CategoriesGearTravel

Best Passenger Planes Flying Today

best passenger planes
The 747 … the Queen of the Skies. Flying everywhere you want to go for a little longer. (Taken at Seoul Gimpo Airport)

Some people will tell you that an airliner is an airliner. Don’t believe them. When I book an intercontinental flight, I base my purchase on price, schedule, airline/alliance and – you’d better believe it – aircraft type. Once you read a bit about my observations about the best passenger planes, I dare you to stick by any notions that airliners are all the same.

best passenger planes
Sky Harbor sees only one 747 a day.

The Boeing Family

747

Avgeeks call the 747 the Queen of the Skies. From the outside, this is one graceful, iconic machine -- especially in its -400 and new 8 incarnations. My only recent 747 flights have been on Qantas (LA to Sydney, LA to Auckland), and it’s a comfortable experience even in the cheap coach seats.

The thing is, this is a wide airplane. Three seats, an aisle, four seats, an aisle and three seats. So there’s a good chance of getting wedged in a middle seat. That kind of stinks. But you’ll be able to get up and walk around without banging your head.

Your experience will vary by airline. Not all of them will have on-demand entertainment like Qantas. That makes a difference when your flight spans continents.

By the way, the 747 is kind of headed for extinction. Fly one while you still can (my ideal would be the Lufthansa 747-8). It’s a piece of history. And damn, it’s just beautiful.

Grade – B

best passenger planes
Hawaiian Airlines has solid 767s still flying. But they’re making way for Airbus A330s.

767

Here’s what every avgeek loves about the 767 – only one true middle row seat because of the plane’s 2-3-2 configuration. The odds will be ever in your favor for a chance to get up and stroll around (the perfect plane for Mr. Trololo?).

The problem is, most 767s are obnoxiously old. Few will have on-demand entertainment; my Kindle saved me during a flight from Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City, and I needed some good books on my Qantas flight from Sydney to Darwin. Both examples of the type were getting stained and rough around the edges. The Asiana 767 I flew from Incheon to Tokyo and back, though, was closer to showroom condition.

Beware: United Airlines and American Airlines still fly 767s on long routes, especially to South America. Do your homework before booking because this is not one of the best passenger planes.

Grade – C

best passenger planes
The Boeing 777 is one of the best passenger planes, inside and out.

777

This big, efficient twinjet is the reason that the 747 is on its way out. And another thing: Depending on your airline of choice, this could be the best passenger plane aloft. My LA to Seoul flight on Asiana was a thing of beauty -- a quiet airliner that barely bucked through a bunch of Pacific storm clouds. Oh, and the water fountains! Rather than relying on a flight attendant to stay hydrated, I could walk to the nearest water fountain with my Vapur bottle and fill up. Why not every widebody has this, I cannot fathom. Love!

Now, Asiana’s 777s are shiny-spotless. I can’t say the same for United Airlines (Dulles-Sao Paolo, Rio to Houston). No water fountains, a bit dingy -- but still workable on-demand entertainment. At its best, one of the best passenger planes.

Grade – B+

best passenger planes
A United Dreamliner preps for a flight from Houston to Chicago.

787

It was years late in taking to the skies. It’s had a few hiccups. But right now, the 787 is one of the best passenger planes. I went out of my way to take a United Airlines Dreamliner from Houston to Chicago just because I’m a ridiculous idiot. The LED-equipped cabin was nice, as was the on-demand entertainment. But it was tough to tell if it was really the "moonshot" it was supposed to be.

best passenger planes
The 787 has the sleekest, most-modern cabin of any plane I’ve flown.

Until I took one from San Jose to Tokyo on All Nippon Airlines. Holy cow. Now, my wife is no avgeek. But she asked what was up with this cool plane after a few hours aloft. Was it the higher humidity, the higher cabin pressure, the big windows or the quiet cabin that she noticed? Probably a magic combination of the above. No water fountain, though. ANA also has footrests that are pretty great for shorter passengers, but tall guys like me will probably find that they get in the way.

Do watch out for the wild toilet contraptions in the ANA 787 lavatories. Take some video – it’s worth the fun! The Dreamliner’s electronics suite supposedly helps it avoid turbulence. But the route to Tokyo was pretty bumpy. This poor 787 got absolutely rocked most of the way.

There’s one thing I don’t like very much about the 787 – the dimmable windows. They don’t completely block the light as a window shade would. So your window can get hot – not good for leaning your head against it to catch some sleep.

Also, beware the not all airlines configure their 787 the same. ANA had a 2-4-2 layout versus the United Airlines 3-3-3. So United’s seats are a little skinnier, and you have a good chance of landing a middle seat. ANA does a nice job in its four-across portion, separating the two pairs of seats with a generous armrest.

Grade – A

best passenger planes
This SAS Airbus A330 didn’t convince me that it’s one of the best passenger

The Airbus Lineup

A330

My first A330 flight was on SAS from Chicago O’Hare to Stockholm Arlanda. The plane had been sitting in the sun for hours, and I have to guess the APU was off because the cabin was hot. Not a problem on most planes – you just aim the little air nozzle at your head and let it rip. Well, the SAS A330 doesn’t have the nozzles. Neither does the Vietnam Airlines A330 (HCMC to Hanoi). The SAS flight needed nearly two hours of flight to cool down.

best passenger planes
This Iberia A340 is headed for the scrap heap.

That’s my only quibble with the A330. The SAS flight had top-notch on-demand entertainment. The Vietnam flight didn’t, but it was configured for dense short-haul flights. So no big deal.

I have to say though, that the air nozzle situation means the Airbus is not one of the best passenger planes. Though I’ll give it points for looking like a muscle car of the skies. Beautiful plane.

Grade – D

Still Need a Ride On --

A340

Not very different from the A330 – just a few more engines for those extra-long flights. Some people think it’s even better-looking than the A330. I wonder if it has air nozzles …

best passenger planes
The A380 – one of many widebodies nesting at any given Asian airport. Taken at Incheon.

A380

Patrick Smith is right. This humongous aircraft is ugly as sin. Bigger than the Boeing 747, but it just looks … irradiated. Well, I hear the experience on the inside is great – smooth and quiet. I’d hate to be at the baggage carousel when one of these monsters rumbles in, though.

CategoriesTravelUncategorized

Grounded Airliners at Pinal Air Park – Random Photos

A Delta 747's huge tail finds a spectacular backdrop in Picacho Peak.

For a flying and travel enthusiast, it’s surreal to see hundreds of acres of grounded airliners. It’s a sad sight for many reasons.

Before I get into that, why are these airliners baking under the Arizona desert sun? Well, they’re parked at Pinal Air Park because they’re surplus to their owners’ needs. Some are just too old to be useful – it’s a 747-400 world, and most of these are 1- and 200-models. So they wind up here until they get pressed back into service … or until they get recycled.

Two more 747s languish at Pinal Air Park.

I see these old airliners and think of where they have gone. They’ve probably taken people all over the world … and back in a time where the world may have seemed bigger and more mysterious. You couldn’t take a peak at Reykjavik on Google Earth, or find a new friend in Busan through Facebook.

And I also see waste. Many of these will never go back into service. And we know there are many clever ways to recycle airliners. Turn ’em into hostels, use them for home construction, turn them into bars … whatever. A lot of effort when in to them. Surely they can do more than just get turns into a new generation of receptacles for processed food.

A 747-200 and a DC-10 at Pinal Air Park

My Switch Vision sunglasses giveaway is still going on! Competition is heating up, with hikers and mountain bikers pitching in some great stories about the best thing they’ve ever found on a trail. Best story wins! Check this blog post  for the rules. Deadline is March 30, 2012.

CategoriesAccommodationsTravel

7 Cool Ways to Recycle an Airplane

These days, recycling is cool. And so are airplanes – even the Honda Civic of the skies that is the 737.

That makes recycling airplanes an off-the-charts, Ricardo Montalban-level of cool. I’m not talking about turning Cessnas into aluminum cans. I’m talking about turning Boeing jumbo jets into backpacker hostels, or shady old military cargo planes into jungle restaurants.

Here are a few really cool places where you can eat, sleep and/or drink in a recycled airplane. The small but vibrant Costa Rican town of Manuel San Antonio seems to have the largest number, per capita, of such projects. (NOTE: If you know of any others, e-mail me and I’ll include them in a future post).

Not So High-Flying in Costa Rica

El Avion (Manuel San Antonio)
Photobucket
This Fairchild C-123 is linked to the Iran-Contra Affair – but these days, it’s as benign as a glassful of house-made sangria. You’ll find ticos and touristas side-by-side chomping bar food and downing cans of Imperial. And enjoying an unmatched ambience – perched on a cliff, with the occassional monkey cruising by (especially if there’s an unattended trash can nearby). El Avion has history, scenery and a low price. Some of these aircraft carry a hefty price to enter, but at El Avion, a few colones for a pint is all you need. Last Visited – 2003

Hotel Costa Verde (Manuel San Antonio)
Most of the Hotel Costa Verde is pretty typical upscale jungle fare. Unless you book passage in the 727 suite. This room is not only cool for being inside a Boeing’s fuselage, but also more opulent than even U2’s 727! Costa Rica is pretty progressive about protecting its timber resources, and this suite is absolutely jammed with teak: Hotel Costa Verde might pick up some eco-points if it had a good source of sustainable wood for the project. Your seat on this flight comes at a premium: $300 per night in the off-season.

Grounded in the Wop-Wops
Woodlyn Park (Waitomo Caves, NZ)

A perfect respite after a day of hiking, driving or caving – all in the nose of a plane!

Kiwi bloke Billy Black doesn’t do typical hotels – some masonry, a blocky design, the same ol’, same ol’. No – he scrounged an old Bristol freighter and turned it into a two-suite mini hotel. The cockpit room is where it’s at: Families can stow the kiddies in the 747-like cockpit hump for the night, and take the downstairs bunk for themselves. The room also includes a perfect shower and a kitchenette. The price was also very reasonable at $160 NZ per night – that was about $82 US! Be sure to check out the train room, boat hotel and hobbit rooms, too. Last visited – 2009

Outside the Woodlyn Park Bristol freighter

Sweden Goes Jumbo

Jumbo Hostel (Stockholm, Sweden)
When it comes to recycling an airplane, it doesn’t come on a much bigger scale than a 747-200. I first heard about this from my friends at SpotCoolStuff.com. Jumbo Hostel is parked at Arlanda International Airport – convenient! You can get anything from bunk bed-style rooms to a private room in the cockpit. The only other re-used 747 was turned into a restaurant in Korea. Since it went belly up, it doesn’t get a space on the list – Jumbo Hostel retains the biggest designation! (Update: Been there, stayed at it.)

Still a Mile High in Colorado

The Airplane Restaurant (Colorado Springs, Colo. USA)
It’s pretty fitting that you’ll find a place like this in Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The restaurant is alternately called Solo’s, or just The Airplane Restaurant. The centerpiece of the dually monikered eatery is a KC-97 tanker, but the rest is regular ol’ dining room. The food doesn’t appear to be anything really unusual, but I’ll give any place props for having a buffalo burger.

Southwest in the South

Parachute Inn (Walnut Ridge, Ark. USA)
This is the least exciting entry. It’s a 737 still in its drab rusty orange and faded yellow livery. It’s tacked into an existing restaurant. Its specialty seems to be southern cooking and seafood. It doesn’t have a Web site.

CategoriesUncategorized

A Tip of the Hat to the Boeing 747

A preface from Wandering Justin: I originally wrote this for another blog, but it seems relevant here. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Boeing
Photo courtesy of Boeing

Every time I go to band practice, I take the 143 freeway past Sky Harbor. I always look to my right and see a British Airways 747 parked at Terminal 4, getting ready to head to London.

And I wish I was getting on that plane. Not so much because it’s going to London, but because … well, I can’t explain it in one sentence. But here are the thoughts that jumble through my head:

-First, there is a certain something special and exciting about a 747. It’s an icon of style, adventure and anticipation. You don’t take a 747 from Charlotte to Pittsburgh. No, That’s what takes you to Hong Kong, to Paris, to Sydney, to Johannesburg. From the first time I rode one on the way to Germany as a 5-year-old boy, it has made me feel something no other airplane can replicate. The 777 is a marvelous piece of technology, and the A380 is built on a mind-boggling scale. But no aircraft save the Concorde cuts the same image on final approach, or puts that flutter in my stomach as I cross from the jetway into its fuselage. Sadly, less than a handful of American-based airlines still fly it.

-Second, it being a British Airways flight, I know that the people aboard will not be treated like cattle. Foreign airlines seem to have figured out how not to nickel-and-dime passengers to death, and understand that a good experience aloft will endear them to American passengers. I’ve only flown Qantas and JetStar recently. But people whose opinions I respect tell me Air New Zealand, British Airways and Air France are on their game. And I’ve heard Emirates and Virgin are dialed in, too.

-Third, I just love flying. The longer the flight, the happier I am. But put me in a seat with a few hundred people on the way to someplace that requires a widebody jet, and all is right with my world. Is it as comfortable as my reading chair? No. Is the food all that good? No. But I can afford to buy a seat and travel 7,000 or more miles and get off that plane in what feels like a different world. If you can’t get fired up about that, I seriously don’t know what the hell is the matter with you.

-Fourth, I love airports. Sure, the TSA seems like it’s deliberately trying to drive me crazy. There are throngs of people, completely bovine in their lack of situational awareness and clueless meandering. But outside, it’s a well-choreographed display of efficient motion. And there’s something electric in the air at a major international airport (as opposed to my local Sky Harbor, which hosts all of one flight from the U.K., and then a bunch from Canada and Mexico and another from Costa Rica. Hell, that’s barely enough to qualify.). All these people from around the world, all these aircraft that have been who-knows-where. It invigorates me, and gets me excited about everything going on in the world at every given moment.

For me, the inconveniences and discomforts become so petty and so worth enduring when I wake up in another city that my grandparents never could’ve imagined visiting in their lifetime.

CategoriesUncategorized

The Humpiest Hotel Ever?

Ahhhhh! There are some things in this world that are simply dripping in cool factor. No, this is marinated in cool, so much that the awesomeness infuses every morsel.

I’m talking about the 747 that’s been turned into a hotel! I know some people might think “hey, why would I want to spend more time on an airplane?” Well, I just happen to love airplanes and flying, so half the fun is getting there. And I can think of little that’s cooler than smartly reusing something.

My buddies over at SpotCoolStuff.com dug this one up, and what a stellar find it is.

As I mentioned in a response to their blog entry, I live in Arizona. We have two massive airplane graveyards (The AMARC in Tucson and Pinal Air Park) and a third smaller one in Goodyear. Each has its share of civilian heavies, C141s and even B-52s. Can you imagine the possibilities if we stopped cutting them up and started doing something really cool with them? In many cases, they’re only getting cut up enough to be rendered unflyable. Here’s a way better way to do that!

Several people have also turned retired 727s into homes. How cool!