the situation in context, it’s hard to come to that conclusion at this point.

25,000 Flights a Month and Climbing

Let’s get a little perspective here. It looks like there are roughly 25,000 flights a month being operated by MAX aircraft. That number climbs every day (uh, well, until this week) as more airplanes get delivered. So of the hundreds of thousands of flights that have operated, two have ended in an accident.

One of those accidents has been thoroughly reviewed and we know that any number of fixes could have saved the airplane. Had Lion Air done maintenance to fix the Angle of Attack sensors, had the pilots reacted properly to the nose-down response, or if the automation worked differently… that airplane would still be around and everyone would be safe. That’s not something that should require grounding an airplane, especially with quick fixes like supplemental training being available.

Now we have this Ethiopian accident. We do not know what happened, but the media jumped all over it and scared the hell out of everyone. I suppose this really is a testament to how safe air travel has become. I mean, between 1991 and 1994, USAir alone had four fatal accidents that killed 218 people. Should we have shut them down? (Actually, don’t answer that…)

The People I Trust Say The Airplane is Safe

Ultimately, this comes down to who you trust to make the right decision. Governments are more likely to listen to lobbyists and act how the polls tell them to act than they are to follow strict safety guidelines. There’s always a push and pull. (I hate that I have to say that, but just ask the NTSB how many recommendations of theirs have been ignored over the years.)

And of course, Boeing and the airlines in the US that operate the MAX have a huge profit motive. While I’d like to think they all would put safety before profit… it’s easy to see the conflicts in the decision-making process. That’s why I look at those who are risking their lives by operating the airplane, if in fact there is something wrong with it.

American’s pilots came out in defense of keeping the airplane flying. Southwest’s pilots said that with more than 41,000 flights on the MAX under their belts, they consider the airplane “safe based on the facts, intelligence, data, and information we presently have.” United’s pilots said they are “confident in our ability to fly the airplane.” If they were comfortable flying it, then I should be comfortable riding in it.

The DC-10

Many are looking back at history to find parallels here, to help better inform the decision. There is probably no better comparison than the grounding of the DC-10 after American 191 crashed on May 25, 1979 after one of the engines and pylons separated from the wing upon takeoff.

The iconic photo of the doomed aircraft in a steep left bank over the airport immediately before impact scared everyone who saw it. As with the 737 MAX today, people were nervous to fly the airplane, and airlines rushed to assuage travelers. But then on June 6, the FAA grounded the airplane. They had good reason. As the New York Times explained in an article from June 10 of that year:

The mechanics in California discovered that two-inch cracks —similar to flaws that may have been involved in the dropped engine that caused the May disaster — had developed in both planes’ pylons since the last inspection, only 100 flight hours earlier. That prompted the F.A.A. to an unprecedented early-morning directive revoking the DC-10’s design certification.

Here was concrete evidence that the airplane was unsafe. Cracks had developed during a very short period of time. It was completely rational to ground the airplane, even though it turned out it wasn’t caused by the aircraft design but rather a short-cut maintenance procedure that shouldn’t have been used.

In other words, these are very different circumstances, though there was plenty of criticism of the FAA back in 1979 as well. This isn’t an easy decision, but it’s important to make the best decision for everyone involved.


Remember that there were dozens of these airplanes flying in the US before the grounding, and they can’t be replaced overnight. American says it will be canceling about 85 flights a day. United and Southwest will likely see a lesser impact, but still, this leaves a lot of people stranded.

Would I get on a MAX today? Yes. Would I be nervous when we took off? Yes. But that’s just an internal reaction influenced more as a result of the media coverage and ensuing panic then actual facts.

Maybe the FAA learned something yesterday that will make a difference, or maybe they didn’t. But right now, it’s the uncertainty around what happened to Ethiopian 302 that is driving everyone insane. Once we know what happened there, hopefully cooler heads can prevail.

March 14, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

FAA Statement on Boeing 737 Max 8

FAA Statement on Boeing 737 Max 8:

3/11/19 6:00pm Update

The FAA has issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) related to the Boeing 737-8 and Boeing 737-9 (737 MAX) fleet.

3/11/19 3:15pm Update

An FAA team is on-site with the NTSB in its investigation of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.We are collecting data and keeping in contact with international civil aviation authorities as information becomes available.Today, the FAA will issue a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) for Boeing 737 MAX operators. The FAA continuously assesses and oversees the safety performance of U.S. commercial aircraft. If we identify an issue that affects safety, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.

March 11, 2019 at 10:46PM News and Updates

Flying as a Gold Elite on American Isn’t Anyth…

Flying as a Gold Elite on American Isn’t Anything Special (Trip Report):

As you know, last month was the annual American Leadership Conference, and once again I was invited as a member of the media. This would be my first flights since being gifted entry-level Gold elite status through May 15 (along with everyone and their mother, apparently), and I was looking forward to seeing the difference between that and traveling as a peon. As any Gold elite already knows, it really wasn’t much different. It certainly hasn’t made me any more interested in actually earning status.

[Disclosure: American paid for my flights]

I decided to go down to Orange County instead of LAX for this trip. I hadn’t flown out of there in a long time, but I really wanted to try the new Oasis interior reconfiguration on the 737, and American mostly has A321s from LAX. So I booked that and hoped I’d get lucky. After being booked by American, I received the one perk of Gold status that I actually used. I was able to reserve a window seat that was blocked for elites. In other words, I was able to sit a few rows ahead of where I otherwise would have sat.

The day before travel, I found I wouldn’t be on an Oasis airplane on the way out, so I looked to see if Main Cabin Extra was available since Golds can reserve for free during the check-in window. There were only middles, so I stuck with the seat I had.

I checked in on the app and then showed up a little more than an hour before departure.

Security was empty and staffed by absurdly nice agents. (The ID checker was stopping everyone for about 30 seconds asking about their lives.) I went through and then logged in to pass the time while I waited for my flight.

My Gold status offer came with ten 500-mile certs, so I had listed for an upgrade, because… why not? I looked at the standby list and it was full with me being number 17 out of 17. HAHAHAHAHA, no. The inbound aircraft arrived 11 minutes late, and boarding began soon after. There were a lot of elites in front of me. By the time I boarded in group 4, I’d say there were at least 30 or 40 people who had already boarded and the line stretched back through the jet bridge.

(Oh yes, boarding in group 4 was another “benefit” of Gold status, but since I have the credit card, I would have just boarded in group 5 normally. Again, not a significant difference.)

February 23, 2019
American 2402 Lv Orange County 1056a Arr Dallas/Fort Worth 350p
Orange County (SNA): Gate 6, Runway 20R, Depart 10m Late
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW): Gate C21, Runway 31L, Arrive 17m Late
N964NN, Boeing 737-823, Ugly Flag tail colors, ~99% Full
Seat 12F, Coach
Flight Time 2h30m

Boarding was painfully slow. We had every kind of annoying traveler in the bunch. One guy was already seated and decided he needed to get up, stop the line, and get something from a bag overhead. Another guy had put his briefcase into the bin, and people kept asking him if he would move it since there was limited room elsewhere. He refused until one passenger wouldn’t give up and finally got him to relent.

In my seat, I enjoyed that upgraded interior that will soon be ripped out. Now that Delta has committed to screens in the seat, it makes for a big, visible differentiator. It would mean a lot less if American and United had decided to keep them, but it really does impact the feel of the cabin. We pushed back 10 minutes late and then had to sit and wait due to flow control at DFW. It wasn’t too long and the pilots kept us informed.

The flight attendants seemed to be in a good mood, greeted everyone, and had a casually-reassuring way with their announcements. I started watching BlacKKKlansman on the ground, and I was glad I did. It’s a longish movie, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it all the way through if I had to wait to get to altitude.

We did the usual launch off the Orange County aircraft carrier and then settled back so all the rich people could enjoy their tea in peace. Once over the ocean, we started climbing again and headed east toward Dallas.

The scenery was absolutely stunning for the first half of the flight. The mountain peaks were covered in snow in California but by the time we got over Northern Arizona, it was a winter snowscape all around.

The flight attendants came by with a service and asked if we wanted cookies or pretzels. I asked if I could have two cookies and the guy hesitated. Then I mentioned it was because I have two kids that I bring them back to, and he gladly gave me both. I also had water, and I ordered a fruit and cheese plate which was… a fruit and cheese plate. (It’s hard to screw those up.)

Once we got over Texas, the white turned to brown and the chop picked up. The captain said that there was turbulence coming, so he seated everyone and then descended to try to avoid it. It was only light to moderate chop from there.

Closer to Dallas we found ourselves in a soupy haze as we came down. The map was completely wrong on our ETA, so my movie ended with plenty of time left. As we got lower, it got bumpier. Winds on the surface were so strong that they had to land on the 31s, the reason for our flow controlled-departure.

We took quite the route, heading south between Fort Worth and DFW, then turning east before coming back around by Dallas and paralleling Love Field before landing. We had a great view the whole way in and then we landed on 31L. That runway is so far west that you get the unique sensation of flying high next to the terminals before landing.

Unsurprisingly, we had a very long taxi back to our gate.

We parked right next to an MD-80. I’m going to miss the only planes with a true silver livery in the fleet once they’re gone. We poured out into the terminal and I headed to my hotel.

As you all saw here, Cranky Dorkfest was a big success. The next day was the leadership conference, and that night I stayed up all night with American. If you read those posts, you’ll know I rolled out of that all-night adventure and headed straight to gate C33 for my flight home.

Once again, my attempt at getting on one of the new Oasis interiors was thwarted. This plane had the same fancy interior as the way out.

When I looked, First was again checked in full and I was somewhere far down the list. Main Cabin Extra had a non-reclining exit row window available, but other than that, it was just middles. I don’t generally like exit rows, but my mind was made up to not move when I saw an empty row of seats behind me on the seat map. I moved myself back to that in the app and hoped for a coach flat bed.

February 26, 2019
American 2402 Lv Dallas/Fort Worth 845a Arr Orange County 1011a
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW): Gate C33, Runway 18L, Depart 5m Early
Orange County (SNA): Gate 6, Runway 20R, Arrive 11m Early
N955NN, Boeing 737-823, Ugly Flag tail colors, ~60% Full
Seat 12F, Coach
Flight Time 2h54m

Once onboard, I put my stuff up and took my seat. My row ended up having someone in the aisle, so my dreams of a flat bed were thwarted, but at least there was an empty middle.

I was seeing double by this point, and I have vague memories of the safety video showing. That’s most of what I remember on the ground. But the sound of the thrust increasing at takeoff woke me up, and I recall watching us clear the low cloud layer before heading into blue skies. I had flipped on a movie when we first took off, but I remember very little of it. I was out like a light.

Sadly that lasted only for about an hour or so. Somewhere over New Mexico, the air got choppy. The bounce combined with the seatbelt sign turning on, the captain coming on the PA announcing that we were descending to try to find smooth air, and the descent itself jolted me out of my slumber.

The air did smooth out, but I was now firmly awake. I had to go to the bathroom, but the seatbelt sign was left on, so I just passed the time watching the screen. I tried out some of the “calm” station features including a video of waves crashing on the beach, but it didn’t put me back to sleep.

Even though the turbulence had stopped long before, the seat belt sign didn’t come off until somewhere over Arizona. I went to the lav, and then I still couldn’t sleep. So, I decided to play with American’s new streaming content on my phone. I looked at the live TV option. It’s nice to have those 12 channels, but there is no guide and you have to open each channel to see what’s on, then close it and re-open another one. It’s a bit clunky, but the streaming itself worked well.

Soon enough we were descending, and I stared out my window watching the snowy mountains pass by. Only once we touched down did I get tired again. It was a long day.

My summary? The trip was perfectly fine, but Gold really didn’t enhance it very much at all. I’ve never valued elite status, especially the lowest levels, and this certainly didn’t change my impression. I’ll continue to fly the airline that gives me the best option on any given trip.

March 12, 2019 at 12:45PM Source:

Up All Night with American – Part 2: Simulator…

Up All Night with American – Part 2: Simulators, Hangars, and Ops Towers:

Welcome to the second half of my long night with American. In my post about the first half of the night, I wrote about our time in the Integrated Operations Center (IOC). Today, I’ll pick up where exhaustion set in with a look at our visit to the flight simulators, maintenance hangars, and American’s DFW tower. (Note: All times Central)

[Disclosure: American provided flights and hotel for this event]


Feeling rather proud of my airport code quiz victory, I felt a burst of energy to help shake the cobwebs out. (Tea helped as well.) We finally left the IOC and got a breath of the cool night air. Our next stop was across campus at the Flight Academy. It was time to play with simulators. Capt. John Dudley, Senior Manager and A330 Fleet Captain met us at the door with a surprisingly alert and friendly smile considering the time of night. This is an older building, and you can definitely feel it when you walk in.

I quizzed Capt. Dudley as we wandered the construction-filled maze of corridors filled with ugly carpet, offices, and 35 simulators. He began his career flying F28s for Piedmont, and has obviously made it through several mergers. As we talked, I realized we had arrived in the simulator bay where our chariot was waiting.


The fact that there is an A350 simulator in this building is pretty strange. After all, American canceled its order, but the commitment to the sim was made before that happened. Capt. Dudley had spent a great deal of time on the A350 and was a test pilot with Airbus on it. So he might go take it for a test drive when he’s feeling nostalgic, but nobody else within the company has any use for it. American had been renting it out to other airlines, but it is expected to hit the road later this year. In the meantime, it served as a very expensive toy for us to play with.


I’m busy fighting a driving snowstorm as I try to taxi around DFW. This isn’t reality, of course, but it sure feels like it. Each of us got a chance to fly the simulator (with motion turned off, sadly), and it was my turn to try. Even without motion, the feeling was surprisingly realistic. I found myself holding on to the seat when others were flying even though we weren’t going anywhere. After unsuccessfully searching for the button to release the chemtrails, I landed flawlessly. Granted, Capt. Dudley was watching very closely and wasn’t going to have it any other way.


We had finally left the campus behind and headed over to the airport to see some real metal, er, and composites. Our first stop was American’s primary line maintenance base on the west side of the airport. Over here, American has four separate hangars, one which Mesa currently uses. It also has another one on the other side of the airport.

Badih Delati and Eduardo Portorreal , both Managers of Aircraft Line Maintenance at the DFW hub guided us over to Hangar 4 first. That’s where the widebodies are serviced. There were three aircraft in there when we arrived. The 757 on the left was doing an engine run-up while the power-hungry 787 on the right was running its APU, ready to head out.


In the back was a 777-200 with issues. They had to replace a pump, but they were having trouble getting access to the area deep up in the wheel well. (I’m not sure if there was something particularly challenging about this issue or not, but it wasn’t going quickly.) The wheel well was wide open while the mechanics worked on strategies to solve the issue.


The 787 was still hanging out, so we hopped onboard to take a look before they moved the airplane on to a gate for a morning flight. There is a whole group of people (I believe two dozen or so) who come in early in the morning specifically to move aircraft from the hangars over to the right gates. They usually taxi the airplanes under their own power, but sometimes they’ll tow the planes. The problem with towing is that air traffic control knows you’re slow, and they’ll make you wait to cross runways.


We walked over to Hangar 3, the one reserved primarily for narrowbodies. There was the usual in there, Airbuses, etc. But wait… what’s that in the back? That beautiful, shiny, ex-TWA, Long Beach-built MD-80 was just inviting us to stare. Built in 1999, this was one of the last ones made. Even with that, it looked tired… though maybe not as tired as I felt at that point.


Those back stairs were down, and there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to walk up. Fortunately, Badih said that wasn’t a problem. The inside looked worn and tired, as you’d expect for an airplane with only a few months left to fly. It also smelled like my childhood. I don’t know what it is that smells different on older airplanes, but it brings back all kinds of memories.


We left the MD-80 in all her glory. It was time to ride over to the terminal. Imagine how long it takes to go all the way around the runways and back up to the terminal. Then add in a couple of wrong turns by the driver. Then consider that the suspension was shot, so it was quite the rough ride. This was probably the toughest part of the night, and by the end, I was nearing the point of collapse. Just as I thought all hope was lost, we arrived at Terminal A.


Our mission was to go to the new DFW ops tower for American, but first, we had to get past security. The bus dropped us off at a line without Pre Check. Since I was traveling that morning, I walked with one other person over to the Pre Check side, and I instantly regretted it. The line was very long and it took over 15 minutes to get through. On the other side, I felt better. We had still beat the rest of the dwindling group (Brian and Scott had left us hours earlier.)


We had been ushered into a conference room in the “tower” when we arrived. Coffee and pastries were waiting, but I just wanted to sleep. We sat down and heard a presentation from Cedric Rockamore, Vice President Hub Operations DFW and Matt Eggers, Managing Director of DFW Control Center Operations. We were a bit late, so we had missed the morning call waking up the operation, but we could still learn how things worked.

I put “tower” in quotes, because it’s no longer an actual tower. There’s a non-descript door near gate A20 that leads up to a big room. American has been here for just over a year, and it uses this to control the ramp for the entire airport. (At least, it will soon when it takes over the half of D and all of E that it doesn’t currently manage.) How do they do this from a dark room? As you can see, they use hundreds of cameras to give a view of just about anything you could possibly need. What happens if technology fails? The old tower is still there, ready to be put to work on a moment’s notice as a fully-functional back-up. That was our next stop, but first we had to say goodbye.

By this time, most people were toast. Those heading back to the hotel hopped in a bus and hit the road, but I was flying out so I had nowhere to go. That left me, Andy Luten (from Andy’s Travel Blog), Andrea Koos from the comms team, and Matt to head up to the old tower for a little spotting.


The old tower is located between Terminals A and C. There’s a door at one of the breaks in the moving sidewalks that leads outside and into the separate tower entrance. Heading up to the top, the door opens on a deserted room that still has all the equipment necessary in case it needs to be pushed back into service.

You can tell the team was clearly going to miss being in a place with actual windows, and a great view at that. The windows, however, are tinted, and that was a bummer… until I realized we were going to walk upstairs to the deck on top of the tower.


I could have stayed up there all day despite the drizzle and cold and my complete and total exhaustion. The tower gives a spectacular view right down the line in the alley between Terminals A and C. We saw all kinds of movements including the Allegheny retro livery A319 and a Delta A220, but of course, it was this MD-80 that captured my eye.


Did I mention I love the look of the MD-80? Just checking.

At this point, we were done. I had made it all night, but now I just needed to get over to gate C33 for my flight home. I took the SkyLink train and got to the gate just as boarding was beginning. Talk about great timing.

I’ll end this here and talk about the flight home in my trip report to come. This was a very busy but well-paced event that allowed American to really open up a part of the operation that you don’t see often. This didn’t really address any of American’s current operational issues, but that wasn’t really the point. It was still a fascinating evening. Thanks to the comms team for letting us take a look inside.

March 11, 2019 at 12:45PM Source: