Airline Madness: Lack of free food vs. Cold cabins

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

Continuing the first round of Airline Madness, #3 seed Lack of free food/prices for food battles #14 Cold cabin/no blankets. Remember when we were fed on every flight, even if it was a quick domestic jaunt? Sure, the food was chewy and covered in mystery sauce, but it was ours and it was free. Now? A mini-tube of Pringles costs as much as a first class upgrade and the only entree options are pre-made sandwiches that more closely resemble door jams. Meanwhile, the cabin feels like a meat locker and blankets cost $8 (when they have any blankets at all).

Which one of these airline annoyances makes you cuss more? Learn more about both and then vote for the worst below.#3 Lack of free food/prices for food
Look, it’s not that we expect a fine dining experience to be including in the price of our tickets. We’d be happy with a decent meal, a fresh sandwich or even a bag of peanuts that’s larger than a walnut. Sadly, these days, there really is no such thing as a free lunch (or a reasonably priced snack, for that matter). It’s bad enough getting gauged at the airport for a $9 bottle of water; could we at least be offered a deal in-flight when we’re flying through mealtime?

#14 Cold cabin/no blankets
Just because the cabin smells like death doesn’t mean that it has to be as cold as a morgue. Even if you’re flying to a tropical paradise, it’s recommended that you bring a parka on the plane since it’s bound to be frigid. Want a blanket to keep you warm? Be prepared to shell out a few bucks, presuming that they haven’t run out of blankets in economy before the flight has even taken off. How many blankets do they start off with these days? Our guess: one (and someone in business class already has it because they asked for an extra).

Which airline pet peeve has you pulling out the most hair: the lack of free food or the blanket-less freezer cabins? Vote for the bigger annoyance now and debate this match-up in the comments!
First round voting ends at 11:59PM EDT on Friday, March 16.

More Airline Madness:
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#5 Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Airline Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

It’s that time of year again! All around the country, people are filling out their brackets and arguing over match-ups. That’s right; it’s March Madness Airline Madness! Just like last year’s Hotel Madness, we’ve compiled a list of travel pet peeves. Only this time around the competition is for the title of Worst Airline Annoyance. Our selection committee vetted the pool of candidates and chose the 16 worst offenders. Now it’s time for you to vote. Over the next two days, all of the first round match-ups will be posted here on Gadling for you to weigh in. The winners will advance to the second round, then the Final Four and so on until we crown an Airline Madness champion.It’s going to be an exciting few weeks of debates, arguments and rants about cry babies, overhead space and baggage fees. We know you’ll have some opinions to share and we hope that you’ll speak up in the comments.

Below is a list of our first round match-ups that will be up for voting later today for the first four match-ups of the first round. The second half of the first round will be open for voting tomorrow, so keep checking back for all of the action! [Update: The first round has ended and voting is closed.]

#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures

#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets

#4 Baggage fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats

#5 Lack of overhead space vs. #12 Inattentive parents of crying babies

#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment

#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing

#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats

Welcome to Airline Madness! It’s up to you to pick the champion (because everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy)!

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Plane Answers: Can passengers survive an explosive depressurization?

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Josh asks:

We’ve all heard the standard spiel about oxygen masks and flotation devices. Likewise, we’ve all seen the cartoonish drawings of proper positioning of one’s body in the event of an emergency (the “brace for impact” pose), etc… Two things I’ve heard people say are that:

a) the air temperature outside the cabin at most cruising altitudes on jet engine planes is sufficient to instantly freeze all bodies on board solid within literally seconds;

b) the change in air pressure is likely to be so disruptive to one’s ear drum, putting on oxygen masks and taking the fetal position is difficult to impossible due to disorientation.
As to the first one, I’ve flown many a Delta flight where on screen displays indicate the temperature outside the cabin to be extremely low (far far below zero). Likewise, I recall reading an article about a jet crash in Greece (I think) where the plane was supposedly depressurized in flight and crashed into a mountain. The report indicated that rescue workers arrived in a relatively short time, but everybody on board was in fact frozen solid. The report indicated this happened in the air, and w/in seconds of depressurization, not on the ground. So there seems to be some credence to this one.

As for the second one, about air pressure and disorientation, I’m of the understanding that though the need arises very rarely, passengers have been able to take action to put on oxygen masks when necessary. Of course, I don’t know how many times (if ever) that need has arisen when at any significant altitude.

So are these frequent flyer myths, exaggerations, based in some fact or accurate descriptions of the reality of jet travel?

The most common cause of depressurization on an airplane is from the loss of both of the air conditioning and pressurization “packs.” There are two of these units that pressurize the cabin on all airliners and one of them is allowed to be inoperative, although it’s not a common occurrence. Should the airplane lose the remaining pack, the cabin altitude, which normally allows for a comfortable 6,000 feet when the airplane is flying above FL 300 (30,000 feet), will slowly climb to the same altitude the airplane is flying.

So it’s imperative that the pilots descend below 14,000 feet, the altitude that the masks will deploy, as soon as possible and to level off at 10,000 feet or lower.

This situation recently happened to my brother. He was able to descend to a lower altitude and the cabin altitude never exceeded 10,000 feet, so no passenger masks dropped from the ceiling.

In the case of an explosive depressurization, like that of Aloha flight 243, these masks will be extremely important. Those passengers as well as the people aboard a United 747 that lost a cargo door, were able to don the masks and remain warm enough to survive until the airplane reached a lower altitude. Both those cases were near Hawaii, however. So it could be a rather cold descent anywhere else. But the initial explosive depressurization didn’t result in so much disorientation that they couldn’t put their masks on.

And you’re right, it’s common to see minus 40 to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 to -50 Celsius) when at altitude. At temperatures of minus 40 (C or F), skin freezes almost instantly, although the temperature warms quickly as you descend.

Finally, the Greek Helios 737 flight that you mention was never pressurized after takeoff, because of a mistake that was especially tragic. The pilots inadvertently departed without noticing the pressurization controller was in the manual position. They missed the ear-popping cues, the temperature cues, the warning lights on the overhead, and they misdiagnosed a cabin altitude warning horn for the horn that notifies pilots that the airplane is unsafe for takeoff because of incorrectly configured flaps, trim or speedbrakes. Interestingly, the sound of the horn is identical in both situations.

On a side-note, I’ve talked to the Boeing engineers who worked on an early version of a ‘text message’ system called CPDLC that air traffic controllers can use to provide instructions to pilots. I asked these engineers what sound they would be choosing to alert the pilots of an incoming message.

As I suspected, they explained that they would be using the same sound that flight attendants use to call the pilots. And that chime is used for FMC wind and route uplink notifications among other things. They claimed that studies have shown that people have difficulty differentiating between more than five types of sounds.

The Helios pilots failed to understand this warning horn and subsequently failed to don their masks, resulting in the masks dropping in the back of the airplane while the pilots were trying to simply silence the warning horn.

Oxygen is vital for a pilot to be able to troubleshoot an abnormal situation as this amazing recording between a cargo flight that lost pressurization and air traffic control demonstrates. Note the altitude warning horn in the background of this ATC tape with the flight:

On a similar, but far less morbid topic, Steve asks:

What is the average temperature inside commercial airliners? I was told 82 degrees F by a pilot who was seated next to me in first class. This is to put everyone to sleep. At 35,000 ft. the temperature outside is -60 F, correct?

Yes, it’s often nearly that cold, as I mentioned above. According to our indications on the Boeing, we shoot for around 70 to 72 degrees. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for that indicator to be perfectly calibrated. And when the flight is nearly full, pumping 70 degree air into the cabin can be too warm. Fewer passengers on board means we need to increase the selected temperature.

But by far the biggest driver of the temperature is the flight attendant. Typically they like it a bit cooler while they’re working hard to get a meal service accomplished, and afterwards, when they’re not as active, they’ll need it to be warmer.

So on your next flight, see if the first part of the flight, during the meal service, is cooler than the latter part.

If it were up to the pilots, the controls for the cabin temperature would be in the back, with the flight attendants. The 777 has some control over the temperature provided to the flight attendants, resulting in far fewer calls to the pilots asking for warmer or cooler temperatures.

And contrary to the belief by some cynics out there, we’re definitely NOT keeping the cabin cooler to sell more blankets.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work. Twitter @veryjr

Passenger uses SkyMall to block air vent

Airplanes are notoriously cold. That’s why everyone is eager to find the blankets and airlines are looking to make money off of them. But what do you do when the temperature in the plane is so low that you can’t possibly relax? If you’re on a plane that doesn’t allow you to close your the air vent above you, you’re typically out of luck. Recently, however, one passenger used some ingenuity, chutzpah and an airplane staple to remedy the situation on his own.

My friend Colin McCabe was flying to Austin earlier this month to attend the SXSW festival. His particular Delta flight was chilly. Or, as he put it, “meat locker cold.” The air vent was right over his head and could not be adjusted. He attempted to warm himself with a (free) blanket for 20 minutes to no avail. He notified the flight attendant of his discomfort and was told that there was nothing that she could do to adjust the temperature. Essentially, he was on his own.

That’s when the idea hit him. He grabbed the nearby SkyMall catalog, wedged it in the vent and completely blocked the flow of air raining down from above. He quickly became comfortable as the temperature by his seat increased. He had saved himself from the icy torment and cemented himself as a legend in the SkyMall Monday pantheon.

Sadly, the fix was temporary. The flight attendant told him that he had to remove the catalog as it was a “fire hazard.” Once again, he was besieged by gusts of frigid air as he flew south towards Texas.

Despite his thwarted attempt, we salute Colin for his quick-thinking (and for taking the photo above to share his experience).

Have you ever been so cold on a plane that you were at your wits’ end? What did you do to warm up? Share your tales of arctic airplanes in the comments.

Photo by Colin McCabe via Flickr.

American Airlines to remove free blankets – wants $8 to keep you warm

Well, I hate to say that it is now “official”, but American Airlines really has entered into the territory of the low cost carrier – by charging for their blankets.

The new charge goes into effect on May 1st, and is just another fee facing passengers.

According to the airline, they are introducing the fee based on “customer surveys”. Unless that survey asked passengers for ways they’d like to receive less service for the same amount of money, I’m not sure where they got the kind of input that would force them to remove free blankets.

Of course, removing free blankets wouldn’t be so bad, if the airlines managed to keep the temperature on their planes at a comfortable level – alas – even though you are sitting inside a computer operated fly-by-wire jet plane, technology still has not evolved enough to keep the cabin comfy.

The new charge will apply to flights two hours and longer from the US to Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America. Shorter flights don’t get blankets, and long haul flights are apparently safe (for the time being). I guess the time has come for us all to bring our own Snuggie?

As always, we love to hear from our readers, so what do you think?