What Brown (UPS) Did For Us

You’ve seen their vehicles. You’ve seen their planes. And more than likely you’ve utilized their package delivery service, or at least been the recipient of a package delivered by the guys dressed in brown. Have you ever wondered how that package you received made it from where it was shipped to your doorstep? Maybe it’s the analytical and logistical part of me, but I surely have wondered. So, when the opportunity arose to be part of a tour we seized the opportunity. AirlineGuy Darin, and our friend Deon, made our way to Louisville recently to take in the technological wonder that is the UPS Worldport: the largest automated package handling facility in the world.

After touring the SDF Control Tower (thanks to our friend and colleague Tom Rainey) we made our way across the street to the UPS Flight Training Center where we were graciously met by UPS employee Jay R. Lillie. Not only did Jay R get us signed in and settled, it turned out he would also be our tour guide. Before the presentation began we also met UPS’s Dorsey Demaster, Air Traffic Manager; and Jim Mayer, Public Relations Manager.

After a brief video presentation, the floor was opened to Q&A. The first question came from me: “Where and how did UPS get its start?” Jay R asked the room if anyone knew the answer and surprisingly, none of the invited guests knew. Jay R informed us that UPS began in Seattle in 1907 primarily as a bike messenger and delivery company (American Messenger Company). After a few more questions we boarded a small bus, taken a short distance to a security checkpoint where everyone was scanned, re-boarded the bus, and driven across the tarmac.

Nose to nose with the Queen of the Skies.

We saw up close and personal many of the aircraft types in the UPS Airlines fleet. B747-400s, A300, B757s, B767s lined the tarmac. On our drive we also noticed three brand new 747-8Fs and multiple MD-11s were remote parked for loading and unloading.UPS Airlines consists of 240 aircraft that serve over 200 countries and territories worldwide. The number of aircraft will reach 241 by end of March as more 747-8Fs come on line

As we continued our drive, the ramp areas were fairly quiet. I had expected a more frenetic pace. The workload at The Worldport is divided into two shifts: “2nd Day”, and “Next Day.” 2nd Day shift includes the morning/day shift. During this timeframe approx 3500 employees are on the property. During the busiest shift, Next Day, the employee count almost doubles to 6500 employees. It is during the Next Day shift that this place really comes to life. Have heard operations during this shift are something to behold.

AirlineGuys – Sylvester and Darin

The bus was parked and we made our way to a second floor observation area. There, we watched a B757 be readied for dispatch. Because it was cold that morning, the deicing operations were also in effect. The observation area gave us a bird’s eye view of a small area of The Worldport. This B757 occupied 1 of 125 ramp parking positions.

N420UP being readied for departure.

Deicing operation in effect.

To escape the cold we ducked into “The Core.” Here we observed small packages and documents of various sizes making their way through the sorting system. The end of the line for the packages and documents were piers where employees were right siding the packages so that the lasers could properly scan the bar code. Each worker was position at an ergonomically designed station as endless packages and documents made their way to trays. The trays were designed to “tip” and deposit the packages and documents into a durable shipping bag once it reached its intended position inside The Core. This area consists of 19 tilt tray sorter “loops” totaling 2.6 miles and over 17,000 tilt trays.

The Matrix. The first sign that we had entered The Matrix was literally a sign.

Primary Matrix

The “Primary Matrix” is a 4-level structure which houses the main sorting machinery. Four levels of conveyer belts, lasers, and cameras. And of course, packages! The Matrix is highly automated and we were informed that humans rarely go in to it besides maintenance or an occasional alert. Otherwise it functions on its own. Looking down into the Matrix was slightly vertigo-inducing. There are over 33,000 conveyer belts totaling an impressive 155 miles. That’s more than enough belts to stretch from Louisville to Indianapolis.


Upon leaving The Matrix we made our way to a museum of sorts. Here we were given more history of UPS and how the company has evolved since its days as a bike messenger and delivery service. On the technology front we saw the evolution of the handheld devices (DIAD, or Delivery Information Acquisition Device) utilized by UPS personnel when delivering packages and how they use this technology to track shipments. The evolution went from clipboards in the early days, to modem activated devices, to small handhelds that do many things including taking pictures of packages on doorsteps to notify customer that the package has arrived. With the modem DIADs, UPS personnel would be required  on occasion to go to a payphone, dial a specific number, place the phone receiver on the DIAD to upload and download information.

We also saw how ULDs (unit load devices – containers) are loaded (heavier anchoring packages and boxes in the corners, build upwards to prevent shift). Our tour guide, Jay R, explained it like as if you were playing Tetris. He also demonstrated new material being used in the redesign of the ULDs. Fire resistant materials that’s stronger and lighter than used in current ULDs. The more than 17,000 ULDs used by UPS will have this new material by years end.

Jay R demonstrating how to load a ULD.

While in this area we also got a glimpse of how irregular sized packages are sorted and prepared for shipment. We saw tires, 5-gallon buckets, and a host of many other wrapped, non-standard sized items making their way through the system. These items sat on large trays, which looked to be about 5′ x 3′ and were secured with straps. I was reminded of scene in Star Wars: Attack of The Clones when C-3P0 entered the factory where machines were making machines and said: “Shut me down. Machines making machines. How perverse.” Darin and Deon were reminded of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

We ended our tour back at the UPS Flight Training Center thoroughly pleased with what we had seen. Darin remarked, “An impressive system that combines technology, experience and vision that leads to exceptional service both internally and externally.” In other words he enjoyed it immensely.

Thank you Jay R, Dorsey and Jim for a wonderful experience. Our expectations where thoroughly exceeded. If the opportunity arises to see the operation during Next Day shift (the night sort), you know how to reach us!

Sylvester

Advertisements

“I inherited the love of planes from my dad” – AirlineGuys chats with Akhil Anumolu

One of the many highlights in 2017 for AirlineGuys was attending the wedding reception of Akhil and Shivani Anumolu. The reception was held at the Delta Flight Museum. It was an amazing, colorful, and festive evening filled with scrumptious food, dancing, and story sharing. I met Akhil, like many have, through his presence on social media (39K followers). It has been great getting to know Akhil and learn more about what makes him the person he is. Oh, and he loves aviation so we have lots to talk about!

We hope you enjoy getting to know Akhil.

AG: Your close friends know you work for a major airline based in the southeast, what exactly do you do for said airline, and how long have you worked there?

AA: I have the honor of working in our Digital Marketing department, specifically focused on our Optimization & Marketing Technology component for the past 2 years.

AG: Wow! Your current job sounds like you have to be really smart. Where’d you go to school? And what’d you study?

AA: Stayed local in Georgia and went to the University of Georgia where I did my undergraduate degree in business, specifically Management Information Systems.

AG: Before you entered the world of aviation, what type of work did you do?

AA: I have always worked in digital eCommerce, with previous stints at Symantec and a start-up, Wonder Workshop.

AG: It’s hard to place your accent? Where’d you grow up?

AA: I grew up in Savannah. I lost my southern twang when I moved to San Francisco after college but I am a Georgia boy through-and-through.

AG: What did you like most about Savannah? What did you like least?

AA: I enjoyed the slower pace and having a major aviation company like Gulfstream flying all their amazing jets over the city. In terms of least liked attribute, it would be the ridiculous summer heat.

AG: Well Savannah isn’t far from Atlanta. How long have you lived here? And what do you like most about living in Atlanta?

AA: Been here almost 3 years now and loving every moment! This city is growing and seeing the enthusiasm about the direction Atlanta is headed is amazing; also helps that we have a new and talented MLS team bringing the city together too.

AG: Congrats on your wedding! We have several friends of Indian descent but have never been to a traditional Indian wedding. Tell us about that.

AA: Well, Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world and involves a very long multi-day wedding traditionally. We cut ours down to just a few hours which involved giving prayers and asking for blessing for our newly formed family. A lot of what is done in a traditional Hindu wedding is similar to what you find in a traditional western wedding, including giving vows and sanctifying your marriage before God; Hindu weddings just do that for a bit longer.

Shivani & Akhil Anumolu

AG: Who travel furthest for your wedding and reception?

AA: We had family from Malaysia fly in just for the weekend.

AG: Oh wow!

AG: And speaking of wow, your wife is quite beautiful! Beauty & The Beast? We kid, we kid! How’d you meet Shivani? We understand there’s an airline angle?

AA: We met in college while studying for post-graduate exams. We began dating soon after but then I took a job in San Francisco and she went to medical school in Kansas City. Because my job required a lot of travel, I decided to become a Delta SkyMiles member and soon earned their top status, Diamond Medallion. With all the travel came a lot of SkyMiles that we would use to see each other. We have been long distance for 7 years and Delta’s route structure was the reason we were able to see each other and now why we are happily married.

AG: Did Shivani know you were an avgeek when you met?

AA: She knew I was a geek… maybe not so much an avgeek. “, especially the engineering side of aviation.

AG: Who’s idea was it to have your wedding reception in the Delta Flight Museum? And what were Shivani’s thoughts about this?

AA: It was really a joint decision by Shivani and I to have the reception at the DFM; we really couldn’t think of a better venue that reflected our relationship. Plus, it was much more unique than other venues we saw.

The ultimate avgeek wedding reception – Delta Flight Museum

AG: This question is for Shivani – When you met Akhil, did you know he was the ONE?

SA: Not at all; he was not what I considered my type when we first met. What won me over was his caring attitude (he literally tries to help anyone he can) and that he makes me laugh all the time. He is also my opposite in a lot of ways so we complement each other very well.

AG: Akhil, now that you fly for free, how do you feel about not getting miles for all your travel?

AA: In a previous life, I was and enjoyed the perks of elite status. I would note that I do not fly for free, I fly if a seat is available that no passenger will use. Took me a little while to get used to not earning miles, as I loved tracking my travel amount with it, but I am happy not to live on the road as much as I used to so not a problem not earning.

AG: What’s your favourite destination outside the US? And your favourite destination in the US?

AG: Dublin Ireland: great people and growing tech scene/culture. In the US: Kansas City for its amazing BBQ!

AG: When you’re not traveling or working, what do you do for fun?

AA: Video games and spending time with friends. Lot of my friends have busy professions so we like to get together and watch ball games when we can; helps that the wife loves the same teams as well.

AG: Honeymoon plans?

AA: Maldives, so we can completely disconnect and relax.

AG: Do you plan to make Atlanta your home? And are there any plans for a Little Akhil or Little Shivani?

AA: Would love to make Atlanta my home but we never know where the future will take us as we both would love to live abroad for a bit. As for kids, in due time, we just got married!

AG: You have almost 40K followers on twitter. So, it’s obvious that you know many people and many people know you. What’s the one thing about you that MOST people don’t know?

AA: I would say most are surprised to find that I am pretty quiet normally. They see the social media accounts and think I am always out and about meeting with folks and doing things, but really, I like to just observe or listen, and at times can be a home body. I also read a lot about a variety of items; the world is fascinating and there is a lot going on.

AG: Akhil and Shivani thanks for taking the time to share details about your life with the AirlineGuys community. As usual, we’ll be following your adventures on twitter (@Akhil_Anumolu). Congratulations and all the best in your marriage!

SLy & Akhil hanging at company function.

Sylvester “SLy” Pittman

How many 747s have you flown on?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard, the days of the iconic 747 as a passenger jet are coming to end for many of the world’s airlines. Before you freak out, please know that the 747 will continue to fly for the foreseeable future. Most of the 747s that will continue to fly will do so as freighters, and the passenger version of the 747 will continue on with a few select airlines around the world. The last two US airlines flying this most beautiful flying machine, Delta and United, will retire their 747s by the end of 2017.

So much has been written about this plane. The ways in which it influenced and inspired  commercial are innumerable.

My first ride on the Queen of The Skies was with Swissair: PHL – BOS – ZRH. Riding in the upper deck solidified my love of this aircraft.

Swissair 747-300 photo credit: Eduard Marmet via wikimedia commons

As I reminisce over the almost 30 years of aviation experience, I think of the number of times and different airlines 747s I’ve flown on (thus far). Here’s the list:

Air France 747-400 photo credit: AirlineGuys

Air New Zealand 747-400 photo credit: Pedro Aragao via wikimedia commons

Delta 747-400 photo credit: AirlineGuys

Japan Airlines 747-400 photo credit: Aero Icarus via wikimedia commons

Photo credit: Africaspotter at wikivoyage shared, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22688609

Northwest Airlines 747-200 photo credit: Paul Spijkers (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via wikimedia commons

NWA 747-400 photo credit: planephotoman http://www.flickr.com/photos/planephotoman/93492771/

Qantas 747-400 photo credit: AirlineGuys

TWA 747-200 photo credit: Jon Proctor http://jetphotos.net/viewphoto.php?id=5960616

Virgin Atlantic 747-200 photo credit: Ralph Kunadt

Virgin Atlantic 747-400 photo credit: Adrian Pingstone via wikimedia commons

How many 747s have you flown on?

She’s #1: Meet Mary Ann

I recently met the #1 Flight Attendant at Delta Air Lines. In the recesses of every flight attendants mind I’m sure they think, “what would it be like to be Number One?” Think about it. Seniority means everything in the airline business. It determines what you fly, days off, vacation time you get, and how much you get paid. To say I was in awe of meeting Mary Ann would be an understatement.

Me and Mary Ann – #1 Delta FA

It happened like this: The facilitator was asking the group about seniority. As they continued to ask “who has more than 20 years raise your hand…who has more than 30 years?”, slowly the hands raised started to lower. Well, at 50 years someone’s hand was still raised. Turns out Mary Ann had been flying for 59 years! Thunderous applause erupted and she got a standing ovation. At that moment someone leaned over and said “She’s #1”.  I knew I had to chat with her.

The next morning I had a chance to sit and chat with Mary Ann for a few minutes. She has a presence that is calming and reassuring. Definitely traits needed to be a flight attendant. She is a stewardess. When I mentioned the term stewardess and asked if she minded that I refer to her as a stewardess, she didn’t object at all. To me a stewardess is a flight attendant who is regal, self-assured, gracious, kind. well-put together. And Mary Ann exhibited all of these qualities.

Mary Ann was hired as a stewardess with Pan American World Airways in 1957. She told me how she loved it. She also spoke of how local station managers of other airlines would speak to the young ladies in an attempt to get them to come be a stewardess at their airline. It seems as though she was wooed by someone at Northwest Orient Airlines and began flying with them in 1959.

Surprisingly, when I asked her where she grew up she said “Atlanta.” I almost fell off my chair. Not that there’s anything wrong with Atlanta. I live in Atlanta and it is a nice standard of living. I almost fell off my chair because I saw nothing “southern” about her. One of the other flight attendants at the table said, “You don’t have an accent.” She then said she grew up in what would become known as Midtown, near Ponce de Leon Avenue. Then she went in to her Southern accent and demeanor and wowed us all. Scarlett O’hara has nothing on Mary Ann! After graduating from high school she left Atlanta for New York to attend college. She says her Southern accent reappears around family.

We spoke about world travel of course and life lessons you learn when being out in the world. What we shared in common was the notion that through travel you not only learn about other cultures, people, food, living conditions, etc. You also learn a lot about yourself. And in order to learn you must take the time to stop, listen, and be in the moment. She agreed that everyone has a story to tell and that in order to hear it you must truly listen.

Throughout the day many approached Mary Ann to say congratulations and to be in her presence. Kind, gentle, authentic, real.

Mary Ann is Seattle-based and flies Shanghai route.

Sylvester

 

Non-revving and dress codes

All the chatter about airline employee dress codes, and denying those employees boarding if they’re not dressed properly, went into the stratosphere yesterday. And this was all because they weren’t dressed properly. Besides determining whether or not you’ll get on the flight, I’m here to tell you dressing properly when non-revving definitely has its advantages.

During one of my NRSA (non-revenue space available) adventures I found myself having to get from Honolulu back to the Mainland. My airlines’ flights were booked full and as a last resort I purchased a ZED fare, or as we referred to them back then, an ID90. ZED (zonal employee discount) fares allow OAL (other airline) employees to purchase reduced rate (standby) tickets on airlines that have ticketing agreements between them. As a side note, airlines and airline people love acronyms (NRSA, ZED, OAL, etc).

Photo credit: Bob Logan

The ZED fare I purchased happened to be on TWA and unbeknownst to me it was on a 747. After purchasing the ticket I dashed over to the TWA ticket counter and checked in. The agent warned me that the flight was full and that chances of getting on were slim. After going through security I approached the boarding gate. The scene at the gate was frantic. Passengers were boarding and getting checked in. Towards the end of boarding the agent had the non-revs line up and she walked us down the jetway. The FAs were doing an “open seat” count to determine if any of us would get on. At the door of the airplane one of the gate agents, who had gone onboard, had been having a discussion with one of the FAs about some non-revs who were not dressed properly for the flight. The agent then went to those non-revs and told them that because of the dress code they would not be able to fly on the flight. The next two persons in line, me and another FA from my airline, were shown the spiral staircase and instructed to sit in the upper deck. YES! The flight was lovely, the crew was lovely, and my avgeek heart was filled with joy. This was to be my first flight on a 747, in the upper deck, enjoying a nice meal, wine, and a memory of a lifetime.

It pays to be properly dressed.

Can “different” really work? Alaska Airlines + Virgin America

Artwork credit: Alaska Airlines

It was recently announced that Alaska Airlines was scheduled to “kill” the Virgin America brand effective 2019. There has been much speculation about this since the merger of the two companies was announced. Use of the term “kill” in the headline really got me to thinking. If the brand of a company are its people, what message does using the term “kill” send to the employees of Virgin America?

So many times in airline mergers the focus is on the operation. How will the schedules be meshed? How will the frequent flyer programs and loyalty levels be integrated? What type of aircraft will be utilized? What hub cities will remain, be expanded or downsized? And somewhere in all of this, employees are often stranded at the gate as the plane backs away for departure.

Sir Richard Branson penned an eloquently stated post about this very thing. He touched on the Virgin America brand and how its people make the difference.

Cultural integration can be a tricky thing wrought with challenges. It takes commitment from senior leadership to embrace and communicate the belief: we’re all in this together, and because of this we will be better. Without this commitment, and actions to back it up, the merger is destined to be less than ideal. The employees lose, the customers lose, the airline loses. There are plenty of examples of this playing out in the airline industry.

The integration of Song Airlines into Delta Air Lines will parallel the aforementioned merger in many ways, I believe. Song was a scrappy start up (subsidiary) that made a name for itself in a short period of time. In 3 years many processes, marketing initiatives and concepts were tried and tested. Some worked. Some didn’t. When the integration of Song into Delta occurred there was lots of resistance amongst employees. There were those who, after experiencing Song, decided not to return to Delta. They could not return to the way things were. There were those who had remained at Delta that considered Song a four-letter word and made it difficult for those returning. And then there were those Delta employees who welcomed the Song Stars back with open arms and a “you guys were a part of a cool thing”-attitude. No matter which “side” you were on, change came at lightning speed. Those who embraced the changes went on to help others embrace the changes and take the “new” Delta in different direction. And the outcome has been good.

Words of advice to Virgin America employees: don’t be discouraged, “your airline” will still be visible, keep eyes open and you will see.

Words of advice to Alaska Airlines employees: be empathetic, what if it were “your airline” brand that went away, embrace the changes coming.

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, good luck and all the best with the merger.

In this photo released by Alaska Airlines, A specially painted, co-branded Alaska Airlines and Virgin America 737-900ER aircraft, painted in shimmering red, purple and blue and featuring the slogan “More to love,” lands at San Francisco International Airport on December 14, 2016 in San Francisco, CA. The newly painted aircraft is part of the merger celebration of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. (Photo by Alaska Airlines, Bob Riha, Jr.)

A Plane for Everyone

A Plane for Everyone

In March of this year the Delta Flight Museum will display its newest artifact: a Boeing 747. If your idea of a museum object is fragile and dainty this will have you re-thinking museums. Born in Seattle in 1969, by the Boeing team lead by Joe Sutter, the 747 changed aviation. The litany of firsts associated with this aircraft has filled books. The museum’s ship 6301 is a first in its own right. Delivered to Northwest Airlines in December of 1989, it is the first -400 version of the 747. Often referred to as iconic, the Boeing 747 holds a special place in the hearts of passengers and crew alike.

boeing-747-rollout-commemorative-brochure-1968-7_37334-e1477322893406

(Credits: Boeing)

While airplane enthusiasts may speak of the runways that needed to be lengthened, and of the, as yet to be designed, engines that would carry the plane aloft, it is the space inside that deserves some attention. A space that was enviably inclusive and exclusive all at once.

To begin with the space was large. The 747 was the first aircraft to have two aisles. Early pictures from Boeing show passengers enjoying legroom that would have today’s first class passengers scrambling for a seat in the back. The sidewalls did not curve-in leaving the cabin feeling cramped, but went straight up, almost encouraging the tallest of travelers to stand. The dual aisle aircraft enabled passengers to move with more freedom than their single aisle counterparts. Bathrooms numbered in the double digits and were located throughout the airplane, not just in the front and back. The tray tables that were introduced on the Boeing 707 could be found at each seat so you could enjoy a meal along with your in-flight entertainment. Boeing’s hope was that the open space of the 747 would have passengers thinking they were in their living room.

The people filling the plane represented a broader spectrum of U.S. citizenry than ever before. The increased seating capacity allowed for lower ticket prices. People who were once excluded due to higher costs were now taking a seat. The aircraft designers considered the upper deck, or “bump”, on the top of the aircraft, as a place for the crew to rest. Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s founder turned it over to luxury travelers. The small cabin, accessible by a private staircase, maintained the exclusivity of previous flying. Many a flight attendant has had to say, “yes you can take a ‘peek’ but you will have to wait until we land.”

Crews loved the plane as well. Its multiple galleys had plenty of storage for catering and other items needed for the long flights. As a flight attendant you are constantly looking for ways to wow your passengers and the interior did some of the work for you. The galleys had been placed in the center of the aircraft, leaving the preferred windows available for passenger seating. Simply entering the 747 upper deck had the ability to make grownups smile. The space itself made them feel special. The enormous main deck interior was broken up into smaller sections for the comfort of the passengers, but for those working on the flight it allowed for quick and easy access to supplies. As a flight attendant the main deck was perhaps the only negative. I am not sure if I can express how intimidating it is to pull a beverage cart to the front of a cabin of this size and know there are 300 plus thirsty passengers awaiting your arrival. In each instance you just put one foot in front of the other and start. You try and do justice to passengers who are going on a once in a lifetime vacation, an important business meeting or simply to see friends and family. But on the 747 you also try to do justice to the many crews that made the plane the most elegant place to be, the sexiest place to be and the only plane to fly on during its time in the air.

img_3677

Ship 6301, N661US landing at KATL, May 2014 (Credits: AirlineGuys)

Lisa Flaherty is a career flight attendant and a public historian with a love of aviation stories