If you’re one of those people who start turning green every time your airplane hits a bit of turbulence, you’re in for a rough ride in the coming years. According to a new study, air turbulence is likely to go up by 10-40 percent by 2050, causing more passengers to reach for the airsickness bag.
The report published in the Nature Climate Change journal says that clear air turbulence – a sharp movement of air that happens even in good weather – is likely to get worse in the coming decades because of climate change.
The report’s authors studied the air over the North Atlantic, which is one of the busiest flight corridors in the world. They believe that as greenhouse gases increase, clear air turbulence will also rise – putting more planes in danger’s way. What’s more, this particular type of turbulence doesn’t show up on an airplane’s radar, making it tough for pilots to dodge. Planes that are given a heads up by other aircraft might be able to detour around the turbulence, but that would mean longer flight times and using up more fuel, which in turn contributes to the climate change problem.
But don’t start popping the motion sickness pills just yet. Some scientists say the study isn’t conclusive and believe there needs to be more research into the matter.
Purely from an airline passenger‘s point of view, I’ve always thought that the international flight crew on any given airline was better than their domestic counterparts. If for no other reason, settling in for a long-haul flight, those international veterans have more time to take care of business. Short domestic flights kept flight crews busy and important safety-related duties take precedence over casual chitchat. I get that. Still, what an international crew does with all that time can be as different as night and day.
Surely, logic would explain that not as much in the way of service will be offered on longhaul, overnight flights. After all, most passengers are asleep at one point or another so their needs are few. Water us, feed us, put us to bed then wake us up for breakfast before touchdown, as the choreography goes on flights from a U.S. airport to many European locations. But the dance takes on a whole different tempo during a day flight, as I found out on a recent return from Amsterdam to Atlanta – or at least it should.
I’ve been on international flights bouncing back and forth across the pond a lot lately and in a short amount of time. Comparing and contrasting the experiences is easy.
On Delta flight 70 from Orlando (MCO) to Amsterdam (AMS) on a late night flight, the mood was relaxed and while the basics were taken care of, this was a crew that was nice to passengers because they had to be. Lackluster. Nothing to write home about. Dial-up speed.
Charged with DSL-speed power, the return day flight could not have been better for a number of reasons. Let me count the ways.Delta flight 33 inbound from Amsterdam to Atlanta was longer and went through more turbulent skies. As with just about any flight that might end in a magical Orlando vacation, 33 had the usual complement of excited/rowdy/demanding passengers too.
But a flight crew that covered the cabin of that aircraft like they had roller skates on took care of business. After we were initially fed and watered I thought that would be about all we see of them for a while. Wrong. Back they came, again and again, caring for passengers in a truly, dare I say, inspirational way.
Next to me, a passenger who wanted to sleep could not get his chair to recline. The first crew member to stop by said, “I’m sorry but we have a full plane and there is no place to move you to,” thanking Sleepless for telling her. I thought “Yeah this was too good to be true, here we go.” But before that thought was complete, a senior crew member came by, asked Sleepless to get up, took the seat apart and fixed it.
Impressed, I later wandered back to the crew area, related my neutral experience on the outbound night flight and posed the question, “Do you guys work together a lot? You seem to cover a lot of ground in a very short amount of time, like a well-oiled machine.” Miss Handy Crew Member replied, “Most of us have been with the company for 20+ years. There’s not a lot we haven’t seen or done.” She explained that international day flights are normally staffed by the best of the best on most airlines and that “it’s a seniority thing.”
Senior, junior or any crew members in-between I have to give credit where credit is due. This was a Delta flight, in a very old plane, filled with a whole lot of people not used to having nine hours on their hands and that crew did a magnificent job.
Commercial aviation technology has come a long way since its first flight in 1914, a 23-minute flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. Along the way, a great amount of the technology in today’s aircraft, enabling travelers to fly around the world, was developed right here in the United States. That tradition continues with some recent advances, in use right now or on their way, that address current needs and future concerns.
In Alaska, landing a commercial aircraft has its unique challenges. Mountains surround the airport in Juneau; Sitka’s small runway or Kodiak’s strip that ends at the side of a mountain have first officers watching the captains-only landings.
“The weather around here can be unpredictable,” said Clarissa Conley, the F.A.A. manager for Juneau International Airport in a New York Times report. “You name it, we’ve got it. And the terrain can make flying here pretty challenging, particularly when visibility is low.”
Addressing that specific issue of today, Alaska Airlines developed satellite guidance, a navigation technique that made landing at Alaska’s airports far safer and is a big part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to modernize the nation’s air traffic system.Meanwhile, looking to the future, NASA is about to wrap up a three-week flight test of biofuels that began on February 28. Called the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) research, NASA is flying a DC-8 “flying laboratory” out of its Dryden facility, doing tests on biofuel that promise to collect data on emissions, engine performance and contrails. NASA does that by flying one of their Falcon jets as close as 300 feet behind the DC-8, mostly over restricted airspace.
But an AVWeb post notes NASA saying that “if weather conditions permit, the Falcon jet will trail commercial aircraft flying in the Southern California region, in coordination with air traffic controllers.” NASA does say that if following a commercial airliner, the distance will be ten miles between aircraft.
The NASA study and similar investigations by the European community hope to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and, in turn, reduce emissions by the commercial airline industry.
Tom Stuker took the term “frequent flyer” to new heights this year, logging just over 1,000,000 miles in 2012 all on United, all in first class. The 59-year-old Chicago native and New Jersey resident says he’s flown a total of 13 million miles, much of that in his capacity as an independent consultant and sales trainer for automobile dealerships around the world.
This year, Stuker says that about half of his trips were for pleasure, but how much fun it is it to fly 20,000 miles per week and did he actually see anything or did he spend the entire year in transit simply to break this milestone?
I caught up with Tom via Skype from Lombok, Indonesia, on Friday to find out.
So we have just a few days left in 2012, how many miles will you have logged for the year?
I’m going to finish the year just over 1,050,000.
Did you fly mostly for business or pleasure- what was the point of all this travel?
Once I realized I had a truckload of miles, I thought, ‘I may as well try to get to a million.’ I didn’t want to end up with 938,000 when 1 million is such a sexy number, so towards the end of the year, I planned it out and made it there.
It was about 50/50 business and pleasure. I took a lot of the year off just to travel. I flew with my wife more than 200,000 miles just on long weekend trips, so that consumed a lot.
How many miles did you fly last year?
About 825,000, most of that was business, that’s why this year I decided to take more time off.
Why are you so loyal to United?
I’m very brand loyal, they’ve been very good to me and I’m very good to them.
How much did you spend buying all these airline tickets this year?
A lot. I never disclose exactly how much I paid for my tickets. I have a contracted rate with United. I fly predominantly all first class and I give away a lot of my miles to close friends and relatives.
So does United give you a special Batline to use to book flights?
I have a special Batline. I book everything on the phone – I’m old school. It’s a hotline for Global Service people.
It’s very expensive to fly first class, are you paying for first class tickets or do you pay for coach and they upgrade you?
I pay a negotiated rate for first class travel. They know me by name when I call United.
You have so many miles, shouldn’t you be able to redeem all your miles and travel for free?
I have – I’ve taken plenty of free trips. I took two free trips last week. I make sure all my relatives get miles when they need them. And I spend miles on other things too.
People are going to read this and wonder how well off you are. Are we talking Bill Gates or Mitt Romney territory or just comfortable?
I have just enough money to afford a good life of travel. I have two homes. I have a pretty good business. I work to live but I don’t live to work. I get a lot of criticism for traveling so much.
People say I have no home life. It couldn’t be any further from the truth. My two boys are grown. My wife and I, we both love to travel. We do everything together and we spend a lot of quality time together.
In order to hit more than 1,000,000 miles in a year, you’d have to average almost 3,000 miles in the air every day. How is that logistically possible?
I don’t know how I did it myself. Between time on planes, connections, transfers, booking travel, it comes to about 80 hours per week. How did it happen? I don’t know, the year flew by – no pun intended.
How many flights did you take?
I never added it all up. I had some time off at the beginning of this year and I said, ‘I’m going to fly 12 days straight.’ On January 12, I passed 100,000 miles, so I got off to a really strong start.
I did a lot of work in Australia though, and just going back and forth there is 20,000 miles right there. I got to Hawaii 4-5 times per year and we’ll leave on Friday night and come back on Sunday. That’s 10,000 miles.
You visit Hawaii from New York just for the weekend?
Two or two and a half days, yes.
And you’d spend only 3-4 days in Australia?
I’d get in on a Tuesday morning and leave Friday morning, so that’s three days.
What’s the longest you ever stayed in one place this year? Did you stay a full week anywhere at all?
I don’t think I’ve been at home for a full week in about 18 years. I’ve been married and divorced twice but it had nothing to do with all the flying.
But why not travel and stay in these places a bit longer? Go to Hawaii and stay for a week or two, explore, get comfortable there?
First of all, I’m ADD. I can’t pay attention too much. I lose focus. I get what I want from a destination and move on. Relaxing to me is weird. I’m not a lay-by-the-pool person. I relax by planning trips and communicating with people from all over the world on Skype and doing other things.
Some would argue that you traveled a lot but didn’t see much. How do you respond to that charge?
I would say, ‘look at my photo albums.’ My wife and I have flown 2.5 million miles together. I’ve been everywhere and done everything. I’ve done desert safaris, I’ve been to the top of the Burj Khalifha, I’ve been on the pyramids, I’ve done a safari in Africa, elephant trekking in Thailand, I walked the China Wall. OK, so I’ve never been to Antartica! So shoot me!
Let me guess – you haven’t been to Antarctica because United doesn’t fly there?
That’s one reason plus I’m not a cold weather person. I’ve been to every state, every Canadian province. I did four days in Rio – that was enough for me. I’ve been to every island in the Caribbean. All over South America. I did three or four days in Buenos Aires.
How do you pass the time on all these flights? Do you talk to neighbors, watch movies, work, read?
A combination of all those things. I’ve met so many amazing people flying in first class. I read magazines and newspapers until we get up in the air and then sometimes I try to get work done. I think my company was built on airplane cocktail napkins. I can’t watch movies because I’ve already seen every damn one of them.
I understand your going to be the star of a reality TV program?
It’s called “Car Lot Rescue.” It’s something like “Kitchen Nightmares” but at car dealerships. I go in there, find problems, address them like a bull in a china shop, get push back and solve their problems. That’s going to be on Spike and it debuts February 10.
What’s your least favorite destination?
I wasn’t too excited about Greece. The history is phenomenal but I found the people there to be a little on the rude side, which will offend all the Greeks who read this.
I’m surprised. Greece is one of my favorite places. Where were you?
Athens, Mykonos, Santorini. But there are rude people in New Jersey too, so New Jersey isn’t the friendliest place either. Australia and New Zealand are the friendliest places.
Speaking of rudeness, what kind of rude behavior have you seen on flights this year?
Even in first class, I’ve seen everything from people clipping their nails, polishing their nails, people who take their shoes and socks off. People who won’t put their seats up to let people get to the bathroom. People who will kick my chair because my seat is reclined.
What are your travel plans for 2013?
I’m going to London a couple times. Vegas. Phoenix. We’re taking a long weekend in Buenos Aires. And this is all just in January.
Why go all the way to Argentina just for the weekend?
I’ve been there before; I just want to revisit some places I haven’t been to. I want to go to a new tango place.
A British expat named Fred Finn claims to be the world’s most frequent flyer with 15 million lifetime miles. Do you want to take that title away from him?
He says he has 15 million miles and I’m not going to call him a liar. He gets paid for appearances as the world’s most frequent flier. I don’t mind being number two, with 13 million miles. I think he’s about 70, so he’s got a dozen years on me. God willing, if I live to 70, I’ll probably pass him but it’s not on my bucket list. I fly for one reason, to create memories, not miles.
This week, over 40 million Americans will experience air travel as they fly around the country to visit friends and family for holiday events. But how they go about it, the experience they will have on any given airline is a great deal different now than in the past.
“Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled,” AAA President Robert Darbelnet said in a statement reported by the Washington Post. “Since that year we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday. Americans continue to find ways to economize their budgets.”
Surely the comparatively stable price of fuel for automobiles, airliners and cruise ships has helped get travel going again. But changes in the way transportation companies interact with their customers these days has had a positive impact too. Still, there is work to be done, more changes to be made and not all our wishes have been granted yet.
This infographic from Friendly Planet Travel illustrates some of the most obvious changes about air travel, then and now.