Tag Archives: airlines

Get Me to the Front of the Plane

Here’s a confession, I like to travel at the front of the plane.  But guess what, who doesn’t?

We work on getting our points up, we stay on airline routings that are not necessarily optimal, and we do this all so that we can boost our points with one airline.  This way we collect millions of points!  But then usually we squander them on a $200 Amazon gift card.

JetBlue Mint Service

As everyone in the points business knows, you never use your points for small dollar items.  You use your points to get to the front of the plane on long-haul flights and the airlines know this.  The business of flying in business is changing though.  A continental business class roundtrip ticket used to cost $2,600.  With JetBlue and its Mint service, that price drops by $1,000.  Frankly, from a service point of view, JetBlue can easily take on the United’s and American’s of this world.  In fact, they have done so successfully that United and American have been dragged screaming into the lower cost option.  The problem for these guys is that they have high cost infrastructure and nothing to sell except for creaky old planes and cranky staff.  Good luck with that.

What’s Up with Airline Regulations??

So after the recent debacles with United and American, the government is getting heavy.  Finally, we are seeing the government recognizing that consolidation is creating an arrogance in service and in amenities.  After deregulation in 1978, industry charges like baggage fees and bumping passengers have been pretty much left to the airlines.  And 80% of USA domestic business is now in the frightening hands of four airlines. Power to the few and less power to the consumer.

Airlines claim that overbooking helps keep fares low and provides less risk so more choice for consumers.  Understood, but you have to be nice too!  Honestly, whoever comes off a plane and says that they had a fab and fun experience?  Now United are going to have to put their money where their mouth is.  Dragging a guy down the aisle sounds like a bad wedding arrangement.  It nearly cost them their business.  CEO Munoz stated that he is committed to making things better and now overbooking as a policy is going to be phased out.  Southwest, the darling of consumers, actually has the highest overbooking of any airline. They were just smarter and nicer about it.

We all get that overbooking creates more flexibility for airlines and lots take advantage of the compensation.  It doesn’t take much but being nice and being smart makes the difference.  Having a positive attitude and being customer friendly is key.  That’s all we ask for.  We are not cattle.

Travel Briefs 1: Airport Technology. Are You Using It?

Now airports are moving into food and drink technology.  Many airports have iPad ordering systems set up around bars and themed food restaurants.  The deal is that you sit down, swipe your credit card, choose items from the iPad menu, and then food or drinks come flying out at you from places that you had no idea.  Meanwhile, there are bartenders that you cannot order from and wait staff that appear randomly with your food in no apparent order.  The basic problem with that system is that it’s not that good.  Somebody has to keep coming in to manually assist and more often than not, the timing is all screwed up.  Sometimes you get wine when you should’ve received coffee, or pizza when you were looking for dessert.  It helps to pass the time and the idea is to simply centralize the operation center, but the problem is that it doesn’t work that well.

Oh, The Airport Woes

If you are going to get stuck at an airport and your flight is going to be endlessly delayed and possibly canceled, one word of advice, pray to God that you are not stuck at LaGuardia Airport.  It sucks.  Watching delays unfold and getting bad updates and then inevitable cancellations are frustrating and bring out the worst in all of us.  Airline staff is not helpful and nobody has a clue.  Usually, they point to a gate complaint line that is a mile long and have you wait there.  If you are really lucky, you get a snack voucher.  As for a hotel, dream on!     

What I never understand is why the airlines do not better prepare their staff for dealing with these situations.  At the airport, I saw queues and queues of people trying to get out and I thought how bad airlines deal with this stuff and yet this is where they should shine.  Stranded passengers, helpless passengers, simply giving soothing words and realistic directions and expectations on how to get out of the mess would be helpful.  It is always a drag to watch this debacle.  It could be so much better.  It’s as if they have no training on what happens when stuff goes wrong.  That’s the only time they have to worry and that’s when they can really overperform.  We know the airline food is bad, the seats are cramped, and the service in general on the plane is very average, so how about excelling at this?  Help passengers who are trying to figure out what to do, concentrate on the pre-boarding service, calm people, assure people, and take a genuine interest in getting people into a good frame of mind.  Maybe they should have yoga attendants at the gates helping passengers breath.  It’s a shame. This is an area where you don’t have to do much.  Just be service-oriented and kind.  Is that too much to ask?

 

When Will The Airlines Learn Good Business?

The other day while experiencing a 7.5-hour delay at the airport for a flight from New York to Boston, the loudspeaker message came over stating they were looking for passengers prepared to take an alternative flight for a credit voucher on the same airline.  Let the buyer beware, as we know with United Airlines, it’s not just good enough to say that you’re not interested, you are actually playing a game of poker with them.  They’re offering you money but if nobody takes it then they double the money.  If nobody takes it, they pick four unsuspecting people with no compensation and drag them off of the plane head first.  It’s already bad enough having to deal with bad attitudes and entrenched values on traditional carriers such as United Airlines and American Airlines.  But now we have to deal with the possibility that they can drag you off of the plane.  I guess these big carriers have not seen what is under that tiny tip of an iceberg floating in a sea of air transportation called JetBlue and Norwegian Air.  A warning to United…being competitive with JetBlue doesn’t work by removing the first three letters of your name.  You tried that (Ted Airlines) and it did not work.  A warning to American…receiving the reward for the worst airline two years in a row is not an accolade.  Jesus, you’d think these guys would learn.

If you haven’t seen the video yet, here you go…

What’s Your Favorite Airline for Domestic Travel?

Boarding a plane domestically is getting to be just as bad as reading a magazine during a dental surgery knowing that almost certainly what happens inside is not going to be good.

Given the fact that there are so many different elite statuses, and the airlines charge for bags that are checked, everybody is bringing their rollies on-board.  And of course, unless you get there first, you are not going to make the final cut and you will be sentenced to putting your bag in the hold of the plane.  Good news though, it’s at zero cost and the bag is unlikely to get lost on the conveyer belts at the originating airport.  Either way, it is a nightmare.  Whatever system is employed, it usually fails – back to front, elite status first, ready-set-go, it all creates a pretty awful customer experience as people push each other to grab those important marker spaces to throw their bags in the overhead bins.  Flight attendants are getting more diligent on where people are throwing their bags.  If you think you will be throwing your bag in the business part of the plane if you’re traveling in coach, think again.

So why is it that with all this confusion, Southwest Airlines, which has been operating the most basic system of all with no baggage surcharge if you check, is always considered the best system?  It’s random, there’s no class distinction, you just line up in rows with numbers allocated and you cannot move until they tell you.  And on the airplane, it’s a free for all so you choose your seat, have a nice day, and get over it.  It works and that’s the way it goes.  The domestic boarding experience is one of the most horrific experiences known in the airline industry and yet the glowing example of how to do it right is staring everybody in the face.

But Southwest Airlines, which sits at a comfortable number four in overall ranking for the best USA domestic airlines, is not where it wants to be in terms of overall ranking.  Number one for the fourth year in a row is Alaska Airlines, number two for the second year in a row is Delta, number three is Virgin America, and number four is Southwest.  Most people would probably guess that the worst airline out there would be Spirit Airlines but actually, Spirit beats out American Airlines coming in at number eight.  However, American is at least consistent and retains its stronghold and the prize for the worst airline for 2016.  It’s the worst in canceled flights, worst in tarmac delays, and worst in mishandled baggage.  While Spirit hangs down at the bottom for delays and complaints, you have to ask who would complain about a $25 ticket on a 1,000-mile route?  On the other hand, American is charging big bucks for crap service.  Get a load of this – American’s numbers actually improved over last year.  Alaska, which has just acquired Virgin America, looks like it will further improve its network and grab some of its strong points and push it over to what was its Virgin competitor.

While the overall performance of airlines is a lot better than it was a year ago, it’s good to know who you want to put your bag and your bet on.  Need we say more but the most punctual airline in the USA was the beloved Seattle-based Alaskan at 86% and the tardiest was Spirit at 74%.  So, the numbers are small and the differences are in the inches (leg room, on time performance, queuing up to get on the plane, etc.) but it does not take that much to look at who is best at what and adopt those practices throughout.  If Southwest has the best boarding, copy it.  If JetBlue has the best in-flight entertainment, emulate it.  If American cannot figure that out, then somewhere somebody better start changing the structure of the management rather than the structure of the plane.

 

 

Day Flight

The BA Day Flight

How I love that day flight.

You can work through the day on the plane, arrive looking roughly the same as when you left, and get to enjoy a great meal in London before you begin your journey.  Or better still, grab a hotel night at the incredibly convenient Sofitel that is situated at Terminal 5 at Heathrow.  This hotel is a dream especially if your onward connection the following day is on British Airways and therefore in Terminal 5.

British Airways operates day flights from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston.

The flight time from Boston is 5 hours and 50 minutes and while it is not recommendable for people who are trying to save a hotel night by sleeping on an airplane seat, the difference in a healthy travel experience and a somewhat acceptable looking human being emerging from the plane is well worth it.  The great news is that during the summer months you can connect all the way through to Paris (if you are a BA fan) or to more exotic places like Palma in Mallorca (I’m a big fan).

Imagine – you depart Boston at 8:10 am, do some work, watch a movie, connect through to Paris, and by midnight you can be sitting down in a restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Germain, as I did in the Café Louise.

At that point it is still only 7pm in the evening on Boston time.  True confession: I am a secret addict of the day flight.

TSA Woes

Pietro Place TSA Peter Jones

The news on the street is that summer is going to be a lot of fun when you are traveling around US airports. More fun than ever before actually and here’s the reason.

TSA have reduced their staff by 2,000 people.

So, those long lines that we already encounter are getting longer and longer.  Tempers will get testy and maybe the smiles on the TSA team will start to turn upside down.

So, what’s the deal?  In these tense days of super sensitivity on issues like security and safety, why cut back?  It seems that TSA thought that there would be such a massive uptake in the TSA Precheck approval applications, that they could save some resources for something else.  TSA approval is $85, so it seems that they saw an opportunity for revenue.  It is as simple, though, as putting in an application and scheduling an appointment.  If you already have Global Entry, you are automatically considered as part of TSA Precheck.  It means that you don’t have to remove clothing when going through a screening, nor remove your toiletries.  It’s a massive time saver because they have a line expedited especially for you.

So, what’s the problem?

People are just not signing up for it whether it’s a privacy issue, general laziness, the price, or just a lack of knowledge that it actually exists.

But now they are paying for…or rather we are paying for it if we don’t have TSA precheck.  My advice if you are traveling domestically this summer is to get with the program.  It’s one of the few things in life that is worth the price!

Images courtesy of http://blog.tsa.gov/2016/01/tsa-2015-year-in-review.html and https://www.myheritage.org/news/more-passengers-are-flying-tsa-free-and-thats-a-good-thing/

Upgrade or not to Upgrade

To Upgrade or not to Upgrade

For all of those passengers that are lucky enough to sit in the business class or first class section of an airplane, you may well imagine how important you are to that airline.

Airlines are trying to sign you up for their frequent flyer cards, give you their Silver and Gold cards, and adorn you in incentives because you happen to be sitting in the part of the plane that makes money and they want you back. They are using all of their tricks to sway you in the decision to upgrade or not to upgrade. Those airline seats that you occupy have been well thought out and optimized for your comfort, convenience, and their dollars.

Not to say that if you are in the back of the plane, it’s all misery.

There is a trickledown effect due to the fact that the airlines are smarting up the front of the plane. After all, you do not want class warfare at 35,000 feet in the sky.

Well never mind because in the front they want your business and they are prepared to pamper you. But it is going to cost you money. A round-trip transatlantic fare in first class on British Airways costs between $16,000-$22,000, business class around $7,000, premium economy around $2,200, and lowly old economy about $1,500. So you can imagine how much money these guys are making on that tiny piece of space given the fact that you are sitting in the same cylindrical tube as everyone else.

When you look at that value proposition, you have to say that economy is a pretty good deal. I mean seriously, who is paying $20,000 for a first class seat when you can find a deal out there for $1,000 in economy. If you fly between London and Boston, you are on a 5 hour and 50 minute flight. I do not care how good the service is, I can always find a sandwich, a couple glasses of wine, and a decent movie or two to wind my way across the Atlantic while I think of how I saved $19,000 on a bit of extra leg room, a very average meal, and a wash bag that you wouldn’t even re-gift. Incidentally, in business class, the wash bag on most flights is something that amazes me even more. It’s like how could they design a bag with so much space and so little in it? Where do you find toothpaste that small? Why the socks? I have my own socks and if I go to the bathroom truly I am going to wear my shoes. Guys are messy!

So differentiating the front of the plane is critical to these guys.

There are three kinds of configurations at the front of the plane. There is the yin-yang design that BA employs, the staggered herringbone that Virgin employs, or the “stacked-V’ of other airlines. Have you ever wondered why if you are sitting in business class on a plane, such as BA, that you are facing a person that you do not know and awkwardly trying to figure out how to put the screen up between the two of you without looking to offend? Ever wondered why when on a Virgin plane that the shape of the seats is in a fishbone? It’s feast or famine here. You are either lying flat down or sitting straight up. There is no in between. Then there is the Delta setup where everyone mysteriously is fitted in a certain way so that you never actually see too much of the person next to you…thank God. The reason they do all of this of course is because they can give you more room, your own space, and more importantly they can fit more of you in that huge expanding revenue-generating area.

Designing airline seats for business and first class is an art within itself; creating a space that feels like your own space with a flat bed and video screen with endless options for watching TV and movies. Not long ago in 1995, British Airways introduced the first flat-bed seat in first class, and in 1999 introduced it to business class as well. Up until then, business class passengers had no advantage other than a slightly better meal. Nowadays the game is played around bed, board, and beyond! At the higher end, airlines compete for your business with lavish meals including caviar in first class. They entice you with a goody bag that contains scents, oils, and perfumes from boutique distributors. New 32-inch video screens (bigger than some we have in our kitchens) are being introduced into a private cabin. On real long hauls in first class you now get a shower (of course!) plus a potential for a double bed. Just when you thought you got your marriage around twin beds you can now bring it back again!

Image courtesy of DesignBoom.com: http://www.designboom.com/design/singapore-airlines-first-class-interior-design-by-bmw-designworks/

Virgin America sold to Alaska Airlines

I’m not a Virgin Anymore (Virgin America sold to Alaska Airlines)

Virgin America has just sold out to Alaska Airlines.

Richard Branson, who owns only a clear 22% of Virgin America, felt so bad about it that he wrote an open letter concerning the takeover.

He could not do too much to stop it because some of his take was in the form of non-voting shares. This effectively reduced his influence in a sell deal to that of a spectator. Because he is not an American, according to USA law, he was never allowed to have majority ownership. Still, he remains optimistic about the airlines’ future. As he put it, “Besides the turbulence and headwinds, the journey remains thrilling and joyful and I look forward to more future flights with virgin America.”

In many ways, the takeover makes sense. Yes, Virgin is a great brand and Virgin America was a cool airline to fly on. The banter on board, the groovy lounges, the reception, everything was pure Virgin. The only weakness of the original Virgin America set up was that the curious bystander often wondered why they could not link Virgin America to Virgin Atlantic for international travel. Now with Alaska, they simply add much more domestic connectability.

Frankly, now that Virgin America sold to Alaska Airlines the brand is going to become diluted.

Alaska might be famous for its onboard cuisine if you fly in business, but beyond that it is pretty much bog standard. In other words, you get what you pay for. Alaska could only benefit greatly from the bounce of the Virgin brand as they go head-to-head with the Southwest and Jet Blues.

It’s all about consolidation. Airlines are making bigger profits, oil is cheap as chips, the seats are shrinking, the food is sucking even more, and Richard just walked away with a cool half billion dollars.

The same thing kind of happened on Virgin Atlantic.

In 2012, Branson said that he could not survive competitively unless he had an alliance. There was talk of aligning with British Airways and Singapore, but in the end it was Delta who picked up the mantle – the largest airline in the world married a virgin!

Essentially, Delta picked up all Virgin slots and 49% of Virgin Atlantic. It gave both airlines more access in a highly competitive market and it gave Delta a hot card to play against its transatlantic nemesis, British Airways. Imagine this, now there would be nine daily round-trip flights from London to JFK and Newark and 31 peak day daily flights to London! More importantly, for Delta fans, you get the chance to visit the groovy Virgin lounge as opposed to the abysmal Delta one where they won’t let you bring in a desperately needed sandwich because they are scared you will compare it to the rubbish you are getting inside. So there are benefits. Although currently Delta flies into Terminal 4 at Heathrow whereas Virgin is in Terminal 3, so you need to have a 10 minute limo service to connect you between the lounges! Not so good.

In the end, when we travel on Virgin, we buy the brand.

The brand’s God is Branson. It starts at the counter with the red suited flight attendants and the funky fishbone configurations in upper class on the planes. It is a kind of an antidote to British Airways and it worked. People became Virgin groupies. The lounges are the best and the people that work at Virgin all carry the brand with pride.

So how is the marriage going? It’s probably working well economically but I do get the feeling having dealt with both sets of staff that this marriage is definitely destined for twin beds at the very least and separate rooms in the future. Maybe that’s how marriages last!

Image courtesy of ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/virgin-america-alaska-air-merger/story?id=38143131

Airline Class Warfare

NOT JUST ANOTHER BUM IN A SEAT! (Airline Class Warfare)

Incidentally, if you have not noticed, while the airlines are fawning over the front of the plane, and I mean fawning, (“Can I take you to your seat?”, “Would you like an espresso?”), in the back the seats are shrinking. By that I mean, they are putting more seats in and the width, depth, and pitch are getting smaller.

Planes that started out with a configuration of 167 seats are now putting in 179 seats. On most Boeing 777’s, what used to be 247 seats is now 289 seats. Guess where they are adding? In the economy section. They now have introduced the “skinny seats” to the airlines. Three-quarters of Delta’s equipment is running on a 17-inch seat width. What used to be the norm of a 32-inch pitch has now shrunk down to a 30-inch pitch; that is United’s new standard economy seat pitch. Plus what used to be 18 inches is now 17 inches in seat width. The only good news here is that the depth with the new skinny seats has grown from 22 inches to 24 inches by removing padding from the backrest and removing the extra paraphernalia from the back of the seat in front of you. They have even introduced skinny lavatories. Not the kind of place where you want to hang out with the Sunday newspaper.

Most recently on a British Airways flight, it cost me $55 to pre-book an economy seat for the transatlantic portion. It would have cost an additional amount for an emergency row. If I wanted to sit by the window, there is another surcharge. I have not even made it to premium economy yet! In other words, when you are sitting at the back of the plane with your cheap and cheerful ticket, they have plans for you – squeeze you in, don’t hang out in the toilets too long (after all it may be more comfortable in there than it is in your seat), and glance longingly through to the front of the plane where a carefully screened curtain keeps you at bay from those who want to have nothing to do with you!

But there is good news afoot.

There is a trickledown effect due to the fact that the airlines are smarting up the front of the plane and installing super cool video equipment.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Airlines are upgrading their video selections, their live TV streaming, and fairly shortly we will be able to control our own entertainment through our mobile devices. After all, you don’t want class warfare at 35,000 feet in the sky.  So for the most part when we sit in the back of the plane, the food is a little better than it used to be and there is always that faint possibility that if you travel enough or happen to catch the right person on the right day, you can get upgraded.  Yes…the upgrade!  That moment when your knees go wobbly and this person with all of the power looks at you and says, “We are a little tight in the back so we have some good news for you.”….Yeah right!!   Dream on!  Nothing happens for free anymore. Get back to those seats in the back and prepare yourself with Benadryl, beer, or Ambien.  Who needs a flat seat when you have those things in your arsenal?! And for the extra $19,000 to sit in first class, my two cents are that the economy blues can be suspended with a few tricks. Bring your own headsets, a fabulous sandwich from a local deli, a neck rest, and sync into the comparative luxury of your new skinny seat, preferably equipped with knee guards to stave off the person in front of you.  Don’t forget your Ambien!

Image courtesy of Ready Set Trek: http://readysettrek.com/class-warfare-infographic/

Distrito Federal Pietro Place Peter Jones

The 9AM Flight to Mexico City

Great news for Bostonians. AeroMexico has begun a nonstop flight to Mexico City four times per week.

With departures at a very civilized hour, New Englanders can escape the frigid temperatures and within six hours are in Mexico’s capital.  Formerly known solely as Distrito Federal (Mexico D.F.), the entire sprawl including the D.F. is officially called Mexico City although it is still quite trendy to say D.F.  Of course that’s what I’ve been calling it all the time.

AeroMexico has elected to leave its super Boeing 737-800 airplane on the JFK route and instead offers a pretty old and tired product to Bostonians.  I was in First class, if you can call it that.  The ticket was not that expensive…and it showed.  By the time that the disinterested flight attendant had reached the third row of first class seats, the hot meal was not available.  So it was all down to a yoghurt, soggy croissants and dreary fruit with cornflakes!  God knows what was going on behind in the economy seats but I bet sensible people in the back had stocked up before the flight.  I foolishly thought there would be something awful, but passable, and made an Airplane 101 mistake. It’s a simple rule of thumb really and I preach it all of the time.  But goddamnit I forgot!  Never, under any circumstances, eat the food on an airplane unless you are so desperately hungry that you would contemplate eating an old sock.

The video situation was no better. There were countless reruns of old TV shows that had long left our orbit to be sent to some other part of the world for regurgitation (including AeroMexico!).  But I jest as I was so happy to have a nonstop at my disposal on my doorstep to one of my favorite destinations.  I’ll take a bad seat, a tired meal, and a very disinterested flight attendant over many, many connections any day.

 

Trains vs. Planes

Trains vs. Planes

A too tight connection at JFK gave me the opportunity to change up my itinerary, grab a cab to Baltimore Grand Central Station, and take the Acela to Penn Station in New York.  I have to say, when you have the opportunity to ride on the train, it is just so much more civilized than flying.  Frighteningly, there is no security, which means you can arrive only 10 minutes (even less!) before the train pulls in.  And the trains are always on time….well nearly!

At Penn Station, I never quite understood how to make the transition out to JFK.  I arrived there and sought out some help.  Fighting the commuter traffic which was rushing between stations and platforms, I managed to connect to the Long Island Rail Road ($10) which sped me out to Jamaica.  At that point, I got off there and took the AirTrain ($5) straight to JFK.  I was at the Delta Terminal in no time at all.  Penn Station to the Delta Terminal was 40 minutes.  No traffic, no hassle, and so I wandered to the Delta Lounge, grabbed a bite, and a beer, and got ready for the nonstop to Barcelona.  Loved that day!

While I was getting ready for my flight, I started thinking about the benefits of nonstop flights.  I have to confess that a nonstop on an overnight journey is optimal.  In other words, if you gave me a chance to fly LA – Rome via London for a chance to get more airline miles on BA, I would say no contest.  I will take the nonstop all the way.  By the way, when can you ever use those miles anyway?  How about practically never unless you don’t work and are totally date flexible.  So taking the nonstop to Barcelona from JFK was a solid winner as opposed to connecting over Madrid out of Washington-Dulles.

Delta has improved dramatically over the two years. They are scoring up there with Jet Blue and Alaskan and have left their other erstwhile competitors in the dust. Wake up American!! The business configuration is better than most, the TV and movie selection is pretty good , and the food and service was fine.  On an overnight flight, I tend to get the food out of the way before I get on the plane.  Once the plane is in the air, I am all about taking some sleeping tablets to grab my five or six hours before we hit the European morning.  I must confess to never having breakfast on an airplane.  I would rather grab the extra hour and a coffee and croissant when I hit land.  Have you ever tasted airline coffee?  It is worse than hotel coffee and that is pretty bad!

Late Flight to Istanbul Pietro Place

A Late Flight to Istanbul

The great thing about flying on Turkish Airlines from Boston is that they have a very late flight at 11:40 pm.  In addition, if you are heading onwards to Tel Aviv, as I was, connections are pretty good.  Package that with a business class fare that is not one of those jaw dropping dreadful price points that make you wonder who ever pays for those flights at full fare, and you have it.  Dinner at a good restaurant in Boston and a late night flight departure is a great way to spend the first part of a transatlantic flight.  The preparation at least is going to be decent!

Turkish Airlines, as I found out, unfortunately did not have flat beds, but staff were pretty good, seats were decent for business class and the rest I simply can’t remember as I took an Ambien! Next stop was Istanbul about 9 hours later.  Istanbul is a funky airport.  Old bits shoved onto sleek new bits makes for a decent transit stop.  Tel Aviv was next on my journey and flight time wasn’t bad.  Actually, service on the Tel Aviv flight and leg room was better than the long transatlantic flight.  They must know we all take Ambien for the long hauls!

The End of Delays Pietro Place

The End of Delays?

The End of Delays Pietro Place

The End of Delays?

How about this for a nail biter?  To cut down on the inevitable airline delays, air traffic controllers are starting to use time instead of distance to space out airplanes.  While this doesn’t mean that the really silly game where they tell you that the flight takes an hour longer than it really does, and without that ridiculous announcement from the pilot that we have been “held up a little bit but will try and make the time up,” is going away, this is a good thing.

Incidentally, what is that “make the time up” thing? Is he going to fly 1,000 mph instead of the usual 650 mph?  How does that work?  Or is there a short cut from LA to Boston that I didn’t know about?  You know the deal…if you go over Memphis and catch the magic jet stream, it only takes two hours.  Nope.  Actually, they are working on reducing delay time in a smart way.  The idea is if you space airplanes by time instead of distance, you can actually optimize and improve timing for landings and take offs.

At Heathrow in London, they started to use this system.  Typically, planes are spaced three to seven miles behind each other depending on the airplane.  They have begun experimenting with minutes rather than miles.

The results are remarkable.  Most of the Europeans have already authorized air traffic to adopt time-based spacing by 2024.  The FAA is working to jump on the European band wagon.  Bottom line, what used to seem too close is no longer too close anymore.  Analytics and headwinds are all thrown into an algorithm and out pops spacing by minute.  Good news for everyone in the future although I am not quite sure how I feel about being that close to the jet in front of me.  In the meantime, don’t think that the announcement from the pilot stating,  “There are 18 planes in front of us but we should be set for takeoff in the next 30 minutes and with “luck” we should catch up to get you there on time,” are going away.  Incidentally, what’s the luck thing?  Yikes.