New TSA measures and how to respond

Posted November 24, 2010 by Kenkou
Categories: Airports

With new and beefed up security screening measures, holiday travel this year is certainly being met with anxiety, frustration, and for many people, feeling violated.  Violated not just of an on-time arrival at the flight gate, but also of privacy and personal space.

The most controversial issue is obviously the violation of personal space.  If randomly selected for extra screening, there’s two options: being placed in a body scanner, which gives off a computerized image of whatever is underneath your clothing (obscuring your face and private parts) and/or submitting to a more intensive and invasive pat-down search.  Many people feel violated and deservedly so; it’d be a miracle if this measure were met with absolutely no controversy whatsoever.  While I certainly can’t blame people for feeling violated (I myself having gone through a pat-down search years ago and leaving feeling more than slightly embarrassed), it also doesn’t hurt to look at this from the other side of the coin.

A security checkpoint at Portland International taken from wikimedia

Why are today’s airport security measures implemented?  Almost always in response to someone exploiting a weakness in the system.  Remember when all you needed to do was empty your pockets of anything metal, place your bag in through the machine, and walk through the detector?  Well, things changed pretty much after 9/11.  Additionally, Richard Reid (the shoe bomber) forced the TSA to now require your shoes to be removed.  Then the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot (I had flown into New York the day that happened) forced new restrictions on liquid items.  Then there’s Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber), who crafted a very sneaky yet very unsuccessful plot to blow up Delta-Northwest Airlines Flight 253 using a bomb planted on his body where the sun don’t shine…also in a place where the TSA attempts to avoid searching as much as possible.  And sadly, he successfully smuggled the bombs, but even more sadly, he ended up just damaging himself in more ways than one without even fulfilling his objective…ouch.  But nonetheless, his antics sparked even more intense security measures.

A Delta Airlines Airbus A330 similar to the plane used on Delta Airlines flight 253

Is it absurd that the TSA creates these new beefed up measures in response to these threats?  To a degree, yes.  Obviously most flyers aren’t terrorists and I’ve seen the TSA perform searches on people most unlikely to be threats and on objects that are not able to cause even remote harm to a 5 year old.  At the same time, I’ve also seen the TSA perform searches on harmless people who are typically portrayed as stereotypical terrorists.  The reality is, all kinds of people get screened extensively and its all generally met with criticism from the public.  Generally, its either one of three things:

“Why am I being put through extra screening?  Do I really look like a terrorist to you?”

or

“Oh, just because I look like a terrorist, I have to get extra screening?”

or, in more recent cases

“You’re only choosing me for extra screening just for your enjoyment because I look attractive”

So basically, in addition to feeling violated of personal space, many people also feel that its absurd to extensively screen any innocent traveler.  But from the TSA’s standpoint, in order to do their job to protect the U.S. from actual threats, they need to be on top of their game at all times and be right every single time.  That’s not easy when you have a few criminals among thousands of innocent people traveling through the air every day.  So there’s obviously going to be extensive screening of different kinds of innocent people.  And at the same time, terrorists and other criminals on the other hand, need just one stroke of luck while in the midst of thousands of travelers to beat out the TSA and potentially kill hundreds of people.

That being said, the new screening measures are a tool for TSA to do its job properly.  It’s not enjoyable, of course, and it is absurd to a degree.  But it needs to be done for safety and security’s sake.  And I can also sense that most TSA employees (the men and women whom get all the attacks from the traveling public) don’t enjoy this either.  They’re doing what they’re assigned to do, which is not only uncomfortable for them in some cases, but it also results in them being attacked by angry travelers.  That’s a double whammy for them in my book.  And there isn’t anything immediate that’s going to change the TSA’s policy for some time.

So all we can really do as the traveling public is to just roll with the punches.  If you get selected for extra screening, do what you’re asked to do, cooperate, don’t raise a scene, understand that its all solely for safety’s and security’s sake and you’ll be out of the screening area and on your way to your flight before you know it with no loss.  And that makes things easier for you, for the security officer, and your fellow travelers.  Otherwise, not only do you risk more intense screening, but also missing your flight, being taken in questioning, and even getting removed from the airport.  And if you already paid plenty for your trip, well, that’s certainly going to hurt a lot more than an extra screening.  That’s how their policy works and there isn’t any protest that’s going to change it.  So if it’s in your best interest to get where you need to go quickly and safely, roll with it and you’ll be fine.

Now, the other issue is the time delay and how getting through security takes forever these days due to the new intense screening methods.  My answer?  Do your homework ahead of time and not in the security line.  If possible for your trip, try flying into smaller alternate airports.  Not only are these airports’ security lines shorter, but also their terminals and ground transportation are a lot easier to navigate.  But in any case, research the airport you’re departing from ahead of time.  Make sure you know exactly where to go and where everything is.  And more importantly, make sure you know ahead of time what to do when at security (go to TSA’s website for accurate info).  Examples: shoes off, jackets off, watches off, belts off, metal items out of pockets, laptops out of the bag, no liquids or gels unless inside a plastic bag, and obviously no weapons of any kind.  Couple tricks are to untie your shoelaces before you get in line and place all your pocket items (except your photo ID, boarding pass, and/or passport) in a carry-on bag.  Know what is and isn’t allowed on a plane.  And finally, the most important thing: arrive at the airport EARLY (at least 2 hours before your scheduled flight, if not more).  Give yourself a large time cushion so you don’t end up getting anxious about missing your flight.

Lets all do our part to make holiday flying as stress-free as possible this year!  May all your holiday travels be safe and enjoyable!  Happy flying!

Airline Spotlight: Southwest Airlines

Posted November 21, 2010 by Kenkou
Categories: Airlines

Alright, its time to give recognition to, at least in my book, the best airline in the United States: Southwest Airlines.  After growing up flying United for most of my life, I started flying Southwest in 2007 while in college, using it to travel back and forth between Northern and Southern California.  And I have to say, in almost every category, Southwest either matches both its low-cost and legacy carrier competitors or in fact surpasses their standards by huge margins.  Southwest’s fast and friendly service, their simple business model, and their customer oriented practices have made them a huge success.  So lets get into what makes Southwest Airlines, one of the few airlines to post profit after 9/11, the choice airline for today’s budget and service-conscious travelers.

Southwest Airlines has enjoyed tremendous growth due to its simple business model and customer-oriented service

1.  First 2 bags fly free: Yes, still free.  Nearly every U.S. airline is charging you an arm and a leg just bring your clothes and necessary belongings with you.  But not Southwest.  Your first two bags are free and you do not have to be a frequent flyer or yearly bag fee subscriber to do so.  As far as I know, JetBlue claims their first bag is free, but two bags on Southwest is sure better than one.

2.  No charge for changes or cancellations: This is a huge feature.  Say last minute changes to your schedule pop up and you need to change your flight.  Simple: just go to the website, give them your confirmation number, make your changes, and pay the difference in fare.  Reasonable?  Definitely.  Especially considering how many legacy and even low-cost carriers charge you 75 to 100 dollars to more just to change your fare (that does not include the fare difference that they also charge).  And no cancellation fees either.  Cancel your flight, and the money you paid for the ticket will turn into travel credit you can use toward a future flight.  That is of course, unless you buy a refundable ticket which is more expensive.  But the fact that the airline gives you options you can live with is a very pleasant surprise.

3. Friendly service and comfortable environment: No grumbling ticket agents or angry flight attendants sliding off the plane with bottles of booze after realizing they can’t take their job anymore.  Most staff from Southwest I’ve encountered are not only friendly, enthusiastic, and willing to help in any way they can, but they just show that they enjoy what they do.  And thats good for everyone.

4. Fast turnarounds: Once the plane arrives, its deplane, board, and depart.  Very quick turnarounds due to their single aircraft type (737) allow for superb on-time performance.  And when things do get a little behind due to circumstances, the staff makes a clear effort to speed things through to send you on your way as fast as possible.

5. Rapid Expansion: Southwest has flooded into so many new markets this past decade, one of the few airlines to do so.  Folks are no longer constrained to smaller or remote airports.  Reversing their traditional trend of flying to alternate airports has brought Southwest into mainstream airports and increasing their customer base dramatically.  It likely won’t be long before Southwest enters the largest market without Southwest service, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International, due to their recent buyout of low-cost carrier AirTran.

6.  Rapid Rewards Program: This one really surprised me.  I enrolled in it just last week and I realized that Southwest lets you use past flights as credit.  After applying as many past flights as I could, I am actually only 3 one-way trips away from a reward!  16 one-way trips are needed for a free flight, fairly reasonable for today’s frequent flyer.

7. Accessibility: Their online and phone services are very easy to access and booking a flight as well as getting help isn’t like going through a maze.  Plus their call agents are just as friendly as their airport staff.

In all, friendly quality service, fast turnarounds, ease of access, and keeping free services free makes Southwest Airlines a big hit in my book.  Some of the few things they lack are first class seating, meals, and pre-assigned seating (the last option would be nice addition).  But those perks can honestly be overlooked considering how Southwest has so many necessary features most carriers lack.  They do have a business select feature and early-bird check-in options as alternatives, but they’re not free and not a complete replacement for things like meals or first class seating (early bird isn’t a bad alternative to pre-assigned seating I’ll admit, but again, its not free).  In short though, if you’re a typical traveler just trying to get somewhere at a reasonable price and can live without a few of the high perks, Southwest is definitely the airline of choice.

Happy flying!

A look into engine failures

Posted November 21, 2010 by Kenkou
Categories: Air Incidents and Events, Aircraft

The new superjumbo Airbus A380 has recently been plagued with engine problems, affecting the Australian airline Qantas as well as Singapore Airlines.  The Associated Press released an article on CBC news stating:

Leaking oil caught fire on Nov. 4 in one of the Qantas A380’s four massive Trent 900 engines, heating metal parts and causing the motor’s disintegration over Indonesia before the jet returned safely to Singapore. Experts say chunks of flying metal damaged vital systems in the wing of the Sydney-bound plane, causing the pilots to lose control of the second engine and half of the brake flaps on the damaged wing in a situation far more serious than originally portrayed by the airline.

A Qantas Airbus A380

Engine failures have been around for almost as long as powered aircraft have.  In this case with a fairly new aircraft such as the Airbus A380, the cause is most likely due to a design flaw by Rolls Royce rather than fatigue.  Despite the criticism Rolls-Royce is facing, they are indeed doing their part to investigate and remedy the problem and airlines such as Singapore and Qantas who own A380s are keeping their superjumbos from flying until the engines are deemed safe.

High time we take a look at engine failures and some common aspects of them.  Engine failures are indeed serious business.  Commercial aircraft are designed to fly to safety if one engine or sometimes two engines fail, so its not simply the loss of an engine alone that creates a serious problem (unless you lose all engines, in which case, you have a very serious problem similar to Air Transat 236 or US Airways 1549).  But for cases like the Airbus A380, it’s the violent behavior of a failed engine causing damage to other systems that creates a more serious problem.

In 1989, a United Airlines DC-10 experienced engine fan blade disintegration on its tail engine.  Disintegrating due to a fatigue crack, the fan blade’s flying sharp debris made several punctures in the plane’s hydraulic system, causing all hydraulic fluid to drain away and rendering the plane’s controls inoperable.  The plane crash landed at Sioux City Airport in Iowa after using the throttles as an only measure of control.  As  result, fan blade inspection procedures and regulations were strengthened significantly and the DC-10’s hydraulic systems were improved to prevent complete drainage.

Earlier that same year, a British Midlands 737-400 experienced a violent engine vibration with sparks and smoke caused by a left hand engine fan blade fracture due to a design flaw in the only one year old jet.  This incident was not only plagued by the fractured piece causing disintegration of the spinning fan blade, but also by pilot error.  The crew was unable to properly read the new instruments at the time and also made assumptions that the smell of smoke was caused by the right hand engine since it was the right hand engine that historically operated the plane’s air conditioning system.  Despite this not being the case for the new 737-400, the crew disengaged the plane’s auto throttle and intentionally shut down the working right-hand engine by mistake.  The auto throttle disengagement meant that the plane no longer attempted to keep either of its engines up to a desired airspeed and thus the problem left engine slowed down and stopped vibrating.  This lead the crew to assume they had shut down the correct engine.  Later on however, with the working engine still shut off, the crew increased power to the problem engine, causing it to violently vibrate again and ultimately fail.  With the left engine destroyed and the right engine unable to start back up, the plane crashed.  Similar subsequent fan blade failures on the new 737-400 were met with proper procedures from pilots and resulted in safe landings.  As a result, 737 fanblades were redesigned and stronger regulations surrounding flight tests of engines were implemented.  Instruments were redesigned for easier interpretation and proper communication and training was further emphasized for flight crews.

The aftermath of a British Midlands 737-400 engine failure

So what’s the message here?  Good engine design is one.  But proper engine inspection, damage prevention, and preparation for engine failure is another one.  Furthermore, designing an aircraft where engine failure is met with minimal violence or disruption of flight is a key factor and good preparation and training for flight crews to act upon an engine failure can also keep an engine failure from turning into a catastrophic incident.  Modern aviation has learned from its mistakes fortunately and many modern engine failures have resulted in safe landings.  Despite the fairly violent behavior of the failed engine of the A380, the incident involving the Qantas A380 wasn’t met with catastrophe due to the swift action of the flight crew.  So no worries, because while engine and other types of aircraft failures are scary, improvements that have been and continue to be made will continue to make flying safer for everyone.

Happy flying!

Alternate airports and a spotlight on ONT and OAK

Posted November 20, 2010 by Kenkou
Categories: Airports

Forbes did an online article 7 years ago on the 5 best alternate airports in the U.S. (article: http://www.forbes.com/2003/03/11/cx_ld_0311airports.html).  I stumbled upon it yesterday and found it interesting.  Here are the five airports and their mainstream airport counterparts:

Ontario International (vs. Los Angeles International)

Warwick T.F. Green Airport (vs. Boston Logan International)

Chicago Midway Airport (vs. Chicago O’Hare International)

Oakland International (vs. San Francisco International)

Houston Hobby Airport (vs. Houston George Bush Intercontinental)

I’ve actually frequently flown into both Oakland and Ontario, due to currently living in the LA area while originally growing up in the Bay Area.  I can say that both are fairly good alternatives to SFO and LAX respectively.  Ontario was a real convenience for me since Cal Poly Pomona was only about 15 minutes away from ONT.  Not to mention its got far less traffic than LAX, the terminal is very spacious, and rarely did it take me more than 10-15 minutes to get from the entrance to the gate area.  Its got a good variety of options for travel to various parts of the US and a solid Southwest Airlines presence allows for affordable travel from ONT.

Oakland is a solid alternate airport in the bay area and especially good for those in the east bay.  The best quality of Oakland is that its rarely plagued by weather delays unlike its competitor SFO.  Its got similar qualities to ONT, however, a much heavier Southwest airlines presence can turn the less spacious Southwest gate area into a zoo sometimes.  Security lines at the Southwest terminal are often very long, however, it can actually be easily bypassed by using the other terminal shared by the other airlines.  The other terminal (which is connected to the Southwest gate area) is not only wider, but practically empty due to recent pullouts and service reductions at Oakland by many other carriers.  For me, since my trips to the bay area always have me staying in San Francisco where i grew up, getting to Oakland is also a longer journey than getting to San Francisco International.  Fortunately, the terminal at Oakland is simple and easy to navigate and parking is also cheaper.  OAK and SFO are both accessible by BART, however, getting to OAK from the station requires a bus shuttle costing a hefty fare while getting to SFO from the station is done via a free people mover system.  In short, if you’re flying Southwest, Oakland is probably your better (and sometimes only option).  Otherwise, unless you live in the east bay and/or if there so happens to be a flight on another carrier going where you need to go from Oakland, you may need to end up enduring the fog and slightly more complicated terminal layout at SFO.  Fortunately, SFO is increasing its low-cost carrier presence so affordable flights are not as few and far between at SFO as they used to.

Oakland International Airport

One other thing that I noticed about both ONT and OAK is that flights can end up being more expensive sometimes from any of the two airports.  A flight from ONT to SFO on United has run to nearly $280 to $300 round trip while a roundtrip flight from LAX to SFO purchased at the same time can run for about half the price at $140 to $160 round trip.  Reason’s likely due to the larger amount of flights that LAX and SFO have.

As for the other 3 airports, I’ve never been to them so there isn’t much I can say about them.  I’ve heard stories about several alternate airports and many of them tend to have two things: strong low-cost carrier presence and smaller more convenient size.  While their larger competitors can’t change their size level, many have followed the trend of adding low-cost carriers as we have seen in the rapid expansion of Southwest Airlines and other low-cost airlines into larger mainstream airports.

Want to add anything?  Feel free to comment!  Happy flying!

Bringing Kansai Airport and the Gimli Glider to the classroom

Posted November 20, 2010 by Kenkou
Categories: Air Incidents and Events, Aircraft, Airlines, Airports

Alright, so I thought I’d start with a couple things I did 2 years ago as a civil engineering student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.  Civil engineering students at Cal Poly Pomona are required to take a class on Technical Writing and Communication, which to me, is a very valuable course.  And during the course, we were told that we had to both present and write a report on technical topics of our choice.  After hearing both those assignments, I immediately sprung into thinking of, yes, you guessed it!…commercial aviation!

I’ll start with the PowerPoint presentation.  The topic was on Air Canada Flight 143 aka the “Gimli Glider.”  A very intriguing air incident where an Air Canada flight bound from Montreal, Quebec to Edmonton, Alberta in 1983 ran out of fuel and glided until it landed on the Gimli dragstrip in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  No one was killed, but cause of the incident called for big changes.

The Gimli Glider after being repaired from its ordeal as Air Canada 143

A faulty fuel gauge was unable to give a proper fuel reading so flight crew members had to calculate the fuel level manually.  However, the ground crew calculated the fuel in volume while the flight crew calculated the fuel in weight.  Thus the pilots needed to convert their fuel value in weight to volume before instructing the ground crew how much to fuel to put in.  Additionally, the plane (a new Boeing 767) was the first use the metric system in Canada.  Since the crew was likely not used to using the metric system yet, they mistakenly calculated the volume of fuel in liters from pounds instead of kilos.  A pound being roughly half a kilo, the flight crew mistakenly told the ground crew to only fill the plane up halfway, resulting in fuel exhaustion midway through the trip.  Simple message: When your math or science teacher in school tells you to be careful with units, BE CAREFUL WITH UNITS!  If not, you may end up risking many lives.

The written topic (a separate assignment) was on Kansai International Airport.  I was very intrigued by the design of the airport (out in the middle of ocean) and how it posed unique benefits in addition to challenges.  One of the notable challenges was the sinking clay on the ocean floor below the airport.  Luckily, engineers remedied the challenge using a very simple method described in the report below.

Interior of the Kansai International Airport Terminal

Feel free to download both the presentation and report for your viewing.  Keep in mind, these reports were solely for academic and educational purposes only and are in no way to be used for professional or technical purposes.  I got an A for the presentation and a B for the technical report.  Happy flying!

Report: Kansai Airport

Presentation: Air Canada 143

Welcome Aboard!

Posted November 20, 2010 by Kenkou
Categories: Uncategorized

Hello and welcome to Eurasian Aviation, my personal blog dedicated to the fascinating topic of commercial aviation!

My name is Ken Duenwald and I am part Asian (Japanese), part Caucasian (German/Irish descent) hence the name “Eurasian Aviation.  My strong interest in commercial aviation has prompted me to share my thoughts on a variety of topics including aircraft, airlines, airports, current or past events related to the industry, and any other fun and interesting facts surrounding commercial flying.

I do not work professionally in the aviation sector nor do I spend a majority of my time traveling by air.  Thus my blog should not be considered a place for professional or technical advice.  However, commercial aviation is something I’ve always been passionate about and this blog is a page where I decided to write about some of the related issues I’ve learned a lot about.  This blog is purely for recreational, fun, and enjoyable purposes and discussions.

I will normally come up with topics myself, depending on whatever comes to mind.  However, if you would like me to discuss a particular topic, please feel free to email me and I will be more than happy to write about it if I’m able.  Thanks for reading and happy flying!