Monday, June 26, 2006

Well, it's our fault for packing so damn heavily!

Here is a recent observation of mine while looking through the database recently...

Below are pictures of the cabin of a Delta Airlines Boeing 727, a plane that once dominated the single-aisle domestic airline market until it was supplanted by the now-popular Boeing 737, which has roughly the same configuration. The 727 last flew for Delta in the early 2000s, when the company retired its 30 year-old planes. I would have had an opportunity to fly on one of the famous 3-holers - named for the three-engined configuration - had plans for a tentative trip to Atlanta with some friends of mine in the summer of 2000 not fallen through the cracks. (Remember that one, Ben? ;-)) Anyways, that's beside the point.

Take a look at the photo below. It was taken on September 10, 2001 (in Boise, was grounded there during the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and was the first plane to take off from Boise when operations resumed after airspace was reopened...but, once again, that's beside the point). Even though this 727 is at least 30 years old in this picture, it looks pretty much the same as any first-generation Boeing 737 that still flies today. It shouldn't look too alarminging fact, it should look familiar to anyone who flies domestic jets with some regularity today...that's because this plane has been modernized through its years flying for Delta Airlines.

The picture below is of the same model airplane (although not the same exact airplane), but taken over 20 years earlier, in June of 1979 at Boston Logan International Airport. It's at most about 10 years old at this it probably appears as built. Do you note the difference between this view and the one above?

Whoa! Look at that overhead space. And what about that bright atmosphere? Yes, the 1979 plane has the same configuration. The fuselage isn't any bigger, and the lighting is typical for 727s. The difference is the large overhead compartments in the later photo, which indicates just how much space these compartments diplace on modern aircraft.

The planes are essentially identical except for the more modern yet cramping overhead compartments in the top (later) photo. Now, I haven't read up on the evolution of overhead compartments. Honestly, I cannot tell whether the 1979 plane actually has them, although I see something that somewhat resembles handles, yet they appear out of reach. Nevertheless, it appears that these compartments have grown to accomodate the larger luggage of today's burgeoning "skip-the-check-in" flying public. People don't want to check in luggage anymore, and they are still unwilling to part with their Samsonite rollaway that, even though is much larger than those sizing racks airports provide to estimate if luggage will fit onboard, must make it on the plane. I admit, I'm just as guilty as everyone else. Yet, airliner manufacturers are now boasting the extra capacity of their oversize bins, but at what cost?

I would certainly have enjoyed flying in the roomier plane of 1979 as opposed to the modernized one with "extra passenger conveniences" of this decade. This just goes to show how the attitude towards flying has changed over the years. No longer is it the cost prohibitive luxury it once was 25 years ago. Now it's simply a convenience. Who cares if you have to travel in a tube with a ceiling panel 3 inches from your head for 5 hours across the country? It beats lost luggage at your destination.

A note for plane enthusiasts...while a dying breed, the 727 is not yet dead. It is still widely used by cargo companies in a retrofitted configuration. I frequently see DHL and FedEx 727s flying into and out of Boston Logan Airport on a regular basis. The 3-holer configuration is impossible to miss.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Crescent Arrives

This morning I dropped John off at the Charlottesville Amtrak Station, where he began a long journey back to England via DC, New York, Shannon, Dublin and Edinburgh. Hopefully he'll send back some ruminations on his travels. Anyhow, I snapped this unfortunately grainy pic of the Crescent (New Orleans to New York: Train 20) as it arrived ninety minutes late into Charlottesville. A true train buff would have counted the cars, sleepers and so forth, but given that it was a Saturday morning and that I had awakened at 6:30, this pic was the best I could do.

As you can see, there's nothing high-tech about Charlottesville Amtrak. After collecting one's ticket inside the station, one walks outside, across some gravel and waits for the train's horn to signal its arrival. One boards the Cardinal, which runs three times a week between New York and Chicago, on the opposite side of the station. Pictures of the Cardinal coming soon...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Southwest Seating

Looks like Southwest is seriously considering doing away with its open seating policy. Currently--for those of you lucky enough to have been spared the Southwest experience--the airline doesn't assign seats; customers choose their seats once on board, and the first to board are those who arrive at the airport earliest. On a three hour flight from Baltimore to San Antonio two years ago, I arrived at the airport ninety minutes prior to my flight and yet still ended up in Line C (essentially the caboose), which meant a cramped middle seat with my backpack underfoot (as there was no room left in the overhead bin).

Starting soon, however, Southwest will begin a trial run of assigned seating in one of its busiest cities--San Diego. The article doesn't state precisely how the airline will assign seats, but given the implication that Southwest is becoming less "maverick," I assume they will follow the legacy carriers' suit and give priority to those who purchase their tickets earliest (whether frequent Southwest passengers will somehow be awarded, I'm not sure). For those readers who fly Southwest for vacation and leisure purposes, this should come as good news. If you fly it for business and book at the last minute, well, you might be screwed. You might consider switching to a legacy carrier, where your frequent travel can earn elite status and give you priority seating even when booking at the last minute (most airlines reserve bulkead and exit row seats for preferred customers).

In other seating news, Northwest no longer boards by zones. The airline now lets customers board at their leisure no matter where they sit on the plane (first class and World Perks/Skyteam Elite members still go first--egalitarianism has its limits). Turns out, this unorthodox approach has trimmed five to 10 minutes off of boarding times, making Northwest more punctual during the hectic and notoriously delay-ridden summer travel season. We shall see if other airlines follow Northwest's lead.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sky High Mojito

Not having flown Delta in over a month, I was pleasantly surprised upon boarding yesterday (ATL to SFO) to find them serving signature cocktails--a very refreshing mojito made with cane sugar and fresh lime and a passion fruit cocktail which I neglected to try. The mojito, shaken right in front of me by a friendly flight attendant, tasted delicious and boasted a perfect mix of mint, sugar, rum and ice. Many of Delta's recent image-makeovers, including the designer uniforms that look like raincoats, appear ridiculous, but these cocktails might be just what the ailing airline and its weary customers need. Granted, the pilots will soon lack pensions, but so long as there are mojitos onboard, something good's happening at 30,000 feet!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Airbus's Jumbo Disaster

It appears that Airbus's jumbo jet, pre-ordered by several Asian carriers including Singapore, Qantas and Malaysia Airlines, has fallen on hard times. Production has stalled due to several glitches and now EADS' (Airbus's parent company) customers are asking for their money back--or, at least, a renegotiation of their contracts. Airbus has made great gains in recent years over its closet competitor, Boeing, but with Boeing now selling its smaller, sleeker and more fuel efficient 787s at top speed, it appears that Airbus's ascendancy might have passed its expiration date.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ben Is BACK--With Continental Craziness

Let me begin by apologizing to our readers for the recent inactivity on benallaroundtheworld. A glitch prevented us from posting--that is, until Evan realized that we needed to republish the blog. Unfortunately I was out of town grading Advanced Placement English Literature exams and lacked access to the internet. But now that I'm back at my computer, I'm recommitted to the blog and implore our readers to stay tuned. Many thanks for your patience!

I flew Continental for the first time last week--from Dulles to Orlando (to grade the exams). My maiden voyage proved less than satisfying. My flight from Dulles to Cleveland was delayed due to a crew problem, so I was re-routed through Newark. Unfortunately, the agent neglected to inform me that my connection was tight, and that I would have to exit and then re-enter security at Newark in order to change terminals (From here on out, I will avoid Newark like the plague!). As I made my way through security, after hustling off the plane, out of security and onto the shuttle, I heard my name being called for final boarding. I ran like the wind and boarded the aircraft just as an agent was shutting the door. On board, I found no room for my backback in the overhead bin and consequently had to place it under my feet, restricting my legroom and making for a long flight to Orlando--one made all the more excruciating by our long wait for takeoff (17th in line!) and the crowdedness of the plane.

Always forgiving, I adopted, erroneously, it turns out, a positive attitude toward my return flight. Assured a bulkhead seat by the agent on the phone, a position I confirmed online before my departure, imagine my surprise when I boarded the aircraft from Orlando to Cleveland and found myself at a window seat neither in bulkhead nor in an exit row. Turns out I was relocated to accommodate what the agent speculated was a handicapped customer--but which I suspect was a more elite flier (none of the bulkhead occupants appeared disabled to me--no wheelchairs, canes, crutches or walkers). The flight was downhill from there. To my left sat two sisters who argued, fought, slapped, screamed and seat-danced (to their iPods) the entire way. Their parents, looking exhausted by what I suspect was a Disney vacation, seemed resigned to their daughters' misbehavior. Amidst the din and distraction, I got nothing done on the plane and exited an unhappy customer.

My flight from Cleveland to Dulles was better, and I must register my pleasant surprise at making it to my car less than thirty minutes after exiting the aircraft (which included fetching my luggage, paying for my parking and catching and then riding a parking shuttle to my car). BUT, speedy service at Dulles does not compensate for Continental's screw-ups. I filed a complaint with an agent yesterday as I stewed in Cleveland. I'll report the results in a future post.