The 10 Best Travel Apps For Flight Attendants

1. FAAWait – During a creeping weather delay a flight attendant who also works part time as an air traffic controller told me about FAAWait. It’s his favorite app. One click and we knew which airports across the country were also experiencing delays, how long the delays were averaging, and what had caused the delays.

2. MyRadar: Recently a fearful flier on board one of my flights spent three hours watching the weather light up his iPad screen: blue, green, red – wow, so much red! He knew exactly when to expect turbulence, how bad it might get, and how long it would last. Knowing this kept him calm. At one point he even turned around in his seat to let the crew know it would be smooth flying from here on out. Two seconds later the captain called to tell us the exact same thing, it was safe to get up and finish the service. Since then I’ve been recommending the app to anyone who mentions they’re afraid to fly.

3. WhatsApp: An Emirate’s flight attendant from Bosnia based in Saudi Arabia told me about this app on a flight from Miami to New York. WhatsApp makes it possible to send text messages to friends and family out of the country free of charge. There is virtually no cost to stay in touch with loved ones. You can even share audio and video messages.

4. Twitter: Still the best way to get breaking news! You don’t need to “get it.” Just learn how to use the hashtags to find information as it’s happening. For instance, not too long ago I was at an airport that was being evacuated and no one knew why. That was my cue to search the airport code – #DFW. That’s how I found out there was a bomb threat on an incoming flight. I learned this from passengers who were actually on board the flight and tweeting about it as they taxied to the gate.

5. HappyHourFinder: Flight attendants don’t make a lot of money. In fact new hires start out making less than $18,000 a year. And yet we’re subjected to overpriced hotel and airport food on a regular basis. This is why we take advantage of happy hour specials, particularly ones that include half priced appetizers, which might explain how I ended up at Vince Neil’s Bar, Tres Rios, in Las Vegas two hours after learning about the app in the crew van on our way from the airport to the layover hotel.6. Instagram: Because when you travel there are just so many beautiful things to photograph. The app not only makes your pictures look ten times better, it’s easy to text and email your photos or post photos straight to Facebook or Twitter. What I enjoy most about the app is following people whose photos inspire me to travel, like @Lax2Nrt or even @Umetaturou who shares hilarious pictures of a Border Collie named Sora who can balance anything on his head. One of these days I’m going to fly to Japan and walk that dog!

7. Postagram: Remember when you used to send postcards to family and friends from around the world just to let them know you were thinking about them? Now you’re too busy to think, let alone search for just the right card to send. Not to mention all that time it takes to address and stamp it. With Postagram you can turn your cool photos into postcards by using pictures from your phone, Facebook or Twitter. Write a short message and Postagram will take care of the rest.

8. Yelp: Whenever I find myself at a layover hotel in a new city, the first thing I do is pull up Yelp just to see what’s nearby. I might use it to find a great place to eat, check out a tourist attraction, or locate a pharmacy within walking distance. Users post reviews and photos to help narrow down the search so you can determine whether or not it’s worth it to leave your hotel room.

9. HotelTonight: If you’re a commuter like me, this app will save your life one day. At noon each day HotelTonight offers great last minute deals on a couple of hotels near your current location. Get a $25 credit with your first booking, $25 for each friend who signs up, and $25 when a friend makes their first bookings. So … who wants to be friends?

10. GateGuru: Enter an airport code and up pops everything you could ever want to know about food, shopping, and any services offered, along with reviews, ratings and maps. Enter your flight number and access flight status, delays and weather conditions all in the same place.

Airport, Airline Weather System Updates To Save Time, Fuel, Eventually

weather

When unavoidable bad weather causes turbulence in the air, passengers can expect a rocky ride. In the past, while pilots have aimed to avoid turbulence, they have been limited in the number of available tools. Now, a new turbulence avoidance system promises to change that.

A smoother ride
Called the Juneau Airport Wind System (JAWS), it was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and provides information pilots can use to route aircraft away from patches of potentially dangerous turbulence.

“By alerting pilots to areas of moderate and severe turbulence, this system enables them to fly more frequently and safely in and out of the Juneau airport in poor weather,” says Alan Yates, an NCAR program manager who helped oversee the system’s development in an R&D Magazine article. “It allows pilots to plan better routes, helping to reduce the bumpy rides that passengers have come to associate with airports in these mountainous settings.”

The system uses a network of wind measuring instruments and computational formulas to interpret rapidly changing atmospheric conditions. The Federal Aviation Administration accepted JAWS for operational use this year.

Just how bad can turbulence in the air be? Check this video:


Sliding in for a landing
In the works and delayed for several years, another system relies on satellites and GPS rather than the radar system developed in the 1950s to direct planes and jets from takeoff to landing.

Called the NextGen system, it will be initially used in Orlando, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, northern and southern California, Houston, Charlotte and northern Texas. The new system should allow planes to fly with less spacing between them on more direct routes, and allowing them to glide to a landing rather than following a step down pattern that is not fuel efficient.

The NextGen system has been compared to walking down a flight of stairs vs. sliding down the banister.

“In addition to improving safety and increasing capacity, this plan will allow for more direct routing for airplanes, less holding at the destination and better planning for constant descent arrivals mentioned above, resulting in less carbon emissions, fuel consumption, and noise.” said Gadling’s Kent Wien in Plane Answers: Airlines see green in appearing green back in 2009, just to show how long this one has been in the works.

This video tells the whole story:



Flickr photo by Ack Ook

FAA admits near-collision of two jets

Early in the morning on November 23, two jets coming in for landing at Denver International Airport had a near-miss, as one plane tried to make a U-turn into the path of the other, causing the jets to come within 200 feet of one another.

According to ABC News, one jet was in a line of planes coming in for landing. The other was on a parallel path, and needed to be guided in to the line. Air traffic controllers gave the second plane incorrect instructions though, requiring it to turn around to right in the path of the other plane. The plane’s collision avoidance system sounded an alarm, and the pilots were able to avoid the other plane.

ABC News quoted a source as saying that the two planes merged on the radar screen and came with “a blink of an eye” of each other. As is always the case with incidents like these, the FAA is investigating.

White House pushing for answers to airline industry woes

The Obama Administration is taking a closer look at the airline industry with the hopes that something can be fixed. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood is pulling together a panel that will investigate the problems the industry faces and hopefully come up with a solution. But, I don’t think anyone’s breath is being held.

The airlines are always swamped with criticism, with consumers unhappy about customer service levels, on-time arrivals and departures, the shrinking list of amenities and increasingly cramped conditions. Now, shareholders are speaking louder about declining revenues and profits. Employees are losing their jobs, and regulators and industry observers worry about continued safety violations, including drunk and distracted pilots.

Ultimately, LaHood’s goal is for the panel to put together “a road map for the future of the aviation industry.” The panel is being convened thanks in part to a push from the airline unions, the stakeholders worried most by the layoffs that have now become routine. According to The Associated Press, they believe the industry is “dysfunctional.”

Of course, it didn’t take the airlines to offer their thoughts ask for money — lots of it. They claim that radar technology that dates back to World War II isn’t as effective as a GPS-based alternative. The industry would love to see this upgrade … as long as the government writes the check. The FAA is already prepared to spend $15 billion to $22 billion on this effort, but there is an additional $14 billion to $20 billion currently sent over to the airlines. The upside would be reductions in airport congestion, fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

The Air Transportation Association (shockingly) thinks the taxpayers should pay the bill because the system would benefit the whole country. US Airways CEO Doug Parker wrote a letter to LaHood saying that the airlines simply don’t have the cash to meet their end of this.

Unfortunately, the airline industry has once again asked for money and not offered any solutions of its own. No suggestion was offered as to any of the other difficulties pertaining to the industry, and I tend to become suspicious when there is only one problem identified. It implies that everything could be fixed, in this case, with the replacement of radar air traffic control systems with GPS technology. We’re dealing with an industry that has lost credibility rapidly, so even if this one grand move would address ever gripe, large and small, a willing audience is unlikely to take shape.

[Photo by extremeezine via Flickr]

North America to (slowly) update Air Traffic Control

The long and hard fought battle for landing slots rages on in New York and London, where airlines like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways squabble over who gets how many slots and when they’re allowed to leave and depart from their airports.

Landing and departure slots are tightly controlled at these airports, and the already high volume at New York is the cause of over 70% of delays in the United States. So it’s obviously a sore topic with consumers, politicians and carriers. Passengers and airlines want more departures, but the current infrastructure can’t handle it, resulting in the delays.

To exacerbate the problem, earlier this year, congress pushed through legislation capping the maximum number of departures from the New York airports, effectively requiring any airline that wanted extra permission to leave during peak periods to pay extra. Naturally, the airlines are up in arms, saying that they’re just reacting to passenger demand.

How does one thus fix the volume problem? Airlines and analysts alike agree that the solution is in a better air traffic control system. The current technology used only allows for simple control of surrounding aircraft — but advancing this technology would allow for better stacking and management of traffic. Problem is, all of the aircraft in the skies currently work on the antiquated system — so you can’t just switch everything over.

Slowly, however, we’re starting to make progress, starting with the lower volume system in Canada. Next year, small sections of the country will implement a new system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, or ADS-B, and if that’s successful the model will spread all over North America.

Don’t plan on the volume increasing at JFK any time soon though. With all of the equipment in the skies and in airports across the US, some predict that it could take another decade before everything is up to snuff.