Airline Service, As Different As Night And Day, Literally

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.

There were no mechanical problems with the aircraft, flight delays on the tarmac forcing a return to the gate or any of the other challenges faced in my account of a United flight saved by quick-thinking crew members in “Bad Flight Saved By Airline Crew, New Laws, Amiable Travelers.”

But often it is the day-to-day heroes of the air who go about their business of providing a safe flight, done right, that deserve a bit of praise from time to time.

Speaking of heroes in the air, check this video that tells of a man posing as a pilot who made it all the way to the cockpit before being discovered:

[Photo credit – Flickr user steveleenow]

Aircraft Boarding Challenges Bring Innovative Designs

Boarding commercial aircraft, from a traveler’s point of view, is all about getting to our seats, stowing gear and getting underway. We hope to have overhead bin space available, a reasonably comfortable seat and an on-time departure. Airlines are right there with us on the getting to our seats part and getting underway; they could not agree more. It’s a major issue so aircraft designers devote a lot of time and resources to making the whole process efficient.

Airlines want the boarding process to go as fast as it can for a couple big reasons. They want to stay on time, sure. But the less time they spend boarding passengers, the more flights they can fit in a day. As airlines cut back on the number of flights, choosing to insure full, profitable planes, they are constantly looking for ways to increase that efficiency.

One way might be slider seats that promise quicker boarding.Using the new Molon Labe Designs approach during boarding, the aisle seat slides on top of the middle seat, creating a 43-inch wide aisle. That gives boarding passengers much more room to navigate, stow gear and be seated. When boarding on each row is completed, the aisle seat then slides back into position.

The manufacturer promises they can cut loading time in half, adding up to 120 minutes flying time every day. Good news for airlines that could fly the same number of passengers with up to 15 percent fewer aircraft. But what about passengers?

“I’m not going to tell you it’s a comfortable seat,” Hank Scott, founder of the company said in a LA Times article. “It’s a quick, turn-around seat.” A prototype is due in November and the company has presented the idea to Boeing and Airbus.

Like it or not, aircraft seating is a huge topic to designers. The amount of time it takes to board passengers is on the table for discussion. To those with mobility issues, its also about the indignity and discrimination they face boarding aircraft.

Air Access is a concept designed by Priestmangoode that speeds up the boarding process for passengers with reduced mobility by enabling an easier transition from gate to aircraft. Air Access is a detachable wheelchair the passenger gets in at the departure gate or on the jet way. After seating, the passenger is wheeled onto the plane where the chair slides sideways and locks into the fixed-frame aisle seat without the passenger needing to get up.

On arrival, ground staff unlocks the seat, slide it out into the aisle and wheel the passenger to the jet way or arrival gate as we see in this video:

[Flickr photo by Slices of Life]