Archive | February, 2011

Random Aviation Photo

28 Feb

I was in San Francisco to attend the 50th birthday party of a friend last April, and I landed at SFO Airport.  It’s rare I land there without a child in tow, so I took full advantage, snapping away at the birds parked at gates.  I really like this one of two Virgin America tails.  Enjoy!

It’s Friday Link Love!

25 Feb

Of course, we lead with Strange But True Aviation News over at the Things With Wings blog.  Kids, we have TSA body scanner “issues,” an airport worker going for the fences, a major food malfunction on an easyJet flight and the never-ending debate of flight attendants versus passengers.  And remember – I can’t make this stuff up!

In other news, my Aviation Week colleague Mike Mecham reports on Boeing’s efforts to find a successor for the 737.  AvWeek’s Rupa Haria has some cool video of Korean Air’s Airbus A380 jumbo jet on the Things With Wings blog.  And airlines are bringing up the “H” word — hedging — as strife in the Middle East causes oil prices to rise, reports AvWeek’s Darren Shannon.

Queen Elizabeth II needs help cutting the royal travel budget, reports website Monsters and Critics. Her Royal Highness is willing to pay someone up to $120,000 to become Head of Royal Travel’ at Buckingham Palace.  Nice work if you can get it — but would YOU want to have to handle travel for the upcoming royal wedding??

The Cranky Flier offers us a cool look at the specs of aircraft painting.  The Airplane Geeks continues recommendations for its avgeeks reading list, including four suggestions from me, your Aviation Queen.  And Flightblogger posts about how Boeing came up with the unique color scheme for my beloved 747-8i.

An Open Letter To United Airlines

24 Feb

Dear United Airlines:

I admit it-we’ve had our ups and downs.  But you know, deep down, that I have always loved you.  I’ve loved you even though you lost my luggage when I was speaking at a major conference and gave me a hard time about buying ONE lousy outfit so I could look presentable (I still have that outfit).

United Boeing 757 at Dulles Airport Photos by Benet J. Wilson

I’ve loved you even after the flight attendant on my HKG-SFO flight spilled hot coffee on me and never apologized (although I did get that 1 drink coupon from the purser).  I’ve loved you through thick and thin, through Allegis, the pilot strike in 1985, Cattle by United, TED and your nearly 10-year flirtation with mergers. I’ve even continued to love you despite my extreme dislike of the new “Frankenlivery.”   I could go on, but you get my point.

So you finally merged with Continental, and I understand that these things take time.  I was delighted to hear that you’re expanding Economy Plus to the Continental fleet, as reported by Bloomberg, among others.  I’d be even happier if you kept a CO livery in the fleet because I’m a sentimental fool, but you already told me in Aviation Week’s Things With Wings blog that wasn’t going to happen.

But now, my dear United, you need to throw me — and millions of other aviation geeks — a bone.  Not only do I want you to keep my beloved Channel 9, I want you to expand it to the Continental fleet.  Please.  For the uninitiated, Channel 9 allows passengers to listen as the cockpit crew speaks with air traffic control.  We get to feel like we’re a tiny part of the process.  We get to hear pilots doing their jobs.  We get to feel like we’re sitting in the cockpit.

So now, I’m beginning my official appeal here to get you, my dearest United, to not only keep Channel 9, but also expand it to the Continental fleet. So pretty please, please consider my request.  I hope to hear from you soon.


Aunt Benét

P.S.  Readers, if you’re with me, please send a Tweet to @UnitedAirlines and let them know how you feel about keeping Ch 9 using the hashtag #keepCh9.  Thanks!!

Why Banning TSA Screeners From Your Business Is A Bad Idea

23 Feb

I read with interest a Feb. 19 article by consumer travel advocate and journalist Chris Elliott about how a cafe at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were banning Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners.

Elliott quotes an employee who says the ban was put into place after the agency began installing more of its controversial body scanners at Sea-Tac.  The gist of the ban is screeners will not be let in until the cafe feels passengers are being treated with respect.

I felt very uneasy when I read about the ban.  I am a black woman who is only one generation away from a time when businesses could ban my father from entering their establishment based only on the color of his skin.

While I can understand the general frustration with TSA, but taking it out on those who are the nearest — like screeners — it just seems wrong.  These are folks who are trying to make a living or feed their families.  The screeners don’t set the policy — they have the unfortunate job of having to enforce it.  So why shoot the messenger?

A TSA screener at BWI Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Back in April 2007, TSA let me spend an afternoon with transportation security officers at Concourse A, the Southwest Airlines terminal at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.  You can see my blog post on my time with the TSOs at BWI at my old Towers and Tarmacs blog.

I’ve also traveled regularly across the country and 90+% of the time, I have had nothing but courteous and efficient TSOs.  I was so impressed with the service at Jacksonville International Airport I filled out comment cards and sent a letter to TSA headquarters.

But I digress.  My point is I think it’s wrong to ban screeners who are doing a thankless job from buying a meal during their break time because someone has a problem with a policy created in Washington, D.C.  TSA Chief John Pistole has made it clear that body scanners are the future, and woe to those who oppose them.  But why should a screener be punished and have to hunt for a place to eat because of a policy they had no part in creating?

What do you think? Are you as uncomfortable as I am with the stance this Sea-Tac cafe is taking with screeners? Or do you think I’m crazy and way too soft when it comes to screeners? Or somewhere in between?

Why We’re Not Going To See A Domestic Registered Traveler Anytime Soon

22 Feb

Last week, USA Today offered an editorial asking “Would you depend on ‘trusted traveler’?” In a perfect world, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would oversee a true  registered traveler program that would have travelers pay and submit biometric information in exchange for a much quicker airport security checkpoint experience.


Photo courtesy of Josh Hallett, via Flickr

There was a small pilot that was tested in the aftermath of 9/11, but not much came of it.  I began covering the second iteration of this program about a year after a pilot program was introduced at Orlando International Airport in 2005.  At its peak, the domestic program had three providers, with Clear being the largest by far.


The problem was that original Clear was never able to deliver what it promised — a separate line with scanners that would allow travelers to keep their shoes and coats on and their laptops in their bags.  Toward the end, TSA insisted that RT members show government-approved identification, rendering their biometric cards pretty much useless.


Clear scanners at Orlando International Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Why couldn’t Clear and the other providers offer a true experience?  Because despite Congressional support for RT, the program has never been a priority for TSA.  The agency ended a two-year, 19-airport pilot program back in July 2008.  It also stopped doing the background checks on potential new RT members, referring all questions to the private companies operating the program.


TSA has said repeatedly that RT is not a priority.  Instead, it wants to focus on technology and training that offers layers of security.  And as the USA Today editorial noted:  “Quick database checks, which cost about $50, are not enough to guarantee security. Recall the Times Square bomber: a naturalized U.S. citizen who had a job and lived in suburban Connecticut. It’s very unlikely that a background check would have picked him out.”

The original Clear shutdown abruptly in June 2009 after investors pulled the plug. That, in turn, caused the other two RT providers to suspend their programs.  We have seen a new company — Alclear — buy the assets of Clear and restart the program.  We’ve also seen iQueue jump into the fray.  But at this point, both programs are more VIP customer lines rather than a true trusted traveler program.  So don’t hold your breath waiting for a real RT program to come along anytime soon.

Random Aviation Photo + One!

21 Feb

Before I covered the business aviation beat, I covered airports and security.  One of my favorite parts of covering airports was when I got to go outside and play on runways.  Back on November 20, 2008, we saw three new runways open at Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare and Seattle-Tacoma airports.

I attended the dedication of the Dulles runway.  I was working on a story about the new runways for Aviation Week (subscribers only), and it involved me going out on the new 4th runway for a photo shoot with then acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell.

So below are 2 photos for your consideration.  Photo one is one of my runway shots.  Photo 2 is one taken by FAA’s photographer of me on the runway marker.  Enjoy!

It’s Link Love Friday!

18 Feb

Thank GOD it’s Friday, kids!  So it’s time for this week’s plugs from the wild and wonderful world of aviation.

We MUST start with this week’s Strange But True Aviation News over at AvWeek’s Things With Wings blog.  We’ve got three entries from the Transportation Security Administration (two of them theft-related), a man using an Easter prop to smuggle cocaine and some “interesting” flight attendant’s for the Thai-based PC Air.  And remember — I CAN’T make this stuff up!!

My AvWeek colleague Guy Norris did an excellent job with his coverage of the Boeing 747-8i rollout on our Things With Wings blog.  I am STILL bitter I wasn’t able to attend the festivities, since the 747 is my favorite aircraft of all time (check out my logo if you don’t believe me).

And AvWeek’s Rupa Haria has an item on Things With Wings that would have fit nicely in “Strange” (and Rupa agrees).  South African carrier Kulula has launched a Facebook campaign to have fans tell them how many cows the airline should pledge to give Prince William and Kate Middleton as a wedding gift.

The Up Up & A Gay blog has a post taking a different view of sports reporter Mitch Albom’s admonition in Parade magazine on making the skies friendlier.

FlightGlobal’s Flight blog reports on how Virgin Atlantic has been voted as the airline with the most attractive cabin crew, according to a survey of 1,000 people by the Business Travel and Meetings Show.  I can see that, but I would have voted for Singapore Airlines or Emirates, myself.

The Senate yesterday rejected an attempt by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to eliminate the Essential Air Service program, reports BusinessWeek.  You can read my thoughts on EAS here.  And Aviation Daily Editor Jennifer Michels weighs in on the issue here.  I don’t want to see the program go away, but it is LONG overdue for a major overhaul, Extreme Makeover style, kids!

Travel To See The Stars-And I Don’t Mean The Ones In Hollywood

15 Feb

The other day, I was listening to a story on one of my local NPR radio stations — WAMU-FM — on how light pollution from street lamps and buildings in cities is blocking fantastic views of the stars.  It got me thinking about some wonderful places around the world where I’ve seen some fantastic views of stars.


Photo courtesy of NASA

Back in 1994, I took my first trip to Sweden to visit the Saab Aircraft plant in Linköping (pronounced Lin-SHER-ping), located in the southern part of the country.  One evening, our hosts took us to dinner at an old castle outside the city.  I still dream about the roasted reindeer thigh in a lingonberry sauce. But I digress.  After dinner, we had drinks out on the terrace.  We looked up in the sky and saw literally millions of stars.  It was an amazing and breathtaking display.


In 1998, I attended a conference in Baveno, Italy, located in the Lake Maggiore region in the northern part of the country.  Another wonderful dinner and another great night of stargazing.  But this time, they actually had telescopes and an astronomer there to chat with us on what we were seeing.

Last — but certainly not least — I attended a wedding about an hour outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  A group of us left the resort at around 1o p.m., and as we were driving, we noticed the stars.  We stopped the car and spent the next half hour just stargazing.

So on your next trip, try and get away from the city lights and take a look at some real stars!

Random Aviation Photo

14 Feb

As we wait for Southwest Airlines to complete its purchase of AirTran Airways, I thought now would be a good time to highlight some of the latter’s photos from my Flickr account.  Below is a shot I took at Boston Logan Airport of some AirTran birds with JetBlue aircraft lurking in the background.

I’m Giving Out The Link Love

11 Feb

OK, I have to plug a few things from my day job.  Hey! Throw me a frickin’ bone – I have a baby to feed! :)

First, it’s Friday, so you know I’ve done “Strange But True Aviation News.” Kids, this week’s blog post on Things With Wings is a big bucket of crazy, with pilots having trouble getting into the cockpit, a passenger and crew members with cocaine issues and airports with animal issues.

Regular readers know I’m a big old airport geek, so check out my Things With Wings blog post on what the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wants to do with the iconic, Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Terminal at JFK Airport.

Interested in buying a Ukrainian MiG-29? Our good friend Flightblogger tells you how, here.  And speaking of FlightGlobal, check out the winners of their 2010 Webbies awards.  Our pal, aka Brett Snyder, wins Blogger of the Year.

Remember the post I did Feb. 9 — Why A Revamp Of Small Community Air Service Is LONG Overdue? Well, it looks like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) may support Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his amendment to kill the Essential Air Service program, reports Radio Iowa.  And my colleague Jim Ott offers his thoughts on EAS here.

My colleague, International Editor Robert Wall, blogs about whether IATA will still be able to hold its Annual General Meeting in Cairo, scheduled for June, with all the unrest in Egypt.

And speaking of Egypt, let’s review the top five songs in heavy rotation on embattled now former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak:  1. Cee Lo Green – F You; 2. Jennifer Hudson – And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going – The Dance Mix; 3. Eric Carmen – All By Myself; 4. Paul McCartney – We Can Work It Out; 5. Electric Light Orchestra – Don’t Bring Me Down.

And here are the top five songs being played by the Egyptian protesters: 1.  Ludacris, Move Bi**h; 2. Kenny Loggins, Don’t Fight It; 3. Craig David, Rise & Fall; 4. McFadden & Whitehead, Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now; 5. Cee Lo Green – F You.

And let’s end the week with this classic United Airlines TV commercial on YouTube from 1971 introducing the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 to the fleet.  Check out those comfy coach seats and the lounge. Enjoy!!


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