Europe Hit By Wave Of Air Traffic Controller Strikes

air traffic controller
Mark Brouwer

The French air traffic controller union is on strike and will soon be followed by those of nine other European nations, the BBC reports.

The strike is being launched in protest against European Union plans to form regional blocs for air traffic control. It says this will be more efficient than the current national system and will reduce flight distances. The unions say it reduces national sovereignty and is a step towards privatization. They also say it would adversely affect their working conditions and flight safety.

Flights to and from France are already being affected, with easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways and Lufthansa the hardest hit. Tomorrow, air traffic controllers in the following countries will go on strike: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and Slovakia.

France will remain on strike tomorrow. RTÉ News reports that France’s civil aviation authority has requested that airlines cancel half their scheduled flights to Paris, Lyon, Nice, Marseilles, Toulouse and Bordeaux.

UPDATE: While it was widely reported in the international press that UK air traffic controllers would go on strike today, June 12, Gadling was contacted by NATS, the UK’s air navigation service provider, that they will not be going on strike. They have clarified their position in a press release.

Follies And Fixes In Long-Haul Travel

TheeErin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It was not yet 6 a.m., but I had a bad feeling about how the day was going to go. The stone faced desk clerk had no interest in checking me in here in Vienna, not to mention through to my final destination, Seattle.

“No. Different booking.”

“But it’s with the same airlines…”

“Different booking. No.”

“So I’ll have to…”

“You’ll need to collect your bag in Amsterdam, and then check in again when you get there. Take your bag to the departures desk.”

“I don’t understand. These flights are on the same airlines. Can you check me in, at least, so I can drop my bag…”

“No. Different booking.”

I gave up. Priority club, my ass.I accepted the boarding pass for my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam and headed through security. I told myself to chill, my stop was six hours and I had a lounge pass tucked into my wallet. I’d recheck in Amsterdam and then spend the morning napping in the KLM lounge.

At the check-in desk in Amsterdam, I asked the clerk what the problem was, why I couldn’t check in, why I couldn’t get my bag through.

“It’s terrible,” she said, “but they’re responsible for your luggage. If they lose it, they have to pay to have it shipped. They don’t want to do that.”

“But it’s with the same airline, both of my flights are KLM/Delta.”

“I know,” she admitted. “It makes no sense.” She shook her head.

I felt somewhat placated. It wasn’t a huge annoyance, but I wanted someone to agree that it was ridiculous. Off I went to clear security again and to breathe the rarified air of the frequent flier lounge.

“No. This pass is no good here.”

“But it says on the website that …”

“Yes, but not for day passes. We don’t take the day pass here. Delta doesn’t pay for the use of the lounge, so we don’t take their passes.”

I thought I’d understood the rules; I’d read them before buying my pass. I couldn’t bring a guest, but I only wanted to bring… myself. Obviously I had not studied the small print with enough detail. And I’d made the mistake of asking the KLM Twitter account, not the Delta Twitter account, about access. What I don’t understand about airline partnerships could fill a book.

“You can buy a pass for 45 Euros.”

I’d spent 50 dollars to buy the lounge pass. It’s not so much money, but I was getting crankier and crankier. I was trying not to get angry. I was tired. I’d been up since 4:30 that morning. I knew I’d be tired; I rarely sleep well before a long flight.

“But you’re partners,” I said. “You give me partner status everywhere else.”

“Let me see what I can do,” said the desk clerk, who then called a supervisor, a cool woman in uniform who offered to sell me a pass for 45 Euros. I looked at the KLM agent, angry at her and at myself for not making sure I’d understood the small print.

I told myself to chill. Again. Schiphol is a nice airport. There are worse places to spend a few hours drinking coffee and people watching and dozing in lounge chairs. There’s good food, and Wi-Fi that’s not great, but is fast enough for complaining on Twitter about how you’re angry at your airlines.

“Get more coffee,” I thought. “You’re just tired. This isn’t a big deal.”

I got coffee and juice and a sandwich on good brown bread with very fresh mozzarella. I opened my laptop and complained. I drank my juice. I drank my coffee. I hammered away on my keyboard, the picture of a crabby, tired traveler on a stopover.

This business with my lounge pass was the last act in a comedy of errors in my travels to Europe and back. Thanks to a cargo problem on my outbound flight two weeks earlier, my connection in Schiphol to Frankfurt was airtight. I was the last passenger to board the plane – my luggage would not make it. I was not particularly worried. I’d seen a series of flights to Frankfurt following mine. Worst case? My bag would show up while I was sleeping. I could chill.

I went to report the missing luggage at the Delta counter in Frankfurt.

“You need KLM,” said the man at the desk.

“But I checked in on Delta… and there’s nobody there.”

“There HAS to be somebody there,” he said, clearly exasperated, and then, walked me back to the KLM desk. There was nobody there. I walked out into arrivals and asked at the information desk, and then, was directed back into the baggage hall.

The clerk had materialized, removed the “Closed” sign, and was taking missing baggage reports from two impatient Israelis who’d boarded just before I did. It was my turn.

“Here’s your claim number and the website where you can find out when your bags will arrive.”

I stowed the printout with my documents and headed to the hotel. It took me 15 minutes to get there. My luggage was reported on the ground and ready for delivery not long after I’d had lunch. At about 12 hours, I asked for help in calling the number given to me by the clerk at the baggage desk.

“Oh, lord, don’t call that number! They’ll charge you by the minute!”

“Wait, I have to pay them to tell me where my stuff is? That’s crazy.”

I checked with customer service online. “Your luggage is on the ground and ready for delivery,” they said.

“Well, I KNOW that,” I replied. “I’ve know that for 24 hours now.” My bag did finally appear, nearly 36 hours after I’d arrived.

“We’re sorry for the delay,” said the note from KLM. “We hope you understand.”

I’d had it with ground services by the time I returned to Schiphol two weeks later. Any one of these events in isolation I’d have written off as bad luck, a bad day, or general travel mishaps. But the aggregation was making me irritable. The Delta KLM partnership began to feel like a an embittered marriage, kept together for the sake of the kids. I imagined them bickering after the little airplanes had gone to bed. “You said you would…”

I gazed past the plastic chairs and iPad-using Germans and families of bleary Americans in sweatshirts, breakfasting in various states of disconnection with their surroundings. Just on the edge there was the pale purple glow of the Yotel, a pod hotel that offers hourly cabins with showers. I looked at my crumpled, useless lounge pass, at my overpriced juice, at my angry typing on the weak Wi-Fi and then, I checked in for three and a half hours of attitude adjustment.

It cost me 46 Euros for the stay. For that, I got a tiny, clean, super efficient cabin with a comfortable single bunk, a shower and toilet, a TV (which I did not turn on), a powerful Wi-Fi connection, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks (which I did not take sufficient advantage of) and some much needed private space in which to reset my state of mind.

It was money well spent. When I checked out of my cabin after a short nap and some silent lethargy, I felt human again.

Airline partner terms are unclear, delays happen, the mystery of why you can check in here and not there – these things are all part of the process. The follies of transit are a critical part of travel and often, they are unavoidable. As a seasoned traveler, it’s rare that I let this stuff get under my skin.

But sometimes, when patience wears thin, you can throw a few bucks at a problem and not make it go away, but at least make it better. Upgrade your seat to Economy Plus, spring for a taxi and get an airport hotel the night before the early flight. Don’t buy the Day Pass, that way lies madness, but get yourself something nice. Travel is totally glam, but sometimes, it’s wearing and takes a toll. Give yourself a break. Book the pod for a few hours and make yourself human again.

Plus, you can use that refreshed energy for complaint letters to the airlines on the long flight home.

Flying With Rude Passengers: Survey Asks What Would You Do

rude passengersSay you’re on a plane, sitting in a middle seat, and the rude passengers on both sides of you are in command of the arm wrests. Do you say something? Ask a flight attendant to help? Say nothing and live with it? Or are you just not sure? If you are like a lot of people, you say nothing according to a fifth annual nationwide survey that asked Americans how they would handle uncomfortable but common air travel situations.

Nearly half those surveyed (48.9%) would say nothing to their arm-wrest hogging neighbors with about a quarter saying they would stand up for the space they paid for either by saying something to their overflowing seatmate (27.9%) or asking a flight attendant (2.7%) for help. The remaining 20.6 % were just not sure about it.Think that person in front of you who reclines to the point that you cannot open a laptop is a problem? You are not alone. A full 75% would either say something to that passenger or call a flight attendant for help, while 7.7% were just not sure about it. In fact, a number of survey respondents were “just not sure” about most situations. It is no surprise then when asked what to do when seated next to a non-stop talker, 89.6% of those surveyed would read a book, put on headphones, pretend to sleep or just give in and talk throughout the flight rather than say something to them directly about talking (10.4%).

The survey, conducted by the Travel Leaders Group from March 15 to April 8, 2013, measured responses from 1,788 air travelers on a number of very specific circumstances involving rude passengers.

“As their travel agent experts, we hear directly from our clients who share similar complaints regarding their experiences. In our survey, we wanted to know how many travelers proactively take some sort of action to resolve those situations,” stated Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben.

The survey also asked about screaming children on a plane (not popular), which got the highest response from respondents saying it was a matter that flight attendants should take care of.

What do you think?

[Photo credit - Flickr user by mralan]

Cockpit Chronicles – Paragliding In Rio: Best Layover Ever! (Video)

The adage goes something like this:

The worst day of fishing beats the best day of work.

Years ago, I knew I found the right job when I was a co-pilot on a charter flight in a 15-seat Twin Otter for a day of fishing on an Alaskan beach. I remember thinking of that adage, and telling everyone that it was the best day of work and the best day of fishing.

How could it ever be possible to top that trip? Well, I think I just did it.

First, a little background is in order.

A year and a half ago, around the time I was learning to paraglide near New York City, I flew a few trips as a co-pilot to Rio. I took my camera and paid a guy $5 to take me up to the launch area at the Pedra Bonita ramp where hang gliders and paragliders launch at a rate that rivals the JFK airport in New York.

After chatting with a few pilots there, one of them asked me how much I weighed, suggesting that he had a glider and harness I could borrow. Having only flown from a 50-foot training hill, I politely declined. But I’ll admit, I was tempted.

I spent the day filming multiple launches, some of which weren’t so successful, and when I stood at the end of the paragliding ramp I set a goal to get a few hours under my glider so I could give this place a try.

Just this February I managed to rack up 20 hours of flying in Costa Rica. I figured it was time to bid the 34-hour Rio layover for some paragliding, but I wondered what would it look like to the passengers when I tried to go through security with what could be mistaken for a parachute on my back? I knew I would seem out of place, but in the end, it proved to be worth the hassle.

Starting at the last week of April and through the month of May, I found myself with five Rio trips in a row. I had heard that some crew members were able to leave bags at the hotel when they flew the trip often, and I planned to do the same with my 36-pound orange paraglider for the month.

As luck would have it, I knew the co-pilot, Mike from our days working together out of Boston to Paris and enjoying the bike tour there. Rio flights have one captain and two co-pilots for the required crew rest break on flights over eight hours.

Mike told me that the captain was a jovial kind of guy who, it turns out, had flown hang gliders in California when he was younger. I couldn’t have asked for a better cockpit crew, and the flight attendants were friendly, if not curious about my layover plans with such a large backpack.

Going through security, I joked with a TSA agent that I just didn’t like the pillows and blankets at the hotel.

In the cockpit, I was relieved to see that the bag fit perfectly in a recess next to the relief co-pilot seat in which I would occupy for takeoff and landing; I could see this wouldn’t impact my co-workers in the least.

Safely at the hotel in Rio, arrangements were made to meet both the captain and Mike in the lobby after a two-hour nap at around noon. We picked up a cab to the paragliding and hang gliding landing zone at the end of São Conrado beach, and I paid the $30 for a one-month pass to fly there.Mike wanted to be at the top of the mountain for the launch and to see how the whole operation worked. He was tempted to go for a tandem flight, but I assured him that the conditions weren’t conducive for anything other than a “sled ride” down with little chance of finding lift.

Reaching the top of the mountain, there were at least six other local pilots who let me go to the front of the line while they waited for the afternoon thermals or at least the sea breeze to pick up enough to soar along a ridge. I was content, especially for my first flight, to take a 10 minute hop to the landing zone.

Just before I launched, Mike pointed out a paraglider that was having a bit of success staying up along a ridge just in front of the manicured grass landing field. But by the time I was ready to go, the pilot had landed.

The steep ramp had actually made the takeoff easier than I expected, and out front I attempted to circle in a small, weak thermal. I gave up after one turn and spent a moment taking in the view while flying to the beach. On the left, was Pedra Dos Dois Irmaos peak, visible from our hotel, and to the right was the massive Pedra da Gavea mountain. The sightseeing didn’t last very long as I knew things would get busy for the landing and I needed to snap just a few pictures lest anyone didn’t believe I managed to fly my own aircraft on a layover. It was mind boggling even for me.

After putting the camera away, I flew to the ridge Mike had pointed out, arriving just above the treetops. I figured I could see what lift was available there, since at any point the “runway” was just below the 200-foot hill if things didn’t work out. The instrument I fly with, called a vario, can quickly sense any climbs or areas of sink. It also shows the altitude as I was paralleling the ridge, which I made note was 70 meters.

My plan was to make one pass and if I haven’t lost too much altitude, I’d consider one more before giving up. On the next pass, I was at the same altitude. So I went for another, each one taking less than a minute. Pretty soon, it was apparent that I was gaining about five meters with each leg. Before I knew it, I was holding steady at two hundred meters. Finally, I had time to pull out the camera and share the view.

Before long, the pilots who had been waiting before launched and joined me. At the busiest, there were three other hang gliders and two paragliders, most of which were flying paying passengers. I was kicking myself that I had discouraged Mike from being one of those passengers. Fortunately, we would make up for it the next day.

Mike hitched a ride down to the LZ (landing zone) and enjoyed a beer with the captain while they watched me having all the fun. My goal soon became one hour, and that came and went. At an hour and twenty minutes, I felt my bladder might give out before the lift does. So I set an hour and a half as the new goal, which I managed to reach without wetting myself.

Mike and the captain understandably grew tired of watching me hover over a rock with a few frigates and a turkey vulture or two, and they weren’t fully recovered from the 10½-hour flight to Rio that morning, so they went back to the hotel. I landed, packed up my glider and chatted with some of the tandem pilots and their passengers before catching a ride to the hotel with one of the regular drivers at the mountain.

That night over dinner, we shared some of the pictures with two of the flight attendants and a Miami-based pilot named Dewey, who was itching to check out the launch the next day. Mike decided that since he wasn’t going to be flying Rio for the foreseeable future, he would take a flight with Max Kälin, a Swiss tandem pilot and instructor who does a fair share of the paragliding in Rio, and who helped me considerably with the ride logistics and advice on the best places to find lift depending on the wind direction.

The next morning, Mike, Dewey and I went to visit Max. We made plans to launch with as little time between us to hopefully join up with each other inflight. As we jumped in the truck to get a ride to the top, one of the passengers said, “Kent!” I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a Dallas based co-pilot and old friend named Glenn. Coincidently, he had been the pilot on my flight down to San Jose, Costa Rica, just a few months prior. Apparently I had done such a good job of convincing him that paragliding was the ultimate way to fly that he had to see it for himself during one of his layovers in Rio.

He too would be flying tandem, with the mindset that he may want to take lessons.


Glenn getting ready for his tandem while Kent shows Mike how the lines are arranged.

Once again, the weather didn’t look promising. The windsock was completely dead at the ramp and almost everyone was logging ten minute flights. It was no different for Glenn, and then me and finally Mike. While I managed to fly under Mike and Max, I was still about 200 feet below them for the entire flight since I launched first. Max gave Mike the controls and let him make a few turns before they set up for the landing.


Max gives Mike a lesson in flying a paraglider in Brazil.

Just 20 seconds after I touched down, Max and Mike settled in for a perfect touchdown, and I could see his smile as I gathered up my glider a few hundred feet away.

Sometimes we hear horror stories about the places we fly and the dangers, such as crime or even being run over by a bus. Every major city in the world has its issues and if we live our layovers in fear, rarely leaving our rooms, what is the point in having a job that offers the chance to see so many places?

More than just seeing these locations, it’s the chance to visit with the locals there that makes travel such a gift. Paragliding is the perfect reason to travel as you’re assured of meeting like-minded and fun people along the way.

If you want to try tandem paragliding in Rio, look up Max or Flavio (Altitude Parapente) respectively.

I’ve talked at length with both pilots and I’m amazed at the amount of experience they have. I would highly recommend either one of them.

And if you’re itching to learn to fly a paraglider, take a week or two off and fly with my instructor, Benoit Bruneau at Let’s Go Paragliding just north of New York City or Chris Santacroce at Superfly in Salt Lake City. And if you happen to live in Europe, where paragliding is far more common than in the U.S., well you can just about walk to your local paragliding shop and take lessons there.

Who knows, maybe I’ll join you in a thermal somewhere over Rio de Janeiro someday.

[Photo/Video credit: Kent Wien, Max Kalin, Mike Hurley, Dewey Gray]

Related: “Cockpit Chronicles: Fly Rio!

Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Women Take To The Sky: Infographic Details 80 Years Of Flight Milestones

The infographic below showcases the history of the flight attendant. Eighty years ago, American Airlines introduced the first female flight attendants to the sky, and the graphic below illustrates exactly how much has changed in the past 80 years. From adding the first Male flight attendants to adding (and removing) hot meals from economy class to making sure health and safety devices like AEDs are a standard on each plane, this graphic showcases just how much flying has changed since the days of the Wright Brothers.