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Thoughts on Asiana Airlines Crash

Asiana Airlines crash
Fresh off an Asiana Airlines 777 in Incheon.

News of the Asiana Airlines crash landing at San Francisco International Airport surprised me. I flew two flights on an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 like the one that crashed, along with a 767 and various smaller Asiana aircraft.

During the flights, the professionalism of Asiana Airlines employees impressed me. Given my experience on the airlines, here are a few thoughts I had about the Asiana Airlines crash.

The Cabin Crew is a Real Story
So far, only three people have died as a result of the Asiana Airlines crash. But I haven’t seen a good luck at how the flight attendants of Flight 214 played a role. They had to manage at least three large passenger groups, all of whom spoke different first languages (Korean, Chinese and English). It seems the flight attendants dealt with this challenge with calm professionalism that likely saved lives – yet we’re not hearing about it. I’m all for figuring out what went wrong on this flight. It’s a great way to learn. But it’s also important to recognize what worked, even under the worst of circumstances. There’s something the industry can learn.

Don’t Hate on Baggage Grabbers
I’ve noticed more than a few disdainful Internet comments about the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 passengers who grabbed their luggage on the way out. Each comes down to this assumption: "I would’ve done better and followed the rules."

The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777
The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not willing to throw stones at anyone about grabbing their luggage during the evacuation. It’s a tense situation that no one ever expects – so I can see how logic failed. I can even picture myself, stretching to latch onto some sense of normality in a surreal situation, would reach for my bag as a way to restore some sense of reality. So unless you’ve been in a crash and acted like a textbook case of "what to do," reserve your judgment. And I hope you never need to find out how you’d fare.

I’d still fly Asiana Airlines Tomorrow
I’m confident in Asiana Airlines. And this crash landing makes me even more confident in the Boeing 777. The aircraft held together far better than any eyewitness expected it to. And it stayed intact and resisted burning long enough for the passengers and crew to escape. Also consider that the Boeing 777 operated for nearly 20 years without a fatality.

I hope that investigators and airlines take some of the hard-earned information from this crash -- and use it to make air travel even safer than it already is.

And sometimes, there is just a chain of errors that brings a plane down. If this were a matter of culture and training as some have suggested, crashes would be confined to certain cultures. But they’re not, and that speaks loud and clear.

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Asian Airports – Random Photo Fun

The A380 - one of many widebodies nesting at any given Asian airport.

Asia airports – there’s nothing like them. They link cities like Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong. They crackle with commerce and pulsate with cultural experiences in the making.

This is Incheon International Airport, and you see the Korean Air Airbus A380. Regardless of how you feel about the A380 – and boy, does it polarize!- it is an emblem of Asian airports. These airports are not the domain of the single-aisle, workaday Honda Civics of the Sky that dominate the taxiways at American airports.

Nope. Even the so-called "domestic" airports here have 747s come calling. There are too many people to move, too far. This is a job for the widebody, the heavy. The sheer scope of these aircraft, and so many of them, adds something to an airport visit.

Hating airports is now just short of a varsity sport in America. I get it. Honestly. We have the Transportation Security Agent and its radiation-emitting full body scanners (aka Nude-O-Scopes). We pack onto small planes and disembark to see the same chain stores before we even leave the terminal. Onboard, you generally get starved and dehydrated into a cranky mass of semi-intelligent tissue. The airports themselves bark at us with loud TVs and announcements – and starve us of any intellectual stimulation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Asian airports are the proof.

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Asiana Airlines Review: 5 Flights

Asiana Airlines review
Rolling to the gate next to an Asiana 747 at Tokyo Narita.

This just wouldn’t be an Asiana Airlines review without mentioning my breakfast choice: spicy octopus with rice. Yes, this is my kind of airline.

This is just eight hours into my handful of Asiana Airlines flights spanning the Pacific, with shorter flights to Jeju Island and Tokyo. During these five flights, I got to know Asiana pretty well. And I have some impressions to share about how Asiana Airlines scores for international flights. I admit, I have no other Asian airlines to compare it to. But it stacks up well for any airline, winning a number of Skytrax awards over the years. To get much better, you’d have to step up to Emirates business class, which has an impressive reputation with flyers.

1. Let’s loop back to that food. Other meals including a traditional bi bim bap, bulgogi, and tempura chicken and shrimp. Most of the meals included fresh fruit. Hands down, it was the tastiest and healthiest airline food I’ve ever encountered. It easily dethrones the Qantas meals, which were decent but nothing memorable. But I’ll never forget spooning marinated beef, bean paste and rice into a huge lettuce leaf, folding it into a burrito and munching away. I was more than a bit amused that, half the time, the flight attendants didn’t ask if we wanted to the squeeze tubes full of tasty hot chili sauce. They probably hadn’t encountered many Arizonans -- many of us crave spiciness in any form.

The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777, Asiana Airlines review
The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777

2. In-flight entertainment was everything it should be for international flights. I caught up on my silly superhero movies, plus the latest Star Trek. No hiccups from the equipment at all, and it was easy enough to work. I might’ve expected Asian airlines to be even more slick and hi-tech. But it was just solid, no-fuss equipment.

3. The cabins were immaculate whether I was aboard an A320 or a 777. Asiana’s 767s are probably no spring chickens, but they looked great. A question for Asiana – I could’ve sworn our 1:30 flight (Oct. 15) from Narita to Incheon was a 767 configured in 3-3-3 rather than the usual 2-3-2. Was I overdosing on the spicy chili sauce, or is that some unusual 767? Bottom line: Whatever I flew, I have to mention the cleanliness in my Asiana Airlines review.

4. From the check-in counter to the cabin, every Asiana employee was helpful and welcoming – no exceptions. They were all efficiency, and they said everything with a smile. They weren’t quite as jocular as Air New Zealand or Qantas, but who is?

Asiana Airlines review
Dinner is served – bi bim bap! I usually take other travel bloggers to task for posting food photos – but I think this warrants breaking my own rule. I mean, steamed pumpkin, kimchi, fresh veggies … that’s out-of-the-ordinary!

5. There was a bit of weirdness the moment our flight pushed back from the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX on Sept. 30. We’d only moved a few feet when I felt the plane lurch. This led to a few announcements about tire changes, which made us a bit more than two hours late. I didn’t mind, even though international flights are long enough with no delays. I took advantage of the time to read and doze. I’m really curious about what it takes to change tires on a 777 at the gate. Kind of cool, really! Oh, and props to my mostly Korean fellow passengers. They took the delay announcements in stride. Does this cost Asiana Airlines review points? Not really. They seemed to make the time up in the air. And really, we still arrived in the early morning hours.

6. There are only two things that prevent me from flying Asiana Airlines every chance I get: First, Seoul is its only hub. Second, I always love trying a carrier based in the country I’m visiting. So if I go to another Asian country, I’d want to fly some different Asian airlines just to sample its airborne culture. Asiana’s competitive fares and excellent in-flight service would give me second thoughts about booking on another airline if it’s possible to use them, though. A follow-up Asiana Airlines review would also be interesting.

Asiana Airlines review
Our ride … with all the sweet hook-ups.

7. Something else odd – most of our international flights were only about 75 percent full. The busiest ones were the flights to and from Tokyo. But the trans-Pacific flights had plenty of empty seats. That’s very nice, of course, since it gave Sarah and I some room to stretch out.

8. In one way, Asiana Airlines might learn from fellow Asian airlines JAL and ANA: Both these Japanese airlines sell small trinkets with their logos on them at Narita. Asiana should do the same at Seoul. I would definitely add an Asiana t-shirt to my collection of airline stuff – if one was available.

I can honestly say that Asiana deserves its Skytrax Airline of the Year award for 2010. I always insist that getting there is part of the fun, and that my vacation truly starts when I step aboard the plane for international flights. Asiana did everything right and put the Republic of Korea’s best foot forward. Maybe next time, I’ll get to try some other Asian airlines, too.

Check out Asiana Airlines on Twitter!

This post contains an advertiser link.

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7 Thoughts on Asiana Airlines

asiana 777
An Asiana 777 takes to the sky. (ykanazawa1999 via Flickr)

UPDATE: I’ve posted a review of my 5 flights on Asiana Airlines.

I just booked tickets for my first trip to Asia. This fall, I’ll fly Asiana Airlines to Incheon and Tokyo. U.S. Airways, one of Asiana’s Star Alliance partners, will get us to LAX and from San Franciso International. The plan is to go first to Seoul, hit the countryside and then make a quick visit to take in the otherworldly craziness that is Tokyo.

So why Asiana, which isn’t one of the better-known names in the United States?

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330
I'd love to fly on a Hawaiian A330. Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

It’s online booking actually works -- unlike those of ANA, Korean Airlines and JAL. I considered those heavy hitters (hoping that ANA might have a 787 Dreamliner flying by then). Too bad their online booking is clunky to the point of non-functional. The online booking experience is a flyer’s introduction to an airline. It needs to work flawlessly every time. Asiana’s does. You’ll notice I don’t mention the big American carrier’s That’s because I have yet to see evidence that any U.S. carrier outside of Hawaiian Airlines provides the level of service of its overseas counterparts. More on them below.

It’s prices are the most reasonable I could find. A good chunk includes taxes and fees, though. Out of curiosity, I set up the same flights on Continental.com, also a Star Alliance member. Tack on another 10 percent. Not egregious, but not worth rolling the dice – American-based carriers just don’t have a reputation for good service, and mediocrity can make a long flight hell. Oh, and some of the flights are operated by United on its older 747-400s.

It has a great reputation for service. It’s the SkyTrax  Airline of the Year Award winner for 2010 -- the same year Global Travelers magazine named its in-flight service the world’s best. And its online booking actually works (I’m sure you read that somewhere recently --)

It has a very shiny new fleet. That’s always a plus, as is its reputation for rigorous maintenance. I’m looking forward to my first flight on a Boeing 777, which I’ve heard is a sweet ride for people who actually like commercial air travel.

Why Asiana Isn’t Quite Perfect

  • No direct flights from Tokyo to the United States during the times I searched. We have to go back to Incheon. That costs a bit of time. But hey, it’s another ride on a 767, one of my favorites.
  • An Asiana 747 freighter just crashed. There’s word that the flight disappeared after reporting a fire onboard. I can’t think of the last time an airline has last two aircraft very quickly, so that puts stats in my favor! And freight versus commercial service. I have no cause to worry.
The Very Worthy Second Choice
Hawaiian Airlines. I love the idea of skipping LAX and flying from Phoenix to Honolulu to Incheon to Tokyo to Honolulu to Phoenix. I also hear Hawaiian Airlines totally rocks, providing inflight service on-par with foreign carriers. The timetables just didn’t favor my allotted time. I also would’ve been more interested if I could’ve caught a ride on a Hawaiian A330 instead of a 767. Again, I like the 767 … but I’ve never been on an A330. Yes, these things do weigh into a flying geek’s decision making.
Also, Hawaiian’s site doesn’t take advantage of its Star Alliance buddies to get me from Incheon to Tokyo. One thing I learned: If you book all from one site, you’re covered better for mishaps like missing a connection. Qantas left us high and dry because we booked separately from Auckland to LAX and LAX to Phoenix. The ground staff lost some serious brownie points, but I also learned to book more efficiently.
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Around the World in 48 Hours – Flying Standby

The World Race starts and ends right here in Phoenix.

Marc Jorgensen and a group of four friends from the Phoenix area will soon fly around the world in 48 hours, all on standby.

Yes, some people might call this hell. But Marc and his crew are calling it the 2011 World Race. And to any airplane geek, it’s a plan sure to provoke some envy. Marc and his buddies (all self-described "airline analyst nerds") will fly different directions, departing on Feb. 25. They’re also adding scavenger hunt elements such as snapping a photo of the cutest flight attendant and the greatest, biggest, bushiest beard – which may or may not be on a flight attendant.

Marc, who works for US Airways, gave me the scoop on his grand plans below. If you are intrigued as I am, the group has a 2011 World Race Facebook page and a Twitter account. Like, ‘em, follow ‘em, cheer ‘em on! In the meantime, enjoy Marc’s answers!

1. What do you do for US Airways?

I am an analyst in Revenue Management. I work with yield management which is primarily adjusting the fare levels to maximize revenue on each flight.

2. There are lots of people who don’t like air travel. How do you explain this trip to people who just don’t understand the appeal?

We will be using some airlines with fantastic inflight entertainment. Flying is a luxury for many people in the world (especially the past couple of years) and getting to circle the globe in just 48 hours is something very few people have ever done. It’s a unique opportunity and meeting new people on a plane and seeing new places can be so fascinating.

If you look like a member of ZZ Top, Marc and his friends might be snapping a photo of you. (Photo by Alberto Cabello)

3. What’s the longest flight you’ve done to date?

The longest flight is LAX to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (which has the best inflight TV and movie options for coach of any airline, in my opinion). It was about 15 hours, the staff were so nice and the movie selection so large it didn’t feel half that long …

4. What are the logistics? Are you flying standby? How planned is each stage?

All flights must be flown as standby. Each team will research out the possible routes, looking at connection times and backups (fly into ORD instead of JFK from FRA etc.)
Also, rock-paper-scissor will determine which direction each team has to go, day of departure … which should add an element of chance and excitement.

5. What are your top methods of staying sane on this misadventure?

The scavenger hunt ideas like finding the person with biggest beard should make it fun along the way. Also having good entertainment and food options on the flight (Korean airlines, Lufthansa) along with adrenaline should carry us through 48 hours.

6. Are you flying any unfamiliar airlines? (I know I’d love to fly Aeroflot!)

It’s a possibility. However the fastest way to circle the globe in this manner involves hitting the key hubs where the big carriers fly (British Airways, Lufthansa, Korean Airlines, All Nippon Airlines) since it fastest to stay far in the northern hemisphere.  However, it is possible we could use El Etihad or Qatar Airlines if circumstances make it the better option.

Aeroloft does have a Moscow to JFK flight that could work …

7. What’s your biggest challenge or fear about being able to pull this off?

Getting stranded in an airport for several days due to weather lockdown.

8. I understand you’re doing this with/against some other people, each flying different directions. What’s the prize for being the first one back?

Initially, we were going to have the losing team pickup the tab for the standby passes (about $300). However, we feel it’s better to have the losing team pick up the tab for dinner for the winning team, and focus more on small prizes for each scavenging hunt item found (ie, picture with the cutest flight attendant).

9. What’s your route/plan look like so far?

Right now. it looks like PHX-LAX, LAX-ICN, ICN-FRA, FRA-JFK, JFK-PHX. (Wandering Justin’s note – for those not so versed in airport codes, that’s Phoenix, Los Angeles, Incheon, Frankfurt, John F. Kennedy).

The reverse route is PHX-LHR, LHR-ICN, ICN-LAX, LAX-PHX. (WJ here again – that would by Phoenix, London Heathrow, Inche – aw, heck, you know the others by now).

10. Are you a bit of an airplane geek? What’s your favorite plane to fly in?

I am a bit one, and the other flyers are as well. I like the Airbus A321 and the A330.  Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to fly the 800-passengers jumbos yet, but I hear they are fantastic to fly in.

11. What else are you doing to prepare?

Exercising, looking at schedules. Make sure I have a currency exchange and language apps on my iPhone.

12. What surprises have you found so far in your planning? Anything about visas, vaccinations or unstable governments?!

That is another issue, because some places require visas. And to maximize time, we need to get through each airport fast, which means getting through each security checkpoint quickly. As you can imagine, if they start asking questions about where we came from and how long we will be there … things could get a bit delayed.

13. What’s your favorite destination? (not related so much to the upcoming mayhem … just a way to gauge what sort of travel character you are).

I really like Asia. As an American, Korea or China are very interesting experiences because the language and culture is so different, and the food is so good! I really like Seoul and Nanjing. I also really enjoy Brazil to relax. To have fun, I wish I was able to spend more time in Berlin and Copenhagen.