Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (October 2012)
Guest Editor Joel Chusid
Flight Attendants Make Headlines
The media loves sensational stories about flight attendants. One of the most notable was Steven Slater’s tirade and beer-fisted slide off of a jetBlue flight arriving from Pittsburgh at JFK two years ago when he snapped due to a supposed altercation with a passenger. Then, much more recently, also at JFK, two female American Eagle flight attendants got into a sensational verbal battle on a delayed flight to Washington, D.C, when one of them refused to stop using her cell phone and the other proceeded to make comments about it over the PA. The Captain couldn’t even break them up. The scheduled forty-minute flight ended up delaying passengers four hours, and the media went wild. The New York Post headlines proclaimed “Jet Gal Jabber Wacky – Call Stewar’diss”. But the good stories get far less attention. This past August, United Airlines flight attendant Ron Akana retired. What was unusual was he had the distinction of being the oldest working flight attendant and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. At age 83, he had chalked up 63 years of flying, equivalent to 20 million miles. He had started at United, which later merged with Continental, as one of the industry’s first male flight attendants, in 1949 after responding to a newspaper ad in Honolulu. One of his memories: mixing martinis for Frank Sinatra! Congrats, Ron. Well done.
Nostalgic for Inflight Meals?
Remember hot meals on domestic flights in coach? How about any (complimentary) meals at all? I recall flying on an early morning Braniff Boeing 727 from Newark to Washington, D.C. and getting French toast, fresh fruit, juice, freshly brewed Colombian coffee and a bun, served on china with flatware, all in under an hour – in coach. Those days are long gone, and even eight-hour flights to Hawaii require a purchase on board or a brown bag. Some airlines in Europe, South America and even in China and Africa still do a full meal service, even on short haul flights. But those meals of yore live on, at least virtually, on www.airlinemeals.net. The site features over 26,000 pictures of airline meals on no less than 630 airlines. US Airways recently started testing a new product they’ve monikered “DineFresh” – for $19.99 economy passengers can order, on 24-hours’ notice, a “first class-style” meal on flights to Europe, Tel Aviv or South America instead of the complimentary hot meal. The meals, albeit “chilled” can be vegetarian or chicken, are rotated monthly and include free wine. Pictures on their website:
Seats that are Climate Controlled…
While the free meals won’t be coming back, here’s something to look forward to. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP in Germany have been working with nine partners at universities and the aviation industry to produce the first climate controlled seat. Unveiled at the Berlin Air Show in September, the seat would permit passengers to adjust temperatures and air flows to their individual comfort, much as you could do in a luxury car. Airflow would come from the seat in front, the armrests, and gooseneck cables in the headrest as opposed to in the ceiling panel above. I remember airflow vents on headrests on the old Douglas DC-8s of old, but this is a far cry from that. This technology, while currently available, won’t likely happen on board your flight that soon, but once it is, you can expect it might be available for a small ancillary fee!
…or that are Sliders?
While the Germans work on ways to make your seat more comfortable, a company in Denver, Molon Labe Designs, has found a way for seats to slide from side to side to allow airlines to board planes faster. The “Slider Seat” is a row of three that has an aisle seat that is designed to slide halfway over the middle seat to increase the aisle size from 19 to an astounding 43 inches. This can cut the boarding time in half, resulting in an estimated $30 savings per flight which can add to airlines’ bottom lines. A prototype is being built to be marketed to airlines. There is a tradeoff, however. The seats have far less padding and are harder and do not recline – that’ll be in line with the plans of some airlines I can think of, most notably Ryanair, which must be drooling over this. Have a look at http://molonlabedesigns.com/the_slider_seat.
Speaking of Colorado
My friend Karen Gray dropped me a note of her experience on a flight from Denver to Montrose, Colorado on the dreadful summer day that United’s computers went down. Thousands of people endured aggravating delays and frayed tempers along with Karen whose trauma started in Los Angeles with exceptionally long lines that caused her to almost miss the flight, and the resulting delay repeating the near miss with her connection to United Express in Denver. But it was the arrival at Montrose, only 20 minutes late. which was more memorable. It seems the United Express employees and TSA went home for the night. (I myself am not sure why TSA would have been there for the arrival, but this is what they were told.) The pilot announced the crew could be arrested if they tried to deplane without a ground crew. Passengers fumed, and eventually help arrived in the form of a lone firefighter followed later, by a couple of the ground crew who must have gotten word of the unexpected arrival which, according to Karen, was showing on the airport’s arrival board. Someone obviously had their wires crossed.
Concourses or entire airports are sometimes shut down due to security breaches or related events. Remember the guy at Newark Liberty Airport in January 2010 who slipped past security to kiss his girlfriend goodbye which inadvertently resulted in a three hour shutdown that caused disruptions to passenger travel worldwide. But these kinds of shutdowns are routine. Less routine, but not totally isolated, are the shutdowns in Europe that sometimes happen when an “old” bomb is discovered such as what happened at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on August 29. At the fifth busiest airport in the world, the heavily-used Terminal C was shut down for several hours while experts removed an unearthed bomb from World War II. Berlin’s Tegel International Airport was shut down for the same reason two years ago. Munitions like this in Europe are still regularly found, especially at airports and railway stations. Hard to believe these are from a war that ended 67 years ago.
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