American Airlines: the magic of air travel in the Age of Corona

A friend recently flew Dallas to Boston on American Airlines (AA2579). He was accompanied by his 15-year-old son.

Has American adopted my dream scheme and blocked off the middle seats except for families traveling together? Not exactly! In fact, my friend and his son were both parked in middle seats, but not in the same row. Each was seated next to two strangers. Everyone was supposed to be wearing a mask on the flight, but a guy sitting next to my friend was not wearing a mask and was, in fact, coughing. The family now has direct seat-adjacency exposure to four unrelated people (would have been 0 under my plan!).

The Boeing 737-800 was almost 100-percent full. There were no special boarding or unboarding procedures for plague-minimization. It was the usual Fall of Saigon attempt to get everyone into seats and bags into overheads. I asked if people had to raise hands to get sequenced for using the bathroom and the answer was “no”.

What about the luxurious cuisine and wine list for which American Airlines is justly renowned? “They handed everyone a bag with a bottle of water and a snack at boarding.” The flight attendants came through the aisles only towards the end to pick up trash.

The wife is a medical doctor. She decided to place both father and son into home quarantine on their return!

Readers: How much would you have been happy to pay for this experience?

Vaguely related, my most recent flight on American Airlines, Miami to DCA back in February:

Disclosure: As a former Delta Airlines (proud union) employee, American is the frenemy!

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Karen’s Mask Law Compliance Update (Boston to Minneapolis and back)

Here is one Karen’s report on the extent to which Americans are complying with the new mask laws. This is based on a May 30-June 3 trip from Boston to Minneapolis via Cirrus SR20 (“only a little slower, door-to-door, than a Honda Accord”). Stops included the following:

  • Massachusetts
  • Upstate New York (Syracuse, Niagara Falls)
  • Michigan
  • Wisconsin
  • Minnesota
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Upstate New York (Elmira)
  • Massachusetts

The first thing to note is that travel in the U.S. today is a lot like travel within Europe in the Middle Ages. Every state has its own rules and every city within a state may have additional rules. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, people are supposed to wear masks when walking on a deserted sidewalk or in an empty park. In other parts of Massachusetts, the rule is to wear a mask when in a store or in a crowded outdoor space. In Niagara Falls, the law requires a mask indoors, but not outdoors. In Minnesota, the state recommends that people wear masks in stores, but it is not required. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the other hand, masks are required indoors (except for Black Lives Matter protesters entering stores?).

Our hotel in Niagara Falls, New York was typical. There was a sign on the door saying that everyone had to wear a mask in the lobby. Half the employees were wearing masks. Among the guests, compliance was 100 percent for Asians, 30 percent for whites, 10 percent for Hispanics, and 0 percent for African-Americans. In the adjacent state park, some of the employees had masks on, but almost none of the people walking around did (except at a few key viewpoints and when passing on bridges, people were at least 6′ apart most of the time).

FBOs had signs on the door saying that masks were required. Employees were hanging out inside unmasked, however. The arrival of a NetJets Phenom 300 was always a great occasion for mask display among both crew and passengers. The FBO in Michigan told us that the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, had recently come through. She’s a passionate advocate for lockdown and masks, but came off her private aircraft unmasked and, without any TV cameras around, came through the narrow FBO building unmasked.

Wisconsin? The state offers the same guidance as the W.H.O. (formerly “experts” but no longer worthy of the title due to their anti-mask heresy): don’t wear a mask unless you know what you’re doing and are washing your hands all the time (“Do not touch your mask while wearing it; if you do, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp.”) No sign at the door of the FBO. Nobody wearing a mask inside or outside.

Eden Prairie, Minnesota: some signs recommending masks, but mostly official state advice signs to stay away if you have flu-like symptoms. Inside the Target, the employees were masked, but only about 40 percent of the customers. Mask use was low for the older shoppers. Ethnicity was a good predictor, as in New York: Asians were 100 percent masked. Muslim women who were otherwise covered from head to toe? 0 percent masked. Restaurants are open for outdoor dining; we enjoyed a meal under a tent and our young waitress had a mask… just underneath her nose.

Indiana: No masks at the FBO.

Ohio: Retail and restaurant workers were masked. Restaurants are open for dine-in, so we took advantage and had lunch at Tony Packo’s of M*A*S*H fame.

Upstate New York: No masks at any of the three FBO stops.

Return to Massachusetts: No masks at the FBO that had been an exemplary masked environment not even a week earlier. “Did you give up on masks?” I asked the guy behind the front desk. “There is a crowd of 20,000 protesting in downtown Boston right now. What’s the point?”

On walks around our neighborhood, which adopted a “You must have a mask around your neck at the ready whenever you’re out in public” rule, compliance with the law had fallen from 80 percent (a month ago, when the rule was new) to 20 percent.

Conclusion: Americans are capable of following an inconvenient rule for about a month.

Gratuitous Photos from Karen’s iPhone…

Niagara:

The right way to run shops in a plague environment:

Someone went a little nuts with the nose art for a Diamond Star DA-40:

One hand on the yoke and one hand on the life raft while crossing the 50-degree waters of Huron and Michigan:

“Nice Beaver” (Flying Cloud, KFCM, Minnesota):

I had planned to stay in downtown Minneapolis and walk around, but the civil unrest made it seem wiser to hole up in Eden Prairie. After two nights locked into the Hampton Inn, with only the occasional trip to a nearby strip mall for exercise and necessities, I had no difficulty understanding how people who’d been locked down for three months might riot. Midwestern cuisine:

Good news: outdoor dining is open. Bad news: Applebee’s is open.

Even at an FBO owned and run by African-Americans, Fox News prevails. Also, a shocking site for someone from Boston: an open gym!

Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby across the street from each other in suburban Toledo, Ohio. (The driver in front of us paid for our breakfast.)

Down by the river:

Preflight on the new propeller for the Cirrus:

At he National Museum of the Great Lakes, opening June 10:

Trip highlight: Hungarian(?) food amidst signed plastic foam hot dog buns. Where else can Alice Cooper and Neil Sedaka be next to each other? Or Nancy Reagan and Jimmy Carter? For the younger readers: Sam Kinison on British TV. (here’s where he asked an inconvenient question about an earlier plague)

Approaching beautiful Cleveland with the super-wide lens:

Full moon at 7,500′:

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Helicopter pilot and cosmetics entrepreneur

Nicole Vandelaar Battjes is the founder, CEO, and Chief Pilot of Novictor Helicopters, a Robinson R44 tour operator in Hawaii. Now she has launched a cosmetics company too! Nicol Cosmetics (pilot/founder is in the middle):

It is rare for me to get excited about cosmetics, but I am hoping this company is a big success.

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Masks for airline passengers: now the Danish are telling us how stupid we are

From Denmark:

Professor in microbiology, Hans Jørn Jepsen Kolmos, thinks that facial masks will be a solution to protect ourselves from the coronavirus on multiple segments of the journey. Just not on board the aircraft.

It is important to underline, that only surgical masks and certified respirators are effective. Fabric masks are more permeable for drops and particles, and one should therefore ensure that only masks of documented quality is used.

Infections do not care about rituals, and masks are only helpful in situations with a high likelihood of being exposed to infections. Those could, for instance, be during boarding, while visiting the lavatory, or when leaving the aircraft. During the flight, the mask, however, can cause more damage than it helps.

Masks do not only lose their protective properties by getting wet. Another way to bring down the protectiveness is when you touch the mask or your face. Doing that, bacterias can in even more ways find their way into your body:

When touching the mask – for instance when drinking coffee, repositioning it, etcetera – you can pollute your fingers with virus particals from the mask itself. That way, you neutralise the effect of the mask, in the best case scenario. Therefore masks cant be the only protective equipment used and should be limited to rationally selected tasks and timeframes.

In other words, according now to both the Swedes and the Danes, we are responding to coronavirus in the dumbest ways imaginable!

From Facebook today:

Righteous Person #1: I’m getting used to wearing a mask when I go out. They are not fashionable – but they perform a vital Function to keep other people from catching what I might have.

Righteous Friend #1: more and more, here in Montana where we are down to our last 20 active cases, the mask has become a public symbol of solidarity and neighborliness — and a reminder that lack of vigilance in large public gatherings still holds the threat of a second wave of infection.

Righteous Friend #2: It’s the opposite of a MAGA cap.

Expert advice from WHO that should be rejected (while “listening to the experts”):

Related:

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Order that Oshkosh 2020 T-shirt now

EAA Airventure (“Oshkosh”) is canceled (press release).

Is it time to buy the Oshkosh 2020 T-shirts? Unlike with Tokyo 2020, they won’t rename next year’s event, I don’t think.

Ordinarily I don’t like T-shirts that feature airplanes I am not qualified to fly, but if the event is fictional maybe it is not so bad to implicitly claim fictional flying skills, e.g., with this P-40 Oshkosh 2020 shirt:

Or use a magic marker to update “Cleared Direct” to “Cleared to Cower in Place”?

Admittedly, Covid-19 is targeting the general aviation demographic. Of the 316 people killed by the evil virus in Wisconsin, the largest cluster is among those 90+:

Ninety is unfortunately close to the median age of single-engine piston aircraft pilots and perhaps younger than the expected age at completion of a homebuilt project…

Related:

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330 pages of coronavirus NOTAMs

ARINC (Collins Aerospace) is gathering up all of the COVID-19-related NOTAMs that it can find: https://direct.arinc.net/public/covid_19_notams.pdf. Right now the list is 330 pages long!

I wonder if this is a good way to determine the world’s level of coronapanic.

This is a great time to be claiming asylum. From Iceland, for example:

A0145/20 NOTAMR A0144/20
Q) BIRD/QAFXX/IV/NBO/E/000/999/6512N01832W
A) BIRD B) 2003241427 C) 2004162359
E) COVID-19: PASSENGER RESTRICTIONS.
ALL PASSENGERS ARE PROHIBITED TO ENTER ICELAND EXCEPT EU/EEA, EFTA
OR UK NATIONALS. THE FOLLOWING ARE EXEMPTED:

  1. FOREIGN NATIONALS WITH IMMIGRATION STATUS IN SCHENGEN STATES,
    OR THOSE WHO HAVE FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE SAME COUNTRIES.
  2. PASSENGERS IN TRANSIT.
  3. HEALTH AND CARE WORKERS ON PROFESSIONAL TRAVEL.
    4.TRANSPORTATION CREWS (AIRLINES AND FREIGHTERS).
  4. INDIVIDUALS REQUIRING INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION.
  5. INDIVIDUALS TRAVELLING BECAUSE OF ACUTE FAMILY INCIDENTS AND
    DIPLOMATS, INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS STAFF, MEMBERS OF ARMED
    FORCES TRAVELLING TO ICELAND FOR DUTY, OR HUMANITARIAN AID WORKERS.

What if you don’t want to say that you’re being oppressed? Tahiti!

A0164/20 NOTAMR A0153/20 Q) NTTT/QXXXX/IV/NBO/A/000/999/1315S13830W999 A) NTTT B) 2004130523 C) 2004300959 E) COVID-19: CREWS/PASSENGERS REQUIREMENTS IN ACCORDANCE WITH FRENCH POLYNESIA GOVERNMENT AIMING AT PREVENTING INTRODUCTION OR SPREAD OF INFECTIONS BY THE NEW CORONAVIRUS 2019:
I. THE PILOT ARRIVING IN FRENCH POLYNESIA MUST PROVIDE THE HEALTH PART OF THE AIRCRAFT GENERAL DECLARATION UPON LANDING AT TAHITI FAAA.
II. ALL TRAVELLERS ARRIVING IN FRENCH POLYNESIA INCLUDING AFTER A TECHNICAL STOP, MUST FILL IN THE PUBLIC HEALTH PASSENGER LOCATOR FORM (SEE ICAO ANNEX 9, APPENDIX 13 AND FRENCH ORDER OF 9 JULY 2014 CONCERNING PASSENGER LOCATOR FORMS).
III. THE PUBLIC HEALTH PASSENGER LOCATOR FORM MUST BE HANDED OUT TO PASSENGERS BY THE CREW, COMPLETED AND HANDED OVER BY THE AIR OPERATOR TO THE AERODROME OPERATOR AT THE DESTINATION AIRPORT.

More: Visit https://direct.arinc.net/public/covid_19_notams.pdf (note that this is organized by ICAO airport code, which is what a pilot would enter into an aircraft GPS, not by the IATA code that you might use to buy a commercial airline ticket)

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The Boeing 737 MAX uses 16-bit computers

“The Ancient Computers in the Boeing 737 Max are Holding Up a Fix”:

A brand-new Boeing 737 Max gets built in just nine days. In that time, a team of 12,000 people turns a loose assemblage of parts into a finished $120 million airplane with some truly cutting-edge technology: winglets based on ones designed by NASA, engines that feature the world’s first one-piece carbon-fiber fan blades, and computers with the same processing power as, uh, the Super Nintendo.

The Max has been grounded since March 2019, after some badly written software caused two crashes that killed 346 people. And while Boeing has received plenty of scrutiny for its bad code, it’s the Max’s computing power — or lack thereof — that has kept it on the ground since then.

Boeing took [the ethos of proven tech] to heart for the Max, sticking with the Collins Aerospace FCC-730 series, first built in 1996. Each computer features a pair of single-core, 16-bit processors that run independently of each other, which reduces computing power but also keeps a faulty processor from taking down the entire system.

Even by late-’90s consumer tech standards, the FCC-730s were behind the curve. By the time they went to market, Nintendo had already replaced its 16-bit SNES console with the Nintendo 64 (the first game console to use — you guessed it — a 64-bit CPU), and IBM had created the world’s first dual-core processor.

In other words, your washing machine or dishwasher from 2006 may have a more powerful processor than the B737 MAX (“Fujitsu Introduces New 32-bit Microcontroller for Home Appliances”).

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Towered airports reverting to uncontrolled fields

FAA Air Traffic Controllers have been there for us on Christmas, in the wee hours of boring weekdays, etc. Towers are shutting down, now, one by one, as coronaplague sweeps over the nation. Las Vegas, one of the world’s busiest airports (1500 operations per day), is no longer towered (US News). Here’s the NOTAM:

SVC TWR CLSD CTC LAS VEGAS APP CLR 125.9, CTAF 119.9 OR 725-600-7015. 19 MAR 17:44 2020 UNTIL 27 MAR 07:00 2020. CREATED: 19 MAR 17:44 2020

What happens when there is no control tower? That’s actually the normal condition at most U.S. airports, but not at airports where jets arrive on IFR flight plans every few minutes. AOPA publishes a good explanation of how pilots in radio-equipped aircraft (remember that some people fly antique airplanes with no electrical systems and no radios) are trained to do this. One key is broadcasting one’s intentions on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF). However, it is kind of a lost art among airline pilots, accustomed to talking to ground controller, tower controller, departure controller, center controller, …, center controller, approach controller, tower controller, ground controller.

Listen to the Vegas airplanes at liveatc.net (“KLAS Tower (Both)” and perhaps also the ATIS to see how the tower closure is conveyed via audio). Note that the tower frequency generally reverts to a CTAF whenever the tower is closed.

Chicago Midway, 670 operations per day, is in the same situation: liveatc.net to hear the Southwest 737 pilots self-announcing. The NOTAM, through April 18(!).

SVC TWR CLSD CLASS C SERVICE NOT AVBL CTC CHICAGO APP FOR IFR CLR 847-289-1326/READY FOR TKOF FREQ 119.45/IFR CANCELLATION FREQ 119.45. 19 MAR 01:42 2020 UNTIL 18 APR 23:59 2020. CREATED: 19 MAR 01:42 2020

Uncontrolled airports can be pretty busy and can handle quite a few flights as pilots separate themselves. But this depends on (1) planes being light enough not to interfere with each other via wake turbulence, and (2) aircraft not coming in and departing under instrument flight rules (IFR) in which only one plane can use the airport at a time. (The Approach controllers can’t guarantee separation if they authorize one airplane to take off and one to arrive, for example.)

[I did this exactly once during my brief airline career, flying regional jets for Delta. We were delayed for hours out of JFK (also on the potential list for a tower shutdown) by thunderstorms and the usual JFK afternoon/evening “international push”. A heavy Airbus to Europe gets priority over a regional jet to Burlington, Vermont. Currently, KBTV Tower is open 5:30 am to midnight. I don’t remember exactly when we arrived, but it was after Tower was closed and therefore we had to turn on the runway and taxiway lights ourselves (5 clicks on the microphone to activate “pilot-controlled lighting”), announce our position to other traffic (a bizjet landed shortly before we did), fly the visual approach (maneuver the plane by looking out the window), and look out for anyone else who might be on the taxiways.]

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Great time to be in the aircraft charter business?

My friends in the charter business are saying that demand is up at least 15 percent due to coronavirus paranoia (how many Americans need to be hospitalized before we say that it isn’t “paranoia,” but rather ordinary “fear”?). A private plane never looked better!

But, on the other hand, with a huge slate of activities and events being canceled, people won’t need transportation in the first place. Will we see a brief lift in charter and then a catastrophic collapse?

Related:

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