Monday, September 27, 2010

DaVinci Flies in Canada

Posted by Travel Sentry

Leonardo DaVinci drew this design for a flying machine in the late 1400s. The bat-craft of sorts (otherwise referred to as a ornithopter) was to be piloted and powered by a man. A Renaissance batman if you will.

Consumer Traveler reports, “The Canadians with plenty of oil and gas reserves are inexplicitly dabbling in alternative energy platforms. This time, human-powered flight. Not only are they succeeding, they have succeeded without any of the lavish research funds being doled out via stimulus funds back here at home in the USA.”

From Reuters:
International aviation officials are expected to certify next month that the Snowbird has made the world’s first successful, sustained flight of a human-powered ornithopter, according to the University of Toronto.

The Snowbird sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds, in an August 2 test flight near Toronto that was witnessed by an official of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the university announced. A video of the flight was shown on news programmes.

Others have claimed to have built machines that flew like a bird, but the Canadian group says they have the telemetry data to prove their ornithopter powered itself through the air rather than just glided after being lifted aloft.

Friday, September 24, 2010

They're Mad As Hell Over Airline Fees

Posted by Travel Sentry

September 23 was declared Mad As Hell Day by a number of business and consumer travel groups. So how did it go? Well it turned up the heat in an unwinnable war over hidden fees and a la carte pricing.

I love this quote from a story by MSN: “Shopping for airfare today is like going to the grocery store and seeing a sign posted next to the food that says, ‘All prices are clearly identified on a sheet of paper at the cash register,’ ” said Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, one of the groups behind the effort.

Check out the MAH web site, They presented a petition with over 50,000 signatures to the DOT. I wouldn’t advise holding your breath on major changes. The airlines may be forced by government to divulge their fees in a more transparent manner, but rest assured they, the fees that is, are here to stay.

“According to the latest government figures, U.S. airlines took in $2.1 billion in ancillary fees during the second quarter of the year , up 15.8 percent over the same period last year. Baggage fees alone jumped 33 percent to $893 million.”

The DOT however is considering requiring that the airlines “enhance how, where and when fees for checked baggage, seat assignments and other ancillary services are disclosed to ticket buyers. A final ruling from the DOT is expected in spring 2011.”

“It's like being told it will cost you $100 to fix your car and when you receive your bill it costs you $175 with hidden fees,” Paul Wilder of Utica, N.Y., recently told

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

FAA Widens the Apeture on Safety

Posted by Travel Sentry

The Federal Aviation Administration has thrown open the doors to hear from pilots, air traffic controllers and other airline employees about safety concerns. FAA apparently is widening the aperture on safety in flight.

CNN reports that under the Aviation Safety Action Program and the Air Traffic Safety Action airline employees can report problems that are not deliberate or criminal in nature without fear of retribution.

Information from the two programs will be merged to provide perspectives from both pilots and controllers in addressing safety issues. ASAP, where pilots can report concerns, has been in place for more than a decade. The air traffic controller program, ATSAP, is only about two years old, according to FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto.

"They're both part of a move toward a new safety culture for the FAA where we're getting away from assigning blame," Takemoto said.

"You're only as good as your information ... and if you have a climate where [employees] are afraid of being punished, you're going to get the minimal amount of information, you're going to get only what's required."

The FAA mandates reporting certain errors, and "appropriate action is taken on the local level" to address performance issues, Takemoto said, but employees' names are not included in upper-level reports used to get to the root of potential problems.

"Safety is our number one priority," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "Having pilots and controllers provide information about potential air safety problems will help us correct them before they become accidents."

For example, during preliminary information sharing efforts, air traffic controllers in Chicago, Illinois, reported to ATSAP that aircraft from a certain airline were landing too fast, missing a turnoff and creating traffic flow issues at the end of the runway, Takemoto said.

Troubleshooters looking into the problem learned from pilot reports to ASAP that the airline had changed flap settings on certain aircraft, causing the fast landings. That information helped the air traffic controllers adjust traffic coordination, Takemoto said.

"This agreement is formalizing both of these programs speaking to each other," he said. CNN

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No Need to Tremble Over Air Turbulence

Posted by Travel Sentry

The following is a good discussion about turbulence in the air by U.S. Airways retired captain, John Cox (as seen in USA Today):

Question: Mr. Cox, can you please address the issue of turbulence, both in clear air and around thunderstorms? Also, related to flying near thunderstorm activity, what avionics and information do pilots use, beyond radar, to make route decisions. What is the general rule pilots use to avoid weather activity and therefore minimize turbulence for the passengers?

Answer: Turbulence is usually a change in direction or velocity in airflow (horizontally or vertically). This change causes a disruption in the smooth flow of air, similar to eddies in water. In clear air, turbulence can be caused by the jet stream, when high speed air interacts with lower speed air causing turbulent areas. Thunderstorms create turbulence by pulling large amounts of air in and sending it upwards very rapidly. Once this air cools, it has to come down, as it is heavier than the surrounding air. When it does, it can create microburst and very turbulent conditions. Pilots avoid thunderstorms by using weather radar which shows the precipitation within the storm. Newer generation radar can also show areas of turbulence. Each airline has specific guidance to pilots on minimum distances from storms.

Q: I am terrified of turbulence and of the plane going up and down and shaking. I have panic attacks every time the pilot turns on the fasten seat belt sign and once, he even told the flight attendants to sit down because we were encountering turbulence. When should I seriously start worrying about turbulence? Would the pilots ever tell us that something is wrong?

A: Turbulence is uncomfortable but very, very rarely poses a threat to the airplane. Designers and manufacturers take great care to ensure that the airplane can withstand very heavy turbulence. An example of this is the fact that injuries caused by turbulence are not uncommon, but the airplanes involved in such incidents almost never sustain damage.

Pilots avoid turbulence whenever we can. Reports from other pilots, relayed by air traffic control, allow time to climb or descend to the smoothest altitude. Occasionally, clear air turbulence is a surprise. That is when most turbulence injuries occur.

Asking the flight attendants to be seated is a precaution to keep them from getting hurt. One of the most common on the job injuries for flight attendants is from turbulence. No captain wants to take the chance of having a co-worker hurt on his or her flight.

Art Exhibit Features Airport Contraband

Posted by Travel Sentry

Each year the boundaries of art expands to newer, and what some may consider wacky, dimensions. Case in point … "Contraband," a 1075-photographic series of the “underworld of illicit commodities" trying to get through federal inspection sites at the busiest international gateway to the U.S, New York's JFK Airport.

We're talking 1075 images of “containers filled with Botox-making ingredients, fake Louis Vuitton handbags and dead guinea pigs. There were animal parts, cigars and steroids. Viagra from China and GBL, the date-rape drug, freshly arrived from Europe.”

This singular exhibition to be shown in New York and Beverly Hills is the brainchild of internationally renowned photographer, Taryn Simon. Ms. Simon spend five “bizarre” days and nights sleeping on an air mattress, snapping photos of confiscated goods by airport officials … “an Ellis Island of sorts for illegal commodities.”

Simon says, “It was torturous.” I bet. One of her biggest challenges was explaining to airport authorities what her project was about. I understand.

“Simon says cataloguing what is banned and unseen is a way to understand American identity through what we are allowed to consume and what we are not. ‘You confront American desire.’”

“A 500-page book with the same title is coming out soon.”

Point proved: Art is in the eye of the beholder.

To see more images from the New York Times, click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Italian Airline Seat Designer Suggests Dieting

Posted by Travel Sentry

But dieting is not going to help those 6 feet-5 inch body frames fit into the latest airline seat design that only offers 23 inches of space! Most economy class seats offer at least 31 inches.

AvionInteriors is the Italian company that has devised the seating configuration called SkyRider. The Economist describes, “The seats are angled forward and have a saddle-like hump in the middle, which allows the rows to be pushed much closer together than is normally the case.”

USA Today quotes a company spokesman saying, “For flights anywhere from one to possibly even up to three hours ... this would be comfortable seating. The seat ... is like a saddle. Cowboys ride eight hours on their horses during the day and still feel comfortable in the saddle.” Interesting analogy. Road warriors, what do you think? This is probably a similar seating angle ...

I would venture that O’Leary at Ryanair would love this concept.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, AvionInteriors has not yet obtained aviation authorities’ approval for their new design.

Take a look at this video on the seat design from CNBC.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

OpenSkies' Bold Move to Guarantee Customer Satisfaction

Posted by Travel Sentry

It is quite a confident statement for an airline to guarantee satisfaction. A money-back guarantee in the airline age when it is nearly impossible to get your money back, even if you don’t fly the flight you booked? Amazing! And when was the last time you saw a plane full of satisfied passengers?

The airline that is making this money back offer is OpenSkies, the all-business-class subsidiary of British Airways. Granted, it is much easier to have happy campers in business class vs. economy, but still this is a brave move to snag passengers for the slow fall travel season.

Of course, there are a few caveats to the OpenSkies offer. The reimbursement applies to flights from New York’s Newark or Washington’s Dulles airport to Paris and back. The round-trip must originate in the U.S. The offer is good only on tickets purchased between September 8 and November 30 and used prior to November 30.

Rightfully so, getting your money back requires an effort on the part of the dissatisfied passenger. You can’t just walk up to an OpenSkies counter with your hand out and expect to have $5,000 dropped into your palm. You have to file a claim by writing a letter to OpenSkies with details stating the reasons you were not satisfied and how you bought the ticket.

Here is the Wall Street Journal’s take on the promotion:

It takes some guts for an airline to offer a money-back satisfaction guarantee. Plenty of things can go wrong in air travel that can leave customers disappointed. OpenSkies is betting that its service is good enough to win over new customers, outweighing the grumps who might try to take advantage of the offer without good cause for dissatisfaction. Of course, many of OpenSkies customers are business travelers and the refund, if there is one, goes back to whomever paid for the trip, not the traveler.

If you haven’t tried it – and the offer is all about getting new customers to try – you’ll likely find good value for better-than-coach flying. OpenSkies offers two cabins – one with lie-flat business-class beds and the other with business-class type seats that recline to 140 degrees. Fares are higher than coach tickets but generally less than you’ll find for business-class on larger airlines—about $2,000 and up for a business-class seat and at least twice that for a lie-flat bed. The 757s have a bit of feel of a private jet – there are a couple dozen passengers waiting with you to board or claim bags instead of hundreds. Some people love the experience; some prefer bigger airlines with multiple flights each day. You can earn British Airways miles on OpenSkies.