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Posts from the News Category

United Pilot Disposes of Live Ammunition in Toilet

You can’t make this stuff up. From Aviation Herald:

A source had told The Aviation Herald that the aircraft was enroute, when the captain discovered that he was still carrying ammunition consisting of 10 bullets in his luggage, the ammunition not being permitted to be taken into Germany. The captain therefore decided to get rid of the ammunition and disposed of the ammunication into a waste bin. “Unfortunately” a passenger lost her ring in flight, the flight attendants assisted in the search for the lost ring and also checked the waste bins. A flight attendant thus discovered the bullets, dutifully brought and reported the bullets to the captain, who now decided to ultimately get rid of the bullets and dumped them down the toilet. Later the flight attendant inquired again about the bullets, the captain realized that she would file a report, explained the situation to her and informed ground.

Just poor choices all around from the pilot. He could have saved everyone a lot of headaches had he just reported the bullets initially and paid the fine when he arrived in Germany.

A recent United flight from Houston to Portland diverted to Salt Lake City and the pilot had a family removed from the plane. The mother claims the removal was due to discrimination against her daughter’s autism. United claims that the situation became disruptive and the pilot made the decision to divert. The mother is now saying she is planning to sue United for discrimination. That is the simplest way to describe this odd story but, for a number of reasons, I think it only touches the surface of what happened.

Before I jump into the multiple aspects to this incident I want to state a few things that I think are important.

  1. I am not a lawyer nor am I an airline employee. I simply fly a lot for work and leisure and I see a lot of things, some of them crazy, on planes.
  2. I have family members with mental disabilities as well as friends who are the parents of children with mental disabilities. It is not my intention to diminish the fact that raising a child with disabilities is difficult, stressful, and trying. Parents who work so hard to give their children “normal” lives and provide for their needs are definitely not my issue in this post.
  3. I believe there is more to this story than what is being presented by the news outlets. United, being threatened with litigation by the mother, is unquestionably going to be tight-lipped about the entire thing. The story has seemingly morphed since it was originally on television here in Portland as well, with more details coming to light and wording being changed.

With all of that said, where do we even start with all of this? Dr. Beegle, the mother of the autistic child stated that the family had dinner in Houston’s Intercontinental Airport but that her daughter did not partake. The mother, being thoughtful and caring, grabbed some snacks, knowing that her daughter may need them onboard.

The family ate dinner in Houston, Beegle said, but Juliette refused to eat. Beegle brought some snacks on board for her because “if her blood sugar lets go, she gets frustrated and antsy. We try to anticipate that and prevent that.”

When the family boarded, Dr. Beegle asked a Flight Attendant if they had any hot meals due to her daughter being a “picky eater” (her words not mine). The flight attendant let her know what they had a hot sandwich, but then, when everyone was served, the sandwich was room temperature.

The mother is clearly preempting her daughter’s needs, I appreciate that. The flight attendant is working with the information they have. Hot food is usually catered on United afternoon and evening flights, sometimes it is not due to catering screw-ups. What happened here is one of those pieces of information that we just don’t have. Did the flight attendant’s not heat up the meal? Were the hot sandwiches not catered?

Anyway, Dr. Beegle then asked to purchase a hot meal from first class. The flight attendant told her that was not possible.

“I asked if I can purchase something hot for my daughter and [the first class flight attendant] said no” she said. “I called him back over and I said to him, ‘Please, help us out here,'” but he again refused.

“He came back again and I said, ‘I have a child with special needs, I need to get her something.’ And he said, ‘I can’t do that,'” she explained. “I said, ‘How about we wait for her to have a meltdown, she’ll be crying and trying to scratch in frustration. I don’t want her to get to that point.'”

KOIN Screenshot of Mother's Quote

KOIN6 News version of mother’s quote

This is where I see some odd differences in the wording and also the point in the tale where things start to go downhill. First, the original story by KOIN6 news stated that the mother said she’ll “get to the meltdown point” and “maybe scratch someone”, yet the AP story has different wording. I would like to know what was actually said. And if “scratch someone” was used, why was that necessary to say? I would also want to know if this was the first time the mother mentioned the child having special needs. If it was, why did the mother not bring it up the first time when the sandwich arrived cold?

Yahoo! Screenshot of Mother's Quote

Yahoo! version of mother’s quote

After the mother made the above statement the flight attendant brought rice and jambalaya from first class. Again, we are lacking a little detail here. Was it an extra serving, did someone not want their meal, or was it a crew meal? That may not seem important but I have seen a comments stating that the flight attendant was cold hearted and should have just done something to help. If the flight attendant originally told the mother that he couldn’t bring something from first class, it may have been because he was still serving first class and didn’t know if there would be any meals available.

Soon after this occurred an announcement was made that the plane would be making an emergency landing because of a passenger with “a behavior issue”. What happened in between the two events I can only speculate about but for the pilot to make the decision he had to receive the details about the encounter with Dr. Beegle and then decide whether or not to continue with the flight. On domestic flights, when a pilot leaves the cockpit a flight attendant enters the cockpit so that the door can be opened when the pilot returns. This has been a policy since a little after 9/11. At the same time, a flight attendant in the front galley usually blocks the aisle with a food cart. I believe this is a policy on United only but you may see it at other airlines. With these measures, it is not possible for the pilot to walk back to the Beegles and assess the situation himself. He can only make a decision based on the information given to him by his flight attendants.

If the wording used by Dr. Beegle was actually “she may try to scratch someone” and that was passed along to the pilot, then the decision to divert was probably not a difficult one. A passenger who may threaten others can lead to a situation that escalates quickly and dealing with violence on an airplane is not easy. When you are on a plane, the pilot is the final say in safety matters. If he feels something is a danger, whether it be mechanical or human, he makes the decision on what to do with the plane. Diversions are not taken lightly either. It is not like a pilot wakes up one morning and thinks to herself, “you know, today I feel like going to Salt Lake City on the way to Portland, wonder if I can cause a diversion?”.

There are some side notes about the comments made after the plane landed. The medic’s comments I deem unimportant. When flights call in their diversions, there is very little information usually given other than maybe “we have an unruly passenger and would like to be met by emergency personnel”. For a medical professional to come onboard and then find that nothing was wrong medically then proceed to say it was an “overreaction” by the pilot, I think that’s unprofessional. When the pilot stated that he didn’t feel comfortable continuing with Dr. Beegle’s daughter onboard, Dr. Beegle stood up and asked the rest of the plane what they thought. That’s a red flag in my book as well.

In the end I think there is blame to share on both sides. The flight attendants could have done a better job asking what needs the child had when the mother first brought it up to them. The mother could have chosen her words more wisely and tried to explain what was going on more clearly. I don’t read the stories about this and see anything that stands out as discriminatory against autism though. It is not like the pilot came over before takeoff and said “we see your daughter has special needs and we can’t accommodate her, you will need to get off the plane” which would be direct violation of the Air Carrier Access Act.

I also do not see anything that says the pilot’s decision was based on anything physical the girl did, which leads me to believe that it was the mother’s statement about scratching that caused the diversion. The mother’s reason for using that statement bugs me. Someone told me on Twitter “It’s sad to me that people have to watch what they say so carefully now.” when I mentioned the wording being a potential problem. I agree and disagree. You are in a metal tube at 35,000 feet, things can go badly very quickly. Does this mean you need to be completely censored? No, it just means you do not use the potential of violence in your conversations, especially when you are wanting something from a flight attendant. Think about how that comes across, “she needs a hot meal or she may scratch someone”.

Again, there are, I’m sure, plenty of details that we are missing. Those details may fill in the gaps on things such as tone and composure of the mother and the flight attendant. Also, the family was put on another flight on Delta to get from Salt Lake City to Portland and from what I can find, that flight was the same day. In the grand scheme of things, it was an inconvenience for everyone, the Beegle family, the other passengers on the United flight, and the crew. I also believe there was a little bit of overreaction by Dr. Beegle and the flight attendant. Maybe if each had taken a minute to think about the situation and spoken a little less, the plane would have continued on to Portland with no diversion. But, as with most stories, there are two sides, and we are only hearing the one side that has been covered in the news and on social media. Just as with the flight attendant and the mother, maybe we all need to take a step back and understand that not everything about this has been made public and maybe we should reserve judgement for when more information is made available.

I do hope this raises more awareness of autism and the different forms it can take. Alaska Airlines has a program where they invite families with an autistic child experience a day at the airport and on an airplane as well teach their employees how to be sensitive to the needs of such passengers. AIR (Autism Inclusion Resources) also recently teamed up with United and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to host a dry run of a travel day for families with an autistic child. So awareness and training is growing.

SAS has announced they will start a new flight from Stavanger, Norway to Houston on August 20, 2014. This flight has been rumored for a while (no it’s not an April Fool’s joke) and it looks like it is coming to fruition. With ExxonMobil and Shell both having large facilities in Houston and Stavanger and Exxon’s Dallas campus, the flight is a great way for these companies to move their people between offices and offshore operations centers.

The flight will be operated by a PrivatAir 737-700 in an all business class configuration with 44 seats. The service will operate every day of the week except Saturday.

I will definitely be trying to move one of my reward tickets to Europe to this flight as soon as it becomes bookable later this month.

A very well thought out post on speculation and Malaysian Airlines flight 370

I have thrown out a few small speculations of my own about the flight but the reality is, we won’t know what happened to the plane and the passengers until we find it. Add on top of that the poor leadership by the Malaysian government and other governments in the region to coordinate information and search efforts and we have powder keg of emotions ready to go off. The passengers on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 deserve better.

Update 1/15/2013

Air China has made an official announcement. The service will start on July 11, 2013, pending government approval.

Update 1/9/2013

The route was pulled from Air China’s systems not too long after I posted this. However, there are rumors that a private event at the Chinese Consulate in Houston January 15 will be centered around this service. Stay tuned to see what comes out of that event next week!
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Though there has not been a formal announcement from the Houston Airport System nor from Air China, it is now clear from airline schedule information that Air China will begin Beijing-Houston non-stop service in July of 2013. The 4x weekly schedule currently has the flight leaving Beijing at 3pm and arriving in Houston at 3:40pm local time on the same day. The return flight will depart IAH at 1:30am and arrive in Beijing at 5am local time the next day.

Air China is a part of the Star Alliance so the new route will link up perfectly with United’s domestic network out of IAH. This is also a great way to connect to destinations in Asia. Air China serves a large number of Asian destinations out of Beijing and if connecting to another country, there is a 72-hour transit without visa option to get out and see Beijing.

The route will be served by Air China’s new Boeing 777-300ER, with three cabins of service, first, business, and economy. The first class seat is a suite like product configured in a 1-2-1 layout. From the photos it looks like quite the upgrade from what Air China used to offer. You can tour the cabin by watching the video below. The business class seat on the 777-300ER is pretty much identical to what United installed on their ex-Continental international aircraft, a lie-flat seat with a large entertainment screen. And lastly, economy class is configured in a 3-3-3 arrangement with a new inflight entertainment system and a footrest.

It is great to have another international carrier out of Houston and when added to Turkish’s new service starting April, Intercontinental will have thirteen foreign carriers providing flights.

When I checked into my hotel this week I was told that Hilton has moved to “providing the paper in digital format”. I inquired as to what this meant and the person working the check-in desk said, “we are no longer delivering newspapers to rooms”. I then wanted to know what the digital version was, only to be told, “well, you go to usatoday.com”. Thanks. I was thinking that maybe Hilton had worked out an agreement with a paper like the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal to provide a customized digital version.

Now, I cannot find anything on the Hilton website about this policy but the front desk insists that this is a new Hilton policy/program. Does anyone out there have any further information regarding this policy?

In February the City of Houston and a group of Turkish representatives announced new service between Houston and Istanbul on Turkish Airlines.

If you follow airline announcements you know how quickly such rumors turn into pipe dreams or disappear completely. In the cast of the Istanbul-Houston route, I have been very skeptical, especially with fuel prices being what they are, but, this investor announcement from Turkish makes me a little more confident the service will actually launch. The page is in Turkish but here’s a poorly translated version:

Incorporation; aircraft availability and depending on the permissions in 2012, Istanbul-Houston-Istanbul and the Istanbul-Constanta-Istanbul route open, Mogadishu-Istanbul-Khartoum-Khartoum-Istanbul flights and Istanbul in Istanbul, Turkey-Djibouti-Djibouti-Mogadishu; Istanbul-Nakhchivan-Istanbul flights to Istanbul, the Istanbul-Ganja, Nakhchivan, it was decided to perform.

So, based on aircraft availability and the ability to obtain government permission, the Istanbul-Houston flights will start this year, possibly as early as this summer. I am really looking forward to this service starting! Turkish Airlines offers a great connection point to the Middle East, Europe, and Asia from their Istanbul hub and as a plus, Istanbul looks like a city I would have no problem having a stopover in. This announcement does not mean that flights are guaranteed to start between the two cities, but it adds a little credibility to the rumors and speculation.

Delta Bid for Trainer Refinery Gaining Momentum (philly.com)

When I first saw the news that Delta Airlines was looking at the former ConocoPhillips refinery in Philadelphia I had to do a double-take. An airline running a refinery is just that strange. At first I thought it was a move by Delta to stir up the market a bit but this most recent news makes me think the Atlanta based airline is very serious about buying the facility.

The Trainer refinery is configured to produce a higher yield of jet fuel – about 13 percent of its output, or 23,000 barrels a day (966,000 gallons). Delta could ship the fuel by pipeline or barge to New York, where it has a large presence at LaGuardia and JFK airports.

Delta would ostensibly receive all of the jet fuel from the facility, but would probably swap much of the gasoline and diesel for jet fuel in other locations near Delta hubs.

I am still trying to understand where Delta thinks they will save the money. They will still be buying oil at the market price, the difference now is that they will be a refiner of said fuel. Refining crude oil is not a “value-add” process, it is a necessity. You can’t fly a plane on crude oil.

“The objective would be to achieve a 10 percent price reduction on a large portion of its fuel needs – which, if were achieved, would represent significant savings,” reported Linenberg, the Deutsche Bank analyst.

How? How are they planning to achieve that much of a reduction? Are they simply offsetting their fuel costs by selling the jet fuel on the wholesale market? If so, then how are they financing the operation of the refinery? Refineries are not cheap to operate and certainly not cheap to maintain. As stated earlier, oil companies do not view them as moneymaking facilities but rather, as necessities to compete in the market. The margins in refining are so small that it is hard to make money from fuel alone. Now, maybe if Delta is going to sell chemicals from the facility they can make the revenue that the article hints at.

I would love to have a sneak peek at Delta’s game plan. They must have some kind of strategy up their sleeve to make this work, but they’re going to wait to make it obvious to the rest of us.

Patrol Car Recording Released After Officer Shoots Dog

The 911 call features a woman who said she was driving past a home in the 2600 block of East Fifth Street and saw a man who appeared to be drunk and a woman trying to get away from him. The video shows Griffin arriving about 4:45 p.m., and he can be heard trying to verify which home was referenced. Not long after leaving his patrol car, Griffin is heard shouting, “Show me your hands” and then, “Get your dog!” That was followed by Cisco’s bark and a single gunshot.

I can understand why the officer had his gun drawn, he was told there was a disturbance and did not know what he was walking into. However, he was at the wrong address. If I was the Austin Police Department I would want to know why the address was not verified by the officer before he left his car. He can be heard asking which apartment unit the disturbance is at. Clearly there was a breakdown of communication.

As a dog owner, I am well aware that spooked dogs are scary. Though they may not bite, a scared dog looks intimidating. It makes me wonder though, had the officer clearly identified himself while walking up to the house whether or not Paxton would have returned the dog to the back yard. The officer says, “Show me your hands” and then immediately “Get your dog!”. If I have a gun pointed at me and am being told to show my hands, my brain is trying to figure out whether or not I should actually get the dog.

I look forward to hearing what the investigation from the Austin Police Department reveals. I know that restraint is not always an option, but I would think a little restraint in instances like this would not be too difficult. It just sounds like the officer was a little on edge walking into an unknown situation (again, at the wrong address) and that adrenaline lead to the shooting of the dog.

There is a Facebook page for Cisco, if you’re interested in that.