Admiring Greenland From The Air While Freaking Out An Air Marshal

Intercontinental flights are usually pretty dull. The route between London and Chicago, however, is one I always look forward to. That’s because it flies over the southern tip of Greenland. The airplane heads northwest over Ireland, then arcs across the North Atlantic, barely missing Iceland before crossing Greenland.

I always seem to be lucky with the weather and get a clear view of the jagged coastline of fjords and glacial screes. The last time I flew that route the weather was especially fine. The water below sparkles a pale sapphire, reflecting the sun so brightly that it stings my eyes. Scattered across the ocean are the white dots of ice floes. Some are surrounded by water colored an emerald green. At first I don’t know what I’m looking at until I see several white dots clustered close together, with emerald both between and surrounding them, and I realize that I’m seeing icebergs, their tips white and their submerged parts green in the sea water.

Further inland, massive glaciers glint in the sunlight. There are no roads or buildings on the land, and no boats on the water. No people anywhere.

“Are you looking at the other plane?” a voice asks behind me.

“Huh?” I reply, not too eloquently. Then I notice another plane a little above us and far off to our right. I frown at it like it’s an unwelcome intruder. I don’t want to see evidence of people here.

“Um, no, I’m looking at Greenland,” I reply with a bit more coherence.

I’m standing at the emergency exit door looking out the porthole because the grumpy guy sitting at the window seat in my row is more interested in watching an inflight movie and wants the window closed.

“Why do you need to stand here to do that?” the person standing behind me asks.

After griping about the idiocy of the guy in my row, I launch into an enthusiastic monologue about how I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland, how I’ve eagerly read explorer’s tales and Inuit folklore, that this was one of the few truly wild places left on Earth and it’s my dream to someday trek across it.

“Really.” His response comes out flat, suspicious.

I turn around and look at the person I’m talking to for the first time. Behind me stands a burly man with a buzz cut. He’s studying me closely.

This is an air marshal, I realize, and while everyone else is sleeping or watching movies I’m standing by the emergency exit.

Suddenly I see the situation from his perspective. He’s trying to decide whether I’m an eccentric nutcase or a terrorist. I prefer to have him think I’m an eccentric nutcase. I launch into an even more enthusiastic monologue about Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s first skiing expedition across Greenland in 1888, and the Norse settlements there that served as a base for Viking exploration of North America. Then I talk about the natural history of the island. My hopes of making it to the United States as a free man rise as I watch his eyes glaze over.

“Whatever,” he says with a shrug and walks off. He hasn’t even glanced out the window.

I go back to watching the glaciers below and dreaming of my next adventure.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Cockpit Chronicles: Paper makes an airplane fly

Looking back on the accomplishments of the Wright brothers in 1903, I find it a miracle that they were able to get into the air while lacking a critical piece of material. Something so important that the FAA, JAA and CAA would ground any airplane today that tried to lift off without it.

You see, the Wright brothers lacked the paperwork to fly. They had no airworthiness certificate, no weight and balance data, no flight plan or even a license in their wallets. It’s truly astonishing that they ever left the ground.

Today we need this paperwork to fly and despite efforts to create a paperless cockpit, we’re carrying reams of additional information that’s still printed with a dot matrix printer at the airport before each flight.

To give you an idea what’s needed before a typical transatlantic crossing, I took a moment before beginning the preflight inspection and sat down to go through the trip paperwork for our recent flight from London to Boston.

This didn’t include the customs and immigration paperwork that the purser, or number one flight attendant, handles. Nor did it show the volumes of books that we carry with approach plates, checklists, procedures and aircraft manuals that I’ve described before.
Boeing and Airbus have done their part to offer a Class III Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) in their newer airplanes that promises to eliminate the need for these books and manuals and some of the paperwork shown in the video above.

The 787 even includes a Class III EFB as standard equipment. But it’s up to the airlines to retrofit their older cockpits with this technology that will not only save weight, but promises to give us better situational awareness when taxiing around the airport and maneuvering to avoid thunderstorms since airport diagrams and real-time satellite weather can be displayed on the newer EFBs.

Maybe then we could get away from paper depictions of weather phenomena along our route of flight in favor of real time information that just might keep us away from unforecasted headwinds or areas of moderate or greater turbulence.

Even Orville and Wilbur could see the benefits in that.

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 Plane Answers.

OpenSkies offers two for one tickets to Amsterdam and Paris

With demand for airline tickets quickly shrinking, premium carriers like OpenSkies are scrambling to incentive passengers to continue flying Business and First class products overseas.

OpenSkies’ latest promotion is aimed at goosing that first class demographic. Passengers interested in traveling in their “Biz Bed” class (effectively their lie flat, premium product) can now get a free companion ticket when booking seats to Amsterdam or Paris from New York.

Before, it would have cost anywhere from $3,500 to $3,900 for the pleasure of this service. Now, if you bring a friend that price is effectively halved. $1,750 for a round trip first class journey across the Atlantic during the summer is a bargain.

Book you travel between now and May 31st to take advantage of the offer at

Curious about the transatlantic OpenSkies experience? Check out Gadling’s first hand review.


British Airways CEO Sees Little To Be Excited about in the US

After the election of Barack Obama and a Democratic Party majority in the house and senate, British Airways CEO Willie Walsh sees little to be optimistic about as far as stateside operations go. Many European carriers would like to see additions to the Open Skies Agreement, which provided greater rights for foreign-owned airlines to operate within the US. Walsh is worried about Obama’s support of US labor groups. “I think it’s very clear Obama has taken a strong line in relation to any change in the ownership and control regulations. So at this point I would not be expecting any major progress to be made.”

Right now, foreign companies can have no more than a 25% share in US-based airlines. That is not likely to change, especially considering the weak state many airlines are currently in. With a rumored merger with American Airlines now seemingly out of the question, BA is focusing on partnering with AA to offer better trans-Atlantic service. Before going ahead with that, though, they must receive approval from US antitrust investigators.

[Via Airwise]

Ryanair Crews Forced to Take Unpaid Leave, but CEO Optimistic

Low-cost carrier Ryanair will be forcing about 400 pilots and cabin crew members to take one week of unpaid leave. The airline’s brash CEO, Michael O’Leary, said that executives would be hit with a 10% pay cut. The flight crews’ mandated holiday will cost them about 2% of their yearly income.

O’Leary, usually singled out for is over-the-top antics and surly demeanor seemed to be talking sense, for once, when he said that smaller European budget carriers would not survive the current economic sluggishness. However, he was optimistic about Ryanair’s prospects, saying that the money woes will cause people to seek out the airline’s cheaper fares.

O’Leary also said that he is looking to develop trans-Atlantic routes by purchasing larger aircraft from bankrupt or soon-to-be-bankrupt airlines on the cheap. First, though, the airline will have to ride out the current economic downturn and keep their crews from bolting for other airlines.