A Christmas miracle



Continental Airlines flight 1404 began its takeoff run at 1808 MST on Saturday evening at Denver airport for a routine flight to Houston.  Carrying 115 passengers and crew, the Boeing 737-500 series airplane was heavy with fuel as it thundered down the runway.

Preliminary indications are that, just after lifting off, something went wrong with one of the engines and the pilots aborted the takeoff.  In their attempts to slow and stop, the aircraft veered left off the runway, shot across the grass and finally came to rest about 200 yards from an airport fire station.  A fire broke out but, amazingly, everyone evacuated with a number of injuries but no fatalities.

115 people will have an extra reason to celebrate this holiday season.  They’re still alive.

UPDATE 1: Jon over at Flightblogger makes the point that we shouldn’t call it a “miracle”.  Pilot and flight attendant training and a well manufactured airplane ensured that everyone survived.

UPDATE 2: Passengers are saying that a pre-boarding announcement said that the plane had “engine problems” but they had been corrected.

Much, much more to come.

Back for 2 whole days

Flying Is Fun, Travel

Einsiedeln Switzerland

Just spent the last week in Switzerland for yet another training session.  When is my company going to learn that trying to train me is like trying to train a rock?  Actually, as these things go it was a productive week.

Flew with Air Canada last Saturday night stuck in cramped economy and then had to hop a train for a one hour trip to the town of Einsiedln which is famous for it’s Benedictine monastery.  Which, of course, means bells – lots of bells – all night long bells.

Einsiedeln Switzerland

The monastery has two bell towers and they’re not quite synchronized so at certain times of the day and night you’re subjected to duelling bells.

Yesterday, it was off to the airport at 4am Toronto time and then  to Montreal on a Swiss Airlines A330 which is configured like the worst low-cost charter plane.  The idiot in front of me decided to slam their seat back without warning which caused a glass of red wine, that I was trying to enjoy, to spill all over my jeans and coat.  Lovely stain patterns that I had to put up with for the rest of the day.  We arrived in Montreal at 3:30 and an hour later it was home to Toronto on an A320 that felt positively palatial in comparison.

So now it’s Saturday morning and I have 48 hours to rest and get ready for a flight to Hartford Connecticut for 4 more days of training (they’re not getting it). 

New lows in airline cost-cutting

aviation, Flying Is Fun


Forget about the captioning from some wag over at FARK, the picture is supposedly legit.  Passengers on a CRJ flying from Guilin in the south of China, to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province were asked to lend a hand when the airplane had mechanical trouble before it could reach the gate.

I fully expect to learn that this was a stunt or hoax picture but it gave me a good laugh after a brutal week at work.

The slide into mediocrity

aviation, Flying Is Fun

air travel sucks Although I’m usually lucky enough to get business class when I travel to Europe, domestic travel is always in cattle class.  In order to help dull the pain, I pay a fair amount of money every year to for a "Maple Leaf Club" card with Air Canada.  This allows me to use the lounge and executive class check in facilities.  It’s been a good deal but I’m starting to think about whether it’s worth renewing next year.

I got to the airport in Toronto this morning with plenty of time to check in, go to the lounge and then wander down to the gate.  Or so I thought.  There were about 30 people in line waiting for one harried Air Canada agent.  I finally got through and heading off to go through security.  It was hell but that’s not Air Canada’s fault.

Got into the lounge without problem and immediately noticed a few things:

  1. Coffee machine out of order
  2. Real glass glasses had been replaced with plastic.  Not only is this wasteful but it sure sends an incredibly cheap message to your best customers.
  3. The entire lounge was messy.  Lots of staff standing around, just no one doing anything.  Where are the supervisors?
  4. The men’s room (usually a treat when compared to the standard terminal facilities) was out of toilet paper and messy.  Hello?  Doesn’t anyone check these things on a regular basis?

The flight was fine.  Flight deck was unusually chatty which is always a good thing.  Watched Caddyshack and had a good laugh and saw some incredibly high thunderheads which were stirred up by Hurricane Ike.  Left rainy Toronto and landed in sunny Vancouver.

Air Canada, you’re letting the beancounters ruin what was once a proud, great airline.  You’re sacrificing decades of goodwill to save a few bucks.  I know times are tough but you need to think these things through.  And don’t even get me started on your Jazz affiliate pulling all the life vests off their airplanes.  Somehow the phrase "penny wise and pound foolish" is stuck in my mind and won’t go away.

7 Years On


September 11, 2001.  9/11.  There’s no forgetting the shock of that day.  Seven years on and aspects of the events are as fresh today as they were as I sat watching CNN.  The initial confusion that was slowly, terrifyingly coalesced into the realization that the United States was being subject to a coordinated attack unlike anything ever seen before (or since).

The eventual number of causalities was not record setting (as cold as that sounds) but the instruments of their deaths marked a paradigm shift in how we viewed commercial airline travel.  The glamour, excitement and just plain fun of flying, in an instant, was destroyed forever.

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot (767) and author who also writes columns for SALON and is a frequent contributor in the forums over at Airliners.net.  Today he posted a very poignant remembrance of that awful day.

On the Tuesday morning when everything happened, I was deadheading from Boston to a work assignment in Florida. My airplane took off only seconds after American’s flight 11. I had watched it back away from gate 25 at Logan’s terminal B and begin to taxi.

Forced to land in Charleston, South Carolina, he joined other bewildered people to watch as the second plane hit the World Trade Centre:

I’m watching the video of the second airplane, shot from the ground, apparently with somebody’s camcorder in a kind of 21st century Zappruder film. The picture swings left, picks up the United 767 moving swiftly. The plane rocks, lifts its nose, and like a charging, pissed-off bull making a run at a fear-frozen matador, drives itself into the very center of the south tower. The airplane simply vanishes. For a fraction of a second there is no falling debris, no smoke, no fire, no movement. It’s as though the plane has been swallowed by a skyscraper of liquid. Then, from within, you see the white-hot explosion and spewing expulsion of fire and matter.

Finally, tragically and unbelievably, the towers collapse

To me, had the airplanes crashed, blown up, and reduced the upper halves of those buildings to burned-out hulks, the whole event would nonetheless have clung to the realm of believability. But it was the collapse — the groaning implosion and the pyroclastic tornadoes whipping through the canyons of lower Manhattan — that catapulted the event from ordinary disaster to pure historical infamy. As I stand awestruck in this shithole airport restaurant in South Carolina, the television shows the towers of the World Trade Center. They are not just afire, not just shedding debris and pouring out oil black smoke. They are falling down. The sight of those ugly, magnificent towers collapsing onto themselves is the most sublimely terrifying thing I have ever seen.

In the ten-second bursts it took them to fall, I knew something about the business of flying planes was changed for good. And pilots, like firemen, policemen, and everyone else whose professions had been implicated, had no choice but to take things, well, personally. Four on-duty crews — eight flight officers in total –- were victims. They were disrespected in the worst way, killed after their beloved machines were stolen from under them and driven into buildings.

Captain Smith then goes on to reflect on how the world of air travel has changed:

People ask now, “What’s different?” Maybe I’m more philosophical than many of my peers, but at heart the changes aren’t the quantifiable kind: security, cockpit doors, baggage screening and the like. It’s more sinister and intangible — something that can’t be armored, upgraded, or fenced in by razor wire. It’s a state of mind — a state of disappointment and anger. Anger to have had our planes so brazenly stolen, coworkers fooled, killed, and thousands more thrown out of work. What drives it home are the same pains and inconveniences now faced by everyone: long lines, angst and unpleasantness in the terminals.

I can’t see how it be summed up more eloquently than that.

Flight Rights Canada


The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, today launched Flight Rights Canada, to provide Canadian air travelers and carriers with a clear documentation of the rights and obligations they both have.



  • Air passengers in Canada are entitled to easy access to information regarding their rights with respect to air transportation services, including but not limited to such things as denied boardings, cancellations, and long delays. Passengers are also entitled to information about services for air travellers with various disabilities.
  • Carriers are obligated to make their terms and conditions of carriage easily available to passengers.
  • Air transportation regulations specify what elements must be addressed in a carrier’s terms and conditions of carriage.
  • Carriers are required to address matters such as compensation for denied boarding as a result of overbooking, delays, cancellations, passenger re-routing, and lost and damaged baggage.
  • The terms and conditions of carriage are legally binding on carriers.
  • Passengers have recourse to a complaints resolution process that begins with the air carrier. Under this process, passengers should seek direct redress or remedy first from the carrier for any breach of service commitments or obligations.
  • Passengers may seek corrective measures or a refund of direct expenses incurred, if they believe an air carrier has not lived up to the commitments in its published tariffs.
  • If a complaint is not resolved between a passenger and the air carrier, the passenger can contact the Canadian Transportation Agency at 1-888-222-2592 or by e-mail at info@cta-otc.gc.ca. The Agency is an administrative tribunal with quasi-judicial powers. It is responsible for a wide range of adjudicative and economic matters pertaining to federally regulated air transportation.
  • The Agency initially uses an informal approach to manage complaints. If passengers are unsatisfied with the informal process, they can launch a formal complaint to the Agency.

September 2008


Passengers have a right to information on flight times and schedule changes. Airlines must make reasonable efforts to inform passengers of delays and schedule changes and to the extent possible, the reason for the delay or change.

Passengers have a right to take the flight they paid for. If the plane is over-booked or cancelled, the airline must:
a) find the passenger a seat on another flight operated by that airline;
b) buy the passenger a seat on another carrier with whom it has a mutual interline traffic agreement; or
c) refund the unused portion of the passenger’s ticket.

Passengers have a right to punctuality.
a) If a flight is delayed and the delay between the scheduled departure of the flight and the actual departure of the flight exceeds 4 hours, the airline will provide the passenger with a meal voucher.
b) If a flight is delayed by more than 8 hours and the delay involves an overnight stay, the airline will pay for overnight hotel stay and airport transfers for passengers who did not start their travel at that airport.
c) If the passenger is already on the aircraft when a delay occurs, the airline will offer drinks and snacks if it is safe, practical and timely to do so. If the delay exceeds 90 minutes and circumstances permit, the airline will offer passengers the option of disembarking from the aircraft until it is time to depart.

Passengers have a right to retrieve their luggage quickly. If the luggage does not arrive on the same flight as the passenger, the airline will take steps to deliver the luggage to the passenger’s residence/hotel as soon as possible. The airline will take steps to inform the passenger on the status of the luggage and will provide the passenger with an over-night kit as required. Compensation will be provided as per their tariffs.

Nothing in Flight Rights Canada would make the airline responsible for acts of nature or the acts of third parties. Airlines are legally obligated to maintain the highest standards of aviation safety and cannot be encouraged to fly when it is not safe to do so. Similarly, airlines cannot be held responsible for inclement weather or the actions of third parties such as acts of government or air traffic control, airport authorities, security agencies, law enforcement or Customs and Immigration officials.

Flight Rights Canada does not exclude additional rights you may have under the tariffs filed by your airline with the Canadian Transportation Agency, or legal rights that international and trans-border passengers have pursuant to international conventions (e.g., the Warsaw Convention) and related treaties.

Long overdue.

ZOOM – gone



ZOOM Airlines pulled the plug today.  Especially sad news as one of my best friends is a Captain.  From their website:

Zoom Airlines sincerely regrets to advise its customers that it has ceased operations with effect from 18:00 UTC on Thursday 28 August.

600 people out of work.  Another lower cost alternative finished. 

Spanair crash in Madrid kills over 100


 © Javier Guerrero/AirTeamImages.comA Spanair MD-82 (similar to the one pictured) crashed on takeoff in Madrid Spain today and reports are now saying that over 100 people were killed.  The airline stated that a total of 166 pax and 9 crewmembers were  on board.

Spanair is owned by SAS and the aircraft was destined for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.  The Boeing MD-82 (built by McDonnell Douglas) first took to the skies in 1980 and hundreds are still in service, the majority operated by American Airlines. Earlier this year, AA grounded its entire fleet of MD-80 series airplanes to check for hydraulic problems.  Though there is no official word on what caused today’s crash it only makes sense that this one area that will receive special scrutiny.

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Fizzy Flying


If you’ve never been to FARK, you’re missing some fun.  Of particular note are their Photoshop contests where insanely talented submitters have some fun.  Here’s an example from today’s “Unforeseen consequences of the energy crisis” contest. 


Submitted by user “inebriated brain”, it provides an interesting idea for the airlines who are suffering under the burden of high fuel costs.

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