Tag Archives: consulting

Following a Dream…liner (on the hunt for the 787 Dreamliner)

The 787 is taunting me. Teasing me. In fact she’s being downright elusive. Ever since the 787 Dreamliner was introduced by Boeing it has been our goal, as the airlineguys, to fly on this revolutionary, highly technical airplane. After years of delays and issues with the lithium-ion batteries, which grounded the entire fleet worldwide, the 787 made a triumphant return to the skies on April 29, 2013 with Ethiopian Airlines.

IMG_2670Currently, United Airlines is the only US-based carrier flying the 787. When United introduced the Dreamliner they were flown on domestic routes to test its reliability and serviceability. After the much talked about grounding, the 787 was re-introduced to the domestic sector, again to test reliability, serviceability, and to monitor the lithium-ion battery fix. As planned from the outset, United’s 787s were designed as an international long-haul product.

So, it was with excitement when United announced that the Dreamliner would fly domestically until the summer schedule went in to full effect, at which time the 787s would fly their intended routes, international. It was our chance to fly this magnificent plane. Unfortunately airlineguy Darin couldn’t join me on this adventure (we gotta get him on a 787 soon!).

The first attempt to fly the 787 was a bust! I didn’t make the flight out of Atlanta to make the connecting 787 flight in Houston. Talk about being majorly bummed. Not wanting to take any chances on the second attempt, I flew to Houston the night before and got a hotel room.

So, now here was my dilemma: standby for the early (7a) IAH – ORD flight, or take the mid-morning (11a) IAH – ORD flight. Against everything I know when it comes to standby travel, I chose the mid-morning flight. (@FriendlyStew and @NonRevAdventure I’ll take your advice next time). All seemed fine until I woke up the next morning to find out that the 11a departure had an equipment swap from a 787 to a 757. Oh, the horror! Again, majorly bummed.

I’m an optimist.  I did some research, made some calls, and sent a few frantic text messages. Much to my delight there was a late afternoon (4p) 787 flight from IAH – ORD. With camera in hand, a positive frame of mind, I headed to IAH for a day of people watching and planespotting. Besides getting on the 787, could you ask for anything more entertaining?

In the hours (about 5) spent at IAH here’s what happened:
• took loads of airplane pics
• was fascinated people watching (amazed how each airport has its own “personality”)
• bumped into 3 aviation professionals who attended a customer service training class I helped facilitate (besides being #avgeeks, the airlineguys are aviation consultants specializing in customer service)
• recognized and reconnected with a high school friend who is an RN and who now is a United pilot (I’m still reeling from this chance encounter and so happy to be reconnected with Mark!)

As you can see, my time spent at the airport waiting for the 787 was well worth it. Yes, she was being elusive, but I had come so far and was not about to give up now.

When I received my seat I was beyond excited: window, exit row.

Here are my thoughts on taking my first United 787 flight:

• First impression — gorgeous
• Mood lighting upon boarding —  soothing (there are 6 settings: boarding, meals, relaxing, cruise, sleep, preloading)
• Layout of FC – spacious (this is where I want to be on my next 787 flight!)
• E+ — roomy, relaxing hues of blue and grays throughout the cabin
• Windows — most were darkened already, customers began experimenting with the window “shades”, impressed with how the tint changes from transparent to opaque with the touch of a button, the size of windows (30% larger according to infographic card in seat pocket) was very noticeable — when seated you had an unobstructed view of the horizon (no craning of neck to look up or down)
• Sound — very taken with how quiet this plane was at takeoff and cruise altitude (60% less noise than planes of comparable size), it was so quiet I could clearly hear the crying kid a few rows back, noise-reducing chevrons on engine nacelles contributes to reducing noise levels of the engines
• Wing — loved the wingflex, sliced right through the air even in mild turbulence
• Crew — friendly and efficient, had nice conversation with Edwin who too is from South Florida, and Sandy was kind to take my picture
• Food — ordered the Tapas snack box, Bloody Mary, water, crew were proficient with handheld devices
• IFE — full selection of films, TV, music, moving map, UA services/amenities, a full system reset was completed on at least 2 occasions
• Landed on time, to gate after short delay due to ramp congestion

A special thank you to ticket agent Heather P (great eye contact, smiled, knowledgeable in job duties) and gate agent Ms. Matthews (smiled, accommodating, calming announcements). They made the check in and boarding process pleasant.

Overall, an awesome passenger experience and a wonderful introduction to the Boeing 787! Would love to take a long-haul flight to experience the 787s feature of increased oxygen and humidity of the cabin air (lessens the effects of jet lag we hear). Hint, hint 😉

Thanks United for an awesome experience!

airlineguy Sylvester

IMG_2663

Limited choices

A couple of thoughts came to mind the other day because of a situation that occurred. The situation centered around computer outages at USAirways and United and how these outages affected the vast majority of their customers. Luckily, those issues were resolved fairly quickly and life in aviation returned to normal after a day or two. So, that was the situation. The thoughts were, due to the limited number of airlines that exist today, the possibility and impact for something major to affect so many is heightened even when it happens to a single carrier, let alone two. The other thought was how few airlines exist today. In essence, we have limited choices in the airline industry. And for us avgeeks (aviation geeks), limited material to blog and talk about.

Imagine for a moment, the delight of aviation bloggers, and avgeeks around the world if the Internet had been possible before 1978 (we’re sure Al Gore was working on it though). Airlines and choices were plentiful. There would have been so much to write about. Can you imagine? Compared to the years right after 1978 there are only a handful of carriers today.

On October 24, 1978 the Airline Deregulation Act was signed into law. It really was about increasing competition and removing the barriers to entry into the airline business. According to AlterNet, an online news magazine and community, “In the 27 years before airline deregulation, no airline went bankrupt. Since 1978, 160 airlines have come and gone. In the last quarter-century, the rate of bankruptcy among air carriers has been as much as 10 times higher than that of the general business community.” In essence, limited choices. We would be remiss not to mention the toll this has had on many individuals, families, and communities; a topic we’ll cover at a later date.

Some of the airlines that no longer exist included: PSA, Western, AirCal, Braniff, Eastern, TWA, Pan Am, Air Florida, Texas International, Northwest Orient, Southern Airways, PeoplExpress, Piedmont, New York Air, National, Hughes Airwest.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have all these, and today’s, airlines to blog and talk about? Imagine the volume of material. Imagine the stories. Imagine the possibilities.

However, we’ve come to some realizations. Not only in aviation, but in life. When it comes to limited choices we have to make due with the choices we have available. Having limited choices requires us to search harder, be more aware, become more at peace with what is; not with how we want things to be. As for the limited airline choices for blogging and discussing, we’ll make due and and continue to feel strongly and passionately about a topic that is dear to our hearts. Are you doing the same about that which brings you joy?

Diversify?

A friend recently responded to a Facebook post asking, “Are you diversifying? @trainguys coming soon??” I chuckled and then gave it some serious thought. First, let me say my love of aviation has not diminished. Like any good first romance, I can’t let it go. However, my love of trains is close second. This hidden love is becoming so evident that a friend described me, in great detail, as a hobo. Hey! I resemble that remark!

I recently returned from another journey “on the rails”; my second one this year. (See our blog “No plain (plane) experience for me”). In an effort to compare experiences between VIA Rail Canada and the US passenger rail system, the same friend and I set out on Amtrak this time.

When I was younger I remember seeing the Amtrak commercial “California Zephyr”.  I was intrigued and beguiled. The woman announcer’s voice beckoned to me. Thank goodness for YouTube because I was able to find that commercial and was once again lured to the rails (click to watch). The naming of trains by Amtrak evokes a sense of adventure and harkens back to the days of old when “riding the rails” was an experience. It was, and still is, about the experience for me.

The experience aboard the California Zephyr from Chicago to Sacramento was just OK. The crew were pleasant, food was tasty, and we departed and arrived on time. However, a few things were amiss. It was in the details. Even though the crew were pleasant, they didn’t carry themselves with pride. Average age appeared to be in the mid 50s. Most appeared not be be quite together in their style and how they wore their uniforms (stains, wrinkles, too big or too small uniform pieces). Hairstyles weren’t current or maintained. Underneath the pleasantness was a definite tone. And the coaches themselves were in need of a deep cleaning with emphasis placed on details (rips, tears, stains, repainting, lighting, etc.).

In Sacramento a connection was made to Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. And in an instant it all changed…for the better. As we learned, the Coast Starlight is Amtrak’s premier train. And most expensive. Why? More than likely it has to do with experiencing some of the most beautiful vistas. Amazing outcroppings of rocks. Raging river rapids. Full moons (yes, we were mooned a few times). Soaring forests. And snow-capped mountains. The service provided by the crew was exceptional. They all worked well together to provide an extraordinary experience. They were considerate, funny, thoughtful, and resourceful. They were willing to share personal tidbits and stories which made them even more enjoyable. Our cabin attendant and the Pacific Parlour car attendant were the standouts of this wonderful crew. Letters of commendation to Amtrak about these two is definitely in order.

Because the Coast Starlight is considered Amtrak’s premier train, the train was in better condition. The lighting, restrooms and shower facilities, and common areas were well-kept and the majority of the coaches had been renovated. The highlight of this train was the Pacific Parlour car. Built in 1956 for the Santa Fe El Capitan, this coach offered swiveling lounge chairs, private dining, wine tasting, a stand-up bar, and a movie theater. That’s right, a movie theater! There are only five of these special coaches left in existence and you can only find them on the Coast Starlight.

The experience on the Coast Starlight more than made up for any shortcomings of the California Zephyr.

So, back to the question first asked: will we diversify? I’ll never say never. I remind myself and you to remember: life is about the journey; it’s a quest for different experiences. Shake it up. Diversify when you can. By air or by train, we like a good adventure.

SLy

Looking up

At the close of last year Darin (the other airlineguy) blogged an entry detailing his early childhood memories of aviation. He was fortunate to have grown up in an airline family. As for me, I didn’t. However, I think we both had a fascination with flight that started early.

As a kid growing up in rural Jupiter, Florida I would daydream about leaving on a jet plane. Not that Jupiter was a bad place to grow up. However, I knew there was a big world out there that I wanted to see. I found myself looking up a lot as a kid. Whenever I’d see a plane flying overhead I would first identify the aircraft type and then the airline. After determining this very important information, I would make up a story about where the plane was going to or coming from. Back in those days the aircraft were mostly 727s and L-1011s. The airlines I saw most: Delta and Eastern. For us Florida folk did any other airlines exist?

I was a late bloomer. My first airplane ride was at 16 years old. I had spent the summer in Atlanta attending the Resource Center for Science and Engineering at Atlanta University and my parents had driven me up from Jupiter. At the end of the summer program I called my folks and told them that I didn’t want them to come and get me. Once the shock wore off I asked them if I could fly home instead. They agreed and purchased for me a one-way ticket on Delta from Atlanta to Palm Beach International. The ‘new’ Atlanta airport had just opened. At the time it seemed so futuristic. I was beyond excited. Ecstatic would be more like it. Once again I found myself looking up.

At my age memories do come and go on occasion, but not about this. It was a Saturday morning. My friend and his family, whom I had just met that summer, drove me to the airport. In fact, they all came to the gate with me. It was 1981 so you could do this. The interior of that Delta 727 was psychedelic; complete with faux wood paneling in first class. The flight wasn’t very full. I had a window seat in coach. The sun was shining. The flight attendants were friendly. Even though the flight was about an hour and a half, it seemed longer. I’m sure that had to do with savoring every minute of the experience. Things were really looking up.

We landed safely and on-time in West Palm Beach. It was great reuniting with my family after being away for almost 3 months.

That plane ride was a defining moment in my life. And I’ve been looking up every since.

In our busy lives we sometimes forget to look up. I encourage you to do so everyday.

Sylvester

No plain (plane) experience for me

It was no plain (plane) experience for this airline guy. In fact it was an amazing experience! Even though I’m an aviation geek, I have a very strong love of trains and train travel too. I know, I know how can this be? Just know that you get to a certain point in life where you stop asking why and just go for it.

My other “fascination” with transporting people started when I was in 5th grade. Back in the day, Palm Beach County Florida safety patrols would make an annual pilgrimage to Washington DC to see the government in action. Transportation was via Amtrak. I remember my trip quite vividly: the sound of the train, the swaying back and forth, big comfy seats, flushing the toilet and watching stuff drop to the tracks below (ewww!). Every since then I’ve been hooked. I’ll let you in on one of my bucket list item: to be at the controls of a speeding locomotive. Crazy, yet true.

So, what does an aviation geek do to satisfy the train geek in himself? Thanks to a good friend and an invitation to join that friend, he takes an excursion via the rails!

What a pleasure it was to ride VIA Rail Canada from Toronto to Vancouver. “The Canadian” is the flagship train route in their system. To put it simply: it was an amazing experience.

In 4 days aboard the train I met many wonderful, interesting, and fascinating people. There was the young couple who were actors/singers/dancers. They were wrapping up a Broadway touring gig and  were heading out for some R&R and downtime around sightseeing and visiting friends. There was the retired older couple who were in the process of moving to the west coast to be near their children and grandkids. There was the politically astute and enlightened composer and graphic design artist couple that were returning to Vancouver to visit friends and their old neighborhood. There was another retired couple who had moved to Canada from England to be near their children and grandchildren. And then there was the couple traveling with their delightful twin autistic sons.

The staff working the train were a senior bunch. The average seniority was about 30 years. They had seen it all! Most of them were engaging, talkative and seemed to still enjoy their jobs. Most of them.

Being mostly disconnected from the Internet, twitter and Facebook updates, and my life had a profound effect. Being on the train allowed me to reconnect with people, learn about others, enjoy the spectacular views, learn more about myself, and ponder the experiences of life. Too many times we’re caught up in our own lives to realize that there’s a whole world out there full of interesting, thoughtful,  kind people; beauty that can take your breath away, and conversations to be had. Too often it’s “easier” to tweet, text or email than it is to have face-to-face conversations with others. It’s a behavior that has to be practiced, utilized, be reminded of.

I can only guess that this experience is very similar to what air travel used to be like during the Golden Era. Relaxed Atmosphere. No overcrowding. It was all about the journey/experience. Polite, considerate fellow travelers.

I’m so intrigued by this experience that I now want to experience travel via train again very soon but this time on Amtrak. The last time was a long time ago and I’d like to see how it compares.  I hear they’ve improved quite a bit. A good friend, who lives in Washington DC and travels often to NYC, regularly takes Amtrak’s Acela. He prefers this experience over the hustle and bustle of air travel on this route; says it’s more civilized.

Maybe train travel will become the “it” way to travel for those looking for an experience as oppose to just getting from A to B.

If you have any questions about my experience please contact me. Otherwise enjoy the pics!

Sylvester

Union Station - Toronto

Train #1 Toronto - Vancouver

Observation car "dome"

1950's observation car (last car of the train)

Jasper, Alberta

Abandoned station - Hornepayne, Ontario

 

It's not safe on the tracks!

 

 

Big wheels keep on turning...

VIA Rail Canada

 

 

One day...

 

Customer Service: It’s more than just being “charming”

It’s an interesting world we live in, and I find it very fascinating how people always look at the problems and want to blame everyone else. That thought came to mind as I read the article, “Delta Sends Its 11,000 Agents to Charm School”, featured in the Wall Street Journal. The class, aptly named, “Service From the Heart” was designed for all 11,000 of Delta Air Lines’ Airport Customer Service (ACS) agents. It is designed to help remind, and sometimes teach, the agents what many companies have lost; the delicate art of great customer service.

This class (more like a workshop) is a much-needed initiative and Delta should be applauded for the work they are doing. Yet the article, sold this very important and well-received initiative, short. It certainly didn’t take into account the focus of the workshop and the efforts of the designers and the facilitators that work their hearts out every day. The title alone (“Charm School”) belittles the often challenging position of those who provide customer service. Even some of the quotes were taken out of context to the material being presented. Many speak about how “bad” the airline industry is. Often it’s the “media” or, in my opinion, one-sided reporting, that promotes these negative images.

Of course there are plenty of things that need to be fixed in the industry, and there will always be challenges, but look at what Delta IS doing. They are taking steps in the right direction, and it has to start somewhere. Thank goodness the leaders see the need. We should be encouraged that they are taking these steps and now we can hold them accountable for their efforts. This investment is not cheap. It’s an investment in its people. How many companies can claim this nowadays? Knowing that Delta is spending a great amount of resources to make things better, and to have those efforts reported in such lackadaisical way, makes it feel personal. To be honest, it doesn’t give me much hope in the media’s ability to report on the good things out there. From what I read I guess that’s how they feel about the airlines. I will wish the media the best of luck with that approach. And to Delta I say you are making a difference! Delta Keep Climbing! You’re on the right track! I for one applaud your efforts!

Darin Topham

Vision Developer, slarin productions, LLC

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