Monthly Archives: August 2009

Flying Tip: Finding a Fair Fare!

US Airways is joining a long list of airlines that are charging extra for all checked bags, while simultaneously limiting the number of bags permitted to be carried in the cabin.

Remember days of yore when flying was fun, and airlines provided free meals?  Today, not only can First Class passengers go hungry on many flights, but Southwest and other so-called “low-fare” airlines removed aircraft ovens altogether, as so much dead weight!

Remember when minors were only required to purchase an adult ticket to fly unaccompanied?  Well just last week, Delta Air Lines quoted my sister a great base fare but would have added a whopping $200 extra to fly my unaccompanied nine-year-old niece roundtrip between New York City and South Florida.  The add-on fee would have doubled the total cost of the trip!

Instead, Sis searched some more, this time starting with carriers offering the lowest unaccompanied fees and compared base fares from there.  Turns out, though Air Tran had a slightly higher base fare than Delta, they only charged a $120 unaccompanied fee and $10 less to check her bag.  Sis saved more than 10%!

Be smart about shopping for a “fair fare” by always comparing apples to apples.  Add up the add-ons which apply in your situation, add the base fare to that, and THEN compare the total charges one airline to the next. compares multiple travel sites at once, and then even predicts whether you should buy now or later based on pricing trends.

Bottom line?  You have to beat the airlines at their own game.  Compare, and compare again!

(Capt. Jay has no interest in this or any of the companies mentioned in this article.)


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Butt-Naked on a Plane

060420b_lgA Las Vegas bound Southwest jet turned tail and returned to Oakland after a male passenger exposed his own (tail) in mid-flight.

The Associated Press is reporting that 21-year-old Darius Chappille of Oakland  allegedly exposed himself to his female seatmate, just before he punched her in the face.  Although passengers and crew moved to subdue him, reports say Chappille still managed to strip completely naked before authorities finally carted him away.

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NASA Lacks Budget for Mars Landing


Auditors are deeply skeptical that NASA can land humans on Mars or even the Moon, given the current atmosphere of  limited budgets and public interest (see July 30, 2009 blog below), according to the Miami Herald.

Instead, members of President Obama’s Augustine Commission are working to set a new course of deep space travel in the form of fly-bys or possible rendezvous with asteroids, but are concluding landing anywhere is just too expensive.  Rather than land on the moon in 2020, Commission member and Former Astronaut Sally Ride observes says there is a $50 billion funding gap just to develop the rocket system by 2028; never mind paying for the actual components necessary to be carried to the moon.

The final report will be issued at the end of this month.

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Putting NYC Mid-Air in Perspective

The saying goes that air disasters occur in “threes.”

Yet, after several especially safe years, this year we are seeing a spate of incidents: the “Miracle on the Hudson” water landing; the crash of the Continental Commuter near Buffalo, New York; the disappearance of the Air France jet near Brazil; and the recent Continental Airlines  severe turbulence incident among others.

Perhaps saying air disasters come in “tens” is closer to the truth.

Yet, there seems to be no pattern to the incidents.  Each is unique in their locations, type aircraft, weather conditions, phase of flight, and crew qualifications.

In the latest incident, a small plane overran a tourist helicopter over the Hudson River.  The helicopter rotor sliced off the plane’s wing and both aircraft plummeted into the water below, killing all aboard.

Unlike the areas in which airliners operate, these aircraft were operating in an uncontrolled low altitude “VFR” corridor where pilots are expected to see-and-be-seen.  Air traffic control does not manage such traffic, instead pilots are expected (but not required) to monitor a published radio frequency to keep track of one another.  They use the common frequency to report their respective positions and altitudes to assist in locating one another and avoiding collisions like this one.

This particular corridor is especially challenging because it is very scenic, yet located in a large urban environment, making it extremely congested.  Apparently, the airplane pilot did not see the helicopter in time, even though authorities will likely deem him responsible to have done so,  since he appeared to be the overtaking aircraft under FAA rules-of-flight.

A case could be made such corridors should be controlled as to the total number of aircraft at any given time, but bottom line is such corridors are necessary to be maintained for a variety of airspace use aside from simple travel from A to B.

Hopefully, the numerous incidents we are witnessing this year represent a statistical anomaly and not a new trend.

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Observations on Severe Turbulence Incidents

A Continental jet encountered severe turbulence Monday over the Caribbean sending 14 people to the hospital, and today a domestic Delta flight was forced to land after it too encountered severe turbulence.

To put the problem in perspective, the NTSB says, on average, 10 people per year sustain serious injuries in these incidents, and airlines lose $28.5 million to the problem annually, according to the FAA.  The Caribbean incident is only the latest, so-called clear air turbulence (“CAT”) incident.

There are actually two types of turbulence.  Convective turbulence is associated with vertical cloud development, which pilots can often detect by sight or by radar.  CAT is much more problematic, because by definition it occurs in clear areas, invisible both to the eye and to radar.  CAT is largely the reason why airlines brief passengers to keep their seat belts fastened, even when the sign is turned off.

Though scientists are working on several predictive tools, pilots are forced to rely solely on reports from other aircraft in the meantime.  Your best defense as a passenger is to stay buckled up, but if you do leave your seat, proceed with caution.  Don’t rely on the seat belt sign; stay aware that turbulence can strike without warning.

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