Richard Turen
Richard Turen

I knew her when she was young. In 1973, I went with her from Dulles Airport to New Delhi. That was my first time. There were a number of reporters on board and the fellow sitting next to me asked if I would like to accompany him to interview the king of Nepal.

Mostly what I remember was the grace with which she lumbered down the runway, seemingly in no hurry at all to take to the skies. This was to be a forerunner; no consumer would, ever again, be silly enough to cross a major ocean in a two-engine plane.

I loved the sound of the engines and I loved the fact that there were four of them. I felt her power when the pilot picked up speed and allowed the engines to make a bit of noise, and we headed out over the Maryland countryside, as the homes in Potomac and Chevy Chase faded in the distance.

That was the first time I flew the Boeing 747, and I never forgot her.

There were other times. I remember a notable flight that led to dinner upstairs on a Pan-Am 747 and a long relationship, and a flight home from Athens on a 747-400 where I discovered that the students in my group were serving dinner in economy while the Olympic flight attendants played cards in the rear of the aircraft.

The 747 was an iconic aircraft, larger than any commercial aircraft that had preceded it. Just entering the plane and being directed to your seat miles down the aisle or up the nearby stairs was an experience that was new to all of us.

So with some sense of sadness, we said goodbye last month to an aging but still graceful big bird, Delta Ship #6301. The first Boeing 747-400 ever built flew from Honolulu to Atlanta, officially ending a service run that began when it entered service for Northwest in 1989. Northwest had 16 of these huge planes, and after the merger in 2008 they were given a Delta paint job. Delta announced that 6301 had been in full-time service for 26 years, which translated to 61 million miles. Or to put it another way, this first 400 ever built flew enough miles to go from Earth to the moon 250 times.

Personalized flight scheduling

There has been a lot of political discussion of late about our country's crumbling infrastructure. In this category of locations needing improvement, we might include Newark Liberty Airport. But based on a series of allegations in the New York Times, it appears that we now have a clear path to understanding how major airport improvements can take place.

United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek resigned after revelations that United rewarded the former chairman of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority with a flight that served an airport near the chairman's South Carolina weekend retreat. How convenient. This, it is alleged, was done in return for promises that long-sought-after improvements involving United's gate area as well as other areas of operation would be initiated.

This appears to be a solution no one has seriously considered to our infrastructure problems. Perhaps we can enlist the airlines' help in providing unprofitable commercial flights to the airport closest to the vacation home of major allocators of building infrastructure funds. Maybe that's the way to "Make America Great Again."

Why can't we just get along?

When our clients face a major flight cancellation due to equipment or weather issues, they expect that their airline will help them book passage on another airline at no additional cost. That is only reasonable, isn't it? In the industry, we refer to this as "interline agreements." It has always translated to a policy for ticketed passengers that roughly meant: "If we can't fly you, we'll put you on a neighbor carrier that can, and we'll work out the cost difference between us."

In April, the airlines agreed to a rate structure for moving passengers who were victimized by "irregular operations" from one signatory to another. The vast majority of major airlines in the U.S. and other parts of the world have interline agreements set up to serve their customers in an emergency situation where alternatives are available.

That is why it came as a bit of a surprise when American and Delta announced that they were ending their interline agreement. You can now tell your clients that IROPS, as passengers who need to be rebooked are known among airline employees, will no longer be accommodated on Delta or American.

The reasons for this have to do with an essential imbalance. American was sending five IROPS over to Delta for every one Delta was sending to American. This imbalance was, according to both parties, not properly addressed in the April agreement.

This is not, of course, a major news story, but it seems important to mention it as it affects the most vulnerable air passengers: families whose flights were canceled, waiting in line at the gate hopeful that they will be accommodated on another airline.

Is it time for the sliding seat?

Last month, there was a conference in London called the World Low Cost Airlines Congress. This is where manufacturers suggest to the airlines ways they can save more money. It is the place where you will find makers of machines that attach to an airline's rest room door and require a euro to open.

The talk of the Congress, however, were the latest innovations in airline seating. The one that caught my eye was a design from Molon Labe Designs called the Side-Slip seat.

First, let's look at the problem. Every minute a plane sits at a gate costs the airline somewhere between $80 to $100 per minute if the engine is running. The problem is getting all those passengers on normally full aircraft down an aisle that measures, on average, 19 inches. Nowadays, the average passenger is carrying about the same load as an Everest Sherpa, and the process just takes valuable time.

So here is how the Side-Slip works: In a three-seat configuration, with the push of a button, the aisle seat slides sideways to cover the middle seat. This creates an aisle that goes from 19 to a spacious 41 inches, enough for two Sherpas to walk sideways down the aisle.

The bottom line estimates for this kind of efficiency is an average savings of as much as 33% of boarding time costs. This could enhance on-time departures and generally speed up the entire boarding process. Except for those folks who can't access their assigned middle seats and the folks who are in aisles but have to stand up until the seats are folded back out. But that's a detail.

The three-drink maximum

Finally, I suppose I have been as guilty as anyone in suggesting that we might look to Scandinavia for some ideas about how to properly run a society. But things are, apparently, not perfect over there either.

Sleek, conservative Scandinavian Airlines, one of my personal favorites, found it necessary last week to impose a three- drink limit on flights within Europe.

As IATA reported last year, there has been a steady rise in the number of belligerent passengers among the world's leading airlines. The rise in reported cases is "alarming," according to Tony Tyler, IATA's CEO. Recently released IATA data reveals that just over 20,000 incidents of unruly passenger behavior were reported to the organization between 2010 and 2013.

Perhaps it is time to consider whether alcohol on flights of less than three hours is really even necessary. 

Scandinavian is not the only airline to have drinking curbs. Ryanair has strict drinking limits, but they limit those curbs to the route between Glasgow Prestwick Airport and the Spanish island of Ibiza. 


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