CategoriesTravel

The 737 MAX: One Refreshed Version Too Far

Here’s the big problem with the Boeing 737 MAX: Both Boeing and the airlines are forcing a past-its-prime design to be a flying Swiss Army Knife. They want it to have unparalleled fuel efficiency on short hops from Chicago to Louisville. And they want it to fly from Phoenix to Hawaii, too.
The two fatal 737 MAX crashes seem like a solid indicator that Boeing rushed what Patrick Smith calls a Frankenplane into service. Boeing saw this as the most cost-effective way to counter the Airbus A320 NEO.

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Inside an American Airlines 737-800.

Here are a few thoughts about the pickle presented by the Boeing 737 MAX family.

Stubby Landing Gear: Huge Problem for 737 MAX

Engine fan diameters have grown over time in the quest for more fuel efficiency. The 737 is low to the ground because airports were different when it was designed in the 1960s: Passengers might have to use a stair car, built-in metal stairs or other means to board.

For the MAX, Boeing wanted a bigger, more-efficient engine. But the company didn’t want all the expense and effort of redesigning the wing to accommodate a taller landing gear (which is necessary for a bigger engine).

Boeing 737 MAX 8
I couldn’t resist an Arrested Development stair car reference.

Boeing engineers "solved" this problem by moving the engines "forward and up to accomodate[sic] the larger fan diameter. Any handling differences as a result of this have been tuned out by Boeing in the flight control system to make the types feel the same to crew. This was necessary for certification under the same type certificate." (That’s the MCAS we’re hearing so much about.)

The more modern Airbus A320 represents a different design area. It has more ground clearance for bigger-diameter high-bypass engines. It was never meant to operate with a built-in staircase. It’s a product of the jetway era.

callsigns
A US Airways 757

737 MAX Can’t Replace 757

Airliners are trying hard to make the 737 and A320 fill a number of roles, including some that suit the Boeing 757. The 757 is a middle ground airliner dating to the early 80s. It’s kind of over-powered, which gives it a huge performance edge at high-altitude airports and in hot weather with a heavy load. This sorry situation that happened to me on an Airbus A320? Never gonna happen on a 757. Its power and capacity make it able to handle scenarios where the smaller twinjets fall short.

But the 757 is nearing the end of its life. Airbus says its A320 family can replace it, which pilots and many airline wonks don’t believe for a second.

Hawaiian Airlines 787
The 797 might replace the 767, too.

Boeing seems to agree: Its 797 program — which isn’t a sure thing — is a 757/767 replacement: A small, high-performance widebody. Airlines initially squawked about costs.

But what about the costs of forcing a Frankenplane into roles it shouldn’t occupy with kludged fixes? That’s a question Boeing and airlines need to consider.


Airlines Fixated on Small, Dense Planes

Over the years, small airliners like the 737 and A320 have swiped routes that widebody airliners used to serve. Southwest Airlines was flying the 737 MAX to Hawaii before the grounding.

No airline previously used anything smaller than a 757 for that route (and no thanks to flying that far on an airline with no in-flight meals — I don’t care how quirky the flight attendants are with their safety demos).

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Heading to Newark on a United Airlines A320.

Here’s some info from one of my earlier posts about why airlines are doing this.

In the US, airlines have to essentially pay by the pound for their landing fees. Smaller airliners are also a smaller capital outlay, require smaller crews and use less fuel.

That’s another incentive to go small. And the cheapest way to go small, at least in the way that pleases shareholders hungry for a quarterly return, is to refresh current designs.

Paying a little more in landing fees seems like a good bet in retrospect, doesn’t it?

What’s Ahead for the Boeing, the MAX and the 797?

So that Boeing 797 I mentioned earlier. The specter of the 737 MAX looms over the Boeing decision makers. It seems like a great way to keep the company from cutting corners.

But what happens if Boeing produces a great plane? How does Airbus react? Do they cling to the idea of competing with the 797 with a kludged A320? Or do they go for a clean-sheet design?

737 MAX
The split-scimitar wing and scalloped engine nacelles of a Boeing 737 MAX.

I wonder what will happen with the 737 MAX, too. A lot fewer people are saying "If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going." It’s hard for me to trust the MAX family right now, and I wonder how Boeing will fix this damage.
At the smaller end of the scale, the Airbus A220 (formerly Bombardier C series) could fill this vacuum nicely. And the MAX situation invites a stretched A220.

As a co-worker of mine used to say, "I look forward to seeing how this plays out."

CategoriesTravel

Flying to Costa Rica Kind of Stinks

I love a good long flight. Put me in an economy class seat on a decent airline for 14 hours, and I’m perfectly happy to pass the hours watching movies and devouring books on my Kindle.

Notice the key phrase: a decent airline.

Decent airlines are scarce in the U.S., with an avalanche of nickel-and-diming paired with increasingly cramped airplanes. Then put that on a route that just long enough to be international, but not quite long enough for U.S. based airlines to consider bringing their A Game.

Our recent trip to Costa Rica really brings that into focus: We flew there on two of the three big U.S. legacy carriers – American Airlines and United Airlines. Both flights arrived safely and relatively on-time. At this point, that seems to be the only aim, with on-time more than negotiable.

So what exactly is the problem?

takeoff sky harbor
Takeoff from Sky Harbor

First of all, we live in Phoenix. That means that direct flights to Costa Rica are seasonal, and our flight wasn’t scheduled for the right season. We connected in Dallas via American Airlines. Connections always make things a bit tricky. Fortunately, nothing ran late.

But let’s talk a bit about the seats: The first flight was an Airbus A320, with the second let being a Boeing 737. Both had slimline seats that were absolutely jammed into the seat in front. I’d guess a 30-inch seat pitch. Fortunately, my wife and I had a 3-year-old passenger between us, so we were able to steal her legroom. The seats on the United planes – a 737 from San Jose and an A320 from Houston – were slightly better.

Then there’s the baggage fees. I’ve never flown on an international flight that charged for checked baggage. These "short international" flights seem to get treated like domestic flights, which is really odd to me.

Then there’s the cabin service. American Airlines came out way ahead of United by providing a cold sandwich on the flight from Dallas to San Jose. United had buy on board options on their menu. But apparently they’d sold out on the previous flight. We shrugged it off at the time: Houston has some great food options in the concourse, and we allowed just enough time to pick something up. But, no: An aircraft that was late to push back from our scheduled gate cost us at least 15 minutes. That piled on top of having to go through Immigration and re-check out baggage. We arrived at our gate seven minutes before pushback. And even though there was a grab-and-go restaurant right next to the gate, the gate agents waved us onto the plane as if we were the last ones who would board (we were actually far from it). Fortunately, a brewery near our house was still serving pizza once we got out of the airport (Thank you, McFate, for always being awesome!). Oh, and did I mention that United managed to leave my wife’s backpack in Houston?

Second leg on American Airlines – the night flight to San Jose, Costa Rica.

As for the flight attendants, they varied from flight to flight. The first United crew seemed entirely disinterested in their self-loading cargo. The second was far better, with one flight attendant getting some water to our thirsty 3-year-old before the beverage service (we didn’t have a chance to fill bottles on the mad sprint through the terminal).

What’s to be done about this? My hope is that carriers like JetBlue or even foreign carriers start putting the screws to airlines like American and United. I’m perfectly happy to pay slightly more for airlines that don’t charge for checked luggage on international flights, that have good schedules and that offer decent, consistent service in the cabin (that last one is possible – I’ve seen it in airlines abroad).

It would be nice to see a U.S. airline say "air travel can be awesome, and we’re going to make it so."

It’s a long shot, which is why I always try to book international flights on foreign carriers (Asiana is amazing, with Qantas, SAS and Lufthansa also being pretty solid). Foreign flag carriers seem to realize that they’re often a visitor’s first impression of our country, or a resident’s welcome home. It would be awesome to see an US-based airline make it their mission to act accordingly. Flying can be fun, but our country’s legacy carriers seem determined to make it a drag.

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.

CategoriesAccommodationsAdventuresFitnessTravel

What Would You Do With $3,000?

travel to new zealand
With trails like this, why wouldn’t you want to ride in Rotorua, NZ? (Credit: www.flowmountainbike.com)

A few weeks ago, I paged through the latest Mountain Flyer magazine and saw a review of the Foundry Broadaxe mountain bike.The base-level Broadaxe will set you back $2,950. That’s a hefty chunk of change. The Mountain Flyer writer describes the Broadaxe as "more capable than I would have imagined."

Look, if I drop $3,000 on a bike, I expect its biggest limitation to be me. I’d be appalled by a $3K bike that isn’t excellent. And it made me think of how a bike can be the smallest part of the mountain bike experience.

I started to think about what I’d do if someone handed me $3,000 with the condition that I spend it on something bike-related. Here’s my answer … and I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

travel to new zealand
Check out the trails near Auckland.

The last thing I’d spend my money on is another bike. I have two great bikes. And great as they are, they’re not the endgame. They’re the means to the endgame of great experiences. So I’d seek a great experience -- I’d travel to New Zealand and ride the trails near Auckland and Rotorua, which has great scenery and riding. I’d love to include Queenstown, but that would eat away at my budget and time.

travel to New Zealand
You can now grab a flight to New Zealand on Hawaiian Airlines. (Photo by Dylan Ashe)

First step: Find a flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. This overgrown regional airport has one intercontinental flight per day. But Hawaiian Airlines recently started service from Honolulu to Auckland -- and Hawaiian flies direct from Sky Harbor to Honolulu. I can skip the Los Angeles International Airport chaos and still travel to New Zealand. And I’d get to spend about a day hanging out in Honolulu before my connecting flight to Auckland on the outbound flight. Some people might like to split the trip into two flights, but I love long flights. A bonus – I’d finally get to fly Hawaiian Airlines, which has a reputation as one of the best U.S. carriers. But I’d be deprived of a flight on the Air New Zealand 777, which is one nice airplane. The Hawaiian Airlines bottom line is too attractive to pass, though: $1,212 for a round trip leaving Dec. 4 and returning Dec. 17.

travel to new zealand
You can rent a Yeti 575 in New Zealand – not a bad ride!

Next, hotels!

This is late spring/early summer in New Zealand – peak season! My standby, Anns Volcanic, was booked for weeks around my proposed date. But the YHA Rotorua website shows all sorts of options. A room with double beds and a private bathroom ("ensuite" in the local parlance) is $44 NZ. I should be able to match that rate at a similar hostel in Auckland, which also has great trails. That’s $550 NZ. And with the exchange rate? That turns into $465 US. Tack on $100 for a basic hotel in Hawaii during the layover, and that’s $565 US.

That leaves bike rental -- or bike hire, as it’s called in New Zealand. Hardtails are around $60 NZ a day, with dualies as high as $150 NZ. There’s a place that rents Yeti 575s from $75 a day. Factor in a price break for multi-day rental, the occasional day off the trails and I came up with a conservative budget of $541 US in bike rentals. That’s based on eight days of rental out of 11 full days on the ground. The days off are for other fun stuff like hiking, loafing and local flavors of adventure sports like the Zorb and Schweeb at The Agrodome, one of my favorite places ever.

Total? $2,318 US – with cash left over for meals, transportation and visits to places like the Agrodome.

To me, this beats the pants off a new bike, even something as cool as a Foundry Broadaxe (and make no mistake, it’s pretty sweet). Every bike wears out or gets less cool as new products roll out. But awesome days of adventure? They live forever.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

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CategoriesAdventuresBlogging/WritingFitness

Cool Content – Great Finds from Other Blogs

see http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immagine:Suba...
You probably won’t see canons in Thunder Bay … but who knows? http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immagine:Subacquea.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the first time I’ve published a post that’s just about other content. I plan to do it more -- maybe once every two weeks. There’s a chance I could wind up doing it more as I find more content.

Alright, I’ve done "innerduced" it enough. Onto my first-ever Cool Content Crypt!

First up is Diving for Shipwrecks at the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary. Rutger, one of the people at BookYourDive.com, introduced himself to me a few months ago and wrote a terrific post about his introduction to SCUBA diving. These days, Rutger is a PADI-certified dive instructor who loves getting newcomers into SCUBA diving. This post about checking out shipwrecks in the Great Lakes is a great motivation. This adventure is an awesome answer to "so, what did you do on your vacation (or make that "holiday" for my friends in other countries --)?"

Continue reading

CategoriesTravel

Norway and Finland – Getting There, Around and Back

All aboard for the next train out of Flam, Norway!

Getting around is part of the fun of a visit to Norway and Finland. Our trip gave us a chance to check out just about every mode of transportation and many brands, from United Airlines to the Gjene ferry. Here’s the wrap-up:

  • 1 leg on US Airways (Phoenix to Chicago)
  • 1 leg on Scandinavian Airlines (Chicago to Stockholm Arlanda)
  • 7 legs on Norwegian Air Shuttle (Arlanda, Oslo, Tromso, Bergen, Helsinki – see my review)
  • 2 legs on United Airlines (Stockholm to Newark, Newark to Phoenix)
  • Round trip on the VR train (Helsinki to Turku)
  • 1 leg on a boat from Memurubu to Gjende (Jotunheimen, Norway)
  • Round trip on ferry to Suomenlinna (Helsinki)
  • A few hundred miles of driving in Norway
The VR train is a nice way to get around Finland. And it’s not even the country’s fastest.

Norwegian Air Shuttle is the surprise of the bunch; nice planes, good service, good on-time performance and a very nice bit of regional flair.

The VR train was less of a surprise since European rail service has a good reputation. The VR exceeded our expectations, though. Watch for a full review here.

United Airlines wasn’t much of a revelation overall. But somehow, I got us seats in Economy Plus for the flight from Newark to Phoenix. That extra few inches of legroom was a nice surprise. If you have a few extra bucks or enough air miles for the upgrade, I’d highly recommend United Airlines Economy Plus. I was more than a bit surprised by the satellite TV in every seat. Had I not been hip-deep in a re-read of A Song of Ice and Fire, I would’ve thrown out $7 for the 4+-hour flight … especially since Goal TV is one of the stations. United Airlines seems to be in the middle of some real improvements for domestic flights.

CategoriesTravel

Norwegian Air Shuttle – Review and More

Norwegian Air Shuttle
Greta Garbo graces the tail of this Norwegian Air Shuttle 737-800.

Norwegian Air Shuttle and I became very good friends during my trip to Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Norwegian Air Shuttle specializes in budget air travel – like a Scandinavian Southwest Airlines with assigned seating. My wife handled the bookings. Knowing that I like sampling different airlines, she looked into Finnair for some flights. But she found Norwegian Air was the way to go for cheap air travel. Its fares were sometimes half the price of its competitors. She booked us on flights from Stockholm to Oslo to Tromsø to Bergen to Helsinki.

Like Southwest, Norwegian Air Shuttle runs a fleet of 737s, most of which are the new 800 model (including a few with the cool new Sky interior based on the 787). The airline has a neat shtick to put a regional stamp on its fleet: Most of its aircraft have the image and name of a Scandinavian who, in some way, made a mark on the world. Think Greta Garbo, Anders Celsius, Edvard Munch and Edvard Grieg, to name just a few that you should recognize. Nice way to add some history to the air travel experience.

Norwegian Air Shuttle
The Boeing Sky interior – more headroom and a sleek look for this Norwegian Air 737.

Its niche is cheap air travel, so be ready to pay for every extra on a Norwegian Air Shuttle flight: checked baggage, meals, even water. But here’s what else you can count on based on my flights:

  • You’ll get where you’re going on-time. I can’t remember a single late flight in the bunch.
  • You’ll board and disembark more quickly than you’d believe. Norwegian Air boards from the main door and from the rear.
  • The cabin crews are pleasant. Not a scowl or ill temper on any of my flights.
  • The flights all have free wi-fi. But you’ll need a European SIM card in your phone to get anything out of it. I wasn’t able to make it work with my U.S. SIM card.

The word is that intercontinental flights are on the horizon for Norwegian Air using several of the 787s the airline has on order. Where will they fly? Well, New York and Bangkok, for sure. But I’d bet that Denver International Airport would push to land Norwegian Air. Denver’s population is pretty outdoorsy, and it’s a United Airlines hub. So it could draw from other regions to get people headed to Oslo to dive into the many outdoor adventures that await in Norway. Meanwhile, I’d bet all my US Airways Dividend Miles that the staff of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (my hometown airport) hasn’t even considered a bid to lure a few weekly visits from Norwegian Air Shuttle’s Dreamliners.

Norwegian’s CEO is quoted in the in-flight magazine as aiming to make the intercontinental air travel affordable through the Dreamliner’s low operating costs and fuel efficiency. That could open Norway as a tourist destination for a U.S. airport smart enough to make itself attractive. And with the right price and level of service, Norwegian Air Shuttle could compete with Scandinavian Airlines as a major player in getting travelers to Norway – and to Sweden, Denmark and Finland, too.





 

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CategoriesTravel

Sky Harbor Responds to “International Flight” Criticism

Welcome to Sky Harbor – small planes, small goals.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport isn’t happy with a WanderingJustin.com post that hints that its staff lags in securing intercontinental routes and airlines.The recent “addition” of another British Airways flight didn’t impress me. More accurately, this will bring Phoenix back to seven flights a week from the current six; (seven years ago, the British Airways flight went from daily to six days a week, a fact The Arizona Republic skipped in its rush to cheerfully ralph up the city press release).

So, there’s little net gain. Sky Harbor is just back where it was seven years ago. Contrast that to Denver International Airport, which just made hay by snagging seasonal direct service to Iceland. Nice score for an outdoorsy metro area! It puts this snippy, defensive reply to my post from unnamed Sky Harbor personnel into perspective:

We have seen your blog in response to the added British Airways flight. Your disappointment in the number of international flights is concerning. Please be advised that airports compete heavily for air service and airlines make business decisions about where to fly based on the estimated profitability of the flight. This begins with the number of passengers that will fly daily in full-fare first and business class seats, followed by the number of additional passengers in full-fare and discount economy seats. Under the direction of the Mayor, Council and City Manager, the Aviation Department actively evaluates this local market and presents competitive information to airlines to encourage them to consider Phoenix. If you have research about the areas you mention in your blog such as Asia and Europe and evidence of 150-200+ people per day in the Valley who would buy seats on these flights, please share it with us. We would appreciate any such information that would assist the airlines in making what amounts to a multi-million dollar investment in our market and more international flights for the Valley. 
Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.
 

Customer Service
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

So, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport wants me to do its job. It wants me to do what its staff can’t –  compete with competition like Denver International Airport. Sounds to me like Denver and its staff researched areas where 150-200+ people might make it worthwhile for an airline to make a multi-million-dollar investment in their market for international flights. Denver displayed the initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport crew lacks. The score? Denver International Airport – 4 new Icelandair flights, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – 1 “sort-of-new” British Airways flight.

My response:

Dear Customer Service,

Thanks for your response. I would be happy to help Sky Harbor in its mission to add intercontinental routes and carriers. We can approach it two ways: A per-hour consulting fee of $150, or a retainer for up to 20 hours of research per month. You could also arrange a panel of local travelers representing leisure and business segments to determine what routes are worth your thought. Finally, you could poll Sky Harbor travelers with questions related to their thoughts on intercontinental routes – a sample of about 3,000 is enough to be statistically relevant. 
 
Or, and I’m just spitballing here, you can encourage the people already on the city’s payroll to display initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
 
Here’s a bit of free advice: Study the number of Phoenix travelers who have to fly to Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International, Newark, John F. Kennedy and Houston Intercontinental to transfer to flights abroad. Determine the top destinations. Court those airlines and routes heavily. Just off the top of my head, I know that United Airlines – possibly as a punitive punishment over a squabble for international flights – cancelled the soon-to-be-implemented 787 service from Houston to Auckland (word is it was an excuse to put the 787 on a route to Japan instead, while also sticking it to the Houston City Council). Now, if I were a Sky Harbor employee tasked with attracting new routes, I’d look into pitching 787 service from Phoenix to Auckland starting at four flights a week. Such a flight would pull passengers from the Qantas and Air New Zealand flights from LAX and possibly SFO. Name a passenger who loves flying from LAX … oh, that’s right: Nobody likes flying from LAX. Other aspects to consider: New Zealand is an English-speaking country that makes a convenient travel experience for American travelers. And the U.S. dollar is strong next to the Kiwi dollar. Plus filling up a 787 on this route wouldn’t be as difficult as a 777 or 747, which is the 787’s mission – long, thin routes. 
 
Here’s something else I’d add – consider what Phoenix Sky Harbor could offer travelers seeking intercontinental routes. Phoenix Sky Harbor has a compact footprint, and it will be even easier to navigate with the opening of the rail system that will connect each terminal. That will make a connecting experience far better than the mad scrambles of airports like LAX. That means quicker, easier connections and less stress. Sell that hard.
 
I will be out of the country starting next week until mid July. Feel free to contact me to further discuss a consulting arrangement. 

I’m curious: Why does Sky Harbor care what one blogger thinks about international flights? Why acknowledge me at all instead of crowing about the “new” British Airways flight?

I know attracting new routes and airlines isn’t easy. They don’t appear overnight with the wave of a magic travel wand. But … nothing new in seven years? Is this really the best Phoenix can do?

CategoriesTravel

British Airways Adds Extra Flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor

Sky Harbor needs more than a daily flight from London to make Arizona a major air travel player.

British Airways will increase the number of flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to London Heathrow Airport from six a week to daily.

Phoenix city officials are aflutter about the extra flight, which starts Dec. 5.

“Intercontinental flights are huge contributors to the success of our Phoenix airport system, our city’s economy and our region’s overall economic future,” says Mayor Greg Stanton in a press release. The same release claims that British Airways flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor put $100 million into the local economy.

Even if we take that figure at face value (and I’m skeptical), let’s curb our enthusiasm: The mayor’s overstatement of economic impact belies typical Phoenix thinking – measuring success against its own past rather than against cities of similar size.

If I were the mayor, this would be my quote.

“This is a minuscule step in the right direction. The Valley of the Sun is far too populous an area to be served by only one airline that connects us to but one intercontinental destination. It’s an embarrassment that residents need to stop in other cities to reach international centers for business and leisure travel. Phoenix Sky Harbor must connect to the world – for commerce and for tourism – if we are to grow beyond being the nation’s largest small town.”

The press release includes a quote from David Cavazos, city manager: “My goal is to continue to gain additional international routes, while ensuring that this British Airways flight remains successful.”

I hope that’s in his annual review with measurable expectations of success. In my time here, Phoenix Sky Harbor has done a pitiful job of being “international” in anything more than name (remember the Lufthansa service to Frankfurt? R.I.P.). Of course, Cavazos says “international,” which could mean more routes in North and Central America. Big deal.

This extra British Airways flight is nice. But those charged with pursuing new routes and airlines should be cautious about patting themselves on the back before Phoenix Sky Harbor connects non-stop – at a minimum! – to Asia, Oceania and continental Europe.

CategoriesTravelUncategorized

Random Photo Fun – This is Air Travel!

This kid gets it.

Air travel sucks, and you know it. There’s the bad service. Nickle-and-diming passengers for every item of checked luggage, every in-flight beverage. The Transportation Security Administration and its fear-mongering brand of crazy. The dry cabin air. The delays. The cancelled flights. The airport traffic. The corpulent passenger whose bulk spills into your seat. It’s blaring TVs in the concourses, lost luggage, overpriced water, taking your shoes off to get through security. Laptops out of the bag, everything out of your pockets!

This is air travel.

Now, look at the photo. You can only see a nose, one eye, a bit of a mouth … and a glow, a manifestation of wonder. This kid holds no grudge about being herded like cattle or being treated like a potential terrorist. The swirl of air travel-related angst you experience? It never reaches him. It only reaches the older, “smarter” people. He looks down on the earth. The houses shrink. The cars are tiny. And look at the mountains from here! He ate breakfast in a desert, but lunch will be by the seaside. And he’ll get to do it again when he goes home, probably the only good thing about the end of a vacation.

This is air travel!

CategoriesTravelUncategorized

Airport Needs to Cut Specialty Lines, Improve Signs

Southwest Airlines, 737-700
All I want is a clear path through security and a seat on my flight with as little fuss as possible.

During a recent flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, I had a reminder that the security screening processes are concocted by people who are disconnected from reality.

It was actually a fairly light morning at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4 as I was headed toward the checkpoint. I made sure I didn’t accidentally slip into the first class line and made my way to the agent. Her first words?

“Next time, make sure you don’t use the medical and family line.”

I told her I didn’t notice the sign.

“It’s there,” she said rather shortly.

I looked back again. All I remember is NOT seeing a sign for the first class line. But I also know that arguing with a surly TSA agent is not the way to get to a gate on time.

What I did was file the tidbit away for further reflection. And here are my conclusions:

1. There are too many specific lines that are too underused. There was not a single body in the first class line. There was not a single body in the alleged “medical and family” line. If nobody is there, why bother with them? It seems like a lot of effort for a tiny portion of the passengers. And why should TSA cater to airline customers? It’s not like you get frequent flier mileage for passing through TSA checkpoints.

2. When I’m headed toward a security checkpoint, I am driven for efficiency. That’s so I don’t hold up the line and consequently other people (who might be later getting to the airport than I usually am). I have my boarding pass and driver’s license in hand. Even though I thinks it’s a ridiculous mockery of true security, I’m unlacing my shoes to take them off already. I’m ready to clear the items in my pockets.

That’s where I focus my attention. If the airport has a bunch of lines for first class customers, medical and family, people with gluten allergies, passengers who prefer pot-bellied pigs to dogs and customers who drive hybrid cars … make clear, concise signs in large typeface. I am too busy trying to pass my way through the intestinal tract that is a TSA security line to notice tiny, poorly written signs. Make them big and make them concise, or don’t bother.

Better yet, test the signs out using real-world travelers – a nice mix of leisure and business fliers. If you have suits making these decision, they won’t be under the stress of getting to a gate on-time or the prospect of holding up a bunch of their fellow fliers.