Free airport WiFi for Nintendo 3DS users from Boingo Wireless

free airport wifiBoingo Wireless and Nintendo have teamed up to bring Nintendo 3DS owners free airport WiFi access in 42 airports across the United States, including Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, and Houston George Bush Intercontinental.

The Nintendo 3DS is already a great travel companion, with its open-source Internet browser and built-in camera, not to mention a catalog of hundreds of addictive games featuring real 3D graphics. This new feature is one of several included in a system update that became available for download yesterday.

“Nintendo 3DS is our most connected device ever, and this agreement will allow people to stay entertained while they’re on the go,” said Zach Fountain, Nintendo of America’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. “Whether it’s accessing special offers and content, downloading items from the Nintendo eShop, receiving surprise SpotPass content, or automatically receiving 3D videos from the Nintendo Video service, there have never been more reasons to connect.”

Free airport WiFi from Boingo will also include access to Nintendo’s SpotPass feature, which allows the system to detect wireless hotspots and download special content from Nintendo, including exclusive promotions, 3D videos, and add-on game content.

Boingo manages wireless access in more than 400,000 locations around the world, including airports, hotel chains, cafes, restaurants, convention centers, and metropolitan hot zones. Their service generally costs $7.95 per 24 hour period in the United States, with monthly unlimited plans starting at $9.95.

Smartphones now make it possible for airport travelers to have food delivered to their departure gate

B4 YOU BOARD smartphone app allows airport travelers to have food delivered to their departure gateA smartphone app that is available on both iPhone and Android phones now makes it possible for travelers using the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport to order food and have it delivered to their departure gate, says Martin Moylan of Minnesota Public Radio. Participating restaurants at the airport include French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, and Chili’s Too.

This service is available from 7AM to 8PM daily, with a promise of the food arriving 20 minutes after orders are placed. If the delivery is late or a flight leaves early customers will receive a full refund. JFK International Airport is also participating in the program, with the Chicago O’Hare Airport to jump on board this month.

To take advantage of this service, smartphone users should download the B4 YOU BOARD app, which is free.

Cockpit Chronicles: One long date with Hurricane Irene

Plunk, plunk, plunk, went the water as it dripped from the ceiling into a trash can behind me.

“I’d just as soon call it quits here and go to a hotel.” the captain said, looking at the latest weather report for Santo Domingo and the radar picture of hurricane Irene which was just northwest of our destination. All of Puerto Rico, where we were contemplating our decision, had just been through the hurricane and much of the island was without power. In our 200 square foot operations room at the San Juan airport, water was leaking all around the room.

Plunk, plunk, plunk.

We had just flown down from New York heading to Santo Domingo (SDQ) on what was supposed to be a turn-a one day trip, just down and back-but prior to beginning the approach, we were sent a message from our dispatch telling us to divert to San Juan.

Another flight just six minutes ahead of us had just touched down after breaking out of the clouds shortly before the minimum height required to see the runway. They said it was just heavy rain on the approach.

There were four surprised pilots in our cockpit at that moment; the captain and myself, along with the relief co-pilot and a check airman who was giving a line check to the captain. All of us were in agreement that we needed to go to San Juan. Dispatch could have had information that we just weren’t privy to at the moment. The same policy applies (at our company) if any pilot had said ‘go-around’ during the approach, the flying-pilot is required to climb away from the ground and ask questions later. In this case, dispatch is very much part of our team. In this case, we didn’t have time to discuss the particulars with our dispatcher. We had to trust that they had information about the airport, terminal, gate, runway, or some other operational need to get us back to San Juan.

After working our way around the tail end of the hurricane, we were now faced with turning back and flying through the same turbulent weather on our way to San Juan. Fortunately fuel wasn’t a concern, since we had more than four hours available for our 45-minute flight to our alternate airport.

The climb out was just as bumpy as the arrival. Most of the time we were in the clear, but the chop would still be an issue for our passengers, who were probably nervous after we discontinued the approach into Santo Domingo.Approaching San Juan, we were faced with two runways, one of which had ILS approach that was inoperative, and the other had no runway lights. Fortunately it was daylight, but seeing that runway in the heavy rain could be a challenge.

As we intercepted the glide slope at 2,500 feet, which is done by joining a radio beam that goes from the runway threshold out along the centerline at a three degree angle for more than 10 miles, the airplane began to descend on the autopilot. The glideslope then seemed to bump up, causing the airplane to climb when it was supposed to be descending. After it settled down, we were now high, and we weren’t likely going to be able to ‘capture’ the glideslope in a way that would be stable.

As I’ve detailed in a previous Cockpit Chronicles, an approach that is no longer stable must be discontinued. We have a ‘no-fault’ go-around policy at the airline which is designed to remove any chance a pilot would want to continue an approach that doesn’t look right. The captain made the right choice and elected to intercept it again after going around.

“Go-around, leave the flaps at 5, positive rate, gear up.” The captain called out while flying the go-around manually.

“Tower, one-five three-eight is going around,” I told the tower as we climbed through 2,500 feet.

A go-around is a busy moment. And just as you’re going through the litany of calls and performing the actions required, ATC becomes interested in just why you’re going around.

“Roger fifteen thirty-eight, can you turn left to 360 degrees?” they ask, assuming we’re going around because of the weather.

The heading looked fine to me, and I glanced at the captain who was flying. “Sure.” He said busily performing the missed approach.

By this point, the 226 passengers on board were justifiably nervous. But neither go-around was caused by the weather conditions immediately in front of us, and at this point, we were too busy to give them an update or explanation for our second go-around of the flight.

Coming back for the second time, the captain elected to hand-fly the airplane in case another ‘bump’ of the glideslope occurred. With 100 feet to go before arriving at our decision altitude, the runway came into view. The relief pilot didn’t wait for the captain to call for the windshield wipers and reached up between us to turn them on. With all the fuel on board, we were heavy, and since the runway was likely covered in water, it was important to touch down early and stop quickly. The captain did just that, and as we turned around at the end of the runway to back-taxi to the exit taxiway, I felt spent.

On Cockpit Chronicles, I probably incorrectly give the impression that every flight is easy and routine. That’s the case far more often than not, but there are days where you earn every penny. Before we left on this trip, the captain had been talking about retiring as early as next week, and I have to think this flight made the decision easier.

Plunk, plunk, plunk.

“Captain, do you have an estimate on when you can go? I need to tell the passengers something,” the gate agent said while standing in the doorway of the office.

“Let me talk it over with these guys and I’ll let you know,” said the captain while motioning to his two first officers.

The agent closed the door and went back to the gate.


Our view of Hurricane Irene as it left the Dominican Republic

We talked about the weather in Santo Domingo and what the radar was depicting. SDQ was reporting good ceilings and visibility. The hurricane was a few hundred miles west of the airport, but we’d likely have a similar bumpy ride back. The radar depiction (shown above) looked far uglier than what was outside.

We talked to dispatch over the phone and they said planes were getting in to SDQ. Staying in San Juan would have been difficult anyway as there were likely no hotels available anyway, and the agent told us the power was out in much of the city.

“I’m good to go,” I said, while the relief pilot agreed enthusiastically.

“Ok, I’ll pull up the paperwork,” the captain replied.

Two passengers elected to stay in San Juan probably because of the long and eventful flight getting here and the ominous lightning off in the distance, and I can’t blame them if they were scared. But this was going to be an exceedingly safe flight as far as I was concerned.

The rest of the passengers were boarded again and we pushed back two and a half hours after we arrived. It was my turn to fly and while there were clouds along the route of flight, the ride wasn’t too bumpy. I was relieved to see the lights from the Santo Domingo airport nearly ten miles out.

The outbound passengers were glad to see us, and seemingly happy to get off the island after experiencing the effects of hurricane Irene. Little did they know the same hurricane would be arriving in New York just four days later.

Three pilots are on all flights that are scheduled to exceed 8 hours, and while ours was originally supposed to go over by just five minutes, I was glad to have the relief pilot on board after clocking in a challenging ten hours. The three of us all slept during our breaks in the back (the check airman, deciding that the captain had passed his check ride, elected to go back to New York on a direct flight from San Juan.)

While on my fifty-five minute break, I slipped into a deep dream-something that rarely happens during my crew rest period. But this time I dreamt about an oversized female dispatcher staring at a computer screen while picking up a phone.

And I think her name was Irene.

A postscript:

Unfortunately this isn’t my last rendezvous with hurricane Irene. I was scheduled to fly to Rome Saturday night but that trip from JFK has obviously been cancelled. So now I get to have a closer look at the hurricane, this time while on the ground in New York.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 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.

Cockpit Chronicles: Hitching a ride to Kentucky in Concorde

Occasionally, when pilots are together, the subject eventually will come around to airplanes. Specifically, just what airplane we’d most like to fly.

While I have a rather long list that includes the Ford Tri-Motor and the Spitfire, solidly at the top of the heap lies Concorde. An airplane so special, you’re not even allowed to put ‘the’ in front of its name.

Since there was no possibility of ever flying this airplane at my airline, I knew I had to do the closest thing. Even though my wife and I were very recently hired at our respective airlines, we both agreed that we’d have to pay for a non-revenue (slang for employee reduced-rate) flight in Concorde before it was retired. This was in the mid ’90s and the one-way tickets were still a relatively steep $600 per employee.

At the time, my wife was a flight attendant for United, based in Newark. She was working in the aft galley when a gentleman came back for something. He happened to mention that he worked for British Airways at JFK as the director of Concorde charters.

My wife told him of our plans to purchase a pass on the airplane for a flight to London in the future, just for the experience.

“Don’t do that.” He said. “We have a charter flight from New York to Cincinnati in two weeks. Come along on then. No charge.”

He even extended the offer to the other flight attendants riding that day, but they all passed on the opportunity.

Two weeks later, Linda and I arrived at the Concorde lounge early enough to watch the inbound supersonic jet taxi to the gate. There was a tremendous amount of activity by the staff, with everyone even more frantic than what would be typical for agents eager to ‘turn-around’ an airplane quickly.

We soon discovered what was happening.Princess Diana was arriving on the airplane to sell some dresses for charity in New York. The Princess of Wales was escorted off the jet and down to a waiting car on the ramp, and unfortunately we never actually saw her. But soon afterward, our hero, the director of Concorde charters, came upstairs carrying a large plaque featuring the princess with a warm thank you message written on it given to him by Diana. Needless to say, he was beaming.

While waiting to board, I spotted the co-pilot in the lounge making his way to the gate. I approached him and mentioned that we’d be one of the 14 passengers that day to fly with him to Cincinnati. I explained that I was currently flying the 727 and showed him my ID, hoping that just maybe he would invite me up to the cockpit at some point.

“Let me check with the captain, maybe we can get you the jumpseat.” He said, taking my I.D. and license with him.

As we stepped on board the airplane I took a quick picture of my wife in front of the Concorde sign.

The co-pilot came back to where we were sitting and asked my wife if she would be upset if I rode in the jumpseat. I turned to her with my most buoyant look.

“No, not at all!” She said, as a flight attendant handed her a pre-departure champagne.

Concorde, just like many airplanes of the ’60s and ’70s had a cockpit where the major systems were operated by a flight engineer. At the time, I was an FE on the 727, so I was rather interested in this panel aboard Concorde.


The flight engineer panel on Concorde

The flight engineer showed me the jumpseat, but I was amazed that my perch was well behind the captain. It wouldn’t even be possible to see out the front from that far back, I thought.

As I began to sit down, the FE explained, “No, no, no. The seat slides up forward.”

Sure enough, in what had to be the most unusual cockpit seat, I found my place just behind the captain with the chair locked into place.


The cockpit jumpseat is tucked in just behind the captain seat.

We taxied out with the nose drooped down for better visibility looking forward. As we lined up on runway 31L at JFK, the co-pilot said that this was the lightest he’d ever flown the airplane.

In a scene reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, we blasted down the runway and rotated far sooner than I expected.

The captain reached over and flipped a three inch switch under the glareshield that raised the nose. As the nose sealed into place, I was shocked to see just how bad the visibility was. It was like looking through two sides of a humid greenhouse. It seemed like the first pane of glass, in front of the pilots, was a full ten feet from the retracted windshield that maintained the smooth, needle like appearance of Concorde.

Jumpseating is usually just a method for pilots to get to and from work or where they needed to go. But that day, it was how I confirmed my supposition that the Concorde would be the ultimate airplane to fly.

Climbing through 10,000 feet, I couldn’t hold my enthusiasm any longer. “Guys, you don’t fly an airplane. You fly a rocket!” I gasped.

They explained that even on a lightly loaded airplane they still used ‘reheat’ or what us Yanks call ‘afterburners,’ which essentially injected fuel downstream of the turbine section of the engine for added thrust, producing a glow on the four Olympus engines that could be seen for miles.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly supersonic over the continental United States as sonic booms are generally considered annoying for groundlings. Still, flying at .95 Mach, or 95% of the speed of sound may have set a commercial speed record between New York and Cincinnati. (The CVG airport is actually located in northern Kentucky).

Interestingly, six years later the same airplane, G-BOAG, received special permission to fly supersonic over land to set a commercial speed record while flying from New York to Seattle on November 5th, 2003 for its last flight.

It’s fitting that today G-BOAG is now on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, since Seattle is where I met the exchange student while I was in high school who would later become my wife who landed me this rare experience.

If you have the chance, check out the museum. It’s a must see for any aviation geek.

Special thanks to the director at British Airways who made it all happen for us. I only wish I had remembered his name.

And thanks to Ruthann O’Connor for the photos.

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

Wannabe JFK airport bomber found guilty

JFK, JFK airport
The final participant in the plot to blow up New York City’s JFK airport has been found guilty of five counts of conspiracy.

Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad was one of four conspirators who in 2007 hoped to blow up fuel tanks and fuel lines at JFK airport, causing major loss of life. The lines also run under a nearby neighborhood and the terrorists hoped to blow that up too. Two other conspirators, Russell Defreitas and Abdul Kadir, are already serving life sentences, and Abdel Nur received fifteen years for his role in the plot.

In his defense, Ibrahim claimed he didn’t really want to blow up the airport, saying, “I just went along and hoped it would fizzle out.”

What kind of lame-ass excuse is that? Who starts something that big and doesn’t plan to finish? That would be like if I enrolled in university with the intention of dropping out my sophomore year, or had a kid with the plan to ditch him when he’s ten.

Luckily the judge didn’t buy that line either, Ibrahim will be sentenced on October 21.

[Photo courtesy USGS]