Not The Worst Storm–The Worst Time

Travel on Wednesday will be demanding. Air travel will present its own special hell.

Model Analyses and Guidance

I continue to look at the numbers for Wednesday’s storm in the Northeast. Not the worst, but certainly at the worst time. Wednesday. Day before Thanksgiving. You get it.

By this time all the TV mets should be saying the same thing. The guidance is straightforward and consistent.

The exact numbers don’t matter. There will be enough to plow inland. On the shoreline slushier.

Rain then snow in DC before dawn. By sunrise I-95 will be wet from Ft. Lauderdale to Fort Lee!

In Connecticut the action begins in the morning. Schools and businesses might have to make decisions before there’s anything falling.

The snow (and mixed precipitation on the shore) will continue until around midnight before tapering to snow showers and flurries.

Travel on Wednesday will be demanding. Air travel will present its own special hell.

Our spare bedroom is available.

Colgan Air Disgusts Me

We’ve all had bad bosses, but most of us have assumed they didn’t run things in critical sectors like hospitals and airlines. Surprise! They are there too.


I have been interested in and read as much as I can about the crash of Continental 3407 this past winter in Clarence, NY, outside Buffalo. There are two things to be learned from the accident (probably more, but I’m writing about the two most obvious).

First, air travel is very safe with an intricate mesh of safety features and procedures. Missing one or even a few is OK because the system is designed to be fault tolerant. That’s a good thing and why we all are happier to fly a long distance than drive it.

There is, however, a finite limit to how far you can push that margin of safety–as we’ve seen.

Second, there are bad bosses and bad operators in every field. We’ve all had bad bosses, but most of us have assumed they didn’t run things in critical sectors like hospitals and airlines. Surprise! They are there too.

Reading the NTSB hearing transcripts and other evidence in this crash it seems to me the operators of this flight had too much confidence the system was unbreakably safe. They cut corners knowing a few errors wouldn’t bring a plane down–until it did.

It seems the pilot and co-pilot were not rested, undisciplined and poorly trained. Beyond that, this particular plane though a well respected workhorse had a few quirky features they hadn’t been trained on.

From Flightglobal: The pilots also selected a switch that adds 20kt (37km/h) airspeed to stick shaker and stick pusher stall warning system trip levels, a safety factor that takes into account the fact that wing ice might increase the aircraft’s stalling speed.

The stick shaker activated because of this arbitrary setting, not because the plane had actually stalled (lost its lift). As I understand it that’s not the way most other transport aircraft operate. If the pilot had known that maybe he would have acted differently? Probably.

It’s reported the co-pilot made around $16,000 last year while the 47 old pilot made about $55,000. That income level impacted the operation. Neither could afford to live where they flew. How could a skilled, career oriented pilot choose to fly for Colgan?

Prior to the flight the pilot slept in a crew lounge. Though doing that was against company policy, the lounge was configured in a way which facilitated using it instead of paying for a hotel. Colgan should have known this. The co-pilot flew cross-country the previous night to get to work.

We cannot get back the poor souls who died aboard that flight. Of course that is the tragedy. I hope prosecutors take a very close look at Colgan’s actions and criminal charges, if warranted, are pressed. In that regard prosecutors should be strict.

One last thing. This Colgan flight flew with the Continental name and livery on the plane and tickets. I’m not sure how responsible Continental is, but maybe it’s time we stopped little operations flying with the more respectable name of their partners… or held the named carrier to blame.

Loose Ends

I’m off to Florida this afternoon. First, another trip to get my glasses problem fixed, then a haircut.

I plan on checking no bags. Much of Helaine and my discussions last night centered on what can and cannot be brought on an airplane. My deodorant is 3&#188 oz. Anything over 3 oz is considered a lethal weapon by TSA&#185.

I’m taking it anyway. What a rebel.

The trip to Florida will take about five hours. That includes a 1:35 stopover in Baltimore. As I remember, they have pretty good WiFi coverage in the terminal.

Air travel may be cheaper than ever, but it’s not any faster. Even Southwest, who claims to not be a hub and spoke airline, shuttles a lot of people through Baltimore and Las Vegas, which sure seem like hub airports.

I have some tutorials for Javascript and PHP, two computer languages, I’m taking along. I plan on spending my travel time learning to better program. Last night my mom asked why I was doing that? Is it OK to say, I don’t know?

&#185 – Though written for effect, that statement is literally true. They don’t want me to bring any liquid or gel over 3oz because it might be used as a weapon of some sort!

A380 Hype

The Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, took to the skies on its maiden flight Wednesday. It is an immense plane flying through a sea of hype.

Each time I’ve seen a TV package or read an article about this plane there was always the mention of its ability to fly with a gym or casino or shops or something other than 800 of your closest friends, all with their knees pressed firmly up against their chests.

It’s true. This plane can bring these incredible amenities to the sky. It won’t happen, but it’s true.

I remember American Airlines first transcontinental flight of a Boeing 747 in 1970. There, in the piano bar, was Frank Sinatra, Jr. entertaining. Hey, you can have a lounge in a 747!

MGM Grand Air flew jets with private compartments and movie star treatment between LAX and JFK. Here’s a page showing what they offered. It’s similar to the Airbus claims. Of course MGM Grand Air went out of business years ago..

When was the last time you hopped aboard a plane and found a lounge act or a private sitting room? Hell, when was the last time you hopped aboard and found food?

Any plane can be outfitted any way. There are 737s equipped for private transportation. The one pictured on the left looks pretty comfy. Wave some cash at Boeing or Airbus or any airplane manufacturer and the world is your oyster.

Unfortunately in the real world, air travel is a commodity. People shop by price and the price of flying in an airplane filled with anything other than seats is out of the question for most of us.

Last weekend at the wedding in Atlanta, I met people who traveled from Connecticut to Atlanta via Detroit! Delta has non-stops, but Northwest via DTW was a lot cheaper&#185. Price wins.

I’m not sure why Airbus has gone to such great lengths to tout a level of service few, if any, of us will ever see. Maybe it’s because they don’t want us talking about how long it will take to get on and off the A380 with 800 of your closest friends? Who wants to think about how much time it will take before 800 sets of baggage hit the carousel?

Air service is not returning to the suit and tie days of the 50s, 60s and 70s. This is going to end up a huge cattle car in the sky. Just pray it’s efficient enough to allow fares to stay as low as they are.

&#185 – I find it curious that Northwest can undercut Delta’s non-stop price considering the costs involved in flying extra miles, additional crew and aircraft time plus the expense of transferring passengers and their baggage.

Greetings from Boynton Beach

I have arrived – and it’s warm! What more could you ask for? Considering what I saw when I walked out the door today, Florida is especially nice.

Getting to Florida today was much easier than I ever imagined. First, the snow was over early and there really wasn’t all that much of it. Second, the roads were in good shape. Third, the airport was in good shape. Fourth, Southwest – excellent.

My flight was scheduled to leave at 12:15 PM. On the way to the airport my pocket started vibrating. It was a text message on my cellphone from Southwest. The flight was on time and would be leaving from Gate 2.

Helaine pulled up at the brand new terminal at Bradley International. Compared to the old “bus terminal” it is phenomenal. But, it’s still pretty sterile with too much wasted vertical space to suit me. However, remember what it was before!

Gate 2 is pretty close. I got there early enough to watch a flight to Orlando board and leave.

Let me add here that the Bradley Airport experience would be greatly improved with the addition of Cinnabon. If there’s one in the new terminal, I didn’t find it. Cinnabon is required eating for air travel in the new century.

I struck up a conversation with the gate agent. It looked like the flight would be 2/3 full. So, even though I had a “B” boarding pass (no assigned seats on Southwest) I was in no hurry. As it turned out, I had a full three seat cluster and slept for about an hour. Unlike some other airlines, the Southwest seatbelts stowed nicely out of the way for comfortable sleeping in the airborn fetal postion.

The plane was nice. Southwest flies 737’s and nothing else. There are different model and configurations, but they’re all 737’s. The seats were leather and firm. The plane looked clean, though it was 8 years old. It’s tough to judge legroom and seat width when you’re all alone, but both seemed adequate.

The flight to Tampa was fine. There was a little light turbulence, but it only helped put me to sleep.

After waking up, I struck up a conversation with a flight attendant. The first thing I told her was the first thing I noticed – the Southwest attitude. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was happy. I know this is an overstatement. Even in the best of jobs there are people who are upset, or hate the boss, or feel overlooked and overworked. Still, the aura was there. As someone who’s flown mostly United and USAirways over the last few years (two airlines in financial troubles with labor unrest) it was easy to pick up the vibe.

I had planned on watching a lecture for my Synoptic Meteorology class, but after 7:30 minutes I pulled out the GPS receiver and watched our progress instead.

It was a ‘nerdy cool’, seeing the map and our position, then looking out the window and seeing everything where it was supposed to be. Where I-75 bent on the map, it bent in real life. Lakes and streams were positioned correctly.

We landed in Tampa about 20 minutes early. One of the flight attendants joked on the P.A., “You tell your friends when we’re late. Let them know we were early.” And now I have.

The early arrival added to the ground time in Tampa. I sat on an arm rest and talked with a Connecticut couple and their 21 year old twin daughters. They were on their way to Key West. The dad was a dead ringer for John Goodman, though I didn’t want to say anything, in case he had seen King Ralph or hated Goodman for other more cryptic and sinister reasons.

The door to the cockpit was open, and I asked the flight attendant if I might go up and take some photos. When I got their, the co-pilot had left the cockpit, so I schmoozed with the pilot who asked me if I wanted to sit down. Then he took my picture, at the controls. OK – we were at the gate, but still… It’s a guy thing. I can’t explain it.

The plane was around 1/4 full when we took off for the short run to West Palm Beach. As we headed skyward I studied what looked like cirrus clouds. Closer inspection leads me to believe it was a massive cluster of jet contrails which, in the nearly calm Florida atmosphere, slowly atrophied as it expanded.

My folks were waiting at PBI. They look great. Florida living is life extension. They have a great time and live the best lifestyle they’ve ever had. As I get older, this type of retirement life seems more enticing.

I knew a friend from high school, Ralph Press, was now living in South Florida, so I gave him a call and asked him over for dinner. Though his car was seriously smoking from the engine compartment when he got here, the rest of the journey seemed uneventful.

Ralph looks exactly the same as I remember him. Of course, he’s a lot older – that’s a given. But many people radically change as they age. Ralph has not.

We had dinner and worked on my parents wireless computer network. The network seems to be working except with my laptop. And, the laptop is giving me an error message I’ve never seen before. I have some CAT5 cable, so it’s not a major deal. I can plug-in. But, I will obsess until I fix it and go wireless again.

High Alert – Steffie Flies

We’re under a High Alert from the Department of Homeland Security. Hopefully, police and security agencies know what to do, but for us mere mortals there are few clues.

The official word is, “Go about your business.” Great. It’s like being told not to think about an elephant in pajamas. What else could you possibly think of after that?

If you boil this alert down to its essence, the only effect it’s having on the general public is to scare us. If we’re not supposed to do anything different, what other benefit is there?

Meanwhile, Steffie had reservations to fly to Florida and visit my folks. This was going to be our first experience with Southwest, after switching my frequent flier allegiance to them a few months ago.

Helaine and I never talked about it, but there was no point when we considered changing Steffie’s plans. I feel confident in the safety of air travel. Beyond that, it would seem a Southwest 737 from Hartford to West Palm Beach via Tampa would be a very unlikely target.

Speaking of Southwest, the report back from the airport was mostly positive. Helaine and Steffie got there early so Steffie could be in “Group A” under Southwest’s non-reserved seating policy. Depending on when you check in, you’re assigned A, B or C. A’s board first and have their choice of seats and overhead storage.

There had been a time when National Guardsmen inspected cars on their way to the parking garage at Bradley Airport. Not so today when you’d expect it.

Southwest is in the new terminal at Bradley and Helaine reports it’s bigtime. Southwest allows three bags at 70 pounds apiece, so Steffie was easily accommodated. Helaine asked for, and was quickly issued, a gate pass, so she could stay with Steffie while she waited to board. We were expecting good, friendly service from Southwest and weren’t disappointed.

Once onboard, in row 7, Steffie called Helaine to let her know things were fine. The next call came after arriving in Tampa. All I got was a reply to my cellphone text message. Without going into the entire message, I’m a loser.

It’s OK. It was said with love. I think.

Steffie’s flight made it on time. Now, she gets a full week of being spoiled (and listening to A&E at stun level volume) with my folks.

The house will be eerily quiet, and though Steffie and I are often at odds, I will miss her.