Sunday, January 29, 2012

Simulate This! Boeing's Customer Experience Center

Did some flying today – just a short one hour hop on a US EMB145 out of LGA. There was a little girl behind me, in 5F, and whenever she started to mess with my seat back or make annoying squealy noises, her dad shushed her as best he could. I appreciated that.

I also appreciated that he wasn't seated in 4D, next to me, because he was obese and barely fit in his own seat. If the person next to him weren't a child, he could not have sat there. At least I didn't have to stand up for a seven hour flight (did you see that story?!). I chatted with a United FA last year who told me about her biggest fear – that she will have a "POS" who causes a safety problem or other "incident" because of his or her size.

"What's a POS?" I asked.

"Person of size..." she said. So now you know the terminology to use when you complain to the airline about the giant in 4D.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to talk about the Boeing Customer Experience Center in Renton, Washington. I had a chance to go there recently, and tour mock ups of several aircraft, including the 787 Dreamliner, the 747-8 Intercontinental, and the 737 with Sky Interior.

It was fun; especially the next day, when I flew out on UACO metal to ORD and watched SMI/J smirk his way through the latest pre-flight video – I recognized the interior of the 787 mock up I had been in the day before.

Here are just a couple of pics from the visit. I took many more, but they aren't that interesting. They just look like the inside of a plane, which you've all seen. It's a cool facility though – ordinarily, it is only accessible to buyers who are shopping for aircraft for major airlines. That's not my day job, so I felt privileged to get a little behind the scenes access. But it was too bad they wouldn't fire up the full-scale simulator for me.

Almost as cool as the Dreamliner mockup was this scale model of the Sonic Cruiser concept plane. Unveiled in March, 2001, it was supposed to be developed as a delta-wing passenger aircraft that could jet you at 98% mach, up to 10,000 nautical miles, above 40,000 feet FL. But obviously the timing wasn't great. I guess you could say the whole plan was just a canard.

Get it? Canard?

Anyway...some of the tech that was being developed for this ill-fated project ended up being incorporated into the 787. The most important feature brought over may have been the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic for the fuselage. Why is that so great? Because unlike a metal vessel, a composite cylinder can be humidified to a higher level without corroding from the moisture. That may help keep your skin from getting all dry and flaky when you finally fly long-haul on the latest Boeing aircraft.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The World's Longest Flight with a Y Cabin

The Wall Street Journal this week profiled pax making the haul from SYD to DFW via QF flight 7, a 15-hour slog with three classes of service. There are longer flights (EWR-SIN and LAX-SIN for example), but they don't have economy seating configuration.

Some airlines are reporting that pax will pay up to a 20% premium to spend more time in the air, while avoiding a layover. Personally, I'm happy to get a break and stretch my legs – and hit the beer machine in the ANA (pictured) or the United Club at NRT. A couple of extra hours doesn't make a 20 hour trip that much worse than an 18 hour flight.

Plus, you get more miles!

What's the longest commercial flight you've taken? 

And what class of service did you survive?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Your Feet Still Smell: Etiquette Update

Back in June, we shared our views on airplane etiquette, with a huge tip of the baseball cap to baseball groundskeeper and blogger Murray Cook. And speaking of etiquette, the attached photo of someone's nasty hooves on the F cabin bulkhead was taken by my colleague and co-blogger, Crosscheck, on a flight last year from SFO to LAX.

On that note, this week I made a swing that included SFO-SEA-ORD, and witnessed the following:

Violation #1
Stopping by the SFO United Club in T3, I headed back to the so-called Contemplation Room (no cell phones). There's signage that clearly says that lying down, reclining, and sleeping on the furniture are not allowed.

Not only did I have to kick out one guy who was on the phone with his tree surgeon (really), I encountered a guy lying flat out on a couch, asleep: barefoot.

Gross. Blurry photo here (I was afraid if I used the flash it would wake him up, and he'd kick my ass – he looked like an extra from Eastbound & Down). Eventually he stopped drooling and put on his shoes and shuffled off to a flight (probably to Boston).

Violation #2
A couple of days later, I boarded a UA flight from SEA to ORD, seated in F. The guy in 5A was a cross between Hulk Hogan and that dude from the custom motorcycle show, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, filthy cargo shorts, and flip-flops. Keep in mind there was an inch of snow on the ground in Seattle and the outside temp was 29 degrees Fahrenheit. And it was 19 degrees in Chicago. And the guy had no coat.

As soon as he sat down, he kicked off his sandals, and wiggled his gnarled, filthy, disgusting toes in glee. Before pushback, he got up to retrieve something from the overhead and the FA told him that "bare feet aren't allowed on board the aircraft." But she didn't make him put his flip-flops back on. And when he asked "Why aren't bare feet allowed?" her answer was:
"Because there are sharp objects on the floor."
WTF!? Wrong answer. How about,
"Because, Mr. Hillbilly, you are filthy, grimy, dirt-encrusted pig whose repulsive, exposed feet are a fungus-bearing disease vector, and you sicken us."
Folks, please keep your shoes on?


P. S.: As an aside, the woman in front of me on the same flight had a squalling 5 month old monster infant. In F cabin. That's a topic for another post.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shanghai Surprise: The Ballad of CO87

What follows is a shortened version of the official flight info for an ill-fated flight from Newark to Shanghai this week.

Our question: How come the FAs didn't lock the lavs when they filled up?

Our favorite phrases used below include:
Due to dispatch technology issues...
...flight release and paperwork were not able to be generated.
...poor customer disposition
In other words: Mistakes were made, but not by us....

OK, here we go:
Flight 87/EWR-PVG experienced an air return to EWR due to all lavatories on the aircraft being full. The aircraft was approximately 5+ hours out of EWR when the decision was made to return to EWR. While in route back to EWR, an investigation...revealed that the lavs were not serviced in EWR prior to scheduled departure as required. ....According to Flight Attendant statements, they observed [before departure] that Tank 1 was 5/8th full, Tank 2 was 3/8th full and tank 3 was 5/8th full....The FA’s assumed that the lav’s would be serviced during the boarding process. Allegedly, no calls were made to SOC to request lavatory service....
Approximately 5 hours into the flight, the on board chimes sounded indicating #3 Tank was full. Shortly after that, Tank 1 was full and one of the lavatories began to overflow. The decision was made to air return....While in route back to EWR, the Lavatories overflow situation became severe enough to warrant a diversion into YYR (Goose Bay, NF)....Lavatories were serviced in YYR, the aircraft fueled and was airborne back to EWR at 22:52 local.
The aircraft was rescheduled to depart at 03:15 with a new crew. Due to dispatch technology issues the flight release and paperwork were not able to be generated....After, retrieving the paperwork and delivering to the crew, the door was closed at 05:35. While attempting to remove the jetway from the aircraft, the CS agent had difficulty. The auto leveler on the gate, Gate 121 had failed and required Facility Maintenance technicians to safely remove the jetway from the aircraft. FX MX was able to remove the jetway at 05:54. At approximately 06:00 the crew requested the jetway be reattached for an ill Flight attendant. The flight attendant was experiencing a severe asthma attack and was transported to the hospital via ambulance at 06:20. The crew duty time expired and the crew made the decision to not waive duty time. 
252 Customers (50 BF) were then deplaned. Customer disposition was poor but managed well by the CS team at EWR....Customers were given meal vouchers and hotels this morning....
There you have it. We hope the asthma-stricken FA recovered OK...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why Your United Lifetime Flight Mileage Suddenly Increased

Happy new year folks. Crosscheck and I were talking about this blog, and the fact that we have tons of great ideas for things to write here while we're flying, but when we get back on the ground our brains are blank again. I'm going to try a different approach this year, which will be to write shorter posts more often, generally around the time I'm flying.

Like today, when I completed my first two segments of 2012. But today I'm not writing about my fight experience. I'm going to explain why my lifetime mileage on United suddenly jumped on New Year's Day from 552,000 to about 675,000. It has to do with coming up with a single system for tracking mileage, that handles CO and UA accounts fairly and equitably.

Up til now, MP accounts tracked "BIS" miles: Butt In Seat while on board UA and United Express aircraft. CO's OnePass counted these EQMs (elite qualifying miles) as well as "bonus EQM" - like miles from partner airlines, or airline credit cards or other promotions.

As a way to get people back on the same page, United recalculated lifetime MP balances to include not only the BIS mileage on UA aircraft, but the bonus EQM on UA as well (previously excluded). This is a one time bump. As United pointed out, "the lifetime miles balance will either increase or remain the same."

If you have a MP account as well as a OnePass account, UA will be combining their lifetime miles to come up with a single, new MP lifetime balance. This is the number with which you'll start your 2012 frequent flyering. And sometime late in Q1 of calendar 2012 the balances will no longer be shown as CO and UA separately, but instead will be combined.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well if you're a UA Premier Gold member, you will have more competition now, and may have a harder time getting upgraded on UDUs (or whatever they are calling them now). Best way to ensure the upgrade? Pick a higher-ranking fare class when you book your ticket.

Last thing to note is that as of January 1, 2012, the bonus party is over. If you want Million Miler status, you're going to have to earn the rest of the miles the new fashioned way: by actually flying. This from UA:
Starting January 1, 2012, flight miles on the new United (including Continental), Copa Airlines, or Copa Airlines Colombia will accrue toward Million Miler status.
So don't give up on promotions, MP Dining, transferring your Marriott Rewards, and so on. Those will still be credited toward award mileage balances. But the EQMs will come from flying, and (maybe) from the United MP Explorer Visa card (but probably just from dollars spent on EQM...I'm not even sure, and I have the damn card). 

Confused? Don't worry about it. The mileage wonks will track this stuff for us. Our job, as always, is to fly fly fly.


Image: Old and new MP logos via Plane Picky.